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The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale
by Laura Lee Hope
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THE OUTDOOR GIRLS OF DEEPDALE

OR

CAMPING AND TRAMPING FOR FUN AND HEALTH

BY LAURA LEE HOPE

1913



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I A FLUTTERING PAPER

II THE TRAMPING CLUB

III JEALOUSIES

IV A TAUNT

V AMY'S MYSTERY

VI THE LEAKY BOAT

VII TO THE RESCUE

VIII CLOSING DAYS

IX OFF ON THE TOUR

X ON THE WRONG ROAD

XI THE BARKING DOG

XII AT AUNT SALLIE'S

XIII THE MISSING LUNCH

XIV THE BROKEN RAIL

XV "IT'S A BEAR!"

XVI THE DESERTED HOUSE

XVII IN CHARGE

XVIII RELIEVED

XIX A LITTLE LOST GIRL

XX THE BOY PEDDLER

XXI THE LETTER

XXII A PERILOUS LEAP

XXIII THE MAN'S STORY

XXIV BY TELEGRAPH

XXV BACK HOME



THE OUTDOOR GIRLS OF DEEPDALE



CHAPTER I

A FLUTTERING PAPER

Four girls were walking down an elm-shaded street. Four girls, walking two by two, their arms waist-encircling, their voices mingling in rapid talk, punctuated with rippling laughter—and, now and then, as their happy spirits fairly bubbled and overflowed, breaking into a few waltz steps to the melody of a dreamy song hummed by one of their number. The sun, shining through the trees, cast patches of golden light on the stone sidewalk, and, as the girls passed from sunshine to shadow, they made a bright, and sometimes a dimmer, picture on the street, whereon were other groups of maidens. For school was out.

"Betty Nelson, the idea is perfectly splendid!" exclaimed the tallest of the quartette; a stately, fair girl with wonderful braids of hair on which the sunshine seemed to like to linger.

"And it will be such a relief from the ordinary way of doing things," added the companion of the one who thus paid a compliment to her chum just in advance of her. "I detest monotony!"

"If only too many things don't happen to us!" This somewhat timid observation came from the quietest of the four—she who was walking with the one addressed as Betty.

"Why, Amy Stonington!" cried the girl who had first spoken, as she tossed her head to get a rebellious lock of hair out of her dark eyes. "The very idea! We want things to happen; don't we, Betty?" and she caught the arm of one who seemed to be the leader, and whirled her about to look into her face. "Answer me!" she commanded. "Don't we?"

Betty smiled slightly, revealing her white, even teeth. Then she said laughingly, and the laugh seemed to illuminate her countenance:

"I guess Grace meant certain kinds of happenings; didn't you, Grace?"

"Of course," and the rather willowy creature, whose style of dress artistically accentuated her figure, caught a pencil that was slipping from a book, and thrust it into the mass of light hair that was like a crown to her beauty.

"Oh, that's all right, then," and Amy, who had interposed the objection, looked relieved. She was a rather quiet girl, of the character called "sweet" by her intimates; and truly she had the disposition that merited the word.

"When can we start?" asked Grace Ford. Then, before an answer could be given, she added: "Don't let's go so fast. We aren't out to make a walking record to-day. Let's stop here in the shade a moment."

The four came to a halt beneath a great horsechestnut tree, that gave welcome relief from the sun, which, though it was only May, still had much of the advance hint of summer in it. There was a carriage block near the curb, and Grace "draped herself artistically about it," as Mollie Billette expressed it.

"If you're tired now, what will you be if we walk five or six miles a day?" asked Betty with a smile. "Or even more, perhaps."

"Oh, I can if I have to—but I don't have to now. Come, Betty, tell us when we are to start."

"Why, we can't decide now. Are you so anxious all of a sudden?" and Betty pulled down and straightened the blue middy blouse that had been rumpled by her energetic chums.

"Of course. I detest waiting—for trains or anything else. I'm just dying to go, and I've got the cutest little traveling case. It—"

"Has a special compartment for chocolates; hasn't it, Grace?" asked Mollie Billette, whose dark and flashing eyes, and black hair, with just a shade of steely-blue in it, betrayed the French blood in her veins.

"Oh, Grace couldn't get along without candy!" declared Betty, with a smile.

"Now that's mean!" exclaimed Grace, whose tall and slender figure, and face of peculiar, winsome beauty had gained her the not overdrawn characterization of "Gibson girl." "I don't see why Billy wants to always be saying such horrid things about me!"

"I didn't say anything mean!" snapped Mollie, whose pseudonym was more often "Billy" than anything else. "And I don't want you to say that I do!" Her eyes flashed, and gave a hint of the hidden fire of temper which was not always controlled. The other girls looked at her a bit apprehensively.

"If you don't like the things I say," she went on, "there are those who do. And what's more—"

"Billy," spoke Betty, softly. "I'm sure Grace didn't mean—"

"Oh, I know it!" exclaimed Mollie, contritely. "It was horrid of me to flare up that way. But sometimes I can't seem to help it. I beg your pardon, Grace. Eat as many chocolates as you like. I'll help you. Isn't that generous?"

She clasped her arms about the "Gibson-girl," and held her cheek close to the other's blushing one.

"Don't mind me!" she cried, impulsively. Mollie was often this way—in a little whirlwind of temper one moment, and sweetly sorry for it the next, albeit her little spasms of rage were never serious, and seldom lasted long.

"Forgiven," murmured Grace. "But I am really anxious to know when we can start our Camping and Tramping Club. I think the idea is perfectly splendid! How did you come to think of it, Betty?"

"I got the idea from a book—it isn't original by any means. But then I always have been fond of walking—out in the country especially. Only it isn't so much fun going alone. So it occurred to me that you girls would like to join. We can take a nice long tramp the first opportunity we get."

"Just us four?" asked Grace.

"No, not necessarily. We can have as many members as we like."

"I think four is a nice number," spoke Amy. She was rather shy, and not given to making new friends.

"We four—no more!" declaimed Mollie. "Suppose we do limit it to four, Betty?"

"Well, we can talk of that later. And I do so want to talk of it. I thought we'd never get out of school," and the four who had just been released from the Deepdale High School continued their stroll down the main street of the town, talking over the new plan that had been proposed that morning by Betty Nelson—the "Little Captain," as she was often called by her chums, for she always assumed the leadership in their fun and frolics.

"Will we just walk—walk all the while?" asked Grace. "I'm afraid I shan't be able to keep up to you girls in that case," and she swung about on the sidewalk in a few steps of a mazy waltz with Amy.

"Of course we won't walk all the while," explained Betty. "I haven't all the details arranged yet, but we can set a certain number of miles to cover each day. At night we'll stop somewhere and rest."

"That's good," sighed Grace, with a glance at her small and daintily shod feet.

"Oh, here comes your brother Will!" Betty called to her.

"And that horrid Percy Falconer is with him," went on Mollie. "I—I can't bear him!"

"He's seen Betty—that's why he's hurrying so," spoke Grace. "Probably he's bought a new cane he wants to show her."

"Stop it!" commanded Betty, with a blush. "You know I can't bear him any more than you girls can."

"You can't make Percy believe that—my word!" and Mollie imitated the mannerism perfectly. For young Falconer, be it known, was partial to good clothes of a rather flashy type, and much given to showing them off. He had very little good sense—in fact, what little he had, some of his enemies used to say, he displayed when he showed a preference for pretty Betty Nelson. But she would have none of his company.

"I don't see why Will wants to bring him along," remarked his sister Grace, in a petulant tone. "He knows we don't like him."

"Perhaps Will couldn't help it," suggested Amy.

"That's nice of you to say, Amy," commented Grace. "I'll tell Will—some time when I get a chance."

"Don't you dare! If you do I'll never speak to you again!" and the pink surged to a deeper red in Amy's cheeks.

"Betty'd much rather have Will pick up Allen Washburn," remarked Mollie, in decisive tones. "Wouldn't you, Bet?"

"Oh, please don't say such things!" besought Betty. "I don't see why you always—"

"Hush, they'll hear you," cautioned Grace. "Let's pretend we don't see them. Hurry up! I've got a quarter, and I'll treat you to sodas. Come on in Pierson's drug store."

"Too late!" moaned Billy, in mock-tragic tones. "They are waving to us—we can't be too rude."

Will Ford, the brother of Grace, accompanied by a rather overdressed youth slightly older, had now come up to the group of girls.

"Good afternoon!" greeted Percy Falconer, raising his hat with an elaborate gesture. "Charming weather we're having—my word!" Percy rather inclined to English mannerisms—or what he thought were such.

"Hello, Sis—and the rest of you!" said Will, with a more hearty, and certainly a more natural, air. "What's doing?"

"Grace was going to treat," said Amy slowly; "she is so good about that—only—"

"Oh, girls! This is on me!" exclaimed Percy. "I shall be delighted. May I have the honor?" and again he took off his hat with an elaborate bow.

"Shall we?" Betty telegraphed this question to her friends with her eyes.

"Take the goods the gods provide," murmured Grace. "I can save my quarter for another time."

With a rather resigned air Betty followed her chums into the drug store and presently all were lined up before the marble-topped counter.

"The soda's delicious to-day," murmured Grace. "I've a good notion to get some fudge," and she began toying with a little silver purse.

"Save your money for our club," advised Mollie. "Did you hear of our expedition?" she asked Will.

"No, what's that? Are you going to try for the East or West pole?—seeing that the North and South ones have been captured," and he laughed, thereby getting some of the soda down his "wrong throat."

"Serves you right," murmured his sister, as he coughed.

"Betty is going to form a Camping and Tramping Club," went on Amy.

"Fine!" exclaimed Percy. "Are you going to take gentlemen? If so, consider my application."

"Oh, we really mean to walk!" exclaimed Grace, with a glance at the too-small patent leather shoes the overdressed youth thrust out ostentatiously. If he understood the allusion he gave no sign of so doing.

"What's the game, Sis?" asked Will, quizzically.

"Why, it isn't anything very elaborate," explained Betty, as she finished her soda. "It occurred to me that, as school closes exceptionally early this year, some of us girls could go for a two weeks' tramping tour before our regular summer vacation."

"And we're all in love with the idea," declared Amy.

"Twenty miles a day is our limit," added Mollie, smiling behind the youth's back.

"Twenty miles!" faltered Percy. "You never can do it—never!"

"Oh, yes, we can," said Betty, assuredly.

"Now do you still wish to join?" asked Grace, pointedly, glancing at Percy.

"You never can do twenty miles!" affirmed Percy. "Let's have some more soda!" he added quickly, to change the subject.

To the credit of Grace Ford, who was really very fond of sweets, be it said that she refused, and that with the mocking eyes of all the girls fastened on her.

"I've had enough," spoke Betty. "You walk with me," she whispered to Amy. "I don't want Percy to bore me. Stay near me, do!"

"I will," promised Amy.

Balked of his design to stroll beside Betty, Percy was forced to be content with Mollie, and she, with malice aforethought, talked at him in a way he could not understand, but which, the other girls overhearing, sent them into silent spasms of laughter.

"Don't you find it troublesome to carry a cane all the while?" Mollie asked him, sweetly ignorant.

"Oh, I don't have to carry it," he said quickly.

"Don't you? I thought on account of not being able to walk—"

"Why, Mollie—I can walk all right."

"Oh, I misunderstood you. You said twenty miles was too much."

"I meant for girls."

"Oh, then you carry the cane for dogs."

"No, indeed. I'm not afraid of dogs."

"He doesn't know she's 'spoofing' him—I believe that is the proper English word; isn't it?" whispered Grace, who was with her brother.

"Correct, Sis."

"Whatever did you want to bring him along for?"

"Couldn't help it. He fastened to me when I came out of school, and I couldn't shake him off. Is Bet mad?"

"You know she doesn't like him."

"Well, tell her it wasn't my fault, when you get the chance; will you? I don't want to get on her bad books."

"I'll tell her."

"I say, Sis, lend me a quarter; won't you? I'm broke."

"You had the same allowance that I did."

"I know, but I need just that much to get a catching glove. Go on—be a sport."

"I—"

"Don't say you haven't got it. Weren't you going to treat the crowd when I brought Percy along and let you sting him?"

"Such horrid slang!"

"Go on, be a sport! Lend me the quarter!"

Grace produced it from her purse. There were several other coins in it.

"Say, you're loaded with wealth! Where'd you get it?"

"I just didn't spend it."

"Go on! And you with a two-pound box of chocolates—or what's left of 'em—under your bed!"

"Will Ford, did you dare go snooping in my room?" and she grasped his arm, apprehensively.

"I couldn't help seeing 'em. I was looking for my ball, that rolled in there."

"Did you—did you eat them all?" she faltered.

"Only a few. There's Allen Washburn, I want to speak to him," and Will ran off uncermoniously, to join a tall, good-looking young man who was on the other side of the street. The latter, seeing the girls, raised his hat, but his glance rested longest on Betty, who, it might have been observed, blushed slightly under the scrutiny.

"Allen always has a book with him," murmured Amy.

"Yes, he's studying law, you know," spoke Betty.

Some other girls joined the four then, and Percy, seeing that he was rather ignored, had the sense to leave, making an elaborate departure, after what he considered the correct English style.

"Thank goodness!" murmured Mollie. "Puppies are all right, but I like better-trained ones!" and her dark eyes flashed.

"Billy!" exclaimed Grace, reproachfully, shaking an accusing finger at her friend.

"Well, you don't like him any more than—than Betty does!"

"Hush!" warned the Little Captain. "He'll hear you."

"I don't care if he does," was the retort.

Gradually the main part of the town had been left as the girls walked slowly on. Houses were fewer now, and the trees not so large, nor well cared for. The sun seemed to increase in warmth as it approached the west, wherein was a bank of fluffy clouds that soon would be turned into masses of golden, purple and olive.

"Oh, girls, I simply must rest again!" exclaimed Grace, as, with a wry face, she made for a smooth stump, which was all that was left of a great oak that had recently been cut down, as it had died, and was in danger of falling.

"What! Again?" cried Mollie. "Say, Grace, my dear, you never will be able to keep up with us on the tramp, if you give out so easily now. What is the matter?"

"Matter? Look at her shoes!" cried Amy. "Such heels!"

"They're not so awful high!" and Grace sought to defend her footwear from the three pairs of accusing eyes.

"It's a very pretty boot," remarked Betty. "But hardly practical, my dear."

"I suppose not," sighed Grace. "But I just simply could not resist the temptation to take them when the sales-girl tried them on me. I saw them in Robertson's window, and they were such a bargain—a sample shoe she said—that's why they're so narrow."

"You can wear a narrow size," spoke Mollie with a sigh. "I wish I could."

"Oh, I think your shoes are a lovely shape," spoke Grace. "I wish I had your high instep."

"Move over," begged Amy. "There's room for two on that stump, Grace."

Grace obligingly moved, and her friend sat beside her, idly swinging a couple of books by a long strap. Betty and Mollie supported themselves by draping their arms about each other's waists.

"'Patience on a monument,'" quoted Betty, looking at the two on the stump.

"Which one?" asked Mollie with a laugh.

"We'll divide the virtues between us; won't we, Amy?" exclaimed Grace, putting her head on the other's shoulder. "Now I'm—"

"The sleeping beauty!" supplied Betty, "Do come on!" and after a little argument, in which Grace insisted that she had not had more than a minute's respite, the four started off again. They were approaching the outskirts of the town in the vicinity of which they all lived.

"If this weather keeps up we can't start off on our tramping and camping trip any too soon," remarked Grace.

"When can we arrange for it?" asked Amy. "I think it is the nicest idea I ever heard of."

"You can all come over to my house to-night," suggested Betty. "We can make some plans then, perhaps."

"Let's, then!" cried impulsive Mollie. "But do you really intend to do any camping, Betty?"

"Yes, if we can. Of course not for any length of time—say a night or two. There are one or two places where camps are open the year around, and all you have to do is to go there and board, just as you would at a hotel."

"Only it must be much nicer," said Amy.

"It is—lots."

They had reached a place where the highway ran under a railroad line, that crossed on a high bridge. As the girls came under the structure a fluttering bit of paper on the ground caught the eyes of Betty. Rather idly she picked it up, and the next moment she uttered a cry that brought her chums to her side in some alarm.

"Look!" she exclaimed. "A five hundred dollar bill is pinned to this paper! A five hundred dollar bill, girls!"



CHAPTER II

THE TRAMPING CLUB

With staring eyes, and with breaths that were labored, the three chums gathered about Betty. She held the bill, and the paper pinned to it, stretched tightly between her slim fingers.

"Is it—is it real?" gasped Grace.

"Of course it's real," declared Amy.

"How do you know?" asked Mollie. "I confess I never saw a five hundred dollar bill all at once before."

"Did you see it in pieces?" asked Grace. "What a lot of money!"

"How many pounds of chocolates would it buy?" asked Amy, with a laugh.

"Don't you dare say chocolate to me!" commanded Grace.

"It is real," went on Betty, who had not spoken since picking up the money. "There's no doubt of that."

"If findings were keepings you'd be well off," said Mollie. "How lucky you are!" and sighed.

"Of course I can't keep it," decided Betty. "But I wonder who could have dropped it?" and she looked up at the railroad bridge over their heads, as if she might see some one standing there waiting for the return of the bill.

"What is that paper pinned to it?" asked Grace, as she took hold of it while Betty held the bank note by the two ends.

"That's so—I forgot to look at that," said the finder. She turned it over. There was some writing on it. It said:

" This is my last five hundred dollar bill—all that is left of my fortune. This is to remind me that if I don't make good use of this I don't deserve any more luck. It is make or break with me now! Which will it be?"

The girls were silent for a moment or two after reading this strange message that had come to them in such a queer manner. Then Betty said:

"Girls, what do you make of it?"

"It's a joke!" declared Grace.

"It sounds far from being a joke," spoke Betty, seriously. "Girls, there may be a grim tragedy here."

"How romantic!" sighed Mollie. "What shall we do with the money?"

"We must take it home and consult our folks about it," decided Betty. "I'll ask papa—and you might refer the question to yours, Amy. Being a broker, he's quite likely to know about such things, and can tell us what to do. This is quite a lot of money to lose, I wonder how we can find the owner?"

"Advertise?"

"Maybe there'll be a notice in the post office."

"It can't have been here very long. Perhaps we'll meet whoever it belongs to, coming back to look for it," spoke Grace.

Thus came some opinions, and while various others were rapidly formed and expressed, and as the girls are speculating on how the bill, and the attached paper, came to lie so openly on the highway, I hope I may be permitted to insert here a little descriptive matter that will, perhaps, give the reader a clearer understanding of the characters of this story.

And as Betty Nelson had, by right of more than one informal conquest, reached the position of leader, I can do no better than begin with her.

Betty was about sixteen years old. She was not exactly what one would call "pretty"—that is, at first glance. More likely she would have been spoken of as "good-looking." At least by the boys. And certainly Betty was good to look upon. Her face showed her character. There was a calm thoughtfulness about it that suggested strength of mind, and yet it was not the type of face called "strong." It was purely girlish, and it reflected her bright and vivacious manner perfectly. How her features lighted up when she spoke—or listened—her friends well knew. Her eyes seemed always to be dancing with fun, yet they could look calmly at trouble, too.

And when Betty Nelson looked at trouble that same trouble seemed to melt away—to flee as though it had no right to exist. And this not only as regarded her own troubles, but those of her friends as well. Intensely practical was Betty, yet there was a shade of romance in her character that few suspected. Perhaps the other girls had so often taken their little troubles to Betty, listening to her advice and sympathy, that they forgot she might have some of her own. But, under it all, Betty had a romantic nature, that needed but a certain influence to bring it out.

Full of life and vigor she was always ready to assume the leadership in whatever of fun or work was at hand. Perhaps that is why she was often called "The Little Captain," and certainly she deserved the name. Her father, Charles Nelson, was a wealthy carpet manufacturer, his factory being just outside of Deepdale, and her mother, Rose, was one of the society leaders of the town, though there was no elaborate social system.

A regular "Gibson girl," was Grace Ford, not only in form but in face. There was that well-rounded chin, and the neck on which was poised a head with a wonderful wealth of light hair. The other girls rather envied Grace her hair—especially Mollie, who was a decided brunette. And, as I have said, Grace dressed to advantage. There had been a time when she bemoaned the fact that she was tall—"regular bean-pole" her brother had taunted her with being—and Grace—well, she had slapped him. But this was some years ago. But now, with the newer styles that seem to forbid the existence of hips, and with skirts that so circumscribe the steps that fast walking is impossible, Grace fitted in perfectly. She was artistically tall and slender, which fact none knew better than she herself.

But Grace was not vain. She did pose at times, but it was done naturally and without undue thought. She just could not help it.

Her brother Will made no end of fun about her—even at this date, but Grace had sufficient composure to ignore him now, and only smiled sweetly, remarking:

"You only show how little you know, Billie-boy. Run along now and play ball!"

Then Will, trying to think of some cutting thing to say, would hasten to join his bosom friend Frank Haley, perhaps remarking as they tramped off:

"Hanged if I can understand girls anyhow."

"Why, what's up?"

"Oh, Grace is such a primper. She's got a new dress and some sort of fancy dingus on it doesn't mix in right. She says it makes her look too stout, and she's going to have it changed."

"Hum! I think your sister is a mighty stunning-looking girl."

"I'll tell her you said so."

"If you do I'll rub your nose in the mud!" and then, as they thought, philosophising further on the queerness of girls in general, the boys departed to the ball field.

The father of Grace and Will Ford was a lawyer with more than a local reputation. He was often called on to handle big cases of state-wide interest, and had made a modest fortune in the practice of his profession.

Of Mollie Billette—"Billy" to her chums, I hardly know what to say. Aged fifteen, the daughter of a well-to-do widow, Mrs. Pauline Billette, Mollie seemed older than either Betty or Grace, though she was a year younger. Yet she did not assume anything to herself by reason of this seeming difference in years; and the difference was only seeming.

Perhaps it was that bit of French blood making her so quick-tempered—so vivacious—so mature-appearing—that accounted for it. And it was, very likely, that same French blood that gave her a temper which was not to be admired, and which Mollie tried so hard to conquer. But her friends knew her failing, and readily forgave her. Besides Mollie there were the comical twins—Dora—never called anything but Dodo—and Paul, aged four. They were always getting into mischief, and out again, and were "just too sweet and dear for anything," as Betty put it. Betty, being an only child, rather hungered for brothers and sisters.

And now we come to Amy Stonington. Poor Amy! There was something of a mystery about her. She realized something of it herself when she was old enough to know that she was not in physical characteristics at all like her parents—at least she regarded Mr. and Mrs. John Stonington as her parents. And yet she could not understand why she was not more like them in type, nor why, of late, she had often come upon them talking earnestly together, which talk ceased as soon as she entered the room. In consequence of which Amy was not very happy these days.

Yet the most that she feared was that her parents were mapping out a career for her. She was talented in music, playing the piano with a technique and fire that few girls of her age could equal. More than once, after a simple concert in the High School, at which she played, teachers had urged Mr. and Mrs. Stonington to send her to some well-known teacher, or even abroad to study.

"But if that's what they're planning I just won't go!" said Amy to herself, after one of those queer confidences she had broken up. "I'd die of loneliness if they sent me away."

So much for our four girls.

Dear Deepdale the girls always called it—Dear Deepdale! They always spoke affectionately of their home town, the only residence place any of them had ever really known, for though some of them had lived as children in other places, their years, since they were old enough to appreciate localities, had been spent in Deepdale.

And certainly it was a town of much natural beauty, to which a certain amount of civic pride added, had made for local enjoyment in parks, memorials and statues. Though there were only about fifteen thousand residents, there was a spirit about Deepdale that many a fair-sized city might have envied—a spirit of progress.

Deepdale was situated on the Argono river, which gave a natural advantage, and provided a setting that could not be improved upon. The stream ran around two sides of the place, the waters curling gracefully around a bend which had been laid out in a little pleasure park.

There were some who protested against this "waste" of good and valuable dockage facilities, but the town committeemen, wisely ignoring objections, had, at some cost, acquired the land, and made what was one of the prettiest spots for miles around—a little breathing place on the very edge of the beautiful river.

Nor was the river the only attractive bit of water about Deepdale. The stream emptied into Rainbow Lake, some miles below the town, and Rainbow Lake fully justified its name. It was a favorite scene of canoeing and motor-boat parties, and many summer residences dotted its shores. In summer white tents of campers gleamed beneath the trees on its banks.

Situated in the lake were a number of islands, also camping sites, and much frequented, in summer, by little parties of young people who landed there after a trip on the lake, to rest in the shade of the leafy trees. Triangle Island, so called from its shore outline, was the largest of those that seemed floating on the lake, like green jewels in a setting of silver.

Several steamers of good size plied on the Argono river, one a freight and passenger boat, belonging to a local line going as far as Clammerport at the foot of the lake. Often school society excursions were held, and the boys and girls made merry on the trip.

About Deepdale were several thriving farming communities, for the slightly rolling land was well suited to cultivation. The town, and the outlying farms filled a sort of valley, girt around with hills of sufficient size and height to be called mountains, at least by the local inhabitants who were proud of them.

There were valleys in these mountains, some large and others merely glens, though Shadow valley, one of the most beautiful, was only of medium size. It was a favorite spot for excursionists who wanted a change from the water route, there being a sort of summer resort and picnic ground at one end of this valley.

The other end was not so often visited. It had once formed the estate of a very wealthy man, who built a large mansion there. But, on his death, the property was contested for in the courts by several heirs and for years had been tied up by litigation. So the mansion became deserted.

Of sufficient importance to have a railroad, as well as a steamer line, Deepdale was well provided with transportation facilities.

True, the railway was only a branch one, but it connected with the main road running to New York, and this was enough for the people of Deepdale. The town also boasted of a paper, the Weekly Banner, and there was a good high and grammar school in town, besides numerous stores, and other establishments, including a moving picture theatre—this last rather an innovation.

Our girls—I call them ours, for it is with their fortunes that we shall be chiefly concerned—our girls lived near each other on the outskirts of the town.

Betty and her parents occupied an old-fashioned stone house, that had once been the manor of a farm. But it was old-fashioned outwardly only, for within it was the embodiment of culture and comfort. It set well back from the street, and a lane of elms led from the front porch to the thoroughfare. Back of the house was an old-fashioned garden, likewise well-shaded, and there were the remains of an apple orchard, some of the trees still bearing fruit.

On the other side of the street, and not far off, was the home of Grace—a modern brick house of tasteful design. It had ample grounds about it, though being rather new could not boast of such noble trees as those that added dignity to the old stone house.

Amy Stonington lived in a large, rambling wooden structure, too large for the needs of the family, but artistic nevertheless. It was just around the corner from the residence of Betty, and the yards of the two girls joined—-if you can call the big orchard of Betty's home a "yard."

Mollie's home was near the river, about ten minutes' walk from that of the other three girls. It was a wooden house of a dull red that mingled well in tone with the green grass and the spreading trees that surrounded it.

And now I believe I have mentioned my principal characters, and places, though others will be introduced to you from time to time as our story progresses.

So on this pleasant spring day, for one of the few times, Amy was not brooding on the subject that had given her such uneasiness of late. Nor were the other girls concerned with anything save the finding of the five hundred dollar bill, which absorbed everything else for the time being.

"Who could have lost it?" wondered Mollie.

"There aren't so many persons in Deepdale who can afford to throw away money like this," added Amy.

"It wasn't thrown away—it was lost," declared Betty, "and we must find the owner if we can."

"Especially after such a pathetic message," said Grace. "Poor fellow! His last big bill!"

"What makes you think it was a man?" asked Amy.

"That isn't a girl's writing," insisted Grace.

"Fine! You'll be a detective if you keep on—or should I say detectivess?" asked Mollie, with a laugh.

"I wonder what that note means?" inquired Mollie.

"Why," said Betty, "it seems to indicate that some young man ran through a fortune—or lost it—and had only five hundred dollars left. He was going to try to redeem his standing or wealth with this, and probably wrote this to remind himself not to fail. I used to have a habit of leaving my room untidy, and Daddy suggested once that I write a notice to myself, and pin it where I would see it as I came out each morning. I did, and I cured myself. This young fellow probably tried the same system."

"What makes you think he is young?" Grace wanted to know.

"I'm following your line of reasoning—no elderly man would do anything like this—write such a strange memorandum to himself. I'm sure he is young."

"And—good-looking?" asked Amy, smiling.

"Let us hope so—if we are to return the money to him in person," suggested Mollie.

"Well, the best thing to do is to put that in some secure place, Betty," advised Grace. "Has your father a safe at home?"

"Yes."

"Then let him keep it, and we can put an advertisement in the Banner. 'Found—a sum of money. Owner can have same by proving property, and paying for this advertisement.' How is that?"

"Wouldn't you ask for a reward?" came from Mollie.

"The idea—of course not!"

"But he might give us one," suggested Amy, "without being asked."

Then talking excitedly about the find, and speculating on how it could have come in the road, the girls accompanied Betty to her house. Mrs. Nelson was duly astonished at the news, and agreed with the chums that the best plan was that suggested by Grace. Accordingly, when Mr. Nelson came home, the bill and the queer attached note, were put in his safe. Then an advertisement was telephoned to the paper.

"And now let's talk about our Camping and Tramping Club," proposed Betty, for her three chums had called that evening after supper.

"I spoke to mamma about it," said Mollie, "and she said she thought I could go. But we must stay with friends, or relatives, at night; she won't let me put up at a hotel."

"Of course not!" cried Betty—"none of us will. Now my plan is this: Papa and mamma have a number of relatives living in distant towns, but all in this vicinity. Probably you girls have some also. Now, why couldn't we arrange a tour that would take us on a circuit say of—two hundred miles—"

"Two hundred miles!" came in a horrified chorus.

"Why, yes, that's not much. We can take three weeks to it, and that's only a little over ten miles a day—not counting Sundays, of course. If we can't walk ten miles a day—"

"Oh, that's not so bad," admitted Amy.

"I can easily do that," assented Mollie.

"What about our meals?" asked Grace.

"Can't you carry enough chocolate fudge to do between morning and evening?" asked Amy, with a laugh.

"I've got that part all planned," began Betty. "Or at least I have an idea about it. We can get breakfast and supper at our friends' or relatives' and at noon we can go to restaurants, or to houses along the way. Why, we can even take a little camping outfit with us, and make coffee on the road, carrying sandwiches, too."

"Fine!" cried Amy and Mollie.

"Make chocolate—not coffee," begged Grace.

"Well, chocolate then," assented Betty.

"I have a couple of aunts somewhere out Bessingford way," spoke Amy.

"And mamma has a cousin or two near Millford," went on Grace.

"Now, it's your turn, Mollie," said Betty.

"Oh, I have some wood-pile relations scattered about the country!" exclaimed the French girl, her eyes sparkling. "I guess they would be glad to entertain us."

"And I can fill in the between-spaces with uncles and aunts and cousins, I think," spoke Betty. "Now let's make out a partial list."

It took some little time to do this, but it was finally accomplished.

"Well, shall we decide on it?" asked Betty after a pause. "Shall we form the Deepdale Camping and Tramping Club?"

"I move you, Miss Chairman, that we do!" exclaimed Grace. "The sooner the better."

"Second the motion!" came laughingly from Mollie.

"All in favor—"

"Aye!" came in a joyous chorus, and the little club was thus quickly formed.



CHAPTER III

JEALOUSIES

"What do they find to talk about so often?"

"And so secretly. As soon as any of us other girls come near they begin to speak of the weather—or something like that."

Thus remarked Alice Jallow to Kittie Rossmore a few days after the formation of the Camping and Tramping Club. The question and comments took place in the court of the High School, just before the bell was to ring for the morning session.

"It's all Betty Nelson's doings," declared Alice, who had often tried to make herself more intimate with the quartette of friends, but unsuccessfully. The other girls did not care for these two.

"Yes. Grace, Mollie and Amy will do anything Betty tells them," asserted Kittie.

"I don't see why she is so popular. She hasn't a bit of style about her."

"I should say not! Her skirt is entirely too wide, and her blouse never seems cut right."

"They say her mother doesn't believe in style. But I do," said Alice. "I'd rather have a cheap dress, if it was in style, than something old-fashioned, even if it cost a lot more."

"So would I. Look at them now, with their heads together! I wonder if they're going to have a dance?"

"I don't know. How can we find out?"

"Leave it to me. Jennie Plum is quite friendly with Mollie. I'll get her to ask some questions."

"Do; and then tell me. I'm sure they're getting up some affair."

"I shouldn't wonder. If they'd only ask us—"

"We have a right to be asked!" and Alice flared up.

The warning bell interrupted further conversation, and the girls and boys filed into their classrooms.

As Alice had remarked, there was a good deal of talk going on among the four members of the newly-formed Camping and Tramping Club. Every spare moment the four seemed to have something to say to each other, as one or the other thought of some new point to consider.

Following the hasty formation of the organization, the girls had sent letters to their friends and relatives asking if it would be convenient to entertain them. Some favorable answers had been received, others were delayed. There were no refusals.

"As soon as we know on whom we can depend, we can make up a schedule—'an itinerary'"—Betty had said. "We will know just where we will stop each night, so the folks can send us word, if they have to," she added.

"Why should they have to, unless something happens?" asked Amy.

"Oh, that five hundred dollar bill might be claimed," said Betty. "We'd want to know about that."

"And you haven't heard a word yet?" asked Grace.

"Not a word! I telephoned to the paper, and they said no replies had come in there. If that young man is depending on this money to make his fortune, I'm afraid he'll be broken instead of made, to use his own expression," and Betty sighed.

The warning bell had broken in on their talk, as it had on that of the rival girls. And then began the school day.

It was warm—very warm for that time of year, being early May, and as the members of the new Camping and Tramping Club looked from the open windows, out to where Spring was already forcing into bloom the flowers, and urging the trees to greater activity, as regards the tender green leaves, there came an almost overpowering desire to toss aside books and papers, and get out where the smell of the brown earth mingled with the perfume of growing vegetation.

The teachers, doubtless, found it difficult also, for the call of nature manifested itself to them, and the girls and boys, rather selfishly, did not make it as easy as they might.

The noon recess again brought the four friends together, and Betty showed a tentative program she had surreptitiously scribbled during a study period.

It contained the names of towns, with the available relatives of the girls set down opposite each one, and a rough calculation of the time required to walk from one place to the other.

"It seems as if we ought to start at once," exclaimed Mollie. "Aren't you just dying to go, Amy?"

"I am—yes." There was hesitation in the tones.

"Why, what is the matter?" asked Grace, quickly. "Are you ill, Amy?" for the girl looked pale, and there were dark circles under her eyes.

"No, I'm all right. But papa and mamma don't seem to want me to go—at least they say they rather I would not just at present."

"The idea!"

"After we have it almost all arranged!"

"Why not?"

These comments and the question were fairly shot at Amy.

"I—I don't know," she faltered. "At first they did not seem to mind—but last night—oh, I dare say it will, be all right, girls. Don't mind me," and Amy tried to smile, though it could easily be seen that it cost her an effort.

She did not want to tell that she had overheard her parents discussing something the night before that troubled her—a topic that had been hushed when she unexpectedly came into the room. And that it had to do with the proposed little trip Amy was sure. Yet Mr. and Mrs. Stonington had at first shown much interest in it, and had written to various relatives asking them to entertain the girls.

"Stuck up things!" murmured Alice Jallow, toward the close of the noon recess, when the four chums had kept to one corner of the school court, eating their lunches, and never joining in the activities, or talk, of the other pupils.

"I wonder what they can be planning?" murmured Alice. "If they're getting up a new society, we'll do the same, and we won't ask them to join."

"Indeed we won't," agreed her chum. "That Betty Nelson thinks she can run the school. I'll show her that she can't!"

"And if they knew what I know about Amy Stonington I don't believe they'd be so thick with her."

"What do you mean?"

"It's a secret."

"Oh, tell me, Alice," pleaded Kittie. "You know I won't ever tell—honest!"

"Promise?"

"Promise!"

"Well then—oh, come over here. There's that horrid Sadie Jones trying to hear what we're saying," and the two girls, arm in arm, strolled off to a distant part of the court.

The afternoon session wore on. The day grew warmer, the sky became overcast, and there was the dull muttering of distant thunder. There seemed a tension in the air—as if something was going to snap. Doubtless you have often felt it—a sensation as though pins and needles were pricking you all over. As though you wanted to scream—to cry out—against an uncertain sensation that gripped you.

In the various classrooms the droning voices were heard—of the pupils in recitations, or of the teachers as they patiently explained some point.

The thunder rumbled nearer and nearer. Now and then a vivid flash of lightning split the sombre clouds. At such times the nervous girls would jump in their seats, and there would follow hysterical, though quickly subdued, bursts of laughter from their more stolid mates, or the boys.

The four who were to go on the walking tour together were in the Latin class. Amy was standing up, translating—or trying to translate—a passage from Caesar. She halted and stammered, though usually she got perfect marks in this study.

"Take it a bit slower, Miss Stonington," suggested Miss Greene, the teacher. "That is very good. You should know that word—nequaquam—take your time."

"Nequaquam" said Amy faintly, "not ever—"

There was a titter from Alice Jallow, in which Kittie Rossmore joined. Poor Amy looked distressed. Tears came into her eyes.

There shot across the black heavens a vivid flash of lightning, and a bursting crash so promptly came echoing that nearly every one of the girls started from her desk, and a number screamed, while even the boys were startled.

Then, with a low moan, Amy swayed, and fell backward into the arms of Betty.

"She's fainted!" exclaimed Miss Greene. "Girls, keep quiet! Some one get me a glass of water!"

There was a stir among the boys who occupied one side of the big room, and Frank Haley hastened out.



CHAPTER IV

A TAUNT

With a great crash, a deluge of rain, a wind that swept the spray across the school room, and the rumbling of thunder, punctuated by vivid, hissing flashes of lightning, the storm broke. At once the tension—that of nature as well as that of the nerves of the girls—was relieved. A sound, like a great sigh, was heard in the room. There were one or two faint cries, some laughter, and the members of the class were themselves again. The balance had been restored.

"She will be all right presently," said Miss Greene, quietly, as she helped place Amy on a couch in her own private room. "Close some of the windows, girls, the rain is coming in."

Her firm and cheering words, and her calm manner, aided in the work of restoration that had begun when the nerve-tension was lessened. The girls were themselves again, most of them going quietly to their seats, while Betty and Grace helped Miss Greene restore Amy to consciousness. They had loosed her collar, and some ammonia had been procured from the physics laboratory by Frank, who also brought water.

"I can't imagine what made her faint," whispered Grace. "She never did such a thing before."

"Probably it was the storm," said the teacher. "I have often noticed that just before a severe electrical disturbance I felt 'like flying to pieces,' to put it crudely. Then when the rain came I would get calm again. I remarked that Amy did not seem quite herself while reciting, and perhaps I should have excused her, but I hoped, by letting her fix her attention on the lesson, that the little spell might pass over."

"It was that horrid Alice Jallow giggling at her!" declared Mollie, who had come softly into the room. "I could—" she clenched her hands, and her dark eyes gleamed.

"Mollie," said Betty softly, and the threatened fit of anger passed over.

"She will come to in a moment," remarked Miss Greene, as she saw Amy's eyelids fluttering. "It was just a nervous strain. I have seen it happen before."

"Not with Amy," declared Grace, positively.

"No; but in other girls."

"I do hope Amy isn't going to be ill," said Betty. "We want her to come on the walk with us."

"I have heard of your little club," said the teacher, with a smile. "The idea is a very good one; I hope you have a pleasant time. I think it will do all of you good. I wish more of my girls would take up systematic walking. We would have better recitations, I think."

"Poor Amy!" murmured Grace. "I wonder what could have caused it?" and she looked down at her pale, little chum.

"It was because Alice laughed at her!" declared Mollie, half fiercely.

"I think not," spoke Betty, softly. "Amy has not been quite herself of late. She—"

But she was not destined to finish that sentence, for the girl under discussion opened her eyes, and struggled to sit up.

"You're all right," said Miss Greene, softly. "Lie still, my dear."

"Where am I—what happened? Oh, I remember. Did I faint?" and she asked the question in some alarm.

"You did, my dear; but there was no harm in that," spoke Miss Greene softly, and she laughed in a low voice.

"I—I never did such a thing before. What made me?"

"The storm, Amy. It was the electrical disturbance, I think. My! how it rains!"

A perfect deluge was descending, but it had brought a calm to the waiting earth, and calm to tired girlish nerves as well. Amy sighed, and then sat up. The color came back into her pale face.

"I am all right now," she said, more firmly, and was soon able to walk.

"Stay here a little longer," urged Miss Greene, "Betty, Mollie and Grace may remain with you. I will go out to the other pupils. Some of them may be alarmed."

A crash of thunder almost smothered her words, and the girls started nervously. The three glanced apprehensively at Amy, but she smiled bravely and said:

"Don't worry about me. I'm all right. It was silly of me to go off that way."

The storm raged and tore about the school, and gradually spent its fury. Miss Greene gave up the attempt to have a Latin recitation, and the class was permitted to engage in general conversation.

It was the final period of the day, and soon school was over. Most of the girls remained, however, for few had brought rain coats or umbrellas, there being no hint that morning of the deluge that was to come. Then the rain gradually slackened, and the pupils departed.

"Don't come to school to-morrow, if you don't feel well," urged Miss Greene, as Amy and her chums left.

"Oh, I'll be all right," she brightly answered.

"I wish we were going to start on our tramp to-morrow!" exclaimed Betty as they walked along the damp country road toward their homes, the sweet smell of the newly-watered earth mingling with the scent of grass and flowers. "The country is just lovely now."

"It will still be as lovely next month," said Mollie. "Only two weeks more of school, and then we will be on our way."

"Do you feel all right, Amy?" asked Grace. "Have a—"

"No, she won't have a chocolate, if that's what you're going to say!" spoke Mollie, quickly. "Do you want to make her get worse?"

"I wasn't going to say chocolate—so there!" snapped the usually gentle-mannered Grace. "Don't be so quick, Billy."

"Oh, I beg your pardon," and the French girl showed her contrition. "I forgot you can think of something beside candy."

"I was going to ask her if she wanted my smelling salts," Grace went on, and Amy accepted the little bottle.

There was much talk that afternoon of the coming trip. Some further letters had been received from relatives who would welcome the girls at the various stopping places.

"This about completes our schedule," remarked Betty, as she noted down, on a map she had drawn, the names of some persons and places. "Everything is coming on fine, girls."

"Isn't it nice!" exclaimed Mollie.

"You're sure to come; aren't you, Amy?" asked Grace.

"Yes, of course—that is—" A shadow seemed to pass over her face, and then her pale cheeks became pink. "Oh, I guess you can count on me," she finally declared. "I was just thinking—oh, it doesn't matter. Let's see now, Betty, how many stopping places do you count on?"

"About eight. Of course there may be more, and we may have to stay in one place longer than I figure on, and we might skip some places altogether."

"What about the camp?" asked Mollie.

"I am arranging for that," spoke Grace. "Papa's half-brother lives in Cameron. He and his wife maintain a sort of camp there for those who love the woods and outdoors. Mamma has written, and arrangements will be made for us to have a cabin or bungalow there for a few days."

"Won't it be glorious!" cried Mollie, taking Amy in a waltzing hold and whirling about the room with her, while she hummed a dreamy song.

They were at Betty's house discussing their coming trip, and it was nearly supper time when they dispersed. Grace insisted on accompanying Amy part of the way home.

"I don't want you to faint again and be all by yourself," she said.

"Silly! I shall do nothing of the sort," declared Amy, but Grace had her way.

It was the next afternoon, when Betty and Grace were having a game of tennis on the court that had been laid out back of the High School, that Alice Jallow and Kittie Rossmore came past, arm in arm. They paused for a moment to watch the game, and during a lull Alice remarked:

"When does the tramping club start?"

"As soon as school closes," replied Betty, for the term ended unusually early that year.

"Have you the party all made up?" inquired Kittie, and it was evident that she had a reason for asking.

"Pretty much," answered Betty, wondering what was to follow. "It's your serve," she added to Grace.

"Alice and I are very fond of walking," proceeded Kittie. "We thought if the Camping and Tramping Club was to be a general one—that is, if you wanted more members—we'd like to join."

Betty caught her breath. It was a hard answer to give.

"I'm awfully sorry," she said softly, coming over to where Alice and Kittie stood. "If we had known before we might have arranged it. But our membership is limited to four now."

"You four, I presume," and there was almost a sneer in the voice of Alice as she looked at the four chums.

"Yes, it so happens. You see we are going to stop each night at the houses of friends or relatives, and of course—"

"I see—the accommodations are limited; are they?" and again that sneer was manifest.

"Yes, they are, I'm sorry to say," spoke Betty. "But why don't you girls form another club? You could easily do that, and we could be together all day, if not at night. Why don't you?" she asked, brightly.

"We might," said Alice, cooly. "Come on, Kittie," she added. "I guess we're not wanted here."

"The idea!" cried Mollie. "Betty, I've a good notion to—"

"Hush!" cautioned Betty, placing a hand on the arm of her impetuous chum. "Don't say anything. It will only make matters worse. They are trying to provoke us."

Kittie and Alice walked off, their arms about each other's waist, laughing heartily at something in which they seemed to find a good joke.

"Let us finish the game," suggested Betty quietly to Grace, and they did.

"I don't see how they could be so bold as to ask us," murmured Mollie.

It was one afternoon, a few days before the close of school for the term, which also would mark the start of the outdoor girls on their tramping tour that, as she was packing her books to leave her desk for the day, Betty saw a note fall out of her Latin grammar.

"That's strange," she murmured, half aloud, "I wonder who could have put that there? Who is it from, I wonder?"

"As if you didn't know!" laughed Amy, coming up behind her friend. They were alone in the classroom for the moment.

"Why, what do you mean?" asked Betty blushing slightly.

"I think I saw Will give Grace a note this noon," went on Amy. "Ah, secrets! And doesn't it happen that Will and Allen Washburn are quite chummy? If the initials A.W. aren't on that note, Betty—"

"Of course they're not! The idea! Allen Washburn needn't think—"

"Oh, I know he needn't send notes to you this way, but perhaps Will forgot to deliver it, and Grace just slipped it into your book, intending to tell you of it. Ah, Betty!"

"Silly. It isn't that at all. See, I'll let you read the note."

Hastily Betty unfolded it. There was but a single unsigned sheet of paper, and scrawled on it were these words:

"Before you go camping and tramping ask Amy Stonington who her father and mother are."



CHAPTER V

AMY'S MYSTERY

Betty was quick to comprehend the cruel words, and in an instant she had crumpled the anonymous scrawl in her hand. But she was the fraction of a second too late. Amy had read it.

Betty heard the sound of Amy's sigh, and then the catch in her breath. She turned quickly.

"Amy!" cried Betty. "Did you see it? Oh, my dear! The meanness of it! The awful meanness! Oh, Amy, my dear!" and she put her arms around her trembling companion. "Oh, if I only knew who sent it!"

"I—I can guess!" faltered Amy.

"Who?"

"Alice Jallow."

"The—the cat!"

Betty simply could not help saying it.

"Let—let me see it again," whispered Amy. "I didn't mean to read your note, Betty, but I saw it before I realized it."

"My note? It isn't mine! I wouldn't own to receiving such a scrawl! Oh, Amy, I'm so sorry!"

"Never mind, Betty. I—I've been expecting it."

"You have?"

"Yes. That—that is what has been bothering me of late. You may have noticed—"

"I've noticed that you haven't quite been yourself, Amy, my dear, but I never suspected—and you think Alice sent this?"

"I'm almost sure of it. It has to be known sooner or later. But don't say anything to Alice."

"Why not? The idea! She ought to be exposed—and punished. I'll go to—"

"No, please don't, Betty. It—it is true, and—and there is no use giving her the satisfaction of knowing that she has—has hurt me," faltered Amy.

"Oh, the meanness of it!" murmured Betty. "But, Amy dear, I don't understand. This doesn't at all look like the writing of Alice Jallow."

"I know; she has disguised her scribbling, that's all. But it doesn't matter. I'll never charge her with it."

"Why not?"

"I haven't the heart. Oh, Betty, I'm afraid it's only too true! I really don't know who my father and mother are!"

"Amy!"

"No, I don't. I've suspected a mystery a long while, and now I am sure I am mixed up in one."

"Amy Stonington!" cried Betty. "Do you mean to tell me—look here, let's get to some quiet place. Some one will be coming in here. We can go to Miss Greene's room. She has gone for the day. But perhaps you don't want to tell me, Amy."

"Oh, yes I do. I want to tell all you girls. And then maybe—"

"Amy Stonington!" exclaimed Betty. "If you're going to hint—and I see that you are—that we'd pay any attention to this note, or let it make any difference between us—even if it's true—which I don't believe—let's see—what do I want to say—I'm all confused. Oh, I know. I mean that it shan't make a particle of difference to us—if you never had a father or mother—"

"Oh, of course I had—some time," and Amy smiled through a mist of tears. "Only there's a mystery about them—what became of them."

"Why I thought—all of us thought—that Mr. and Mrs. Stonington were your parents," said the wondering Betty.

"So did I, until lately. Then I began to notice that papa and mamma—as I thought them—were frequently consulting together. They always stopped talking when I came near, but I supposed it might be about some plans they had for sending me away to be educated in music. So I pretended not to notice. Though I did not want to go away from dear Deepdale.

"Their queer consultations increased, and they looked at me so strangely that finally I went to mamma—no, my aunt, as I must call her, and—"

"Your aunt!" exclaimed Betty.

"Yes, that is what Mrs. Stonington is to me; or, rather she was poor dear mamma's aunt. I am going to call her aunt, however, and Mr. Stonington uncle. They wish it."

"Oh, then they have told you?"

"Yes. It was the night before the day that I fainted in school. It was thinking of that, I guess, that unnerved me."

"Why, Amy! A mystery about you?"

"Yes, and one I fear will never be found out. I'll tell you about it."

"Not unless you'd rather, dear," and Betty put her arms about her chum as they sat on the worn sofa in Miss Greene's retiring room.

"I had much rather. I want you and Grace and Mollie to know. Maybe—maybe you can help me," she finished with a bright smile.

"You see it was this way. Of course I don't remember anything about it. All my recollections are centered in Deepdale, and about Mr. and Mrs. Stonington. It is the only home I have ever really known, though I have a dim recollection of having, as a child, been in some other place. But that is like a dream.

"But it seems that when I was a very little girl both my parents lived in a distant city. Then one day there was a terrible storm, the river rose, and there was a flood. This I was told by my uncle and aunt, as I am going to call them. Who my father and mother were I never knew, except from what I have heard, but it seems that Mrs. Stonington was mamma's aunt.

"In the flood our house was washed away, but I, then a small baby, was found floating on a sort of raft tied to a mattress on a bed. I was taken to a farm house, and found pinned to my dress was an envelope."

"Just an envelope?"

"Yes. There might have been a letter in it, but if there was it had been washed out in the flood and rain. But the envelope was addressed to Mrs. Stonington here, and she was telegraphed to. Her husband hurried on, for he knew of the flood and feared for his wife's relatives who lived in that town. He took me back with him, and I have lived with Uncle John and Aunt Sarah ever since."

"But your father and mother, Amy?"

"No one ever knew what became of them. They—they were never found, though a careful search was made. I was the only one left."

"And was there nothing to tell of your past life?"

"There wasn't much to tell, you see—I was so small. There was a sort of diary in the bed with me, but it only gave details of my baby days—probably it was written by my mother—for the handwriting is that of a woman. Aunt Sarah gave it to me the other day. I shall always treasure it."

"And is that all?"

"Well, there was a mention of something—in a vague sort of way—that I was to inherit when I grew up. Whether it was land or money no one can tell. The reference is so veiled. Even Uncle John, and he is a stock and bond broker, you know, says he is puzzled. He has had a search made in Rockford—that's where the flood was—but it came to nothing. And so that is all I know of my past."

"But your aunt must know something of your mother if they were relatives."

"Very little. They saw each other hardly at all, and not for some years before my mother's marriage, Aunt Sarah says. How my parents came to pin the Stoningtons' address on my baby dress they can only guess. And I'll never know. Probably they did it before they were—were drowned."

"Then your name isn't Stonington after all, Amy?"

"Oh, yet it is. The queer part of it is that my mother is said to have married a man of the same name as Uncle John, but no relative, as far as we can learn. So I'm Amy Stonington just the same. My uncle and aunt formally adopted me after they found that there was no hope of locating my parents. And so I've lived in ignorance of the mystery about me until just the other day."

"And then they told you?"

"Yes. It was discussing the advisability of this that caused Uncle John and Aunt Sarah to confer so often. Then they decided that I was getting old enough to be told. They said they would rather it would come to me from themselves than from strangers."

"Oh, then others know of it?"

"Yes, a few persons in town, but they were good enough to keep it quiet for my sake. Among them, so Uncle John told me, were Alice Jallow's people. That is why I think she wrote the note. She must have found out about my secret in some way, and thought to taunt me with it."

"The mean creature!"

"Oh, I don't mind. I was only afraid you girls—"

"Amy Stonington! If you even hint at such a thing again we'll never forgive you! As if we cared! Why, I think it's perfectly wonderful to have such a romance about you. I know the other girls will be crazy about it. Of course, it's sad, too, dear. But maybe some day, you'll find out that your father and mother aren't—aren't gone—at all, and you'll have them again."

"That's what I've been hoping since I knew. But there is very little chance, after all these years. Uncle John told me not to hope. You see, they must have been drowned. The worst is that I can't recall them. They never corresponded with aunt and uncle in years. I don't know what sort of a home I had—or—or whether I had brothers or sisters."

"No, I suppose there isn't much chance of your parents having escaped the flood. And yet I've read—in books—"

"Oh, yes—in books. But this is real life, Betty. And now, dear, I've told you all I know. As I said, it shocked me when I first heard it, but I'm pretty well over it now. Only it did startle me when I read that note over your shoulder."

"I should think it would. When I see Alice—"

"Please don't say anything to her!" pleaded Amy. "Please don't! Let her see that—that it hasn't made a bit of difference."

"I will. A difference? Why, we'll love you all the more Amy,—if that's possible."

"That's good of you. Now shall we—"

"Hark, some one is coming!" exclaimed Betty, tiptoeing to the door, while Amy shrank back on the sofa.



CHAPTER VI

THE LEAKY BOAT

There was a moment of silence, and then the relieved voice of Betty was heard to say:

"Oh, it's Grace. I'm so glad. I thought—"

"What are you doing here?" asked the newcomer. It was evident from her rather mumbled words—which mumbling I have been unable to reproduce in cold type—that Grace was eating candy.

"Have some chocolate?" she went on, holding out a bag.

"Oh, Grace! Chocolate at such a time as this!" rebuked Betty, her mind filled with the story she had just heard.

"Why, what's the matter with the time?"

"Amy is in there," and she motioned to the private room.

"Gracious! Has she fainted again?"

"No; where is Mollie?"

"Coming. There she is. We were looking everywhere for you. Alice Jallow said—"

"The horrid thing!" burst out Betty. "Why, whatever can have happened? You look quite tragic!"

"I am. Come in here!"

Grace advanced, and not even the prospect of hearing what she guessed was going to be some sort of a strange secret could stop her from taking another helping of candy. Betty saw and murmured:

"You are hopeless."

"What's up?" asked Mollie, gliding into the room, her dark hair straying rather rebelliously from beneath her hat.

"Come in," invited Betty, and soon the four were sitting together, while in a sort of dialogue Betty and Amy told the pathetic little story.

"And that's how it stands," finished Betty. "I wanted to do something—or say something—to make Alice Jallow feel—"

"She should be punished—we should all cut her—she ought to be put out of school!" burst out the impulsive Mollie. "I shall go to Miss Greene—"

"You'll do nothing of the sort, Billy!" exclaimed Betty, as she detained the girl, who had already started from the room. "Amy doesn't wish it. Besides, I think Alice will be sorry enough later for what she has done."

"I had rather you wouldn't go to her," spoke Amy, quietly.

"Oh, well, of course—" began Mollie. "I do wish I had better control of myself," she added, rather sadly. "I start to do such rash things—"

"Indeed you do, my dear," spoke Grace. "But we know you don't mean it. Here—help yourself," and she extended the candy bag.

"I couldn't—I don't feel like it. I—I feel all choked up in here!" exclaimed Mollie, placing her hand on her firm, white throat. "I—I want to do something to—to that—cat!" Her eyes filled with tears.

"That's what I called her!" said Betty. "But we mustn't let her know that she has annoyed us. Sometimes I feel real sorry for Alice. She seems rather lonesome."

"I suppose the story will be all over school soon," went on Grace.

"I shan't mind," spoke Amy, softly.

"Well, I'm glad you don't, my dear," remarked Betty. "It's more romantic than anything else—after you get over the sad part of it."

"And I am trying to do that," said Amy, bravely.

Together the four girls came out of the school. Most of the other pupils had gone home, for vacation days were near, and study hours were shortened on account of examinations.

"There she is now," said Mollie, as they turned a corner.

"Who?" questioned Betty.

"That Jallow girl and her familiar—Kittie. Her name is too good for her."

"Don't notice her," suggested Betty, "and don't, for goodness sake, speak to them. We don't want a scene. Perhaps Alice only did it impulsively—and did not really mean it."

If the reputed author of the anonymous letter, and her close friend, hoped for any demonstration on the part of those they had hoped to wound, they were disappointed.

In calm unconsciousness of the twain, the quartette passed on, talking gaily—though it was a bit forced—of their coming trip. And I must do Alice the justice to say that later she was truly sorry for what she had done.

"There's Will!" exclaimed Grace, as she caught sight of her brother. "And Frank Haley is with him. Here, girls, take what's left of these chocolates, or Will won't leave one."

"Does he know you have them?" asked Amy, accepting a few.

"Yes, he saw me buying them. Oh, bother! There comes that Percy Falconer, and he has a new suit. Vanity of vanities!"

The course of Will and his chum, as well as that of the "faultless dresser," as he hoped he appeared, brought them toward the girls. There was no escape, and the little throng walked onward. Betty kept close to Amy, for she knew just how she must feel after the disclosure.

"Ah, good afternoon, ladies!" greeted Percy. "Wonderful weather we're having. My word!"

"Beastly beautiful!" mocked the irrepressible Mollie. "Horribly lovely, isn't it, what?"

"Oh, I say now," began Percy. "I—really—"

"Where'd you get the clothes?" broke in Will.

"They're a London importation."

"London importation, my eye!" exclaimed Frank. "Why, Cohen's Emporium, on Main street, has the same thing in the window marked thirteen ninety-eight—regular fourteen dollars."

"Oh, I say now! Quit your spoofing!"

"Give us some candy, Sis!" begged Will. "Come on, now, I know you've got it!"

"I had it, we have it—they had it—thou hast it—not!" quoted Grace, with a laugh. "Nothing doing this time, little brother of mine."

"And you ate all those chocolates?" This in semi-horrified tones.

"We—not I," corrected his sister.

Percy Falconer, after vainly trying to get in place to walk beside Betty, who frustrated him by keeping Amy close to her, drifted off to find new sartorial worlds to conquer.

The others walked on, the boys joining in the talk and laughter. Amy seemed to have recovered her spirits, and the girls made no reference to the little tragedy which they knew would soon become public property.

"So you are really determined to go off on that walking trip?" asked Will, who had floated back to join Mollie.

"We certainly are. Why, don't you think we can do it?"

"Perhaps. But I think you'll run at the sight of the first tramp—or cow; and as for a storm—good night!"

"Thank you—for nothing!" and Mollie's dark eyes had little of fun in them as they looked into those of Will Ford.

Eventually Will and Frank left them, and the girls continued on until they reached Mollie's house.

"Come in," she invited. "I know they baked to-day, and we'll have a cup of tea and some cake. It will refresh us."

"I ought to be going—home," said Amy, with a little hesitating pause at the word "home."

"Oh, do come in!" begged the French girl.

As they entered the yard the twins, hand in hand and solemn-eyed, came down the walk to meet them.

"Oh, the dears!" gushed Grace.

"Isn't she too sweet," whispered Betty, as she caught up Dodo.

"And in need of soap and water, as usual," commented Mollie, drily. "But Nanette can do nothing with them. They are clean one minute—voila! like little Arabs the next! What would you have?" and she threw herself into a tragic gesture, in imitation of the imported French maid, at which her chums laughed.

"Have you a kiss for me, Paul?" demanded Grace, of the little fellow, when she had replaced his sister on the walk.

"Dot any tandy?" came the diplomatic inquiry.

"Listen to the mercenary little wretch!" cried his older sister. "Paul, ma cherie, where are your manners?"

"Has oo dot any tandy?" came in inflexible accents.

"I might find—just a morsel—if you'd kiss me first," stipulated Grace.

"Tandy fust," was the imperturbable retort. "I like tandy—Dodo like tandy—we bofe like tandy!"

"The sum total of childish happiness!" laughed Betty "Do, Grace, if you have any left, relieve this suspense."

Some candy was forthcoming, and then, with more of it spread on their faces than had entered their chubby mouths, the twins toddled off content.

"Girls, what do you say to a little row on the river?" asked Mollie, when they had been refreshed by cakes and tea. "My boat will hold us all, and we can float down and talk of our coming trip."

"Float down—and—row back," remarked Grace, with emphasis.

"The exercise will do you good. We must get in—training, I believe the proper word is—in training for our hike."

"Hike?" queried Betty.

"Suffragist lingo for walk," explained Mollie. "Come on."

The Argono river ran but a short distance from Mollie's home, and soon the four girls were in an old-fashioned, but safely constructed, barge, half drifting and half rowing down the picturesque stream.

The afternoon sun was waning behind a bank of clouds, screened from the girls by a fringe of trees. And as they floated on they talked at intervals of Amy's secret, and of the coming fun they expected to have.

"Let's get farther out in the middle," suggested Betty, when they came to a wide part of the river. "It's more pleasant there, and the air is fresher. It is very warm."

"Yes, I think we will have another storm," agreed Grace. "If it rains now it isn't so likely to when we start."

She was pulling on one pair of oars and Mollie on a second, the others relieving them occasionally. Soon the boat was in the middle of the stream. They had gone on for perhaps half a mile, when Betty, who was sitting comfortably in the stern, toying with the rudder ropes, uttered an exclamation.

"Oh!" she cried. "My feet are wet! Mollie, the boat is leaking!"

"Leaking?"

"Yes! See, the water is fairly pouring in!"

Mollie made a hasty examination under the bottom boards of her craft.

"Girls!" she cried, in tragic tones, "there's a hole in the boat!"

"Don't say that!" begged Amy, standing up.

"Sit down!" sternly ordered Betty. "There is no danger! Sit down or you'll fall overboard!"

"Oh, but see the water!" cried the nervous Amy. "It is coming in faster!"

And indeed it was.

"It is those twins!" declared Mollie. "I told them not to get in my boat, but they must have, and they've loosened the drain plug so that it came out a moment ago. Quick! See if you can find it!"

There was a frightened search for the plug that fitted in a hole in the bottom of the boat, through which aperture the water could be drained out when the craft was on shore.

"It isn't here!" cried Grace. "Oh, Mollie!"

"Keep quiet! It must be here!" insisted the owner of the boat. "It couldn't get out. Look for it! Find it! Or, if you can't, we'll stuff a handkerchief in the hole!"

Meanwhile the water continued to pour in through the bottom of the boat, setting the boards afloat, and thoroughly wetting the skirts of the girls. And they were now in the centre of the widest part of the river.



CHAPTER VII

TO THE RESCUE

Rapidly the water rose in the boat. It had now set the bottom boards more fully afloat, and the girls in vain tried to raise their feet out of the incoming flood. They stared at the swirling water, fascinated for the moment.

"Girls, we simply must do something!" cried Betty, usually the one to take the initiative.

"Row ashore! Row ashore!" begged Amy. "It's so deep out here."

"It isn't much shallower near shore," remarked Mollie. "What can have become of that plug?" and, pulling in her oars she began feeling about in the bottom of the boat, moving her hand around under the water.

"Maybe the twins took it to make a cat's cradle with," suggested Grace.

"No, it couldn't have been out when we started or the water would have come in at once," said Mollie. "It has come out only a few minutes ago. We simply must find it!"

"Row ashore—row ashore!" insisted Amy.

Betty had swung the boat's head around, but the craft was now badly water-laden, and did not move quickly. The current of the river was carrying them down the stream.

"Oh, girls!" cried Amy, her voice trembling somewhat, "it's getting deeper!"

"It certainly isn't stopping from coming in," murmured Mollie. "Where is that plug!"

Desperately she continued to feel about, while the other girls cast anxious eyes toward the shore, that now seemed so far away.

"And there's not another boat in sight!" exclaimed Betty. "We must call for help!"'

"I have it! I have the plug!" suddenly cried Mollie, pulling on something.

"Ouch! That's my foot—my toe!" cried Grace. "Let go!"

"Oh, dear!" sighed Betty, in disappointed tones.

"I thought I had it!" said Mollie. "Wait until I catch those twins!"

"We—we never may see them again," faltered Amy, whose recent rather tragic experience; had gotten on her nerves.

"Stop that!" commanded Betty, a bit sharply.

"Oh, how fast the water is coming in!" moaned Grace. "I'm going to faint—I know I'm going to faint!"

"Don't you dare!" cried Mollie, quickly. "If you do I'll never speak to you again! There! Take that!" She reached over on the seat beside Grace, caught up a chocolate from a bag and thrust the confection into the tall girl's mouth. "That will keep you from saying such silly things, and also from fainting," remarked Mollie, practically. "Now, girls, since we can't find that plug, we've got to do the next best thing."

"If we could only whittle one!" said Betty.

"If we had a knife we might cut a piece off one of the oars, or the side of the boat," went on Mollie, "but as we haven't—we can't. We must arrange to take knives with us on our tour, though!"

"It's no time to talk about tours now!" moaned Amy. "We—we'll never get ashore."

"Nonsense!" cried Betty. "We've got to. If we can't find a plug, or make one, we'll have to stuff something in the hole. Girls, your handkerchiefs!" She seemed to have a sudden inspiration.

She began rolling hers into a sort of cylindrical shape as she spoke. The other girls saw her idea, and passed over their tiny squares of linen, which Betty rolled with her own.

"That's one of my best ones," sighed Grace, as she parted with hers. "I got it on my birthday."

"It's in a good cause—never mind," remarked Betty, firmly. "And you'll get it back, you know—when we get ashore."

"If we ever get ashore, you mean," spoke Amy.

"Stop it!" commanded the Little Captain, sharply. "Of course we'll get ashore. Now, Billy, where is that hole?"

"Wherever the water seems to be coming in fastest," replied the owner of the boat. "Oh, be quick, Betty. We can't float much longer!"

"Well, we can swim," coolly replied Betty, as she began feeling about for the hole in the bottom of the boat. Meanwhile she looked closely at the surface of the water in the craft, which had now risen until it was close to the under side of the seats. The girls were quite wet. The boat was harder than ever to row.

"That plug ought to be floating somewhere hereabouts," she murmured.

"It's probably caught in a crack, or under one of the seats," said Mollie. "Hurry up, Betty. The hole is right near where you were feeling that time."

"Yes, you can see the water bubbling up," added Amy. "Oh, do hurry, or we'll sink!"

"Well, then we can swim," said Betty, coolly. "It's a good thing we all know how."

"But—in our clothes!" protested Amy.

"Oh, I guess we can do it if we try," went on Betty. "There, I have the handkerchiefs in the hole!" she exclaimed, as she forced the wadded-up linens into the aperture. "Now let's row harder!"

"Oh, but I'm soaked!" sighed Grace. Indeed, they were all in no very comfortable plight.

They succeeded in heading the boat for shore, but they had only rowed a short distance when Grace cried:

"The water is still coming in!"

There was no doubt about it. They all stared at the place where, under water, Betty had thrust in the handkerchiefs. There was a string of small bubbles, showing that the river water was still finding its way into the boat.

"Help! Help! Help!" suddenly called Amy.

"Why—what's the matter?" demanded Betty, in alarm.

"Oh, there's someone on shore, near a boat! It's a man—or a boy! He must come out and rescue us!" said Amy, and there was a trace of tears in her voice.

"What's—the—matter?" came the hail from the one on shore.

"We're—sinking!" called Betty, making a megaphone of her hands. "Come out and save us!"

"All right!" and then the following words were lost as the wind carried them aside. The youth on shore—the girls could now see that he was a youth—began shoving out a boat. He did not seem very adept in the knowledge of rowing, and took quite a little time to get under way.

"Oh, it's that Percy Falconer!" cried Betty. "He'll never get to us! Girls, I guess we'll have to swim for it, after all!"

"Look—there comes someone else!" suddenly cried Amy. "Oh, Grace, it's your brother Will!"

"Thank goodness for that," murmured Betty. "Now we have some chance. If he can only make Percy listen to reason, and put back for him."

"They seem to be having some argument," said Grace. "Oh, if that Percy isn't the—"

She did not finish, for they were all vitally interested in what was taking place on shore. Will and Percy seemed to be having a difference of opinion, and it appeared that Percy wanted to shine as a lone hero in the rescue that must be performed quickly now, if it was to be performed at all.

"Come back with that boat!" Will could be heard to cry. "You don't know how to row!"

"I do so!" retorted Percy, the wind now carrying the words to the girls.

"Come back here!" insisted Will, firmly, "or I'll—"

"We'll be too late!" almost whined Percy. "They said they were sinking!"

"Come back here!" fairly shouted Will. "I can row twice as fast as you, and we'll make better time even if you do put back. Come on, or I'll jump in and swim out to you, and chuck you overboard! Come back!"

This argument proved effective. Possibly Percy was thinking what would happen to his clothes if Will put his threat into execution. At any rate, he swung the big boat around and a few moments later Will and he, the former pulling vigorously on the oars, were on their way to rescue the now thoroughly frightened girls.



CHAPTER VIII

CLOSING DAYS

"Oh, Will, do hurry! My dress will be ruined!"

Thus called Grace, as she frantically waved to her brother to hasten his stroke.

"Huh!" he panted. "Dress! A nice time to think—of dresses—when they're—almost sinking!"

"Are they—do you think they'll sink—and be drowned?" faltered Percy.

"They may sink—they're not very likely to be drowned, though," grunted Will, as he glanced over his shoulder to get his course straight. "They can all swim. Pull on your left more. We'll pass 'em if you don't!"

"Sink! I can't—I can't swim. Oh, dear!" cried Percy.

"I know it. That's why I wanted you to come back and get me. You'd look nice rescuing four girls all alone," said Will. "And you not able to swim a stroke!"

"I could do it," protested Percy, in self-defense.

"Maybe," agreed Will. "Anyhow, it's lucky I happened to come along."

"And it's a good thing I heard them hollering, and got the boat ready," said the well-dressed lad, whose attire was now rather disheveled from the haste of rowing.

"That's right, Percy. I'll give you credit for that."

"Oh, do hurry, boys!" cried Mollie. "We'll be under in another minute."

"Coming!" cried Will. "Pull harder, Percy!"

"I can't!"

"You've got to!" That seemed to be all there was to it. Percy pulled harder.

Only just in time did Will and his companion reach the boat that was on the verge of sinking. And only the skill and good sense of the girls, and the knowledge that they could swim if they happened to fall into the water, enabled the rescue to be made. For it was no easy task to disembark from one craft to the other, especially with one nearly submerged. But, while Will and Percy held the gunwale of their boat close to that of the half-sunken one, the girls carefully crawled out and soon, rather wet, considerably dismayed, but, withal, calmer than might have been expected, the quartette was safe in the larger craft.

"Oh, what a relief!" exclaimed Mollie, wringing some water from the bottom of her skirt.

"But look at my dress—and this is only the second time I've worn it!" cried Grace, in distress. "It will be ruined."

"All it needs is pressing," said Will, disdainfully.

"What do you think this is—a pair of your trousers?" demanded his sister, indignantly. "Pressing! It is ruined!"

"We're all drenched," spoke Amy. "But it doesn't matter as long as we're safe."

"That's the way to look at it!" exclaimed Will. "How did it happen, anyhow?"

"Plug out of the bottom," explained Mollie, sententiously. "The twins!"

"I see! Say, she's going down all right!" This Will remarked as the boat from which the girls had climbed settled lower and lower in the water.

"Oh, can't we save it?" cried Mollie. "My poor boat!"

"I'll use one of the oars as a buoy," said Will. "I'll fasten it to the painter. It will probably drift, but it will run into the eddy at the Point, and we can get it to-morrow."

Quickly he knotted the end of the painter about one of the oars. Then taking the others into the craft that Percy had commandeered for the occasion, the two boys rowed the girls back to the dock at the foot of the slope that led to Mollie's house.

"Come in, girls," she invited. "We can get dry, and Will can go for some decent things for you three."

"I'll go, too!" exclaimed Percy, eagerly. And for once the girls were glad of his services.

Up the walk went the four bedraggled ones. The twins saw them coming, and, grave-eyed and solemn, came down to meet them.

"Oo's wet," remarked Dodo.

"Drefful wet," echoed Paul.

"Yes, you naughty children!" scolded Mollie. "Why did you take the plug—the wooden peg—out of sister's boat? Why did you do it?"

"Dodo do it," remarked Paul, with the ancient privilege of the accusing man. "Dodo want to make a doll."

"Oo helped me," came from the little girl. "Oo helped!"

"But us put it back," asserted Paul.

"Yes, but it came out, and sister and her friends were nearly drowned. You were naughty children—very naughty!"

"Oo dot any tandy?" demanded Dodo, fixing her big eyes on Grace.

"Candy! Good land sakes, no! Candy? The idea!"

"We 'ikes tandy," added Paul.

Then out came Mrs. Billette, startled at the sight of the dripping figures.

"Oh, did you fall in?" she asked, with a tragic gesture.

"No, we fell out," said her daughter, laughing. "It's all right, momsey, but we must get dry. Girls, give Will and Percy your orders."

"Perhaps we had better telephone," suggested Betty.

"Oh, yes!" chorused the others.

Soon the desired garments had been specified, and the boys promised to bring them in suitcases as soon as might be. Then the drenched ones made themselves comfortable in Mollie's home, and, while waiting, talked over the accident.

That it had not resulted more seriously was due to a combination of circumstances.

"For once Percy was really useful," commented Amy, kindly.

"Yes, but we'll never hear the last of it," declared Grace. "He'll think we are his eternal debtors from now on. Oh, here comes Will! I'm so glad."

Soon clothed, and if not exactly in their right minds, at least on the verge of getting there, the four came out to thank the boys, and there was more talk of the occurrence.

"I hope nothing like this happens when we set off on our tour," said Amy. "It won't be so comfortable then to be drenched."

"Don't speak of it, my dear," begged Betty. The little happening—not so little, either, when one considers the possibility—had one good effect. It had raised Amy out of the slough of despond into which she had unwittingly strayed, or been thrust.

I shall pass rapidly over the next few days, for nothing of moment happened. I say nothing of moment, and yet there was, for the story of the mystery concerning Amy's parentage became generally known, as might have been expected.

There were curious glances cast at Amy, and more than one indiscreet girl tried to draw her out about the matter. This made it hard for Amy, and she was so upset about it that Mrs. Stonington kept her home from school for two days.

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