THE MOTOR GIRLS ON CRYSTAL BAY
Or The Secret of the Red Oar
By MARGARET PENROSE
Copyright, 1914, by Cupples & Leon Company
CHAPTER PAGE I. A Worried Girl 1 II. Freda'S Story 15 III. Crystal Bay 26 IV. The Red Oar 36 V. Two Men 47 VI. The "Chelton" 55 VII. In The Motely Mote 67 VIII. Frights Or Fancies 76 IX. A Merry Time 83 X. Too Much Joy 93 XI. The Rescue 102 XII. The Calm 109 XIII. Suspicion 120 XIV. An Angry Druggist 129 XV. An Alarm 141 XVI. A Bad Case Of Nerves 156 XVII. A Little Race 164 XVIII. More Suspicions 171 XIX. Odd Talk 176 XX. The Night Plot 184 XXI. The Breakdown 196 XXII. At The Cabin 202 XXIII. Unexpected Help 208 XXIV. Denny'S Soliloquy 214 XXV. The Plotters Arrive 220 XXVI. Cora'S Brave Resolve 227 XXVII. The Red Oar Again 235 XXVIII. The Discovery—Conclusion 241
THE MOTOR GIRLS ON CRYSTAL BAY
A WORRIED GIRL
Four girls sat on four chairs, in four different corners of the room. They sat on the chairs because they were really too tired to stand longer, and the reason for the occupancy of the corners of the apartment was self-evident. There was no other available space. For the center of the chamber was littered to overflowing with trunks, suitcases and valises, in various stages of being packed, and from them overflowed a variety of garments and other accessories of a journey.
"Oh, dear!" sighed Cora Kimball, as she gazed helplessly about, "will we ever be finished, Bess?"
"I don't know," was the equally discouraging reply. "It doesn't seem so; does it?"
"I'm sure I can't get another thing in my suitcase," spoke the smallest girl of all, who seemed to shrink back rather timidly into her corner, as though she feared she might be put into a trunk by mistake.
"Oh, Marita! You simply must get more in your suitcase!" exclaimed Cora, starting up. "Why, your trunk won't begin to hold all the rest of your things unless you crowd more into the case."
"The only trouble, Cora," sighed Marita, "is that the sides and top aren't made of rubber."
"There's an idea!" cried a plump girl, in the corner nearest the piano. "A rubber suitcase! What a boon it would be for week-ends, when one starts off with a Spartan resolution to take only one extra gown, and ends up with slipping two party dresses and the 'fixings' into one's trunk. Oh, for a rubber suitcase!"
"What's the sense in sighing after the impossible?" asked the girl opposite the plump one. "Why don't you finish packing, Bess?"
"Why don't you?" and the plump one rather glared at her more frail questioner.
"Now, sisters!" cautioned Cora, as she gazed at the Robinson twins, "don't get on one another's nerves. Let's have another try at it. I'm sure if we go at it with some sort of system we'll be able to get all the things in. And really we must hurry!" she exclaimed, looking at the clock on the mantel, which pointed to the hour of four. "I promised to have all the baggage ready for the man at five. That only gives us an hour——"
"Only an hour!"
"Why didn't you tell us?"
Thus the three girls exclaimed in startled tones as they fairly leaped from their chairs in their respective corners, and caught up various garments.
Then, as the apparent hopelessness of the situation overcame them again, they looked at one another, at the trunks and suitcases that already held their fair share of articles, at the accumulation on the floor, and then they sighed in concert.
"It's no use," spoke Bess Robinson. "I'm not going at all—at least not now. I'm going to take another day to sort out the things I really don't need."
"You can't!" exclaimed Cora. "Our tickets are bought, the bungalow is engaged, and we leave for Crystal Bay on the morning train, if we have to ship this whole room by freight—just as it is!"
"Perhaps that would be the easiest way," suggested timid Marita Osborne.
"It certainly would create a sensation in Chelton," murmured Belle, as she looked at her plump sister. "But come, we really must help you, Cora. It's too bad we took advantage of your good nature, and brought our things here to pack. We might better have done it at our own homes."
"No, I think you'll find my way best in the end," said Cora, with a smile, as she looked about for a place in which to pack her sweater. "By doing this we won't duplicate on the extras. Now, girls, try once more. Marita, let's begin on your suitcase, for that seems to be the smallest. Oh, dear, Bess, what are you doing now?" she called, as she noted an unusual activity on the part of the plump girl.
"I'm just seeing if I'm heavy enough to close the lid of my trunk," was the answer. "No, I'm not," she exclaimed, as she hopped on and hopped off again.
"Look out!" called Belle. "You nearly stepped on my veil-box, Bess."
"Sorry, Sis, but you shouldn't leave it on the floor."
The plump one stood looking at the bulging trunk, and then drew a long breath.
"Girls!" she cried, "I'm losing weight."
"How do you know?" asked her sister promptly.
"Couldn't close my trunk lid. That's the way I can always tell. Problem: Given a trunk, which requires a force of one hundred and thirty-five pounds to close down the lid, and a girl of one hundred and fifteen, how many chocolates must the said girl eat before she is heavy enough to close the lid? Answer—one pound, and here's for a starter," saying which pretty, plump Bess rummaged in a pile of her belongings until she found what she was after. Then, sinking down in a heap of silk petticoats she began munching bonbons with a contented air.
"Bess Robinson!" gasped Cora. "You're never going to do that; are you?"
"Do what?" came with an innocent air.
"Sit there and eat chocolates until you're heavy enough to close down the lid of your trunk."
"I might as well. I can't check it open that way, and I can't close it at my present weight. I need everything I've squeezed into it; and so what else can I do?"
"If we could only get someone to help us," said Marita, innocently, seeming to take Bess literally. "One of the boys——"
She was interrupted by the laughter of the others, for Marita was a newcomer in Chelton, and though Cora and her chums had taken her up, attracted by her nice ways, Marita did not yet appreciate her new friends.
"Don't mind what Bess says, my dear," spoke Cora, as she saw that Marita was a little hurt at the laughter. "As for the boys, please don't suggest such a thing. If they came in now, we'd never get through packing. I hope——"
"All hope abandon, ye who enter here!" declaimed a voice in the doorway, and the faces of two young men peered in.
"Too late!" exclaimed Cora, as she saw her brother Jack and his chum, Walter Pennington. "The boys are here! Any more of you, Jack?" she asked, as she crowded some feminine finery out of sight behind her back.
"Because I'm going to give general orders for you to depart at once, and I want to include everyone. Begone!"
"Heartless one!" murmured Walter, sliding into the room under Jack's arm. "Just when we came to help you, too!"
"Here!" called Bess, from her position, Turkish fashion, amid a billowy pile of garments, "Help me up first, Wallie, my dear, and then sit on my trunk."
"Why, is that the throne seat?" he asked, as he extended his hand, and pretended to find it extremely difficult to lift Bess to her feet.
"No, but the lid needs closing, and I can't do it. Sit on it, that's a good fellow," and she extended to him a chocolate from the tips of her fingers, which fingers Walter pretended to bite.
"Now you really must go," said Cora, seriously, when Walter had managed to close the trunk. "Come, Jack, we have to get through by five o'clock," and she glanced at her brother, who was in earnest conversation with Marita in her corner.
Jack paid no attention to his sister, and Walter was somewhat surprised to see Bess, after looking with satisfaction at the trunk he had closed for her, open it again.
"Well, I like that!" he exclaimed, with pretended indignation, "after me nearly breaking my back to close that lid——"
"I just wanted the things compressed, Walter dear," said Bess, sweetly. "I've got a lot more to put in, and I couldn't squeeze in another piece until they had been crowded down a bit. Now run along, little boy."
"Come on, Jack!" called Walter, as he turned to go. "We have been insulted!"
"They can't insult me," murmured Jack, never turning to look at his chum. "Don't be so thin-skinned, Wal. I'm having a good time."
Cora's girl chums looked at her.
"Jack, you must go!" she insisted. "Please do. I should think you boys would have lots to do to get ready, too."
"All done, Sis," murmured Jack. "We always travel in light marching order, and sleep on our arms," and he bent closer to the blushing Marita.
Cora bit her lip. Really she was provoked at Jack this time. She and her chums were in the midst of packing for their annual Summer trip, and to be interrupted this way, at the last critical moment, was provoking.
"Jack!" she began. "I shall tell mother——"
"What's he been doing now?" asked a new voice, and with a gesture of despair Cora turned to see another young man in the doorway.
"Come on in, Ed," called Jack. "Didn't know you were in town. You're just in time to assist."
"What's it all about?" asked the newcomer. "Are you going or coming?" he inquired, as he looked at the partially-filled suitcases and trunks.
"Both," answered Walter. "You're coming and they're going."
"Good!" was the comment. "Hello, Cora—Bess—Belle——" He paused as he nodded to each of the girls, and looked questioningly at Marita in the corner with Jack.
"Oh, excuse me," murmured Cora. "Miss Osborne, let me present to you Mr. Edward Foster—just plain Ed, mostly."
"The plainer the better," observed the newcomer, as he bowed to Marita. "But what's it all about, Jack?—No, there's no use asking him," he murmured as he noted Cora's brother resuming his interrupted conversation with the little girl. "Will someone please enlighten me?"
"It's our annual flitting," sighed Cora. "And really half the pleasure is taken away with this packing. Well, as long as you boys are here you might as well make yourselves useful, as well as ornamental."
"Delighted!" cried Walter, looking about. "Where shall I put this?" and he caught up a box from the floor.
"Be careful!" cried Belle. "You'll spill it!"
"Candy?" he asked questioningly, as he rattled the contents.
"My manicure set, and you'll have it all upset. Give it here!" went on the owner, and Walter surrendered it.
"No, but seriously, what's it all about?" he asked. "I've just come home."
"We girls have taken a bungalow at Crystal Bay," explained Cora. "We're due there to-morrow, leaving on the early morning train. The boys, that is, Jack and Walter, are to have a tent near us, and they're supposed to go with us in the morning. But unless they're further along with their packing than we are——"
Cora shrugged her pretty shoulders.
"Don't worry, Sis, we are!" Jack threw at her, without turning his head.
"Camping at Crystal Bay—that sounds good," murmured Ed, who liked life in the open.
"Can't you come along, old man?" asked Walter. "We've got plenty of room, and we were counting on you later, when you got back from your trip. Now, as long as you're here, can't you come with us?"
"I don't know but what I could. Yes, I will. I haven't anything on. I'll go home and pack up right away. You leave in the morning? I guess I can make it."
"Well, when you go, please take them with you," and Cora indicated her brother and Walter. "Then we'll be able to go on with our packing. Really, Jack," and she spoke most seriously this time, "you must go!"
"All right, Sis!" he agreed. "Don't forget," he added, to Marita, as he rose.
"What nonsense has he been telling you now?" asked Belle with a laugh. "Don't believe him, Marita."
"Don't tell!" cautioned Jack. "It's a secret!"
Somehow the boys were gotten out of the room, and somehow the girls managed to get through with their packing in time for the expressman.
From the Kimball home driveway the expressman drove with the baggage, and soon the trunks were rattling down the main street of Chelton, that pretty New England town, nestling in a bend of the Chelton River.
"Well, that's over, thank goodness!" sighed Cora, as she saw the baggage safely off. "Now to get ourselves ready for morning. You girls will take supper with me."
"Oh, that's too much," protested Belle.
"No, really it isn't. I've told mamma, and she is counting on you. But I'm too excited to eat much."
"So am I," chorused the others.
"And I'm so anxious to see our new motor boat!" added Bess, for the girls had purchased one that had been sent on ahead to Crystal Bay.
"I do hope Ed can go," murmured Belle. "He's such good company."
"Yes, I like him, too," confessed Marita, with a blush, at which the others laughed.
The boys came over to the Kimball home that evening, Jack having dined with Walter Pennington. Ed came also, to say that he could go, and then the young people talked over plans for Summer fun, until the chiming of the clock warned the girls, at least, that they must separate if they were to get up early the next morning.
"Lottie Weaver will meet us at the station," said Cora, referring to another of the party, who had not assisted at the packing.
"That's good. If we had had her trunk over here, with all our things, we'd never have gotten the baggage off," said Bess, with a sigh.
"And now, after it's all over," said Cora to her mother that night, "I think I would not again have all the packing done in one place. I thought it would save time for the girls to bring their things here, especially as the Robinsons are so upset with building that addition to the parlor. But it was a lot of work!"
"Oh, well," said Mrs. Kimball, "you meant it for the best, my dear. I'm sure you will have a pleasant Summer."
They met at the station the next morning—the girls and boys. Lottie Weaver was there, in the glory of a new maroon sweater, and Ed Foster was also on time.
The express for Crystal Bay was late, and as Cora and her motor girl chums marched up and down the platform, nervously waiting, Cora saw a girl coming from the waiting room.
"Why, Freda Lewis!" she exclaimed, hurrying up and putting her arms about her. "What are you doing here? I thought you were going back to Bar Harbor for the Summer."
"So we were! Oh, Cora! I'm so glad to see you. I had to change cars here—I got on the wrong train, it seems. I've been traveling all night."
"You look it, my dear! Oh, if I had only known you were here——"
"I haven't been waiting long. I'm to take the Shore Express."
"That's our train. But, Freda, you don't look at all well—not a bit as you did at school," for Freda was a chum Cora had made much of a year or so before, but had not seen of late.
"I'm not well, Cora," said Freda, earnestly.
"What is the trouble?"
"Anxiety, mostly. Oh, Cora, we've had such a dreadful time, mother and I!"
Her voice trembled pitifully.
"Freda, dear, what is the matter?" asked Cora in sympathetic tones, for she saw tears in the other's eyes.
"Oh, it's money matters. You know we own—or at least we thought we did—a large tract of land at Crystal Bay."
"Crystal Bay!" exclaimed Cora, in surprise.
"Yes. It was Grandfather Lewis's homestead. Well, most of our income has come from that since father's death, and now—Oh, I don't know all the details, but some land speculators—land sharks, mother calls them—are disputing our title.
"Mother has just worried herself sick over it, and I'm afraid she is going into nervous prostration. I've been to see some distant relatives about the matter, but I can't do anything. I'm so sorry for dear little mother. If she should break down——"
Poor, worried Freda could not go on. Cora held her close and the thought came to her that Freda herself was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. The girl had changed very much from the happy, laughing chum of a year before.
"Freda, dear, tell me more about it," murmured Cora. "Perhaps I can help—I have friends—Jack and I——"
"Here comes the train!" interrupted Jack. "Come on, Cora!"
"I must see you again, Freda," said Cora, hastily. "I'll look for you on the train. I've got to get my party together. Don't forget—I'll see you again!" and, wondering what was the cause of her friend's worry, Cora hastened up the platform, toward her companions, while the train steamed noisily in.
"Well, are we all here?"
"Did anybody lose anything?"
"If it's a pocketbook it's mine!"
"Especially if it has money in it!"
Thus the motor girls, and their boy friends, sent merry quip and jest back and forth as they found seats in the coach, and settled down for the trip to Crystal Bay. Cora, after making sure that the girls had comfortable seats, and noting that Jack had pre-empted the place beside Marita, leaned over Bess and whispered:
"I'm going back in the next car for a little while."
"Did you lose anything?" asked Belle, who overheard what Cora said.
"No, but you saw me talking to that girl on the platform; didn't you?"
"Yes, and I wondered who she was," remarked Bess.
"She was Freda Lewis."
"Freda Lewis! Why, I never would have known her!"
"Nor I!" added Belle. "How she has changed! Of course you were more intimate with her than we were, Cora; but she certainly doesn't seem to be the same girl."
"She isn't," replied Cora. "She and her mother are in trouble—financial trouble. I'm going back and talk to her. I want to help her if I can."
And while Cora is thus bent on her errand of good cheer, it may not be out of place, for the benefit of my new readers, to tell a little something more about the characters of this story, and how they figured in the preceding books of this series.
To begin with the motor girls, there were three of them, though friends and guests added to the number at times. Somehow, in speaking of the motor girls, I always think of Cora Kimball first. Perhaps it is because she was rather of a commanding type. She was a splendid girl, tall and dark. Her mother was a wealthy widow, who for some years had made her home in the quiet New England town of Chelton, where she owned valuable property. And, while I am at it, I might mention that Jack was Cora's only brother, the three forming the Kimball household.
Bess and Belle Robinson were twins, the daughters of Mr. and Mrs. Perry Robinson. Mr. Robinson was a wealthy railroad man, associated with large metropolitan interests.
Bess, Belle and Cora had been chums since their motoring days began, when Cora had been given a car, and, after some persuasion, Mr. Robinson also had bought one for his daughters.
I think I have already intimated that Bess was plump and rosy—a little too plump, she herself admitted at times. Her sister was just the opposite—tall and willowy, so that the two formed quite a contrast.
Marita Osborne was a newcomer in Chelton, who had soon won her way into the hearts of the motor girls, so much so that Cora had invited her to come to the bungalow at Crystal Bay.
Each year Cora and her chums sought some new form of Summer vacation pleasure, and this time they had decided on the seashore, in a quiet rather old-fashioned resort, which the girls, on a preliminary inspection trip, had voted most charming. In fact they went into such raptures over it that Jack and his chums had decided to go there also. So the boys and girls would be together.
Speaking of the boys, the two who will come in for the most consideration will be Walter Pennington and Ed Foster. Walter was perhaps a closer chum of Jack's than was Ed, the former attending Exmouth College with Jack, where, of late, Ed had taken a post-graduate course. Ed was considered quite a sportsman, and was fond of hunting and fishing.
The first book of this series, entitled "The Motor Girls," tells how Cora became possessed of her car, the Whirlwind, and what happened after she got it. In that powerful machine she and her girls chums unraveled a mystery of the road in a manner satisfactory to themselves and many others.
When the motor girls went on a tour, they made a strange promise—or rather Cora did—and how she kept it you will find fully set forth in the second volume. In the third you may read of the doings of the girls at Lookout Beach, where came two runaways whom Cora befriended. The runaways were two girls—but there, I must not spoil the story for you by telling you their secret.
Going through New England in their cars, the motor girls had a strange experience with the gypsies, as set forth in the fourth volume. Cora was in dire straits for a time, but with her usual good luck, and her good sense, she finally turned the situation to the advantage of herself and her chums.
Motoring so appealed to the girls that when they got the chance to change from the land to the water they eagerly took it. Cora became the owner of a fine motor boat, and in the story "The Motor Girls on Cedar Lake," you may read of what she and her friends did with their craft. The hermit of Fern Island had much to be thankful for, after meeting Cora, who did him a great service.
Longing for wider waters in which to display their skill as amateur motor-boatists, the girls went to the coast the Summer following their experiences on Cedar Lake, and there they found the waif from the sea. Again did Cora and her chums take advantage of an opportunity to befriend an unfortunate.
The experiences of that Summer were talked of nearly all of the following Winter. Now warm weather had come again, and with it the desire to be flitting to a watering place. Crystal Bay, as I have said, was selected, and of the start for that place I have already told.
Cora, walking back through the coaches, looking from side to side for Freda, found herself wondering what had caused the sudden change in her former companion.
"She was considered well-off at school," murmured Cora, as she saw her friend half way down the second coach, "but she never appeared fond of money. Now the loss of it seems to have changed her terribly. I wonder if it can be—just money?"
Cora reached the seat where Freda was, with her face turned toward the window.
"Well, I am here, you see," announced Cora, pleasantly. "I left them to shift for themselves a while. They do seem to depend so much on me."
"That's because you are always doing things for others," said Freda, and there was a suspicious brightness in her eyes.
"Then I hope I can do something for you!" exclaimed Cora, earnestly. "Come, Freda, dear, tell me your troubles—that is, if you would like to," she added quickly, not wishing to force a confidence for which the other might not be ready.
"Oh, Cora, dear, of course you know I want to—it isn't that! Only I don't like to pile my worries on you."
"Go on—it always helps to tell someone else. Who knows but what I may help you. Is it a real worry, Freda?"
"So real that sometimes I am afraid to think about it!"
There was no mistaking the girl's fear. She looked over her shoulder as though she expected to see some unpleasant object, or person.
"Suppose you begin at the beginning," suggested Cora, with a smile. "Then I'll know what we are talking of."
"I don't know what the beginning was," said Freda slowly, "but I can almost see the—ending," and she seemed to shiver. "But where are you going, Cora, you and your friends?" she asked. "I must not be selfish and talk only about myself."
"We are going to Crystal Bay."
"Crystal Bay! How odd, just where mother is, and where I am going. Then I shall see you often."
"I hope so," murmured Cora. "We have a cute little bungalow, and the boys—my brother and his chums—will use a tent. But I want to hear more about your trouble. Really, Freda, you do look quite ill."
"Perhaps that is partly because I have been traveling all night. It is always so wearying. But my chief cause of anxiety is for mother. She is really on the verge of a breakdown, the doctor says. Oh, if anything happens to her——"
"Don't think of it," urged Cora. "Perhaps it will help you if you tell me some particulars."
"I will," said Freda, bravely. "It is this way. My grandfather was a pioneer land-owner of a large tract at Crystal Bay. It came to us, after papa died, and we lived well on the income from it, for there was much farm land besides the big house we lived in. But a month or so ago a big land company, that wants to get our property for a factory site, filed a claim against us, saying we had no good title to the estate. They said certain deeds had not been filed, and that we were only trespassers, and must get off."
"And did you go?" asked Cora, with deep interest.
"Not yet, but I am afraid we'll have to. You see these men took the matter to court. They got an injunction, I think it is called. Anyhow, it was some document that forbade the people who rent the land from us from paying us any more money until the case was settled. And, as we depend on the rents for our living—well, you see we haven't any living now, to speak of," and Freda tried to smile through her tears.
"Oh, that's a shame!" cried Cora, impulsively. "And can nothing be done?"
"We have tried, mother and I. But we really have no money to hire lawyers, and neither have any of what few friends and relations there are left. I have just been on a quest of that kind, but it was not successful.
"There are supposed to be some documents—deeds, mortgages, or something like that, in existence, and if we could only get hold of them we might prove our claim, and force the men to let us have our rent money again. But until we get those papers——"
Freda paused suggestively.
"Oh, I wish I could think of a way to help you!" murmured Cora. "I can see you have been suffering!"
"I don't mind so much about myself," said Freda, bravely, "but I am really more worried about mother than I am about the property. If worst came to worst I could go to work, but mother has taken so to heart the actions of the land sharks! She never was strong, you know. You met her; did you not?"
"I think not, but perhaps I may have done so. Now, Freda, I am going to help you!"
Cora spoke enthusiastically.
"Are you? How?" asked the other, eagerly.
"I don't just know how, but I am. First I'm going to think this over, and then I'm going to talk about it with Jack. He has a friend—Ed Foster—who knows something about law. We may be able to get ahead of these land sharks yet."
"Oh, I hope so!" gasped Freda, with a fond look at Cora. "It is so good of you to bother with poor me."
"And why shouldn't I?" asked Cora. "You look as though you needed bothering with. Take care that you don't break down, too, Freda."
"I shall keep up. I must, for mother's sake. Oh, but those men were positively brutal when they told her she had no right to grandfather's property! But it has done me good to talk to you, Cora dear."
"I am glad of it. You look better already. Now wouldn't you like to come forward and meet some of the girls? You know the Robinson twins, anyhow."
"Yes, I know them. But I don't want to see anyone just yet. Later on, perhaps. I just want to rest, and think. It was awfully good of you to come to me. We shall see each other at Crystal Bay."
"Oh, indeed we shall. Well, then, if you won't come I'll go back to my friends. Now don't forget—I'm going to help you, Freda!"
"Oh, that's so good of you! I feel more hope and courage now. I—I feel like—fighting those land sharks!" and Freda clenched her little hands as though the struggle to come would be a physical one.
With a reassuring pat on Freda's shoulder Cora left her friend, to go to her chums in the other coach. She found them about to organize a searching party to look for her, and they clamored for the reason for her desertion.
She told them something of Freda's story, and Ed Foster promised to talk the matter over with Mrs. Lewis later, and see if he could give any legal aid.
"It's too bad!" exclaimed Bess. "There ought to be a law to punish such men."
"There probably are laws," said Cora, "but the trouble is there are so many laws that bad men can often use them for their own ends."
"Bravo, Portia. A Daniel come to judgment!" cried Ed. "With you on her side, Freda is sure to win!"
But, though the motor girls tried to be merry, the little cloud of Freda's trouble overshadowed them all the way to Crystal Bay.
"Here we are!"
"Where's the bungalow?"
"Me for that motor boat of Cora's!" cried Jack.
"No, you don't!" exclaimed his sister. "Not till I try her first."
They had alighted at the station, and there was the confusion that always follows engaging a carriage and seeing that the baggage has safely arrived. Cora found time to slip off for a minute and whisper words of cheer to Freda. Then she rejoined her chums, and made ready for the trip to the bungalow.
The boys, with a fine disregard of housekeeping responsibilities, were already making plans to go fishing that afternoon, having spied a man who took out parties in his launch.
But finally order came out of chaos. The girls found themselves at their bungalow, surrounded by their belongings. The boys, after seeing that their possessions were piled in the tent, slipped on their oldest garments and began overhauling their fishing tackle.
"Aren't you going to do anything toward getting a meal?" asked Cora of Jack, as she went over to the tent to borrow a corkscrew with which to open some olives.
"We thought maybe you'd ask us over," he answered, craftily, as he adjusted a reel on his rod.
"Oh, Jack!" she cried. "We can't! We've got so much to unpack. Besides, we're only going to have a light lunch now."
"A light lunch! Excuse me. I know—crackers, pickles and olives. Never! We'll go to the town delicatessen, sister mine!"
"Thank goodness there is one," murmured Cora.
She hastened back to the bungalow. And then began a series of strenuous happenings.
Somehow trunks and suitcases were unpacked; somehow rooms were picked out, rejected, taken again, and finally settled on. Then, between the nibblings at the crackers and pickles Jack had despised, the girls settled down, and at last had time to admire the place they had selected for their Summer stay.
A woman had been engaged to open the bungalow for them, and she had provided most of the necessaries of life, aside from those the girls brought with them. Cora and her chums had been satisfied to have her attend to everything from buying food to providing an oil stove on which to cook it.
There were a number of conveniences at Crystal Bay. Stores were not out of reach, and supplies could be procured with little trouble. A trip across the bay brought one to the shores of a real village, with school house, post-office and other accessories of civilization. A trip down the bay opened into eel pots in August, bluefishing in September and deep sea fishing later on, when the Summer colonists had departed.
Very early in the morning after the arrival of the motor girls at Crystal Bay, house, tent and bungalow were deserted—it was all a matter of motor boat. Moored to the brand new dock, at Tangle Turn, a brand new motor craft heaved with the incoming waves and tugged at its ropes whenever a sufficiently strong motion of the water gave it excuse to attempt an escape.
This was the Chelton, the "up-to-datest" little-big motor boat possible to own or acquire, according to the verdict of the young men from Chelton who had just now passed judgment, and the wise decision of Cora and her girl friends who had actually bought the boat, after having taken a post-graduate course in catalogs and hardware periodicals, to say nothing of the countless interviews they had found it necessary to hold with salesmen and yacht agents.
They were all there, even Freda, who declared she ought to be busy with other matters, but that the call of the colony was too strong for her that one morning, at least.
"Of course we know how to run her," insisted Cora to Ed, the latter having expressed doubt as to the girls' ability to manage so important a craft. "Didn't we run the Pet?"
"Oh, yes, but this—this is a deep-sea boat," Ed explained, "and you might run yourselves away to other shores."
"And land on a desert island? What sport!" exclaimed Lottie, to whom motor boating was an entirely new experience. "I hope we make it Holland. I have always longed to see a real, live Holland boy. The kind who are all clothes and wooden shoes."
"We might make one up for you," suggested Belle. "I think Wallie would look too cute for anything in skirty trousers and polonaise shirts. Just let his locks grow a little—Look out there, Bess! That's water around the boat. It only looks like an oil painting. It's real—wet!"
Bess was climbing over the dock edge, and of course the boys could not allow her that much exercise without pretending that she was in danger of going overboard. After Belle unhooked the hem of her sister's skirt from an iron bolt, thereby giving Bess a sudden drop to the deck of the Chelton, however, Bess declared she knew water when she saw it, and also the difference between a water color and an oil painting.
"What did you call her Chelton for?" asked Walter. "I thought you decided to take the name from the first remark the first stranger should make about her."
"Yes, and what do you think that was?" laughed Belle.
"'Push'!" promptly answered Freda. "An old fisherman came along as Jack was arranging the painter, and he just said 'push'!"
"That would be a handy little name," commented Walter.
"Next some boys, out clamming, saw her," said Jack, "and they said 'peach.'"
"Either of which would have done nicely," declared Ed. "Peach would have been the very name—after the girls——"
"Chelton is dignified and appropriate," interposed Cora; "besides, if we should stray off to Holland they would know along the Dikes that we belonged in Chelton."
"Now don't forget that the wheel is a sea wheel and turns opposite to the direction you want to go," cautioned Jack.
"How is that?" inquired Lottie, who had joined the other in examining the boat.
She was shown with patience. The boys were plainly glad that one of the girls, at least, did not know all about running a motor boat.
"And oh, what is that?" gasped Marita. "That cunning little playhouse!"
"Playhouse!" repeated Cora. "That's our living room—our cabin. Those fixtures are to cook with, eat with, live with and do all our housekeeping with."
"Also die with," added Walter. "I think that electric toaster might be all right for fudge, but for real bread—Now say, Cora, can you really cook pork and beans on that?"
"These are the very latest, most improved and most expensive electric attachments on the market," answered Cora, with a show of dignity, "and when you boys take a meal here, if we ever invite you to, I think we can easily prove the advantage of electrical attachments over campfire iron pots."
The cooking apparatus was examined with interest. A motor boat cabin fitted up with such a "kitchenette" was indeed a novelty.
"You see," explained Cora, "we have two ways of getting power. We can take it from the storage battery, or from the little dynamo attached to the motor."
"Lovely!" exclaimed Lottie, to whom a "current" meant little, but who wanted to seem interested.
"That is to provide for the various kinds of cooking," Jack said, jokingly. "Now eggs are weak, they cook by storage; but a Welsh rabbit is done by the dynamo."
"It means something else," Captain Cora remarked, "namely, if we have company for supper, and the storage current gives out, we will not have to make it a progressive meal, extending into the next day. The course can be continued from the extra current."
"For the love of Malachi!" exclaimed Walter. "What's this?"
"Our boiler," said Bess, who knew something about the boat's fitting up. "We have that for dishwater."
"Dishwater!" repeated Ed. "You've got this down to domestic science all right. That rubber hose runs off the hot water from the cylinder jacket, and——"
"Oh, never!" cried Jack. "They will be making tea with it."
"Isn't it salty?" innocently asked Marita.
"Likely," said Belle, for the girls had all taken an interest in the housework-made-easy-plan, and had arranged to use the boiling water as it came from the motor after cooling the cylinder. "But it won't hurt dishes."
"Now I call that neat," commented Ed, "and to think that mere girls should have thought of it."
Freda gave Cora a meaning glance. "Girls ought to think of the housework," she laughed with a wink at Belle. "Just look at the linen chest."
She opened a small box and exhibited a goodly supply of suitable linen. No table cloths; just small pieces, doilies and plenty of neat, pretty towels.
"Let's board here," suggested Walter. "Our food was really rude this morning."
"Do we go out for a sail?" asked Ed, attempting to turn on the gasoline.
"Oh, no indeed!" Cora answered quickly. "Not a box is unpacked in our place yet, and perhaps, if you boys are all to rights, you wouldn't mind giving us a hand."
"Oh, of course we're all to rights," replied Jack. "I had a bolt of mosquito netting for my blanket last night and Wallie's bathrobe for my pillow."
"And I made friends with a pretty, little, soft ground mole, Jack," put in Ed, "and if the rest of our boxes do not arrive and unpack themselves in time for your slumber this eve, that mole has agreed to cuddle up under your left ear. I believe you sleep on your left."
"Thanks," Jack said, "but I see no reason why mere household truck should keep us from a cruise. I am aching to try the Chelton, Cora."
Cora and Freda were talking in whispers in the other end of the boat. It was no "mere household truck" surely that brought the serious expression to their faces.
"It isn't far," Freda was heard to say, "and he promised to wait for us this morning."
"And I do want to be with you," Cora answered. "But I won't let them take the boat out the first time without me. It cost too much to run the risk of damaging it by sky-larking."
"Now what are you two up to?" demanded Jack. "Just because Drayton Ward has not arrived, we are held up for his coming. I tell you, Sis, that chap may not put in an appearance at all, here. He knows—sweller places."
"Oh, don't you mind him, Cora," Ed interrupted. "Dray is sure to come. He had his canoe shipped two days ago, besides sending to the cove for his motor boat. I expect some tall times when he gets here. Our own innocent little Lassie won't know how to skip over the waves at all—she'll be that flustered when the swell, gold-railed, mahogany-bound, carpet-floored Dixie gets here."
"It would take more than a mere Dixie to knock out our Lassie," declared Walter, "but I should like to know why she is not on the scene yet. Didn't we plainly say Tuesday?"
"We did, plainly and emphatically. But a boat builder, letter or seller has a right to make his own day in delivering the goods. We'll be lucky if we get the barge at all without taking the sheriff up to that shipyard."
"Meanwhile we have the Chelton," said Ed, tugging at Cora's sleeve.
"And we must get back to the bungalow," she observed. "Freda and I have an important appointment for eleven, and if you all promise not to follow us or attempt to go out in the Chelton, perhaps we will have some interesting news for you this evening."
The boys strolled away, talking about the motor boat they had hired. Money, for some reason, was not plentiful that Summer with Jack and his chums, and they had to be content with a second-hand craft, that had been patched and re-patched until there was little of the original left. They were not even sure the Lassie would run, but they were anxious to try her.
THE RED OAR
"This way, Cora. The sand is so heavy out there it is better to keep near the edge," said Freda, as the two girls tramped along in the deep sand of the seashore that banded Crystal Bay.
"But isn't it perfectly beautiful along here?" exclaimed Cora, in rapt delight. "I had no idea the little place could be so charming."
"Oh, yes," returned Freda, with a suspicion of a sigh. "Over there, just in that splendid green stretch is, or was, grandfather's place. It runs all along to the island, and on the other side there is a stream that has been used for a mill race."
"Over there!" Cora repeated. "Why, that looks like the very best part of the bay. And that house on the hill?"
"Grandfather's own home and—mother's," finished Freda.
"Is it rented now?"
"Yes, we have rented it for three years, and it has brought us quite a little income," said Freda.
"But you see that is cut off now. I am sure I do not know who collects the rents."
"What a shame!" cried Cora. "And all because there is some technical proof of ownership missing. I should think that when your family had undisputed possession for years it ought to be sufficient to establish your rights."
"Yes, we never dreamed we could lose it," Freda explained. "Mother and I have lived there in the Winter since father died, and we have rented it in Summer, as I said. Of course the Summer is the desirable time here. And we had some of the loveliest old furniture. But when we had to break up we sold most of it."
"Look out! There's a hole there," Cora warned just in time, for in the heavy sand little rivulets were creeping from some rollers tossed in by a passing boat. The bay was dotted with many craft, and the picture it presented gave Cora keen delight, for it forecasted a merry Summer for the motor girls.
"We only have a little farther to go," Freda said. "I hope old Denny has kept his word and stayed in. He is the queerest old fellow—you will be amused at him, I am sure. But he was always such a staunch friend of grandfather."
"I am anxious to meet him," rejoined Cora. "Somehow I feel we girls ought to get at the bottom of this. Wouldn't it be fine if we could?"
"More than fine, it would be glorious!" Freda replied. "If we lose it all now, I will have to look for work. Not that I mind that," she added, "but I intend to take a course in nursing. I have always longed to be a nurse."
"And that would be a splendid profession for you," Cora agreed. "I do hope you will not have to go to work in some office."
"Oh, there's Denny! Denny!" called Freda, leaving Cora without further ceremony, and hurrying ahead as fast as the soft sand would allow. "See, there he is! Just going out in his fishing boat."
Cora ran after her, and soon they overtook the old fisherman, who was deaf. Freda didn't mind getting her shoes wet in order to approach the water's edge.
"Good morning, Denny," she called, "come in here. We want to talk to you."
He took his pipe from his mouth, in order that his mind should not be distracted. Then he pushed his cap back, and dropped an oar.
"Freddie, is that you?" he asked. "Sure I thought you was comin' up to the shack, and I've bin waitin' for you."
"We are on our way up there now. You are not going out, are you?" pleaded Freda.
"No, Freddie," (he always called her Freddie), "I'll come right in. I was only goin' acrost to get a few little things; but they can wait."
Cora now had a chance to see this quaint old fellow. He was Irish, with many fine humorous wrinkles about his eyes and mouth. He seemed to breathe through his pipe, so constantly did he inhale it, and just how he kept his sailor's blouse so clean, and his worn clothes so neat, was a trick he had learned in his younger days in the navy.
"Isn't this a fine day?" he commented, with a nod to Cora.
"Simply perfect," she answered, seeing there was no need for a formal introduction. "I have been telling Freda how surprised I was at the beauty of this place."
"Surprised, is it? Sure, there ain't another spot this side of Cape Cod with as many fine points to it. I wouldn't leave this little bay for a berth on any ocean liner."
"My friend, Cora Kimball, is from Chelton, Uncle Denny. Do you know where that is?" asked Freda.
"Chelton? Chelton? Sure, I do. I went through there once in a parade wagon. We were out with the G. A. R. and I guess the parade got lost, for I remember at Chelton we had to put up for the night in an old church they were using for a fire house. But we had a fine time," and he chuckled at the recollection. "And next day we finished up without the need of a wagon. It was like camp days to scatter ourselves about the big ramshackle place."
"Oh, yes, that's out in the East End," Cora said. "We have quite an up-to-date fire house in Chelton Center."
"Well, that was good enough for me," he asserted. "But come along and I'll show you my shack. Freddie will be surprised at my new decorations."
Up the little board walk to a path through the woods the three tramped. Denny Shane was popular with young folks; even the mischievous boys who would occasionally untie his boat before a storm had no reason to fear his wrath, for such pranks were quickly forgotten.
"And the mother, Freddie?" he asked. "How's she gettin' on?"
"Well, she worries a good deal," the girl replied. "But I keep telling her it must come right in time."
"Sure it will. The rascals that would do wrong to a widder couldn't prosper. 'Taint lucky. But they're foxy. Did you hear anything new?"
"Yes, but not much that is substantial. My friend and I want to see you to find out all that you may know about it. Perhaps there is some clue we have been overlooking, that you could give us."
"Well, you're welcome to all I know. But here we are. No need to unlock my door," he said as he saw Cora smile at his unceremonious entrance to the shack. "Them that has nothin' has nothin' to fear."
A surprising little place, indeed, the girls were shown into. Neat and orderly, yet convenient and practical, was Denny Shane's home. There was a stove and a mantel, a table, two chairs and a long bench. Pieces of rag carpet indicated the most favored spots—those to be lived on.
"And now, Freddie," began Denny, drawing out two chairs, "what do you think of my housekeeping?"
"Why, you are just as comfortable and neat as possible," she replied. "But I notice one thing has not lost its place—your red oar."
"No—indeed!" he said almost solemnly. "That oar will stay with me while Denny Shane has eyes to see it. It has a story, Freddie, and I often promised to tell it to you. This is as good a time as another."
He put his pipe down, brought a big chair up to the window, opened a back door to allow the salt air to sweep in; then, while Cora looked with quickening interest at the old red oar, that hung over the fireplace, Denny shook his head reflectively and started with his story.
"That oar," he said, "seems like a link between me and Leonard Lewis—your grandpa, Freddie. And, too, it is a reminder of the night when I nearly went over the other sea, and would have, but for Leonard Lewis and his strong red oar."
A light flashed into the old eyes. Plainly the recollections brought up by his story were sacred. He left his chair and went over to the mantel, climbed up on a box and touched the oar that had sagged a little from its position.
"The wind rocks this shanty so," he explained, "the oar thinks it's out on the waves again, I guess. I don't like to spoil it with nails or strings."
"It looks very artistic," Cora declared; "but how curious that an oar should be painted red."
"Yes, there was only one pair of them, that I know of. One went with the wreck, and this one Len Lewis held on to. Now I'll tell you about it."
Again he seated himself and this time started off briskly with the tale.
"It was a raw January night—in fact, it seemed as if it had been night all day for all the chance the sun had to get out. A howling wind whistled and fairly shrieked at everything that didn't fly fast enough to suit it. Len and me had been puttin' in a lot of time together at his house, just chinnin'—there wasn't much else to do but to keep warm. Well, along about five o'clock, we heard a rocket! The wind died away for a minute or so, and we dashed out to the beach to get the lay of that distress signal. Talk about big city fires!" he digressed. "A fire on land ain't what it is on sea. It always seems like as if death has a double power with the fire and the deep and nothing but the sky above to fan the flame.
"We soon saw the smoke. It was from a point just over the turn, where the clouds dip down and touch the waves. A little tail of smoke crawled up and hung black and dirty, not gettin' any bigger nor spreadin' much. When we sighted her, we went to work in the way men of the sea have of working together and never sayin' a word. Up the beach we chased, and dragged out the boat we called our 'Lifer.' It was a good, strong fishin' boat, and we kept her ready in the rough weather.
"'Wait!' yelled Len to me, just as I was pushin' off. 'I've got a lucky pair of oars. They're bigger and heavier than ours, and I'll toss 'em in. We might need 'em.'
"Little I thought of the need we would have! And I always laughed at Len's idea of luck—and me an Irishman, too."
"Mother always said grandfather was queer about such things," Freda remarked. "I remember we had an old jug that he found on one of his birthdays. He would never allow that jug to be thrown out; he said it meant a jug full of good luck."
"And it, of course, was an empty jug," Cora said, with a smile. "Perhaps that is, after all, the luckiest kind."
Denny chuckled over that remark, and added he had not much use for jugs of any kind.
"But I'm gettin' away from my yarn," he said, presently. "We took the big thick oars and pulled out against the wind. By this time the hail was comin' down in chunks that would cut the face off you. Sometimes there are a lot of stragglers around here, but when we need a man, of course, there is not one in sight. But we rowed away and somehow managed to get close to the wreck. It was a little steamer, not much bigger than a tug, and it was burning faster than the smoke told us.
"'You throw the rope and I'll stick to the oars!' shouted Len, his voice sounding like a wheeze in the wind. There were three men on the steamer and they were just about tuckered out. They were clingin' to the rail, their hands blisterin' from the flames that were sweepin' up close to them even as they touched the water's edge.
"It's an awful thing to see sufferin' like that," he put in. "I won't ever forget how those fellows tumbled into our boat. They just rolled in like dead men. But my rope got caught in the rudder of the steamer, and I tugged and tugged, but it looked as if we would have to let her burn off before we could free ourselves. Just when I decided to make a big haul at it I came near my end. I stood up, gave the rope a yank, and with that—rip! She let go! And I went with it over into the water!"
"Goodness!" Cora exclaimed. "It was bad enough to have to rescue the other men, but for you to go into that roaring ocean!"
"It was bad, Miss," agreed the narrator. "And the feel of that water as I struck it! It was like a bath of sword-points. Well, that's where the oar comes in! Bless the bit of wood it was cut from, it sure was a good, strong stick.
"When I flopped into the water, like a fish dumped out of a net, your grandpop, Freddie, took nary a chance at reachin' me with the rope. He dropped the regular oars and took one of the pair he called lucky.
"'Here,' he yelled, 'grab to that!'
"I can see the red flash now as it nearly hit me on the head, but though I did make a stab at it the water was that cold and the ice so thick on me hands that I couldn't hold on.
"It's pretty bad to be floppin' around like that, I can tell you. But Len kept shoutin' and when one of the other fellows got enough breath to stand up with, he took a hand at the rescuin'.
"It was him who dropped the mate to that oar overboard. Mad! I could hear Len yell through the thick of it all. But he held the last red oar.
"With the effort to keep up me blood heated some, and the next time I saw the flash of red I grabbed it good an' proper. It took three of them to haul me up, but I clung to the red oar and that's how I'm here this minute. Likewise, it's why the oar is here with me."
There was a long pause. The girls had been thrilled with the simple recital, so void of anything like conceit in the part that Denny himself had played in the work of rescue.
"And the red oar won out," Cora remarked, looking at the old relic with something akin to reverence. "Perhaps, after all, there is something in luck."
"Looked like it," agreed Denny. "And after we got back Len couldn't pay any attention to the half-frozen men, or to me, that had been pretty well chilled—all he could do was talk about the luck of that oar."
"I don't blame him," Freda put in. "Your rope had nearly burned, your light oar broke, one of the heavy pair went overboard and this one did most of the work getting back, I suppose."
"Right," said Denny, "for while we had another pair to work with, they were slim, and weak, but that fellow, it sure was tough then; but lately when I take it down it seems to have shrunk, for it's gettin' lighter, somehow."
"And how did you come to get it?" asked Cora.
"That's the end of my story," said Denny. "When Len was taken very sick, of course I used to stay with me friend as much as I could."
Freda unconsciously pushed her chair nearer the old man. Surely to hear of the last days of her good grandfather's life was a matter too important to pass over lightly.
"Your father was livin' then, Freddie," Denny went on, "and a fine healthy young man, too."
"Father died so suddenly," said Freda, "mother hardly ever speaks of his death. She always seems overcome after talking of it."
"That was a sad thing," Denny digressed. "To go off in the morning, a-whistlin' and happy, and to be brought home without a word in him. Freddie, dear, I oughtn't to talk of it."
Freda brushed aside a tear. Her father's death had been caused by apoplexy, when she was but a mite of a child.
"But the queer part of it was that your grandfather seemed to think I would outlive his son, and John such a strappin'-lookin' fellow," resumed Denny. "Len called me to him, and him sick and miserable, and he says: 'Denny, John's not as strong as he looks, and I want you to do all you can to help Louisa,' (your mother of course, Freddie), 'for she has the child to raise,' he said. Well, he wouldn't let me interrupt him when I tried to speak of John. He would have it that I should keep an eye to things. Your grandfather Lewis left me no papers, however—I supposed John had them—but he left me the old red oar. He had fairly been playin' with it for years, always polishin' it or shapin' it off here or there. I often look at the marks of his knife on it, and wonder why he seemed fond of it."
"I am sure," said Freda, earnestly, "you have kept your promise, Uncle Denny. Mother often speaks of how good you were when I was small. Father never had any papers about grandfather's land; all he had related to family keepsakes. The strange part of it all is to me that a man of grandfather's intelligence should be so remiss about his property claims."
"But, Freddie, you don't understand. There seemed no need for deeds and mortgage papers then about here. Everybody knew everyone else, and things seemed to be solid forever. But now them plagued land fellows—well, they've got a good cheek, is all I can say." And he emptied an unsmoked pipe of tobacco in his indignation.
"But we are going to get after them," Cora declared. "We want to go slowly, and, if possible, find out what their intentions are. Find what sort of company they claim to have, in the first place, and if they are an honorable set of men they ought to make open claims, instead of sneaking around, and trying to find out things that might cause a flaw in the title. I am suspicious, for one," she finished significantly.
"Well, good luck to your spunk," said Denny, "and I never knew the like of it to fail. But say, tell me about the boat. What did the lads think of the fixin's?"
"Oh, it was the greatest fun," Freda replied. "They could not imagine how we ever thought of using the cylinder water for a dishwater supply. I never gave it away that you suggested it to Cora's mechanic."
"And I want to thank you, Mr. Shane——"
"Mr. Shane!" Denny interrupted. "Say, if you call me that I'll think I'm reading me own death notice in the Beacon."
Cora laughed at this, and agreed he should be "Uncle Denny" to her as well as to the others of the neighborhood.
"But it was splendid of you to have the boat all ready for us when we came. I did not suppose Freda had a chance to get down to it before we loomed up."
"You don't know the risin' hour for us folks at the Bay," returned Denny, with a sly wink. "Freddie couldn't stay abed when the sun is beckonin' on the waves; could you, Freddie?"
"Oh, the early Summer mornings are beautiful," replied Freda, "and I am sorry I had to lose so many of them. Who's that? The girls, looking for us! There's Bess puffing, and Belle—fluffing. I do think they are the most attractive pair."
Cora smiled, for her own devotion to the Robinson twins was only paralleled by the twins' devotion to Cora.
"Cora! Freda!" called youthful voices from the path. "Where are you?"
"Come in—do!" answered Denny, who always had a spare chair for visitors.
"Oh, we can't," replied Belle. "Cora, the boys are threatening to take out the Chelton. And oh! I'm completely out of breath. It's dreadful to try to hurry through the sand."
"Indeed they shall not take the Chelton out without my permission," Cora declared. "When we make our initial trip I intend to command it. For one thing, Uncle Denny is to come along; for another—well, that's to be a little surprise. This afternoon at two exactly—will you come, Uncle Denny?"
"I will that," the old sailor replied. "I think it would be a good thing to have a little weight, like my old head, in her when she starts out. Them laddies are always up to pranks."
"Oh, we are just crazy to get out on the water," Bess put in, "and what do you think? That vain little Lottie went all the way to town to get the exact nautical cap. I wonder if she thinks folks in motor boats run slowly enough to see little white caps on little light girls?"
"When we get going I think all that will be seen will be splash, and all that will be heard will be chug," Cora remarked. "But come on. Let's hurry along. I promised Rita to help her with something."
"What?" asked Bess, curiously.
"Now, Bessie, that would be telling," replied Cora, stopping just long enough to empty the sand from her tennis shoe. Denny was trudging along after them—he could not resist an excuse to go down to the shore.
"Well, I'll say good-bye," said Freda. "I have to run back to mother. She will think I am lost."
"But you are coming this afternoon?" Cora insisted.
"Oh, I really can't, Cora, thank you," answered the other. "I have something so important to look after."
"What are you girls up to?" demanded Belle. "You have been acting mysteriously ever since you met on the train. Freda, it is really unpardonable not to take the initial trip with us, but if you really cannot——"
"I really cannot," returned Freda, decisively, and somehow the girls realized that Freda's business was urgent.
"Now, I'll show you a short cut," said Denny. "Take that path there—don't be afraid of the sign that the owner put up—he has no right to the beach front; then when you get to the Lonely Willow—do you know where that is?"
Not one of them knew, but they were anxious to find out.
"You can't miss the Lonely Willow, for it stands all alone and looks as forlorn as the mast of a sunken steamer," said Denny. "It's in the deep hollow by the watercress patch. Turn around that tree to your left and you'll see another path. But wait a minute," he broke off, "maybe it's a bit lonely."
"Oh, there are enough of us to shout if we see bears," Cora laughed. "We have to hurry, and we will be glad to explore."
"Well, good-bye then, and good luck. I'll be at the dock ahead of you."
"Isn't he the quaintest old man?" asked Belle as the little party hurried along. Then she added: "You and Freda made quite a visit. We began to think you were kidnapped."
"We did make a stay," agreed Cora, "but Denny is a very old friend of Freda's family, and, to tell you the truth, we could hardly break away when he started in to tell sea-yarns. Ouch! The mud is deep. I guess we must be near the Lonely Willow."
"There it is!" exclaimed Belle, who was somewhat in advance of the others. "Indeed, it does stand all alone."
"Isn't it scary here!" whispered Bess. "See those two men under the Willow."
All eyes were turned to the big tree. Two men were seated on a branch that made a comfortable seat. As the girls approached one of the men wrapped some papers up and thrust them into his pocket. But the movement was not lost on the girls.
No word was spoken for a few moments. Belle dropped back a little as if to allow the others to face the strangers first. Of course Cora, always being the leader, boldly made her way along.
They had to pass almost under the tree to reach the path, but there was no halting once the girls started out.
Finally they had passed in perfect safety, but as they were almost out of earshot one of the men said:
"I thought she'd be with him—that old Denny!"
The rest of the remark was lost, but this fragment served to put Cora on her guard.
"Oh, isn't it exciting?" cried Marita, who had managed to have Jack help her over the dunes on the way to the dock.
"You're right!" replied Jack, surveying her "nautical" outfit. "Couldn't beat it."
"Silly! I mean going for the cruise."
"Oh, I thought you meant that rig you're wearing. It is most becoming, but I hope it won't get wet."
"Oh, the water won't hurt it. I got it on that account. I think the girls' maroon sweaters look dandy—they can be seen for such a distance."
"Yes, I suppose togs have something to do with a good time, although I must say Cora doesn't seem to give much time to hers. Look at Marita in white. She looks like a French doll."
"Oh, she is the cutest thing!" replied Lottie, in her gushing way. "But Cora is simply stunning! Just see how she stands out in the crowd."
Lottie and Jack strolled through the moss-padded path that led to the white sands of Tangle Turn, talking in this vein as they went. It was indeed a merry crowd, and well worth noticing, as was evinced by the number of curious spectators already assembled on the dock to which the Chelton was tied.
"Who's the man?" asked Jack, espying a striking figure in the throng.
"Oh, that's Uncle Denny; don't you know him? He is the dearest——"
"Now, Lottie, I can see his bald head under his cap at this distance without marine glasses, and it's a rule of the club that 'dears' have special advantages in the matter of healthy heads of hair. But, of course, if you wish to call him 'dear'——"
"Jack, you are the greatest tease," she pouted.
Bess, Belle and Cora had already reached the motor boat. Denny was proudly "looking her over," pipe in mouth and hands in pockets. The girls were bustling about, all enthusiasm, while the boys, assuming an air of importance, found many points to investigate.
"Now take seats," called Cora, "we are ready to push off. Lottie, don't lean overboard."
"Oh, I am watching the cutest little fish. See, Bess," she exclaimed.
Ed was on the dock with the rope loose from the cleat. Cora was at the steering wheel, while Denny insisted on turning the fly wheel, as that seemed about the most difficult thing to do. The gasoline was turned on, Jack attending to that, and as Denny gave the fly wheel a vigorous turn, Ed pushed off and jumped into the boat. The "push" sent the Chelton out in the water, but the motor failed to do its duty. Again Denny tried, but still no response. As this is not unusual with any motor, whether new or old, all hands waited patiently.
"Oh, there's the Dixie!" called Lottie, jumping up and waving to an approaching boat.
At that instant the Chelton started with a jerk, and there was a chorus of screams.
"Lottie's overboard!" cried the girls.
"Overboard!" repeated the boys.
"Quick!" begged Cora. "She may sink!"
To bring the boat to a sudden stop was not an easy matter, and there were some moments of suspense before the Chelton passed safely to the other side of the spot where Lottie was struggling.
The water was not so deep but that she was able to scramble to her feet, but the wash of the boat forced her to work violently to keep her head above water.
"The rope!" called Cora, who had dashed from her position at the steering wheel to the side of the boat where the mooring rope had been dropped. In the excitement, of course, all crowded to one side of the small craft, which caused it to careen alarmingly.
"There! There!" shouted Ed. "Lottie, grab the rope!"
"Oh, I can't," came the rather weak and shaky reply. "I can't reach it."
By this time the Dixie, the innocent cause of the accident, was alongside. Drayton Ward, the wealthy young fellow who could boast of a motor boat that would have aroused comment even at Newport, leaned over the side and grasped the arm of the girl in the water. The rest was a simple matter, for soon Lottie was assisted over the rail of the Dixie, and was in the finest boat on Crystal Bay.
"What do you think of that?" gasped Bess into Cora's ear.
"Clever!" replied Cora, simply.
"But the togs?" queried Jack, to whom the accident had seemed something of a joke.
"What a pity," returned Belle, "and she did look so sweet!"
All this time the drenched girl was being most carefully looked after by the gallant captain of the Dixie. He was seeing to it that she did not suffer from a chill, for a big coat had been wrapped around her and her pretty white cap that had merrily floated off was now replaced by one marked "Dixie." Altogether, for a mere Summer dip, Lottie was having a magnificent time, as Ed took pains to observe.
"Oh, I can't go with you now!" called Lottie. "Mr. Ward has kindly offered to take me home."
There was a pause after that remark. If Lottie went back to the bungalow it seemed only reasonable that someone should go with her. But who? Everyone wanted to take the trip on the Chelton.
"Let us take you up to the point," called Cora, "and we can wait for you to change and come back. Our trip would be spoiled with one of the party missing."
"Let's shift," suggested Drayton, with a gracious smile at Cora. "Mine is probably the faster boat. You get in here with us, Miss Cora, and we will run up and down the bay while your friends are working off the oil smoke. That's a neat little boat you have, a perfect little model," he finished, coming as close as possible to the Chelton.
"Yours is all right, too, Dray," replied Jack, "but it looks too good to be true. Doesn't shoot up on land for a change, does it? I have heard of Dixies doing that stunt."
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Lottie. "I am freezing to death. I guess I'll go change my dress."
"Good idea," agreed Cora, who was ready to leave her boat and go back to the bungalow with Lottie. "Come on," and she jumped to the dock to which her boat had drifted. "I'll run along with you."
"Nice way to treat a fellow," complained Drayton. "Well, fellows, I'll race you while we are waiting for the ladies to return. What do you say, Jack?"
"I'm willing, as long as Cora has finally condescended to let me touch the wheel. Everybody sit down this time."
Without a word all hands, keen for a race as soon as one was suggested, took seats, and the two boats veered out into the bay and "lined up" for the start. Denny was the proudest engineer imaginable, and constantly looked over the fine mechanism.
"Ready!" shouted Ed, and at the word both throttles were thrown wide open and the boats shot up the bay, emitting clouds of smoke from their newly oiled works, and "chugging" so rapidly that the sounds were drowned in a roar. It was a pretty sight, for in the girls' boat a line of colored sweaters and waving caps lent life to the gray of the waters, while Drayton, in his glistening, highly-polished Dixie, only needed the glint that the sun lent to complete the picture afforded by his fine craft.
"Oh, isn't this glorious!" exclaimed Marita. "I thought I should be frightened, but this is—lovely."
"Frightened!" repeated Belle. "I used to be so afraid of the water I couldn't see anything but the bottom every time I came out; but now I just love it."
"Hey there, Dray!" shouted Ed. "You're out of the course. Get in from shore!"
"He's keeping his eye on those girls on the beach," laughed Walter. "Those are the lassies who have the white canoe." So saying he waved his own cap and a flutter of handkerchiefs from the beach came back in recognition.
"Turn at the island," ordered Denny.
Here a white flag fluttered, the stake left from some recent sailing races. Gracefully the Chelton rounded the stake first. Drayton had lost time in running too close to shore. Only a minute later the Dixie swayed after the Chelton, then the final stretch was taken up in earnest. Spectators on the bank might wave now, but the motorists had no eyes for them. A slight miss in the Chelton's explosion brought Denny and Ed to their feet—there should be no break in the rhythm of that chug.
"She's all right," Ed called to the old sailor, "only too much oil."
Denny shook his head lest a word might interfere with the boat's motion. Dray stood up and did something that caused the bow of his boat to shoot up, while the stern seemed to bury itself in the waves.
"His is a racer," Walter told Bess, who was as intent as any of the watchers on the result of the trial of speed.
"Maybe ours will turn out to be a winner," Bess responded. "We keep pretty close."
Jack never took his hand off the steering wheel, Denny was watching the engine, and the others were peering down the straight course ahead.
"Oh, I'm getting all wet," exclaimed Marita, for the spray was dashing in on all sides.
"Get down in the bottom," advised Walter, "we can't slacken up now. Or go in the cabin if you like and close the ports."
This was a signal for all three girls to slip down to the floor of the boat and while they lost the good view afforded from the seats, they evidently enjoyed the change, and craned their necks to see over the sides.
"Of course Dray will win," complained Belle. "We couldn't expect to beat the Dixie."
"We might," encouraged Bess. "Cora said this boat had remarkable speed for its size."
"Gee, whiz!" shouted Walter, "look at that spray deluge Dray!"
"And she's missing," added Ed, for the sounds from the Dixie were distinctly out of time.
Suddenly Dray's boat slowed down, and the Chelton shot so far ahead that it was plain something had happened to the Dixie.
Jack stood up and looked back. "Something is wrong," he said. "We had better not get too far ahead. Dray is fussing with the carbureter."
The race was over. The girls stood up from their hiding place and Jack turned the boat about. By this time Dray had turned off the gasoline and the Dixie merely heaved up and down on the swells.
"What's the matter, Dray?" called Walter. "Something given way?"
"I don't know," answered Dray, "she simply won't 'mote.'"
"Let me take a look at her," suggested Denny, ever eager for a new adventure.
"Oh, there are Cora and Lottie!" exclaimed Belle. "Can't we go in for them, and look after Dray's boat afterward?"
"That would be a nice way to treat a ship in distress," said Denny, "but excuse me," and he showed regret at his remark. "I shouldn't be thinkin' of a lad when the young girls are needin' help."
"Oh, the girls are all right," Jack assured the old seaman; "but say, Dray," he called, "what's the matter, anyhow?"
"Just give me a line and tow me in, then we will hold a post mortem," replied Dray, good humoredly. "I don't fancy taking her apart out here."
"Good!" exclaimed Marita, "then we can go for Cora and Lottie."
Promptly the brand new rope of the Chelton was tossed to the disabled boat and fastened, then the two boats started for shore.
Cora and Lottie were waiting. The latter had shed her wet "garments of vanity," as Belle described them, for a simple brown linen frock.
"What happened?" called Cora, as the boats neared shore.
"Mis-happened," answered Dray. "It was just fate. We couldn't expect to beat the motor girls."
"Nice of you," acknowledged Cora, "but I am sorry if there is anything wrong with your beautiful boat."
"It's the boat and not the boy," remarked Ed. "Well, we'll do as much for you some day, Cora. Wait until we get our little Lassie out. She, being a mere girl, may have a show."
"What's the matter, Lottie?" asked Bess, as they landed and the girls noted that Lottie was remarkably quiet, and even a trifle pale.
"Not a thing," Cora hurriedly answered, while she crushed her fingers on Lottie's arm. "We were detained at the bungalow, that's all. We'll tell you all about it later on."
The girls gathered around Cora and Lottie at this remark. But Cora, by some mysterious signal system, had warned Lottie not to say anything, and she soon joined the boys, who had already boarded the Dixie to overhaul her.
They looked at the engine, at the spark plugs, at the cylinder, but Cora, who happened to have more room at the point where the carbureter was situated, suddenly exclaimed:
"I've got it! Water in the carbureter!"
"Right-o!" confirmed Dray, in another moment. "The spray mixed with the gas—dashed over into the air in-take valve. Moral, go slow, for water sometimes is fatal, even in a good cause!"
"Shame to spoil the race," said Ed; "we were just warming up."
"It's all right," commented Denny, "and a good lesson. I never knew myself that too much speed would do the like of that. Well, I must be off doin' some chores. I've been a-galavantin' most of the day, and the fishes of Crystal Bay are not educated to come up to me door yet. Thank you for the sport. It was fine," he concluded, genially.
"Indeed you must come along again," Cora urged. "This was only a baby-trial. We will want to be going out on the deep soon; then you must come along."
"Thank you, very kindly," Denny called, as he started off. "The deep is a bad place for young 'uns, I can tell you. Better stick around shore."
"Tell us what is the matter, Lottie," demanded Bess, for Lottie had not yet recovered her self-possession.
"Oh, I guess I had a chill," she evaded, glancing at Cora.
"And the mere sight of a couple of strange men startled her," Cora added. "I have warned her there may be lots of strange men around Crystal Bay."
"But not the same strange men every time," Lottie put in. This gave a clue to her fright. The men who had secluded themselves under the Lonely Willow that morning had appeared again, this time in the vicinity of the girls' bungalow, now known as the "Motely Mote."
IN THE MOTELY MOTE
"Do you young ladies realize that we have the cares of housekeeping on our shoulders?" asked Cora, from a mass of boxes and bags, not to mention trunks, in the alleged living room of the Mote.
"Oh, let us forget it—do," begged Bess. "I always hate the summertime when it brings dishes and things."
"It's good for you," affirmed Marita. Bess did know that hard work is considered "good" for stout persons.
"Maybe, but it is not pleasant," Bess answered, flinging herself upon the improvised couch, a matter of hammocks and blankets, still bearing baggage checks and tie-ropes.
"But our housekeeper has given notice," announced Cora. "And I don't wonder. Not one has been on time for a single meal since we arrived. But I must say, I wish she had stayed until the stuff was all unpacked. It's dreadful on the hands," and she looked at hers ruefully.
"Why not ask the boys to help?" asked Lottie, who was doing her best to press her damp clothes by stretching the most important of them over Belle's trunk, and holding them there with two suitcases. "If I had not gotten these things wet I should have been glad to unpack, but if I leave them this way over night I shall never be able to wear them again."
"If you knew the boys as well as we do," Bess put in, "you would know what their help means. They would insist upon trying on every article of clothing they unpacked; wouldn't they Cora?"
"Something like that, Bess, if they did unpack at all. But, seriously, if you will give me a little help to drag these empty trunks to the porch, I will tell you of a plan I have evolved. Of course we cannot remain this way without a chaperone."
"Isn't it perfectly silly?" complained Belle. "As if we were not all capable of taking care of ourselves."
"Oh, I don't know about that," objected Cora. "I have noticed that in case of emergency, when some strange man happens to poke his nose in at the window, we are all rather glad to acknowledge we are mere babes."
"And also when we meet them under willow trees," Marita reminded the boastful ones. "I am sure I agree with Cora that we need a chaperone, and perhaps a policeman or two."
The girls paused in dragging the baggage toward the front door.
"Just the same," Marita went on, "Lottie was frightened to-day and she only heard a strange man say, 'They call them the motor girls.' As if that was anything terrifying."
"But it was the way they said it," Lottie protested. "They just peered at us—and——"
"Now, Lottie," said Cora, "you have an idea that everyone who looks at us 'peers' at us. For my part I was rather flattered by their attention. You see the fame of the motor girls is spreading. But let me now make my proposition," and she settled down on the rug that was intended to cover the floor—some time.
"Let her 'prop'!" cried Belle.
"Well, you know our little friend, Freda, has lost some property; that is, her mother and herself have lost a certain claim to it. This little colony around here is fairly bristling with the prosperity implanted in it by such thrifty men as was Freda's grandfather, but in spite of that, strangers come in, make a big fuss about riparian rights, and government laws, and property claims and, in so doing, pretend to discover a flaw in a title that for years has been considered perfectly clear." She paused, for Bess had opened her mouth twice, and this time Cora wanted to hear what she had to say.
"We heard some women talking about that to-day," said Bess, "and they said it was a shame to take a homestead from Mrs. Lewis. They were not whispering their opinions, either."
"So it is a shame," Cora said, "and if we can, in any way, help to get the truth established, we will surely have a good reason to remember this holiday."
"How?" queried Marita. "We don't understand anything about land, and deeds, and lawyers."
At this everyone but Marita laughed. She was not acquainted with the daring deeds of the motor girls, as that was what they had undertaken and accomplished in the past.
"You see, Marita dear," Cora explained, "because we seem such harmless babies we are able to get information that others, considered more dangerous, might not have access to. Now, let me continue. There are men around here, members of some sort of a land company, who are trying to get hold of certain papers. We don't know whether they exist or not, but in our own quiet, girlish way——"
Here she was interrupted with a burst of mocking laughter. "Your quiet girlish way," repeated Belle. "Why, Cora, I do believe if you thought you could get the better of that land company you would take the Chelton, and go—pirating! Wouldn't it be great to go out on a dark night, steam up the bay, watch for other boats, listen to the smugglers——"
"Oh, Belle," put in Lottie, "that's not the way in books. We would have to go out and get kidnapped, and then, when in the cave, we would hear the plot of the men who were going to steal the old homestead."
"Hurrah!" cried her hearers.
"Lottie for captain of the kidnapped," suggested Cora. "Now, Lottie, when it gets good and dark you are to go out under the biggest tree on the place and await your captors."
"Hello there! Anybody home?"
"The boys!" gasped Belle. "Now what about having wasted our time? Come in!"
"Nice of you to ask us," groaned Jack. "Say, we are dead and buried, and the will is now being read. Somebody broke into our larder and stole the grub. Have you any to put out at interest?"
"Stole your eatables!" exclaimed Marita.
"Well, you could scarcely call it that," replied Jack, espying an undamaged orange on the window sill, and making a lunge for it. "We did intend to eat the stuff, but it was just plain grub—not eatables."
"Jack, haven't you boys had your supper?" asked Cora.
"We are on a diet," explained Jack. "Wallie had the crackers, Ed nabbed the dried beef—he's the biggest and needs the most, you know—and I got the pickles. Then we followed directions, and each drank three sips of pure spring water. But the trouble arose when Dray came in. He said he was to have milk—doctor's orders. We didn't have any but 'pretense' milk, so Dray is now out looking for a cow."
Just then the sound of approaching footsteps was heard.
"They come!" announced Jack. "I was merely the herald. Have you made out the menu, Cora dear?"
"Do you mean to say we have to feed—all you boys?" demanded Bess.
"Feed us? No, we can eat with spoons. Just lead us to the eats. Really, it is serious with Dray. He has already gone dead white. Come in, fellows. We are expecting you. The girls are just getting out the best linen!"
Dray, Walter and Ed entered, and like Jack, showed signs of starvation. They literally fell into the most convenient spot available as they reached the room.
"Good evening, ladies," panted Dray. "We are delighted to accept your kind invitation to dine with you. Pray pardon the togs. I feel like a regular 'toff,' don't you know, but my studs are for the moment lost. And what is a frock without the studs!"
"Well, if this isn't the very utmost," said Cora, laughing at the boys' predicament. "Do you mean to say that you are really hungry?"
"Shall we demonstrate?" asked Ed. "Do you allow us? Belle, get out the chronometer and a hunk of something. If you don't soon you will have a case of homicide on your hands."
Finally believing that the boys were hungry, the girls proceeded to empty the ice box on the back porch. They did not find any too much food there, for the sudden departure of their housekeeper that afternoon had left the girls themselves almost stranded. But, being girls, they managed the living end a little better than the boys did.
The boys, it seemed, had laid in a stock of canned stuff, in the usual hit-and-miss way, but some other campers found the "cave" where the food had been hidden. It was out of the question either to take or get ice, so the next best thing considered was the digging of a big hole in a very damp place. Into this the boys had sunk a nice, clean, galvanized tub, and in it the victuals had been placed. On top was a cover, made of boards and oil cloth, and over this was placed the limb from a tree, this last to detract attention.
"Now, wouldn't you think," said Jack, as he fortified himself with a sandwich, "that any decent chap would know that we belonged to the union? We are going to form a housewives' league at dawn to-morrow, and then we will find the culprits. They will be offering us our own grub at exorbitant rates."
"Bright little Jackie," commented Bess, who was devouring cheese and macaroons. "When you find the culprits you will have a perfectly good movie act in your camp. It will be entitled 'The Fate of the Kid Grubber.'"
While the boys were thus engaged in the delightful task of keeping off starvation, the girls were anxious to hear what was the proposition Cora had offered to lay before them.
"That's just the way," grumbled Belle; "we never can get at the interesting things!"
"I am going to tell the boys this minute," threatened Marita. "We notice, Belle, that you brought out that lemon pie that was hidden. Looks as if you found the boys rather interesting."
"Now you know exactly what I mean," insisted Belle. "Cora said we had to have a chaperone and we all agreed. Instead, we have a crowd of noisy boys."
"When you boys have finished," Cora remarked, "we would like to clear up the debris. Also, we have a sad announcement to make. We have lost our housekeeper!"
"Good!" almost shouted Ed. "I apply at once. I can give every qualification, even to a civil service examination. Cora, I never tasted such food before——"
"Mutiny!" yelled Jack, making a spring at Ed, which ended in such a mixup that the girls fled to the kitchen.
"We really cannot stay alone here to-night," Cora said.
But the boys had come to their feet again, and evidently to terms. Jack was hugging Walter and Dray was smoothing Ed's black hair.
"Will the boys go and leave us?" asked the timid Marita.
"Of course they will, and that right now," declared Cora. "We have no time to spare to get someone else to stay with us, however. Bess, do you want to come with me? I am going out for our new companion."
FRIGHTS OR FANCIES
"Oh, do hurry," pleaded Cora. "I had no idea it was so late. And it is awfully dark."
"A nice way to scare me when you have got me out," objected Bess. "Cora Kimball, I have a great mind to run back. I never saw lights look so attractive as they do just now in the Mote."
"Run back if you like," returned Cora, "but I will run on. It was unfortunate that the boys came in just as they did. I really have a good reason for not wanting to stay alone to-night."
"You have?" asked Bess. "I knew you and Lottie had had some adventure."
"Oh, don't be silly, Bess," and Cora laughed lightly. "Everything is perfectly safe and sane at the bay, but what I want is to get over to the little cottage where Freda and her mother are living before they retire. It is Mrs. Lewis I hope to get as our housekeeper."
"Mrs. Lewis!" exclaimed Bess in surprise.
"Yes, but we won't call her housekeeper. I haven't thought it all out yet; in fact, I am not sure they will come, but I hope so."
"Oh, so do I; that would be fine," and Bess almost forgot how black the night was. "I met Mrs. Lewis the day we came, and I could not help thinking what a fine, wholesome mother Freda had."
"Yes, I have been talking to her and I think she is just that—fine and wholesome. And goodness knows," added Cora fervently, "we need some weight at the Mote. But they may not consent. I happened to overhear a remark this afternoon that set me to thinking. I am afraid poor Freda and her mother are in for further trouble."
They hurried along, making their way with difficulty in the deep sand that covered road and path alike. Once or twice they paused, startled at the sound of men's voices, then hurried the more to make up for lost time.
"Why didn't we have one of the boys come with us?" asked Bess.
"Because I am not ready yet to have the boys know all our plans, and to trust one of them—Bess Robinson, you know our boys. What one knows the rest can guess."
"That's so," mused Bess. "Is that the cottage?"
"Yes, right over there," and Cora indicated a light through the trees. "I am glad they are still up!"
It was only a few steps further, and this space was rapidly covered. As the two girls reached the porch, and before they had a chance to touch the knocker, the door was opened by Freda.
"Who is it?" she asked in a frightened voice.
"Only Cora and Bess," Cora replied, noting the fear in Freda's tone. "Are we too late to come in?"
"No, indeed," Freda replied, reassured. "I was afraid it might be unwelcome visitors, but you are heartily welcome."
The living room of the cottage was typical of the seashore—a long apartment, with field-stone fireplace and fumed fir trim. The stairway led up from the room and gave it an air of even greater spaciousness. Altogether it was most attractive. Mrs. Lewis, a slim, fine-featured woman, rose from her rocker as the girls entered.
"It is late to call," began Cora, "but our business is really urgent. We have been left all alone suddenly—our housekeeper says she received a hurried call to go back to her family in the city. I don't question the call, I know how often and faithfully they follow maids who find a country place lonely; but the fact is we girls do not fancy staying alone to-night."
"Why, of course not," replied Mrs. Lewis, briskly. "You must have some older person with you."
It was plain, now that the girls had become accustomed to the lights, that Freda and her mother had both been crying. Their eyes were red and their cheeks swollen. Freda saw that the girls observed this.
"Yes, we have been weeping," she said, with an attempt at a smile. "It seems as though we have new troubles daily."
"I am so sorry," Cora returned. "I wish we could help you."
"I am sure you have done so," replied Mrs. Lewis. "Freda has great hopes that you girls will do for us what perhaps lawyers might not be able to do." She hesitated and Freda went on:
"Those horrid men from the land company were here again this afternoon. They say we have no right even to this little cottage."
"No right here!" exclaimed Cora. "I believe they are just trying to get you to leave the place so that they can go on with their plans without being watched."
"I never thought of that," replied Mrs. Lewis, as though the idea was novel to her. "Then, indeed, they will have more trouble than brow-beating to get us to leave Crystal Bay."
"I must hurry with my errand," said Cora. "I came to see if it would be possible for you and Freda to lock up and come over with us to-night. I am afraid those land sharks have our little place marked, too, for they have been loitering around all day. I don't want to tell the boys. They are hasty and so apt to resent any intrusion that would worry us."
"Why should the men bother you?" asked Mrs. Lewis.
"I suppose because they know that Freda is a friend of ours," replied Cora. "But don't worry about them bothering us, all we want is to be able to meet them fairly. Of course if they knew we were alone at night they might be mean enough to frighten us, and some of the girls are rather timid."
"Indeed, we will lock up at once," declared Mrs. Lewis, "and go right over with you. We have not many treasures now to be afraid of losing."
"Oh, that is splendid!" Cora cried. Freda immediately went about fastening the windows and seeing to the general locking up, while Mrs. Lewis hurried up stairs to pack a small bag. It seemed as though they were ready almost instantly, much to the relief of Bess, who kept wondering if the boys would remain at the bungalow with the girls until her own and Cora's return.
"Now we are off," said Mrs. Lewis, looking back at her home with a wistful sigh. She seemed to have a premonition that leaving it meant more than appeared at the moment.
Freda walked with Bess while Mrs. Lewis and Cora kept close behind them. They had not more than reached the turn that led to the direct path when shouts and laughter were heard.
"There are the girls," Bess exclaimed. "They are looking for us."
The surmise was correct, for directly the answer came back to the familiar camp call.
"Here we are!" cried Cora. "On the pine path."
"Oh!" gasped Belle. "We have had the greatest fright! Where have you been?"
"Making a call," replied Cora, calmly. "What was your fright?"
"Come along and I'll tell you," Belle replied. Then she saw Freda and Mrs. Lewis.
"We have brought protectors," Cora said. "Mrs. Lewis and Freda are going to spend the night with us."
"Oh, splendid!" exclaimed Marita. "I was so afraid we would have to stay alone."
"Where are the boys?" Cora asked.
"Someone from the beach came up and said Dray's boat was loose, and of course, they had to all go at once to tie it up."