The Outdoor Girls In a Winter Camp
GLORIOUS DAYS ON SKATES AND ICE BOATS
BY LAURA LEE HOPE
AUTHOR OF "THE OUTDOOR GIRLS OF DEEPDALE," "THE OUTDOOR GIRLS AT RAINBOW LAKE," "THE BOBBSEY TWINS," "THE BOBBSEY TWINS AT THE SEASHORE," ETC.
NEW YORK GROSSET & DUNLAP PUBLISHERS
Made in the United States of America
BOOKS FOR GIRLS
BY LAURA LEE HOPE
* * * * *
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
* * * * *
GROSSET & DUNLAP, PUBLISHERS, NEW YORK
COPYRIGHT, 1913, BY GROSSET & DUNLAP.
* * * * *
THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN A WINTER CAMP
CHAPTER PAGE I DANGER 1 II A FINE CHANCE 14 III THE COMPLICATIONS 24 IV MR. BLACKFORD'S CLUE 30 V UNPLEASANT NEWS 40 VI PREPARATIONS 47 VII OFF FOR CAMP 57 VIII A SPILL 66 IX GETTING SETTLED 74 X WARNED OFF 81 XI THE RIVALS 88 XII IN A BIG STORM 99 XIII THE MISSING PIECE 107 XIV AN ICE BOAT RACE 116 XV IN A TRAP 125 XVI TROUBLE 131 XVII A SNOW FIGHT 140 XVIII THE AUTO ICE BOAT 146 XIX MAROONED 153 XX TO THE RESCUE 160 XXI A HELPING HAND 166 XXII THE OLD LUMBERMAN 178 XXIII REVELATIONS 183 XXIV THE LYNX 191 XXV CHRISTMAS JOYS 203
THE OUTDOOR GIRLS IN A WINTER CAMP
"How cold it is!" exclaimed Grace Ford, wrapping closer about her a fur neck-piece, and plunging her gloved hands deeper into the pockets of her maroon sweater. "I had no idea it was so chilling!"
"Nonsense!" cried Betty Nelson, her cheeks aglow. "Skate about, and you'll soon be warm enough. Isn't it glorious, Mollie?"
"Surely, and the ice is perfect. Come on Grace, and we'll see who'll be first to the bend!" and Mollie, her dark eyes dancing under the spell of the day, circled about the almost shivering Grace, doing a gliding waltz on skates.
"I don't want to race!" protested the tall, slim girl who had complained about the weather.
"Oh, but you must!" insisted Betty. "Come, we'll have a short, sharp one, and then you'll feel so warm you'll wonder you ever said it was chilly."
"I wish I had brought along that vacuum bottle of hot chocolate, as I intended," murmured Grace, reflectively.
"Nobody stopped you!" exclaimed Mollie, a trifle sharply. Of late she had had less and less patience with the "confectionery-failing" of Grace, as she termed it.
"Yes, you did!" declared the cold one. "You and Bet were in such a rush I didn't have time. I wish I hadn't come skating," and Grace permitted as much of a frown to gather on her pretty face as she ever indulged herself in—for Grace, be it known, was just a trifle vain, and desperately afraid of a wrinkle.
"Oh, well, come on and skate!" invited Betty. "Amy and I will race you and Mollie, Grace. That will—make us all feel better," for the Little Captain, as she was often called, saw just the shadow of a cloud gathering over the two chums, who seldom, or never, quarreled.
"Does Amy want to?" asked Grace, glancing at a quiet girl who was adjusting her skates. Amy was always quiet, but of late her chums had noted that she was more than usually so. And they guessed, rightly, that it had to do with the mystery surrounding her identity, which mystery Amy had almost given up hope of solving.
"Yes, I'll race," said Amy gently, and she smiled. Amy was always willing to oblige, and she did not often consult her own personal feelings.
Something like a look of disappointment passed over the countenance of Grace. Seeing it Mollie laughed.
"Grace was hoping Amy would say no, so she could get out of it!" cried vivacious Mollie. "That's the time you didn't say the right thing, Amy."
"Oh, well, if nothing but a race will satisfy you, I suppose I must," and Grace gave in "gracefully." "I'm nearly perished standing still, anyhow, and skating can't make me much worse."
"It will be all the better," insisted Betty. "Now we'll race in this fashion—team work to count. Amy and I in one team, you and Grace in the other, Mollie. Whichever member of the team gets to the bend first will win. You see," Betty explained, "one of a team might fall, or turn her ankle, or get tired, and then the other could keep on. It's like a relay race."
"Oh, well, if I have to—I suppose I have to," and Grace said this with such a doleful sigh that the others laughed heartily, even quiet Amy joining.
"On your marks!" cried Betty. "Let's show that we are worthy of our names—true Outdoor Girls."
"Show who?" asked Grace looking around.
"Well, here comes your brother Will, for one, and I think Allen Washburn and Frank Haley are with him," spoke Betty, shading her eyes with her hands, and gazing off across the sparkling surface of the frozen Argono River.
"Can't you see Percy Falconer?" asked Mollie mischievously, referring to a certain foppish lad, who seemed to have a great fondness for the Little Captain.
"If there was any snow here I'd wash your face!" cried Betty, her cheeks flaming more than before—for, be it known, she did not reciprocate the feeling that "burned in Percy's manly bosom," to quote the rather jeering remarks of Grace.
"I'd rather Allen would do it," murmured Mollie. "That is, if you will let him, Betty."
"Let him? Why shouldn't I?" demanded Betty rather sharply, but she turned her head away, and bit her lips.
"Oh, nothing, only the other night, when you and he went on such a long walk down the road, I thought perhaps you might have come to some understanding——"
"Mollie Billette, if you don't stop——!" began Betty, and then the approach of three young men on their ringing skates forced her to conclude rather quickly.
"Hello, girls," greeted Will Ford, the brother of the willowy Grace, "what's doing?" Will was just the opposite of his sister, being rather short and chunky.
"We're going to have a race," said Betty quickly, perhaps to forestall any resumption of the embarrassing conversation, now that the subject of it was present.
"A race!" exclaimed Allen, a rising young lawyer. "May we join in?"
"This is strictly a ladies' relay race," explained Mollie. "You may be judges, or starters and offer the prizes, though, if you like."
"And the prizes——?" suggested Frank, who was Will's special chum.
"Hot chocolates when we go back to town," said Betty quickly. "I know Grace will agree."
"Indeed I will," the latter said. "I don't care how much fun you make of me, but I am cold, and—and——"
"Us 'ikes tandy—don't us!" interrupted Will, mimicking the little twin brother and sister of Mollie, whose penchant for sweets was only equalled by the longing of Grace.
"Easy," said Betty softly. "Well, if we're going to race, let's do it. Boys, you see fair play. It's to be down to the bend and back."
"No, not back!" declared Amy. "I can't do as much as that at top speed."
"Well, then, just to the bend," agreed Betty, indicating a spot where the river made a turn, about a mile away.
"We'll skate along," suggested Allen. "It is a bit chilly, and the exercise will be good for us. Get ready girls. I'm sorry we haven't a pistol to fire."
"This will do!" exclaimed Will, producing a paper bag. "It had chocolates in," he added with a sly look at his sister.
"Oh!" she cried.
"Nothing doing!" he added quickly if slangily. "Nothing but crumbs," and he proceeded to empty them into his mouth, and then blew up the bag. "When I burst it—go!" he called.
The sharp report of the exploding bag echoed on the keen, wintry air, and the four girls glided off on their skates. Mollie and Betty, the two best skaters, rather hung back, letting the more unskillful Amy and Grace lead the way. The boys skated together in the rear.
"When are you going to spurt?" called Will, as he saw that the pace was not increasing much.
"Time enough," replied Betty, narrowly watching her rival, Mollie.
"That isn't skating!" declared Frank with a laugh. "You girls are only creeping."
But at that instant Grace, at a signal from Mollie, darted ahead, and then the race began in earnest, for Amy, at a nod from the Little Captain did likewise, and then Mollie and Betty, holding themselves in readiness for the burst of speed that would take place at the finish, came after.
"Now they're off!" cried Will. "A pound of chocolates to the winner!"
Three-quarters of the way to the bend Amy showed signs of fatigue. Betty, noting it, called to her:
"I'll take it now."
"So will I!" agreed Mollie, and Grace, gliding to one side, allowed her partner to take the lead.
"Now they're off!" cried Will again.
"Thank goodness, I'm warm, anyhow!" remarked Grace, a rosy glow replacing the former paleness of her cheeks.
Leaving Amy and Grace to follow on more leisurely, the youths rushed up to see the finish of the race. It was close, but by unanimous decision they awarded the contest to Betty.
"Oh, I'm so glad you won, anyhow!" declared Mollie with fine spirit. "You earned it, Betty dear, but I thought I was going to beat you, until the very end."
"Yes, and you might have, only your left skate was loose," said Betty. "I noticed it. Suppose we try it over?"
"Indeed not! My skate did loosen," spoke Mollie, "but I wasn't going to say anything about it. You won fairly Betty, and I'm too exhausted to try again. Now if the boys will——"
"Oh, we'll fulfill our part of the program!" declared Will promptly. "Come on back to the village whenever you like, and order what you wish. Or we can go on to the store of the poetical Mr. Lagg if you prefer."
"It's too far," protested Grace, who, with Amy, had come up now. "Besides he doesn't serve hot chocolate."
"Then thou shalt have thy hot chocolate, sister mine!" cried Will, rubbing her ears.
"Oh, stop it!" she begged. "You hurt dreadfully, Will!"
"That's the way to make them warm," and he got back out of the way in time to avoid having his own ears soundly boxed.
Slowly the young people skated back. There were a number of others on the ice now, and soon our friends were in the midst of quite a throng.
"Here come Alice Jallow and Kittie Rossmore," murmured Mollie. "I hope they don't tag along after us."
"They're likely to," said Grace. "Though since that last little trouble they haven't been as unpleasant as they used to be."
The boys circled away from Betty and her chums momentarily, and the two girls referred to came skating past. They bowed rather coldly, and then, an acquaintance of theirs joining them, they stopped to chat with the latter. Mollie's skate again becoming loosened, she halted to adjust it, her friends waiting for her. It was thus that they overheard what Alice Jallow was saying to Margaret Black, the girl who had just come up.
"Yes," Alice spoke, "she gives herself as many airs as if she was somebody, instead of a nobody."
"A nobody?" repeated Margaret, wonderingly, "why——"
"Yes, indeed! She isn't even sure her name is Stonington, and as for Mr. and Mrs. Stonington being her uncle and aunt as she says, why, I heard the other day that there is doubt of that even. She and her chums think themselves high and mighty, but we wouldn't go with anybody that didn't know who they were!"
"But I thought there was something about a flood in the West——"
"Oh, yes, that's the story she gave out, but I, for one don't believe it. She's a nobody, and that's all there is to it!"
Then Alice, leaving her bitter words echoing on the wintry air, which carried them clearly to poor Amy, skated off. Perhaps Alice had not meant that she should be overheard, but such was the case. She did not take the trouble to look and see if the one to whom she referred was within hearing distance.
At the first intimation of what was coming Betty had started off, as did the other girls. Mollie seemed to have a notion of rushing over to Alice and the others, but Grace, by a gesture, warned her not to.
Poor Amy's eyes filled with tears. She turned aside and Betty made as though to skate after her, intending to offer words of sympathy, but this time Mollie shook her head.
"Perhaps she had better be alone for a little while," she whispered. "Sometimes that is the best way to pass it off. Oh, but that Alice Jallow is a—cat!"
No one disagreed with Mollie this time.
Tears blinded the eyes of poor Amy. She skated on out of the crowd, toward a part of the frozen river where there were no merry-makers. She did not want to look on pleasure now, for her heart ached from the bitter words she had overheard—words, she realized, that might be but too true.
Blindly she skated on, not heeding, and scarcely caring where she went. Her only desire was to get away where she could be by herself, to think it out—to try and devise a way of setting at rest all the rumors about her. For the rumors had grown apace of late, and from a source she could not determine. It might be that what she had just heard was a clue.
Amy had thought of appealing to Mr. and Mrs. Stonington, with whom she lived, and who, for many years she had regarded as father and mother. Then, a few months back, she had learned that they were but uncle and aunt. Now it seemed that she was to lose even this relationship. It was a bitter blow, especially to one so young in years.
To briefly mention the mystery of Amy, I might say that she was picked up when an infant, afloat on a raft in a flood in a western city. Pinned to her baby dress was an envelope containing the name of Mr. Stonington of Deepdale. He had been telegraphed for, and took charge of the infant.
It was supposed that the mother of the baby was a distant relative of Mrs. Stonington, for the latter had a cousin who resided in the western city. It was believed that, finding herself about to perish, the mother did what she could to insure the salvation of her child, and pinned a note to her dress so that relatives would look after her if the baby was saved.
But only the envelope was found, together with an old and torn diary that gave no tangible clue.
And this was the mystery of Amy's life. As I have said, after living for years in the belief that Mr. and Mrs. Stonington were her parents, they had told her the truth. Now it seemed that there was to be another change.
"Oh, but why must it be so?" mourned poor Amy. "Why can't I be like other girls?"
The tears rushed to her eyes. She could not see, and she skated rapidly on, only wanting to get away.
She heard the ringing of steel runners behind her, but would not turn. Then a voice—a boy's voice—called:
"Look out! Look out where you're going, Amy! The ice is thin up there, and you're going right toward an air-hole! There's danger! Look out!"
If Amy heard she gave no sign nor heed. On she skated, and then the voice behind her called in startled tones:
"What do you mean? Amy, turn! Turn back before it is too late! You'll be drowned!"
The skater behind fairly rushed forward, for he had seen what the tear-blinded girl had not—black water showing through a hole in the ice. And Amy was headed directly for this opening.
A FINE CHANCE
"That Alice Jallow is certainly the meanest girl in Deepdale!" declared Mollie, with vehemence.
"And Kittie isn't much better," added Grace, with spirit. "I don't see how Margaret can go with them."
"She's a newcomer here, that's the reason," said Betty—bouncing Betty she was now, for she was whirling about and "teetering" on her skates in a dizzying fashion. "When she gets to know those girls she won't have any more to do with them than—we do."
"And there was a time, even after they made those first slurring remarks about Amy, that they seemed real nice," spoke Grace.
"It was too good to last," asserted Mollie. "Oh—the cat!"
Mollie shot out the word as though she would like to exercise some of the proclivities of a feline herself, and scratch.
"What possessed her to stop where she did, and talk loud enough for Amy to hear?" asked Grace.
"It's hard to tell," decided Betty with a sigh. "Shall we go after her?" and she nodded in the direction taken by Amy, who could not now be seen because of the intervening crowds.
"No; best let her cry it out, poor child," said Mollie, softly. "She was crying when she skated away."
"Well, if we can find the boys we'll just mildly hint that those chocolates are about due," observed Grace, and she and the others looked about for Will and his chums, little dreaming of the danger which, at that moment, menaced poor Amy.
Those of you who have read the previous books of this series need no special introduction to my heroines. Others may care for just a brief one. The initial volume, entitled "The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale; Or, Camping and Tramping for Fun and Health," told how Betty, Mollie, Grace and Amy decided to go on a walking tour. Incidentally they solved the mystery of a five hundred dollar bill, and won the lasting gratitude of a Mr. Henry Blackford, a young business man.
In the second book, "The Outdoor Girls at Rainbow Lake; Or, The Stirring Cruise of the Motor Boat Gem," there was a queer ghostly mystery on an island, but the girls were a match for it. As may be guessed from the title, the story has to do with boating, Betty having become the proud possessor of a fine craft.
When Mollie Billette got her touring car the girls saw no end of good times ahead of them, and their hopes were fully realized. The third volume, named "The Outdoor Girls in a Motor Car; Or, The Haunted Mansion of Shadow Valley," involved the girls from the very start in a series of queer happenings. They could not discover, until the very end, why a certain girl fell out of a tree. And as for the strange manifestations in the mysterious old mansion—but there, it would not be fair to betray the secret in such a fashion.
The beautiful Fall weather gave the girls a chance to make long tours in the car, and they enjoyed every minute spent in the open. And now they were on the edge of winter.
A cold snap had frozen over the Argono River, on the pleasant banks of which was located Deepdale, the thriving town where our friends lived. And they were out enjoying the sport when Amy overheard the cruel words that sent her off crying.
I might add something about the personal lives of the four chums, by saying that Betty was an only child, that Grace had a lovable brother Will, and Mollie a small brother and sister—Paul and Dodo—twins, who were alternately called the "cutest" and the "most mischievous" youngsters in existence. Of Amy's mystery I have already hinted.
When Will Ford saw the danger in which his sister's chum was unconsciously placing herself he fairly raced forward. There was need to act promptly, and Will did so. Skating in a diagonal direction he fairly collided with the girl, and forced her out of her course, and away from the dangerous hole that yawned there just before her.
"Amy!" Will cried. "What is the matter?"
Amy looked up with a start, and Will saw that she had been crying.
"I—I don't know," she stammered. "I guess I wasn't looking where I was going."
"I should say not!" cried Will. "Look there!" and he pointed to the open water that seemed so black and ugly in contrast with the pure ice.
"Oh—oh!" she gasped. "Was—was I skating toward that?"
"Right toward it!" exclaimed Will. "I couldn't do anything else than shove you to one side. I hope I didn't hurt you."
"Oh, no, Will, it was good of you. I—I didn't know what I was doing. I was thinking—thinking——"
She hesitated, and again tears came into her eyes.
"Can I do anything for you—has anything happened?" he asked, eagerly. "Has anyone——"
"Oh, no, Will. It is—nothing."
"Then let's go back to the others," he proposed. "They may be getting anxious about you."
"No, Will, I'd rather not go back—just now. I'll go on—home." Amy hesitated over the word. "I can take a short cut across the fields."
"Then let me take off your skates," he said, gently. Perhaps he guessed at something that had occurred. "Come over to shore and I'll have them off in a jiffy. Then I'll walk home with you."
"No, Will," said Amy, in a low voice. "I had rather go alone, really I would. Just tell the girls——"
She hesitated again, and seemed unable to speak.
"Tell them I am all right—that I want to be alone. They will understand."
"Very well." He skated with her to the bank, where she sat on a log. Then, with her skates dangling over her shoulder, Amy set off across the snow-covered fields alone—with bowed head—and into her eyes the tears came again as she thought of what she had heard.
Will watched her, shook his head once or twice, as though puzzled, and then skated back toward his sister and the others.
"Where's Amy?" Grace demanded, anxiously, as he came in sight.
"Home? Why didn't you go with her?" asked Mollie, quickly.
"She wouldn't let me. Say, she acted mighty funny. She was skating along, looking down, and she came within a few feet of going into an air hole. I had to almost knock her to one side. She seemed dazed. Did anything happen?"
"Yes, there did," said Grace, promptly. "And the less said about it the better. It was that horrid Alice Jallow making slurring remarks about Amy. We won't take any notice of her after this. Oh, how mean she is!" Briefly, she told Will what had happened.
"That accounts for it," he said. "Poor Amy! No wonder she didn't look where she was going. She might have been drowned."
"Don't say that!" cried Betty, sharply.
"Why not, when it's the truth?"
Betty gave the woman's reason.
Frank and Allen came skating up.
"Come!" cried Grace, as joyfully as possible under the circumstances. "The prizes—our chocolates, boys!"
"Of course!" added Allen. "But where is Amy?"
"She'll be along later—maybe," and Will winked at his chum as a signal not to be too inquisitive. The young lawyer understood and nodded.
Soon the party of young people were in a drug store, partaking of hot chocolates, and talking of the fun on the ice, while Grace spent some time at the candy counter, selecting a new variety of chocolates.
That evening Betty and Mollie called on Grace.
"Let's go over and cheer Amy up," proposed Betty, who was always thinking of some kindness.
"All right," agreed Grace. "Come into the library a moment. I'll get you that book I promised, Betty. Oh, it's just splendid! You won't stop until you finish it."
"Oh, Papa, I didn't know you were here!" exclaimed Grace, as, leading her chums into the library, she discovered her father busy over a mass of papers on the table.
"That's all right," he invited. "Come right in. It's only a little legal tangle I'm trying to straighten out," for Mr. Ford was a well-known lawyer.
"Anything we can help you with?" asked Betty, with a smile.
"I'm afraid not," he answered, laughing. "I've just been appointed receiver of a bankrupt lumber camp up in the North Woods, and I've got to arrange for some one to stay there during the winter to see that it isn't disturbed. It comes just at the wrong time, too. I'm so busy I don't know how I can spare the time to go up there and straighten things out. Where are you going, Grace?"
"Over to see poor Amy Stonington. It's too bad! She heard something more about her mystery to-day, Daddy, and she nearly skated into an airhole—she was so upset. Isn't it horrid?"
"Yes, it is too bad about Amy," said Mr. Ford, for he knew the story, as did many in Deepdale. "She ought to get out and away from the influences around here. Stonington ought to take her away."
He was musing for a moment. Then a queer expression came over his face.
"Girls!" he cried. "I think I have something that will just fill the bill!"
"Oh, Papa!" cried Grace, clapping her hands. "When you talk that way I know something is going to happen!"
"Well, we'll see," he answered. "As I understand it, the High School won't open until late this winter, on account of the repairs not being finished."
"That's right, Daddy!" cried Grace. "Not until after Christmas. Go on!"
"Well, about this lumber camp that I've got to get someone to take charge of. It seems that there are some bungalows or cabins in it that can be hired out to campers. Now if——"
"Daddy, I've guessed it!" cried Grace, jumping up and putting her arms about his neck. "You're going to let us go up there to a winter camp. Aren't you?"
"I was thinking of it," he confessed. "It seems to me to be a fine chance for you to get all the fresh air you want. And I suggest that you take Amy along. What she needs is a change of environment. She has had too much of Deepdale of late. Could you take her with you?"
"Of course, Daddy!" cried Grace. "Oh, what a lovely opportunity! We could get Cousin Jane to go with us, perhaps," and she looked at Mollie, whose cousin had chaperoned them on the auto tour.
"Yes, she could," said Mr. Ford, slowly. "And I was thinking of an old lumberman and his wife whom I might appoint as care-takers of the camp. They could help look after you."
"As if we needed looking after!" challenged Grace.
"Well, we'll think about it," he said. "If you girls want to go to a winter camp, I see no reason why you could not. Of course there are complications, but perhaps we can get over those."
"Complications!" cried Grace. "Girls, we'll not stir another step until we hear all about those complications! It sounds very interesting."
"It surely does," agreed Betty and Mollie.
"Before I begin," said Mr. Ford, as he glanced over the papers that littered the table, "let me ask, has anything new come up about your friend Amy? Is she any nearer solving the mystery of her identity?"
"No," replied Betty.
"Then what occurred to-day?"
"Oh, it was that horrid Alice Jallow!" exclaimed Mollie. "Excuse me, Mr. Ford!" she cried, impulsively, "but I just can't help saying it."
"You are excused," he said, smiling.
By turns the girls told what had happened on the ice.
"Humph! Rather strange," mused the lawyer. "Quite a coincidence. I don't believe I ever told you, Grace," and he looked at his daughter, "but, as a matter of fact, I am the principal owner of this lumber camp where you girls may go."
"No, you never told me, Daddy."
"Well, I am. I bought it some time ago as an investment, but things went wrong. I guess the right men didn't have charge. Neither the lumber business, nor the leasing of camp sites and bungalows to Summer vacationists and Fall hunters, paid. The matter got into the courts and I had myself named as receiver, so I could better look after my interest. Now I don't know just what I am going to do, except that I want some one up there to see to things. If I can get Ted Franklin and his wife I know it will be all right, and you girls will have a fine time with them.
"You can have a bungalow or a cabin or two to yourselves, if you like, and lay in enough provisions for all winter. It's on a branch of the Argono River," he went on, "and you can skate all the way to camp on the ice, if you like. But we'll discuss the details later."
"What about the complications, Daddy?" asked Grace, laughing.
"I'm coming to them. Mr. Jallow, the father of your friend Alice——"
"She isn't our friend," said Grace, quickly.
"Well, anyhow, her father is mixed up in this lumber camp business. He owns a lot of property next to mine, and he claims some that I think should belong to me."
"He does?" cried Mollie. "That's just like the Jallows! Always taking what doesn't belong to them—even the reputation of other girls. She borrowed my botany a year ago and never returned it."
Mr. Ford smiled.
"I don't know anything about the girl Alice," he said, "but that Jallow is certainly a sharper, to be moderate. He and I will have a clash if he doesn't look out!" and Mr. Ford's hands clenched.
"What about, Daddy?" asked Grace.
"Why, as I said, he claims some land that I think is mine. When I bought this lumber camp, and formed a company, with myself as the largest stockholder, I was given to understand that a certain tract, containing valuable timber, went with my purchase. I had it surveyed, and I supposed I had title to this big strip, that joins on some land Jallow owns.
"We didn't cut any trees on this strip for some years, and here this Fall, when we started in on it, Jallow stopped us by an injunction from the court."
"By what right?" asked Betty.
"Why, he claimed that valuable strip was his. I contested, of course, but it seems that there was a mix-up in the landmarks. Those by which I went, when I had my survey made, had disappeared, and others which were accepted by the court seemed to indicate that the land was Jallow's. But I know better. I was there at the survey, and saw the marks. The trouble is that I couldn't prove it. My word alone was not enough, and the surveyor, I am sorry to say, is dead."
"Then you can never prove it is your land, Daddy?"
"Well, if I could find an old lumberman—Paddy Malone he called himself—if I could find him, I might prove my case, for he was with me at the time, he and a couple of his friends, and he saw where the stakes and stone piles were. But Paddy seems to have disappeared."
"That's too bad!" exclaimed Mollie, sympathetically.
"Yes. Well, I may be able to do something later. I am sure the landmarks were changed—if not by Jallow, by some one interested with him. The strip they claim, and which I say is mine, is the most valuable in the woods. I wish I could establish title to it, but unless I can find Paddy, or some of his friends, I'm afraid I'll have to lose.
"That is the complication I spoke of. But it need not hinder you girls from going to spend the winter in camp—or at least part of the winter."
"Will there be any danger?" asked Grace, rather timidly.
"No, not at all. You won't be mixed up in the legal proceedings. Nothing will be done, anyhow, until Spring. Then I'll see what can be accomplished. I only want a legal representative in the camp, in case Jallow tries any more sharp tricks. He has won the first skirmish, however, so I don't believe he'll make another move until I do. It only complicates matters, though.
"Now, if you girls think you'd like to go winter camping, why, say the word, find out if your folks will let you," and Mr. Ford looked at Mollie and Betty, "and I'll arrange with Ted Franklin and his wife."
"Of course we'll go, Daddy!" cried Grace, dancing about the room. "It will be just lovely; won't it, girls?"
"Scrumptious!" agreed Mollie.
"I'm sure I can go!" declared Betty. "Now let's go tell poor Amy!"
"Yes, I think the change will do her good," said Mr. Ford, reflectively. "Those Jallows—well, perhaps the least said about them the better."
Talking excitedly over the chance that had been offered to them, Grace, Mollie and Betty were soon on their way to the home of Amy Stonington. They found their chum in better spirits. The gloom of the day had passed, and she smiled, though wanly.
By common, though unspoken, consent, the little episode of the afternoon was not referred to.
"But, oh! we've got the finest news!" cried Betty, enthusiastically. "We're going winter camping! Think of that! Winter camping!"
"Tell me about it!" commanded Amy, her face brightening. And they told her.
The description had been nearly finished, and from Mr. and Mrs. Stonington had been exacted a tentative promise that Amy could go if the rest did, when the telephone bell rang.
"It's Will on the wire," said Amy to Grace. "He wants to speak to you."
"How did he know I was here?" asked Grace, as she took the receiver from her chum. "Oh, papa must have told him. Yes, what is it, Will? What! Mr. Blackford there? And he has some strange news of his missing sister? Yes, you and he can come right over!"
She turned and gazed with startled eyes at her chums.
"I—I wonder if he has found her?" faltered Mollie.
MR. BLACKFORD'S CLUE
"Hope I didn't disturb any family party," apologized Mr. Blackford, when he and Will called at the Stonington home a little later that evening.
"Not at all," greeted Amy. "Come in. We are planning another season of activity."
"I might have guessed," answered the young man who had been so peculiarly involved in the five hundred dollar bill mystery. "You Outdoor Girls are always doing something novel. What is it this time?"
"A winter camp!" they cried in chorus.
"List to the pretty maidens!" sung Will, mockingly, as he assumed a theatrical attitude.
"Behave!" ordered his sister, whereat Will proceeded to contort himself in various ways to the great amusement of the girls.
"That's fine!" exclaimed Mr. Blackford—"fine that you can go camping, I mean—not Will's circus act. But I must apologize for coming in on you this way. I happened to have some business in town, and as I received a curious bit of news I thought you girls might be interested. It's about my missing sister," he added, simply. "I've told you how I have been searching for her.
"Perhaps I shouldn't bother you with my family troubles," he continued, hesitatingly, "but, somehow, ever since you helped me out so in the matter of that five hundred dollars, I have felt as though you did really take an interest in me, as I do in you. And, as I haven't any real folks of my own—so far," and he smiled, "naturally I come to you. Shall I go on?"
The girls nodded. After making the acquaintance of the young man in the manner related in our first volume, they had learned the queer fact of Mr. Blackford having a sister of whom he had lost track. At one time he hoped it might develop that she was the strange girl who fell out of the tree, but it was not so. This girl, Carrie Norton, had, after spending some time in Deepdale, departed to live with a distant relative.
Mr. Blackford had engaged a firm which made a specialty of locating missing persons to look for his sister, but so far there had been no result.
"And it doesn't look as though this were going to be very promising," the young man went on. "You know this searching firm has been delving among my wood-pile relations, as I call them, looking for clues," he went on. "They are getting all the old documents, bits of family history, descriptions, and so on, that they can lay hands on. It all helps, in a way, but we haven't had much luck so far. But you may be interested in something that just came up, and you may be able to help me.
"I've been traveling about, in connection with my business, and as I knew I would 'make' this town to-night, I had all my mail sent here. Imagine my surprise when I got to my hotel, a little while ago, to find the most promising clue yet."
"What is it?" asked Betty, eagerly.
"I thought you might be interested," said the young man, "and that is why I called at your house," and he nodded to Will.
"You had gone out," remarked Will to Grace, "so I asked dad where, as the maid said you'd all been in the library. Then I called up here," and he nodded to Amy.
"Glad you did," she returned. She seemed to have forgotten the trouble of the afternoon.
"Well," went on Mr. Blackford, "I feared it was a sort of imposition to come, and——"
"I told him it wasn't at all," interrupted Will.
"So on I came," proceeded the young business man.
"But what is the clue?" asked Grace, interestedly.
"This," was the reply, as he took some papers from his pocket. "But it's a clue that——"
"Isn't a clue," put in Will.
"It breaks off in the middle."
"Oh, Will, let him tell it; can't you?" demanded Grace, impatiently. "We don't know whom we're listening to."
"Well, to be brief," said Mr. Blackford, "the firm I have engaged, the other day, wrote me that they were on the track of my sister. They felt sure they were going to find her, and I was very hopeful.
"It seems that they had found some old documents in the attic of a house where some distant relatives live. They wrote me they were sending them on, and—here they are!"
He brought out a bundle of time-stained and yellow papers, and spread them on the table.
"Gracious!" cried Will. "Your sister must be quite elderly to have such ancient documents refer to her."
"No," said Mr. Blackford, "she is younger than I am, I believe. But I have no certain knowledge of that. Anyhow, this is part of a letter written about the girl whom I have every reason to believe is my sister. And the part that is most interesting——"
"Is where——" began Will.
"Can't you keep still?" begged his sister.
"Has 'oo dot any tandy?" and he imitated little Dodo.
"Oh, take that!" and Grace passed him a caramel. "Now, let's hear what it is, Mr. Blackford."
"There is a part of the letter which says this," went on Mr. Blackford, and he proceeded to read:
"'You can always identify the girl because she has a most peculiar birth-mark on——'"
He ceased reading.
"Well, go on, please," requested Betty. "This is getting interesting."
"It isn't getting interesting—it's so already," declared Mollie. "Go on, please, Mr. Blackford, tell us what sort of birth-mark your sister has."
"That's just the trouble," he remarked, ruefully. "I can't do it."
"Why not?" Betty wanted to know.
"Because, just at that point—where the description of the birth-mark, and its location, should appear—the letter is torn. A corner is gone. I have no more idea of what sort of identifying mark my sister has, than have you. It is worse than before, for I saw hope ahead of me, only to see it disappear now.
"I feel sure that the girl referred to in the old letter is my sister; but how can I identify her, in case I meet her, until I know what sort of a mark she has, and where it is?"
"You can't!" declared Will, positively.
"And that makes it all the more tantalizing," went on Mr. Blackford. "They even—that firm I spoke of—they even had located the part of the country where it might be possible my sister was, and now to have it fail this way——"
"Where did they say she might be?" asked Amy.
"Somewhere up in Canada. But it is rather vague. If only that piece was not torn off the edge of the letter!"
"Can't you find it somewhere?" asked Mollie. "Maybe in forwarding it the people you hired tore it by accident."
"I thought of that, so I telephoned as soon as I got this letter, asking where the missing piece was. I got word back that they knew nothing about it."
There was silence for a moment, while they all looked at the mutilated document Mr. Blackford held up. It showed a tear across one corner, a tear that disposed of the most vital piece of information contained on the whole paper.
"That's too bad," spoke Amy, sympathetically.
"Yes," agreed Mollie, as she put back a stray and rebellious lock of hair, "it spoils all your plans, I suppose, Mr. Blackford."
"In a way, yes. But I'm not going to give up. I'm going to find out where they got this document from, and go there. It may have been in some old attic trunk, among some—love letters—and the missing piece may be there."
"Without it you're all at sea," declared Will. "You don't know what sort of a mark to look for, nor where it might be."
"And he can't very well go around asking all the girls he meets if they have peculiar birth-marks," commented Mollie.
"Well, I hardly know why I told you my troubles," said the young man, "but——"
"Why shouldn't you?" asked Betty, pleasantly. "We are interested in you, of course, ever since——"
"That five hundred dollar bill you thought was gone for good," added Amy. "But if we hear of anything——" and she paused suggestively.
"I wish you'd let me know!" exclaimed Mr. Blackford. "I know you girls are very lucky. You've proved it several times. Now if you happen to hear of anyone who would fit what description I have of my sister—and it isn't much, to tell the truth—or if you think you see anyone who resembles me, or who has a peculiar birth-mark, just let me know. You travel around so much, and you meet so many strange people——"
"We do seem to," agreed Grace.
"Well, just let me know," finished Mr. Blackford.
For some little time they talked of the curious happening, and the perversity of fate that should provide for such a vital piece of the letter being missing. Then, after Amy had provided refreshments, the young men and girls prepared to take their leave.
"And you and Mollie won't forget to find out for sure if you can go to the lumber camp; will you, Betty?" asked Grace. "Let me know as soon as you can."
"I'll call you up first thing in the morning," promised Betty. "I'm pretty sure I can go. Oh! what fun we'll have!"
"Any skating there?" asked Mr. Blackford.
"Oceans of it!" said Grace, who had asked her father many questions about the camp they expected to visit.
"How about ice boating?" inquired Will.
"You can have that, too. There isn't an ice boat in camp, father said, but not far away a man has a sort of winter bungalow, and he keeps a number. Maybe he'll lend us one."
"And can you run it?" asked Amy, timidly.
"It runs itself—you just sit in it and the wind blows it along. All you have to do is steer," said Grace.
"You're getting to be quite an authority," declared Mollie. "Oh, but I know we'll have a fine time!"
"And we'll come up too, sometimes," put in Will. "That is, if you girls will let us."
"Of course," murmured Mollie. "Isn't that the telephone ringing, Grace?" for they were all on the front steps.
"Yes. I'll see who it is," said Amy. "Maybe they want one of you girls. Wait!"
"Can't have any of 'em—all taken," declared Will.
"It's you they want, Mollie," reported Amy, coming back. "It's your mother, and she seems to be in trouble."
"Trouble?" Mollie's voice trembled.
"Yes. Oh, dear! I'm sure she was crying!" and Amy's voice faltered, for she was very tender-hearted.
Mollie went to the telephone. The others listened anxiously for an inkling of what the message might be.
"What!" cried Mollie. "Paul missing—he must have gone out right after I did! Oh, dear! And it's beginning to snow!"
"Girls!" she cried, turning to the others, and letting the receiver fall with a bang, "little Paul is missing—mother thinks he went out of doors. Oh, that poor child!"
Will was the first to realize the import of the message. He exclaimed briskly:
"Gone out; eh? Well, it won't be hard to track him, for there is a light, new covering of snow on the ground and sidewalks. That is, if we get right at it. Come on, Mr. Blackford, and we'll find the little rascal!"
"Of course we will!" cried Betty. "Don't cry, Mollie dear. He can't be lost for long; everyone in Deepdale knows him and whoever finds him will take him home."
"Yes, but he—he may freeze!"
"Oh, it isn't cold!" declared Grace, though she was even then shivering. Grace was not any too well built to stand cold weather.
"That's it! Stick to it!" whispered Will in her ear. "Insist that it isn't cold."
"I'll come with you and help search," suggested Amy, who had been bidding her callers good-night. "I wonder if we ought to have a lantern?"
"It would be useful," spoke Betty.
"I have one of those pocket electric flash-lights," remarked Will.
"And I can get another," said Amy. "I'll be right with you, as soon as I get my coat and rubbers."
Soon the six young people were tramping through the storm, which seemed to be increasing in severity, though knowing how Mollie would worry about her little brother being out in it, the others kept insisting that it was a mere flurry, that it would amount to nothing, and would soon be over, or turn to rain.
But the snow did not itself hold out any such mild promises as that, and Mollie shivered as she felt the cold and cutting blasts of wind, which had a lower temperature than on the ice that afternoon.
They reached Mollie's house to find a very much excited and tearful Mrs. Billette, the widow being ministered to by some of her neighbors who had hurriedly come in, on hearing from a servant what had happened.
"Tell me all about it, Mother!" cried Mollie, partly lapsing into French in her excitement. Mrs. Billette spoke entirely in that language now.
It appeared that little Paul had been allowed to stay up later than usual without being undressed, as he had a new picture book to look at.
Then company had come in, and, in the abstraction of playing hostess, Mrs. Billette had forgotten about Paul until a little while before. He had been missed and a hasty search had not disclosed him in the house, but had shown the absence of his little cap, coat and rubbers.
"And he has gone out! Out into the storm!" cried Mrs. Billette on Mollie's shoulder. "Oh, my little Paul!"
"There, there, Mother, we'll find him!" declared Mollie, more bravely than she felt. She had dried her own tears under the stress of looking after her mother.
"Of course we shall!" affirmed Will. "Scatter and search now. Get more lights!"
Fortunately Mollie had some of the pocket torches and soon the little party of searchers was going about the house. In the mantle of newly-fallen snow it would seem to be an easy, matter to pick out the child's footprints and at least trace in which direction he went.
Will was the first to locate them, and a joyful whoop told of his success.
"Here they are!" he called. "He came out of this side door, and headed for the river——"
"The river!" screamed Mrs. Billette, clutching at Mollie's arm.
"Hush, Mother! It is frozen over, you know. He can come to no harm, I'm sure."
"Oh, Will, hurry! Do! Find my little baby!" cried the frantic mother.
Will dashed on, followed by the others. They kept their electric torches aglow, and could easily trace the line of tiny footsteps, since no other persons had passed down this way over the Billette property to the frozen Argono.
A sound near the boathouse attracted Will, and he turned in that direction, seeing instinctively that the steps led there. Then he saw a flash of light in the structure where, in addition to some craft owned by Mollie, was stored Betty's motor boat, the Gem.
"Are you in there, Paul?" cried Will.
They all waited anxiously for the answer.
"Ess," was the childish answer. "What oo want? I goin' way off in boat. I goin' be Robbyson Tuso."
"Oh, Paul!" reproached his mother. But her voice showed relief.
They pushed open the side door of the boat house, which had been left unlocked that day—inadvertently, it seemed—as a man was doing some repairs to Betty's craft.
They saw Paul gravely seated in the boat, which he had managed to get into by means of a chair. He had a lantern with him, taken, it developed, from where Isaac, the furnace man, had left it for a moment in the Billette kitchen. And Paul was gravely playing that he was Robinson Crusoe, starting off on a voyage.
"Oh, Paul, how could you frighten mamma so?" asked Mollie, as she caught him up. "You should be punished!"
"Pichure in my book about Robbyson Tuso. He got in boat—I go in boat. Betty no care—does oo?"
"No, dear, not about my boat. But——"
"You were very, very naughty!" said Mollie, severely, "and sister doesn't love you any more. Naughty Paul!"
The sensitive lip of the toddler began pursing outward, quivering. His eyes filled with tears. Then catching sight of Grace, who, with the others, formed a circle about the recovered lost one, Paul smiled through the gathering mist of tears and asked:
"Oo dot any tandy?"
And he laughed with them as Grace produced some chocolates in a bag. And no one remarked on her failing—that time, at least.
Paul was soon in bed, having made many promises not to offend again. Then Will went back with Amy, Mr. Blackford escorting Betty and Grace, who lived near each other. The girls promised to meet again next day, but this was hardly necessary, since scarcely a day passed that they were not together—"inseparables," they had been dubbed.
Of course for the next few days little was talked of except the prospect of going to the winter camp. From the parents of the three, tentative permission had been wrung, Grace's father and mother being much in favor of her making the trip.
"Her lungs are none too strong," Mr. Ford had said to his wife, "and the winter in the pine woods will do her good."
"If only there is no danger!"
"Danger! Nonsense!" Mr. Ford had exclaimed.
But he did not know what was in prospect, or he might not have been so positive. Even as it was, a few days later brought unpleasant news to him.
He had been in correspondence with the old lumberman and his wife, and had practically arranged for them to take charge of the camp, and look after the girls, who would occupy one of the large cabins, if they went to the woods. Then came a letter from a brother lawyer who was looking after some details of the receivership.
"By Jove! That makes it bad!" exclaimed Mr. Ford on reading this communication.
"What is it, Daddy?" asked Grace, who happened to be in the library with her father when the mail came in.
"Why, Travert writes me that Jallow has begun cutting timber on the strip that is in dispute. Valuable timber, too, that I'm sure belongs to me. This is contrary to the ruling of the court. I must stop this if I have to come to an open fight!"
"Oh, Father, will this stop us going to camp?"
"No, not necessarily. The strip is far enough away from the camp itself. I don't know but what it will be a good plan to have you on the ground, Grace. You can let me know if anything happens. Now I must see what I can do about this. If only I could find Paddy Malone, and he could testify about the changed boundary lines, I'd have none of this trouble," and Mr. Ford sighed.
"Maybe we can find him up there, papa," said Grace, softly.
"Maybe; but I doubt it. I've been trying for a year to locate him, and can't. But never mind. Don't let this bad news worry you. You and your chums can go there all right, and have a good time. Maybe you'll have more of a time than you want. It looks as though we would have a hard winter."
"How many dresses are you going to take?"
"I wonder if we ought to bring along something for evening wear?"
"Anyhow we want something warm."
"And what about shoes—or boots? How would it do to wear leggings, like the boy scouts?"
"I'm sure we won't want anything like evening dresses. Where could we wear them up in the wilderness?"
"Why, perhaps there may be a lumbermen's dance."
"Oh, listen to Mollie! As if we'd go!"
"Why not? Of course we could go if we had a chaperone," and Mollie, who had proposed this, looked rather defiantly at her chums.
The other foregoing remarks had been shot back and forth so quickly, in such zig-zag fashion, that it was difficult to tell who said which; in many cases the authors themselves being hardly able to identify their verbal creations.
The girls were at the home of Grace, discussing, as they had been doing ever since it was practically decided that they were to go to camp, what they should take, and what to wear. It was far from being settled yet.
"Well, I'm sure of one thing," remarked Grace, "and that is that, as Amy says, we ought to have at least two warm cloth dresses."
"An extra skirt, too, would be no harm," added Betty. "If we go out in deep snow the skirt is sure to get wet, and then we could change on coming in."
"Yes, I think that would be wise," admitted Mollie. "I am almost tempted to wear—bloomers!"
"I don't care," and she spoke defiantly. "More and more girls are coming to wear them. Why, if we wear them in the school gym. I don't see any harm in using them when we go camping."
"But up there—where we may meet a lot of rough lumbermen, who wouldn't understand—I'd like it, really I would," confessed Betty. "But I guess we'd better not. It's different here, and at school."
"Yes, I guess it is," admitted Mollie with a sigh. "But we can wear skirts of a sensible length, and leggings. I'm glad we thought of those. They'll be much more comfortable than boots, and not so heavy. But what about a light dress? Do you think we'd have any use for one? There's no use taking along a lot of clothes we won't wear."
"That's right," said Grace. "I spoke to papa about it, and he said that while there were often little affairs among the lumbermen and the residents up there, they never thought of wearing light clothes in winter. They'd think it queer if we did, and went to any of the parties. So let's don't bother with our fancy duds."
"Good!" cried Betty. "We'll be real outdoor girls, and dress as such. Well, so much is settled. I'll make a note of that," and she proceeded to set down the facts agreed to.
"Let me see," she mused, "what's this?" and she frowned over some cabalistic marks on her paper.
"Can't you read your own writing?" asked Amy with a smile.
"Well, it looks like 'hats,' but I'm sure I didn't mean that. We settled that we'd wear Tam-o'-Shanter affairs, or caps, so it can't be hats. Oh, I have it. It's 'eats'—what are we going to do about food?"
"Papa says," spoke Grace, "that we can get lots of canned stuff up there. The store that used to supply the lumbermen is open. And we can send some cases of things from here. We can get fresh meat three times a week, and eggs from the farmers when they have any. So make a note of that, Little Captain."
"I will. But, as I understand it, the lumbermen have all left your father's camp now—it's in the hands of a receiver. Maybe the store will close."
"No, father said the country people depend on that store for their things. It wasn't just a camp grocery. It will be all right."
"Well, that settles the two important items of food and clothing," remarked Betty, checking them off on her list. "Of course we'll have to do considerable ordering, and decide on what variety we want to take, but that can be done later.
"Next, let me see what is next—oh, yes, how are we going to get to the camp—walk, ride, or——"
"Skate!" interrupted Mollie. "Why can't we skate there? It isn't so very far."
"And drag our baggage and sandwiches along behind us on sleds?" asked Betty.
"Too much work," declared Amy. "Let's hire a sled, get up a straw ride and go in style."
"Oh, say, what about Mr. Jallow? Do you think he will make trouble up there?" inquired Amy, glancing rather apprehensively at Grace. "You know you said your father told you about his beginning to cut timber and——"
"Oh, we needn't worry about that," declared Grace with confidence. "The strip in dispute is far enough from the camp."
"Isn't it mean to have even that little worry, when it seemed as if everything was going to be so nice?" murmured Mollie. "And that Alice Jallow! I met her and Kittie on the street yesterday afternoon and I just cut them both—dead."
"Mollie, you never did!" cried gentle Amy.
"Yes I did, and I'll do it again. I guess they were surprised, for I heard them chattering like two—two crows—when I passed on."
"Serves them right—the way they talked about Amy," exclaimed Grace.
"Oh, but I don't want you girls to get into trouble on my account—to fight my—my battles for me," faltered Amy. "It is unpleasant enough as it is, without making it worse."
"Now don't you worry, little one," said Betty soothingly. "We can look after ourselves, and I'd like to know why we should not break a lance or two in your behalf."
"Of course!" cried Mollie.
"You're a member of our club," declared Grace, "and club members must stand up for each other."
"Certainly," agreed Betty. "I don't like quarrels any more than you girls do, but I do think that Alice Jallow ought to know that we resent what she said."
"Oh, she knows it all right!" exclaimed Mollie. "I took good care that she should! She's a regular—cat. No other word expresses what I mean, and I don't care if it isn't a nice thing to say about a girl. She deserves it."
Amy flushed and looked troubled.
"Don't let's talk about it," suggested Betty quickly, catching an appealing glance from her little chum. "We all know there isn't the least foundation for it, any more than there was at first, and that's an old story."
"Oh, yes, there is a little more basis for it," said Amy in a low voice, and with a hasty look around.
"There is?" cried Betty, before she thought. "Oh, I didn't mean that!" she added quickly. "Don't tell us—unless it will make you feel better, Amy."
"It will, I think. I have been going to ever since the day Alice hurt me so, but I couldn't seem to come to it. But of late there has been a change in—in Mr. and Mrs. Stonington."
"Don't you call them Uncle and Aunt any more?" asked Grace in a low voice.
"I do to their faces—yes, but I don't think of them that way," and Amy's voice faltered.
"Why?" Betty wanted to know.
"Because, by the merest accident, I found the other day, a piece of paper in—in Mr. Stonington's desk. I had read it before I realized it and it intimated that a mistake had been made in assuming that the envelope pinned on my dress, when I was rescued from the flood, was really intended to be on me. In that case Mr. and Mrs. Stonington would be no relation to me."
"But if the envelope with their names and address on it was found on you, why shouldn't it refer to you?" asked Mollie.
"Because there were two babies rescued in that flood."
"Two babies?" It was a general chorus of surprise from the three girls.
"Yes. I was one. There was another. A man saved both of us, and set us on an improvised raft. He found the envelope lying loose near us, and as it was nearer to me he pinned it on my dress, assuming that it had come from my sleeve. But it may have been on the other baby."
"How did this become known?" asked Grace.
"Through this man. It seems that some newspaper reporter, on the anniversary of the flood in Rocky Ford—that's where I was found—this reporter wrote up the former incidents about it. He interviewed several who had made rescues, and this man was one. He told of having found two babies, and one paper. I know Mr. and Mrs. Stonington, who read this account, must have had their doubts about me raised anew, for I overheard them talking very earnestly about it."
"Poor Amy!" sighed Grace.
"Yes, it's dreadful not to know who you are," said Amy, with a rather cheerless smile. "But I am getting used to it now. It did hurt, though, to hear what Alice said about it that day."
"I should think so—the mean thing!" snapped Mollie, her quick temper on the verge of rising.
"But I know, no matter what happens, that Mr. and Mrs. Stonington will always care for me," Amy went on. "If it were not for that I don't know what I'd do. Now let's talk of something else—something more pleasant."
"Oh, this isn't unpleasant for us!" Betty hastened to assure her chum. "Only of course we know how you must feel about it. If we could only help you in some way!"
"I'm afraid you can't," said Amy softly. "It's good of you, though."
"It's like one of those queer puzzle stories, that end with a bump, in the middle, and leave you guessing—like 'The Lady or the Tiger,'" asserted Mollie. "I can't bear them. I get to thinking of the solution in the night and it sets me wild."
"Yes, it is like that," agreed Amy gently. "But I don't see how it can ever be known on which baby the envelope belonged."
"What became of the other baby?" asked Grace.
"I never heard, and the man who rescued me did not know either," answered Amy. "He turned us both over to the relief authorities, and, assuming that I belonged to Mr. and Mrs. Stonington, because of their address on the envelope, on my sleeve, they sent for—for my uncle, as I suppose I ought to call him, though he may not be—and he has kept me ever since."
"But there is just as much chance that you were the baby on whom the paper was pinned, as to think that you were not," came somewhat positively from Betty.
"Yes, I suppose so," Amy agreed. "But, please, let's talk about going camping. I want to forget that I may be a—nobody."
"You'll never be that, Amy—to us!" declared Mollie, positively.
"Thank you, dear."
"The question still to be settled," broke in Betty, determined to change the conversation, "is how are we to go to camp. Shall we skate or sled or——"
"Ice boat!" cried the voice of Will Ford at the door. "Ladies, excuse me, but I have arrived at a most propitious time, I observe. I overheard what you said. Allow me to suggest—an ice boat!"
They looked at him with rather startled glances, and he added:
"Shall I explain?"
"As it seems to be an unguessable riddle—do," urged his sister. "Did you bring any chocolates?"
"Pay as you enter," said Mollie, laughingly.
OFF FOR CAMP
Will entered with the air of one conferring a favor, and successfully evaded the efforts of his sister to take away a certain box he was carrying.
"Have patience, little sister mine!" he mocked. "Have patience, and you will get your desires."
"You mean thing! and I haven't had a chocolate all day. How did you come to bring them?"
"Amy asked me to," he said boldly.
"Oh, Will Ford! I did not!" and Amy blushed a "lobster red," as the lad ungallantly informed her.
"Well, anyhow take them, and dole them out," he added, tossing the box of confectionery into her lap.
"Oh, Amy, I always loved you!" confided Grace, "shooting" a look of wonder at her brother.
"And while Amy passes the treat, perhaps you will kindly elucidate the riddle of the ice boat for us," suggested Mollie, catching a marshmallow chocolate which Amy deftly threw across the parlor.
"Nothing very complicated about it," replied Will, himself munching on some candy that he produced from a hidden source—likely one of his seemingly innumerable pockets. Betty said she never could understand how a boy could remember all the pockets he had—fourteen she once counted, when she had Allen Washburn enumerate them for her.
"It's this way," went on Will, with tantalizing slowness, but Grace knew better than to try to hurry him. "Allen and Frank and I have bought a big ice boat."
"You have?" cried Grace. "You never told me a thing about it." She looked her keen reproaches.
"Well, I'm telling you now," said Will. "It is a second-hand one, and used to belong to the Chacalott Club, down the river. They bought a new one for racing purposes, and Allen heard of the chance to get this one. He told me, I told Frank, Frank told—told——"
"Oh, spare us the horrible details!" protested Grace. "Where do we come in?"
"In the ice boat, of course. Where else did you expect?" and Will grinned at her like a Cheshire cat.
"Provoking!" murmured Grace. "Do go on."
"Yes, do," urged Mollie. "We've got so much to do yet!"
"Well, as I said, we have a big, roomy ice boat," went on Will. "It isn't as comfortable as your Gem, Betty, and has no cabin."
"No cabin!" cried Amy. "I thought all boats had to have cabins."
"An ice boat is like a pair of stilts, crossed," explained Will. "There's no room for a cabin, but there is a sort of cockpit on this one. It will hold ten when they aren't spilled out on the way."
"Spilled out?" queried Mollie. "That sounds interesting."
"It is—when you're not spilled," said Will. "You see in a stiff breeze the ice boat sort of rears up on its hind legs, like an auto going around a curve on two wheels, and there the spilling begins.
"As I said, the cockpit of the Spider will hold about ten comfortably, and if half spill out, why so much the more comfort for those who succeed in holding themselves in."
"But what about us?" asked Grace.
"Oh, we'll hold you in," volunteered Will, cheerfully.
"No, I mean do you really intend for us to use it to go to camp?" insisted his sister.
"I sure do. It's a dandy boat—the Spider, and——"
"Spider!" exclaimed Betty with a little shiver. "What possessed you to take such a name?"
"It looks like a water bug—the ice is not far removed from water. Hence Spider. Do you get me—or the spider?"
"Oh, you boys!" sighed Grace. "Girls, shall we consider it—the ice boat?"
"It will be just the proper caper," said Will. "We can take you all up in one load, and your suit cases, too. Trunks can go by express. Then we can stay a week or so with you in the cabin, and——"
"You can stay—you boys—who said so?" demanded Grace a bit defiantly.
"Dad. I asked him. There are several furnished cabins there, and we can use one, he said. Oh, don't worry, we won't bother you," and he glared at his sister. Grace and Will did not get along any better than the average brother and sister, it will be noted.
"I think it would be nice," spoke gentle Amy, hastening to pour oil on troubled waters. "It wouldn't be quite so lonesome—with the boys there."
"Bless you for saying that!" exclaimed Will, with mock heroics. "You shall be doubly repaid. We'll see that you are never alone, Amy."
She blushed, but did not seem displeased.
"And as we boys are going anyhow," went on Will, "you girls can come in the ice boat, or not, just as you choose. I only thought I'd offer it."
"It's kind of you," declared Mollie.
"I think ice boating would be lovely," vouchsafed Betty.
Seeing her chums thus in favor Grace capitulated.
"All right," she said. "We'll go, with you boys."
"And you needn't think you are doing us a favor, either!" asserted Will a bit truculently. "We can get other girls. There is Kittie Rossmore, Alice——"
"Stop it!" commanded Grace, and Will subsided. He knew better than to keep on in that strain.
"The boat is a dandy, though," he went on. "We can pile the cockpit full of fur robes, and when the wind is right we can scoot up the lake to beat the band!"
"Such slang!" cried Grace.
"Well, I only meant hat band—or rubber band. That isn't slang."
And so it was decided. Will went on to describe the boat from the rudder and runners, to the sails and tackle, most of it being as Greek to the girls. But they made up their minds to soon learn how to run a craft on the ice.
"And if things go right I'll soon have a better one than the Spider," declared Will, as he prepared to take his leave.
"You mean you are going to buy another?" asked Grace.
"No, not buy—make one—and it will be a surprise, too, let me tell you!"
"How?" asked Betty, interested.
"Oh, you'll see when the time comes. It's a secret."
This naturally roused the curiosity of the girls, but Will, having accomplished his purpose in doing that, refused to talk further and left in a hurry, Frank having called for him.
As for the girls, there were many details yet to be settled, even though the matter of food and clothing had been decided, in a measure.
In the days that followed Mr. Ford reported that he had succeeded in getting Ted Franklin and his wife to go to the lumber camp, to live in one of the cabins and assume charge as care-takers.
"They'll have a cabin all ready for you girls," the lawyer had said to his daughter. "It will be near theirs, and if Will and the boys want to go up for week-ends, there is a cabin they can use."
"But, Daddy, tell Will not to bother us. He's sure to play some kind of tricks."
"Oh, I guess you girls can look after yourselves. Now, about getting yourselves and your things up there——"
"We've arranged about ourselves," said Grace. "We're going in the ice boat up the river. But our trunks——"
"I'll have them shipped. I have also sent an order to the storekeeper there to supply the cabin with stock provisions. The others you can buy as you need them. Now I guess that's all."
"Is Mr. Jallow cutting any more trees?"
"Yes, and I haven't succeeded in stopping him. There may be trouble—of a legal kind only," he hastened to assure his daughter, who looked alarmed. "Don't worry. Only if you should happen to run across that Paddy Malone up there—that old lumberman—hold on to him, or at least get him to communicate with me. With his testimony I can beat this Jallow."
"I hope we can find him," observed Grace.
There were seemingly a hundred and one things to do before starting off for camp, but somehow they got done. Betty was very busy, for though Grace had initiated the idea of the camp, the Little Captain naturally assumed the leadership, as she generally did.
The girls had two or three rides in the ice boat, and liked the experience very much. It was a novel sensation gliding over the frozen surface before a stiff wind. And really the boys managed the Spider very well. In spite of the protest of the girls, they refused to change the name, even ignoring the compromise of Cobweb, which Grace declared quite poetical.
The day set for the start brought disappointment, for the wind blew in exactly the opposite direction desired, and, after waiting until late afternoon for a change, the trip was given up.
But in the night it grew colder, which was good for the condition of the ice, and the wind shifted. It blew straight up the river toward the distant lumber camp, and early the next morning Will was astir to make sure there would be no delay.
The start was made from Mollie's boathouse, where the Spider was moored. The suitcases were piled in the forward part of the cockpit, which was well provided with rugs. Then with Allen at the helm, and Will and Frank to look after the sail, the girls took their places.
"All aboard!" cried Will, looking at his sister and her chums. "Hold fast, everybody! Shall I shove off, Allen?"
The boat glided out into the middle of the frozen river. The wind caught the sail, it curved out, and the Spider shot ahead, gathering speed every second.
"We're off!" cried Betty, waving her hands to those who had come to see them start.
"Good-bye! Good-bye!" was chorused over and over again.
As Amy waved with the others she little dreamed what a change would take place in her life before she saw dear Deepdale again.
Straight up the Argono River flew the Spider. Crawled would perhaps be a more appropriate term, considering the insect, but the ice boat did not crawl—it literally flew.
"Oh, this is just glorious!" cried Mollie, with shining eyes, as she crouched down amid the rugs near Will, and looked ahead at the white, icy stretch.
"It's the most comfortable form of motion I ever imagined could be," said Betty. "I'm so glad you thought of it, Will. I wouldn't have missed it for worlds."
"It's a little too swift for me," confessed Amy.
"Swift! I wish we could go faster!" exclaimed Mollie.
"We'll go faster soon, when we get around the bend," spoke Allen. "Then we'll get the full force of the wind, and then——"
"Yes, and then will be the time you girls will have to hang on, even by your eyelids," declared Will. "You'll see!"
"Oh, is it as scary as all that?" asked Grace.
"You won't mind," declared Frank, soothingly. "He's only trying to scare you."
Amy looked a bit timid, but a reassuring glance from Betty put her at her ease once more.
Truly the ice boat was all that the boys had claimed for it. Roomy, as ice boats go, comfortable and speedy, it was really a prize.
"You deserve a vote of thanks, boys," said Mollie, as the sharp wind brightened the roses in her cheeks.
"Leave it to your Uncle Dudley," declared Will. "I told you that you'd like it."
"Here!" cried Grace, tossing him a chocolate.
"Oh!" he cried, as it hit him in the face, "whence this sudden flow of sisterly kindness."
"As a reward for your thoughtfulness in providing the boat," said Grace.
"That means I'll have to look out, or she'll be wanting me to do something more before night," spoke Will.
"I hope Mr. Franklin has fires lighted in our cabin," remarked Grace after a bit. "It will be real chilly, I'm afraid," and she drew her very becoming furs closer about her. Her face was framed in them, and she looked, as Allen said, "like a picture on a magazine cover."
"I don't know whether to feel complimented or not," she confessed with a laugh. "I only know I'm cold-d-d-d-d! Burrrrr!" and she shivered.
"It isn't as warm as skating," said Allen. "But perhaps this may help," and with one hand he took from a box a long, round object. "It's a vacuum bottle of hot coffee," he explained. "I didn't think, until the last minute, or I'd have brought chocolate, Grace."
"Oh, coffee will do just as well!" she hastened to assure him. "It is just what I want to drive the shivers away."
"There are some cups there in that other box," said Allen to Frank. "If you'll get them out, and pass the refreshments around."
"Happy to oblige!" exclaimed Frank.
"There is sugar and milk already in the coffee," explained the young lawyer. "I hope none of you object."
They did not, as it developed, and soon they were sipping the hot beverage while gliding along, the wind having died out somewhat.
As they made the turn around the bend, a little later, they got the full force of the breeze, which, increasing in power, sent them along so suddenly that the ice boat tilted on two runners.
"Oh, dear!" screamed Grace, clutching Mollie, and causing her to spill what remained of the cup of coffee.
"There, look what you did!" snapped the French girl, quickly.
"I—I didn't mean to," said Grace, contritely. "I thought we were going to spill."
"This was the only 'spill' there was," laughed Betty, as she helped Grace wipe up the trickling beverage.
"Oh, well, it doesn't matter," said Mollie—"mollified Mollie," as Will expressed it later. The little flash of temper died out almost as soon as it showed.
"Steady all!" called Allen, for the girls were moving about, and he needed less motion in order to handle the boat easily.
They were proceeding along at a fast pace when, from behind one of the boathouses along the shore of the frozen river, there shot out a small ice craft, containing two persons. It was so sudden, and cut so sharply across the path of the Spider, that Allen narrowly avoided a collision.
"Why don't you look before you come out?" he called sharply to the steersman of the smaller craft.
"Why don't you keep more to the middle of the river?" was the retort, and then the boat shot around and took the same direction as the one in which the Spider was going.
"Why, there's Alice Jallow in that boat!" exclaimed Betty. "Did you see, girls?"
"Sure enough! So it was!" agreed Mollie. "But who is that fellow with her?"
"Harry Brook," answered Will.
"Do you know him?" demanded Grace, quickly.
"A little. He's a new lad in town."
"Has he been going with—her—long?" asked Betty.
"I don't know. First time I ever saw him with her. Mind that chunk of wood just ahead, Allen."
"I see it, thanks. That fellow gave me a scare, though. I never saw him until I was almost into him."
"That's right," assented Frank. "I guess he doesn't know much about running one of these things. How are you coming on with your——" he added, looking at Will.
"Do you think it will rain?" asked Will, promptly, looking up into the cloudless sky, and nudging Frank sharply. "Keep still," he whispered.
"What is it?" demanded Grace. "Do you know his secret, Frank?"
"If he tells—I'll have revenge!" cried Will in theatrical fashion. "Mum's the word, old man," and he glanced significantly at Frank.
"All right—don't worry," was the retort.
"They seem to think they are having a race with us," remarked Allen, nodding in the direction of the other boat. It was a little distance ahead, but off to one side, a considerable space of glittering ice separating the two craft.
"Maybe he saw us coming, and shot out that way to make Alice think he was some ice yachtsman," suggested Will. "I'll tell him what I think the next time I see him."
"Oh, don't make any more trouble, Will," begged his sister. "We seem to be on the outs enough with the Jallow family. I only hope we don't meet Mr. Jallow up in the woods."
"He wouldn't dare annoy you," spoke Allen. "I know something about your father's case, and I think, when it is next tried, that Jallow will lose. He deserves to, I think, and I have gone over most of the evidence."
"If we could only get that missing lumberman to testify," said Grace, "it would end it all in papa's favor. But I suppose that is too much to hope for."
They were moving swiftly along now, and were a little more than a quarter of the way to the lumber camp. They intended to stop at noon, which would see them three-quarters there, and eat the lunch they had brought along.
It did seem that Alice and the young fellow with her invited the Spider to a race, but Allen knew better than to accept. The other boat was a light craft, built purposely for racing, whereas the larger boat was not.
Gradually the boat containing the two occupants drew away up the river. Our friends gave it little thought until, when they were discussing the advisability of eating lunch, Frank called out:
"Here he comes back, tacking against the wind."
"Yes, and he doesn't know how to do it," said Allen in a low voice. "He'll have trouble if he doesn't watch out."
The small boat came nearer and nearer, gliding from side to side of the frozen river to make distance against a quartering wind.
"Look out where you're going!" suddenly cried Allen, as he saw the craft headed directly for the Spider. "Luff there! Luff!"
Evidently in the emergency the other boy lost his head. He came straight on, but Allen was not minded to suffer a collision. Quickly he shifted his helm, and so quickly that the next moment the Spider overturned, spilling them all out.
There were hoarse shouts from the boys, and shrill screams from the girls as Allen, who had managed to jump clear, raced after the still moving boat to prevent it becoming damaged.
And, as he looked back to see the figures of his friends more or less entangled in luggage and fur robes, scattered over the ice, he saw the boat, the action of which had made it necessary for him to spill, herself turn over, throwing out Alice and her friend.
"Anybody hurt?" asked Will, as he sat up, a robe around his shoulders.
"Guess not," answered Frank, taking a quick survey of the girls. They were laughing now, and getting up.
Only a glance was needed to show that none of the party of campers had been more than bruised. They were all up now, getting rid of the entangling rugs, and collecting the scattered baggage, which had slid over the ice in various directions.
"Never mind that," advised Allen, who was busy with the ropes of the ice boat. "Let's right this, fellows," he suggested, "and see if it's damaged any. It doesn't look so; but we'd better make sure."
It was no easy task to get the boat on her runners again, but the girls lent their strength, no small feature in the aggregate, and soon the Spider was on her legs again, if that be the proper term.
"Look—they seem to be having trouble," remarked Betty, pointing to the overturned ice boat with one hand, while with the other she tried to get her rebellious hair in some sort of order. Her locks had become loosed—as had those of her chums—in the spill.
The youth who had been responsible for the accident was standing near Alice, seemingly ill at ease. Alice Jallow appeared to be crying. The boat was some distance off, and it needed but a glance to show that the mast was broken.
"Maybe she's hurt!" suggested Will, starting on the run toward the two figures. Allen had lowered the sail of the Spider and had tossed out a sharp-pronged ice anchor.
"Shall we—I wonder if we had better go to Alice?" asked Mollie, doubtfully.
"Oh, yes, we must, I think," spoke Betty. "Come on, girls." And even Amy, who might have been excused for not going, under the circumstances, started toward Alice, while Allen and Frank seeing that there was assistance enough, worked to get their own craft in shape, and to replace the rugs and luggage.
"Are you—can we help you—is there anything the matter, Alice?" asked Betty, gently, as she reached the sobbing girl.
"I can't get her to tell me," spoke Harry Brook. "But I don't believe she's more than scared."
"I am so! My elbow hurts terrible!" exclaimed Alice, petulantly.
"Perhaps if I look at it," suggested Grace, laying a hand on the arm of Alice.
"I'll thank you to let me alone!" was the snappish retort. "It was your fault we upset, anyhow. Let me alone!"
"Whew!" whistled Will. "Well, I like that!"
And his sister and her chums wished they were free to express themselves as forcibly.
"Our fault!" cried Will. "Why, you came right for us, Brook! You know you did. We had to jibe to get out of your way, and that's what put us in bad."
"I know it—I'm sorry," Harry had the grace to answer. "My mast is broken, too. The rudder seemed to jam, and I couldn't shift it."
"Well, I guess we can be of no service here," said Betty, a bit coldly. "Come on, girls," and without so much as a glance at the girl who had spurned their kind offer the four chums started back. It was very evident that Alice was not much hurt, for she walked off to one side.
"Shall I give you a hand at righting your boat, Harry?" asked Will, after rather an awkward pause.
"Yes—if you will. I guess I don't know so much about ice craft as I thought I did. It was easy enough going before the wind, but when I turned to tack I had trouble. I'll just run her up on shore and see what I can do to-morrow about getting a new mast. Any of your crowd hurt?"
"No, only their—feelings."
"Oh, well, accidents will happen." Will looked narrowly at Alice, but she averted her gaze. Then, when Harry had assured him there was nothing more to do, Will set out to rejoin his friends, while Harry, after sliding the ice boat to shore, set off down the frozen stream with Alice.
"I wouldn't like to be in his shoes," remarked Frank when the situation had been explained to him. "Alice will have it in for him, all right."
"Well, perhaps after her show of uncalled-for temper he'll not want to have anything more to do with her," said Mollie. "I wouldn't—if I were in his place."
Allen found that their ice boat had not been in the least damaged, and when the spilled-out possessions had been gathered up and replaced, they resumed their way with the hoisting of the sail.
"I hope the lunch isn't spoiled," remarked Grace. "I'm hungry."
"So am I," was the general admission.
A few miles farther on they came to a sheltered cove where they stopped and ate dinner. They made hot chocolate over a little fire of driftwood on shore.
Then they kept on up the river, the wind holding good, and about three o'clock reached the lumber camp. Allen sent the ice boat up to the little dock in proper style, and one after another the young people leaped out.
"Whoop!" yelled Will. "Here we are! Whoop!"
"Be still, you—Indian!" begged Grace.
"Indians always whoop," he said. "I want to let Franklin know we're here!"
From one of the cabins, clustered in the wood, a short distance back from the shore of the frozen river, came a grizzled but pleasant-faced man. In the doorway stood a short, stout woman, smiling a welcome.
"Well, you got here, I see," remarked Mr. Franklin, genially, as he took two suitcases. "Mother and I've been expecting you, and we've got a hot supper all ready but putting on the table."
"Oh, that was too much work, though it's lovely of you!" protested Grace.
"We expected to cook our own meal," added Mollie. "You will get us into bad habits."
"Eatin's the best habit I know of!" chuckled the care-taker. "I've been acquirin' it for a good many years and it hasn't hurt me yet. I expect to keep right on with it, too. I hope you didn't lose your appetites on the way."
"No danger," remarked Will. "Is everything all right?"
"Yes. All your stuff come; there's a lot of grub, plenty of wood, and all you've got to do is to enjoy yourself."
"Has that fellow—Jallow—or any of his men made trouble?" Will asked, when the girls had gone on ahead.
"Not much; no. I did catch one of 'em on our land the other day—on land there's no question but what your father owns. I ordered him off."
"Did he go?"
"Well, no, not exactly. I had to sort of—shove him off, and I'm afraid he stumbled and bumped his nose," chuckled Mr. Franklin.
"That's the way!" cried Will, laughing.
The cabins to be occupied by the boys and girls were close together, and that used by Mr. Franklin and his wife was not far off. All three were near to the water, and back of them was a forest of big trees, gaunt and bare now, their black limbs tossing restlessly in the wind.
Baggage was put away, a hasty survey was taken of the camp and the cabins, and then, as it got dark soon, Mrs. Franklin, with whom all the girls fell in love at first sight, suggested an early supper. And a most bountiful one it was, though the dining room was rather taxed. But that only made it the more merry.
"And now to get settled!" exclaimed Betty, as she and the girls went over to their cabin.
"You'll find the bunks all made up!" called Mrs. Franklin, "and if you haven't covers enough you'll find more in the big chest."
"That's good," agreed Grace. "I hate to be cold!"
"You want to get more flesh and you'll be warmer!" said Amy, who was rather plump.
"Ugh! Flesh! Never!" declared the willowy Grace.
They began unpacking their trunks and suitcases, each one appropriating part of the bureaus and wall space. From the cabin of the boys came shouts and laughter.
"Cutting up—as usual," observed Grace. "Oh, I wonder if I left out that big box of chocolates?" and frantically she began searching in her trunk.
"Girls, it's gone!"
Thus cried Grace, as a further search of her possessions did not reveal the box of candy.
"What is?" asked Mollie, who had not heard the first frantic cry.
"That lovely big box of chocolates father gave me! I'm sure I put it in the tray of my trunk when I was packing, but now——"
A perfect storm of things seemed to fly from the trunk, not only the "annex," as Mollie termed the tray, but the "main hotel" as well.
"Grace, you'll have this room a perfect sight!" protested Betty.
"Can't help it!" returned the chocolate-lover. "I must find it. Amy, you were with me the day I packed; what did I do with that box with the pink ribbon?"
"Oh, that; why the last I saw of it was on your dresser. Don't you remember? You took it out for a moment, after putting it in, to see if your ribbon box wouldn't go in that place better. Then you——"
"Yes, I know!" interrupted Grace. "I forgot to put it back. Then the telephone rang, and I went to answer it. Will was in talking to you when I came back again, and——"
"Perhaps he did not take it—you may have simply left it home," suggested Betty.
Grace nervously tossed her possessions back into her trunk. There came a knock at the cabin door.
"Come!" cried Mollie, who was in the outer apartment.
"I say, Grace!" cried Will's voice as he entered. "There are two buttons off my coat—must have torn loose when we upset. Sew 'em on, will you?"
"Not now, Will, I'm busy—I can't find something. I'll sew 'em on to-morrow."
"Yes, around noon. We fellows are going off early. There may be a bear or two up here, and we brought our guns, you know."
"I can't bother."
"Then Amy will," said the boy. "Say 'yes,' Amy, and I'll give you a lovely box of chocolates, with a pink ribbon on!"
"Will Ford!" cried Grace, striding up to him. "Give me my candy this instant!"
"Your candy?" Will pretended much surprise.
"Yes, certainly, my candy. The box of Walford's papa gave me!"
She pulled his hand from behind his back and there was revealed the missing box of confections.
"There it is!" Grace cried. "I knew he had my candy!"
"Your candy? Say, Sis, if it's yours, how in the world did it get in my suitcase, I'd like to know?"
"Was it there?"
Grace looked puzzled for a moment, and then she exclaimed:
"I see now. I had it in my hand when I went in your room as you were packing. I wanted to get a piece of wrapping paper for it, and just then you cut your finger, and——"
"Yes, and you ran out like a scared cat, and dropped the candy in my suitcase," finished her brother. "I thought you meant to give it to me, so I kept it, and toted it up here. Now will you sew those buttons on for me?"
"Yes, Will," answered Grace, meekly, as she accepted the box.
"I thought that would fetch you around," he said with a cheerful grin. "Never mind, Amy, next time it will be you."
The unpacking was finished, bunks were prepared and for a little while, before turning in for the night, Will and his chums called on his sister and her friends. Mr. Franklin dropped in to see if the young folks needed anything. He had filled a number of lamps for them, so there was no lack of light, that winter evening.
The ice boat had been safely moored, plans had been made for breakfast, and the boys had evinced a determination to get up early and go hunting.
"Are there any bears up here, Mr. Franklin?" asked Amy, nervously, looking out of the window.
"Well, there has been known to be a few, especially in a hard winter. They come out once in a while to sort of feed-up on our stock, if they haven't eaten enough to sleep 'em through to Spring."
"Would you call this a hard winter?" Amy went on.
"Well, middlin' so," was the slow answer.
"What are you driving at, Amy?" Mollie wanted to know.
"It's a problem in geometry," said Will. "Things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each other. A bear comes out to feed in a hard winter—this is a hard winter, therefore a hungry bear is equal to a hard winter. Eh, Amy?"
"It wasn't that at all!" she declared, blushing. "I only was wondering if they would—would annoy us here."
"I won't let 'em bite you, Amy!" said Will, with a protecting, brotherly air—too brotherly, Grace said it was.
"I guess all the bears you'll get down here you can put in your trunk," laughed the old woodsman. "Well, I must be gettin' back. This is late for me. 'Most nine."
Indeed, they were all tired from the day's travel, and soon the boys had been "shooed" away and the girls let down their hair.
After a hysterical half-hour or so, which always seems to follow when one retires after a day spent in getting to a strange place, the girls were asleep.
Amy awoke with a start shortly after midnight. She knew this because a light left burning low in the living room shone on a small clock. And as the girl listened she heard a crunching sound out on the frozen snow.
"Some one is trying to get in the cabin!" was the fearsome conclusion to which she jumped. Then in her fright she called: "Betty—Mollie! Wake up!"
Mollie was the first to rouse.
"What is it?" she asked, sitting up in bed.
"Some one outside—they're walking around the cabin. I'm sure they're trying to get in. Oh, please call Mr. Franklin, or the boys! I'm so frightened!"
"Nonsense!" exclaimed Mollie. "Wait until I take a look. No use sounding a false alarm."
Grace and Betty wakened at the sound of the others' voices, and asked what was going on.
"I'll look out and see what it," volunteered Betty, her room being nearest the window. She slipped from bed and a moment later called:
"Sillies! It's nothing but Mr. Franklin's dog keeping guard around the house. He's walking like a sentinel. Go to sleep, all of you."
"Oh, I'm so relieved!" murmured Amy, but it was some time before she closed her eyes again for an uninterrupted slumber.
Morning came, with no further alarms having been reported, and, after some confusion, due to their new environment, the girls got their breakfast. They sent over some hot pancakes to the boys, for they could tell by the sounds coming from their cabin that the meal there was not progressing favorably.