The Outdoor Girls In A Motor Car
THE HAUNTED MANSION OF SHADOW VALLEY
BY LAURA LEE HOPE
AUTHOR OF "THE OUTDOOR GIRLS OF DEEPDALE," "THE OUTDOOR GIRLS AT RAINBOW LAKE," "THE BOBBSEY TWINS," "THE BOBBSEY TWINS IN THE COUNTRY," ETC.
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Made in the United States of America
BOOKS FOR GIRLS
BY LAURA LEE HOPE
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12mo. Cloth. Illustrated. Price per volume, 50 cents, postpaid.
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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 BOBBSEY TWINS BOOKS
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
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GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY GROSSET & DUNLAP.
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THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN A MOTOR CAR.
I OUT OF A TREE 1
II A STRANGE GIRL 14
III STRANGELY MISSING 24
IV THE QUEER PEDDLER 31
V PAUL AT THE WHEEL 41
VI A TOUR PROPOSED 48
VII MR. LAGG'S OFFER 56
VIII IN THE MUD 68
IX IN SHADOW VALLEY 77
X OFF ON THE TOUR 84
XI A TRACE OF THE GIRL 93
XII A DISABLED CAR 104
XIII THE STORM 110
XIV AT THE HAUNTED HOUSE 121
XV QUEER MANIFESTATIONS 129
XVI "SO YOU HAVE COME BACK!" 138
XVII CONSTERNATION 147
XVIII THE PRISONER 153
XIX MYSTIFIED 160
XX SEEKING THE GHOST 168
XXI THE MISSING GIRL 177
XXII A SWINDLED FARMER 184
XXIII "THAT'S THE MAN!" 195
XXIV THE FAKER CAUGHT 199
XXV EXPLANATIONS 204
THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN A MOTOR CAR
OUT OF A TREE
"Come on, girls, the car is here, and this time I'm going to run it myself!"
"You never are, Mollie Billette!" exclaimed Grace Ford, as, with three companions, she hurried to the window of the library of the Billette home, and looked out toward the street, up which was coming a luxurious touring car of the latest model.
"Aren't you afraid?" asked Amy Stonington, as she looked admiringly at Mollie, whose cheeks were flushed with excitement.
"Oh, it simply gives me the creeps to think about it!" added Grace.
"I don't see why," spoke Mollie, as the car, in charge of a demonstrator, came to a stop in front of her house. "I've taken enough lessons, the garage man says; I have my license, and why shouldn't I run my car? Are you afraid to come with me?"
"No—no, it isn't exactly that," said Amy, slowly as she fastened the strings of her new motoring hood—all the girls had them, and very becoming they were. "It isn't exactly that, Mollie, but you know——"
"If you weren't afraid to go with Betty in her motor boat, I don't see why you should be afraid to come with me in the car," went on Mollie. "Oh, what did I do with my goggles?" she asked as she hurriedly looked about the room, lifting up a pile of books and papers on a table. "I know I had them, and——"
"Look!" exclaimed Betty Nelson with a laugh. "Dodo and Paul are trying to pull them apart. I suppose they think the goggles are big enough for two," and she pointed to where the twins, Mollie's little brother and sister, were seated on the velvety lawn, both having hold of a new pair of auto goggles, and gravely trying to separate the two eye pieces.
"The little rascals!" cried Mollie, though she, too had to join in the laughter of her chums. "Paul!" she called. "Dodo! Come here this instant with my goggles!"
The children looked up, their dispute forgotten.
"Us hasn't any doddles—us got tecticals!" exclaimed Paul.
"Well, those are sister's spectacles—to wear in the auto so the dust won't get in her eyes," explained Mollie, as she approached the twins, "Give them to sister."
"Oo et us wide in tar us dive um to oo," stipulated Dodo, holding the goggles behind her back.
"Not to-day, pet," said Mollie, sweetly—compromisingly.
Dodo arose, and backed away, limping slightly, for she was not quite recovered from a recent operation as the result of a peculiar accident. She held the goggles out of reach, and, walking with her eyes fixed on her sister, she was in danger of stumbling.
"She'll fall and break them," cried Grace.
"That's what I'm afraid of," said Mollie. "Come, Dodo, give the glasses to sister."
"Her dive um for tandy!" cried the crafty Paul, seeing a chance to make capital out of his little sister's strategic move. "Us dive oo glasses for tandy; won't us, Dodo?"
"Us will," assented Dora—or Dodo, as she was almost universally called. "Us dive for tandy—lots of tandy."
"The little rascals," laughed Mollie. "I wish I dared rush at her and take them away. But she might fall——" and with the recollection of what little Dodo had suffered, Mollie gave up her plan of action. The chauffeur tooted on the auto horn, as much as to say:
"Come, I'm waiting for you."
"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Mollie. "Have any of you——"
"Grace, will you kindly oblige?" asked Betty, with a laugh. "Surely you are not without chocolates on this momentous occasion."
"I don't see why you assume that I always have candy," remarked the tall, slender girl, whose willowy figure added to the charm of her face, framed in a wealth of light hair.
"Oh, we know your failing," laughed Betty. "Come, Grace, you are delaying the game, and if we are going for an auto ride with Mollie—let—let's have it—over with."
"Well, I like the way you speak!" exclaimed Mollie, rather sharply—Mollie had a failing in her quick temper. "If you girls are afraid to come in my new car, just because I'm going to steer all alone, why——"
"Oh, Mollie, I didn't mean it that way at all!" protested Betty. "I just didn't want Grace to feel——"
"Where is tandy?" demanded Paul, as he approached his little sister, evidently with the intention of again assuming the dispute over the goggles in case no confectionery was forthcoming.
"Grace, have you any?" asked Mollie, beseechingly. "We must get started, and the day is so fine we don't want to miss any of it. Paul—Dodo—don't you dare break my glasses!" She shook a warning finger at them.
"I just happen to have some chocolates," said Grace, with an air of injured dignity. From the pocket of her sweater she produced a small box, and held it out to Dodo. The child, with a glad cry, dropped the goggles on the grass and sprang for Grace. Paul, too, joined in the race, and while Mollie picked up her recovered property the twins, with a new matter to contend about, gravely sat down on the lawn, and proceeded to divide the candy.
"Now come on!" cried Mollie, "before something else happens. Be good children!" she cautioned them, "and don't go away."
"No," they chorused, while Paul added:
"Bring us more tandy—not bery much here."
"Which speaks well for the appetite of Grace," murmured Amy.
"Oh, let me alone!" protested Grace, with as near a show of temper as she ever indulged in. Mollie looked at her and remarked:
"You're getting my complaint, Grace dear."
"Well, I'm tired of always having candy thrown in my face—what if I do like chocolate?"
"You should have thrown the candy in her mouth—not in her face," laughed Betty, and then Grace smiled instead of frowning, and the four chums—the Outdoor Girls, as they had come to be called from living so much in the open—walked across the lawn to the waiting car.
"It certainly is a beauty!" declared Grace, as her eyes, and those of her friends, took in all the details of the auto. "Mollie, you are a lucky girl, and so is Betty with her motor boat. Amy, I wonder what good fortune is coming to us?"
"It will have to be an airship in your case, Grace," said Mollie. "One boat and one car is enough. You had better pray for an aeroplane."
"Never!" assented Grace. "The land and water are enough for me."
"And as for Amy," said Betty, "she wants a balloon, perhaps."
Amy shook her head, and a strange look came over her face. Her chums knew what it meant—that above everything else she would have preferred having the mystery of her identity solved.
"Well, if we're going to mote—let's mote!" exclaimed Mollie, perhaps with a desire to change the subject. "I'm going to take you for a nice long spin."
"Aren't you nervous—to think of being at the wheel without some one beside to help you in case of emergency?" asked Betty.
"Were you, in the Gem?" retorted Mollie.
"A little, but then, you know, a motor boat doesn't go as fast as a car—somehow you seem to have a better chance in case of collisions, or accidents."
"There aren't going to be any collisions or accidents," declared Mollie, with conviction. "I'm going to be careful until I get a little more accustomed to it, and then——"
"You'll scorch, like all the others, I suppose," put in Amy.
"Never! Now who's going to ride with me on the front seat?"
For a moment no one answered—Betty, Grace and Amy looked at one another, and then they burst into laughter.
"Well, do you want to draw lots for it?" inquired Mollie, with a trace of sarcasm. "I thought you'd feel honored."
"I will!" exclaimed Betty. "But you will be careful; won't you, Mollie dear?"
"Of course. I'm no more anxious to get into trouble than you are. Oh, what did I do with my handkerchief?"
"It's up your sleeve," said Grace, indicating a bulge in Mollie's sweater.
"Well, come on!" exclaimed the owner of the new car.
"She says it as though she were—going to—jail!" laughed Grace.
The demonstrator had alighted from the car, and was looking it over, testing the tires with his hand.
"Is it all right, Mr. Ransom?" asked Mollie, a bit anxiously. "Is anything the matter?"
"Not a thing, Miss Billette," he replied. "It is in perfect order. And I'm sure you can run it alone very easily. You have had a number of lessons, and you learned very quickly."
"If only I remember to let out my clutch before I change gears," Mollie murmured.
"Oh, you'll remember that," returned the chauffeur, to give her the confidence he saw she needed.
"I'll remind you of it," volunteered Betty.
The girls got into the car, and the man, impressing a few important facts on the pretty girl driver, lifted his cap as Mollie pressed the button of the self-starter.
"Here we go!" cried Grace, as the motor throbbed and hummed.
Carefully Mollie threw out the clutch, and slipped in first speed. Then releasing the clutch pedal gradually she felt the car move slowly forward. A flush of pleasure came to her face; for, though she had several times performed this feat of late, the demonstrator had always sat beside her. Now she was doing it alone.
"Fine!" cried Betty, as the car gathered speed.
"You're all right!" Mr. Ransom called after the girls.
From first to second gear, and then in another moment to high, was performed by Mollie without a hitch. Then she advanced the spark and gas levers.
"Well, so far—so good!" spoke Amy, with a sigh of relief.
"I knew Mollie could do it," declared Betty. "Look out for that wagon, my dear," she cried, a second later.
"I see it," and Mollie gave it such a wide berth that she sent her car needlessly to the grassy part of the country highway that led out of Deepdale.
"I don't want more than my half of the road," good-naturedly called the farmer who was driving the horse-drawn vehicle. "If all motorists were as generous as you there'd be no complaints," and he smiled and lifted his cap.
"It's better to be sure than sorry," said Mollie. "Well, girls, how do you like it?" and she ventured to turn around for an instant to speak to Grace and Amy in the tonneau.
"It's scrumptious!" declared Grace, between bites at a chocolate.
"Lovely," chimed in Amy.
"However did you prevail on your mother to get you the car?" asked Belly.
"Well, you see, when poor papa died," explained Mollie, as she put on a little more speed, "he provided in his will that on my seventeenth birthday I should have a certain sum of money to use just as I pleased—within reason, of course.
"He didn't say what it was for, but he had suggested that I take a trip to Europe. But I want to do that later, when I can better appreciate what I see, so I asked mamma if I couldn't use the money for a car, and she allowed me to. The result—you now behold," and she patted the steering wheel.
"We do more than merely behold it," said Grace. "It was sweet of you to ask us for a spin."
"Why wouldn't I, when Betty has been having us off on a cruise in her motor boat?" replied Mollie. Then she cried: "Oh, dear! There's a dog!" for one was in the road ahead.
"He can't bite us—up here," said Betty. "Unless you are afraid of your tires."
"No, it isn't that, but I'm afraid I may run over him!"
However, the dog leaped away from the road, darted into an open gateway, and from behind the safe vantage of the fence barked at the passing auto.
"I don't mind you there," said Mollie, with a sigh of relief. "Oh, but isn't this lovely!" and she inhaled deeply of the flower-scented air. There had been a shower the night before, and the roads were in excellent condition. Mollie had had the car about two weeks, and had taken several lessons in driving. As the chauffeur had said, she had proved an apt pupil, and now, being fully qualified, as her license stated, to run it alone, she had, on this first occasion, invited her friends for a run.
For several miles the girls rode along, enjoying to the utmost the swift, silent and easy motion, and drinking in the sweet air. They admired the views, too, for though they had been out with Mollie when she was taking her lessons, they had been so much occupied with watching her attempts to steer, and listening to the man's instructions, that they had not fully appreciated the beauty of the country through which they passed. And the country about Deepdale was beautiful.
"Are you going out Shadow Valley way?" asked Betty, as Mollie successfully made a turn into another highway, off the main one.
"No, not this time, though we must go there some day. I thought we'd motor to Farmington, and go home by way of Skillman."
"That's a nice way," said Grace. "Here, Mollie, open your mouth," and, as her chum did so, Grace inserted a chocolate, for Mollie had not yet enough confidence to take her hands from the steering wheel, except to shift gears, with the right.
They were going along a well-shaded road now, the big maples on either side meeting in an arch of green overhead. Some of the branches were so low that care had to be taken in passing under them, as Mollie had the top of the car up for protection.
As they approached one immense and ancient tree they saw a flutter of white amid the branches near the ground.
"What's that?" cried Betty.
"Look out!" exclaimed Grace.
The white object—large and fluttering—toppled from the tree, almost in front of the car, and with a little scream of fear Mollie gave the steering wheel such a sudden twist that the auto swerved and nearly upset. Across the road it shot on two wheels, and crashed into the bushes and briars that lined the highway.
Instinctively Mollie jammed on the brake, and threw out the clutch, the next instant shutting off the power, but so suddenly did she stop in the excess of her zeal that Grace and Amy were thrown from their seats, and Betty had to put out her hands to avoid hitting the wind shield.
A STRANGE GIRL
Mollie was the first to recover herself. Her position at the steering wheel had given her an advantage, in that she had something to hold to, and so was not tossed about as were her chums when the auto came to such a sudden stop.
"Oh, dear!" Mollie exclaimed, ruefully. "Are any of you hurt?"
She gazed back at Grace and Amy, having assured herself by a look at Betty beside her that the latter bore at least no visible injuries.
"I bumped my elbow—on the funny bone," said Grace.
"This is far from being funny," went on Mollie, half hysterical now.
"Stop it!" commanded Betty, getting control of her nerves, and then taking the situation in hand, as she so often did. "No one is hurt, and the car doesn't appear to be damaged, unless the stopping of the motor indicates that."
"No, I shut it off," said Mollie. "Amy, how about you?"
"Oh, I'm all right. But what in the world happened?"
In concert they all looked back toward the big tree, which, to avoid hitting something that fell from it, Mollie had steered away from so suddenly, and with such unexpected results.
"Why—why, it's a—girl!" gasped Betty, as she saw a huddled figure lying on the thick grass at the foot of the maple. "It's a girl, Mollie!"
"Oh, my, I hope we didn't hit her!" gasped Mollie. "I'm all in a tremble. Betty—I'm—I'm going to——"
"Don't you dare say faint!" commanded Betty. "Come, we must see what is the matter. Poor thing!"
"Oh, if—if we struck her!" gasped Mollie.
"I don't see how we could have," declared Amy. "You steered out too quickly."
"Yes, she did steer out quickly, all right," asserted Grace, rubbing her tingling elbow. "Why, Amy, your forehead is all bruised!"
"Yes, my head hit the robe-rail I guess," said Amy. "But that isn't anything. Oh, let's hurry to that poor girl."
Leaving the auto where it was, half-way through a patch of briars and brambles, the four girls approached the quiet figure lying under the tree. They looked up and down the road in case help would be needed, but not a person or vehicle was in sight.
"Oh—oh! I'm—I'm afraid to—look," spoke Mollie, shrinking back, as Betty bent over the figure of the strange girl. The latter's eyes were closed, and her loosened hair was in a mass about her head—even tossed as it was the girls could see there was a wonderful wealth of it. Betty gently pushed aside the locks from the forehead, and, as she did so she started back. Then bravely repressing her feelings she said:
"It's a cut, but it doesn't seem to be very deep."
"Oh, the blood—the blood!" murmured Mollie, putting her hands before her eyes. "And—I—I did it!"
"Nonsense! Stop it!" cried Betty. "Perhaps you did not do it at all—it may have happened in the fall."
"She is unconscious," said Grace.
"Yes, and we must get her to a doctor, or bring a doctor here as soon as possible," spoke Betty. "I think we can get her to a doctor more quickly. Will your machine run, Mollie? Can you operate it?"
"Oh, it will run all right. Nothing is broken, I'm sure of that. But I——"
"You've just got to run it," declared Betty, firmly, "even if it only crawls. Now if we can find some water to bathe her head we can tell how badly she is hurt. Girls, look for a spring. One of you bring me a lap robe."
Thus Betty issued her orders, and while the girls are preparing to lend aid to the injured stranger I will take a moment of your time—my new readers—to explain briefly some facts about the characters of this story.
In the first book, entitled, "The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale; Or, Camping and Tramping for Fun and Health," I told how Mollie, Betty, Amy and Grace, four girls of Deepdale, a town in the heart of New York State, organized a little club for camping and tramping. They went on a tour of about two hundred miles, stopping at night with friends or relatives, and on that tramp they solved a queer mystery having to do with a five hundred dollar bill—solved it very much to the satisfaction of a certain young man.
In the second volume, called "The Outdoor Girls at Rainbow Lake; Or, the Stirring Cruise of the Motor Boat Gem," I related what good times the girls had when Betty's uncle gave her a fine gasoline craft. Stirring times the girls had, too, when there was danger from a burning hay barge; and jolly times when they took part in races and went to dances. That Mollie's little sister Dodo was in distress because of a peculiar accident, which involved Grace, and caused the loss of valuable papers, detracted somewhat from the happiness of the girls for a time.
But in the end a "ghost" led to the finding of the missing documents, and Dodo was cured, so that all came out right. Then had followed more delightful times cruising and camping, and now, with the advent of fall, and Mollie's touring car, more glorious times were in prospect. The girls had not been long back from Rainbow Lake when Mollie received her auto.
I might mention that Betty Nelson was the daughter of a wealthy carpet manufacturer, with a large plant near Deepdale, while Mollie Billette was one of three children, her mother being a widow. Little Paul and Dodo I have already mentioned. Grace—the "Gibson girl," as she was often called, had a peculiar longing for sweets, and not being stinted as to pocket money—her father being a wealthy lawyer—she indulged her taste rather too much, so some of her friends thought.
There was a mystery about poor Amy Stonington, for the details of which I must refer my readers to the first book. Sufficient to say that since a baby she had been cared for by her uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. John Stonington. Amy had lived in the West, and had been rescued from a great flood when an infant. What became of her parents, or her brothers or sisters—if she had any—no one seemed able to say. In a way this mystery embittered Amy's life, but she was of too sweet and good a disposition to allow it to make a difference with her friends.
The four girls had been chums since grammar school days, being now High School students. In addition to the "inseparables," as they were often called, my former readers will recall Will Ford, the brother of Grace; his chum, Frank Haley, and another friend, Allen Washburn, now a young lawyer, with whom Betty—but there, why should I give away Betty's little secret?
Quite in contrast to these boys was Percy Falconer, a rather foppish lad, who greatly admired Betty—as who did not? But as for Percy—Betty did not care for him in the least. She was too fine a character to permit herself to be really angry at him, but Betty and Percy never could get along well.
"Dear Deepdale," as the girls alliteratively referred to it, was a charming country town, nestling in a bend of the Argono River, which, some miles below the village, widened out into Rainbow Lake. It was on this lake that the girls had cruised, and had such fun, and Betty's boat was now docked in the new house constructed for it near Mollie's home. The girls lived within short distance of one another, and were continually visiting, or calling back and forth. Where you found one you would find the others, and their parents used to say they never knew when to expect their daughters home to meals—for they were like one family in respect to dining out.
And, as usual, this beautiful summer day found the girls together in the auto, when the accident had thrown them into such consternation.
"Did you find any water?" called Betty, who had made a pillow of the lap robe, and supported on it the head of the unconscious girl.
"Yes," answered Mollie, her hand trembling as she extended a collapsible cup of the fluid she had dipped from a nearby spring, "I'll get more when she takes that."
"I'm afraid I can't get her to take much of it," said Betty. "But I can bathe the cut and see how large it is."
She tried to get a little water between the lips of the strange girl, while Amy and Grace held her head up; Mollie, with another cup provided by Betty, going off after more water.
"She took a little," whispered Grace.
The girl turned her head to one side as though to avoid drinking. Then she muttered a few words.
"What did she say?" asked Amy.
"I couldn't understand it," answered Betty.
Again the stranger murmured something, and this time the girls caught:
"No, no! I will not go back to him! Anything but the life I have been leading. Oh, why must I do it? Why?"
There was pathetic pleading in the words.
"There, my dear, you will be taken care of," spoke Betty, soothingly. "We will take you to your friends."
"I—I have none! Oh, I can't go back to—him!"
Her eyes did not open, and she appeared to be in a delirium.
"Poor thing!" said Amy, softly. "Bathe her head, Betty."
"Yes, I think that will be better than trying to force her to drink." Dipping her handkerchief in the water Betty wiped away the blood from the cut. It was seen to be a small one.
"That ought not to make her unconscious," said Betty. "More likely she has some additional injury; possibly a blow on some other part of her head. Girls, did you ever see such glorious hair!" Betty caressed it. Truly there was a mass of it, and it was of beautiful silkness and softness. It was still partly bound up, but the autoists could easily tell that it must reach almost to the ground when the girl stood up.
"What in the world could she have been doing up the tree?" asked Grace, as Mollie came back with more water.
"It is the oddest thing," agreed Betty, bathing the stranger's face and wrists.
"Are you sure we didn't hit her with the auto?" asked Mollie, tremblingly.
"I am almost sure you did not," spoke Betty, positively. "As she started to fall you steered out. She just toppled to the ground. See, there is not a mark of dust on her dress, as there would be if the tires had struck her."
"Yes, but perhaps the mud guard, or——"
"But her dress isn't torn or much disarranged. No, Mollie, the auto never struck her, of that I'm sure. But possibly she fell on her head, and the blow and shock stunned her. Oh, we must get her to a doctor!
"Come, girls," went on Betty, "we can lift her into the auto, I'm sure, and take her to the nearest house. Then we'll go for a physician."
"Try to arouse her, first," suggested Mollie. "I can't bear to see her—this way."
Betty used more water, and succeeded in getting some between the pale lips of the girl, but to no purpose. She was limp and half senseless, though she continued to moan and talk incoherently. Then the four girls picked her up and carried her toward the stalled automobile.
"Wait a minute," directed Betty, as she and her chums advanced, carrying the unconscious girl. "We'll have to put her down here, where the grass is soft."
"Why?" asked Amy, "she isn't heavy."
"No, but it will be better to get the auto out of the bushes, and into the road before we put her in it. Something might go wrong, and jolt her."
"That's so," agreed Mollie. "I think I can do it. Oh, but I'm nervous!"
"Shame on you!" cried Betty. "Be an outdoor girl—be your own brave self, Mollie!"
"I will!" and there was determination in her voice. "I'm sure I can get the car out all right!"
Mollie took her place at the wheel, pressed the starting button, and then, with a glance backward to see which way to steer, she slipped in the reverse gear, and let the clutch come into place. Slowly, amid a tearing away of vines and bushes, the car regained the highway.
"Good!" cried Grace. "Now, how shall we put her in, Betty?" for the "Little Captain," as she was often called (as Mollie was called "Billy") was generally looked to for advice in emergencies like these.
"You and Amy must hold her between you on the rear seat," Betty directed. "Support her all you can. Mollie will drive slowly."
"But perhaps we ought to get her to a doctor right away," spoke the owner of the car.
"Getting her to a doctor would not make up for any injury caused by a jolt," said practical Betty. "Besides, I do not think she can be seriously hurt. Her hair is so very thick that she could stand a very hard blow on the head. There are no other signs of injuries; but of course there may be internal hurts. She did not fall far, those branches were very close to the ground."
"What she can have been doing up the tree is a mystery," remarked Grace.
"Like the time when we found that five hundred dollar bill," added Mollie.
"And the 'ghost' of Elm Island, and the missing papers in the saddle bags," remarked Amy to Grace.
Mollie had brought her car to a stop, and alighted to help lift in the unconscious girl. Between them Amy and Grace held her in the tonneau, her head resting on Amy's shoulder, a damp handkerchief covering the cut to keep any dirt from getting in it. Mollie again took her place at the steering wheel, and when Betty had gotten in the girls started off with their strange passenger.
"I couldn't imagine what it was, when I saw something white falling out of the tree," spoke Mollie, driving along on high gear, but with the motor well throttled down.
"Nor could I," added Betty. "And when you steered out so suddenly, I thought surely we would crash into the stone fence, just beyond the bushes."
"So did I, but I knew there was only one thing to do, and that was to put on the brakes as hard as I could."
"And you did," said Grace. "I didn't know you could move so quickly, Mollie."
"You can do many things when the emergency comes," replied Mollie, as she turned out to avoid a rut in the road.
"This is better than a dozen lessons in the art of managing an auto," commented Betty. "Practical problems are what count—not theoretical ones. Does she seem all right, Grace?" and she looked around at the unconscious girl.
"Yes, and her breathing is better. I think she will soon come to."
"That's good. See, there's a house. We can take her in, and ask where the nearest doctor is," and Betty pointed ahead.
Presently the auto stopped before it, and to a motherly-looking woman who came out, Betty and the girls quickly explained what had happened.
"Of course! Bring the poor dear in!" the woman directed. "The men folks are over in the far meadow salting the cows, or I'd send one of them for Dr. Brown. He's most likely to be home too, now. He lives down the road a piece—about a mile."
"I can go for him in the car, and bring him back," said Mollie.
"That's good. Bring the poor dear in the bedroom, and we'll look after her until the doctor comes. I'll get the camphor bottle. That's good for a faint."
The girl seemed to have again sunk into a stupor, as they carried her in, and placed her on a comfortable lounge. Then the woman of the house brought out a bottle of camphor, of generous size, and it was held to the nostrils of the unconscious one.
The sufferer turned her head away from the pungent odor, and seemed to be struggling against some unseen force. Again she seemed to revive somewhat, and muttered:
"Oh, I can't! I can't! I don't want to go back to him! Anything but that! I don't like—I can't bear that life!"
Her voice trailed off into a mere whisper.
"You had better hurry for the doctor," said Betty, and Mollie hastened out to her car.
"I'll come with you," volunteered Grace, and Mollie was grateful.
"Suppose we take her into the bedroom," suggested the woman. "It's cooler there. We can manage her. I'm real strong."
With her help it was no great task to get the girl on the bed. Her garments were loosened so that she might be more comfortable, and more camphor was used, but it seemed to have no effect.
"Suppose we go out and let her be by herself; we can't do anything more," suggested the woman. "Besides, she needs all the air she can get. That's always best for fainting folks. She may come to by herself, I'll open the window and shutters," and she proceeded to do so. Then coming out, and closing the door, they left the strange girl alone, Betty and Amy taking turns telling how the affair had happened.
"Land's sakes! Fell out of a tree!" exclaimed the woman. "What in the world do you s'pose she was doin' up in it?"
"We haven't the least idea," answered Betty.
"And who is this man she says she won't go back to?"
"We have even less idea—she has repeated that several times," spoke Amy. "Oh, I do hope they find the doctor!"
"Dr. Brown is real good," was the woman's opinion. "He cured my rheumatism, and Hetty Blake—she lives over on the Melford road—she had jaundice something terrible—she was as yellow as saffron tea, and he brought her around when old Dr. Wakefield give her up. Yes, Dr. Brown is right smart."
Thus she entertained the girls with remarks on the country life around, until Betty ventured to remark:
"I wonder if we oughtn't to look in on her?" motioning to the room where they had left the girl.
"No, best let her be," said the woman—Mrs. Meckelburn, she had said her name was.
"Hark!" exclaimed Amy a little later.
"It's an auto!" said Betty, going to the window.
She saw Mollie and Grace in the car, a young man, with a professional air about him, at the steering wheel.
"That's Dr. Brown!" exclaimed Mrs. Meckelburn, "but I didn't know he could drive one of them things."
"I guess Mollie got too nervous," explained Betty.
The doctor caught up his bag and hurried toward the house, followed by Grace and Mollie.
"An accident!" he exclaimed in brisk tones, bowing to Betty and Amy, and taking in the woman in his greeting. "Where is she?"
"In my bedroom, Dr. Brown," said Mrs. Meckelburn. "I do hope there's nothing much the matter with the poor dear."
They clustered around as the physician pushed open the door. Then he turned to them with a queer look on his face.
"Must be some mistake," he said. "There is no one here."
"No one there!" cried Betty in strange tones. "Why——"
She looked over his shoulder. There in the bed was the imprint of a human form, but the girl herself had vanished!
THE QUEER PEDDLER
For a moment after this surprising discovery had been made no one spoke. Dr. Brown looked oddly from one girl to the other, and at Mrs. Meckelburn.
"There is evidently some mystery here," he said. "I supposed there was really some one here who needed my services?" and he glanced questioningly at Mollie, who had summoned him.
"Oh, indeed there was," she said, quickly. "A girl fell out of a tree——"
"Out of a tree!" exclaimed the doctor, and for a moment it seemed as though he believed a joke had been attempted on him.
"Yes," went on Betty, taking up the story, "didn't Mollie tell you that? She really fell from a tree as our auto passed, and at first we thought we had struck her." Betty shot a glance of inquiry at Mollie.
"No, I didn't tell that part," confessed the owner of the new car. "I was so flustrated, and I guess Grace didn't say anything either."
"No," answered the willowy one.
"Well, I'm here, at all events, but there is no patient," said the doctor, with a smile.
"Oh, we'll pay you for your call!" exclaimed Betty, quickly taking out her silver mesh bag. "How much——"
"No, no!" said Dr. Brown somewhat sharply, "you misunderstand me. I never accept a fee in a simple accident case. What I meant about there being no patient was that she has evidently gone away, possibly in a delirium, and in that case we had better search for her, for she may be badly hurt, or do herself some injury. You say she was in this room?"
"Yes," answered Mrs. Meckelburn.
"And you sat here in view of the door all the while?"
"Yes," spoke Betty. "She never came out of that door, I'm sure." Amy said the same thing.
"Then the only other possible solution is that she got out of the window," went on the physician, "for there is no other door from the room. We must look outside," and he crossed the apartment to the casement. It had been raised, and the shutters were open when the unconscious girl had been left alone.
"The window is low—she could easily have dropped to the ground," said Dr. Brown. "It is not more than four feet."
He leaned out to look at the ground underneath, and uttered an exclamation.
"That is what she did!" he cried. "There are the marks of feet landing heavily—small shoes—and unless some of you young ladies have been indulging in gymnastics."
"And see!" added Betty, standing beside the physician, "here are some of her long hairs," and she picked some from the window sill. "Oh, she did have the longest, most glorious hair!" and Betty sighed in memory, for Betty loved long tresses and her own, while they became her wonderfully well, were not very luxuriant.
"But I don't see how she could have gotten away, unconscious as she was, and injured," said Grace, with a puzzled air.
"She may have regained consciousness," spoke Dr. Brown; "or, as I said, she may have wandered off in a delirium. In that case we must try to find her. Again, she may not have been as badly hurt as you supposed, and also she may have simulated an injury hoping she would get a chance to escape unobserved. Was there anything strange about her?"
"Yes, there was," admitted Betty, slowly, and she gave the details of the accident, how, most unexpectedly the girl had toppled from the tree, the subsequent swerving of the auto, and how, several times, the girl had murmured something about not going back to a certain man.
"Hum!" mused Dr. Brown, "it is rather odd, I must admit. What do you suppose she was doing in the tree?"
"We haven't been able to guess," confessed Amy; "perhaps she climbed up to avoid a dog—we have met several dogs to-day."
"It's possible," Dr. Brown commented.
"And the tree was an easy one to climb," spoke Mollie. "I am not a very good climber, but that tree offered temptations."
The doctor smiled.
"Well, let us make a search," he proposed. "Is there any special place where a girl, who might wish to escape observation for some unknown reason, could hide around here, Mrs. Meckelburn?"
"There's the barn."
"Very good, we will search there, and we may be able to trace her footprints. Please do not any of you walk under the window, nor in a line from it until we have made some observations. We will play a little detective game," and he smiled frankly at the girls.
But if he had hoped anything from the clue of the footprints he was doomed to disappointment for, though there were plain indications where the girl had landed when she jumped from the window, the marks were soon lost sight of on the harder ground a short distance from the house.
A search of the barn revealed no trace of her, and one of the farm hands, coming to the house a little later, joined in the search. He reported that there had been seen no hatless, injured—or apparently injured—girl crossing the fields.
"Then she must have made a circle about the house, and gone out on the road," suggested Betty. "She is probably far enough away from here by this time, poor thing!"
"Perhaps we ought to search for her," spoke Mollie. "Of course it was not our fault, since we are sure the car did not hit her; but perhaps it scared her so that she fell."
"I should not blame myself if I were you," said the physician, kindly. "It was evidently not your fault. You did all you could for the girl. If she did not want further treatment that is her lookout. Of course, if she wandered away in a delirium, that is another story, and perhaps it would be well to search down the road. She did not pass us, or we would have seen her, coming from my office along the main highway as we did," he said to Mollie. "A search in the opposite direction would be the only feasible thing to conduct."
"Then let's do it!" cried Mollie. "And you please drive, Dr. Brown, I haven't yet gotten over my nervousness."
Mrs. Meckelburn refused an invitation to go in the car, but the four girls started off, Dr. Brown at the wheel. They went as far back as the tree which was the scene of the accident and saw no trace of the girl. Nor had any of several other autoists, or drivers of horse vehicles, to whom they appealed, seen her.
"She has just disappeared—that's all," said Betty. "I wonder if we had better notify the police?"
"I will attend to that for you," responded Dr. Brown, kindly. "There is no need for you to be mixed up in this. Sometimes, with the best intentions in the world, one gets unpleasant notoriety in these cases. I will notify the authorities to be on the lookout for the girl, for her own sake alone. Later, if there is need of you——"
He paused suggestively.
"We will leave you our addresses," said Betty, quickly. "Thank you for looking after this for us."
"I am only too glad to be of service. Well, as long as there is no patient to be found here, I had better return to those waiting for me at my office."
"Go there in my car," proposed Mollie, quickly, "and then I will take the wheel again. I am feeling better now."
"Such a fine car as this ought to make anyone feel fine! It is a beauty!" and he seemed to caress the steering wheel. "I am getting a small runabout," he went on, "and that is how I happen to know how to drive. I learned some time ago."
They flashed past Mrs. Meckelburn's house, calling to her of their failure, and saying that they would be back soon. A little later, having left the physician at his home, they were again in the pleasant farm house, sipping tea which their hostess had thoughtfully made.
"Isn't it queer?" observed Betty.
"A strange enough happening," Amy commented.
"Quite a mystery," asserted Grace.
"And really she was a pretty girl," declared Mollie. "I wish I had her hair," and she sighed as Betty had done.
Grace strolled into the room where the girl had been, and half idly she looked about it, as though in that way she might solve the mystery. A piece of paper in one corner caught her eye and she picked it up.
"I found this in there," she said, coming out. "It has some writing on it. Perhaps this is yours, Mrs. Meckelburn," and she held out the scrap.
"No, I'll guarantee there was not a piece of paper in that room when you carried that girl in," said the farmer's wife. "I had just swept," and she tossed her head in pardonable pride of her housework.
"What does it say?" asked Amy.
"It's evidently a piece torn from a letter," answered Grace, as she accepted the paper from the woman, "and all I can make out are the words—'not go to Shadow Valley even if'—and that's all there is to it."
"How odd!" exclaimed Mollie. "Shadow Valley is not far from here."
"And the queer girl evidently dropped that paper," declared Betty, examining the scrap. "Well, the mystery deepens, but I do not see that we can do anything to solve it."
They talked it over for some time, but could come to no other conclusion. Grace saved the scrap of paper, and soon, having bidden good-bye to Mrs. Meckelburn, they were on their way again, with Mollie at the wheel.
Gradually their nerves, upset by their adventure, resumed their poise under the influence of the fresh air and sunshine, and the gloomy atmosphere raised by the girl's accident, passed away.
They had made the turn into a road that would lead them to Deepdale when they came in sight of a man standing in the road beside a small, and rather gaudily painted wagon. He seemed to be looking in the dust for something, and Mollie, seeing him, slowed up, remarking:
"Perhaps he has a break-down. Let's ask if we can help him."
The appearance of the man, in some ways, was enough to invite the confidence of four girls, and in others was not. He had long, and very white hair, fluffy and wavy, and was dressed in a shabby suit of black, but his face had hard, cruel lines in it, as though he were in the habit of imposing his will on others.
A look at his wagon showed the character of his trade, for it was brilliantly lettered with such devices and mottoes as—"Bennington's Hair is All His Own." "Use His Restorer and Be Likewise." Another was: "Bennington's Restorer Really Restores."
"Have you lost something?" asked Mollie, bringing the car to a stop. He looked up quickly, and smiled, but the smile only seemed to make his face harder, instead of softening it.
"Yes, ladies," he said with a smirk and bow, taking off his broad brimmed hat, and running his fingers through his hair, making it fluff out more than ever, "I have lost a bolt out of part of my wagon, and I'm afraid to go on lest I break down. It dropped somewhere in the dust, but I can't find it."
"I have a supply of spare bolts in my tool box," spoke Mollie, "I'll give you one, and that will save you looking any more."
"Thank you, lady. It will be just what I want." From the tool box on the run board he soon selected a bolt that fitted his wagon.
"And now let me repay your kindness," he said. "I am, as you see, a traveling peddler of hair tonic. May I present you with a bottle?" and he offered Mollie one.
"No, thank you," and she laughed merrily. "It is something that I never use."
"You all have fine hair," returned the peddler; "but at that it would be all the better for Bennington's Restorer—I am Bennington—I make it myself," and he bowed. "Won't you take it. I can guarantee it harmless."
"No, thank you just the same," repeated Mollie. "And you are entirely welcome to the bolt. Good-bye," and she started her car.
PAUL AT THE WHEEL
The girls looked back at the old peddler as they swept on. He was standing beside his horse, evidently mending some part of the harness.
"It was rather a dilapidated outfit," remarked Betty. "I don't see how he can cover much ground in a day."
"Probably he doesn't," answered Mollie. "He may sleep in his wagon, eat there—dining on bread and cheese or herring—and so reduce the high cost of living. Then he may make a big profit on his hair restorer. Ugh! The stuff! I could not bear to use it."
"Nor I; and yet he had nice hair."
"Perhaps he'd have that anyhow. He meant it well enough—offering us the bottle."
"Yes," agreed Betty. "But it was just as well not to take it. My! what a day of adventures this has been!"
"It has started in almost the way some days did when we were on our tramp," spoke Grace, from the tonneau.
"Or when we were at the lake, trying not to be afraid of the 'ghost'," added Amy. "Do you intend to do any more cruising this fall, Betty?"
"We may. Would you like it?"
"Would we?" cried Grace, "just ask us!"
"Now please wait," broke in Mollie. "I may have a little plan of my own to propose soon."
"What is it?" begged Amy.
"I haven't it all worked out yet. I'll tell you as soon as I have. It may offer us a chance for some fun——"
"And adventures?" asked Betty, quickly.
"And adventures," assented Mollie. "But one thing I do want, and that is to have each of you girls run the car. I don't want to be selfish and drive all the while."
"I would like to learn," said Betty, eagerly. "It's good of you to want us to, Mollie."
"No, I have rather a selfish motive back of it. Sometimes I want to sit in the tonneau and not have to worry about running over a dog——"
"Look out!" suddenly cried Betty, impulsively grasping Mollie's arm. "That child!"
A little toddler had run from the yard of a house near the road, and was scampering across the highway, his mother in close pursuit.
Quickly Mollie put on both brakes, and threw out the clutch, but there was no need; for the child, with the perverseness of youth, had turned and was running back toward the gate, evidently frightened by the frantic tooting of the horn, the bulb of which Mollie pressed spasmodically.
"Oh my! What a scare!" panted Mollie, as she slipped in low gear, and started up again, without coming to a full stop.
"Well, I don't want to seem mean, but he is getting just what he deserves," said Grace, looking back, "and that is—a spanking. Toddlers must be made to learn the danger of rushing blindly across auto roads."
"I suppose so," agreed Mollie. "I could just see little Paul then," she went on. "If I had hit that child——"
She did not finish, but they all knew what she meant.
Deepdale was reached without further incident, and the girls agreed that Mollie had piloted her car wonderfully well for a beginner.
"Of course I've got lots to learn," she said to her chums, "but that will come gradually, the demonstrator said. One learns, after a while, to steer instinctively, and to do everything almost automatically—like slowing down, applying the brakes and so on. Now you girls must come over to-night, and we'll——"
"Talk!" interrupted Amy. "We've got lots to talk about."
"We always have," said Grace, looking in vain for a chocolate. The car had stopped in front of her house, and Mollie had said she would leave the other girls at their residences.
"Oh, don't bother," Betty had protested. "You must be tired, and it's only a step."
"No, we must do this in style!" decided Mollie. "What is the use of a motor car if one can't bring one's friends home in the proper mode?" And she had her way.
The auto was to be kept in a public garage until Mrs. Billette could have one built on her own premises, and, leaving her machine with the man in charge, Mollie walked home.
That night her three chums called, and the talk was almost entirely devoted to the strange girl and her queer disappearance.
In the days that followed the four inseparables took many rides out into the beautiful country around Deepdale. True to her determination, Mollie insisted on Betty, Amy and Grace taking at least a few lessons. Betty was quick to learn, but Grace was not quite strong enough to handle the wheel properly, and Amy was too timid. Still, either of the latter could manage the car on a straight, level road, but Betty was the only one who persisted enough to be able to get a license, which she one day took out on Mollie's suggestion.
"And what is the something you were going to tell us?" asked Betty of Mollie one day, as they were returning from a short run, Betty at the wheel.
"Oh, it isn't quite ready yet," she said. "I'll tell you in plenty of time to prepare for it, though. Mind your wheel, Bet, there are two cars coming back of us, and I think they're going to pass us close."
"Well, let them look out, I'm on the right side of the road."
Two cars, scorching, did pass them, throwing up a cloud of dust that caused the girls to gasp choke.
"Horrid creatures!" cried Grace. "My new cloak will be spoiled!" and she dusted off the auto garment she had recently purchased.
"It is such as they who give all autoists a bad name," remarked Mollie. "One rule of our club must be never to scorch."
"Our club?" asked Grace, wonderingly.
"There—I've told part of my secret!" exclaimed Mollie, in some confusion. "I was going to suggest that, as we have a sort of informal Camping and Tramping Club, and as there is a kind of motor boat club feeling existing among us, we form an auto club."
"Let's!" proposed Amy. "Bet has the boat, you have the car, Mollie, but poor Grace and I——"
"That doesn't make a bit of difference!" broke in Mollie. "You don't have to have an auto to belong to this club. Just as when you get your airship, Grace, we'll join your aero club; though you'll be the only one with a flying machine."
"No flies for me!" said Grace, determinedly.
They reached Mollie's house rather early that afternoon, not having gone far.
"Do come in for a cup of tea," urged Mollie. "It will refresh you all. No, no, Paul!" she called to her brother, "you must not get in sister's auto when she is not in it," for the little fellow had started to climb up in the front seat as the girls strolled toward the house.
"Oo dot any tandy?" he asked, coming toward them.
"Oh dear, I wonder if I will always have to bribe you, Paul?" sighed Mollie. "Grace, will you kindly oblige again? I guess I shall have to appoint you official candy distributor."
"That would suit me," laughed Grace. "Here, Paul, and don't get that on your suit—the chocolate is so sticky and messy in warm weather," and Grace daintily removed, with the tip of her tongue, some brown spots from the ends of her rosy fingers that had passed the candy to the little boy.
The girls were sipping tea in the library, and talking, when there came from out in front the sudden throbbing of an auto motor. Mollie leaped up and rushed to the window. Then she screamed:
"Oh girls! Paul is in my car and it's running away with him! Oh, stop him, some one!"
They all saw little Paul—a mite in the seat—holding bravely to the steering wheel, and the car moving down the hill in front of the Billette home.
A TOUR PROPOSED
Betty was the first to rush from the house. She was closely followed by Grace, who seemed to rise to the emergency in a manner not usual.
"Can we stop him? Can we stop him?" cried Mollie, over and over again, as she clung to Amy and hurried on after Betty and Grace. "Oh, if mother were to see him now!"
"Perhaps we can reach him in time," suggested Amy, consolingly. "Don't worry, Mollie."
"Oh, whatever possessed him to do a thing like that? I have told him time and again never to get into the car alone."
The four girls ran swiftly across the lawn—yes, swiftly, for no such creations as "hobble skirts" hindered them. Fortunately Mrs. Billette, whose French nature was easily excited had not seen the happening. Dodo was out with the maid.
"Paul! Paul!" cried Mollie. "Put on the brake! Stop the car!"
"It doesn't seem to be going very fast," panted Betty, as she kept on beside Grace.
"He hasn't thrown in the gear—that's one good thing," exclaimed Grace. "He doesn't know how——"
She paused, for from the car came a laugh of childish delight, and a change in the sound of the motor told that something new had occurred.
"He has the gear in now!" cried Betty.
She was running diagonally across the lawn, trying to intercept the car. In her mind it was plain what had happened.
Paul had, with the impishness of childhood, climbed up in the auto. It was a simple matter to even blunder on pushing the button that would set the self-starter in operation. The car had been left standing on a level bit of road, but, just ahead of it, was a rather steep slope. Mollie had neglected to leave the emergency brake set, and when the motor started there was vibration enough to send the car over the little space that separated it from the slope. Then it simply rolled down. That was what had happened first.
But now had entered a new complication.
It seemed that Paul had a tricycle, worked by foot pedals and hand levers, and he was quite expert in its use. He had now put into practice what had been told him about his toy, and had added his observations of Mollie's operation of her car.
After starting the motor Paul had somehow managed to slip in the low gear, and the marvel of it was that he knew enough to disengage the clutch while he did this. Afterward he told how he had heard the demonstrator impress many times on Mollie the need of doing so.
"Oh, we'll never get him now!" cried Mollie, as she realized that the auto was moving under power now, and not merely by momentum. "Oh, Paul!"
The child was actually steering—the girls could see that, for the auto swerved in and out, narrowly missing the curbstone, as he turned and twisted the wheel too much.
"Paul! Paul!" cried his sister. "Stop it! Stop it!"
But Paul only laughed. He was having too much fun to want to stop.
It was hopeless for the girls to try to catch the auto now. They were far behind it, but still Betty ran on. Several narrow escapes had Paul on that perilous journey, and then in the nick of time he was saved from what might have been a serious accident.
Up the road was coming a racing car, going at high speed. The man, crouched almost under the steering wheel, if he saw Mollie's car at all, probably imagined that a motorist of experience was guiding it. But Paul was on the wrong side of the road, and there was no telling at what moment he might shift the course.
Then, riding like the wind, out from behind the racing car shot a bicyclist. At the sight of him Mollie screamed:
"Will—Will Ford! Save Paul! He's in my car—there ahead of you!"
Will Ford was riding directly toward Paul. In an instant Grace's brother had sensed the situation. Skillfully going around the racing car, which had fortunately slackened speed as the driver evidently realized that something was wrong, Will guided his wheel toward Mollie's auto.
Then he turned, so as to ride in the direction in which it was advancing, with ever-increasing speed. Will gauged his progress to that of the car, rode up alongside the run-board, and, in another instant, kicked his wheel from under him and was at Paul's side. In another second he had snapped off the power and applied the brakes.
"What for oo 'top me widing?" demanded Paul, rather indignantly.
Will's heart was beating fast, and he panted for breath, but he managed to answer:
"Too bad, Paulie, but you haven't any license to drive a car, you know, and a policeman might take you."
"Sure. You mustn't do it again," and Will's voice was sufficiently stern.
"All wight—I won't. But I tan wun a tar, all'e same; tan't I?"
Paul was evidently proud of what he had done.
"Yes, you can, but you mustn't—you mustn't! Do you understand?"
"Yes. Dot any tandy?"
"No," he said, "but maybe the girls have. Here they come."
Half hysterical, Mollie and her chums came running up. They were all rather "limp," as they confessed later.
"Oh, Paul, you naughty boy!" cried his sister. "Mamma will punish you for this."
His big eyes opened wide.
"I ikes to run tar," he said, and his lip quivered.
"Don't be too harsh with him," murmured Grace.
"I can't help it—he must know how dangerous it is," insisted Mollie. "You won't ever do it again; will you, Paul?"
"Nope. Dot any tandy?"
Their laughter relieved their strained feelings.
"Oh, Will, I can't thank you enough!" declared Mollie. "I thought I would die when I saw that racing car coming toward him."
"I just saw him in time," exclaimed Will. "I had to act quickly, for there was no telling when he'd try to cross the street."
Paul was contentedly chewing a candy Grace had produced and the little crowd that had gathered, on seeing Will's act, began to disperse, understanding what had happened. Then Mollie, assuming the wheel, directed the car back to her house, taking the girls and Paul in it. Will went back to get his bicycle and the excitement was over. But it took some time for the girls to quiet down.
To impress on him the danger of what he had done, Mrs. Billette sent Paul to bed. He cried and protested, but it was necessary, for he was too daring a little chap.
Three days passed. The girls were at Mollie's house, having assembled in answer to her telephone message.
"Well, it's all settled!" she exclaimed, as the trio came in together.
"What?" asked Betty.
"Our auto tour. That's what I've been working on. I wanted to plan a nice route—one that would take in a good stretch of country, enable us to see new places, and be comfortable. Now I have it all mapped out. You'll come; won't you—all of you?" and she looked appealingly at her chums.
"But what's it all about?" asked Grace, wonderingly.
"Why, since I have a car, we must get the best use out of it we can. So why can't we four—and a chaperone, if we think we need one—go for a tour, the same as when we walked—only this time we'll ride? We can make five hundred, or a thousand, miles, if we choose, stopping over night in different places. Won't it be fun?"
"Jolly!" cried Amy.
"Scrumptious!" was Betty's contribution.
"Mollie, you're a dear!" declared Grace, with a hug. "When can we go?"
"Soon now. I think——" A maid knocked at the door.
"Yes; what is it?" asked Mollie.
"If you please, Miss Billette, there's a gentleman to see you."
"Yes, rather elderly, and he keeps making up verses, Miss. I'm not sure about him. Will you see him?"
"Verses? Oh, it must be that dear old Mr. Lagg—the storekeeper!" exclaimed Mollie. "Of course I'll see him. But, girls, what do you imagine he wants?"
MR. LAGG'S OFFER
With a broad smile on her face, the maid came back, escorting Mr. Lagg, who, at the sight of the girls, bowed low, and declaimed:
"I'm glad to see you, I hope we'll agree, That you are as happy Now to see me!"
"Good!" cried Betty, clapping her hands until the palms were rosy. "We are indeed glad to see you."
"Of course," added Mollie. "How could you leave your store long enough to run down here, Mr. Lagg?"
"Well, it is running a risk," he answered, as he took a chair Amy set out for him. "But I have important business down here, so I though I'd call. I worked out that little verse on the way down," he confided to the girls.
"You are extending your range," remarked Grace, who was languidly eating chocolates. "That is, your poetry is getting more elaborate."
"It is indeed!" exclaimed Mr. Lagg, brightening up on hearing this praise. "I am glad you noticed that. Yes, I am gradually getting it better, and on a higher plane. That is what worried me about leaving my store alone."
"Did you leave it all alone?" asked Betty, for the girls knew he did quite a trade with the summer colonists of Rainbow Lake.
"Practically so," was the answer. "I have a boy I hire occasionally, but he hasn't the least talent in the line of poetry, and I know my customers will miss that. However, they will have to put up with it for a few hours. I am going back as soon as I can.
"Perhaps," he added, cautiously, "I should never have worked up my versifying talent; but, somehow, I just couldn't seem to help it. I started in a modest way, just as I did in my store, and it seemed to grow of itself. Now my customers have come to look for it, and I know if Johnnie—that's the boy I spoke of as being left in charge—I know he'll rhyme the wrong words—that is, if he attempts anything at all, which he is likely to do. And nothing displeases a customer more than to listen to wrong rhymes; don't you think so?" and he appealed to the chums.
"Of course," assented Mollie, with a look at the others to ask their opinion as to what Mr. Lagg had in view, and what his object could be in calling.
The storekeeper appeared to be nervous, and ill at ease, and it was evident that he had attired himself with care for the trip.
He was obviously uncomfortable in his "Sunday-go-to-meetin'" suit, and a stiff shirt and a stiffer collar did not add to his ease. But he stood it manfully. Sitting on the edge of the chair he looked from one to the other, twirling his hat.
"How—how is trade?" asked Mollie, feeling that she ought to say something, but scarcely knowing what. She seemed to recall that this was a way to engage a business man in conversation.
"Not what it should be," replied Mr. Lagg, with a smile. He seemed to feel that he was making progress now. At least he was in his own element. "Not what it should be. I miss you girls. When you used to run in now and then for something in my line I did better. You were good customers, and I always shaded the prices all I could, besides reciting all my newest poetry as soon as I made it up. It isn't everyone I do that for," he added. "Why, to some customers I never speak more than a line or two in a whole year. But you girls—well, you're different. I miss seeing the Gem tied at my dock. There isn't a chance that you'll go cruising again; is there?" he asked, eagerly.
"Come, sail upon the bright blue lake, You, of my goods a choice may make. My prices you will find quite right, I'm open until eight at night."
"You always did treat us right, Mr. Lagg," laughed Betty, "but I don't believe we'll do any more cruising—at least, not right away. We're going in for land cruising now."
"Yes, Mollie has an auto, and we were just planning a tour when you came in."
"So, you see, unless you could arrange to have a sort of traveling store, we couldn't patronize you very often," went on Mollie, wondering why Mr. Lagg did not come to the point. He had evidently called with some special object in view, and leaving his establishment during the height of the season would seem to indicate that the object was not a trivial one. "But we'll stop in whenever we're near you," Mollie concluded.
"Thank you, Miss Billette. So you are going on an auto cruise; eh?"
"A tour, yes."
"Then that may fit in with what I have called about," said Mr. Lagg, quickly. "Yes, it may be just the very best idea yet. Excuse me a moment while I think," he said, and he closed his eyes. His head nodded two or three times in a satisfied sort of way, and occasionally he murmured to himself. The girls looked at one another, unable to fathom the meaning of this conduct. Then Mr. Lagg whistled and suddenly exclaimed:
"I have it! You can solve this mystery, too!"
"Another mystery?" queried Grace, rather languidly, as she took a more comfortable position on the divan. "We seem to be having a monopoly of them."
"What is it, Mr. Lagg?" asked Mollie.
"Were you much afraid of that ghost on Elm Island?" he replied, by asking another question.
"Not at all!" declared Betty, quickly.
"Especially as it was only—what it was," said Grace, with a laugh.
"Then I've got another one for you to solve," went on the poetical grocer. "It's a haunted house!"
He beamed on the girls as though he had proposed the most delightful sort of an affair.
"A—a haunted house!" faltered Amy.
"That's it—a regular haunted house—groans, slamming doors—queer lights, and all that sort of thing."
"Where—where is it?" asked Betty.
"In Shadow Valley."
Instinctively the four girls started.
"Why, we—we were near there the other day," said Mollie. "We didn't see any house that appeared to be haunted, though."
"No, and that's just it," went on Mr. Lagg. "You see it's only recently been haunted, and that makes it all the worse."
"Tell us about it," suggested Betty. "Girls, this is getting interesting. We must take this in on our tour."
"Don't!" pleaded Amy, the timid one, shivering in spite of herself.
"You know that old mansion, at the far end of the valley; don't you?" asked Mr. Lagg. "At least, you must have heard about it."
"You mean Kenyon's Folly?" responded Mollie, who began to have a glimmering of what was meant.
"Yes," answered the storekeeper. "Mr. Kenyon, who was once a millionaire, built that mansion after ideas of his own. Everyone said Shadow Valley—at least that part of it—was too gloomy and out of the way to be a good place for a mansion like that, and the folks around here said it was foolish. They called it Kenyon's Folly from the start, though he named it Kenyon's Woodland Lodge, or some such fancy name as that."
"And did it turn out as the people said?" asked Amy.
"Yes," answered Mr. Lagg. "From the very first his wife took a dislike to the place. She said it was too gloomy, and in spite of a lot of entertainments and parties—elaborate affairs they were, too—life there was dreary. They had lots of company, but Shadow Valley seemed to cast a gloom over the big mansion.
"Then Mr. Kenyon died, and some said it was partly due to grief over the fact that his wife refused to live in the place. At any rate, he closed it up, and went abroad, I believe, not living long after he started to tour Europe.
"Then there was trouble over his will, his whole estate was thrown into court, and the heirs fought and squabbled over the mansion, as well as over the rest of his possessions. No one could get title to it, and the place fell into neglect."
"Yes, it certainly does look lonesome and forlorn around there," said Betty. "I was close to it about a year ago, but I never heard that it was haunted."
"It wasn't until recently," said Mr. Lagg, "and that brings me to this part of the story, and that's why I called on you. I might say that I now own that haunted mansion."
"You own it!" cried Grace. All the girls were interested now, whatever they had been before.
"Yes. After years of litigation the courts, last spring, ordered the mansion sold. I saw a chance to get a bargain, and as I had some money put away I bought in the property. I got it cheap, but I purchased it through an agent so that no one, except a very few, know that I own it."
"What are you going to do—live in it?" asked Mollie.
"Ugh! Fancy living in a haunted house!" exclaimed Amy, looking over her shoulder as though she felt a ghostly hand laid on it.
"No, I don't intend to live there," said Mr. Lagg. "I didn't buy it for that. But I thought it would be a good investment, and I had an idea of forming a company, and turning it into a hotel. By making some changes the surroundings could be made less gloomy, and the place would pay.
"But before I could do that I got an offer from some doctors, who wanted to establish a sort of sanitarium for the treatment of nervous diseases. They saw the mansion, and decided it would be just the thing, being so quiet, and all that."
"I should think it would be," murmured Grace.
"But where does the 'haunt' come in?" Betty wanted to know.
"I'm coming to that," spoke Mr. Lagg, being now too interested to quote a couplet. "Matters were going on well, and I expected to close the deal, and make a pretty penny, when the doctors said they couldn't take the property, as it was haunted, and of course a haunted house, with queer noises in the night, would never do as a home for nervous invalids. I could see that myself."
"But how did they know it was haunted?" asked Mollie.
"It seems that some of them were inspecting the place late one afternoon, a day or so ago," said the storekeeper, "when a shower came up, and they had to stay inside until it was over, which was after dark. It was then they heard the queer groans, and saw strange lights, and felt cold draughts of wind."
"Bur-r-r-r-r!" shivered Amy. "This is getting on my nerves."
"I guess it got on the nerves of the doctors," said Mr. Lagg, ruefully, "for they called off the deal, and said they could not take the house unless I would get rid of the haunt. Of course I laughed, and made an investigation."
"And you didn't find anything?" put in Betty, quickly.
"Excuse me, Miss, but I did," replied Mr. Lagg, quietly.
"You did! What?"
"Just what the doctors said—queer groanings—strange lights—like brimstone, and the same sort of smell—sulphur. I—I didn't stay long, I don't mind admitting that."
For a moment the girls were silent, and then Mollie spoke.
"Did it ever occur to you, Mr. Lagg," she asked, "that those doctors might be playing a trick on you to get you to part with the property cheap? A haunted house isn't the best sort of real estate, you know; but haunts and ghosts can easily be imitated, and those doctors might be up to some such trick as that."
"I did think of that," went on the storekeeper, "and that is why I came to you."
"You came to us!" chorused the girls.
"Yes. You see, you solved the mystery of the ghost of Elm Island, and I don't see why you can't do the same thing for Kenyon's Folly."
"But that ghost, on the island—was a natural one," said Grace. "And the boys helped us to discover what it was."
"Very well," said Mr. Lagg, calmly. "I've no objection to the boys helping you in this case. In fact, it might be better. But what I want to know is, could you—and would you—dare try to solve the ghostly mystery?"
The girls looked at one another. Amy was shaking her head in the negative. Betty and Mollie seemed interested, for they were born leaders, Betty especially. Grace reached for another chocolate, always a source of inspiration for her.
"Of course I'm not asking you to give up your time and go to a lot of trouble for nothing," resumed Mr. Lagg, quickly. "I am willing to pay you well. So I make you this offer. If you can discover what makes those ghostly sounds and manifestations, and can show me a way to get rid of them, if they are natural, which I am sure they are, why, I'll pay you a good sum. I can afford to, for I can then sell the mansion to the sanitarium doctors. Will you try it?"
"But if those doctors are interested in depreciating the value of the property, by making it appear haunted, they would have a good object in preventing us from finding out what causes the queer noises and lights," said Mollie.
"Exactly," agreed Mr. Lagg, "but you girls were smart enough to solve that five hundred dollar mystery, and the mystery on Elm Island, so I have hopes that you can help me out in this. That is why I called. Will you help me?"
"Shall we, girls?" asked Mollie.
IN THE MUD
Mr. Lagg looked hopefully from one to the other of the Outdoor Girls. Clearly he was very much in earnest over his strange offer, and he saw nothing out of the ordinary in it. But it must be admitted that it is not every day four girls are asked to take a motor tour and solve the mystery of a ghost-haunted house. Betty and her chums evidently realized that.
Betty finally spoke.
"Well," she said, slowly, "we would like to do you a favor, Mr. Lagg, and we wouldn't want you to pay us——"
"I won't have you undertake it on any other basis," he interrupted. "If you solve that mystery for me it will be a big favor, and worth paying for. I might make up a verse about that part of it, but I won't take your time. But please consider it."
"If we did it at all," spoke Mollie, "we would do it as a favor to you, for you have been very kind to us. But I don't like to promise to undertake it. I'm sure mamma would object."
"I wouldn't want to stay all night in a haunted house," declared Amy, with a shudder, whereat Grace cried:
"Don't do that! You'll have us all nervous before we know it."
"You might not have to stay there all night," said Mr. Lagg, "though of course I know that is customary in solving mysteries of this kind. You might be able to tell what it was without staying there long. I wouldn't want you to run any risks, you know."
"Why don't you undertake it yourself?" asked Betty.
"I can't spare the time. I am needed at my store. That boy is sure to wrap up the wrong kind of tea or sugar, and my customers are very particular. And as for the poetry end of the business, he is no good at that at all. No, I can't spare the time."
"But if you think those doctors have an object in making the mansion appear haunted," spoke Grace, "why do you not go to the authorities and complain? Surely they would do something for you."
"I thought of that," said Mr. Lagg, simply, "but you know what the police are about ghosts. They would only laugh at me, and do nothing. Besides, if these doctors are doing it, they are sharp enough to cover their tracks well. I would have no chance. But they would never suspect you girls, and they might betray themselves. Come now, will you look into this for me?"
He was very much in earnest, and Mollie, who had at first been inclined to laugh at the ghost theory, began to think that at least Mr. Lagg had some basis for his alarm. If after all his work in getting the property, that no one had cared for so long, it was to become useless on his hands, he was to be pitied, for he had labored hard to accumulate his savings.
Still the girls did not want to be rash, to run into danger, or undertake something that would get them unpleasantly talked about, for in no place other than in a country town is there so much gossip.
"You needn't answer me right away," went on the storekeeper. "Take a little time and think it over. Speak to your folks about it, and tell the boys, if you like. But if these ghosts, whatever they are, don't get out of that place soon, I'll lose all the money I put in it."
"Did those doctors hint at taking it at a lower figure than you offered it for?" asked Betty.
"No, they haven't yet. If that is their game they will wait a little longer, I think," spoke Mr. Lagg. "But don't be in a hurry to decide now. Think it over. I'll go now, for I must get back to my store.
"I'm glad to have seen you, One and all. When up my way, Please make a call."
He bowed to them all in turn, and took his leave, the girls excitedly talking about the object of his visit, as he went out.
"Did you ever hear of such a thing?" asked Grace.
"The haunted mansion of Shadow Valley," remarked Mollie. "It reads like a book title."
"Maybe we could make a story of it," suggested Amy, whose taste ran somewhat to literature, and who had won several prizes in school essay work.
"We'd better solve the mystery first," said practical Betty, "then we'll know what sort of a book to make. I wonder if we ought to take this up?" and she gazed half-doubtfully, half-suggestingly, at her chums.
"Not right away, at any rate!" exclaimed Mollie. "Let's talk about our motor tour. I'm just dying to get off on that. Afterward we can consider Mr. Lagg's offer. Poor man, he seemed really worried! I'd like to help him if we could."
"So would I!" declared Betty.
The girls alternated their talk between the proposed tour and the haunted mansion. The latter was left in abeyance, but they tentatively decided to take a long auto trip, as soon as they could arrange for a chaperone to go with them on such occasions as they would stay over night at hotels, while other nights were to be spent at the homes of relatives or friends. In a way it would be a duplication of their camping and tramping trip, except that they would cover a wider range of country, and be more comfortable.
"And I only hope we have as much fun!" exclaimed Mollie. "Now, girls, we've talked enough. Let's go for a run. I telephoned to have my car brought here, and——"
"Here it is—quite marvelous!" interrupted Betty, as the large and handsome auto drew up outside, in charge of a man from the garage.
Auto veils, bonnets, goggles and gowns were soon donned, Mollie's chums having come partly prepared for a trip, and soon, with Mollie at the wheel, they were riding down the pleasant main street of Deepdale.
"Hey there! Take us along!" came a voice as they turned off the main thoroughfare into a smaller road that led to the farming country beyond.
"It's Will and Frank," said Grace, as she observed the two boys.
"And there comes Allen," added Amy.
"Now, Betty, maybe you'll talk more," for the Little Captain had been rather silent.
"Shall we take them?" asked Mollie, as she noted Betty's blushing cheeks. "There is plenty of room." Her car would seat seven with comfort.
"Take us along!" pleaded Will. "We'll buy the chocolates, girls."
"Oh, let him come," petitioned Grace, for her candy stock had again run low.
"That's all she thinks of!" declared Betty. "But I have no objections."
"Especially when Allen is around," taunted Mollie, as she slowed up her car near the sidewalk.
"Come on, fellows!" exulted Will. "We're going to have a ride in the joy wagon."
"The chocolates," Grace reminded him, coolly, as he started to get in between her and Amy.
"We'll buy them when we get out a ways," he promised.
"Get them at Lee's," she stipulated. "His are best."
"Did you ever see such a sister!" cried Will. "She has no heart! Very well, run us around to Lee's, Mollie. I'll get the candy if it—breaks me," and he began searching through his pockets, picking up bits of change on the way.
The other boys took their seats, and soon the machine was moving again, a stop being made for the chocolates. Grace insisted on going into the store with her brother.
"If I didn't he'd palm off the twenty-cent kind on us, and tell us they were Lee's best," she said to her chums.
"You eat so many of them that you can't tell the difference—your taste is jaded," taunted Will.
"Can't I, though?" replied Grace. "Well, I'm not going to give you the chance to try me. We'll have the best!"
Again they were under way, Grace passing around the box of confectionery.
"Shall we tell the boys about Mr. Lagg?" asked Betty of Mollie, beside whom she rode on the front seat, the boys and other girls being in the tonneau.
"Just as you like."
"Then I think I will." The story was soon told.
"Was he in earnest?" demanded Will.
"He seemed so."
"Then let's have a try at laying the ghost!" proposed Frank. "I wonder what the union rates are for ridding haunted houses of the haunt? We must have union wages."
"Of course," agreed Will. "Girls, will you transfer any rights you may have as ghost-layers to us, if we pay you a commission?"
"We'll think about it," murmured Betty.
"I believe it's all foolishness!" declared Grace. "Maybe Mr. Lagg was only making fun of us."
"No, there is something in it," said Allen Washburn, quietly.
"How do you know?" demanded Will, quickly.
"Because I acted as Mr. Lagg's representative in some legal matters," replied the young law student, who was allowed to do some practice. "I know that he owns the old mansion, and I heard, indirectly, that he was having trouble disposing of it to the sanitarium doctors. Of course I can't say as to the ghost, but there is some hitch over carrying out the transaction. If you girls could solve the mystery, providing there is one, I know you would be doing Mr. Lagg a service."
"Then let's do it!" cried impulsive Mollie.
"And we'll help," added Will.
Half-jokingly they talked about it as they motored over the pleasant road. There had been a heavy shower the night before and the main highways were in excellent condition, though a trifle muddy in spots. Of course some of the less-used country roads would be well-nigh impassable.
It was while crossing one of these roads, on a hard macadam highway, that the girls and boys saw, stuck in the mud of the poorer path, a peddler's wagon. The bony horse was doing its best to move the vehicle, which had sunk down in a hole, one wheel being imbedded in the mud to the hub.
"Why, it's that hair-tonic man!" exclaimed Mollie, as she slowed down to avoid a rut in the road.
"No, his wagon is all painted with gaudy signs," said Betty. "That's a boy driving that wagon. Why—why!" she exclaimed, as she caught sight of the lad, "it's the same boy who took home the little lost girl for us—the same one who told us about the man with the five hundred dollar bill. It's Jimmie Martin!"
IN SHADOW VALLEY
The boy, who was endeavoring—and by gentle urging, be it said to his credit—to get the horse to pull the wagon out of the mud-hole, looked up on hearing his name spoken by Betty. At first he did not recognize the girls, and his face plainly showed this.
"Don't you know us?" asked Mollie, as she brought her car to a stop.
The boy shook his head. Then, as he looked from face to face, a light came over his own.
"Oh, yes!" he cried. "You found the little lost child when you were on your walking tour, and turned her over to me."
"Exactly," agreed Betty. "But you seem to be in trouble, Jimmie," for the bony horse had given over the attempt to move the mired wagon and was patiently resting between the shafts, awaiting developments.
"I am in trouble," Jimmie admitted, frankly.
"Have you given up your business, and are you working for some one else?" Grace wanted to know. "Why have you the wagon? The last time you carried your own pack."
"I'm still my own boss," he replied, with a smile. "I am trying for a larger trade, that's all. I got the chance to buy this outfit cheap, and I took it. I guess I got it too cheap," he added, ruefully, "for this horse isn't strong enough to pull me out of this mud-hole. I shouldn't have come this way."
He looked down at the soft, miry road. The one wheel seemed to be sinking deeper and deeper into the clay, and the others showed a propensity to follow its example.
"Where did you come from?" asked Will, whose sister had explained to him and the other boys under what circumstances they first met the young peddler.
"Up Shadow Valley way," was the answer, and instinctively the auto party of boys and girls started, and looked at one another.
"Er—was trade good up that way?" asked Frank.
"Oh, not very. You see, there are not enough folks living there. So I thought I'd take a short cut over to Limeburg. I generally do pretty well there. But I guess I'd have done better to have gone the long way. I'm stuck for fair. Go 'long there, Stamp!" he called to the horse. "See if you can move the boat."
"Stamp? Is that his name?" asked Betty.
"I just christened him that, Miss," replied Jimmie, with a smile.
"Why?" asked Grace, who was always the last one to see a joke.
"Because, Miss, he's—stuck!" was the answer, and the others, who had anticipated this, laughed at poor Grace.
"I don't care!" she said. "I was thinking of something else then."
"Well, I guess I'll have to stay here until this mud dries up," went on Jimmie, "or I might feed up Stamp until he is strong enough to pull me out. Only that would take too long, I'm afraid. He's been kept on a diet of carpet tacks, lately, to judge by the many fine points about him," he added, whimsically.
Will alighted from the auto, and, going as far as the edge of the muddy road, looked critically at the stalled wagon. Then he asked:
"Have you a long rope?"
"Not a very long one," said the boy peddler, "but I have one that may do. I'll get it," and he delved in the rear of his vehicle.
"What's the game?" asked Frank.
"I was going to see if we couldn't pull him out of the hole," replied Will. "If the rope is long enough to reach from his wagon to the auto, and the rope holds, and his wagon doesn't pull apart with the strain, we can do it."
"Oh, I hope we can!" cried Mollie. "We must try."
Jimmie produced the rope, and, tossing one end of it to Will, proved that it was long enough. It looked sufficiently strong, too.
"Now, Mollie, if you'll turn around, and back down as near as you can, we'll see what we can do," proposed Will.
While the car was being manipulated to the proper position, Will tied some knots in the rope.
"Fasten this end to the middle of the whiffle-tree," he called to Jimmie, tossing the loop to him. "In that way you won't have to unhitch the horse, nor get out in the mud yourself."