The Outdoor Girls At Ocean View
THE BOX THAT WAS FOUND IN THE SAND
BY LAURA LEE HOPE
AUTHOR OF "THE OUTDOOR GIRLS OF DEEPDALE," "THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS," "THE BOBBSEY TWINS," ETC.
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
BOOKS FOR GIRLS
BY LAURA LEE HOPE
* * * * *
12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Price per volume.
50 cents, postpaid.
THE OUTDOOR GIRLS SERIES
THE OUTDOOR GIRLS OF DEEPDALE THE OUTDOOR GIRLS AT RAINBOW LAKE THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN A MOTOR CAR THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN A WINTER CAMP THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN FLORIDA THE OUTDOOR GIRLS AT OCEAN VIEW
THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS SERIES
THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS AT OAK FARM THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS SNOW BOUND THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS UNDER THE PALMS THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS AT ROCKY RANCH THE MOVING PICTURE GIRLS AT SEA
THE BOBBSEY TWINS SERIES
For Little Men and Women
THE BOBBSEY TWINS THE BOBBSEY TWINS IN THE COUNTRY THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT THE SEASHORE THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT SCHOOL THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT SNOW LODGE THE BOBBSEY TWINS ON A HOUSEBOAT THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT MEADOWBROOK
GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1915, BY
GROSSET & DUNLAP.
* * * * *
THE OUTDOOR GIRLS AT OCEAN VIEW
I ANTICIPATIONS 1
II INTERRUPTIONS 9
III PREPARATIONS 17
IV OFF FOR OCEAN VIEW 26
V OLD TIN-BACK 36
VI THE BOYS 44
VII THE STORM 53
VIII THE MEN IN THE BOAT 61
IX THE BOX IN THE SAND 69
X CONJECTURES 75
XI THE CIPHER 81
XII THE FALSE BOTTOM 89
XIII THE DIAMOND TREASURE 95
XIV SEEKING CLUES 101
XV A NIGHT ALARM 109
XVI ON THE BEACH 118
XVII ANOTHER ALARM 126
XVIII ANXIOUS DAYS 135
XIX THE PICNIC 146
XX CAUGHT 154
XXI ON THE SCHOONER 163
XXII THE SEARCH 172
XXIII SMUGGLED DIAMONDS 181
XXIV TO THE RESCUE 190
XXV ALL'S WELL—CONCLUSION 199
THE OUTDOOR GIRLS AT OCEAN VIEW
Three girls were strolling down the street, and, as on the occasion when the three fishermen once sailed out to sea, the sun was going down. The golden rays, slanting in from over the western hills that stood back of the little town of Deepdale, struck full in the faces of the maids as they turned a corner, and so bright was the glare that one of them—a tall, willowy lass, with a wealth of fluffy, light hair, turned aside with a cry of annoyance.
"Oh, why can't the sun be nice!" she exclaimed, half-petulantly.
"What do you want it to do, Grace?" asked a vivacious, dark-complexioned sprite next to the complaining one. "Go under a cloud just to suit you?"
"No, my dear, I'm not as fussy as that!"
"Indeed not!" chimed in the third member of the trio, a quiet girl, with thoughtful eyes. "What Grace wants is some nice young fellow to come along with an umbrella, hoist it over her, and invite her in to have—a chocolate soda!"
"Why, Amy Blackford! I'll never speak to you again!" gasped the accused one, blushing vividly, the more so as the rays of the setting sun fell upon her face. "All I said was——"
"Look!" suddenly interrupted the vivacious member of the small party—a party that attracted no little attention, for at the sight of the three pretty girls, strolling arm in arm down the main thoroughfare of the town, more than one person turned for a second look.
"Gracious! What is it?" demanded Grace. "Did you see—some one, Billy?"
"No—something," came the answer from the dark girl with the boyish name, and at a glance you could understand why she was called so. There was such a wholesome, frank and comrade-like quality about her, though she was not at all masculine, that "Billy" just suited.
"Look," she went on. "Isn't that a perfectly gorgeous display of chocolates!" and she indicated the window of a confectionery store just in front of them.
"Oh, I must have some of those!" cried Grace Ford. "Come on in, girls! I'll treat. They're those new bitter-sweet chocolates. I didn't know Borker kept them. I'm simply dying for some!" and with this rather exaggerated statement she fairly pulled her two chums after her into the store.
"Look!" Grace went on, pausing a moment when inside the shop to glance at the chocolate display in the show-window. "Did you ever see anything so—so appetizing?"
"It looks like a display at a picnic candy kitchen," murmured she who had been called Billy.
"Why, Mollie Billette!" reproached Grace Ford. "I think it's perfectly splendid."
"But not appetizing," declared Amy Blackford. "I don't see how you can think of eating any, when it's so near dinner time, Grace."
"We don't have dinner until seven, and it's only five. Besides, I'm not going to eat many—now."
"No, she'll take a box home, and keep them in bed, under her pillow—I know her," put in Mollie, alias Billy. "I slept with her one night and I wondered whether she had lumps of coal, or some kitchen kindling wood between the sheets. But it wasn't—it was chocolates! The box had worked out from under her pillow in the night and——"
"Mollie Billette! You promised never to tell that!" pouted Grace. "I don't care. They were hard chocolates, and didn't do any damage."
"No, and they weren't damaged, either," laughed Mollie. "I know we sat up eating them until your mother came in and made us go to sleep. Oh, Grace, you certainly are hopeless when it comes to chocolates!"
A smiling clerk came up to wait on the girls, and while Grace was pointing out what she wanted, the two friends stood aside, talking in low tones.
"Where are you going this summer?" asked Mollie, of Amy.
"I don't know. Henry isn't just sure what he will do—at least, he wasn't the last I talked with him about it. I suppose, though, I shall go wherever Mr. and Mrs. Stonington go, and that is likely to be the mountains, I heard them say. What are your plans, Mollie?"
"About as unsettled as yours. I did want to go to the seashore, but mamma is so afraid of the water for Paul and Dodo. Those children never seem to grow, and half my pleasure is spoiled giving way to them."
"Oh, but they are such sweet dears!" protested Amy.
"Yes, I know, but you ought to live with them a year or so. Did I tell you Paul's latest?"
"I think not."
"Well, he has a rocking-horse, you know, and the other day——"
"Have some," interrupted Grace, thrusting her bag of chocolates between her two girl chums, and thus interrupting Mollie's story. "Don't you want a soda? I've enough change left."
"Soda? Indeed not!" cried Mollie. "And I don't want more than one or two candies, either!" she went on, as she tried to prevent Grace from generously emptying half the bag into her small, gloved hands.
The three girls were laughing and—yes, truth compels me to say they were giggling—when the door of the shop swung open, a girl entered and at the sight of the newcomer the three burst out with:
"The Little Captain!"
"Betty Nelson, where were you? We've been looking all over for you!"
"Yes, so I heard," was the calm response of the fourth girl, who swung in with a certain vigor and lithesomeness as though she had just come from a game of tennis or basketball. There was a wholesome air of good health about her, a sparkle in her eyes, and a glow in her cheeks that told of life in the open.
"I saw you turn in here," she went on, "and I knew I had plenty of time, as long as I saw Grace with you, so I didn't hurry."
"Oh, I haven't bought so much," declared Grace, with an injured air. "Just because I want some chocolates now and then——"
"Now—and—then!" mocked Betty Nelson, with a laugh. "Better say now—and—always. No, thank you," and with a shake of her head she declined some candy from the bag. "Just had lunch a little while ago. Mother and I ate on the train."
"Where were you?" demanded Mollie. "At the house they said you were out of town, and we thought it strange, as you hadn't said anything about going away, especially as we so recently came back from Florida."
"It was just a little trip, suddenly taken," Betty explained. "Mother and I went down to the shore to select our summer cottage."
"And did you?" asked Mollie, with sparkling eyes.
"We did, and, oh, it's such a darling place!"
"Where?" came the question in a chorus.
"At Ocean View, the prettiest place on the New England coast, I think. Of course it's small, and old fashioned, and all that, but——"
"Oh, how I wish we were going to some place like that!" exclaimed Mollie.
"So do I," chimed in Grace. "Father talks of Lake Champlain again, and I detest it."
"How about you, Amy?" asked the Little Captain, turning to the quiet girl.
"I haven't heard where we are going."
"Good!" cried Betty. "This is just what I expected. If you haven't any plans, none will have to be—un-made. It makes it so much easier."
"Makes what easier?" demanded Mollie.
"My plan, my dear! Listen, I think it's just the loveliest idea. Mother and I looked at two cottages. One was almost too small, and the other was much too large, until I unfolded my plan to her. Then she saw that it was just right."
"Just right for what?" asked Grace.
"Just right for all us girls to go there and spend the summer. Now don't say a word until you have heard it all!" cautioned Betty, as she saw signs of protest on Amy's face. "You must agree with me—at least for once."
"As if she didn't always have her way!" remarked Mollie.
"We four—the Outdoor Girls—are going to Ocean View for the summer!" went on Betty. "We'll have the loveliest, gayest times, for it's the most beautiful beach! And the cottage is a perfect dear—it's just charming. Mother has agreed, so it's all settled. All that remains is to tell your people, and we'll do that right away. Come on!" and leading her friends forth from the candy-shop, Betty really seemed like some little captain marshaling her pretty forces.
"The seashore!" repeated Amy. "Oh, I'm sure I should love it!"
"Of course you would, dear!" exclaimed Betty. "And that's where you—and all of us—are going!"
"Oh, but you are so sure!" exclaimed Mollie, in accented tones.
"Oh, but you are so—Frenchy!" half-mocked Betty, with a laugh.
"There! It is all settled! We will spend the Summer at Ocean View! And now come down to my house and we'll talk about it!"
And, filled with delightful anticipations, the four girls strolled down the sun-lit street.
"Come in, girls! Grace, put your chocolates—what are left of them—over on the mantel. Now sit down, and I'll tell you all about it."
Betty drew forward some easy chairs for her guests, who distributed themselves about the handsome library, in more or less artistic confusion. Betty herself took a hard, uncompromising sort of chair, of teakwood, wonderfully carved by some dead and forgotten Chinese artist. The seat was of red marble, and the back was inlaid with ivory, in the shape of a grinning face.
"Do keep yourself close against it, Betty dear," begged Grace, who sat opposite her friend. "That Chinese face positively hypnotizes me."
"Well, I want you all to be hypnotized into quietness, long enough to listen to me," spoke Betty, with a charmingly commanding air.
Grace Ford, obediently depositing her chocolates on the mantel, save a few which she "sequestered" for use during the talk, had tastefully "draped" herself on a comfortable couch. Mollie, with a mind to color effect, had seated herself in a big chair that had a flame-colored velvet back, against which her blue-black hair showed to advantage (like a poster girl, Betty said), while Amy, like the quiet little mouse which she was, had stolen off into a corner, where she was half-hidden by a palm.
"And, now to begin at the beginning," announced Betty. "Oh, I know you will just love it at Ocean View!" and she gave a little squeal of delight.
"I wish we were as sure of going as you are," murmured Grace, putting out the tip of her red tongue, to absorb a drop of chocolate from a long, slim finger.
"Just you wait," said Betty, half-mysteriously.
And while she is preparing to plunge into the details concerning the new summer plans, I will take just a moment to tell my new readers something about the other books of this series, and give them an idea of the girls themselves.
In "The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale; Or, Camping and Tramping for Fun and Health," the originating idea of the four girls was set forth. They felt that they were spending too much time indoors, and they decided to live more in the glorious open. They felt that they would have better health and more fun in doing this, and events proved that they were right, at least in part.
As for the girls themselves, they were Grace Ford, Mollie Billette, Betty Nelson and Amy Stonington-Blackford, or nee Blackford, if you dislike the hyphen. But that latter form of name does not indicate that Amy was married.
In the opening story Amy's name was Stonington, the ward of John and Sarah Stonington. But there was a mystery in her past, and it was solved when, in addition to unraveling the mystery of a five-hundred-dollar bill, Amy found a long-lost brother, whose name was Henry Blackford.
So Amy's real name was found to be Blackford, though she continued to live with the Stoningtons, and more than half the time her chums called her by the name under which they had known her so long.
Amy was a girl of quiet disposition, and while she had not been altogether happy during the time she was unable to solve the mystery about her identity, when that problem had been cleared up she was of a much brighter disposition. Still, the years of quiet had had their effect on her.
Betty Nelson, often called the Little Captain, because she was such a born leader, was the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Nelson, the former a rich carpet manufacturer. Betty loved, to "do things," as witness her assumption of the summer plans of her chums.
Grace Ford was tall and slender, and often spoken of as a "Gibson" type, by those who admire that artist's peculiar, and always charming, conception of young womanhood. Grace lived with her father and mother, the other member of the family being her brother Will, a hasty, impulsive lad, whose character had, more than once, gotten him into trouble, to the no small annoyance of Grace. Grace had one failing, if such it can be called. She was exceedingly fond of chocolates and other sweets, and was never without some confection in her possession.
And then there was Billy—as Mollie Billette was nicknamed. Mollie was the daughter of a well-to-do widow, Mrs. Pauline Billette, whose French ancestry you could guess by her name and by her appearance and manner. Mollie was a bit French herself. There were two other children, the funny little twins, Paul and "Dodo," as Dora called herself in her lisping fashion. Paul and Dodo were at once the loving care and despair of Mollie and her mother.
So much for the four chums, who were known as the Outdoor Girls.
After their activities, as set down in the first volume of this series, they were next heard of at Rainbow Lake, where, in Betty's motor boat, the Gem, they had some stirring and exciting times.
But, stirring as those times were, they were equalled, if not excelled, when Mollie became possessed of a motor car, and took her chums on a tour which ended only when the mystery of the haunted mansion of Shadow Valley was solved.
Glorious days on skates and iceboats followed, when the outdoor girls went to a winter camp. And then came a contrast when it was learned that Mr. Stonington had purchased an orange grove in Florida, and that Amy had the privilege of inviting her friends to spend the winter in the Sunny South.
For what happened there I refer you to the volume dealing with our friends' activities amid the palms. Sufficient to say that they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. They had returned to Deepdale, their home town on the Argono River, just as spring was budding forth.
And now, this glorious day, the four girls had met once again, and were ready for something new, which something seemed to be offered by Betty Nelson.
"You see it's this way, girls," went on the Little Captain, as she explained matters. "Mother just loves the sea, and she has been wanting a permanent place there for some time. Papa has been looking about, and he heard of Edgemere, a beautiful big cottage, almost on the beach. He said he would buy it if mamma liked it, and so she and I went to look at it to-day."
"You don't mean to say you have been to Ocean View, and back, this same day!" exclaimed Grace, in surprise.
"Yes. We went down on the first train this morning—up before the sun, really, and we arrived before noon. It did not take us long to decide about the cottage. Mamma and I leased it, with the privilege of buying in the fall, if we like it. Then we came back, and on the way, in the train, I asked mamma if I couldn't have you girls down for the summer."
"And she didn't faint at the prospect?" asked Mollie, mischievously.
"The idea!" cried Betty. "Of course not! She was delighted! So, as soon as our train arrived, which was only a few minutes ago, I started looking for you. As I came up from the station, leaving mamma to go home in the car, I spied you three just turning into the candy store."
"Grace is the only one who will 'turn into' a candy store," spoke Mollie. "She will actually turn into a drop of chocolate some day, if she isn't careful."
"Smarty!" mocked the fair one.
"Well, I found you there, at any rate," went on Betty, "and you know the rest; or, rather, you will when I tell you about Edgemere!"
"Edgemere—what's that?" asked Amy.
"It isn't a new kind of confection, even if Grace thinks so," laughed Mollie.
"I—I'll throw something at you if you don't stop!" threatened the Gibson girl, but as all she had in her hand was a chocolate, and as she never would have devoted that to such a purpose, she once more curled up luxuriously on the sofa.
"Edgemere—on the edge of the ocean," translated Betty. "It's the name of our cottage. Now, girls, I'm just dying to have you see it. I brought back some picture postcards of the place. Ocean View is the dearest, quaintest old fishing village you can imagine. It's like Provincetown, somewhat, only different, and——"
"What's that?" suddenly interrupted Grace.
"The boys," spoke Mollie. "As if that awful racket could be anything else."
There sounded on the porch of the Nelson home the heavy tramp of several feet, and the murmur of eager voices.
"Are the girls here?" someone asked.
"That's my brother, Will—bother! I suppose I have to go home," said Grace, petulantly.
"I'll go see," offered Betty. "It sounds like more than Will."
"It is!" cried Mollie, peering under the window shade. "There's Amy's brother, besides Allen Washburn, Roy Anderson and—oh, there's that johnny—Percy Falconer. What in the world can have brought them all here?"
"Natural attractions—the magnet—as the flower draws the bee—and so on and so on," murmured Betty. "I'll ask them in," and she went to meet the boys whose voices could now be heard in the hall.
"Is Grace here?"
"Where's Amy? I heard she came this way—oh, yes, they're all here, boys. We've found the right place."
"Just in time for five o'clock tea, aren't we!"
"What's that? Did Percy get that off? Just for that he sha'n't have any sweet spirits of nitre!"
A chorus of laughs followed the last remarks, which, in turn, were uttered after the rather drawling manner of a tall, slim, well-dressed lad, whose countenance did not betoken any great amount of intelligence.
"Well, it is time for five o'clock tea!" remonstrated the youth who had been characterized by one of the girls as a "johnny" for want of a better term.
"Oh, mercy, girls! Percy's got a wrist watch!" gasped Will Ford in falsetto tones. "The saucy little humming bird! Zip!"
"Behave yourselves or you can't come in!" remonstrated Betty, who had relieved the maid at the door. "What is this, anyhow; a delegation of protest or petition?"
"Both," answered Allen Washburn, with a quick, eel-like motion that took him past his chums and placed him at Betty's side. She blushed a little at this act, but did not seem displeased.
"We heard you girls had been seen planning some deep-laid scheme, as you came down the street," went on Will Ford, the brother of Grace, "and we followed. Where is my sainted sister? Making fudge or looking to see if some one is going to treat to sodas?"
"I wouldn't get many sodas if I depended on you," observed Grace, with pointed sarcasm.
"Save me!" ejaculated Will, pretending to hide behind Percy. "Don't let them harm me, will you, old man?"
"Stop!" remonstrated the slim chap, for Will was rather violent in his action, and Percy Falconer was anything but robust. "Besides, you are wrinkling my coat," he added.
"Shades of Beau Brummel!" murmured Roy Anderson, rather tousled in appearance, but with a wholesome, boyish look about him, "Save the wrist watch, Will."
"Say, what's the idea?" asked Mollie, a bit slangily. "Are you going to ask us out? If you are we can't go, for we have important business to transact."
"Yes, fellows, this is the annual session of the Associated Chocolate Fiends," spoke Will. "If you interrupt you'll be fined a box of caramels."
The laughing boys and girls crowded into the library. It was not an unusual occurrence for them all to thus gather at Betty's home, which seemed to be a rendezvous for such little parties. But the boys seldom came in such numbers.
"I wonder why they brought that—Percy," whispered Betty, when she had a chance at Grace's ear.
"No danger—they didn't bring him—he attached himself," replied Grace. For, be it known, Percy was not very well liked. The boys did not care for him because of his too well-dressed appearance, and his lack of appreciation of manly sports. And the girls did not like him—well, for as much a reason as anything, because Betty did not care for him.
Percy Falconer was, or imagined he was, very fond of Betty. And, to tell more of the truth, Betty distinctly did not care for Percy, though he tried to show her attentions. Now if it had been Allen Washburn, the young law student—well, that is an entirely different story. But as Allen was present on this occasion, the presence of Percy was rather mitigated.
"Girls, we've got news for you!" exclaimed Will, when he and the others had more or less carefully distributed themselves about the library. "Fine and dandy news!"
"The best ever!" added Henry Blackford, with a nod at Amy, who still clung to her modest place behind the palm.
"And, if you're real good, we'll let you in on it," declared Allen Washburn.
"Aren't they condescending, though," mocked Mollie. "As if we didn't have secrets ourselves!"
"Shall we tell them?" asked Grace.
"Let's hear theirs first," suggested Betty.
"What's the matter, Percy, has your wrist watch stopped?" asked Roy Anderson, with a chuckle, for the "johnny" was anxiously holding the timepiece to his ear.
"I—I believe I quite forgot to wind it," was the answer.
"Serious calamity!" murmured Allen, not taking much pains to keep his voice from Percy. That was one thing about the well-dressed youth; he never knew when fun was being poked at him.
"No, it's going all right," Percy spoke, after a silent pause. "It's just five," he added, with a meaning look at Betty.
She choose to ignore it, however, and at a nod from Mollie at once plunged into the matter she and her chums had been discussing when the boys interrupted them.
"We have taken a fine cottage at the shore—Ocean View," said Betty, "and we girls are going to spend the summer there. Don't you boys wish you were us?"
For a moment the young men looked at one another. Then smiles broke over their faces, which were beginning to take on the tan that would be deepened as the summer days approached.
"That sort of takes the edge off our news," spoke Allen. "But we'll tell you, just the same. One of my clients," he began, "has——"
"Hark to him, would you!" broke in Will. "As if he had more than one client."
"Oh, Will, can't you be quiet!" rebuked his sister. "Let Allen tell it."
"Yes," urged Roy. "Go on, old man."
"As I was saying, when interrupted by this individual," resumed Allen, "one of my clients, who owns a large motor boat, has decided not to use it this summer. He has offered it to me, and we boys have made up a party to go on a cruise along the New England shore—Martha's Vineyard, Block Island and all that, you know!"
"The New England shore!" cried Betty. "Why, that's where Ocean View is—in New England. If you boys motor along there, can't you come to see us?"
"Of course we can!" exclaimed Allen, quickly. "But we hoped you might be able to take a cruise with us."
"Not a very long one, though we might go for a day or so," went on Betty. "You see, the girls are to be my guests. We were just arranging it when you came in. But we're awfully glad you will be down that way."
"So are we!" exclaimed Roy. "It's a dandy boat Allen has the use of. Sleeping cabin and all that. We can live aboard her. Be out of sight of land for a week, maybe."
"Hardly as long as that," objected Will.
"Why not?" Allen wanted to know.
"I'm expecting news, you know. My appointment—and all that."
"Oh, that's so. I forgot. Well, we could put in every now and then, to see if there was any word for you."
"What's all this?" asked Grace, with a glance at her brother.
"Just a little secret, Sis," he answered.
"Oh, tell me!"
"Not now. Later. Now if you girls——"
"I say!" broke in Percy.
"Hello! He's come to life!" laughed Roy.
"Has your watch stopped again?" demanded Will.
"This is the first I heard about you fellows going on a cruise," went on Percy. "I—I really, I don't know that I can quite make it, don't you know."
"Oh, mercy! What a calamity!" whispered Allen, in the depths of a sofa cushion.
"Will you—will you go out where it is very rough?" asked Percy.
"Rough! You should see the water along the New England coast!" cried Henry Blackford. "Why, even when it's smoothest, a boat nearly turns on her beam ends."
"Would one—er—would one get—er—seasick?" faltered Percy.
"One would—most decidedly!" exclaimed Roy.
"Oh, dear! Then I don't believe I can go," went on the other. "But my father has promised to go for a tour in our motor car, and I may be able to induce him to take in the New England shore. It would be horribly jolly if I could, now; wouldn't it? What? Ha! Ha!" and he beamed on the assembled crowd of young people.
"Most beastly delightful!" mocked Will, in a low voice.
"Where's your place, Betty?" asked Allen.
The Little Captain told him, and the two moved off by themselves for a little chat.
"Say, Will, why don't you want to get too far from shore?" asked Grace of her brother. "What's the secret? I think you might tell me!"
"I will when the time comes," he said, coolly.
"You're not going back to Uncle Isaac's factory; are you?"
"Father Neptune forbid! No."
For, as a punishment for a school scrape, Will had been sent to work in a cotton factory owned by a relative. And, unable to stand the hard conditions there, he had run away, and had had no end of hard times in a turpentine camp, until, on their trip to Florida, the outdoor girls had been instrumental in rescuing him.
"No, I'm not going back there," Will said. "It's a new line of work, Sis, and while I'm waiting for a certain appointment I think I'll go on this cruise with Allen and the others."
"And do you think you'll come to see us at Ocean View?"
"We certainly will!"
A little later the conference of young people broke up. The boys said they must make preparations for their motor boat outing, and naturally Grace, Mollie and Amy were anxious to lay before their folks the invitation from Betty.
"But I'm sure they'll let you come," the latter said. Later that day she received telephone messages from her chums, stating that they could go to the seashore.
"Then get ready as soon as you can!" urged Betty.
"We will," promised Grace. Then as she carried up to her room a box of chocolates she had purchased—the third that day—she murmured to herself: "I wonder what that secret of Will's can be about? I do hope he doesn't get into any more trouble."
OFF FOR OCEAN VIEW
"Are you going to take all those?"
"All those? Why, there aren't so many, Mollie."
"Well, I like your idea of many, Betty. Why, you'll need two trunks for those dresses. Oh, where did you get that pretty linen skirt, and it's quite full, too; isn't it?"
"Yes, they're coming in that way again," and Betty draped the skirt in question over her hip, holding it up for Mollie to see. The two girls were in Betty Nelson's room, and the Little Captain was packing a trunk.
At least that was the official name of the operation. To the uninitiated, or to "mere man," it looked as though nothing was being done except to scatter dresses on chairs, on the bed, divan and other vantage points.
"But I have to lay them all out this way," Betty had explained, when Mollie, running over in an interval of her own packing, to get ready to go to Ocean View, had gasped in wonder at the confusion in her friend's room. "I want to see what I have, so I'll know what to take with me."
"That isn't my way," Mollie laughed. "I simply open a closet door, sweep everything off the hooks and toss them into a trunk. Then I get Felice to jump on the lid with me, and—presto! the trick is done, Madame!" and she laughed and shrugged her shoulders in pretty little French fashion.
"I simply can't do it that way," sighed Betty. "I suppose it does take a long time to lay each dress out separately, but——"
"It is much more kind to the dresses," agreed Mollie. "That's why you always look so nice, and why I always appear so—so——"
"Don't you dare say a word about yourself, Mollie Billette!" protested Betty. "You always look so sweet. Why, you can take an old piece of cloth and a couple of faded flowers, and make of it a hat that looks prettier than one mamma pays Madame Rosenti twelve dollars for when I go with her. I don't see how you manage to do it."
"It was born in me!" laughed the French girl, as with a quick motion she draped one of Betty's garments about her shoulders, producing an effect at which Betty gasped in pleasure.
"Now, why doesn't that ever look like that on me?" she demanded.
"Betty, you're a dear!" replied Mollie, without answering. "Now I am keeping you. I must run back. I haven't begun to pack yet, and I know Paul and Dodo will have my room in dreadful shape. They are probably, at this minute, parading around in my best frocks, playing soldier," and Mollie with a laughing kiss for her chum jumped up and fled from the room to hurry home and minimize the work of the playful twins.
"Don't forget the time!" cried Betty, after her chum, leaning out of the window of her room, and breathing in deep of the balmy June air. "We leave a week from to-day."
"Oh, I won't forget!" answered Mollie. "It is altogether too delightful for that."
Betty resumed her inspection of dresses, to determine which she should take, while Mollie hastened home. But Betty had not long been alone when the doorbell tinkled and Grace Ford was announced.
"Tell her to come right up, if she will," Betty directed the maid, and the tall, willowy one entered with a rush and a rustling of silken skirts.
"My!" gasped Betty, looking up from her position, kneeling amid a pile of clothes. "All dressed up and no place to go, Grace! What does it mean? No, thank you, no chocolates when I'm looking over my pretty things. I might spot them."
"That's just what happened to me," sighed the Gibson girl. "I had to put on my best silk petticoat, as I spilled a lot of chocolate down my other. I sent it away to be cleaned, and that's why I'm wearing my best one. Don't you just love the swish of silk?"
"I guess we all do," answered Betty. "Oh, dear!"
"What's the matter?" asked Grace. "Oh, but you are going at it wholesale; aren't you?" as she surveyed the room overflowing with clothes.
"Have to, my dear. It means an all-summer stay, you know. And I don't know what to take and what to leave. I'm sure to want the very things I don't take."
"Take them all, then. That's what I'm doing. Only I haven't really begun yet. I just ran over to ask you something."
"Well, let it be something very easy, Grace dear. My brain isn't capable of taking in very much this morning."
"It's about Will," went on Grace, thoughtfully selecting a chocolate from a bag. "Are you sure you won't have some?" she asked.
"What, of Will? No, thank you!"
"Silly, of course not. I mean this candy. It's delicious! Just fresh and——"
"Cloying," interrupted Betty. "You haven't a lime drop, have you?"
"Ugh! The horrid, sour things, no! But about Will. Did you know he had a secret Betty?"
"A secret? Mercy, no! Is it about some——"
"I don't believe it's a girl. If it is, Will acts the funniest of anyone I ever saw. He has a lot of books and papers he's studying over."
"It might be her—letters—or—her picture that he puts in a book so no one will see——"
"It isn't that!" declared Grace with conviction. "Oh, this is a nougat!" she exclaimed in rapture, as her white teeth bit into a particularly delicious candy.
"Hopeless!" sighed Betty, folding a skirt neatly.
"I mean he hasn't any girl's picture, or anything like that," went on Grace. "I found one of the books where he had laid it down. It is some sort of Government report. I thought you might know."
"Why?" asked Betty, quickly. "I'm not in his confidence."
"I know, but you see, Will and Allen being so chummy, and Allen being so fond of you——"
"Grace Ford!" broke in Betty. "You shouldn't say such things!" and she blushed crimson.
"Why not?" demanded Grace, coolly. "There's no one here but us, and we know it. I thought perhaps Will had told Allen, and Allen might have hinted to you."
"Not a word, Grace, dear. I didn't even know Will had a secret."
"Well, he has, and he won't tell me. But I'll find out. He's up to something. I only hope he doesn't run away again, or do something foolish."
"Will doesn't mean anything," declared Betty. "He is just high-spirited; that's all. What sort of a secret did it seem to be, if it wasn't about—girls?" and Betty laughed.
"Oh, I'm sure it isn't about girls," Grace went on, seriously enough. "At least it isn't any girl in our set, and Will doesn't know any others. And if it is some one in our set, they're all nice girls, so it won't really matter—after we get used to it."
"Oh, dear!" laughed Betty. "You speak as though he were engaged!"
"Oh, I know he isn't," declared Grace. "But he is such a tease. But if you don't know, you don't, Betty. And now I must run back. Have any of the other members of the club been over?"
"Yes, Mollie was just here."
Grace fished out another chocolate, after shaking up the bag to see if there were any choice ones at the bottom, and then, after trying in vain to induce Betty to accept a sweet, took her departure, saying she was going to see to her own packing.
"Now it only needs a call from Amy to make the round of visits complete," murmured Betty, as she resumed the sorting of her garments. But Amy did not come that morning.
The outdoor girls were making ready for their trip to Ocean View, where the better part of the summer would be spent.
The arrangements had been made for the Nelson family to occupy the beautiful cottage, Edgemere, which was completely furnished.
"Even to matches and a candle in each bedroom," Betty had said.
"But I thought you said it was a modern place," objected Grace. "I don't like candles—excuse me, Betty dear, but they are so—so smelly!"
"I know. The candles are only for emergency. The house has electric lights."
"Electric lights! I thought Ocean View was such a quaint old place," murmured Mollie.
"So it is. The electric plant is in Point Lomar, that swell summer resort. Only a few places in Ocean View have electricity."
And so the arrangements went on. Mollie, Grace and Amy were to be Betty's guests during the summer, though their parents or relatives had a standing invitation to spend week-ends and holidays at the shore.
"And of course the boys are always welcome!" added Betty.
"And of course we'll come!" declared Will and the others. "That is, I'll spend as much time as I can away from my official duties!"
"Oh, he nearly told us then!" cried Grace. "Will, I'll never speak to you again, if you don't tell me that secret."
"You shall know in due time, sister mine. As for your threat, I don't mind your not speaking to me if you don't make me buy your chocolates. I care not who speaks to me!" he paraphrased, "as long as I do not have to buy their candy!"
"Here comes Percy Falconer!" interrupted Roy, and the little conference, one of many held whenever the friends met—broke up.
While the girls were getting ready with trunks of clothes, the boys were no less busily engaged. They had completed their plans for a series of cruises along the coast, in the motor boat Pocohontas, loaned to Allen Washburn by a wealthy gentleman for whom he had done some law business, though Allen was not as yet admitted to the bar.
"I'll have a chance to practice this summer, getting the boat off a sand-bar!" he had jokingly said.
And finally trunks were packed, tickets had been purchased, word had come from Ocean View that the cottage was in readiness, and at last, on a beautifully sunny June morning, the outdoor girls stood at the station, ready to take the train.
The boys were there, also, as might have been guessed.
"And when are you coming down in the boat?" asked Betty.
"In about a week," Allen said. "We're having the engine overhauled, a new magneto put in and some other things done."
"I'm coming in the auto," broke in Percy Falconer. "Father did not want me to make the boat trip, but the chauffeur will bring me down to the shore in the car."
"Pity he wouldn't use a feather bed," murmured Roy Anderson.
"Oh, here comes the train!" cried Mollie. "Girls, I'm almost sure I've forgotten half my things."
"Good-bye, girls!" chorused the boys.
"Good-bye!" came the answer.
"Oh, Grace!" called Will to his sister.
"Yes," she answered.
"That secret of mine."
"Oh, yes. What is it? Do tell me! I haven't a second——"
"I'll tell you—when I come down!" his words floated to her as she was borne along the platform with her chums to the train that was to take them to Ocean View.
"Isn't he provoking!" murmured Grace, sinking into a seat beside Mollie, as the train slowly pulled out.
"Who?" asked Mollie, leaning toward the window to wave to the boys on the platform.
"My brother Will. He's up to something—he has a secret and he won't tell me!"
"Don't let him know you care, and he'll tell you all the quicker. Boys are that way," declared Mollie, with the accumulated wisdom of—say—seventeen years.
"Yes, I suppose so," agreed Grace, and then she began a hurried search among the various articles she had deposited on the seat between herself and Mollie.
"What is it—lost something?" asked the latter.
"My bag of—oh, here they are," and Grace, with a look of contentment, began munching some chocolates.
"It is awfully nice of you, Mrs. Nelson, to ask us down for the summer," said Amy Blackford to her hostess when they were settled in the speeding train. "I do so love the seashore."
"Then I think you will like it at Ocean View," remarked Betty's mother. "And we think Edgemere a pretty place."
"I'm sure it must be from what Betty has told me."
"Do you like lobsters?" asked Mr. Nelson, looking over the top of his paper, with a twinkle in his eyes.
"Lobsters?" repeated Amy, questioningly. "I haven't eaten many."
"It's a great place for lobsters at Ocean View," went on Betty's father. "That's one reason I decided on it."
"The idea!" cried his wife. "To hear you talk anyone would think you never ate anything else, and you know if you take too much a la Newburg you don't feel well the next day."
"I'm going to take only the plain boiled, and salads," declared Mr. Nelson. "But there's an old lobsterman—Tin-Back, they call him—near Edgemere in whom I think you girls will be interested," he went on. "He's quite a character."
"Why do they call him Tin-Back?" asked Amy. "Has he really a——"
"A tin back? How funny that would be?" laughed Betty.
"You must ask him," declared her father. "I didn't have time when I came down to see if everything was all right."
"Oh, what lovely times we'll have, girls!" sighed Mollie, when, a little later, the four chums were conversing. "We can go sailing, bathing and sit on the sands and watch the tide come in."
"And perhaps find buried pirate-treasure in some cave," added Betty, with a laugh.
"Can we, really?" asked Amy, perhaps the most unsophisticated of the quartette.
"Really what?" asked Grace, silently offering her bag of sweets. The habit was almost automatic with her.
"Find buried treasure," said Amy, eagerly. "I should love to do that. I've often read——"
"That's all you can do—read about it," spoke Mollie, regretfully. "There isn't any romance left in this world. If there was a pirate's cave it would be lighted with electricity and an admission fee charged. And yet the New England coast ought to contain some treasure. Some pirates used to land there."
"Did they, Mr. Nelson?" asked Amy, catching sight of Betty's father again glancing over the top of his paper.
"Did pirates ever land on the coast near where we are going?"
"Well, perhaps, yes. I believe there are several stories about Kidd's treasure being buried somewhere around Ocean View. Or, perhaps it would be more correct to say that one of Kidd's treasures. On the very lowest count he must have had at least a double score, all hidden in different places."
"Really?" demanded Amy, with glistening eyes, and flushed cheeks.
"Well, as really as any other treasure story, I suppose," answered Mr. Nelson, while Betty murmured:
"Oh, Daddy! Don't tease her!"
"I'm not!" he declared. "It is possible that there may be some treasure buried in the sand near Ocean View. Stranger things have happened."
"Oh, what if we should find it!" cried Amy. "I'm going to look the first thing I do."
"Find what?" asked Grace, who had been looking from the window as they passed through a town.
"Buried treasure," Amy said.
"Oh, I thought you meant Will's secret," observed Grace. "I wonder where that train boy is?" she went on.
"What for?" asked Betty.
"I want another box of those chocolates. They were a new kind and——"
"Grace Ford! If you buy another bit of candy before we arrive I—I don't know what I'll do to you!" threatened Betty.
The train rolled on, as all trains do, and, eventually, the little seaside resort of Ocean View was reached. There was the usual scramble on the part of our friends, and other passengers, to alight, and when the girls stood on the rather dingy platform of the station Mollie, looking about her in some disappointment, said:
"Ocean View! I don't see why they call it that. You can't see the ocean at all."
"It's down that way," said Mr. Nelson, with a wave of his hand toward the east. "Property is too valuable along the shore to allow of the village being there. The town is about a mile back from the water. We'll take a carriage to the cottage. You see the railroad doesn't run very close to the ocean."
Ocean View was like most summer resorts, built some distance back from the shore, which property was held by cottage or bungalow owners. There were several shell roads running from the main street of the town down to the water's edge, however. And soon, in a carriage, with their valises piled around them, our party set off for Edgemere, leaving a truckman to bring the trunks.
"Oh what a perfectly dear place!" exclaimed Grace, as the carriage turned along a highway that paralleled the beach. "And how blue the water is!"
They were up on a little elevation. Down below them was a large bay, enclosed in a point of land that ran out into the ocean, forming a perfect breakwater.
"Where is Edgemere?" asked Mollie.
"Over there," answered Betty, pointing.
The girls beheld a large cottage nestling amid a group of evergreen and other trees, on the very point of land that jutted out, with the bay on one side and the ocean on the other.
"Oh, how perfectly charming!" exclaimed Amy. "And we can have still water bathing as well as that in the surf."
"Exactly," answered Betty. "That's why mamma and I decided on it. I like still water myself."
"So do I," murmured Amy.
"I don't! I want the boiling surf!" declared Mollie, who was an excellent swimmer.
They drove up to the cottage, finding new delights every moment, and when the carriage stopped within the fence, at the side porch, the whole party waited a moment before alighting to admire the place.
"It is nice," decided Mrs. Nelson. "I had forgotten part of it, but I like it even better than I thought I should."
"It's sweet!" declared Grace.
"Horribly fascinating, as Percy Falconer would say," mocked Mollie.
"Don't!" begged Betty, making a wry face.
As they were alighting, a quaint figure of an old man, bent and shuffling, with gnarled and twisted hands, and a face almost lost in a bush of beard, yet in whose blue eyes twinkled kindliness and good fellowship, came around the side path.
"Wa'al, I see ye got here!" he exclaimed in hoarse tones—his voice seemed to be coming out of a perpetual fog.
"Yes, we've arrived," Mr. Nelson said.
"Glad ye come. Ye'll find everything all ready for ye! 'Mandy has a fire goin', an' th' chowder's hot."
"Who is he?" asked Mrs. Nelson, in a whisper.
"Old Tin-Back," replied her husband. "He's a lobsterman and a character. I engaged his wife to clean the cottage, and be here when you arrived."
"Yes, I'm Old Tin-Back," replied the man with a gruff but not unpleasant laugh. "Leastways they all calls me that. I'll take them grips," he went on, as the girls advanced, and into his gnarled hands he gathered the valises.
"Oh, what a delicious smell!" exclaimed Mollie, as they went up the steps.
"That's th' chowder," chuckled the old lobsterman. "I reckoned it'd be tasty. Plenty of quahogs in that."
"What?" gasped Amy.
"Quahogs—big clams, miss," he explained. "Old Tin-Back dug 'em this mornin' at low tide. Nothin' like quahogs for chowder, though some folks likes soft clams. But not for Old Tin-Back."
"Is—is that really your name?" asked Amy.
"Wa'al not really, miss. It's a sort of nickname. You see, I sell clams, lobsters and crabs, but I don't never sell no tin-back crabs, and so they sorter got in the habit of callin' me that."
"What are tin-backs?" asked Amy, but before the lobsterman could answer, Betty, from within the cottage, called to her chums:
"Come, girls, and select your rooms!"
Amy remained standing beside the old lobsterman. Mollie and Grace had followed Mrs. Nelson and Betty into the cottage. Mr. Nelson was paying the carriage driver, and arranging to have some things brought over from the station.
"Tin-backs," repeated Amy. "What sort of crabs are they?"
"Soft crabs, just turnin' hard, miss," explained the old man. "If you punch in their backs they spring up and down like the bottom of a tin dish pan. That's why they call 'em that. Tin-backs is tough to eat. I never sell 'em, though some folks do. That's why they call me that, I guess."
"Oh!" remarked Amy. "Then that means you are—honest!"
"Wa'al, miss, I don't lay no special claims to virtue," he protested.
"But if you don't sell tinny crabs—ugh, how funny that sounds—then you must be honest!" Amy insisted. "I'm so glad to know you. Tell me, is there any pirate's treasure buried around here?"
Old Tin-Back looked at her, startled. Then he edged away slightly.
"Exactly," laughingly said Amy afterward, "as though I had announced that I was a militant suffragist, and intended burning his boats."
"Pirate's treasure, miss?" repeated the old lobsterman. "I—er—I never found any."
"But Mr. Nelson said there might be some."
"Oh, there might—yes. And I might find a dead whale with a lump of ambergris in him, as big as a barrel," spoke Tin-Back, "but I never have."
"What's ambergris?" asked Amy, who rather enjoyed his talk.
"I don't rightly know, miss, but it's something like a lump of suet in a dead whale, and it's worth its weight in gold. It makes perfume!"
"The idea," murmured Amy, with a little shudder. "I don't believe I shall like perfume after that."
"Oh, I don't s'pose they use none of it around Ocean View," spoke Old Tin-Back, with a frank air. "Anyhow, we never see a dead whale in these parts. There was one once, but folks was glad when the high tide carried him out to sea. I guess they're callin' you," he added.
Amy was aware of Betty summoning her within the cottage. She smiled at Tin-Back and entered the house.
"Where were you?" demanded Betty. "I want you to see which room you like best. There are several to choose from."
"I was talking with the lobsterman," explained Amy. "He is called Tin-Back because he never sells that sort of crab, and he hopes he can find a lump of ambergris in a dead whale some day."
"Well, if that isn't a combination!" laughed Mollie. "Oh, but I think my room is the dearest one! Come and see it, Amy."
"Not until she selects her own," decided Betty.
Then began the settling down in the charming cottage of Edgemere at Ocean View. The girls had bedrooms adjoining, and across from one another along a hall that ran the whole length of the house, and ended in a little open balcony at either end. The house stood on a point of land, and from one end a view could be had of the ocean, while the other opened on Lobster Bay. There was a large plot of ground around the Nelson cottage so that other bungalows were not too near. And it was in the midst of a little summer colony of houses, so, though it stood rather by itself, the place was not in the least lonesome.
Trunks were unpacked, valises stripped of their contents, closets and chiffoniers filled, bureaus blossomed with a wonderful collection of combs, brushes, barettes, ribbons, and various bottles and jars. For, though the outdoor girls were not afraid of sun, wind or rain, Betty had warned them that sunburn was not an ailment to be rashly courted, and that cold cream, or talcum powder, judiciously used, might lessen many a smart.
Behold our friends then, a little later, well fortified within with clam chowder and other dainties prepared by 'Mandy, the wife of Old Tin-Back, strolling along the ocean beach. Mrs. Nelson was superintending the efforts of the maid to bring some order out of chaos at the cottage.
"It is perfectly lovely!" murmured Mollie, as she and her chums walked along the strand. "Charming."
"And so sweet of you to ask us down, Betty dear!" declared Grace.
"Oh, it was partly selfishness," Betty admitted. "I didn't want to stay here all summer alone."
"May we always meet with that sort of selfishness," observed Amy.
"I wonder when the boys will come," went on Grace.
"Lonesome already?" asked Betty, smiling.
"No. But Will promised to let me know what new plans he had when he came, and I've tried so hard to guess his secret that I'm tired."
"Give it up," advised Mollie. "Oh, look what pretty shells!" and she gathered several from the sand.
"How damp it is!" exclaimed Grace. "Positively, there isn't a bit of curl left in my hair. But just look at Amy's! I never saw it so pretty!"
"The salt air agrees with hers," said Betty. "We'll all have nice complexions if this Newport fog continues," and she indicated the mist arising from the sea.
"Let's sit down and just look at the ocean," suggested Amy, when they had walked some distance down the beach, and while they were thus idly employed, and when the afternoon was waning, they spied a solitary figure approaching them down the stretch of sand.
"It's Old Tin-Back," said Betty. "I wonder if he is looking for us?"
"He seems to be looking for something on the beach," commented Grace, "and unless he thinks we have slipped down one of those funny little holes the sand fleas make, I can't see how he could be searching for us."
But the old lobsterman had a message for them, nevertheless, for when he came within hailing distance he called hoarsely:
"Ahoy there, young ladies! Your folks want you to come back. I told 'em I'd tell you if I saw you as I come along, and I done it."
"What were you looking for—treasure?" asked Grace, with a mischievous smile at Amy.
"Treasure? Humph, no, miss. I was looking for some of my lobster pots. A lot of them dragged their moorings in the last storm, and they get cast upon the beach sooner or later."
"Did you ever find any treasure on the beach?" demanded Betty.
"Wa'al, no, not exactly what you could call treasure!" was the slow and cautious answer, "but I did find a pipe once, an' it lasted me for quite a while. Found it jest after I lost my corncob, too. So, in a manner of speakin', I did find suthin'."
"But never gold, or diamonds or real treasure, washed up from a wreck?" asked Amy, eagerly.
"Are there ever wrecks?" inquired Betty.
"Oh, yes, once in a while, though not usually this time of year. In the winter the sea's altogether different, miss. It's terrible cruel and cold. Then we have wrecks. Why, right off there, two year ago," and with a gnarled finger he pointed though at no particular object as far as the girls could see, "right off there a three-master went down one night in a January, and all hands—eleven of 'em—was drownded."
"Didn't anyone try to save them?" asked Grace.
"Oh, yes, they tried, miss, but they couldn't launch the boat, and the wind was blowin' so they couldn't shoot a line over. The boat went to pieces on the bar, and the bodies washed ashore next day."
He told it simply, and was silent for a space.
"Does anything ever wash ashore from the wrecks?" asked Mollie.
"Oh, yes, once in a while, but not what you could rightly call treasure. Once a banana steamer got on the bar, and they had to throw over lots of cargo to lighten her. Folks here made quite a tidy sum collectin' them bunches of green bananas."
"But no boxes of gold or diamonds—mysterious, locked boxes?" asked Amy, still hopefully.
"No, miss, nothin' like that," and Old Tin-Back looked as though he was not altogether sure whether or not he was being made fun of.
The days passed at Ocean View, sunny, happy days. Each one brought new pleasure and delight to the outdoor girls, and they lived up to their name, for they were seldom in the house. They bathed and rowed in the bay, or paid visits to the quaint little town, where Grace discovered an old French woman who made delicious taffy.
"So Grace's happiness is assured for the summer," declared Mollie.
Then came a day when, as the four went down to see Old Tin-Back set off from the little dock in his dory to take up his lobster pots, they saw a motor boat heading into the bay.
"Oh, if that should be the boys!" exclaimed Grace, hopefully. "They wrote they might come this week; didn't they?"
"Yes," answered Betty.
"What boat ye lookin' fer?" asked Tin-Back.
"The Pocohontas," answered Amy.
The old lobsterman peered through a battered spyglass he took from a locker-box in his dory.
"That's her," he announced.
And so it proved. The big motor boat swung up to the dock and Will, Roy, Henry and Allen smiled at the girls.
"Well, we're here, you see!" announced Grace's brother. "This is the first real stop of our cruise. Been having a fine time these last five days. But we're glad we're here."
"And we're glad to see you!" responded Betty. "Do come up to the cottage. Mamma will want to see you. How long can you stay?"
"Oh, a week—two weeks—a month in a place like this with—ahem! such nice girls!" remarked Roy.
"Oh, what's that? You scratched me!" exclaimed Grace as she suffered her brother to imprint a sort of half-way kiss on her cheek. His coat blew open, disclosing something shining through an armhole of his vest.
"Oh, that's my—badge!" he announced.
"Your badge? What are you, a pilot?" demanded Amy.
"Ahem! At your service!" exclaimed Will, with a low bow, as he extended a card to his sister. Grace fairly grabbed it from him, and read her brother's name, while, in a corner of the pasteboard, under a monogram device, were the letters "U. S. S. S."
"What does it mean?" she asked.
"That's the secret," Will explained. "I have joined the United States Secret Service, sister mine!"
"Secret Service!" repeated Grace. "What does it mean?"
"It means I'm out for smugglers, counterlaws. So beware!"
For a moment or two the girls did not know whether or not to accept as truth the statement Will had made in such a dramatic manner. Then his sister Grace burst out with:
"Oh, Will, is it really true? Is that the secret you were going to tell me?"
"That's the secret, Sis! Isn't it a good one, and didn't I keep it well?"
"You certainly did, but I didn't expect it would be that. I thought it would be about—about—er——"
She paused in some confusion.
"She thought it would be about a girl!" broke in Mollie. "Why wasn't it, Will?"
"It may be yet. There are lady smugglers, you know!"
"Is it really true?"
"I think he's just teasing us!"
Thus cried the girls in turn, Betty appealing to Allen in an aside to know whether Will really had been appointed to a government position.
"Oh, yes, its true enough," Allen said, smiling indulgently.
And finally, after a little gale of laughter had subsided, Will managed to make the girls, his sister included, understand, and believe that he really was telling the truth. Then they inspected his badge, looked at a sort of identifying card he carried in an inner pocket, and were satisfied.
"But what does it all mean?" asked Grace. "I didn't know you were going in for that sort of thing, Will! How did it happen? And are there any smugglers around here?"
"Hist! Not a word! Sush! Take care!" hissed her brother, stepping about with elaborate precautions on tiptoes, glancing rapidly from side to side, while he flashed a pretended dark lantern, and Allen imitated the low, shivery music of a Chinese orchestra.
"They may be here any minute!" chanted Will in dramatic tones. "Quick! We must hide those diamonds. And then, gal, at the peril of your life, you must give me those papers!" and he hissed after the manner of some stage villains.
"Oh, quit your fooling and tell us!" demanded Grace. "Then we'll go for a ride in your boat, and you can stop at the Point and get me some chocolates, Will."
"Oh, I can, eh? Awfully kind, I'm sure."
"Do tell us about it," begged Amy.
"Ah, at least you are sincere!" exclaimed Will, with a look that made gentle Amy blush.
"Go on," urged Roy. "Then we'll get out on the water again. This weather is too good to miss."
"It was this way," explained Will. "I told dad I wanted a little longer vacation before I started in for college, after my experiences in that turpentine camp, and he agreed that I could have it. I don't know whether I told you or not, but when I ran away from Uncle Isaac's down South, I fell in with a Government Secret Service man. I guess he rather suspected I was up to some game, but he was real decent about it, and didn't give me away.
"I happened to do him a favor—helped him trail a certain man he was looking for, and he was good enough to compliment me on my memory for faces. He said it was the beginning of a successful detective's career.
"Well, I had no notion of being a detective, but it made me stop and think. I am pretty good at remembering faces and voices, you know, even if I do say it myself."
"That's right!" chimed in Allen. "I wish I had that faculty. It is the hardest thing for me to remember the faces and names of those I meet. But go on, Will."
"Well, the upshot of it was that this government man said if I ever wanted a lift he'd be glad to help me. He gave me his card, and, after all my troubles were over, thanks to your efforts, girls," and he included them all in his bow, "I decided to go in for Secret Service work.
"It wasn't as easy as I had expected, but at last I got the promise of a chance, and I began studying up, and taking the examinations. I passed successfully, and received my commission."
"So that's what you were doing all those days you were away so much?" asked Grace.
"That was it, Sis. And now I am a full fledged Secret Service agent, though I haven't arrested anyone yet."
"And are you really going to?" asked Betty.
"That all depends," replied Will. "If I see any law violations I'll have to."
"But are you looking for anyone in particular, up here?" asked Amy. "Any smugglers, pirates, or—or anything like that?"
"Bless her heart! She shall see a pirate arrested the first chance I have!" laughed Will.
"Oh, be serious, can't you?" asked Grace, with just the hint of a snap in her voice.
"Beg your pardon, Amy," apologized Will. "You see it's this way. I'm in the Boston district, and that takes in a good part of the New England coast. I haven't really been assigned to any particular locality yet. I'm supposed to keep my eyes open wherever I am, though."
"Around here?" Mollie wanted to know.
"Yes, here as well as anywhere else. But I'm on a leave of absence now. I'm spending a few days cruising with the boys. I'll soon have to go back to Boston."
"Well, then busy yourself and buy me those chocolates!" demanded Grace. "You don't need to act in your official capacity for that."
"Do you really think there may be pirates or smugglers around here?" asked Amy, who seemed strangely interested in the matter.
"Well, there might be. You never can tell," said Will, with a look around the horizon as though to discover some mysterious and suspicious vessel in the offing.
After Will's explanations he had to answer a hail of questions from the girls. The boys already knew all he could tell them. Then his sister and her chums wished him all kinds of good luck.
"And I hope we see you arrest your first smuggler!" exclaimed Mollie, with a quick gesture of her expressive hands and shoulders.
"Oh, I don't!" cried Amy, with a nervous look behind her.
"Well, if we're going to take the girls for a ride let's do it," suggested Allen.
"How does the boat run?" asked Betty, as she turned her attention to it.
"Fine and dandy!" he exclaimed with enthusiasm.
A little later the merry party of young people were out on the wide, blue waters of the bay.
Several gladsome days followed. The boys were welcomed at Edgemere, and, as the cottage was a large one, Mrs. Nelson insisted on Will and his chums remaining there, though they said they wanted to camp out, or sleep aboard the Pocohontas. But the quarters there were rather cramped.
One day, when the boys were coming back in the boat with the girls, the engine suddenly stopped while they were still a short distance from the dock.
"Hello! What's up? Trouble?" asked Roy.
"Yes, it's that magneto again," decided Allen. "I think I'd better tie her up and get a new one. It will be giving us trouble all summer if I don't."
And then, as the craft was ingloriously paddled up to the dock, the boys held a mysterious conversation regarding ground-wires, brushes, platinum points, spark plugs and batteries.
"Oh, will the boat have to go to the repair shop?" asked Betty.
"Will you be sorry?" returned Allen, meaningly.
"You know I shall. I do so enjoy—the water," she answered with a little blush and a bright glance.
"You sha'n't miss anything," he declared. "I'll charter a sailboat while the Pocohontas is laid up."
And this he did, arranging with Old Tin-Back for the hire of a catboat that would hold all the party. Thus the glorious summer days were used to best advantage, the young people cruising about the bay, fishing and bathing as suited their fancy.
"Not going out to-day; are ye?" asked Old Tin-Back, as he came down to the dock one morning, and found the boys and girls about to start off.
"We certainly are!" declared Will. "I think something will happen to-day. I have a feeling in my bones that I may land a smuggler or two."
"Oh, Will!" expostulated his sister. "Don't joke. That may be serious."
"I only hope it is serious," he declared.
"What's the matter with going out to-day?" asked Allen.
"Wa'al, it looks like a squall," replied the old lobsterman. "If ye do go don't go out too far."
"Oh, I don't want to go!" objected Grace.
The others laughed Grace out of her fears, and they started off in the sailboat, the motor craft having been left at the repair dock some distance up the coast.
As they swung and dipped over the blue waters of the bay, the signs of the storm increased, and the girls, becoming more and more nervous, insisted on the boys keeping close to shore.
And finally, when they were some distance from Ocean View, but fortunately near a little sheltering cove, the storm broke with sudden fury.
"Down with that sail!" yelled Allen, as the gust struck the boat, heeling her over so that one rail dipped well under water.
"Oh, we're going to capsize!" screamed Grace.
"Keep still!" ordered her brother.
With frightened eyes the girls clung to one another, huddled together in the little cockpit cabin, while a big wave coming from the stern seemed to threaten to swamp them.
THE MEN IN THE BOAT
"Oh! Oh!" screamed Grace. "We'll be drowned!"
"Nonsense! Keep quiet!" commanded Will, with the authority only a brother could have displayed on such an occasion. His stern voice had the desired effect and Grace ceased clinging to her chums with a grip that really endangered them.
"Oh, I'm so sorry I was silly!" she exclaimed contritely, as the big wave passed harmlessly under the sailboat. Then the craft swung behind a projecting point of land and they were in calmer waters. Allen had let the sail come down on the run, and all danger of capsizing was over. The wind still blew in fitful gusts, however, and the rain, which had been holding off, came down in a drenching shower.
"Get out the mackintoshes!" cried Roy, for those garments had been brought with them at the suggestion of Old Tin-Back.
Protected now against the downpour, and in calmer waters, the young people were themselves once more. The jib gave way enough to the craft for Allen to head it toward a little dock which seemed to be the landing place of the neighborhood fishermen.
"What are you going to do?" asked Will. "Stay here until the storm is over?"
"Might as well," Allen answered. "And yet—hello! What's that?" he interrupted himself suddenly, pointing out to the bay.
"A motor boat broken loose from its mooring," answered Roy.
"And if it isn't the Pocohontas I miss my guess!" added Amy's brother.
"That's right!" declared Allen. "John's repair shop is in this cove. He must have anchored her out, and the storm tore her loose. He evidently doesn't know it."
"Well, we know it!" cried Will, "and she'll be on those rocks in a few minutes more. See! She's drifting right toward them!"
It needed but a glance to disclose this. The drifting motor boat, under the influence of wind and waves, was heading straight toward some half-submerged but sharp rocks that were a danger-point in the little cove.
"What's to be done?" demanded Roy.
"You must save your boat, that's certain!" put in Betty, thus sustaining her reputation as a Little Captain.
"We've got to," said Will. "But to take you girls out there again——"
"Don't you dare do it, in this storm!" broke in Grace, for the wind and rain had now reached their height.
"Can't you land us?" asked Betty, taking in the situation at a glance. "That will be best. Put us on shore and then this boat will be so much easier to handle. The wind is right, and you can get the Pocohontas before she goes on the rocks."
"She's got the idea," declared Allen, admiringly. "We can save our boat, if we hustle."
"Then—'hustle'!" cried Betty, with a little blush, as she shook her head to rid her flashing eyes of raindrops. "Put us ashore at the dock, and save the Pocohontas."
"But what will you do?" asked Allen. "I don't like to leave you on the beach alone."
"We four girls won't be lonesome," declared Mollie. "It isn't the first time we've roughed it. Besides, there is some sort of a fisherman's shanty there. We'll go inside, if the storm gets too bad. But I think it is going to clear."
Indeed there were indications that the weather at least was going to get no worse. There was a hasty conference among the boys, who cast anxious eyes toward their drifting boat. Then the sailing craft was worked up to the little dock, and the girls sprang out.
"We'll come back for you," promised Will.
"If you can't it will be all right," Betty assured him. "We can walk back along the beach after the storm. It isn't more than a mile or two, and we haven't done very much walking lately."
"Well, we'll see what happens," spoke Allen, anxious to get out to the Pocohontas, which was dangerously near the rocks.
The girls paused on the dock a moment, to watch the boys beating back out over the bay, and then turned to go up the beach. They had never been on this part of the coast before. It was lonesome and deserted, save for one rather shabby hut just above high-water mark. Over beyond some distant sand dunes, the boys had been told, was the establishment of the boat-builder, where they had taken their craft to have a new magneto put in.
"Shall we go in and ask for shelter?" asked Amy, as they neared the hut.
"Well, it's raining pretty hard," returned Grace.
"Oh, don't let's go in!" said Betty, suddenly, as she looked at a window of the hut. "It's much nicer outside."
"But it's raining so!" protested Mollie, with a quick look at her chum.
"I know. But we're neither sugar nor salt, and this isn't the first rain we've been out in. Besides, I'm sure, in there, it will smell of—fish! I can't bear to be shut up in a stuffy cabin that smells of fish. I vote we stay out. See, it is beginning to clear already," and she pointed to a streak of light in the west.
"Is that your real reason—a dislike of the smell of—fish?" asked Mollie, in a low voice, that Betty alone could hear.
"Not exactly, no," was the reply, equally guarded. "I happened to catch a glimpse of some faces at the window of that hut, and I did not like the look of them—they were—ugh! I don't know what to say," and Betty gave a slight shiver that was not caused entirely by the chilling rain.
"I saw them, too," spoke Mollie, in louder tones now, for Grace and Amy had walked on ahead. "And one of them was—a woman's face."
"Yes, but such a face!" agreed Betty. "It was hard—cruel—oh, I'll never go in that hut."
"Nor will I. The rain is stopping, I think."
"Then let's walk back to Ocean View," proposed Betty. "What do you say, girls?" she called to Amy and Grace. "Shall we walk back? It's stopping, and the sand will be firm and hard after the rain."
"I don't mind," spoke Amy, always willing to be accommodating.
"Oh, well, I suppose we'll have to, if the boys don't come for us," assented Grace.
"They won't be back for some time," declared Betty. "See, they have just reached the boat, and in time, too, I think. A little later she would have been on the rocks."
Allen and his chums had indeed been fortunate in saving the Pocohontas. Through the clearing air the girls watched them preparing to tow the motor craft back.
"It will be some time before they can come for us," repeated Betty. "We might as well go on."
"But they won't know where we are," objected Grace, who did not altogether relish the idea of walking. She was wearing shoes with very high heels.
"They'll understand," responded Betty. "See, they are looking this way. I'll give them some sign language they'll understand," and she began waving her arms, and pointing in the direction of Ocean View, down the coast.
"Who in the world will understand that?" demanded Mollie.
"Allen will," answered Betty.
"Oh!" exclaimed Mollie with a laugh. "Then this isn't the first time you have talked with him in sign language."
"Silly!" protested Betty. "Come on, girls," and she strode off down the wet sands. The rain had almost stopped.
"This is better than waiting back in that hut," observed Mollie, walking beside the Little Captain.
"I should say so!" exclaimed Betty. "Oh, those horrid faces."
"Just like smugglers!" declared Mollie.
"What's that about smugglers?" demanded Grace, quickly, turning around. She was in advance with Amy.
"Oh—nothing," spoke Betty, and Grace resumed her talk with her other chum.
The girls walked along the beach. Now a turn of the coast hid the boys from sight, and their work of towing back the drifting motor boat.
"Oh, it's farther than I thought!" sighed Grace, as the atmosphere became clearer, and, some distance down the coast they could see the little village of Ocean View.
"Oh, it isn't far at all!" declared Betty. "We haven't done enough walking lately, that's the reason. We'll soon be there."
As the girls made a turn around some high sand dunes they heard the staccato puffing of a motor boat.
"Can that be the boys?" asked Mollie, quickly.
"Of course not! They are away behind us," declared Betty, "and that sound came from in front. See, there it is—a motor boat," and she pointed to one just leaving the shore of a little cove.
Several men had evidently just leaped into the craft which, because of the shallow water, had to be shoved some distance out.
Then a strange thing happened. The men appeared to be surprised at the sight of the girls—an unexpected sight, it would appear—for some of them seemed anxious to put back, while others were urgent for keeping on out into the bay.
"That's queer!" commented Betty.
"What?" asked Amy.
"Those men seem anxious to come back; at least, some of them do, and others don't," went on Betty. "Look, they seem to be quarreling among themselves!"
THE BOX IN THE SAND
"Goodness!" cried Grace, shrinking back against Betty. "They are fighting!"
"It does look so," responded the Little Captain. "One man seems to be trying to jump overboard!"
It did so appear to the outdoor girls. The motor boat containing the half-dozen rough-looking men was rapidly leaving the shore of the cove, but one man in it seemed anxious to return to the beach. His companions had forcibly to restrain him, as he seemed willing to leap into the water, and swim back.
Confused shouts and cries came from the men in the boat, as though they were of several opinions. Finally, however, the majority seemed to gain their point, and the man who had appeared so excited quieted down.
But, as the boat gathered headway, this man, sitting in the stern, never took his eyes from the four girls. He watched them until the craft was so far out that his features could not be distinguished.
"Wasn't that odd?" demanded Amy, being the first to speak after the little episode.
"It certainly was," agreed Betty.
"They seemed afraid—yes, actually afraid of us," put in Grace.
"And there wasn't the least need of it," laughed Mollie. "I wouldn't have harmed one of those men—oh, for anything!"
"I guess not!" Amy declared. "I was all ready to run if they headed their boat back this way."
"What in the world do you suppose was the matter?" asked Grace, as they stood looking after the vanishing boat. The boys were no longer in sight, being hidden from view behind a projecting point of land.
"Perhaps this is private grounds we are on," suggested Mollie, "and they didn't like to see us trespassing."
"It couldn't have been that," Grace remarked. "Everyone walks along the beach, and I believe no one is allowed to claim any land below high water mark, so it couldn't have been that."
"Maybe there are quicksands here!" exclaimed Amy, looking nervously about. "There are such things, you know. The Goodwin Sands, in England, are awful. If you once are caught in a quicksand you never get out."
"Nothing like that around here," asserted Betty. "If there was, you can depend on it, Daddy never would have hired a cottage."
"Besides," added Grace, "if there had been danger the men would not have been in two minds about coming back to warn us. They would surely not have let us run into danger."
"No, it couldn't have been that," decided Betty. "But the men were certainly divided in opinion about coming back here, and they must have left just before we came in sight. Well, it will never be solved, I suppose, but I don't know that it need worry us. Though if the boys were here I think they would make quite a mystery of it."
"Will would make quite a fuss about it, if he were here, I guess," laughed Grace. "He'd be sure the men were pirates, or something like that, show his new badge and want to question them."
"Then I'm glad he isn't here!" exclaimed Amy, with such warmth that Grace exclaimed:
"Oh, Amy! I never knew you cared—so much."
"I don't! That is—yes, of course I care! That is—oh, I wish you'd let me alone!" burst out the blushing Amy, whereas Grace teased her all the more, until Betty put an end to it saying:
"Well, let's get along. The men don't seem to be coming back, and mamma may be worried, knowing that we went out when a storm was brewing. Old Tin-Back is sure to tell her that we went off defying the elements."
"Isn't he a queer old character?" remarked Mollie.
"Yes, but I like him," Betty answered. "He says he has never yet given up hope of finding some treasure washed ashore from a wreck. He's always looking as he walks along the beach."
"And that in spite of the fact that, with all his years of looking, he has found only a pipe," laughed Mollie. "He is very persevering, is Old Tin-Back."
"Most fishermen are," spoke Betty.
"I suppose things are occasionally washed up by the sea," Amy observed. "Let's look as we walk along the beach."
Hardly knowing why they did so, the eyes of the outdoor girls roamed the beach, which, as the tide had just gone out, was strewn with odds and ends. Nothing of moment, though, it seemed—bits of broken boxes and barrels, bottles and tin cans, probably the refuse from coasting vessels.
"Oh, I'm tired!" suddenly exclaimed Grace. "Let's see if we can't find a place to sit down."
"Tired! No wonder, wearing such high-heeled shoes!" objected Betty. "You are violating one of the ethics of the outdoor girls' organization!" she went on. "You can't expect to walk in those."
"I'm not going to try again," confessed Grace. "Oh, I simply must sit down."
"The sand is so wet," objected Mollie.
They managed to find a broken spar, cast up by the waves, and by putting on it some boards, which they turned over to find the dry side, they evolved a comfortable seat.
"Oh, isn't this just lovely!" exclaimed Betty, as she gazed out over the bay, now glistening beneath the sun, which had come out from behind the storm clouds.
"It is perfect," agreed Amy.
Mollie was idly digging in the sand behind the spar. She used a shell, and had scooped out quite a hole. Suddenly the shell scraped on something with a shrill sound.
"Oh, don't!" begged Grace. "You set my teeth on edge! What is it, Mollie?"
Mollie did not answer at once. She was digging in the sand more quickly now. Again the shell scraped on some metal.
"Oh, Mollie!" objected Grace again, putting her hands over her ears. "What is it?"
"I—I think I've found something," replied Mollie in a low voice. "Look, girls, it's some sort of box."
They leaned over her. Her shell had scraped away the wet sand from the top of a square piece of metal. Mollie tapped it.
"It—it sounds hollow!" she whispered.
"Probably a tin can," said Betty.
"No," spoke Mollie, resolutely.
"Here, let me help you!" exclaimed Amy.
She looked about for something with which to dig. Near where Mollie had uncovered the piece of metal a queerly shaped stick stuck upright in the sand. Amy pulled it out, with no small effort, and at once began digging.
"Oh, it's some sort of a box—an iron box!" cried Mollie, with eager, shining eyes. "We have really found something."
Mollie and Amy dug until they had wholly uncovered the object. Then, with a quick motion, Mollie put her hands under the lower edges, and with a sudden effort brought up out of the hole in the sand a curious iron box.
"It—it really is—something!" she said.
Instinctively Betty looked out over the bay in the direction taken by the strange, quarreling men in the motor boat.
Mollie Billette set the black iron box down on the log that had formed the seat for the outdoor girls. A little wind was rapidly drying the dampness. The wind even dried some of the sand on the box, and scattered it in a little rattling shower on a bit of paper on the beach.
The girls did not seem to know what to say. Betty looked back from her glance across the bay, in the direction of the now unseen boat, in time to notice Mollie, ever neat, wiping her damp hands on her pocket handkerchief. Amy was looking at the queerly-carved stick which had served her as a shovel to dig in the sand.
"Oh! Oh!" exclaimed Grace. "Isn't it wonderful! It really is a box!"
"Yes, it's certainly that, all right!" added the more practical Mollie.
"And if it should contain treasure!" went on Grace, rather at a loss because her chocolates were all gone.
"Old Tin-Back should have found this," commented Mollie.
"Or the boys," spoke Betty. "I wish they were here."
"The idea!" exploded Mollie. "As if we didn't know what to do as well as though the boys were here to tell us. That isn't our Little Captain; is it, girls?" she asked the others.
"Oh, I only meant about the legal end of it," said Betty, quickly.
"Oh, I see! She just wants—Allen!" remarked Grace.
"No, it isn't that at all!" Betty cried, quickly. "But you know there are certain rules about things found at sea, or near the sea. For instance, if this is above the high-water mark it might be, the property of whoever owns the land back there."
"Well, it's above high-water mark all right," declared Amy. "Though I think in a heavy blow or at a high tide the water might come up here. But we can't go by rules now; can we, Betty?"
"Oh, I suppose not."
"I'm going to take the box home with us," Mollie declared. "It may have been washed ashore from some ship, and there may be nothing in it but——"
"Tobacco!" exclaimed Grace with a laugh.
"Tobacco?" questioned the others in a chorus.
"It looks just like a tobacco box," the chocolate-loving girl went on. "But perhaps it isn't."
"Of course it isn't!" declared Mollie.
"I'm sure it contains treasure," said Amy. "Oh, if it should! Wouldn't the old lobsterman be surprised?"
"Well, he wouldn't be the only one to be surprised," spoke Mollie.
"I think we would ourselves," added Betty, with a laugh. "Now, girls, let's see what we really have found."
With a bunch of seaweed Mollie brushed from the box the sand that clung to it. Then the outdoor girls gathered around the case as it rested on the log.
"Look!" exclaimed Grace as the covering of sand was disposed of. "There are some letters on the box."
"So there are!" agreed Betty. They leaned forward to look.
Staring at them from the black top of the box were three white letters. They were rather scratched and faded, but the girls soon made them out as follows:
B. B. B.
"B-B-B," repeated Mollie, as she read them. "I wonder what they stand for?"
"Base-ball-band," said Grace, quickly. "At least that's what Will would say if he were here."
"I wish some of the boys were here," remarked Betty, and again she gave a quick glance out across the bay.
"Why?" Amy wanted to know.
"Because those men might come back, and——"
"Do you think those men hid the box here?" asked Grace.
"That's exactly what I think," replied Betty, quickly. "Wouldn't that be an explanation of their strange conduct when they saw us?"
"How do you mean?" asked Amy.
"I mean I think those men had just hidden this box here in the sand. As they went away they saw us coming along. They were afraid we would find the box, or at least some of them were, and wanted to come back to dig it up again."
"And do you think that was why they quarreled among themselves?" demanded Mollie.
"I think so—yes. Doesn't it seem natural?" Betty asked.
"Well, of course you can make almost any theory fit when you don't know the facts," Mollie went on. "But how about the box having been washed up from the ocean, and buried in the sand naturally? That could have happened; couldn't it?"
"Oh, yes," assented Betty. "The box wasn't buried so deep but what it could have come about in a perfectly natural way. But when you stop to think how the men acted, and the fact that it was just about here their boat was, I think my idea is the best."
"Well, it certainly was from here they pushed off their boat," declared Grace, walking down toward the edge of the water. "See, there are the marks of the keel in the sand."
That was true enough, as all the girls could see. The black box had been buried in the sand directly back from the point where the men had made their departure.
"There's another thing, too," added Betty. "That stick Amy has."
The other girls looked at it, Amy herself regarding it with rather curious eyes.
"It was stuck in the sand near the box," Amy said. "I worked it loose, pulled it up, and used it as a shovel."
"Exactly what it might have been intended for," spoke Betty, who let a little note of exultation creep into her voice. "At least, that was one of the purposes for which it was intended."
"And what was the other?" Mollie asked, as she put back a stray lock of her dark hair, for the wind had blown it about.
"As a mark," said Betty.
"A mark!" exclaimed Amy.
"Yes," went on Betty. "The men who hid the box put the stake in the sand so they could find their treasure again."
"Oh, then you are sure it is treasure," Mollie returned.
"Well, we might as well think that as anything else—until we get the box open and find it full of—sand!" declared Betty, laughing.
"Oh, let's open it now!" cried Grace, impulsively. "I'm just dying to see what's in it. Please let's open it now."
"Perhaps we have no right," objected Amy.
"Why, of course we have," insisted Grace, making "big eyes" at Amy. "We found it. Can't we open it, Betty?"
But there was a very good reason why the girls could not open the box—at least then and there.
"Locked!" exclaimed Betty, laconically, when she had tried the cover of the box.
"Oh, dear!" came petulantly from Grace. "Isn't that horrid!"
"Well, I suppose the men have a right to lock up their treasure," coolly remarked Betty, again vainly trying to raise the cover.
"You will have it that those men hid the box," said Amy, with a smile. "Also that it is treasure."
"I'm getting romantic—like Grace," commented the Little Captain.
Then, as they found that their efforts to open the box were vain, the girls looked at it more closely.
It was a black japanned box of tin, or, rather, light sheet iron, rather heavier than the usual box made for holding legal papers. It was such a receptacle as would be described, in England, as a "dispatch box." And in fact, the box did seem to be of some foreign make. It was not like the light tin affairs used locally to hold deeds, insurance policies and the like.
The cover fitted on tightly. This much was seen at a glance, and so well did it fit that it needed a second look to make sure which was the bottom and which the top, for there was no bulge or "shoulder" of the metal to indicate where the lid rested.
"It's water-tight, I'm sure," Mollie said, when the box had again been set upright. They decided that the top was that place where the initials "B. B. B." showed, half-obliterated, in white paint.
"Then it might have been washed ashore from some wreck," Amy said.
"Too heavy to float," was the answer of Mollie, as she again lifted it.
"But it could work up in a heavy wind or sea; that is, if it didn't go down too far from shore," Grace remarked. "But can't we get it open some way?"
"We might break it," Mollie observed. "Otherwise, I don't see how we can. It is a complicated lock, if I am any judge," and she looked at the front of the box. "Let me take that stake, Amy."
"Oh, no! Don't break it open!" expostulated Betty. "We must try and see if we can't slip the lock, after we get it home. Papa has a lot of odd keys."
"But I don't see any lock!" exclaimed Grace.
"There it is," and Betty pushed to one side a round disk of metal that fitted over the keyhole.
Whether this was to keep out sand or water, the girls could not determine. It might even have been designed to hide the keyhole, but former use, or the battering which the box had received, had loosened and disclosed the metal slide, and Betty's quick eyes had discerned the object of it.
"It would take a peculiar key to open that," decided Mollie. "Mamma has a historic French jewel case home, and it has a lock something like that."
"Oh, suppose this contains—jewels!" cried Grace. "Wouldn't it be just—"
"Nonsense!" broke in Betty. "If the box contains anything at all it is probably papers of no value. My own opinion is that there's nothing in it, for it's too light. However, we'll take it home, and see what the boys say."
"You seem to have a great deal of faith in their opinion," laughed Mollie. "Ah, my dear!" and she put a finger on Betty's blushing cheek. "Methinks it is the opinion of one certain boy you want."
"Silly!" murmured Betty.
"Oh, don't mind us. A legal opinion would be most excellent to have," mocked Grace. "Now who is eating the chocolates?" she wanted to know.
Betty did not answer. She bent over the black box, with its indefinable air of mystery, and the three queer letters on the top. She was, seemingly, trying to find a way to open it.
Finally she straightened up, looked once more across the bay and said:
"Well, let's take it to Edgemere."
"And let's hurry, too!" urged Amy.
"Hurry? Why?" asked Grace. "There's no more danger from the storm."
"No, but those men might come back, and, finding their treasure gone—oh, well, let's hurry," she finished.
"Don't make me nervous," begged Grace, with a glance over her shoulder. "Come along, Betty. I'm just dying to see what is in it. But I'm not so sure those men in the boat left it, and if they demand it don't you give it up to them."
"Oh, I should say not!" cried Mollie, bristling a bit. "We found the box. They'll have to prove ownership."
Betty tucked the box under her arm. No one disputed her right to carry it, for the other girls deferred to the Little Captain in matters of this sort.
"Won't the boys be surprised when they see it!" commented Amy.
"But listen!" cautioned Betty. "We mustn't pretend that we think there is anything in it. If we do, and there isn't, they'd have the laugh on us."
"Oh, of course," assented Grace. "We'll just say we found the box on the beach, and couldn't open it. The boys will be anxious enough to do that."
And, sure enough, when the girls reached the cottage, the boys being not far behind them, the latter were even more eager than Betty and her chums to have a look inside the mysterious iron case.
"Pry the cover off!" cried Will, when he and the others had briefly related their experience in saving their motor boat and sailing back in the other craft, while the girls gave their story bit by bit, from the sighting of the men in the boat, to the finding of the box. Only Betty said nothing about the faces at the window of the fisherman's hut.
"Pry the cover off!" cried Will. "An axe is the best thing to use!"
"Indeed not!" exclaimed Betty. "Let's see if we can't open it with a key. You have some odd ones; haven't you, Daddy?"
"Yes," assented Mr. Nelson, who was down at the shore for the week-end. "Betty, get them. You'll find them in that desk in the living room."
Betty's father had looked at the box on all sides, had shaken it, and had examined the lock through a reading glass.
"It sure is a find, all right!" declared Roy Anderson. "I wish I had been with you."
"Oh, if it's a treasure-trove, we'll all share, as they did in Treasure Island," declared Betty, who was almost a boy in her liking for adventure stories.
"Ahem!" exclaimed Allen Washburn, with an elaborate assumption of dignity. "Treasure, you know, is subject to the claim of the commonwealth, if the lawful heirs cannot be located. I must look up the law on that subject."
"More likely it's the spoil of pirates, and fair booty for whoever finds it!" declared Will. "I think I'm the proper one to take charge of this, representing as I do the United States Government, which takes precedence over any State commonwealth."
"Go on!" laughed Henry Blackford. "You'll be saying next that it's smugglers' booty, and you'll be asking us to pay a duty on it. Let's open the box and see what it is—maybe nothing but seaweed. I've heard of jokes being played before," and he looked at the girls meaningly.
"Oh, we didn't hide it and then find it again," Amy assured him, so earnestly that the others laughed.
"Well, here goes for a try, anyhow," said Mr. Nelson.
With a bunch of assorted keys he tried one after another in the strange lock. Some keys would not even enter the aperture, while others turned uselessly around in it.
Betty's father used all he had without success, and then the boys were called on. They were not able to produce the Sesame to the japanned box, and Will's plan of using an axe was finding more favor when Allen produced a small key of peculiar make.
"Try this," he said. "It locks the switch on the motor boat, but it may fit. It looks as though it would."
And, to the surprise of them all, it did. As though it had been made for that lock, the little switch key slipped in. There was a click, a grinding sound, as the cover slipped on the sand-encrusted hinges, and the lid went back.