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Title: Madge Morton, Captain of the Merry Maid
Author: Chalmers, Amy D. V.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Madge Morton, Captain of the Merry Maid" ***

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[Frontispiece: Their houseboat vacation had begun.]



Madge Morton,

Captain of the Merry Maid



By

AMY D. V. CHALMERS



Author of Madge Morton's Secret, Madge Morton's Trust, Madge Morton's
Victory.



PHILADELPHIA

HENRY ALTEMUS COMPANY



COPYRIGHT, 1914, BY HOWARD E. ALTEMUS



PRINTED IN THE

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CONTENTS

CHAPTER.

     I.  MADGE MORTON'S PLAN
    II.  CHOOSING A CHAPERON
   III.  THE SEARCH FOR A HOUSEBOAT
    IV.  THE FAIRY'S WAND
     V.  ALL ABOARD
    VI.  PLEASURE BAY
   VII.  THE UNKNOWN JAILER
  VIII.  AN ANXIOUS NIGHT
    IX.  THE GIRL ON THE ISLAND
     X.  AN EXCITING RACE
    XI.  AT THE MERCY OF THE WAVES
   XII.  A BRAVE FIGHT
  XIII.  LIFE OR DEATH?
   XIV.  MADGE COMES INTO HER OWN AGAIN
    XV.  A CALL FOR HELP
   XVI.  THE ATTEMPTED RESCUE
  XVII.  THE CAPTURE
 XVIII.  ON A STRANGE SHORE
   XIX.  FINDING A WAY TO HELP MOLLIE
    XX.  MADGE'S OPPORTUNITY
   XXI.  MOLLIE'S BRAVE FIGHT
  XXII.  THE EVIL GENIUS
 XXIII.  "MOTHER"
  XXIV.  FAREWELL TO THE "MERRY MAID"



List of Illustrations

Their houseboat vacation had begun . . . Frontispiece.

Madge and Tom went gayly down to the boat.

The girls ran down to the water's edge.

"I wish you to come and live with me, Madge."



Madge Morton, Captain of the Merry Maid


CHAPTER I

MADGE MORTON'S PLAN

"I never can bear it!" cried Madge Morton excitedly, throwing herself
down on her bed in one of the dormitories of Miss Tolliver's Select
School for Girls.  "It is not half so bad for Eleanor.  She, at least,
is going to spend her holiday with people she likes.  But for Uncle
William and Aunt Sue to leave for California just as school closes, and
to send me off to a horrid old maid cousin for half my vacation, is
just too awful!  If I weren't nearly seventeen years old, I'd cry my
eyes out."

Madge was alone in her bedroom, which she shared with her cousin,
Eleanor Butler.  The two girls lived on an old estate in Virginia, but
for the two preceding terms they had been attending a college
preparatory school at Harborpoint, not far from the city of Baltimore.

Madge had never known her own parents.  She had been reared by her
Uncle William and Aunt Sue Butler and she dearly loved her old southern
home.  But just when she and Eleanor were planning a thousand pleasures
for their three months' vacation a letter had arrived from Mr. and Mrs.
Butler announcing that they were leaving their estate for six weeks, as
they were compelled to go west on important business.  Eleanor was to
be sent to visit a family of cousins near Charlottesville, Virginia,
and Madge was to stay with a rich old maiden cousin of her father.
Cousin Louisa did not like Madge.  She felt a sense of duty toward her,
and a sense of duty seldom inspires any real affection in return.  So
Madge looked back on the visits she had made to this cousin with a
feeling of horror.  Inspired by her Aunt Sue, Madge had always tried to
be on her best behavior while she was the guest of Cousin Louisa.  But
since propriety was not Madge Morton's strong point she had succeeded
only in being perfectly miserable and in offending her wealthy cousin
by her unconventional ways.

Madge had a letter from this cousin in her hand while she gave herself
up to the luxury of despair.  She had not yet read the letter, but she
knew exactly what it would say.  It would contain a formal invitation
from Cousin Louisa, asking Madge to pay her the necessary visit.  It
would suggest at the same time that Madge mend her ways; and it would
doubtless recall the unfortunate occasion when Mistress Madge had set
fire to the bedclothes by her wicked habit of reading in bed.

It was the study hour at Miss Tolliver's school, and all of the girls
except Madge were hard at work.  Eleanor had slipped across the hall to
the room of their two chums to consult them about a problem in algebra.
Madge at that moment was far too miserable to be approached in regard
to a lesson, though at other times she would have done anything for
Eleanor.

Finally Madge raised herself to a sitting posture.  It struck her as
rather absurd to have collapsed so entirely, simply because she was not
to spend the first part of her summer as she chose.  She knew, too,
that it was high time she fell to preparing her lessons.

With a little shiver she opened Cousin Louisa's letter.  Suddenly her
eyes flashed, the color glowed in her cheeks, and Madge dropped the
note to the floor with a glad cry and ran out of the room.

On the door of her chums' room was a sign, printed in large letters,
which was usually observed by the school girls.  The sign read:
"Studying; No Admittance."  But to-day Madge paid no attention to it.
She flung open the door and rushed in upon her three friends.

"Eleanor, Phyllis, Lillian," she protested, "stop studying this very
minute!"  She seized Eleanor's paper and pencil and closed Lillian
Seldon's ancient history with a bang.  Phyllis Alden had just time to
grasp her own notebook firmly with both hands before she exclaimed:
"Madge Morton, whatever has happened to you?  Have you gone entirely
crazy?"

Madge laughed.  "Almost!" she replied.  "But just listen to me, and you
will be nearly as crazy as I am."

Madge had dark, auburn hair, which was curly and short, like a boy's.
To her deep regret her long braids had been cut off several years
before, when she was recovering from an attack of typhoid fever, and
now her hair was just long enough to tuck into a small knot on top of
her head.  But when Madge was excited, which was a frequent occurrence,
this knot would break loose, and her curls would fly about, like the
hair of one of Raphael's cherubs.  Madge had large, blue eyes, with
long, dark lashes, and a short, straight nose, with just the tiniest
tilt at the end of it.  Although she was not vain, she was secretly
proud of her row of even, white teeth.

Phyllis Alden was the daughter of a physician with a large family, who
lived in Hartford, Connecticut.  Phil was not as pretty as her three
friends, and no one knew it better than Phyllis.  She was small and
dark, with irregular features.  But she had large, black eyes, and a
smile that illuminated her clever face.  Put to the vote, Phyllis Alden
had been declared to be the most popular girl in Miss Tolliver's
school, and Phyllis and Madge were friendly rivals in athletics.

Lillian Seldon was perhaps the prettiest of the four boarding school
chums, if one preferred regular features to vivacity and charm.
Lillian was of Madge's age, a tall, slender, blonde girl, with two long
plaits of sunny, light hair, a fair, delicate skin and blue eyes.  She
was the daughter of a Philadelphia lawyer and an only child.  A number
of her school companions thought her cold and proud, but her chums knew
that when Lillian really cared for any one she was the most loyal
friend in the world.  Eleanor, who was the youngest of the four school
friends, looked like the little, southern girl that she was.  She had
light brown hair and hazel eyes, and charming manners which made
friends for her wherever she went.

The three girls now waited with their eyes fixed inquiringly on the
fourth.  They were not very much excited; they knew Madge only too
well.  She was either in the seventh heaven of bliss, or else in the
depths of despair.  Yet this time it did look as though Madge had more
reason than usual for her excitement.  Eleanor wondered how she could
have changed so quickly from her recent disconsolate mood.

"What has happened to you, Madge?" Lillian inquired.  "Eleanor said you
were upset because you are obliged to spend the first of your vacation
with your hateful Cousin Louisa."

"Hateful?  Did I ever dare to say that my Cousin Louisa was hateful?
She is one of the loveliest women in this world!  Just think!  Cousin
Louisa has written to say that she can't have me, or rather won't have
me, visit her.  She is going to shut up her house, and is going to sail
for Europe.  I know it is just to escape my odious presence."

"Why, Madge, what will you do?" Eleanor asked.  "You've nowhere else to
go."  You know how you hate those awful children at Charlottesville."

"Wait, Eleanor Butler--wait!" Madge cried dramatically.  "You do not
know what has happened, nor why I now truly love and adore the same
Cousin Louisa whom I once thought I disliked.  Just look here."  Madge
waved a small strip of paper in the air.  "Cousin Louisa has sent me a
check for two hundred dollars!  She says I am to spend the money on my
summer vacation in any way I like, provided Aunt Sue and Uncle William
approve."

"But you can't go off traveling by yourself," objected Eleanor.  "I
should think you would hate to spend your summer alone."

"Alone!" Madge answered indignantly.  "Who said I meant to spend my
vacation alone?  I want you three girls to spend the six weeks with me.
Only last night Eleanor and I said that we four girls could never be
really happy anywhere without one another."

"Generous Madge," smiled Lillian affectionately.  "Two hundred dollars
seems quite a fortune.  Perhaps you ought not to spend it all.  Where
can we go, and what can we do?"

"Young ladies," a stern voice spoke just outside the door, "kindly
remember this is the study hour.  You are expected to keep silence."

An unusual stillness fell on the four offenders.  Only Madge's blue
eyes flashed rebelliously.  "It's that tiresome Miss Jones.  You might
know she would be somewhere about.  She is the crossest teacher in this
school."

"Sh-sh, Madge," Eleanor lowered her voice, "Miss Jones might hear you.
She is ill, I am sure.  That is what makes her so cross.  Phil and I
are both sorry for her."

"Oh, you and Phil are sorry for everybody.  That's nothing!  Thank
goodness, there is the bell!  It is the recreation hour.  Come, my
beloved chums, I simply must think of some way to spend our vacation
and I never can think indoors.  'It is the merry month of May,'"
caroled Madge.  "Come, Phil, let us go down to the water and take Nell
and Lillian rowing.  It is a dream of an afternoon, all soft and
sunshiny, and the river folk are calling us, the frogs, and the water
rats----"

"Dear me, Madge," teased Phil, "do hush.  We are glad enough to go
rowing without an invitation from the frogs.  We have two hours before
supper time.  Shall we ask poor Miss Jones to go with us?  She does not
have much fun, and you know it is her duty to make us keep the rules.
Miss Jones admires you very much, Madge.  She said you were clever
enough to do anything you liked, if you would only try.  But she knows
you don't like her."

"Then she knows the truth," returned naughty Madge.  "No, Phil, please
don't ask Miss Jones to come out with us this afternoon, there's a
dear.  I told you I wanted to think.  And I can think brilliantly only
when in the company of my beloved chums."

Phyllis Alden and Madge Morton were good oarsmen.  Indeed, they were
almost as much at home on the water as they were on land.  Each girl
wore a tiny silver oar pinned to her dress.  Only the week before Madge
had won the annual spring rowing contest; for Miss Tolliver made a
special point of athletics in her school, and fortunately the school
grounds ran down to the bank of a small river.

Phil and Madge rowed out into the middle of the river with long,
regular strokes.  They were in their own little, green boat, called the
"Water Witch."  Lillian sat in the stern, trailing her white hands idly
in the water.  Eleanor sat quietly looking out over the fields.

Suddenly Madge, who always did the most unexpected things in the world,
locked her oars across the boat and sat up in her seat with a jerk that
rocked the little craft.

"Girls, I have thought it all out!" she exclaimed.  "I have the most
glorious, the most splendid plan you ever heard of in the world!  Just
wait until you hear it!"

"Madge," Phil called in horror, "do sit down!"  The boat was careening
perilously.  Before Phil could finish her speech Madge had tumbled over
the side of the skiff and disappeared in the water below.

The girls waited for their friend to rise to the surface.  They were
not frightened, for Madge was an expert swimmer.

"I am surprised at Madge," declared Phil severely.  "The idea of
plunging into the water in that fashion, not to mention almost
capsizing our boat!  Why doesn't she come up?"

The second lengthened to a minute.  Still Madge's curly head did not
appear on the surface of the water.  Eleanor's face turned white.
Madge had on her rowing costume, a short skirt and a sailor blouse.
She could easily swim in such a suit.  But perhaps she had been seized
with a cramp, or her head might have struck against a rock at the
bottom of the river!

Lillian and Phil shared Eleanor's anxiety.  "Sit still, girls," said
Phyllis.  "I must dive and see what has happened to Madge.  If you are
quiet, I can dive out of the boat without upsetting it."

Phil slipped out of her sweater.  But Eleanor caught at her skirts from
behind.  "Sit down, Phil.  Here comes that wretched Madge, swimming
toward us from over there.  She purposely stayed under water."

The three friends looked in the direction, indicated by Phyllis.  They
saw Madge moving toward the boat as calmly as though she had been in
her bathing suit and had dived off the skiff for pure pleasure.  She
had been swimming under the water for a little distance and had risen
at a spot at which her friends were not looking.  As she lifted her
head clear of the water a ray of the afternoon sunlight slanted across
her face, touching its mischievous curves, until she looked like a
naughty water-sprite.

In an instant Madge's hands were alongside the boat, and Phil pulled
her into it.  "I am so sorry, girls," she explained, shaking the water.
out of her hair; "but I had such a wonderful idea that it really
knocked me overboard.  I was afraid I would throw you all into the
river, so I jumped.  But don't you want to know my plan?  We are going
to spend the summer on the water!"

"In the water, you mean, don't you?" laughed Phyllis, as she wrapped
her sweater about her friend.  "Madge, will any one ever be able to
guess what you are going to do next?"

"Just listen, girls," Madge went on with shining eyes.  "I have been
determined, ever since I got my letter from Cousin Louisa, that we
girls should do something original for our summer vacation.  And while
I was rowing peacefully along, without meaning to create a disturbance,
it suddenly came to me that the most perfect way to spend a holiday
would be to live out on the water.  First I thought we might just take
the 'Water Witch' and row along the river all summer, sleeping in
hotels and boarding-places at night.  But I know we must have a
chaperon; and meals and things would make it cost too much.  Then it
occurred to me that we could get a boat big enough to live in by day
and sleep in by night--a canal boat, or something----"

"Madge Morton!" cried Phil, clapping both hands, "you are a goose, but
sometimes I think you are a genius as well.  You mean you can rent a
houseboat with your money and we can truly spend our vacation together
out on the water.  I never heard of such a splendid plan in my life."

Madge gave a little shiver, half from the cold and half from happiness.
She was beginning to feel the chill of her wet clothing.

"Eleanor, Phyllis, Lillian," she said impressively.  "I hereby invite
you to spend six weeks of your vacation aboard a houseboat.  Now, the
next thing to be done is to find one."



CHAPTER II

CHOOSING A CHAPERON

Madge Morton walked into the school library with a grave expression on
her usually laughing face.  She had two letters in her hand, which she
intended putting into the school post-bag, that was always kept in the
library.  One of the letters she had written to her uncle and aunt,
explaining her houseboat scheme in the most sensible and matter-of-fact
fashion; for Madge knew that the fate of the four chums depended,
first, on what Mr. and Mrs. Butler thought of their niece's idea.  If
they disapproved, Madge was certain that she could never be happy
again, for there was no other possible way of spending Cousin Louisa's
gift that would give her any pleasure.  Madge's second letter was
directed to a boy cousin, who was at college in Baltimore.  She
explained that she expected to rent a houseboat for the summer, and she
asked her cousin to give her the address of places in Baltimore where
such a boat could be hired.  She wished it to cost the smallest sum of
money possible, for Eleanor had suggested that even houseboat girls
must eat.  Indeed, the water was likely to make them especially hungry.
If all the two hundred dollars went for the houseboat, what were they
to do for food?

Madge's sole fortune was just ten dollars a month, which she used for
her dress allowance.  Her uncle and aunt were not rich, but they were
paying for her education, and Madge knew she was expected to make her
own living as soon as she was old enough.  Mr. and Mrs. Butler had
hoped she would become a teacher, for they held the old-fashioned
southern belief that teaching school was the only avenue open to the
woman who was forced by necessity to make her own living.

Madge, however, had decided, a long time before, that she would much
rather die than teach.  She would do anything but that.  Just at
present her poverty was very inconvenient.  Madge was generous to a
fault, and she would have liked nothing better than to finance royally
their proposed trip.  She vowed mentally to rise to the occasion, even
though the way to do it was not yet clear.

Prudent Eleanor had also asked her whom she meant to invite to act as
their chaperon.  So it was of this chaperon that Madge was thinking
while she was in the act of mailing her letters.

Down in Virginia, on a big place next to her uncle's, was a girl whom
she had decided would make an ideal chaperon.  She was as fond of larks
as was Madge herself.  She could fish, ride, swim and shoot a rifle
when necessary.  Moreover, she was so beautiful and aristocratic that
Madge always called her the "Lady of Quality."  It was true she could
not cook nor wash dishes, nor do anything practical, and she was only
twenty-two.  Still, Madge thought she would be a perfectly delightful
chaperon and was sure the girls would love her.  Madge's red lips
unconsciously formed the letter O, and before she knew what she was
doing she was whistling from sheer pleasure.

"Miss Morton," the cold voice that was unpleasantly familiar to the
girl's ears came from behind a chair, "do you not know that whistling
is against the rules of the school?  You are one of the older girls.
Miss Tolliver depends on you to set the younger pupils a good example.
I fear she is sadly disappointed."

"You mean you are sadly disappointed, Miss Jones," replied Madge
angrily.  "Miss Tolliver has not said she was disappointed in me.  When
she is she will probably tell me herself."

Madge knew she should not speak in this rude fashion to her teacher,
but she was an impetuous, high-spirited girl who could not bear
censure.  Besides, she had a special prejudice against Miss Jones.  She
was particularly homely and there was something awkward and repellant
in her manner.  Worshipping beauty and graciousness, Madge could not
forgive her teacher her lack of both.  Besides, Madge did not entirely
trust Miss Jones.  Still, the girl was sorry she had made her impolite
speech, so she stood quietly waiting for her teacher's reproof, with
her curly head bent low, her eyes mutinous.

She waited an instant.  When she looked up, to her dismay she saw that
the eyes of her despised teacher were full of tears.

"I wonder why you dislike me so, Miss Morton?" Miss Jones inquired
sadly.

Madge could have given her a dozen reasons for her dislike, but she did
not wish to be disagreeable.  "I am dreadfully sorry I was so rude to
you," she murmured.

"Oh, it does not matter.  Nothing matters, I am so unhappy," Miss Jones
replied unexpectedly.  Just why Miss Jones should have chosen Madge
Morton for her confidante at this moment neither ever knew.  Miss Jones
had a number of friends among the other girls in the school; but she
and this clever southern girl had been enemies since Miss Jones had
first taken charge of the English History class and had reproved Madge
for helping one of the younger girls with her lesson.  Miss Jones's
confession had slipped out involuntarily.  Now she put her head down on
the library table and sobbed.

With any other teacher, or with any of the girls, Madge might have
cried in sympathy.  Somehow, she could not cry with Miss Jones.  She
felt nothing save embarrassment.

"What is the matter?" she asked slowly.

Miss Jones shook her head.  "It's nothing.  I am sorry to have given
way to my feelings.  I have had bad news.  My doctor has just written
me that if I don't spend the summer out-of-doors, I am in danger of
consumption."  Miss Jones uttered the dreadful word quite calmly.

Madge gave a low cry of distress.   She thought of the number of times
she had made fun of her teacher's flat chest and stooping shoulders and
of her bad temper.  After all, Eleanor had been right.  Illness had
been the cause of Miss Jones's peculiarities.

"Miss Jones," Madge returned, her sympathies fully enlisted, "you must
not feel so troubled.  I am sure you will soon be all right.  Just
think how strong you will grow with your long summer holiday
out-of-doors.  You must dig in the garden, and ride horseback, and play
tennis," advised Madge enthusiastically, remembering her own happy
summers at "Forest House," the old Butler home in Virginia.

Miss Jones shook her head wistfully as she rose to leave the room.  "I
am afraid I can't have the summer in the country.  I have only a sister
with whom to spend the summer, and she lives in a little flat in the
city.  She has a large family, and I expect to help her.  My parents
are dead."

"Then why don't you go into the country to board somewhere?" flashed
from Madge's lips unexpectedly.  A moment after she was sorry she had
asked the question, for a curious, frightened expression crossed her
teacher's face.

Miss Jones hesitated.  "I have had to use the money I have made by my
teaching for--for other purposes," she explained, in the stiff, cold
manner that seemed so unattractive to gracious, sunshiny Madge.  "I am
sorry to have worried you with my troubles," Miss Jones said again.
"Please forgive me and forget what I have told you.  I shall probably
do very well."

Madge went slowly back to her room in a most unhappy frame of mind.
She knew a way in which Miss Jones would be able to spend her summer
out-of-doors, and perhaps grow well and strong again.  She could be
invited to chaperon the houseboat party.  She knew her friends would
immediately agree to the idea.  They liked Miss Jones far better than
she did.  Even if they had not liked her, sympathy would have inspired
them to extend the invitation.  It was she alone who would hesitate.
Of course, she never expected to be as good as her friends.  So Madge
argued with herself.  It was too dreadful to give up the idea of asking
her adored "Lady of Quality" to act as their guardian angel.  Madge
decided she simply could not make the sacrifice.  Then, too, she did
not even know whether her uncle and aunt would consent to the houseboat
party.  It would be time enough afterward to deliver her last
invitation.

For two days, which seemed intolerably long to impatient Madge Morton,
the four friends waited to hear their fate from Mr. and Mrs. Butler.

On the third morning a letter addressed to Madge in Mrs. Butler's
handwriting was handed to her while she and her chums were at
breakfast.  In her great excitement her hands trembled so that she
could hardly finish her breakfast.  "Here, Eleanor," Madge finally
faltered, as the four girls left the dining room to go upstairs, "you
take the letter and read it to us, please do.  Positively I haven't the
courage to look at it.  I feel almost sure that Aunt Sue will say we
can't go on our houseboat trip."

Lillian put her hand affectionately on Madge's arm, while Phil stood
next to Eleanor.

"My dear Madge," the letter began, "I think your houseboat plan for the
summer a most extraordinary one.  I never heard of young girls
attempting such a holiday before.  I can not imagine how you happened
to unearth such a peculiar idea."

Madge gave a gasp of despair.  She felt that the tone of her Aunt Sue's
letter spelled refusal.  But Eleanor read on: "Like a good many of your
unusual ideas, this houseboat scheme seems, after all, to be rather an
interesting one.  Your uncle and I have talked over your letter and
Eleanor's.  We do not wish you and Eleanor to be separated, and we do
wish you both to have the happiest holiday possible, as we are quite
sure you have earned it.  So, if you can find a suitable chaperon, we
are willing to give our consent to your undertaking.  We had intended
to pay twenty-five dollars a month board for Eleanor with her cousins
at Charlottesville, so we shall be glad to contribute that sum toward
the provisioning of the house-boat."

There was a dead silence in the room when Eleanor at last finished
reading the letter.  For half a minute the four chums were too happy to
speak.  Then there was a united sigh of relief.

"Oh, I shall never be able to survive it!  It is too much joy for one
day!" cried the irrepressible Madge, dancing around in a circle and
dragging Lillian Seldon, whose arm was linked in hers, with her.

Lillian and Phyllis had received their parents' consent, by letter, the
day before and had already agreed that their respective monthly
allowances should be placed in the general fund.

"Be still, Madge," begged Eleanor.  "You are so noisy that you drive
all thought from our heads.  The first thing for us to consider is
where we shall find a chaperon."

"No; the first thing to do is to find the house-boat.  O Ship of our
Dreams! tell us, dear Ship, where we can find you?" cried Phyllis Alden
longingly.  She was looking past her friends with half-closed eyes.
Already she was, in the land of her imagination, in a beautiful white
boat, floating beside an evergreen shore.  The little craft was
furnished all in white, with dainty muslin curtains hung at the tiny
cabin windows.  Flowers encircled the decks and trailed over the sides
into the clear water.  And on the deck of the little boat, lying or
sitting at their ease, she could see herself and her friends.

"Wake up, Phil!  Come back to earth, please," teased Madge, giving her
usually sensible friend a sudden pinch.  "I am going downstairs now to
ask Miss Tolliver if we can go into Baltimore day after to-morrow.  We
must find our houseboat at once.  School is so nearly over Miss
Tolliver will be sure to let us go."

"But the chaperon, Madge," reminded Eleanor.  "We haven't decided on
one, you know."

"I have thought of a chaperon, if you girls are willing to have her,"
said Madge almost hesitatingly.

"Well," cried the other three voices in chorus, "who is it?  Tell us
sometime to-day!"

"Miss Jones!" declared Madge, a note of defiance in her voice.  "I'm
going to invite her now before I have time to change my mind.  I'll
explain later."  Springing from her chair, she ran from the room,
leaving her three friends to stare at each other in silent amazement.



CHAPTER III

THE SEARCH FOR A HOUSEBOAT

"Eleanor Butler, do hurry!" urged Madge two days later.  "If we miss
the train, I feel I shall never forgive you."  The two girls were
preparing for their trip to Baltimore.

"Let me alone, Madge," Eleanor returned.  "If you will stay out of the
room for ten minutes, I promise to be ready.  You've talked so much in
the last half hour that I haven't known what I was doing and I don't
know now.  You had better make another call upon Miss Jones.  She is
even more enthusiastic about your old houseboat scheme than you are."
Eleanor laughed as Madge disappeared in the direction of Miss Jones's
room.

"You must wish with all your heart that we shall find the houseboat
to-day, Miss Jones," declared Madge in her impulsive fashion.  "You
see, everything depends on our not having to waste any time.  The
sooner we find our boat, the sooner we can begin our delightful
vacation."

Miss Jones smiled.  She was beginning to understand the impetuous Madge
better than she had ever dreamed of knowing her, and she was very
grateful for her invitation.  Miss Jones was fairly well aware of how
much it had cost her pupil to ask her.  "Yes, I shall be thinking of
you girls every minute," she declared.  "Let me see.  This is the
twenty-fifth of May.  School will close in another week.  You girls
wish to spend a week at home with your parents and relatives; but just
as early in June as possible we are to go aboard our houseboat.  That
is our plan, isn't it, Madge?"

Madge nodded.  Then, as she heard Phil and Lillian calling her, she
waved a hasty farewell and darted from the room.

Madge had received a letter from the boy cousin who was at school in
Baltimore.  He had given her several addresses in Baltimore where there
was just a bare chance that she might find a ready-to-use houseboat.
He assured her, however, that houseboats were usually made to order,
and that she might find some difficulty in securing what she wished,
and must, therefore, not become easily discouraged.

Just before noon the four young women arrived in Baltimore on their
quest for a house-boat.  Lillian and Eleanor demanded their luncheon at
once, but Phil and Madge protested against eating luncheon so early.
"You can't be hungry already," argued Madge.  "As for me, I shall never
be able to eat until we find our boat."

For two hours the girls tramped about the boat yards in search of their
treasure.  They saw canoes and motor boats of every size and kind, and
models of private yachts, but not a trace of a houseboat could they
find.  The representatives of the various boat companies whom they
interviewed suggested the building of a houseboat at a cost of anywhere
from six hundred to a thousand dollars.

Lillian and Eleanor were the first to complain of being tired.  Then
Phil, who was usually the sweetest-tempered of the four girls, began to
show signs of irritability.  Madge, however, undaunted and determined,
would not think of giving up the search.

"Just one more place, girls," she begged; "then we can rest and have
our luncheon somewhere.  This is a very large ship-building yard we are
going to.  I am sure we can find our boat there."

Half an hour later the four chums turned wearily away from another
fruitless quest.  They were now in a part of Baltimore which none of
them had ever seen before.  A few blocks farther down the street they
could see the line of the water and the masts of several sailing
vessels that were lying near the shore.

"I tell you, Madge Morton," declared Phyllis Alden firmly, "whether or
not we ever find a houseboat, there is one thing certain: I positively
must have something to eat.  I am half starved.  What good would
finding the boat do me if I were to die of hunger before I have even
seen it?"

"Please don't be cross, Phil," soothed Madge.  "I am sure we are all as
hungry as you are.  I am awfully sorry.  We ought to have eaten
luncheon before we came here.  There isn't a restaurant in sight."

"I am sure I saw the sign of a funny little restaurant as we came by
the corner," broke in Lillian.  "It did look queer, but I suppose it
would not be any harm for us to go in there."

"We don't care if it does look queer," declared Phyllis stoutly.

Turning, the girls retraced their steps to the corner.

Outside the swinging door of the small restaurant they hesitated.  "I
don't think we ought to go in there," argued Eleanor, "it is such a
dreadfully rough-looking place."

It was indeed a very common eating house, where the men who worked on
the wharves, the fishermen and sailors, were in the habit of getting
their meals.  The one dirty window showed half a dozen live crabs
crawling about inside among the pieces of sea-weed.  A row of old pies
formed the background.

A moment later they had marched bravely up to the door.  Dainty Eleanor
shuddered as they crossed the threshold, and even Phil and Madge
hesitated as a man's coarse laugh greeted them once they were fairly
inside the restaurant room.

"Come on, children," said Madge, with a pretence of bravery she was far
from feeling.  "We are going into this restaurant to get something to
eat.  Don't look as if you thought you were going to be eaten.  It is
rather horrid, but perhaps they will let us have some bread and milk."

The quartette seated themselves at the first table they saw vacant.
Just across from it were a number of men with rough, hard faces.  They
were evidently sailors from the nearby boats.  The girls kept their
eyes on the table, and Madge gave their order for tea and sandwiches in
a low tone to the German boy who came forward to wait on them.

When the boy had departed with their order a silence settled upon the
little group of girls.  In each girl's mind was the thought that it had
been unwise to enter the restaurant.  By this time they had come to a
realization of the fact that they were the only women in the room.

"We ought never to have come here," whispered Lillian, clutching
Madge's arm.

"Nonsense," returned Madge bravely, "we have as much right here as any
of these men."

"But I'd rather not stay," persisted Lillian.

"Didn't you say you were hungry?" asked Madge pointedly.

"Ye-es," hesitated Lillian, "but I just can't stay here."

"Nor I," chimed in Eleanor.

Madge looked appealingly at Phyllis, who shook her brown head
deprecatingly.  "I don't believe we ought to stay here, Madge."

"You, too, Phil!" exclaimed Madge impatiently.  "All right, Misses
'Fraid Cats,' we'll go.  Here comes our luncheon, too."

The girls glanced quickly at the rosy-faced lad who came up at that
moment with their order on a tray.

"I'm so hungry," sighed Phil.  "Perhaps we'd better----"

"So glad you've changed your mind," commented Madge rather satirically.
"But what about you, Lillian and Eleanor?"

"Let's stay this once, but next time we'll be more careful where we
lunch," smiled Eleanor.

"I take back all I said about 'Fraid Cats,'" laughed Madge.  "We'll
hurry through our luncheon and leave here the moment we finish.  After
all, as long as we are to become seasoned mariners we shall have to
learn to accustom ourselves to the vicissitudes of a sailor's life."

"But we can't be 'seasoned mariners' until we find our houseboat,"
reminded Lillian.  "It doesn't look as though we'd find it to-day,
either."

"We must," was Madge's emphatic response.  "Here we have been worrying
like mad about this restaurant not being a proper place in which to eat
our luncheon, while the really important question of where we are to
find our boat hasn't troubled us.  We must go out of here saying, 'We
shall find it, we shall find it,' and then I believe we can't help but
run across it."  Madge's blue eyes were alight with purpose and
enthusiasm.

"Good for you, Madge," laughed Phil.  "Come on, girls.  Let us finish
our tea and renew our search."

It was half-past three in the afternoon when they left the little
restaurant.  The four girls were to spend the night in Baltimore with a
friend of Miss Tolliver's, who kept a boarding-place.  As they were in
the habit of staying with Miss Rice when they came into Baltimore to do
their shopping, Miss Tolliver had, for once, after many instructions,
permitted the girls to go into town without a chaperon.

"Miss Rice said we did not have to be at her house until half-past five
o'clock," Phil volunteered, "so what shall we do?"

"There is a little park down there near the water," Lillian pointed
ahead.  "Suppose we sit down there for a few minutes until we decide
where to go next?"

It was a balmy, sunshiny May day.  While the girls rested on the park
benches they could see, far off, a line of ships sailing up the bay and
also the larger freight steamers.  They were near one of the quiet
canals that formed an inlet from the great Chesapeake Bay.  Lining the
banks of the canal were numbers of coal barges and canal boats.

On the deck of a canal boat a girl came out with a bundle of clothes in
her arms.  She was singing in a high, sweet voice as she hung them on a
line strung across the deck of the boat.

The girls watched her silently as she flitted back and forth, and she
sang on, unconscious of her audience.  She was singing a boat song
which the men chant as they row home at the close of day.  The pathos
in the woman's voice was so exquisite, its notes so true, that Madge's
blue eyes filled with tears.  None of the four friends stirred until
the song was over, and the girl in her faded calico dress and bare feet
had disappeared into the cabin of the boat.

"We call those boats shanty boats down in Virginia," Eleanor said; "I
suppose because the little cabin on the deck of the canal boat looks so
like a shanty."

"People live on those shanty boats," announced Madge.

"Yes, we have noticed it, my dear girl," Phil responded dryly.  But
there was a question in her eyes as she looked at Madge.

"Shanty boats do not look exactly like house-boats," went on Madge
speculatively.

"I should say not," returned Phil.  "There is considerable difference."

"But they might be made to look more like them.  Don't you believe so?"

Phil nodded.

"They are awfully dirty," was dainty Lillian's sole comment.

"Soap and water, child, is a sure cure for dirt," replied Madge, still
in a brown study.  Then she sprang to tier feet and almost ran out of
the little park, nearly to the edge of the canal.  Her friends followed
her.  There was no doubt that Madge had an idea.

"Girls!" exclaimed Madge fervently, pointing toward one of the shanty
boats, "first look there; then shut your eyes.  With your eyes open you
see only an ugly canal boat; with them closed, can't you see our
houseboat?"

"Not very well," replied Lillian without enthusiasm.

"Well, I can," asserted Madge with emphasis.

Then her quick eyes wandered toward a man who was coming slowly up the
path along the canal.

"Please," she asked breathlessly, stepping directly in front of him,
"do you know whether any of the people along here would be willing to
rent me a canal boat?"

The man stared in amazement at this strange request.  "Can't say as I
knows of any one," he answered, "but I kin find out fer ye.  It may be
some of the water folks goes inland for the summer.  If they does,
they'd like as not rent you their boat."

"Then I will come down here to-morrow at nine o'clock to find out,"
arranged Madge.  "Please be sure to be here."

"What did I tell you!" exulted Madge as they left the little park a few
minutes later and made their way to the street car.  "I am going to
draw a plan to-night to show how easy it will be to turn one of these
old canal boats into our beautiful 'Ship of Dreams.'  By this time next
week we'll know something about the 'vicissitudes' of a sailor's life
or my name is not Madge Morton."



CHAPTER IV

THE FAIRY'S WAND

"You are a direct gift of Providence, Jack Bolling," declared Madge the
next morning, shaking hands with her cousin, in the parlor of Miss
Rice's boarding house.  "How did you happen to turn up here?"

"Well, I unexpectedly had a day off from college," explained Jack.  "So
I just telephoned to Miss Tolliver to ask whether I might come to see
you, like the well-behaved cousin I am.  She replied that you were in
town and that I might come to see you.  So here I am!  What luck have
you had?"

"None at all at the old places you recommended," Madge returned
scornfully and in a most ungrateful fashion.

"Oh, I knew a girl couldn't find the right sort of boat without a
fellow to help her," Jack teased, knowing Madge's aversion to the idea
that a girl couldn't do anything she liked, unless with the help of a
boy.

"Just you come along with us, Jack, and we will show you what we have
found," invited Madge.  "I think the girls are ready.  We are.  Here
come Eleanor and Lillian.  Miss Lillian Seldon, I wish to present my
cousin, Mr. Jack Bolling.  Where is Phil?"

While Lillian, looking unusually lovely in her gown of pale lavender
organdie, with a cream-colored hat covered with violets, was shaking
hands with Jack, Phyllis Alden came down the hall with a slight frown
on her face.

Hadn't she and Madge vowed within themselves and to each other never to
ask a man's help in anything they planned to do?  And here was Madge
introducing her cousin into their plan the very first chance she had.
But in this Phil was mistaken.

Madge had made no explanations to Jack, and her cousin asked her no
questions as the party started on their walk.  When they came to the
line of canal boats that the girls had seen the afternoon before a halt
was made.

"There is our houseboat!" cried Madge, waving her hand toward the half
dozen disreputable looking canal boats huddled close together.

"Where?" asked Jack in amazement.

"Oh, I don't know just exactly where," returned Madge with twinkling
eyes.  "Everyone look here, please."  She took two large squares of
white paper out of her bag.  "You see, it is this way, Jack: We found
that to rent a houseboat takes such a lot of money that we decided
yesterday, to try to turn one of these old canal boats into a
houseboat, and I have drawn the plans of what I think ought to be done."

Madge, who had a decided talent for drawing, had sat up late into the
night to make her two sketches.  One pictured the shanty boat as it
was, dingy and dirty, with a broken-down cabin of two rooms at the
stern.  In the second drawing Madge's fairy wand, which was her gift of
imagination, had quite transformed the ugly boat.  The deck of the
canal boat was about forty feet long, with a twelve-foot beam.  To the
two rooms, which the ordinary shanty boat contains, she had added
another two, forming an oblong cabin, with four windows on each side
and a flat roof.  The flat roof formed the second deck of the
prospective houseboat.  It had a small railing around it, and a pair of
steps that led up from the outside to the upper deck.  Madge had
decorated her fairy ship with garlands of flowers that hung far over
the sides of the deck.

Jack Bolling looked at the drawing a long time without saying a word.

"Don't you think it can be done, Jack?" inquired Madge eagerly.  "You
see, this old boat could be cleaned and painted, and any good carpenter
could put up the extra rooms."

"Right you are, Madge," Jack answered at last, making a low bow.  "Hats
off to the ladies, as usual.  Who is that queer-looking customer coming
this way?"

"He is the man who is to see about our canal boat," answered Phil, as
though they were already in possession.

Madge had gone forward.  "Have you found the boat for us?" she
inquired.  "I simply can't wait to find out."

The man grinned.  "There is one towed alongside of mine that you might
be able to git.  I had a hard time finding it."

"That is all right," declared Jack, stepping forward, "you will be paid
for your work.  Will you please take us out to look at the boat?"

"Got to cross my shanty to git to it," the man replied, leading the way
across a rickety gang-plank.

There were three or four dirty children playing on the deck of his boat
and a thin, yellow dog.  At the open door of the shanty kitchen stood
the figure of a girl.  She had on the faded calico dress of the day
before; she was barefooted and her hair was ragged and unkempt.  But as
Jack Bolling and the four girls glanced idly at her a start of surprise
ran through each one of these.  Jack stopped for an instant, and
instinctively took off his hat.  Phil Alden whispered in Madge's ear,
"I never saw any one so beautiful in my life," and Madge mutely agreed.

The girl was smiling a wistful, far-away smile that was very touching.
Her hair was the color of copper that has been burnished by the sun,
and her eyes were the deep blue of the midsummer sky.  The wind and sun
had tanned the girl's cheeks, but her skin was still fine and delicate.
There was a strange, vacant expression in her eyes and a pathetic droop
to her whole figure.

"Git you back in there, Moll," the owner of the shanty boat called out
roughly.  The girl started and quivered, as though she expected a blow.
Jack's face turned hot with anger.  But what could he do?  The man was
talking to his own daughter.

"Why did you speak to the poor girl like that?" asked Madge sharply.

"She ain't all right in the top story," the man answered.  "She is kind
of foolish.  I have to keep a close watch on her."

Madge turned pitying eyes on the demented girl, then as they stepped
aboard the other canal boat, for the time she forgot the lovely
apparition she had just seen.

"How much will the owner rent this boat for?" Madge asked at last,
trying hard to conceal her enthusiasm.  The boat was dirty and needed
renovating, but it was well built of good, strong timbers.

"My friend is willing to sell this here boat for a hundred dollars,"
said the fisherman, Mike Muldoon, hesitating as he mentioned the sum.

It was all Madge could do to keep from clapping her hands for joy.  One
hundred dollars for the boat--that left another hundred for painting
and remodeling and for other necessary expenses.

Just as Madge was about to close with the man's offer a look from Jack
Bolling interrupted her.

"The boat is not worth a hundred dollars," he declared decisively.
"The young lady will give you fifty dollars for it, and not a cent
more."

The man laughed contemptuously.  "I can't do it," he said.  "That boat
is cheap at a hundred dollars."

"At fifty, you mean," retorted Jack stubbornly.

The girls stood back quietly and allowed Jack to drive the bargain,
which he did with so much spirit that the coveted boat was at last made
over to him at his price, fifty dollars.

For the rest of the day the four girls spent their time interviewing
carpenters and painters.  At last they found a man who promised to
deliver the boat, rebuilt according to Madge's idea, at a little town
several miles farther down the bay.  The man owned a motor boat.  He
was to take the houseboat to a landing, where the girls could load it
with the necessary supplies, and then to tow them farther down the bay,
until they found the ideal place for their summer holiday.

"I declare, Madge, dear, I was never so tired, nor so happy in my
life," declared Eleanor Butler late that afternoon, as the quartette
were on their way back to their school at Harborpoint.  "I can see our
houseboat, now, as plainly as anything.  At first, Lillian and I
couldn't quite believe in your idea."

Madge had heard Eleanor's comments but vaguely.  She was doing a sum in
mental arithmetic.  "Fifty dollars for the old shanty boat,
seventy-five for remodeling it, fifteen to the man for towing."  Here
she became confused.  But she still knew there was quite a large sum of
money left for buying the little furniture they needed and their store
of provisions.

Phyllis Alden, too, had been busy calculating.  "I think we can do it,
Madge," she said, leaning over from the back seat to speak to her
friend.

"Of course we can.  We shall have whole lots of money," announced Madge
triumphantly.

Phil shook her head.  "I am afraid we won't.  There is one thing we
must buy that will be expensive."

Lillian straightened up.  She had been leaning against the back of the
seat, utterly worn out.  The three girls gazed at Phil in
consternation.  What was this new item of expense that threatened to
eat up their little capital?

"Don't keep us in suspense, Phil," laughed Eleanor.  "What have we
forgotten to buy?"

"A kitchen stove!" cried Phil dramatically.  "And I know they must be
awfully expensive."

"What a goose you are, Phil," said Lillian in a practical tone.  "We
don't want a kitchen stove.  It would take up too much room.  We need
an oil stove or something like that."

"Then I appoint you as a special committee to look into the stove
question, Lillian," laughed Madge.

"I accept the appointment," bowed Lillian, "and I won't waste our
capital on kitchen ranges of elephantine proportions, either."

During the next five days the four friends found plenty to occupy their
time.  Then Miss Tolliver's school closed, and Phil Alden hurried home
to her family in Hartford, Connecticut; Lillian returned to her home in
Philadelphia, while Madge and Eleanor departed to spend a week with Mr.
and Mrs. Butler in their old home in Virginia.  Miss Jones, however,
remained at the school.  She made one hurried trip into Baltimore, and
on another occasion had a visitor, but the rest of the time she sewed
industriously; for on June the eighth a new experience was to be
hers--she was to begin her duties as chaperon to four adventurous girls
aboard their longed-for "Ship of Dreams."



CHAPTER V

ALL ABOARD

Blue waves lapped idly against the sides of a little, white palace that
had risen out of the waves of the bay overnight.  One side lay close
along a quiet shore.  Overhead the leaves of a willow tree stirred in
the wind, and the birds twittered in its branches.  The rosy flush was
just fading out of the sky.  Dawn had come only a short time before,
and the wind, the waves and the birds were the only things stirring so
early in the morning.  There was not a sound or a movement aboard the
odd vessel that was moored to the shore.

Along the shore sped the slender figure of a girl.  It was a part of
the morning.  Her blue frock was the color of the sky and her auburn
hair had been touched by the sun, and on her radiant face lay the glory
of youth.

Of course, it was Madge!  She did not stop when she first spied her
houseboat between the branches of the willow tree.  She gave a little
gasp, and ran on faster than ever.  A moment later she came alongside
her boat, which was only about three feet from the shore.  Madge had
not practised running and jumping in the gymnasium at school and on the
old farm in Virginia for nothing.  She gave one flying leap and landed
on the deck of her houseboat.  Then she stood perfectly still, a little
song of gratitude welling from the depth of her happy heart.

"Perhaps it was not fair in me to have run away from Eleanor," she
mused.  "But then Nellie is such a sleepy-head, she never would have
wished to get up so early.  And I did want to see the boat alone, just
for a moment.  I am not going to look into the cabin, though.  I am
going to wait for the other girls----"

A stone went whizzing by Madge's ear at this moment, causing her
soliloquy to come to an abrupt end.

She glanced toward the shore.  A small boy stood grinning at her, with
his hands tucked into a pair of trousers so much too long for him they
had to be turned up from the ankles to the knees.

"Hello," he remarked cheerfully, eyeing Madge owlishly.

"Hello yourself," returned Madge.  "Do you usually begin the day by
throwing stones at peaceful strangers?"

"Yes'm," the small boy responded calmly.  "Where'd you and that come
from?"

"I came from my home in Virginia, and if by 'that' you mean my boat, it
is a 'Ship of Dreams' and was towed up here from Baltimore yesterday
afternoon.  What do you think of it?"

"She isn't a dream, she's a peach," was the prompt retort.

"I'm glad you like her," smiled Madge in a winning fashion that caused
the lad to smile in return.  "Why are you up so early in the morning?"

"Driving home the cows," was the laconic answer.

"I don't see any cows," teased Madge.  "Wait a minute.  I have
something for you to do.  Would you like to earn a quarter?  If you
would, then come back here about nine o'clock.  We are going to load
our boat with some furniture and provisions, and we would like to have
you help us."

"All right, I'll be here," promised the boy, and ran off into the
bushes with a derisive grin which Madge did not see.

A few moments later Madge went back to Eleanor to have breakfast at the
little boarding house where she and her cousin had spent the night.
Miss Jones, Lillian and Phil had not yet arrived, but they were
expected by the early train that came from Baltimore.  The little
village from which they intended to go aboard their houseboat was only
about half an hour's ride from the city, and was situated on one of the
quiet inlets of the bay.

Fifteen minutes before the train was due Eleanor and Madge were
impatiently waiting at the station.  The newcomers were so surrounded
by bags, suit cases and mysterious packages that it took all the men
about the depot to land them safely on the platform.  Madge gave the
order to the expressman to bring all their luggage to the houseboat
landing near the willow tree.  Then the party started out to find the
boat, without losing a minute by the way.

Madge slipped her arm through that of Miss Jones and walked beside her
dutifully, though she secretly longed to be with her chums.  Lillian,
Phil and Eleanor joined hands and ran ahead, without being in the least
degree affected by the idea that they were no longer children.  Madge,
however, was the only one who knew the way.  She hurried Miss Jones
along until that young woman was almost out of breath.  When they were
within a short distance of the place where she had found her boat
waiting for her in the early morning, she could bear it no longer.
With a murmured excuse she broke away from Miss Jones and started on a
run toward the willow tree.  Her three chums were close behind her.
The branches of the willow tree seemed more impenetrable in the bright
sunlight.  It was not so easy to see through them.  Madge ran straight
past the tree, then uttered a shrill cry.  She stopped short, her
cheeks turning first red, then white.

"What is it?" cried Phil, springing to her friend's side.

Madge pointed dumbly toward the water.

"Tell us!" said Eleanor, running up to Madge and lightly grasping her
arm.

"Our houseboat is gone!" gasped Madge.  "It was right there, tied to
that very post along the shore early this morning!  The man who brought
it down from Baltimore left a note for me describing the landing place.
He said he had to go back to Baltimore, but that he would come here
this afternoon to tow us.  Now the boat has gone!  O, girls, what shall
we do?"

The girls stared at the water in silence.  Disappointment rendered them
speechless for the moment.  "Let us look up and down the shore,"
suggested Phil comfortingly.  "I suppose it is just barely possible
that the rope broke away from the stake, and the boat has floated off
somewhere."

The four girls ran up and down the bank, straining their eyes in
anxious glances out over the wide stretch of water.  There was no
houseboat in sight.  It had vanished as completely as though it had
really been a "Ship of Dreams."

"Perhaps you have made a mistake in the place, Madge," was the
chaperon's first remark as she joined the excited party.

Madge compressed her red lips.  Miss Jones was so provoking.  She was
utterly without tact.  But now that she was to be one of the party it
would be wrong to say a single impolite thing to their chaperon the
whole six weeks of their holiday, no matter how provoking or tactless
she might he.  Madge sighed impatiently, then turned to the teacher.

"No, I am not mistaken, Miss Jones.  I can't be.  You see, I came to
this very spot this morning and went aboard our boat.  Then I have the
man's description of the landing place.  I think we had better go back
to the village and see if we can get some men who know the shore along
here to come to help us look out for our boat.  There is no use in
having our furniture brought here if we haven't any houseboat,"
finished Madge, her voice trembling.

"Come along, then; I will go back with you," volunteered Phil.  "Miss
Jones, you sit under the tree.  Lillian, you and Nellie keep a sharp
look-out.  If any one comes along in a boat, ask him about ours."

"Do you think our boat has gone forever, Phil?" asked Madge dejectedly
as the two companions walked wearily back over the road they had
traveled so gayly a short time before.

"I don't know," replied Phil.  "I should say it depended entirely upon
who had taken the trouble to spirit it away."

While the two girls stood gazing moodily out over the bay a hard, green
apple landed with a thump on top of Madge's uncovered head.  Madge and
Phil looked up simultaneously.  There in a gnarled old apple tree
directly above them appeared the grinning face of the small boy whose
acquaintance Madge had made earlier in the morning.

"Lost your boat, ain't you?" he asked cheerfully.

Madge nodded and walked on.  She was not anxious to renew conversation
with the mischievous youngster.

Phil, however, was seized with an inspiration.  "Have you been about
this place very long?" she inquired casually.

"Yep," the boy returned.

"Then, perhaps, you know what has become of our boat," suggested Phil.

"Yep," answered the voice from the tree, "I know all about it."

"Then tell us this minute what has become of it!" ordered Madge.  "I
knew the moment I saw you that you were the very imp of mischief.  Tell
us where our boat is at once."

"I won't tell," the urchin spoke firmly.

"You shall," declared Madge, her eyes flashing.

"I'd like to see you make me tell," dared the boy.  "A girl can't climb
a tree."  The grin on his impish face widened.

"I'll show you that a girl _can_ climb a tree, young man," exclaimed
Madge hotly, making her way toward the tree.  "I have climbed a good
many more trees than you have ever climbed in your life."

"Listen to me, Madge," admonished Phil, laughing at her friend, "you
can't have a fight with a small boy in the top of a tree or shake him
out of it.  Don't allow him to tease you.  Let's go on into the village
and get a policeman.  Then, if the boy really knows anything about the
disappearance of our houseboat, the policeman will make him tell us."
Phil tried to make her voice sound as threatening as possible when she
mentioned the word "policeman."

"I won't be here when you git back," was the imp's cheerful response.

Madge and Phil paid no further heed to him.  They went on toward the
town.  A few yards farther on they heard the patter of bare feet.
"Can't you wait a minute?" a voice pleaded.  "I was only teasing you.
If you promise you won't give me away, I'll tell you what became of
your old boat.  My pa took it."

"Your pa?" cried Madge in surprise.  "What do you mean?"

"When I told Pa I'd seen a new-fangled kind of a boat hitched to our
post, where we most generally ties up our own boat, he said you hadn't
no right to be there.  So he just hitched up our mule and he come down
here and untied your boat and dragged it up shore.  I run after him
until I got too tired.  Then I come back here to tell you," ended the
boy.

"Where is your father?" Phil asked quietly.  Madge's eyes were flashing
dangerously, her temper was rising.

"He's cutting hay," the boy returned.  "I'll show you the field and
then I'll run."

Lillian and Eleanor had now joined the two girls to find out what was
delaying them.  Miss Jones still waited, disconsolate, under the willow
tree.  The four girls started out behind the one small boy, who
answered to the name of Bill Jenkins, Jr.  It was evident that Bill
Jenkins, Sr., was the name of the boat-thief.

"What shall we say and do when we find the man?" asked Eleanor
anxiously.  "I suppose we had no right to tie our boat up at his
landing place without asking permission."

Madge shook her head angrily.  "Right or no right, I shall certainly
tell him my opinion of him," she said tensely.

"You must not make the man angry, Madge," argued gentle Eleanor, who
knew Madge's fiery, temper and stood in awe of it.  "Perhaps, when he
sees we are girls, he will be sorry he took our boat away and will
bring it back for us."

"Let us go and see him at once," was Madge's sole response.

After all, it was Eleanor's gentleness that won the day!  She told the
farmer, whom they found in the hay field, the whole story of the
houseboat, and how they hoped to spend their holiday aboard it.

"I declare, I'm real sorry I moved your houseboat," he apologized.  "If
I'd 'a' known the pretty toy boat belonged to a parcel of young girls
like you, I'd never have laid hands on it.  You kin stay along my shore
all summer if you like.  But no one asked my permission to tie the boat
to my post.  And soon as I seen it, I just thought the boat belonged to
some rich society folks who thought they owned the airth.  I hid the
boat up the bay a piece.  But don't you fret.  I'll go git it and tote
it back in no time."

"I am so sorry," explained Madge prettily, ashamed of her bad temper
and how near she had come to displaying it.  "I thought, of course, the
engineer who towed our boat out here from Baltimore had asked your
permission before he made a landing.  I suppose he was in such a hurry
to get back to the city that he neglected it."

While the girls and their chaperon waited for the return of their
houseboat they ate an early luncheon out of the hampers that Phil and
Lillian had brought from their homes to provision the travelers for the
day.

The houseboat finally did appear, much as the girls had pictured her.
She was painted white, with a line of green showing just above the
water.  The four rooms in the cabin, which was set well toward the
stern, opened into each other, and each room had a small door and
window facing on the deck.  The two bedrooms had six berths set along
the walls.  One room was intended for the kitchen and the fourth, which
was the largest, was to serve as the dining room, sitting room, work
and play room for the houseboat party on rainy days, when it was
impossible for them to be out on deck.

While the men were unloading the barrels and boxes on the boat the
girls ran in and out the doors of their cabin rooms like the figures in
a pantomime, bumping into each other and stumbling over things.  Miss
Jones at last sent Eleanor and Lillian to the kitchen to drive nails
along the wall and to hang up their limited display of kitchen
utensils, while Phil and Madge helped with the unpacking.  There was
one steamer chair, bought in honor of the chaperon, and a great many
sofa cushions, borrowed from their rooms at school, to be used as deck
furniture.  A barrel of apples, a barrel of potatoes and two Virginia
hams were donations from the farm in Virginia.  Mrs. Seldon, Lillian's
mother, had also sent a store of pickles and preserves.

Phil, too, had brought a big box from home, while Madge's own purchases
for the houseboat included a small table, five chairs, besides the
necessary china and some of the bedding.  The rest of the outfit the
girls managed to secure from their own homes.

Miss Jones, Phil and Madge were industriously turning the berths into
beds when a sharp scream from Lillian, who was working in the kitchen,
filled them with terror.  Miss Jones arrived first at the kitchen door,
with her heart in her mouth.  Had some horrible disaster overtaken
them, just as they were about to start on their adventures?  There
stood the two girls, Lillian and Eleanor, their faces, instead of
showing fright, apparently shining with delight.  The men who had been
setting up the little stove, which they had bought for a trifling sum
after all, had disappeared.  The girls were now in full possession of
their domain.

"What is it, children?  What has happened?" implored Miss Jones, with a
white, scared face.  Lillian pointed ahead of her, but only the kitchen
stove was to be seen.  Madge and Phil, who had followed close behind
their chaperon, were equally mystified.

But hark!  What was the noise they heard all at once?  A gentle
crackling, a roar, a burst of flame, and a puff of smoke up through the
long stove pipe!  The pipe went through a hole cut in the side of the
wall.  "A fire, a fire!" exclaimed Lillian joyously, wondering why the
others looked so startled.

There was really a fire burning in the stove of the houseboat kitchen!
And as a fire is a first sign to the pioneer that he is at last at
home, so the little company felt themselves to be the original girl
pioneers in houseboat adventures, and felt the same thrill of peace and
pleasure.

Madge seized the shining new tea-kettle and filled it with water from
the big bucket that rested on a shelf just outside the kitchen door.

  "Madge, put the kettle on,
   Madge, put the kettle on,
     We'll all take tea,"

She sang in a sweet, high, rapturous voice.

Toot, toot, toot!  a motor boat whistle sounded out on the water.  The
four girls rushed on deck to call a greeting to the engineer who was to
tow their houseboat down the bay, until it found an anchorage in a cove
in the bay near a stream of clear water.

Four weary but happy girls sat out on deck on cushions as the engineer
made fast to their boat preparatory to starting.  The chaperon was
installed in the solitary grandeur of their one steamer chair.

There was a heavy tug at the great rope that bound the houseboat to the
little motor tug.  The motor boat moved out into the bay, and with
almost no perceptible motion and no noise, except the gentle ripple of
the water purling against the sides of the craft, the houseboat
followed it.  The longed-for vacation on the water had begun.



CHAPTER VI

PLEASURE BAY

Just before twilight the boat reached a spot that seemed especially
created for the travelers.  For two hours they had been silently
drinking in the beauty of the sun-lit bay and the green earth.  They
were not in the main body of the great Chesapeake Bay, but in one of
the long arms of the bay that reaches into the Maryland coast.

"Look ahead of you, girls, to the left," called Phyllis Alden, as they
glided slowly along.

Miss Jones and the three girls looked.  There, in a curve of the land,
was a low bank, with great clusters of purple iris growing along it,
among the slender, long, green stems of the "cat-tails."  An elm tree
stood close to the edge of the water, spreading its branches out over
the miniature sea.  It was so strong, so big and enduring that it gave
the home-seeking girls a sense of protection.  The elm's branches could
shelter them from the sun by day, and at night their boat could be tied
to its trunk.  Farther up the bank the girls could see a comfortable
old, gray, shingled farmhouse.  The farm meant water, fresh eggs, milk
and butter.

Madge looked inquiringly at their chaperon, who nodded with an
expression of entire satisfaction.  Next, Madge glanced about the
semi-circle of eager faces.  "Shall we cast our anchor in Pleasure
Bay?" she asked, and thus the pleasant little inland sea was named.

Madge signaled to the motor boat ahead, and the engineer stopped.  He
had several passengers on board his motor boat, but the men had been
inside the saloon most of the time, and no one on board the houseboat
had noticed them.

Before the houseboat anchored Madge and Phil ran up the hill to ask at
the farmhouse for the privilege of making a landing.  They had learned
a lesson they were not likely to forget.

Too tired to begin work, the girls ate their supper out of the luncheon
baskets, then sat about on deck, singing and talking until the stars
came out and twinkled down on their little houseboat with a million
friendly eyes; then, urged by their chaperon and their own heavy eyes,
they crept into their berths.

It was still night when Madge awakened with a start.  She thought she
heard some one talking.  "To whit! to whoo!"  It was only the call of a
friendly owl.  Yet the night seemed curiously lonely.  It was strange
to be asleep on the water instead of on the land!  There was another
weird sound, then something stirred outside on the deck of the boat.
From her cabin window Madge could see the line of the shore.  It was
quiet and empty.

This time she heard the sound of a voice.  Another voice answered it.
Could it be possible that the second voice sounded like that of Miss
Jones!  What could have happened?  Without pausing to put on her shoes
Madge slipped into the next room.  Eleanor lay breathing quietly in the
upper berth and Miss Jones seemed to be asleep in the lower one.  But
the cover was drawn up almost to where her ears should be and Madge
could not see her face.

She crept over to the chaperon's berth.  It was necessary to waken Miss
Jones and tell her of the mysterious sounds.  She slipped her hand
along the pillow in the dark.  There was no response.  She groped
deeper under the covers.  Still no movement or sound.  Miss Jones was
not in her berth.  She was out on deck, talking to some one.  Madge
returned to her room.  She did not intend to call the other girls until
she knew what was the trouble.  Phyllis was always brave and so were
Lillian and Eleanor, but in this instance they could do nothing.

The girl stole softly to the cabin window and peeped out.  She could
just catch the outline of two figures that were standing well up toward
the bow of the boat.  One was a woman's figure, with a shawl thrown
over her head, but Madge was sure that she recognized the chaperon.
Hurrying back to her berth she slipped on her steamer coat and
slippers.  She was trying every moment to fight down the distrust and
dislike she had felt toward Miss Jones ever since their first
acquaintance.  She was trying to tell herself that she had invited
their teacher to act as their chaperon from other motives, as well as
from sympathy.  But the finger of suspicion seemed to point plainly
toward the teacher.

Madge walked quietly, and without any fear or hesitation, out on the
deck of the houseboat, straight toward the two shrouded figures in the
bow.  Neither of them heard her coming, but she heard Miss Jones's
distressed plea: "Won't you go away, and never come here again.  I tell
you, I can not do it.  I simply can't----"

"Miss Jones," Madge's voice, clear and cold, sounded almost in her
chaperon's ear.

The young woman turned so white that Madge could see her pallor in the
moonlight.

The figure with her was shrouded in a long, black coat which was pulled
up about its face.  At the first sound of Madge's voice it made for the
extreme end of the boat.  With a quick turn, Madge ran after the
escaping form.  As it poised itself for a leap toward the shore, Madge
caught at the cloak and dragged it away from the face, and for a brief
instant she saw the face of a boy a little older perhaps than she was.
It was a wild and elfish face, while a pair of ears, ending almost in
points, stuck up through the masses of thick, curly hair that covered
his head.  But before she could get a distinct impression of his face
the young man was gone, racing up the low embankment with great leaps,
like a hunted deer.

Madge turned to their chaperon, waiting for the latter to offer some
explanation.  Miss Jones said nothing, but regarded Madge with
distressed eyes.

"Who was your visitor?  I did not know that any one knew we were
anchored here.  We did not know, ourselves, that we were to land here
until we spied the place.  Was that boy a stranger to you?  Why didn't
you call one of us if he frightened you?"  Madge's tone was distinctly
unfriendly.

Miss Jones only shook her head.  Big tears were rolling down her
cheeks.  She was trembling so that Madge, much against her will, took
her by the arm and assisted her across the deck.

"I can tell you nothing, Madge," was the teacher's husky reply.  "I am
perfectly aware that you have a right to know.  Still, I simply can't
tell you.  But I can go away, if you like, and I will, as soon as you
can get some one else to chaperon you.  Only I must ask you not to tell
the other girls what has happened to-night, or why I must leave you.
You see, dear," Miss Jones ended wistfully, "the other girls are fond
of me.  You never have been.  I can not bear to lose their faith and
trust."

There was a significant silence after this remark.

"Did you really see who it was with me?" Miss Jones questioned
anxiously.  "Would you know the face if you saw it again?"

"I don't know," was Madge's stiff reply, "but I believe I should."

"Won't you promise me that you will not tell the other girls?" Miss
Jones whispered, as they crossed the deck and came to the door of their
little cabin.  "I am not asking you to do anything wrong, only asking
you to trust me and believe that I do not think I am doing a wrong by
not taking you into my confidence."

"Very well, I will keep your secret," returned Madge slowly.  "I do not
wish you to leave us, Miss Jones.  I wish you to stay and take care of
us, just as you planned to do."

"You are only saying that, dear, because you know I have no other place
to go for my holiday, and you are afraid my health will suffer.  You
must not think of my health.  I can not stay with you just for my own
sake."

"Then stay for ours," said Madge shortly, and without further words she
went into the cabin and climbed into her berth.

Sleep was far from weighing down her eyelids.  She lay awake for some
time, wondering why clouds and distrust should so often spring up among
human beings when everything seemed arranged for their perfect
happiness.

She generously made up her mind, however, never to trouble their
chaperon with questions about her mysterious visitor, but she
determined to discover for herself who that boy was, and whether he had
come aboard the boat to rob them.



CHAPTER VII

THEIR UNKNOWN JAILER

"Madge Morton, what do you mean sleeping until seven o'clock, the first
morning we are on our houseboat?" cried Phil, poking her head in the
cabin door.  "I would have awakened you before now, only Miss Jones
would not let me.  Lillian and Eleanor have been waiting for you in
their bathing suits for a long while.  Do let's have a salt water
plunge before breakfast."

Springing from her berth, Madge made a dash for her bathing suit, which
she had laid out the night before.

The girls were over the side of the boat in a hurry, swimming about in
the water with gleeful shouts.  The odor of frying bacon, which was
presently wafted to their nostrils from the door of the houseboat
kitchen, was something the bathers were too hungry to resist, and with
one accord, they swam toward their boat.

It had been arranged that Miss Jones was to get the breakfast, Lillian
and Eleanor the luncheon, and Phil and Madge, who were the most
ambitious of the cooks, though not the most proficient, were to cook
the dinner.

Madge noticed that Miss Jones looked whiter than usual, but the other
girls saw no difference in their chaperon as they clambered up over the
side of the boat to get ready for breakfast.

"Girls," Miss Jones remarked, as she put down a big plate of corn
muffins before her hungry charges, "Phil accused me once of being
mysterious and never talking about myself.  Well, I am going to make a
confession about myself at once."

Madge raised her eyes in surprise.  After all, was Miss Jones going to
tell of last night's adventure?  But the chaperon was not looking at
her.  She was smiling at Phil, Lillian and Eleanor.

"Well, out with it, Miss Jones," laughed Phil.  "What is the
confession?"

"It is a foolish one, perhaps.  I hate the name of 'Jones.'  I have
despised it all my life.  There, that is my confession.  Won't you
girls please call me something else while we are having our holiday
together?  I know Madge can find a name for me."  She looked rather
timidly at Madge.

The girl blushed, though she felt vastly relieved at Miss Jones's
confession.  "What do you wish us to call you?  I saw your initials in
some of your books, 'J. A. Jones,' so we might call you Jenny Ann
Jones, because, when Nellie and I were children, we used to play an old
nursery game: 'We're going to see Miss Jenny Ann Jones, Miss Jenny Ann
Jones, and how is she to-day?'"  Madge's explanation ended with a song.

Miss Jones laughed.  "My name is worse than Jenny Ann, it is Jemima
Ann."

"It isn't pretty," agreed Phyllis, with a shake of the head.  "Girls,
what shall we call our chaperon?  And we have never named our
houseboat, either.  We have a day's work ahead of us.  We must think of
names for both of them."

"Wouldn't 'Miss Ann' do?" Eleanor asked.

"I think Ann is such a pretty name."

"I would rather you had a more individual name for me.  I have often
been called Ann."

"You might be the 'Queen of our Ship of Dreams,'" laughed Lillian.

"That sounds altogether too high and mighty," objected Phyllis.  "We
ought to have something nice and chummy."

"We might call you 'Gem,' because it is short for Jemima, and in honor
of these corn muffins, which we call 'gems' in our part of the world,"
added Phil.  "We'll think of a name yet.  Come on, girls, we must get
to work; there is so much to be done.  Lillian, you and I must go up to
the farmhouse to get some supplies this morning.  Suppose we take a
long walk this afternoon and explore the woods back of us?"

"We will think of the prettiest name we can for you and another for our
houseboat," declared Lillian as the four girls rose from the table to
go about their various tasks; "then we shall make our report to-night."

It was nearly four o'clock in the afternoon when the four churns
started on their walk.  Miss Jones did not go with them.  She was tired
and wished to sit out on the deck of the boat in the sunshine.

"Be back before dark, children," she called out gayly as the girls
climbed up the little embankment.  "Remember, you don't know your way
in this country, as you do at old Harborpoint.  I shall be uneasy about
you if you aren't back on time."

There were several scattered farmhouses at the top of the hill that
sloped down to the cove of the bay, but back of the farmlands lay a
long stretch of forest.  The ground was covered with a carpet of wild
flowers and a few late violets.

Once the chums were fairly in the heart of the woods they did not meet
another traveler.  They seemed to have the forest to themselves.  They
had no thought of danger in the quiet woods, and Madge and Eleanor, who
had been brought up in the country, were careful to watch the paths
they followed.

They had been in the woods for an hour or more when Lillian, who was
stooping over a clump of big, purple violets, thought she heard a
peculiar sound resembling light footsteps, Whether there was a human
being or an animal near them she could not tell.  The footsteps would
run rapidly and then stop abruptly.

"Phil," called Lillian, "I thought I heard something.  Did you?  Listen
once more.  There, did you hear that?"

Phil listened.  "Not a sound, Airy Fairy Lillian.  It must have been
your fancy."

But Lillian was not convinced.  Several times she believed she heard
the noise again.  However, she did not mention it.

As the girls came out of the woods to a little clearing Phil, who was
in the lead, ran forward.  "Madge, Eleanor," she called, "come here,
quick!  I am sure this must be a regular, old-time log cabin."

Before them the girls saw an old cabin that looked as though it had
been empty for a quarter of a century.  It was strongly built of logs,
and the chinks between the logs were filled with mud that had hardened
like plaster.  There were no windows in the cabin, except in the eaves.
The heavy door was half open, but it had an old-fashioned wooden latch
on the outside.

"The old cabin looks rather creepy, doesn't it, Madge?" asked Eleanor.
"It is built more securely than our cabins farther down south, too.
This place seems more like a prison."

"It looks interesting.  Let's go in to see it." Phil suggested.

The cabin stood in front of a stream of clear water.  Close around it
grew a number of dark old cedar trees.

Phil and Madge shoved open the heavy door.  Inside, the one large room
looked gray and dark, as the only light came from the two small windows
so far overhead.

"I would rather not go in, Madge," protested Eleanor, hesitating on the
threshold after Lillian had followed the other two girls inside.

"Don't be a baby, Eleanor," scolded Madge.  "There is nothing to hurt
you."

Once inside the old house, Eleanor was as much interested as her chums.
There was no furniture in the place, but a few faded pictures were
tacked up on the walls, and the corners of the room were thick with
mysterious and inviting shadows.

As they clustered in a group under an old magazine picture of a darkey
with a fiddle in his hand there was an unexpected sound just outside
the door, and the big room grew suddenly darker.

The four girls turned simultaneously.

The heavy door through which they had entered the cabin, and which was
the only entrance, had been shut fast.  At the same instant there was
the sound of a heavy, sliding bolt, then the rush of flying feet.

For the moment no one of the girls realized the seriousness of what had
happened.

"Some one must have locked us in for a joke," declared Phil stoutly.

Madge ran to the door and shook it with all her strength.  It was built
of heavy logs, and, though the girls could see the daylight through the
cracks between the timbers, the door showed no sign of opening.

"Don't work so hard, Madge," remonstrated Phil.  "Whoever shut us in
will come back in a moment to unfasten the bolt."

The girls waited a long time.  No one returned.

"Perhaps the person who closed the door did not know there was any one
in the cabin," suggested Eleanor faintly.

"But we were all talking, Nellie.  No one but a deaf person could have
failed to hear us," Lillian insisted.

Eleanor realized the truth of the words.

"Don't be frightened, Nellie," begged Madge remorsefully.  "Let's all
push against the door at the same time.  I am sure we shall be able to
break the bolt.  One, two, three!  Now--all together!"

The four girls shoved with all their might, until their arms ached and
their faces perspired from the exertion.  Still the old door resisted
them.  Perhaps Eleanor was right and the log house had been built as a
prison.

"I think we had better call for help," was Phil's practical suggestion.
"If we all scream together, we ought to make considerable noise.  I am
afraid Miss Jones may become worried about us before any one comes to
let us out."

The girls called and called, until their voices were hoarse, but no one
answered them.  Each girl remembered that she had not met a single
person in her journey through the woods.

Then the prisoners made a trip around the big room, poking and peering
about to see if there were any other possible method of escape.

"If I could only get up to one of those windows, I could easily break
the bars and try to jump out of it," speculated Madge aloud.  "But,
alas, I am not a monkey!  I can't climb straight up the side of a wall."

"You shall not try it, either," retorted Eleanor determinedly.  "You
would break your neck if you tried to jump from one of those high
windows.  Thank goodness, you can't climb up to them!"

"You were the wise one, Nell, and we wouldn't listen to you."  Madge
eyed Eleanor mournfully.  She had an overwhelming desire to burst into
tears.

"Don't take it so to heart, Madge," comforted her cousin.  "Some one is
sure to come this way finally, if we only call long enough."

But the afternoon shadows lengthened and no one came.  Gradually the
twilight fell, enveloping the big, bare room in hazy darkness.  The
prisoners huddled together with white and weary faces.  They thought of
their cosy houseboat with the little lamps lit in the dining room, and
the big lantern hanging in the bow, and of Miss Jones, who by this time
was no doubt anxiously waiting and watching for their return.

It was perhaps eight o'clock, although to the girls it seemed midnight,
when Lillian whispered:

"Girls, I hear some one coming this way.  Phil was right; it was a
joke, after all.  Whoever locked the door has come back to unlock it."

The girls smiled hopefully.  After all, their experience did not amount
to anything.  They would be back inside the houseboat in another hour.

The footsteps now sounded plainly just outside the cabin door.

"Won't you please unbar the door for us?" called Phil and Madge in
chorus.  "Some one has locked us inside."

An elfish laugh answered them.  Or was it the wind?  Perhaps they had
heard no one after all.  They strained their ears but heard no further
sound.  Then the last bit of twilight vanished and night came down in
reality.



CHAPTER VIII

AN ANXIOUS NIGHT

Huddled together in the darkness, Phil and Madge endeavored to relieve
the strain of the situation by talking, but the very sound of their
voices dismayed them and they became silent.  Finally Eleanor, who had
been leaning against Madge's shoulder, laid her head in her cousin's
lap and went to sleep.  A little later Lillian, after receiving Madge's
assurance that she and Phil intended to keep watch, went to sleep also.

"Madge," Phil's voice trembled a little, "what do you suppose poor Miss
Jones will think?  She won't have the least idea in which direction to
look for us.  Goodness knows how long we may have to stay here.  We may
never get out."  Her voice sank to a whisper.

"Why, Phil," Madge feigned a hopefulness which she did not feel, "I am
surprised at you.  You haven't given up hope.  It is just the darkness
and being hungry that makes things appear so dreadful.  I have been
thinking about our plight, and when daylight comes I am going to try to
climb up the wall to the window.  The mud has broken away between some
of the logs, so that I can get my foot in the opening.  We shall have
to dig it away in other places too."

"But what can we dig with, Madge?  We haven't a knife."

"With our fingers and hairpins, if we must, Phil.  Sh-sh, Nellie is
waking.  I want her to sleep on till daylight."

Toward morning, however, the two girls' eyes closed wearily.  In spite
of their resolve to keep awake, the gray dawn creeping in at the
windows found them fast asleep.  It was Phil who first opened her eyes.
She touched Madge, who sat up with a start, then springing to her feet
exclaimed, "I'm so glad it's morning.  Now for my great circus stunt."

"You can't possibly climb up there without hurting yourself, Madge.
You will surely fall," expostulated Eleanor.  "Please, please don't try
it."

"Please don't discourage me, Nellie.  It is the only way I know to get
out of this dreadful place.  Phil, if you will try to brace me, I can
climb up and dig in the mud farther up."

Eleanor was feeling down in her pocket.  Suddenly she gave a little cry
of surprise.  "O, girls!  I have something that may help.  Here is a
little pair of scissors.  You can dig with them, Madge."

The girls hailed the scissors with exclamations of joy.  They were very
small embroidery scissors, but they were better than nothing.

Lillian, who was bent on a foraging expedition around the room, came
back a moment later with a few big, rusty nails and an old brick she
had picked up out of the tumbled down fireplace.  "If you can hammer
these nails in the wall, Madge, you will have something to hold on to
as you climb."

For two hours Madge alternately dug and climbed.  In each hole that she
made between the big logs she would set her foot, then hammer a nail
above her head and dig a new opening.  At last she actually did climb
up the side of the wall, but her hands were scratched and bleeding, and
her hair and face were covered with mud.  She had taken off her dress
skirt, too, as she could climb better in her petticoat.

The three girls below held their breath when she came to the final
stretch, and let go the last rickety nail to fling herself on to the
window sill.

"Eureka, girls!" she called down cheerfully, when she got her breath.
She was holding tightly to the window frame with both hands and
endeavoring to make her voice sound gay, though she was nearly worn out
with the fatigue of her dangerous climb.  "Now I shall surely find a
way out for us.  Please don't be frightened, Nellie, darling, if I have
to jump.  It is not so bad."  She gave a little inward shudder as she
looked through the tiny window frame.  She could easily wrench the
broken bars away.  That was not the trouble.  But the window was so
small and the sill so narrow that Madge realized she could not get into
the proper position for a forward spring.  However, she had made up her
mind; she might break her leg, or her arm, but she would open that
barred door if she died in doing it.

With determined hands she wrenched at one of the window bars.  It gave
way.  She seized hold of another, clinging to the sill with her other
hand, her feet in their insecure resting places.

"It's all right, chilluns," she smiled, as she swung herself up to the
window, "I'm going to jump."

Eleanor had closed her eyes.  Phil and Lillian watched their friend,
sick with apprehension.

Madge gave one look down at the ground, at least fourteen feet below
her.  Then she uttered a quick, sharp cry, and dropped back to her
resting place, her feet, almost by instinct, finding the open spaces in
the wall.

"Come down, Madge," called Phil sharply.  "I was afraid you'd find the
distance too great.  Don't try it again."

"No, no, it is not that," replied Madge, gazing through the window.  "I
don't believe I shall have to jump.  I am sure some one is near."

Sniffing the ground, near the side of the cabin, she had spied a dog
with a soft brown nose, a shaggy, red brown body and a tail standing
out tense and straight.  It was a brown setter, and Madge knew he was
probably hunting for woodchucks.  Surely the presence of the dog meant
a master somewhere near.

Her tired, eager eyes strained through the thick foliage of the woods
they had traversed so happily only the afternoon before.

Yes, there was a man's figure!  He was coming nearer.  A young man in a
hunting jacket, with a gun swung over his shoulder, was tramping along,
with his eyes on the ground.

A pleading voice apparently came from the sky: "Please unbar the door
of this old cabin.  We are locked inside."

The young man stopped short.  He took off his cap and ran his hand
through his thick, light hair.  He was too old to believe in fairies or
elves.  But he heard the voice again even more distinctly.  "Oh, don't
go away!  Do open the log cabin door."

The young man looked up.  There was a little, white face as wan and
pale as the early daylight, with an aureole of dark red curls around
it, staring at him through the broken window frame of the old log cabin
that he had seen deserted a dozen times in his hunting trips through
these woods.

"If there is some one really calling to me, please wave your hand three
times from that window, so I will know you are not a spook," called the
young man, "otherwise I may be afraid to open the door."

"I can't wave.  I shall fall if I let go the window sill," answered
Madge, trying to keep from bursting into tears.  "Please don't wait any
longer.  We have been locked in all night."

The stranger drew back the heavy wooden bolt.  He started when he saw
three white-faced girls staring at him.  But the face he had seen at
the window was not among them.  Clinging to the old window frame, her
slender feet stuck in the cracks between the logs, was the witch who
had summoned him to their rescue.

"Won't you please come help me down, Phil?" asked a plaintive voice.

"Just let go the window frame and drop," ordered the stranger quietly.
"Don't be afraid.  It is the only possible way."

Without hesitating Madge did as directed.  "Thank you," she said
coolly, when she got her breath.  Then she staggered a little, and
Phyllis and the young man who had come to their rescue caught her.

"We have been locked in so long," explained Phil.  "No, we have not the
least idea who could have played such a trick on us.  We arrived in
this neighborhood only yesterday afternoon."

Phil gave a short history of the houseboat, introducing her three
friends and herself to him.  "We must return to our chaperon at once,"
she added.  "The poor woman will be dreadfully worried.  Do you girls
feel strong enough to walk?  You see"--this time Phil turned to their
rescuer--"it is not only that we have been shut up here for nearly
fourteen hours, we are so hungry!  We have had nothing to eat since
yesterday at luncheon."

"Your poor, starving girls!" exclaimed their liberator, reproachfully.
"At last I am convinced you are not fairies.  And for once I am glad
that my mother is always certain that I am on the point of starving."

He reached back into his pocket and brought out a package and a flask.
"Here is some good, strong coffee.  I am sorry it is cold, but it is
better than nothing."  He turned to Madge, who looked exhausted.

She shook her head, though she gazed at the flask wistfully.  "I won't
drink first.  I don't need it as much as the other girls."

Eleanor took the bottle from his hands and held it to Madge's lips.
The exhausted girl took a long drink.  Then the others followed suit,
while the young man watched them, smiling with satisfaction.  He was
tall and strong, and not particularly handsome, but he had fine brown
eyes, a firm chin and thick, curly, light hair.  After the girls had
finished the coffee he broke open his package of sandwiches and found
exactly four inside.

"Please take them," he urged, handing the open package to Lillian.

"We mustn't take them from you," protested Lillian.  "We thank you for
the coffee.  That will do nicely until we get back to our boat."

The stranger laughed.  "See here," he protested, "not an hour ago, when
I left the hotel, where my mother and I are spending the summer, I ate
three eggs, much bacon, four Maryland biscuit and drank two cups of
coffee.  Fragile creature that I am, I believe I can exist on that
amount of refreshment for another hour or so.  But whenever I go out on
a few hours' hunting trip, my mother insists that the steward at the
hotel put me up a luncheon.  She is forever imagining that I am likely
to get lost and starve, a modern 'Babe in the Woods,' you know.  By the
way, I haven't introduced myself.  My name is Curtis, Thomas Stevenson
Curtis, if you please, but I am more used to plain, everyday Tom."

The girls acknowledged the introduction, then by common consent they
began walking away from the cabin.

A short distance was traversed in silence, then Madge said abruptly,
"Who do you suppose locked us in, Mr. Curtis?"

"I don't know," answered Tom Curtis darkly, clenching his fist.  "But
wouldn't I like to find out!  Have you an enemy about here?"

Madge shook her head.  "No; as I said, we came to the neighborhood only
yesterday.  We have met only the farmer and his wife, who allowed us to
land."

"I'll make it my business to find out who served you such a dastardly
trick, Miss Morton," Tom returned.  "I expect to be in this
neighborhood all summer.  My mother isn't very well, and we like this
quiet place.  Our home is in New York.  I was a freshman last year at
Columbia."

Only the day before Tom Curtis had informed his mother that he found
the neighborhood too slow, and that if she didn't object he would be
glad to move on.  But a great deal can happen in a short time to make a
young man of twenty change his mind.

"Thank you," replied Madge sedately.  "I'll be on the lookout for the
wretch, too.  Now we must hurry back to our chaperon, Miss Jones.  I
won't ask you to come with us this morning, but we shall be very glad
to have you come aboard our boat to-morrow.  We haven't named her yet,
but she is so white and clean and new looking that you can't possibly
mistake her.  She is lying on an arm of the bay just south of these
woods."

"I'll surely avail myself of the invitation," smiled Tom Curtis as they
paused for a moment at the edge of the woods.  Below them the blue
waters of the bay gleamed in the sunshine.  And yes, there was their
beloved "Ship of Dreams."

"Oh, you can see her from here!" exclaimed Madge, her eyes dancing with
the pride of possession.  "See, Mr. Curtis, it is our very own 'Ship of
Dreams' until we give her a real name."

"She's a beauty," said Tom Curtis warmly, "and I really must have a
closer look at her."

"Then come to see us soon," invited Phil audaciously.

"I will, you may be certain of it.  Good-bye.  I hope you won't suffer
any bad effects from your strenuous night."  The young man raised his
cap and, whistling to his dog, strode off down the hill.

"What a nice boy," commented Lillian.

Madge, however, was not thinking of Tom Curtis; her mind dwelt upon
their chaperon, and the long, anxious night she had spent alone on the
houseboat.

Poor Miss Jones!  Her vigil had indeed been a patient one.  From the
time the hands of the little cabin clock had pointed to the hour of six
she had anxiously awaited the girls.  She had cooked the dinner, then
set it in the oven to warm.  At seven o'clock she trudged up the hill
to the farmhouse to make inquiries.  No one had seen the young women
since they passed through the fields early that afternoon.  At nine
o'clock a party of farmers scoured the country side, but the extreme
darkness of the night had caused the young men to discontinue their
search until daylight.

At dawn Miss Jones flung herself down on her berth, utterly exhausted.
She would rest until the search party started out again, then she would
hurry to the nearest town and inform the authorities of the strange
disappearance of the girls.  As she lay with half-closed eyes trying to
imagine just what could possibly have happened to her charges, a
familiar call broke upon her ears that caused her to spring up from her
berth in wonder.

"We've come to see Miss Jennie Ann Jones," caroled a voice, and in the
next instant the bewildered teacher was surrounded by four tired but
smiling girls.

"We were locked up all night in a log cabin in the woods," began Madge.
"Do say you are glad to see us and give us some breakfast, Miss Jennie
Ann Jones, for we were never so hungry in all our lives before, and as
soon as we have something to eat, we'll tell you the strangest story
you ever heard."

With her arm thrown across the teacher's shoulders Madge made her way
to the houseboat, followed by her friends.  At that moment, to the
little, impulsive girl, Miss Jennie Ann Jones seemed particularly dear,
in spite of her mysterious ways, and Madge made mental resolve to try
to believe in their chaperon, no matter what happened.



CHAPTER IX

THE GIRL ON THE ISLAND

"Phil, it looks like only a little more than half a mile over to the
island.  Do you think we can make it?" asked Madge, casting speculative
eyes toward the distant island.

"Of course we can," declared Phyllis.  "I'm sorry that Eleanor and Miss
Jones did not come with us.  But they have become so domestic that they
can't be persuaded to leave the houseboat.  Nelly told me she
positively loved to polish kettles and things," Phil replied.

Lillian, Phyllis and Madge were in their own rowboat, the "Water
Witch," which had been expressed to them from Harborpoint.  They were
no longer in the quiet inlet of the bay, where their houseboat was
anchored, but rowing out toward the more open water.  On one side of
them they could see the beach in front of a large summer hotel.  Across
from it lay a small island, to which they were rowing.

"Miss Jones doesn't like to have us start off alone this way.  She has
grown dreadfully nervous about us since our experience in the cabin,"
remarked Lillian.  "That is why she didn't approve of Madge's plan this
morning."

"I thought Madge was going to fly into little bits when Miss Jones
suggested it was not safe for us to row about here in our own little
'Water Witch,'" teased Phil.

"Phil, please don't discuss my temper," answered Madge crossly.  "If
there is one thing I hate worse than another, it is to hear people talk
about my faults.  Of course, I know I have a perfectly detestable
temper, but I hardly said a word to Miss Jenny Ann.  Please tell me
what fun we could have on our holiday if we never dared to go ten feet
away from the houseboat?"

"None whatever," answered Lillian, "only you needn't be so cross with
Phil and me.  We were not discussing your faults.  You are altogether
too ready to become angry over a trifle."  There was indignation and
reproof in Lillian's tone.

Madge plied her oars in silence.  She knew that she had behaved badly.
"Isn't it exactly like me?" she thought to herself.  "If I am sweet and
agreeable one minute, and feel pleased with myself, I can surely count
on doing something disagreeable the next.  Now I have made Lillian and
Phil cross with me and probably have hurt Miss Jenny Ann's feelings and
spoiled this beautiful day for us all."

Eleanor's soft voice broke in upon her self-arraignment.  "Don't
squabble, girls.  The day is altogether too perfect.  None of you are
really cross.  Now, are you?"

Three pairs of eyes met hers, then the little dispute ended in a
general laugh.

Madge and Phil rowed faster than ever after this little falling out.
They could see the shores of Fisherman's Island not far ahead, with
several dories and small fishing craft anchored along the banks.  They
were heading toward an open beach, where there was no sign of life.

"Girls, look out!" warned Lillian.  She was sitting in the bow of their
skiff, and could see another rowboat moving toward them, the two pairs
of oars rising and falling in perfect accord.  The boat was so close to
them that Lillian was afraid Phil and Madge might cross oars with it.
But as the other boat glided smoothly up alongside of their skiff, the
oars were drawn swiftly inboard, almost before the girls knew what had
happened.

"I suppose you don't speak to people on the water whom you might be
persuaded to notice on land," called Tom Curtis reproachfully.

"O Mr. Curtis! how do you do?" laughed Madge.  "You see, we are not
possessed with eyes in the backs of our heads, or we should have
recognized you.  Goodness gracious!  If there isn't my cousin, Jack
Bolling!  I never dreamed you knew him.  Why didn't you tell me?  Jack,
where did you come from?"

Tom looked at Jack, and Jack looked at Tom.  "Age before beauty, Mr.
Curtis," bowed Jack.  "You answer first."

"To tell you the solemn truth, I did not know your cousin until this
morning," Tom explained.  "But when I saw a not specially bad-looking
fellow mooning about our hotel as though lost I went over and spoke to
him.  It wasn't long before I found out he knew you young ladies.  I
told him about meeting you in the woods the other day, and we shook
hands on it.  Now, Bolling, it is your turn.  How did you happen to
turn up in this particular place?"

Jack was apparently looking at Lillian and Madge, but he had really
glanced first at Phyllis Alden, to see how she had borne the shock of
his presence.  Jack had guessed correctly that Phyllis did not like
him.  To tell the truth, she looked anything but pleased.  She did not
like boys.  She could do most of the things they could, and they were,
to her mind, a nuisance.  They were always on hand, trying to help and
to pretend that girls were weaker than they were in order to domineer
over them.  The worst of it was, Madge, Lillian and Eleanor might think
the newcomers would add to the fun.  So, though Phyllis did not mean to
be rude either to Tom or to Jack, she was far from enthusiastic, and
could not help showing it.

"Of course, I had to come down to see what your houseboat looked like
after I got your note telling me where you were," explained Jack.  "I
knew there was a hotel near here, so, as soon as school closed, I ran
down for a few days to see how you were getting on.  You see, I was
really very much interested in the houseboat."  Jack made this last
remark directly to Phyllis.  She merely glanced carelessly away in the
opposite direction.

"We rowed up from the hotel to the houseboat, but we couldn't see a
soul aboard.  'The ship was still as still could be,'" declared Tom.
"Then we started for a row and found you."  There was no doubt that Tom
was looking straight at Madge.

"We are rowing over to the island," remarked Lillian graciously.

"How strange!  We were going over there, too, weren't we, Mr. Bolling?"
quizzed Tom.

"Then catch us if you can!" challenged Phyllis.  With a sign to Madge
the two girls began rowing their boat through the water with the speed
of an arrow.  The first spurt told, for the island was not far away,
and the girls' boat grated on the beach before the boys had time to
land.  But Tom and Jack did jump out and run through the water to pull
the "Water Witch" ashore, much to Phil's disgust.

"I really have an errand to do on this island, Miss Morton," continued
Tom, as the party started up the beach.  "I wanted first to ask you if
I could bring my mother to call on you and your chaperon this
afternoon?  I am awfully anxious to have an all-day sailing party
to-morrow.  And I thought perhaps you and your friends and chaperon
would go with us?  There is an old fellow over here who takes people
out sailing, and I am anxious to have a talk with him.  Don't think I
am such a duffer that I can't sail a boat myself, but my mother is so
nervous about the water that I take a professional sailor along to keep
her from worrying.  She has had a great deal to make her nervous," Tom
ended.  "I wonder if you and your friends would mind walking over to
the other side of the island with me to see this man?  It is not a long
walk."

The party started off, Phyllis keeping strictly in the background.
Madge walked with Tom and Lillian with Jack, so she felt a little out
of it.

"If you don't mind," she proposed, after the party had walked a few
yards, "I will sit down here on the beach and wait until you come back
from your talk with the sailor man.  I will stay right here, so you can
find me when you return."

Phil found herself a comfortable, flat rock, and sat looking idly out
over the bay.  Gradually she fell into a little reverie.

A sudden cry of pain roused Phil from her daydream.  Springing to her
feet, she rushed down the beach, seeing nothing, but following the
direction of the cry.  Rounding a curve of the beach she came upon a
dirty, half-tumbled down tent.  In front of it stood a burly man with
both hands on the shoulders of a young girl, whom he was shaking
violently.  So intent was he upon what he was doing, he did not notice
Phil approaching.  She saw him shove the girl inside the tent and close
the outside flap.  "Now, stay in there till you git tired of it," he
growled as he turned and walked away.

A sound of low sobbing greeted Phil's ears as she came up in front of
the tent and stood waiting, hardly knowing what to do.  The sobs
continued, with a note of pain in them that went straight to Phil's
tender heart.  The sight or sound of physical suffering made a special
appeal to her.  It was Phyllis's secret ambition some day to study
medicine, an ambition which she had confided to no one save Madge.
Although the figure she had seen was almost that of a woman, the
sobbing sounded like that of a child.  There was no other noise in the
tent, so Phil knew the girl was alone.

"Won't you please come out?" she called softly, not knowing what else
to do or say.  "Tell me what is grieving you so.  I am only a girl like
yourself, and I would like to help you."

"I dare not come out," the other girl answered.  "My father said I must
stay in here."

Phil opened the flap of the old tent and walked inside.  "What is the
matter?" she inquired gently, bending over the figure lying on the
ground and trying to lift her.

The girl sat up and pushed back her unkempt hair.  She had a deep,
glowing scar just over her temple.  But her hair was a wonderful color,
and only once before Phil remembered having seen eyes so deeply blue.

"Why," Phil exclaimed with a start of surprise, "I have seen you
somewhere before.  Don't you remember me?"

The girl shook her head.  "I do not remember anything," she answered
quietly.

"But I saw you on the canal boat.  Your father was the man who helped
us secure our houseboat.  What are you doing here?"

"We have come here for many years, I think," the girl answered
confusedly.  "In the early spring my father catches shad along the bay.
Then all summer he takes people out sailing from the big place over
there."  She pointed across the water in the direction of the hotel.
"Our boat is on the other side of the island."  The girl clasped her
head in her long, sun-burned hands.  "It is there that it hurts," she
declared, touching the ugly, jagged scar.

Phil gave a little, sympathetic cry and put her hand on the girl's
shoulder.

"When I work a long time in the sun my head hurts," the girl went on
listlessly.  "I have been washing all day on the beach.  I came up here
to hide, and my father found me.  He was angry because I had stopped
work."

"Did he strike you?" Phil cried in horror, gazing at the slender,
delicate creature and thinking of the rough, coarse man.

"Not this time," the girl replied.  "Sometimes they strike me and then
I am afraid.  Only there is one thing I shall never, never do, no
matter how much they beat me.  I can not remember everything, but I
know that I will not do this one thing."

"What is it?" asked Phil.  "Whom do you mean by 'they,' and what do
'they' wish you to do?"

The girl shook her head.  "I can not tell you."  She shuddered, and
Phil felt she had no right to insist on knowing.

"I like to hide in this tent," the girl went on sorrowfully.  "I come
here whenever I can get away from the others.  I would like to stay
here always.  But, now he has found me, there is no place where I can
rest."

"Have you a mother, or brothers and sisters?" Phil asked.

"There is the man's second wife, but she is not my mother.  She has
many little children.  I think I must be very old.  I seem to have
lived such a long time."

"Can't you remember your own mother?" Phil inquired.

The girl shook her head mournfully.  "I can remember nothing," she said
again.  "Don't go," she begged, as Phil rose to leave her.  "I have
never known a girl like you before."

"I must go," answered Phil regretfully.  "My friends will be waiting
for me up the beach, and they will not know where to find me.  Won't
you come to see me and my friends?  We are spending our holiday on a
houseboat not very far from here.  We would love to have you come."

"I am not allowed to leave the island or to go among people," the girl
replied.  "My father says I have no sense.  So, if I wander away, or
talk to strangers, people will think that I am crazy and shut me up in
some dreadful, dark place."

Tears of sympathy rose to Phyllis's eyes.  She wished Madge and the
other girls were with her.  It was too dreadful to think of this lovely
creature frightened into submission by her cruel father.  "We will come
to see you, then," she said gently.  "And I will bring you something to
keep your head from aching.  My father is a physician, and he will tell
me what I must give you.  I will bring my friends to the island with
me.  Whenever you can get away, come to this tent and we will try to
find you.  We shall have good times together, and some day we may be
able to help you.  You know how to write, don't you?  Then, if you are
ever in trouble or danger, leave a note under this old piece of carpet.
Now good-bye."

The girl stood in the door of her tent to watch Phyllis on her way.
She stared intently after her until her visitor turned the curve of the
beach and was lost to view, then, leaning her head against the side of
the tent, she burst forth into low, despairing sobs.



CHAPTER X

AN EXCITING RACE

Eleanor and Miss "Jenny Ann," as the girls seemed inclined to call
their chaperon, had not remained on the houseboat merely to polish the
pots and pans.  They had a special surprise and plan of their own on
hand.

It was all very well for Phyllis to dream of a houseboat, with its
decks lined with flowers, and for Madge to draw a beautiful plan of it
on paper.  Flowers do not grow except where they are planted.

So it was in order to turn gardeners that Eleanor and Miss Jones stayed
at home.  Flowers enough to encircle the deck of a houseboat would cost
almost as much money as the four girls had in their treasury to keep
them supplied with food and coal.  But the gently sloping Maryland
fields were abloom with daisies.  A farmer's lad could be hired for a
dollar to dig up the daisies and to bring a wagon load of dirt to the
boat.  The day before Eleanor had engaged the services of a carpenter
to make four boxes, which exactly fitted the sides of the little upper
deck of the houseboat above the cabin.  An hour or so after the girls
departed on their rowing excursion the daisies were brought aboard,
planted, and held up their heads bravely.  They were such sturdy, hardy
little flowers that they did not wither with homesickness at the change
in their environment.

But still Eleanor was not entirely satisfied.  In Phil's dream and
Madge's picture of the boat vines had drooped gracefully over the sides
of the deck, and Eleanor had no vines to plant.  Eleanor had a natural
gift for making things about her lovely and homelike.  So she thought
and thought.  Wild honeysuckle vines were growing in the fields with
the daisies.  They were just the things to clamber over the white
railing of the deck and to hang gracefully over the sides.  Their
perfume would fill the little floating dwelling with their fragrance.

By noon the transformation was complete.  Eleanor persuaded Miss Jones
to go for a walk while she got the luncheon.  Madge, Phil and Lillian
had solemnly promised to be at home by one o'clock.  Another surprise
was in store for them.  In the bow of their boat Eleanor had hung up a
flag.  On a background of white broadcloth, stitched in bands of blue,
was the legend "Merry Maid."  This was Eleanor Butler's chosen name for
the houseboat, and had been voted the best possible selection, while
Madge had been unanimously voted captain of their little ship.  Eleanor
had sent to the town for the flag, and even their chaperon was not to
know of its arrival.

One would hardly have known Miss Jenny Ann Jones--a week in the fresh
air had done her so much good.  Then, too, Phil and Lillian had
persuaded her to cease to wear her heavy, light hair in an English bun
at the back of her neck.  Lillian had plaited it in two great braids
and had coiled it around her head like a dull golden coronet.  She had
a faint color in her cheeks, and, instead of looking cross and tired,
she was as merry and almost as light-hearted as the girls.  The lines
of her head were really beautiful, and her sallow skin was fast
becoming clear and healthy.  For once in her life Miss Jones looked no
older than her twenty-six years.  Eleanor watched her as she started
off on her walk dressed in white, carrying a red parasol, and decided
that Miss Jones was really pretty.  Since her advent among the girls
she had begun to look at life from a different standpoint.  She had
almost ceased worrying and she meant to grow well and strong if she
could.  Since her mysterious visitor the first night she spent aboard
the boat nothing had happened to disturb her.  She walked slowly on, so
occupied with her own thoughts she did not notice that she was in a
lane between two fields enclosed by fences.   Some one called to her.
She could not distinguish the voice.  It called and called again.  She
thought it must be one of the girls who had come out in the field to
meet her.  As there was no one looking, Miss Jones managed to climb
over the rail fence, and now she walked in the direction from which the
sound of the voice came.  After a time the voice ceased.  It was a
shorter stroll to the boat across this field, so the teacher went
leisurely on.  In a far corner of the meadow she saw an odd object
unlike anything she had ever seen.  It consisted of two sticks that
looked like the legs of a scarecrow which had a square board fastened
in front of them.  From between the sticks were two other brown
objects, long and thin, and behind it sat a young man busily engaged in
transferring the peaceful scene to canvas.  Miss Jones was gazing
curiously at this object, with her red parasol hung over her shoulder,
so that it was impossible for her to see anything behind her.  But she
did hear an unusual noise--a snort, then a bellow--the sound was
unmistakable.  With a sense of sickening terror she gave one horrified
glance behind her.  She had been mysteriously lured into a field where
a bull was loose.  It never occurred to Miss Jones to throw away her
red parasol.  She ran on, waving it wildly over her shoulders,
maddening the enraged animal behind her.  Miss Jones did not believe
she could run fast.  Usually her breath was short, and even a rapid
walk fatigued her.  Now she ran on and on.  Once again she half heard a
mocking voice cry after her, but she paid no attention to it.  In her
fright she was also oblivious to the fact that the strange object in
the corner of the field fell to the ground with a bang, while a man
sitting on a stool behind it rose to right his overturned canvas.
"Drop it, drop it!" he shouted, running after Miss Jones and repeatedly
urging her to throw away her bright red parasol.

Madge, Phil and Lillian had come back to the boat.  After dancing in a
circle around Eleanor to express the rapture they felt in the
transformation she had wrought in their beloved houseboat, they stood
together on the deck, looking for the return of their chaperon along
the shore.

Miss Jones thought there was a gate at the end of the field in which
she was running.  She made for this gate, as she knew she would not
have time to get over the fence before the animal would be upon her.
In her terror she had but one idea, one hope, that was to reach the
safety of the gang-plank and to climb aboard the houseboat.

While Miss Jones was running for her life the four chums were lingering
about the deck of the "Merry Maid" watching for her return.  They
decided to take a short walk with the idea of meeting her and, leaving
their boat to take care of itself, strolled through the lane that led
to the very field Miss Jones had entered.  All at once Lillian called
out in terror:

"O girls! look!  It's Miss Jones, and a bull is chasing her!"

The four chums stood rooted to the spot.  What could they do?  They
felt powerless to help, yet not one of the girls believed Miss Jones
could save herself.

Madge was the first to act.  In her hand was a large white and green
striped umbrella.  The girls had lately bought two of them to use out
on deck as a protection from the sun, and Madge had caught up one of
them as they started out.  In the next instant she had climbed the
fence that separated her from the field in which the teacher was
running and was making for the frightened woman at the top of her speed.

But by this time Miss Jones was completely exhausted.  Summoning all
her will power, she staggered a few steps, then dropped to the ground,
with the bull not more than four yards behind her.

On it came, its head lowered almost to the ground.  Then a huge green
and white monster loomed up before the animal, and with a snort of
mingled rage and horror the bull stopped short in its tracks.  The
strange green and white object now lunging at full tilt was far more
terrible than the small, red, flame-like object that fled its approach.
Rage conquering fear, the bull gave a dreadful roar and made a quick
lunge at Madge.  She sprang to one side but managed to thrust her
umbrella full in the animal's face.  With a rumble of defiance the bull
dodged the umbrella and made another lunge at Madge.  Its lowered horns
never reached her.  A rope swung skilfully forward caught the animal by
the leg just in time.  One swift pull and the bull went down.  The
owner of the animal had witnessed its charge upon Miss Jones and,
rushing across the field, had roped it.  The artist who had attracted
Miss Jenny Ann's attention had also come to the rescue, but it was
really Madge with her green and white umbrella who had saved their
chaperon from the bull's horns.

Miss Jones, who had raised herself to a sitting position, stared wildly
about her, still firmly clutching the red parasol.

The artist sprang to her side and raised her to her feet.  "It was this
that made the mischief," he said, touching her parasol.  "I shouted to
you to drop it."

"But I didn't hear you," defended the teacher faintly.  Her two long
braids of fair hair had become unfastened and were now hanging down her
back, giving her the appearance of a girl.  "I heard some one calling
to me, or I would never have entered that dreadful field."  Miss Jones
eyed the artist reproachfully.  "Was it you who shouted my name?"

"Was it I?" repeated the young man in astonishment.  "Certainly not.  I
do not know your name."

"My name is 'Jones,'" Miss Jenny Ann faltered weakly.  She was still
feeling dazed and weak.

"And my name is 'Brown,'" the artist answered, with an expression of
solemn gravity.  But the corners of his lips twitched in amusement.

There was a faint chuckle from Madge that went the round of the group
and, despite the fact that the chaperon's narrow escape had been far
from ludicrous, the whole party burst into laughter.

"I am sorry," apologized the artist.  "Please forgive me for laughing."

The farmer had in the meantime led the bull away, and now Eleanor and
Lillian came running toward the group to see if Miss Jenny Ann were
truly hurt.  When they saw the whole party shaking with laughter, the
two girls exchanged curious glances.  "Luncheon has been waiting half
an hour," Eleanor declared rather crossly.  "Do come and eat it.  We
would not have come after you if we had known that you were having such
a good time."

Madge glanced at their chaperon, then at the artist.  He was evidently
a gentleman, and she recognized that he was possessed of a keen sense
of humor.  It would seem rude and ungrateful to run away and leave him
just as their luncheon was announced, when he had raced all the way
across the meadow to assist in the rescue of their Miss Jenny Ann.

"Won't you come and eat luncheon with us?" asked Madge boldly, fearing
their chaperon would be dreadfully shocked.

The artist shook his head.  "I'd like to accept your invitation if Miss
Jones will second it," he replied, looking at Miss Jenny Ann.

"You would he delighted to have Mr. Brown take luncheon with us, Miss
Jenny Ann, wouldn't you?" Madge turned coaxing eyes upon their teacher.

"I should be very ungracious if I were not," laughed their chaperon,
the color rising to her brown cheeks.  "Mr. Brown will be a welcome
guest."

And five minutes later Mr. Brown was triumphantly escorted aboard their
beloved "Merry Maid."



CHAPTER XI

AT THE MERCY OF THE WAVES

"Don't you think it would be perfectly lovely to have a mother as rich
and beautiful as Mrs. Curtis?" asked Madge, as she tied a black velvet
ribbon about her auburn curls and turned her head to see the effect.
She and Phil were dressing for Tom Curtis's sailing party, to which he
had invited them the day before and which was to start within the next
hour.

"Almost any mother is pretty nice, even if she isn't rich or
beautiful," answered Phil loyally.  She was wearing a yachting suit of
navy blue while Madge was dressed in white serge.  Eleanor, Lillian and
Miss Jones, clad in white linen gowns, were ready and waiting on the
houseboat deck for the arrival of the sailing party.  True to his word,
Tom Curtis had brought his mother to call on the four girls the
afternoon of the day before.

"I know," answered Madge slowly.  "But sometimes, when I was a very
little girl, I liked to think that perhaps I was a princess in
disguise, and that Uncle and Aunt had never told me of it.  I used to
look out of the window and wonder if some day a carriage would drive up
to hear me away to my royal home.  That doesn't sound very practical,
does it?  But, when one has no memory of father or mother, one can't
help dreaming things.  Don't you think Mrs. Curtis is simply
beautiful?" Madge abruptly changed the subject.  "Her hair is so soft
and white, and she has such a young face, but she looks as though she
were tired of everything.  Persons who have that wonderful, world-weary
look are so interesting," finished Madge, with a sigh.  "I am afraid I
shall never have that expression, because I never find time to get
tired of things."

"Come on, Madge," laughed Phil.  "You can mourn some other day over not
having an interesting expression."

"Girls," called Lillian, "the Curtis's boat is coming."

"In a minute," answered Madge, giving a final pat to her curls.

"Do hurry along, children.  The sailboat is nearly here."  This time it
was Miss Jenny Ann's voice.  "They signaled us several minutes ago.
They have several other persons on board."

Mrs. Curtis and Tom signaled as they approached the "Merry Maid."
Their guests were the artist, whom the girls had met the day before,
Jack Bolling, and one or two strangers from the big summer hotel.  Mike
Muldoon, the owner of the boats, had another sailor on board to help
him.  Tom soon transferred the girls and their chaperon from their
craft to his.  The party intended to sail down the coast to a point of
land known as Love Point and to eat their luncheon somewhere along the
shore.

Mrs. Curtis sat across from Madge during their sailing trip, but every
now and then she would look over to laugh at one of the young girl's
amusing sallies.  It was evident that the little captain of the "Merry
Maid" had found favor in her eyes.  Mrs. Curtis had planned a dainty
luncheon, to which the steward at the hotel had given special
attention, even to the sending of a man to serve it.  There were
delicious sandwiches of various kinds, chicken and Waldorf salads,
olives, salted nuts, individual ices sent down from Baltimore and
bonbons.  It was quite the most elaborate luncheon the girls had ever
eaten and they were rather impressed with both it and the service.

After luncheon the party sat for a long time on the clean, white sand,
laughing and talking gayly.  It was a perfect day and everyone was in
the best possible spirits.  Later on they divided into little groups.
Lillian and Phil wandered off with Jack Bolling.  Eleanor found a
congenial companion in one of the young women guests from the hotel,
while Tom, Miss Jones and Mrs. Curtis sat under a tree with the artist,
watching him sketch.  Madge, alone, flitted from one group to another,
a little, restless spirit.

"Why don't you take Miss Morton for a sail, Tom?" suggested his mother.
"You will have time to go a short distance out.  We shall not start for
the hotel until four o'clock."

"A good suggestion.  Thank you, Mother," cried Tom.  "Come on, Miss
Morton."

Madge and Tom went gayly down to the boat.  Tom's big setter dog,
Brownie, dashed after them, pleading so hard to be taken aboard that
Tom at last consented to have him, though he gravely assured the animal
that three was a crowd, to which statement Brownie merely gave a joyful
yelp and darted on board without further ceremony.

[Illustration: Madge and Tom went gayly down to the boat.]

It was a glorious day with a stiff breeze blowing.  The water was
fairly choppy, but the boat sped along, occasionally dashing the spray
into the two young faces.  Madge wore a white cloth cap, with a visor,
such as ship's officers wear, and looked as nautical as she felt.  Both
Tom and Madge were possessed with an unusual fondness for the water,
and their common love of the sea was a strong bond between them.

"Have you ever heard of any one who could have locked you up in the old
hut that night?" Tom asked as they sailed along.

Madge shook her head.  "No; I have not the faintest idea.  To tell you
the honest truth, I had almost forgotten that unpleasant experience.
We have been having such a beautiful time since that we haven't had
time to think of disagreeable things."

"Do you think it is safe for five women to be aboard that houseboat by
themselves?" asked Tom anxiously.  "If your boat were farther out on
the water you would be safer."

Madge laughed merrily.  "Look here, Mr. Curtis, I don't think it is
fair for you to question our safety when there are five of us, Wouldn't
Phil be angry if she heard you say that!  It makes her furious to hear
a man or boy even intimate that girls can't take care of themselves.
Why, we can swim and run and jump, and we could put up a really brave
fight if it were necessary.  Besides, Nell and I know how to shoot.
Uncle taught us when we were very little girls.  I have been duck
shooting with him along this very bay.  Look at that rowboat back
there.  I have been watching it for some time.  It has been trying to
follow us."

Tom turned about.  The boat was only a skiff, and, though it was nearly
in their course, there was no chance of its coming any closer, as their
boat was sailing before the wind.

"I believe it is the same skiff I saw this morning," commented Tom.  "I
suppose it is some fellow who has been fishing out here.  Just think of
the fish in this wonderful bay--perch and pike and bass and a hundred
other kinds!  You must help me catch some of them some day."

"All right, I will," promised Madge merrily.  As they went farther out
into the bay they grew strangely silent.  The spell of the sea was upon
them and they were content to sail along, exchanging but little
conversation.  Chesapeake Bay was apparently in one of its most amiable
moods and, lured on by its apparent good nature, Tom grew a trifle more
reckless than was his wont and did not turn about to begin the homeward
sail as soon as he had originally intended.

It was Madge who broke the spell.  "I think we had better start back.
Perhaps I merely imagine it, but it seems to me that the sun isn't
shining as brightly as it shone a little while ago.  I know the bay so
well.  It is so wonderful, but so treacherous.  I was once out on it in
a sailboat during a sudden squall and I am not likely to forget it."
Madge gave a slight shudder at the recollection.

"All right," agreed Tom, "I'll turn about, but there isn't the
slightest danger of a squall to-day."  He brought his little craft
about and headed toward the beach.

In spite of his assurance that there would he no squall, a black,
threatening cloud had appeared in the sky, and now the wind shifted,
blowing strongly toward land.  Tom, who was nothing if not a sailor,
managed the boat so skilfully that Madge's apprehensions were soon
quieted and she gave herself up to the complete enjoyment of rushing
along in the freshened breeze.

They were within a mile of their landing place when, off to their right
and a little ahead of them, Madge spied the rowboat they had seen at
the beginning of their sail.

The boat was now tossing idly on the waves, and its sole occupant, a
young man, was trying vainly to guide it with a single oar.

"There is that boat again," called Madge to Tom, who was busy with his
sails.  "I believe the young man in it is in trouble and is signaling
to us for help."

As Tom drew nearer to the rowboat the other man in it called out: "Say,
can't you take me aboard?  I've lost an oar, and it's a pretty tough
job trying to get ashore with one oar in a sea like this."

Tom glanced quickly at Madge.  He was quite ready to help the young
man, but wished to be sure that his young woman guest had no objection
to the stranger coming aboard their boat.

It took five minutes to bring the sailboat close enough to pick up the
man.  Tom threw him a rope and the stranger climbed aboard, making fast
his rowboat to the stern of the sailing vessel.  He was a peculiar,
wild-looking fellow, with dark, shifting eyes and thick, curly hair
that partly covered his ears.  As be stepped into the sailboat his lips
parted in a smile that showed his teeth, which Madge noted were long,
very white and pointed at the ends.  He was deeply tanned, yet, in
spite of his rough appearance, seemed to be a gentleman.

"You are very kind," he said in a low, purring voice which caused Madge
to eye him sharply.  "I would not have troubled you, but there is a
heavy squall coming up.  I shall be greatly obliged to you if you will
put me ashore."

"All right," assented Tom.  "We are in a hurry to get to shore
ourselves, as my mother will be anxious if the storm catches us."

Madge had continued to gaze at the new-comer.  "Where have I seen him
before?  He is like a wolf.  His teeth look almost like fangs, and I
don't like his strange, shifting eyes," she mentally criticised.

Aloud she said to Tom: "Miss Jenny Ann will be worried.  She has been
very nervous about us since we were locked in that old cabin in the
woods overnight."

The stranger regarded Madge quizzically.  She could have sworn that a
mocking light lay in his dark eyes.  "Did you say you were locked in an
old cabin in the woods overnight?  How unfortunate."

"It will be more unfortunate for the fellow who locked the girls in,
provided we find him," threatened Tom shortly.  The stranger's suave
tones aroused in him a peculiar feeling of antagonism.

The young man regarded Tom through half-shut eyes.  "I must ask you to
land me on the beach above here," he drawled.

"Sorry," answered Tom firmly.  "I don't know any other pier along here
except ours.  I told you I was in a hurry to go ashore.  I don't like
to be disobliging, but you will have to go to our landing with us."

The black clouds were now chasing one another across the sky, and the
wind made a curious whistling noise.  Nevertheless the boat was sailing
gloriously, and in spite of the oncoming squall Tom and Madge were
enjoying themselves immensely, though neither of them was much pleased
with their fellow traveler.

The stranger turned to Madge.  "You must tell your friend that he'll
have to land me somewhere else than in that picnic party," he muttered
hoarsely.  "I tell you I have a reason.  I do not want to meet any
society folks."

"I am sorry," answered Madge distantly, her eyes growing stormy at the
young man's peremptory tone.  "Mr. Curtis explained to you why we are
in a hurry to land.  As long as he took you aboard our boat with us as
a favor, you have no right to ask us to change our course."

The stranger clenched his fists and glanced angrily at Tom.

"Ain't you going to land me somewhere else first?" he demanded in a
snarling voice.

Tom quietly shook his head.  The sailboat was now only a little more
than half a mile from the pier.  The wind was fair, blowing them almost
straight to the pier.

Tom Curtis was not looking.  Suddenly the fellow sprang up and threw
the tiller over.  The boat jibed sharply.  Madge cried out in quick
alarm.  Her cry saved Tom Curtis from being knocked overboard by the
boom as it swung over to the other side of the boat.

"Keep away from this tiller," Tom called out angrily, seeing that their
boat had now entirely changed its course.  "I am sailing this boat."

"You are not sailing her, if you don't take her in where I say," the
intruder declared fiercely.  His eyes were bloodshot and his teeth
closed together with a snap.  He stood by as if he were going to spring
at Tom Curtis.

Madge's cheeks were burning.  She was so angry that her throat felt dry
and parched.  "Don't pay any attention to him," she called indignantly.
Tom Curtis hesitated.

"I don't fight when I have a woman guest on board the boat," he
declared doggedly.  "Once I run my boat in to the pier, you will answer
for this."

"Never mind threatening me: I'm not afraid of you.  You know you have
got to land me where I say.  What do you care about where you land?  It
is where _I_ land that is important."  Again the stranger made a rush
for the tiller.

Tom sprang upon him.  The two were evenly matched, and Madge held her
breath as she watched them struggle.  Brownie, Tom's setter dog, sprang
for the stranger's leg, then retreated to one end of the boat howling
with pain.  The intruder had swung back his foot and dealt the dog a
savage kick.

The rain had now begun to fall heavily, and the deck soon became
slippery as glass.  The two young men continued to struggle.  Tom
realized that he was endangering Madge's life, as well as his own, in
this reckless battle on the deck of a small boat.  He thought he now
had the advantage.  If he could only settle his hateful passenger with
one swift blow all would he well.  With this thought in mind he tore
himself from the grasp of his antagonist, but he had forgotten the
slippery deck.  His foot shot out from under him, and he went down in a
heap, falling heavily on one shoulder.  The stranger sprang upon him,
and now it was the ungrateful passenger who had the advantage and was
mercilessly pushing him with both arms toward the edge of the boat.
Slowly Tom gave way, inch by inch.  He was conscious of a racking pain
in his shoulder.  He tried to raise his right arm; then a feeling of
faintness swept over him, he reeled, and, before Madge could move to
his help, Tom Curtis fell backward into the water.



CHAPTER XII

A BRAVE FIGHT

"Bring her to!" cried Madge imperiously, starting toward the stranger,
who now stood by the tiller.

"I can't bring her to, I'm no sailor," answered the young ruffian
coolly.  "I didn't push your friend overboard; he fell.  You had better
sail the boat yourself instead of standing there giving me orders."

Madge regarded the stranger with horrified eyes.  "You did push him
overboard," she accused.  "I saw you do it.  If he drowns, you will be
held responsible."

"I didn't, I tell you.  Better be careful what you say.  It wouldn't
take much to send you after him," was the stranger's menacing retort.

With a look of withering scorn Madge coolly turned her back on the
intruder.  She would not take the trouble to bandy words with him.  She
was too angry to experience the slightest fear of this scowling,
ill-favored youth.  Her superb indifference to his threat made a
visible impression upon him.  With a muttered word he slouched to the
bow of the boat, where he crouched, glaring at her with the eyes of an
angry animal brought to bay.

Although not more than a minute had passed since Tom disappeared over
the side of the boat it seemed hours to the frightened girl.  She must
act quickly or Tom would be lost.

During their sail she had watched Tom Curtis manoeuvre the boat and had
paid particular attention to his manner of "bringing it to."  It had
appeared to be a comparatively simple process and she laughingly
remarked that she believed she could do it herself.  Now the
opportunity had come to prove her words.  Grasping the tiller, she
brought the boat directly into the eye of the wind.  A moment later the
sails flapped in the breeze, and the boat floated idly in the heavy
rolling sea.

The stranger had not in reality given Tom the final shove that sent him
overboard.  At the edge of the boat he had suddenly relaxed his hold,
and Tom, faint from the pain of his injured shoulder had toppled
backward.  The shock of striking the water revived him somewhat, and as
he felt himself slipping down he made a brave effort to swim, then,
finding it useless, managed to turn on his back and float.

Still keeping her hand on the tiller, Madge strained her eyes to watch
his every movement.  "Try to make it, Tom," she shouted encouragingly.
"You've only a little farther to swim.  Come on; I'll help you into the
boat."

"I'm afraid I can't, Madge," he called faintly.  "I've hurt my
shoulder.  I can't swim."

The girl at the tiller bent forward to catch the sound of her friend's
voice.  Then she answered with the bravery of despair: "You must keep
on floating.  You are not going to drown.  I am coming after you."

At the same instant Madge divested herself of her coat, shoes and the
skirt of her suit and poised herself for a dive into the angry water.
"Keep the head of the boat to the wind," was her curt command to the
stranger, "I am going after Mr. Curtis."

"You're crazy!" shouted the stranger, leaping to his feet.  "You can
never save the man in such a sea as this.  You'll both be drowned!"

His tardy expostulation fell upon unheeding ears.  Madge was in the
water and swimming toward Tom.  Expert swimmer that she was, she knew
that she was risking her own life.  The tide was against her, and even
though she did reach Tom before he sank again, it would be hard work to
support him and swim back to the boat in such a heavy sea.

The sky was now dark, the waves had grown larger, and a pelting rain
had begun to beat down in Madge's face.  Tom had risen to the surface
of the water again, and was feebly trying to swim toward her.  He had
shuddered with despair when he first caught sight of her in the water.
But his faint, "Go back!  Go back!" had not reached her ears.  Nor
would she have heeded him had she heard.

His intrepid little rescuer was swimming easily along, with firm, even
strokes.  Little water-sprite that she was, she would have enjoyed the
breakers dashing over her head and the tingle of the fine salt spray in
her face if she had not realized the danger that lay ahead.

"Keep floating until I can get to you!" she called out to Tom.  She did
not speak again, for she did not mean to waste her breath.

Tom was making an heroic effort to keep himself afloat.  But he was
growing weaker and weaker, and the last vestige of his strength was
giving way.  As Madge reached him, he managed to reach out and clutch
her arm, hanging to it with a force that threatened to pull them both
under.  He was making that instinctive struggle for life usually put
forth by the drowning.  Madge experienced a brief flash of terror.
"Don't struggle, Tom," she implored.

Even in his semi-conscious state Tom must have heard his companion's
words.  He ceased to fight, his body grew limp, and, clasping one of
his hands in her own strong, brown fingers, Madge swam toward the spot
where she had left the sailboat.  Never once did she relax her hold on
the burden at her side.  Now and then she glanced up at their boat.
Each time she caught a glimpse of it it seemed to be farther away.
Could it be possible that the wind and the tide were carrying the
sailboat ashore faster than she could swim?  Surely the youth on board
would come forward to help them.  Now the waves that dashed over
Madge's head and lashed across her face sent echoing waves of despair
over her plucky soul.  Tom was too far gone to know or to care what was
happening.  The responsibility, the fight, was hers.

"I must save him," she thought over and over again.  "It does not so
much matter about me; I haven't any mother.  But Tom----"

Her bodily strength was fast giving out, but her spirit remained
indomitable.  It was that spirit that was keeping them afloat in the
midst of an angry sea.

But as for gaining on the sailboat, she was right.  No matter how great
her effort, she was not coming any nearer to it.  The last time she
looked up from the waves she could catch only a glimpse of the boat far
ahead.

It seemed incredible.  It was too awful to believe.  The stranger she
had left on board the sailboat was not coming to their aid.  He was
deliberately taking their boat to shore, leaving them to the mercy of
the sea.

Even with this realization Madge did not give up the battle.  The arm
that held Tom Curtis felt like a log, it was so stiff and cold.  She
could swim no longer, but she could still float.  There were other
craft that were putting in toward the shore.  If she could only keep up
for a few moments, surely some one would save them!

But at last her splendid courage waned.  She was sinking.  The rescuer
would come too late!  She thought of the circle of cheerful faces she
had left two hours before.  Then--a cold, wet muzzle touched her face,
a pair of strong teeth seized hold of her blouse.  Tom's setter dog,
Brownie, had managed to swim to his master.  The animal's gallant
effort to save Tom inspired Madge to fresh effort, and once more she
took up the battle for her life and that of her friend.



CHAPTER XIII

LIFE OR DEATH?

"Is there no hope?" a voice asked despairingly.

"There is hope for a long time," answered Phyllis Alden quietly.  "I
have heard my father say that people may sometimes be revived after
being in the water for many hours."

"She must live, or I can not bear it," declared Tom Curtis brokenly.
"Oh, won't some one go for a doctor?  Can't you do something else for
her?"

"The man has gone for a doctor, Tom," soothed Mrs. Curtis.  "Does your
arm pain you much?"

"Never mind my arm," groaned Tom.  "She saved my life, mother, and now
she's dead."  His voice broke.

"You mustn't say that," cried Phyllis sharply.  "She _can't_ be dead."

"Phil," entreated Miss Jones, "let me take your place.  I am sure I can
do what you are doing."

Phyllis shook her head.  "I can't leave her."

Phyllis Alden knelt on the ground on one side of the unconscious girl.
Jack Bolling and an old fisherman knelt opposite her.  The artist, Mr.
Brown, was trying to assist in restoring Madge to consciousness.
Phyllis Alden had been drilled in "first aid to the drowning" by her
father.  Long experience with the sea had taught the sailor what to do.
But Madge had resisted all their efforts to bring her to consciousness.
She had battled too long with the merciless waves and her strength was
gone before the fisherman, coming home in his rowboat, had spied the
three figures at the moment when Madge was about to give up the fight.
He had hauled her and Tom inside his boat, and poor Brownie had somehow
managed to swim ashore.

On the beach the fisherman found an anxious group of picnickers
watching the storm with fearful eyes.  Their fear was changed to
horror, however, when the fisherman deposited his ghastly freight on
the beach.

Fifteen minutes after being brought to shore Tom Curtis had returned to
consciousness.  His first words were for Madge.  Although Tom had been
a longer time in the water than his rescuer, his injured arm, which was
sprained, but not broken, had prevented him from making so fierce a
struggle; therefore he was far less exhausted than was his companion.
To those who watched anxiously for the first faint sign of returning
life it seemed hours since the fisherman had laid that still form on
the sand.  It was none other than the old fisherman who discovered the
faint spot of color which appeared in Madge's cheeks, then disappeared.
After that the work of resuscitation went on more steadily than ever,
and slowly and painfully Madge came back to life.  Strange noises
sounded in her ears.  A gigantic weight was pressing upon her chest.
She tried to speak, but it was choking her, crushing her.  She made an
heroic effort to throw it off, and then her eyes opened and dimly she
beheld her friends.

"She has come back to us."  Phil's voice was ineffably tender.  She
glanced up and her eyes met those of Jack Bolling.  Forgetting her
dislike for him, she smiled.  She remembered only that he was Madge's
cousin.  Jack had always thought Phil ugly, but as he gazed into her
big, black eyes and white, serious face, he decided that she had more
character than any other girl he had ever met, and he would never
forget the splendid effort she had made to save his cousin.

As soon as the work of resuscitation was completed and Madge declared
out of danger, Mrs. Curtis insisted that on their return to the
mainland her son's brave little rescuer should be taken to the
Belleview Hotel, where she would be able to rest far more comfortably
than if carried on board the houseboat.

A yacht was chartered to take the picnic party home.  The sailboat had
completely disappeared, and Tom was able to tell only a part of their
strange adventure.  From whence the youth whom they had taken on board
their boat had come and why he had made off with their boat and left
them to drown were questions which no one seemed able to answer.

It was not until two days later that the fisherman, searching along the
very shore from which they had started, found the sailboat resting
quietly at anchor about two miles from the pier where the picnic party
had landed.  The boat was uninjured, and Madge's hat, coat and skirt
lay on the deck, where she had thrown them when she dived into the bay.
But the wild lad who had caused the mischief had vanished completely.
No one near had seen or heard of him.  His identity was a mystery.  If
any one of the fisher folk knew his name, or where he had gone, they
did not betray that knowledge.  Mrs. Curtis wished to offer a reward
for the fellow's capture.  Tom would not consent.  He intended to find
his enemy himself, and to settle his own score.  At night Tom used to
lie awake for hours to plan how he would track the stranger and at last
run him down.  But in the day time he was much too fully occupied with
entertaining his mother's young guest to plan revenge.

Madge had been the guest of Mrs. Curtis at the Belleview Hotel for five
days.  It had taken but a day for her to recover from the effect of her
narrow escape from drowning.  She possessed far too happy a disposition
to dwell long on an uncomfortable memory, and her recent mishap soon
became like a dream to her.  But her feeling of affection for Mrs.
Curtis was not in the least like a dream, and grew stronger with every
hour she spent in her new friend's company.  It was a red letter time
for Madge.

Mrs. Curtis tried in every possible way to manifest her gratitude.  Had
not Madge saved her son's life?  She felt that she could make no
adequate return for the heroic service the young girl had rendered her.

She insisted that the most attractive apartment in the hotel should be
Madge's and surrounded her with all sorts of luxuries.  The young
girl's suite consisted of a cosy little sitting room and a wonderful
bedroom with white, rose-bordered walls and Circassian walnut
furnishings.  There was a little, white bath leading out from the
bedroom and Madge reveled in her new-found treasures.

All day long her apartment was lovely with flowers.  Tom Curtis ordered
a box of roses to be delivered to her each day from Baltimore.  The
roses were presented to Madge every morning when the maid brought up
her breakfast-tray, and for the first time in her life Miss Madge
enjoyed the luxury of eating her breakfast in bed.  Boxes of candy
became so ordinary that she fairly pleaded with her friends when they
came to visit her to take them back to the houseboat.

"Madge will never be happy again on the 'Merry Maid,' will she, girls?"
The four girls were rowing back to their floating home after a visit to
their friend.

"Yes, she will," returned Phil stoutly, though she felt a slight pang
when she remembered how cheerfully Madge had kissed them goodbye.

"I am sure she is well enough to come home now," burst forth Lillian,
"only Mrs. Curtis and Tom won't hear of it.  Dear me!  I suppose our
little captain is happy at last.  She has always dreamed of what it
would feel like to be rich and a heroine, and now she is both.  But
nothing seems quite the same on the boat," she added wistfully.  "I
think we are all homesick for her."

Miss Jennie Ann laughed at their doleful faces.  "She will soon be with
us again," she declared.  "I'll tell you a secret.  She is coming home
to the houseboat day after to-morrow.  She whispered to me to-day that
there was really no reason why she should stay any longer with Mrs.
Curtis, and that she did not wish to presume on her hospitality.  Mrs.
Curtis is very fond of her.  She does not wish Madge to leave her."
Miss Jones looked so mysterious that the girls regarded her curiously.
"I think it is a good thing for Madge and for Mrs. Curtis to spend a
few days together.  Mrs. Curtis is lonely and needs good company,"
added Miss Jones.

"So do we," murmured Phil, with a rueful laugh.  "We need Madge as much
as Mrs. Curtis does."

After the girls had left her, Madge lay back luxuriously among her
linen pillows.  She was looking very lovely in a pale pink silk tea
gown Mrs. Curtis had insisted on her wearing, for Madge had arrived at
the hotel with no clothes other than the wet garments she had on when
rescued from the waves.  Her fine clothes occupied very little of her
thoughts, however.  She had something of far greater import on her mind.

The time had come to tell Mrs. Curtis that she must go back to the
houseboat.  She was not sorry to go; she was only sorry to leave her
new friends.  During her stay at the hotel Mrs. Curtis had treated
Madge as though she were her own daughter.  The imaginative young girl
was completely fascinated with the beautiful, white-haired woman, whose
sad face seemed to indicate that she had suffered some tragedy in her
life.  While Madge lay thinking of the most courteous way in which to
announce that she must return to the "Merry Maid" a light knock sounded
on her door.  Tom's mother came softly into the room, gowned in an
exquisite afternoon costume of violet organdie and fine lace, which was
very becoming to her white hair and youthful face.

"Are you awake, Madge?" were her first words.  "How do you feel?"

Her guest smilingly raised herself from her pillows.  "I am awake as
can be, and as well as can be!  To tell you the truth, Mrs. Curtis, I
have never been in the least ill from my adventure.  I was tired the
day after it happened, but since that time I am afraid I have allowed
you and Tom to believe that I was sick because I liked to be petted and
made much of."  Madge laughed frankly at her own confession.  "You have
been so good to me, and I do appreciate it, but now I must go home to
my comrades.  Eleanor was awfully disappointed to-day when I told her I
was not going back with them this afternoon."

"I wish you would stay with me longer," pleaded Mrs. Curtis, taking the
girl's firm brown hand in hers and looking down at it gravely, as it
lay in her soft white one.  She gazed earnestly at Madge's clear-cut,
expressive face.  "Tom and I will be lonely without you," she said.  "I
want a daughter dreadfully, and Tom needs a sister.  If only you were
my own daughter."

Madge sighed happily.  "It has been beautiful to pretend that I was
your real daughter.  It has been like the games I used to play when I
was a little girl.  I have been lying here in the afternoons, when you
thought I was asleep, making up the nicest 'supposes.'  I supposed that
I was your real daughter, that I had been lost and you had found me
after many years.  Just at first you did not know me, because time had
made such a change in me.  But----  Why, Mrs. Curtis, what is the
matter?"  There was wonder and concern in Madge's question.  "You don't
mind what I have said, do you?  I have been making up things to amuse
myself ever since I was a little girl."  She looked anxiously into the
face of the older woman.  It was very white, and seemed suddenly to
have become drawn and old.

"My dear child, I love to have you tell me of your little dreams and
fancies," said Mrs. Curtis affectionately, laying her hand on Madge's
head.  "What made you think I didn't?"

"You looked as though what I said hurt your feelings," returned Madge,
coloring at her own frankness.

"It was only that something you said brought back a painful memory,"
explained the older woman.  "I would prefer not to talk of it.  Tell
me, is there nothing I can do to induce you to remain with me a little
longer?"

Her guest shook her head.  "Thank you," she replied gratefully, "but I
must go back to my chums.  It won't be going away, really, for I will
come to see you as often as you like, and you and Tom and Jack must
visit us on the houseboat.  I want you to like the other girls _almost_
as well as you do me," smiled Madge.  "Please don't like them quite as
well, though.  That doesn't sound very generous, but I should like to
feel that I was first in your heart."

"You shall be, my dear." Mrs. Curtis bent and kissed the young girl's
soft cheek.  "And to prove just how much I do care for you I wish to
give you something which I hope you will like and keep as a remembrance
of me.  I know your uncle and aunt will be willing to let you have this
little gift when they learn of the spirit which prompted the giving of
it."  Mrs. Curtis drew from a little lavender and gold bag which she
carried a square, white silk box and laid it in the astonished little
captain's hand.

"What--why--is it for me?" stammered Madge, sitting up suddenly, her
eyes fastened on the box.

"It is for no one else," was the smiling answer.  "Shall I open it for
you?"

Mrs. Curtis touched a tiny spring in the white box.  It flew open!

There before Madge's wondering gaze, coiled on its dainty silk bed, lay
a string of creamy pearls.  They were not large, but each pearl was
perfect, an exquisite bit of jewelry.  Mrs. Curtis took the necklace
from its case.  She leaned over and clasped it about Madge's slender
throat, saying: "Tom and I talked a long time about what we wished to
give you as a slight remembrance of our appreciation of what you did
for us.  At last we decided upon this as being particularly suitable to
you.   Then, too, we wished to give you something that came up out of
the sea."

"It is the loveliest necklace in the world," declared Madge happily,
touching the pearls.  "It is far too beautiful for me.  I shall love it
all my life and never, never part with it.  You have been too good to
me, Mrs. Curtis," she added earnestly.

"But think what you did for me," reminded the stately, white-haired
woman.

"That isn't worth remembering.  I did only what any one else would have
done if placed in the same circumstances."

"But you saved my son's life, and that is the greatest service you
could possibly render me."

Yet before her vacation was over Madge Morton was to perform for her
friend a further service equally great.



CHAPTER XIV

MADGE COMES INTO HER OWN AGAIN

Lillian and Eleanor were in the houseboat kitchen, making chocolate
fudge and a caramel cake.

"I think it will be too funny for anything," laughed Eleanor.  "Let's
keep your surprise a secret from the others.  It will be a delightful
way to celebrate Madge's return.  Do you know that we have a hundred
and one things to do today?" she added, stirring her cake batter as
fast as she could.  "This boat must be cleaned from stem to stern.  I
told the boy from the farm to be here at nine o'clock this morning to
scrub the deck.  He hasn't put in his appearance yet.  I wonder which
one of us can be spared to go and hurry him along?"

"Let's ask Miss Jenny Ann," suggested Lillian slyly.  "She has done her
share of the work already, and Mr. Brown is sketching the old garden
near the farmhouse.  Haven't you noticed that our chaperon has been
very much interested in art lately?  Mr. Brown wishes to paint a
picture of our houseboat.  He has a fancy for this neighborhood.  He
thinks it is so picturesque.  'Straws show which way the wind blows,'
you know.  Watch the candy for me.  I'll go ask Miss Jenny Ann if she
will go out and round up our faithless boy."

Miss Jones was quite willing to go, and started out, leaving the girls
to their cleaning.  Every now and then they were seized with a desire
to work, which caused them to fall upon the houseboat and clean it from
end to end.  This morning the fever had been upon them from the time
they had risen, and by the time Miss Jenny Ann started upon her errand
it was in full swing.

Jack Bolling and Tom Curtis were to bring Madge home late in the
afternoon, and, as a surprise for Madge, the boys had been invited to
remain to tea.  It was therefore quite necessary that their floating
home should be well swept and garnished.

"Where's Phil?" asked Lillian, stepping from the kitchen out onto the
deck, where Eleanor had gone after having seen her cake safely in the
oven.

There came a series of raps on the cabin roof.  Phil leaned over among
the honeysuckle vines on the upper deck.  "I am up here, maiden,
digging in our window boxes.  Want me for anything?"

"No," returned Eleanor, as she vanished inside the kitchen again.  "But
sing out if you see Miss Jenny Ann and the boy coming."

A little while later Phil saw the figure of a young man coming slowly
down the path toward the houseboat.  She thought, of course, that it
was the boy from the farm.  She did not turn around.  She was too
deeply engrossed in pulling up the weeds that had mysteriously appeared
in their window boxes.  When his footsteps sounded on the floor of the
lower deck she called out carelessly, "Miss Seldon and Miss Butler are
in the cabin waiting for you.  Miss Jones is not here.  I suppose she
gave you the message."

The youth, who had been moving cautiously toward the houseboat, was not
the boy for whom the girls were waiting.  This one had black, curly
hair and wild dark eyes.  He looked up and down the shore.  There was
no one in sight.

Although there were several farmhouses beyond the embankment that
sloped down to the inlet of the bay, there was no house within calling
distance of the "Merry Maid."  Their boat was anchored to the pier only
a few yards from the shore, tied firmly to one of the upstanding posts.
The youth grinned maliciously.  He decided that he had met with an
unexpected stroke of good luck.  He was hungry and penniless.  Nothing
could be easier than to terrify the girls on board into submission,
take what money and food they had, and be off with it before any one
appeared to help them.  If it was a desperate venture, well, he must
take a desperate chance.  He could not wander around in the woods
forever with no food or money.

Meanwhile Phil had not once glanced behind her.  "You'd better begin
scrubbing at once," she directed.  "We have been waiting for you a long
time.  We wish to get our houseboat in order.  We are going to give a
party for our friends.  Do hurry, there is such a lot to do."

The young man below was not troubling himself about the amount of work
to be done; he had other matters to consider.  This girl on top the
cabin deck was evidently expecting some one.  She would not come down
her little ladder unless she heard a noise or disturbance from below.
The next question was, how many girls were on board and where were they?

Eleanor and Lillian had finished the cake and the fudge.  They had
brought them into the living room and set them on the table to wait for
the evening tea party.  Eleanor was tired.

She had thrown herself down on a lounge and her eyes were closed.
Lillian, with her back to the door, stood talking to her friend.  They
did not hear the intruder's light footfalls.

Suddenly Lillian felt her two hands caught roughly behind her in such a
powerful grasp that she staggered back.  Eleanor sprang from the couch,
opening her eyes in amazement!  She saw Lillian struggling with a man
whose face wore the expression of a hungry animal.

"Don't scream," he ordered harshly.  "Give me what food and money you
have and I will let you go.  If you scream, you will be sorry."  He
glared savagely at the two girls.

Lillian tried to wrench her hands from his grasp.  They were pinioned
so tightly behind her that she could not move.  Eleanor slipped off her
divan.  She and Lillian had no weapons with which to defend themselves.
Eleanor thought if she could get out of the room, while the man held
Lillian, she could cry for help.  Her first scream would bring Phyllis
to their aid, and Phil would come to their assistance prepared to fight.

Eleanor looked so young and girlish that no one would have expected her
to show resistance.  She tried to look even more frightened than she
really felt.  "We haven't any money on board," she said quietly.  "We
don't keep our money here, but if you are hungry, we will give you
something to eat without your being so fierce."  Eleanor was edging
slowly away from her couch.

"I don't want a slice of pie and your stale bread," the man replied
angrily.  "I want everything you have got, and I want it quick."

Now was Eleanor's chance.  Lillian gave another frantic tug, attempting
to free her hands.  She had not cried out since the man seized her, but
her face was contracted with pain.  The robber was so fully occupied
with holding her he was not looking at Eleanor, although his eyes
slanted go curiously that he could apparently see on all sides of him.

Eleanor made a quick rush forward.  With a thud she fell to the floor,
and lay stunned by the force of her fall.  The tramp, still holding
Lillian by her wrists, had jerked her backward, thrown out his foot and
tripped Eleanor.  Now, before Lillian could scream, he whipped out a
dirty handkerchief and tied it so tightly about her mouth that she
could scarcely breathe.  He next took a piece of twine and twisted it
about Lillian's wrists, so that the cord cut into them.

While this scene of violence was being enacted Phil was perfectly happy
and strangely unconscious of any trouble.  She was still at work,
sweeping the upper deck and clearing it of the trash she had made with
her gardening.  She was humming gayly to herself or she would have
heard the sounds below more plainly.  "There was a man in our town, and
he was wondrous wise."  She stopped short.  She had heard a noise, as
though something had fallen.  But then, the girls were always dropping
things and stumbling over their few pieces of furniture.  There was no
further noise.  Phil went on with her singing.  But why did Lillian and
Eleanor not start the farmer boy to scrubbing?  It was getting late,
and they wished to decorate the boat.  Phil was too busy at her own
task to go down to discover the reason.

The tramp gazed sarcastically at Lillian, whose eyes watched him
defiantly, then at Eleanor, who was still lying on the floor.  "Now,
girls," he began with mock politeness, "I imagine you will be kind
enough to be quiet for a time at least.  So I think I will look around
to see if there is anything here that I would like."  He seized poor
Lillian's plate of chocolate fudge and stuffed the candy into his
pockets.  Then he left the sitting room and crept into the bedroom
which was used by Miss Jones and Eleanor.  He found Eleanor's purse
under her pillow and pocketed it.  On the small dressing-table was Miss
Jenny Ann's purse.  He chuckled softly.  This was the best of the sport.

Phil's humming upstairs stopped.  Why did that lazy farmer boy not get
to his work?  And where were Lillian and Nellie?  Phil listened.  She
thought she heard such an odd noise.  It was as though some one were
trying to talk while choking.   She ran lightly down the outside cabin
steps, her broom still in her hand.  She peered into the kitchen.  It
was empty.  Phil did not go into the sitting room next.  Some instinct
must have guided her.  Had she seen the plight poor Lillian and Eleanor
were in, she must have screamed and betrayed herself.  Instead she
stepped into Miss Jones's bedroom.

The youth, with his back to the door, had ears like the creatures of
the woods.  Under other circumstances he would have heard Phyllis's
approach.  But something in the discovery of Miss Jenny Ann's poor
little purse seemed to give him special joy.  He was opening it and
emptying it of its last penny.

Phil saw him from the open cabin door.  She did not think--she acted.
She saw, as she supposed, the farmer lad, intent on robbing them.  Phil
brought her broom down on the boy's head with a resounding whack.

The tramp started forward with a growl.  For the moment he was nearly
blinded from the pain of the blow.

Phil recognized that discretion was now the better part of valor.  She
dashed out of one door, then into another, the youth stumbling after
her, raging with anger.  She knew every turn and twist of the tiny
cabin.  Instead of running around the deck, where she would surely have
been captured, she darted in and out of the cabin doors, those on the
inside, swinging backward and forward, sometimes closing a door in the
face of her pursuer.

She was almost overcome with horror when she saw Lillian and Eleanor in
the sitting-room.  Lillian could not speak, but her eyes pleaded with
Phil.  Phyllis had no reason not to cry out.  As she ran she screamed
with all her might:

"Help, help, help!"  Some one would soon be passing along the shore who
would come to their aid.

The thief did not like the noise Phyllis made.  He also thought her
cries would be heard on the shore.  He had found what he wanted.  He
had no idea of being caught on the houseboat.  But he had spied
Eleanor's caramel cake on the table.  He would take that and be off in
a hurry.

As he grabbed Eleanor's cake, the product of her morning's work and the
chief ornament of their tea party, Eleanor opened her eyes.  The sight
was more than she could bear.  She gave a heart-rending scream.  It
added to the tramp's alarm.  He made for the shore as fast as he could
run.

Phil saw him start.  She ran back of the kitchen and caught up
something that lay coiled in a heap on the deck.  As the thief ran down
the gang plank and leaped on the land, it flew through the air with a
hissing, swinging noise.  The youth fell face downward, his arms close
to his sides, letting the beloved cake drop to the ground.

Not for nothing had Miss Phyllis Alden seen Miss Jenny Ann rescued from
a wild bull by means of a lasso.  Not for nothing had she spent hours
of her time, and one of her few dollars, in acquiring the skill
necessary to the swinging of a lariat.  She now had her enemy held
fast.  At the same instant that Phil caught her prey, before he had
time to jerk away, she knotted her rope about the cleat that held the
anchor.

On the shore, the youth tugged and strained.  He ran back into the
water.  It struck him that he might climb aboard the boat again.  But
his arms were caught down at his sides.  It was impossible for him to
get at a knife to cut the ropes.  He could ease off the noose with his
teeth, but it would be a slow process of escape.

As soon as Phil had her victim fast, she rushed back into the sitting
room.  She found Eleanor on her feet, engaged in untying the
handkerchief from Lillian's face and cutting the twine that was bound
about her swollen wrists.

"I've caught the enemy and he is ours," declared Phil cheerfully.  "I
have him tied to the side of the boat.  I can't say how long it may
take him to get away, and he may climb back on the boat and try to eat
us up.  But, at least, we can get ready for him."

The robber was doggedly working at the rope that bound him.  "I am
going to get back at you," he yelled savagely.

"Oh, why doesn't some one come?" cried Eleanor.  "I am so afraid he'll
get away."

There was a cheerful whistle at the top of the embankment.  It turned
to one of horrified amazement as the artist, Theodore Brown, took in
the situation.

"What has happened?" he called out as he ran down the hill, swinging a
small stick in his hand.  "I heard your screams away over in the
fields.  What have you got there?"

Phil told the story, "What shall we do with our prisoner, Mr. Brown?
We can't be bothered with him.  We must get ready for our tea party,"
she concluded.

"I don't know what you wish to do with the young rascal," rejoined Mr.
Brown, "but I know very well what I intend to do."  The artist's face
was set and stern.  His eyes gleamed with righteous anger.  Then he
began calmly rolling up his sleeves.  He went forward to the prisoner.
"I am going to give you a taste of this," he declared, swinging his
stick through the air.  It hit Phil's captive with a swish, once,
twice, three times.  Mr. Brown was just warming up to his work.

"Leave me alone," the fellow howled.  "Aren't you a coward to hit me
when I can't get at you!"

"You were not troubled about being a coward when you tried to terrorize
three girls and got pretty badly left," Mr. Brown answered coolly,
giving the youth another cut.

The bully groaned.  The girls could not endure it.  If the lad had
taken his medicine like a man they might have borne the sight of his
punishment.  But there is nothing more sickening than the fear of a
coward.

"Please stop now, Mr. Brown," entreated Lillian.  "I am sure you have
punished the boy enough.  Make him give up the money he has stolen, but
don't beat him any more."

"No, please, don't beat him any more," echoed Eleanor.

Phil could have endured to see the thrashing continue a little longer.
But she did not wish to appear hard-hearted.

"Just as you like," answered Mr. Brown.  "I am enjoying myself, but I
will quit if you say so.  Don't you think I had better turn him over to
the police?"

"No," Phil protested.  "He won't trouble us again, now he knows we can
look after ourselves.  Next time he wouldn't get off so easily."

The youth vowed never to come within the range of the houseboat if he
were permitted to go free this time.  As he got out of sight he stopped
to shake his fist at the distant houseboat, and he vowed to be revenged
for the punishment he had received if it cost him his life.

The girls begged Mr. Brown to say nothing to their chaperon of their
encounter.  Miss Jenny Ann was already dreadfully nervous about them
and, besides, it would spoil Madge's home coming.

By the middle of the afternoon Eleanor had made another caramel cake
and Lillian another plate of fudge.  The farmer boy had come down after
luncheon, and had scrubbed the decks of the houseboat to the last
degree of cleanliness.  The girls had hung flags everywhere, and on the
outside of the cabin, facing the water, Phyllis had hung a piece of
white bunting with the word "Welcome" stamped on it in large letters.
This was the first thing Madge would see as she came within sight of
the houseboat.

Inside the cabin the table was set for tea.  It held the best pickles,
preserves, cold meats and jellies that the houseboat larder could
furnish.  Lillian had made a pitcher of lemonade and another of iced
tea.  Miss Jones had roasted potatoes, and her corn muffins were ready
to slip into the oven as soon as she heard their friends approaching.

The three girls and their chaperon wore simple white frocks, with blue
sashes knotted about their waists, for blue and white were the
houseboat colors.

They were watching a golden sunset from the deck of their ship when,
together, they espied a figure standing up in a small skiff that was
moving in their direction.  The boat was rowed by one man.  The other
man sat with his arm in a sling.  The upright figure was waving a great
bunch of flowers.

"Madge is coming!" cried Phil.  The four women got out their
handkerchiefs and shouted across the water.

As Madge climbed aboard the boat a strange, squeaky sound greeted her.
First it played fast, then slow.  It was undoubtedly music.

  "My bonnie lies over the ocean,
    My bonnie lies over the sea,
  My bonnie lies over the ocean,
    Oh, bring back my bonnie to me."

The tune was old as the hills.

"What on earth is that?" demanded Madge, as she kissed her chaperon and
started around the semi-circle of her chums.

"It's Lillian's surprise!" Eleanor explained.  "It's a hurdy-gurdy.  We
found it in the village.  I know it is pretty old.  But Lillian
persuaded the man to bring it on board, as we thought it would be jolly
to have a dance on the deck to-night in honor of Miss Madge Morton,
captain of the 'Merry Maid.'"



CHAPTER XV

A CALL FOR HELP

"Madge, you must go over to Fisherman's Island with me," urged Phil a
few days later.  "I feel dreadfully about Mollie.  I promised the poor
girl that we would come to see her soon.  Now, a long time has passed;
we have never been there.  Eleanor and Lillian are anxious to go along
with me.  Mollie is perfectly lovely, and I am heartily sorry for her.
Do come with us, there's a dear.  Don't pretend you are tired, or make
Miss Jones think you are sick.  You are just as well now as any of the
rest of us.  If you don't come, it is just because you want to stay
here to read that silly novel.  Real people are much more interesting
than stories."

Madge yawned and stretched herself lazily in the steamer chair.  "Phil,
it is awfully hot on the water.  Couldn't we go to see your girl some
other time?  If she has waited this long, she may as well wait a little
longer.  You see, I promised Mrs. Curtis I wouldn't go out in the sun."

"Madge Morton, you are putting on airs.  Going out in the sun, indeed!"
Phil sniffed disdainfully.  "When did the sun ever hurt you?  You just
love to have people spoil you.  You know there is nothing in the world
the matter with you now.  But please don't come, if you do not wish to.
Nellie and Lillian and I are going now."

Phyllis walked quietly away, with her head in the air.  Madge was
really too provoking.

Madge closed her book with a bang and rushed after her friend.  "Of
course I wish to go with you, Phil.  I am interested in your pretty
girl.  I had reached the most exciting part of my story when you asked
me, and----  Now, you will hurt my feelings dreadfully if you don't let
me go along with you!  Just think, Phyllis Alden.  You said I was
spoiled, and that I liked to pretend I was sick, and I didn't get one
bit angry.  Don't you truly think my temper is improving?"

Phyllis laughed.  "Oh, come on, if you like.  Do you think Miss Jenny
Ann would mind my taking the poor girl a basket of nice things?  I mean
things that any girl would like.  My friend isn't in the least like a
beggar."

"Of course, Miss Jones will let you do anything you like, Phil,"
replied Madge.  "I am the only person she does not approve of."  Madge
felt angry because her chaperon had intimated that Madge was hurting
Eleanor's feelings by talking so much of her Mrs. Curtis and the
beautiful time she had spent with her.  And Madge, though she needed
criticism even more than most other girls, was just as little pleased
at receiving it.

The girls rowed over to the island in a short time.  It was a lovely
day, and not too warm on the water.

"I wonder, Phil, if there is a chance of our coming across the thief
who attacked you on the houseboat?  He may he in hiding on this
island," said Madge as the four girls pulled their skiff up on the
beach.  "From your description I feel almost certain that he is the
same boy who went off with our sailboat.  I'd like to come across him
again."

"Well, I wouldn't," declared Lillian.  "I am not so bloodthirsty as you
girls are."

The girls met no one along the beach, except a few children.  Phil led
them straight to the tent, where she had talked with the afflicted
girl.  "Of course, there isn't much of a chance that we shall find
Mollie in the tent," explained Phil, "but I thought I would look here
first."

"Do you know the girl's name, Phil?" queried Eleanor.

Phyllis shook her head.  "Not her real name.  I only call her Mollie
because her dreadful old father called her 'Moll,' and 'Moll' is an
ugly name."

The tent was more forlorn and dilapidated than ever.  It was empty.
There was not a sign of life anywhere about, except for a few faded
wild flowers cast carelessly in the corner of the tent.

Madge picked them up.  "These flowers make me think of poor 'Ophelia'
in the play of 'Hamlet.'  Ophelia went mad, you know, and wandered
about with wild flowers in her hair."

"Mollie isn't the least bit crazy, Madge.  You will understand that as
soon as you see her," protested Phil.  "It is only that she is like a
child, and does not remember things.  Would you girls mind going around
to the other side of the island?  Mollie said their shanty boat was
over there.  I do so want to find her."

Lillian hesitated.  "I don't think we ought to go among those rough
fishermen again," she protested.  "We are sure to see some rude sailors
over there who might speak to us."

"Oh, don't worry, Lillian," reassured Madge.  "I am sure no one would
dare say anything to us."

Madge was now deeply interested in the discovery of Phil's friend and
longing for any kind of adventure.  She had fully made up her mind to
see Mollie if it were possible.

It was more than a mile walk around the island.  But the girls came, at
last, to a spot where they again beheld a dirty canal boat made fast to
a tree on the sandy shore.  A huge woman, with a coarse, dreadful face,
sat out on deck holding a baby in her lap.  Several small children
played near her.  But there was no sign of Mollie.  Captain Mike was
gone, and with him his sailboat.

Phil went as near the edge of the shore as she could.  The woman gazed
at the four chums with sullen curiosity.  She presumed that they had
come to ask her husband to take them out sailing.  But Phil spoke up
boldly: "May we see your daughter?" she inquired politely.  "I met her
the other day on the island and told her we would come to see her."

The woman's expression changed at once to an ugly scowl.  Phil and
Madge wondered why their request should make her so angry.  What harm
could come from their calling on the poor, half-crazed girl?  Surely it
was plain that they meant her no wrong.

"We want to be friends with your daughter," Madge declared haughtily;
"we do not wish to injure her."

"Moll ain't here no more," the woman replied sulkily.  "Her father has
took her away.  She ain't never coming back."  The woman grinned as the
four girls went away.

"O Madge!" Phil exclaimed, with her eyes full of tears, "I do feel so
sorry.  I am afraid we have come too late.  Poor Mollie will think I
have broken my promise.  What could have happened to her?  Do you think
her horrible old father has put her in an asylum?  She told me that he
often threatened her, unless she did whatever he said."

"Don't worry, Phil dear," Madge replied sympathetically.  "Perhaps the
woman was telling us a story and simply did not wish us to see her
daughter.  I will come to the island with you again.  Maybe we can find
her next time."

The girls hurried on until they were almost at the place where they had
left their rowboat.  Phil was unusually sorrowful and silent.  She
still carried her little basket with the gifts for her new friend.  The
memory of a pair of wonderful blue eyes haunted her.  Mollie's face had
looked so longingly into hers; it was filled with a wistful sorrow and
was haunted by fear and loneliness.  It was not that of one who is mad.

"Girls," spoke Phil quickly, "will you go on down to the boat and wait
for me?  I am going to run over to the tent and take another look in
there.  At any rate, I am going to leave this basket of food.  I won't
be gone but a minute."

Phyllis walked rapidly toward the tent.  She half hoped she would find
the vanished girl inside it.  But the tent was still empty.  Phil set
down her basket.  She was strangely disappointed and grieved.  She
could do nothing more.  There was nothing to do save go back to her
friends.  As she stepped toward the tent opening her foot caught in a
piece of ragged carpet.  Like a flash Phyllis remembered.  Had she not
told Mollie to slip a note under this carpet if she was ever in trouble
or in danger and desired their help?  Phil slid her hand under the rug
and found a torn scrap of yellow wrapping paper.  On it was penciled in
the handwriting of a child:

"I am in much trouble.  Please, please come to help me.  You promised."



CHAPTER XVI

THE ATTEMPTED RESCUE

"I will go back to the shanty boat with you now, Phil," volunteered
Madge when Phyllis returned to her chums, carrying the pathetic scrap
of paper.  "We have the food you brought in the basket, which we can
eat for luncheon.  Lillian and Nellie can row over to the houseboat to
tell Miss Jenny Ann that we mean to spend the day here.  Then, perhaps,
they will row back for us this afternoon."

"I don't think we ought to leave you and Phil alone on this island,"
remonstrated Eleanor, "especially when you won't have a boat.  If
anything should happen, there would be no chance of your getting away."

"I'll tell you what to do, Nellie," suggested Phil.  "Suppose you and
Lillian go home and then send our boat over to us immediately.  The
farmer boy will bring it for us.  He can tow it and then row back in
his own skiff.  Ask him to anchor our boat in this same place.  Madge
and I will come home as soon as we find out whether there is anything
we can do for poor Mollie."

Lillian and Eleanor were reluctant to leave their two friends.  But
there seemed nothing else to be done.  The thought of their chaperon's
anxiety at last persuaded them to go, and they departed after promising
to send the boat over immediately they reached the "Merry Maid."

"What do you think we had better do, Phil?" asked Madge as the other
two girls rowed out of sight.

Phil frowned and shook her head.  "I haven't the faintest idea, Madge;
I am afraid we are too late to do anything.  That dreadful Mike has
already taken his daughter away.  I believe she wrote us several days
ago, when she first heard what they meant to do with her.  But I can't
understand why her father wishes to put her in an asylum.  She is much
too useful to them.  She does nearly all the washing and cooking on
that miserable old shanty boat."

"I do wish we had some money," declared Madge thoughtfully.  "I believe
Mike would do anything for money.  If we could only take care of
Mollie, perhaps her father would let us have her.  But you and I are as
poor as church mice, Phil.  Isn't it horrid?"

"I don't believe the man would give his daughter to us if we merely
offered to take care of her.  She is too useful to him.  But he might
let her come with us if we could pay him a great deal of money besides.
At least, if we offered him a bribe he might be influenced to tell us
where poor Mollie is.  However, there is no use in talking about money.
We'll have to do the best we can without it," finished Phil.

The two friends were walking disconsolately along the shore of the
island.  Neither one of them was anxious to return to the shanty boat
for another interview with the slatternly woman who presided over it.

"Phil," Madge's eyes brightened, "if we need any money to help this
girl, I feel sure Mrs. Curtis will be glad to give it to us.  She is
rich and generous, and Tom says she dearly loves to do things for those
who are in need.  I should not mind in the least asking her help.  She
is very fond of young girls."

"She is very fond of you, at any rate," returned Phyllis, with a
smothered sigh.  "Sometimes I feel as though she wanted to take you
away from us for keeps."

Madge laughed.  "What nonsense, Phil.  Why should she wish to take me
away for 'keeps'?"

But Phyllis did not reply to the little captain's laughing question.

"Let's not go around to the shanty boat the way we did this morning.
Let us go back the opposite way, and then we shall have encircled the
whole island," planned Madge.  "If Mollie is hidden anywhere, we might
happen to discover her."

The loneliness of their walk affected both Madge and Phyllis.  There
were no houses on the island.  It was visited in the autumn for duck
shooting, and in the summer was used as a camping ground for a few
fisher folk.  The girls passed only one man in their entire journey.
He was lying under a tree, fast asleep.  A hat covered his face.  As
the two friends hurried by they did not seek to discover who the man
was.  He was a rough-looking fellow, and they preferred not to awaken
him.

This time the deck of the shanty boat was deserted.  It was noon.  The
other members of the small shanty colony must have been out on the
water, for there was no one in sight.

The girls stood staring irresolutely at the boat.  "I suppose the woman
is indoors fixing the luncheon.  I can see the smoke coming through the
smokestack," declared Phil.  "Shall we call to her, or just march
boldly aboard her old boat?"

"I don't know," hesitated Madge.  "I don't believe we ought to mention
Mollie's note.  We might get the child into more trouble."

Phyllis shook her head.  "Well, then, you decide upon something.  You
always plan things better than I do.  I think we had better say that we
have come back to inquire of Captain Mike how long he expects Mollie to
be away.  Then we can insist on waiting until his sailboat returns."

The two girls strode bravely up the single, rickety board that served
as the gangplank of the shanty boat.  At their first step on the dock a
yellow dog rushed to the door of the dirty kitchen and set up a furious
barking.  Behind him stood the menacing figure of the woman whom Madge
and Phil had seen a short time before.  About her torn skirts were
clustered three or four stupid-looking, tow-headed children.  It was
impossible for Phil to conceive how beautiful Mollie could be a member
of such a family.  Yet the unfortunate girl had told Phyllis that she
had known no other than the hard, joyless life she had always led.

It was Madge who opened the conversation this time.  To her
disappointment she received no different answer to her inquiries than
had Phil.  "Moll was gone."  The woman did not know where she had gone
and she didn't care.  But she wasn't coming back.  Further, Mollie's
step-mother did not see what business Phil and Madge had in coming to
ask about her.

"We are going to wait to talk to your husband," announced Phil with
quiet decision.

"You git off my boat in a hurry," the woman snarled angrily.  "You can
stay on the island all day if you like, but you can't hang around here.
Mike won't be home before night, and he ain't goin' to tell you nothin'
then.  You'll find the beach pretty comfortable; it's so nice and
shady."  The woman grinned maliciously.

The two girls sat down on the stretch of hot sand near the water.  They
were doggedly determined to wait as long as possible for Mike Muldoon's
return.  Mollie's pathetic appeal had touched Madge as deeply as it had
Phil, and they were both resolved to help the child if they could.

The hours dragged by on leaden wings.  Madge's head ached violently.
Phil was beginning to think longingly of the basket of food which she
had left in the tent and wondering if it would do for her to go after
it while Madge stayed on guard.  As she sat deliberating as to what
course of action would be the wisest, a sudden commotion arose among
the children playing on the deck of the shanty boat.  The dog began to
bark furiously.  "Mammy, here comes Pap," the oldest child cried.

The tired girls could see that a sailboat was being anchored near the
shore.  A few moments later Mike, who insisted on being called
"Captain," got into a skiff and rowed toward the land.

Madge sprang to her feet and ran down to the edge of the water.  She
wished to attract Mike's attention before he went aboard his own shanty
boat.  To think with her was to act.  She realized that she must speak
to the man before his wife could tell him the nature of their errand.
If Mike Muldoon learned their real design, he might shut himself inside
his shanty and refuse to talk to them.

[Illustration: The girls ran down to the water's edge.]

Mike rowed toward his callers, who were anxiously waiting for him.  As
his boat scraped the shore his wife shrieked at him, "Come here fust,
Mike!  Don't you be goin' talkin' to the likes of them before I tells
you somethin'."

She was too late.  Captain Mike had already turned to Madge.  He
supposed the girls had come to engage his sailboat.

Captain Madge decided to try diplomacy.  She did not wish to make the
sailor angry.  She hoped she might persuade him to do what they wished.

"We have not come to rent your sailboat today, Captain Mike," she
announced cheerfully, "we are coming for that another time.  What we
wish now is to ask you what has become of your pretty daughter?  We
have crossed all the way over to the island to make her a call.  And
now we can't find her.  We wish to make friends with her, if you don't
mind."

"Moll can't make friends with nobody," Mike answered suspiciously, his
skin turning a mottled red under its coat of tan.  "I told you Moll was
foolish."

"Yes, I know," answered Phil unwisely.  "That is why we are so sorry
for her."

Mike scowled darkly.  "You ain't got no cause to be sorry for the gal.
Who told you she was treated mean?  Nobody don't hurt her.  But you
can't see her.  She is sick."

"Why, your wife told us she had gone away!" exclaimed Phil impetuously.

She could have cried with regret the next moment, for she realized how
foolish she had been.

"So she has gone away," Mike muttered, "and she is sick.  I ain't no
liar and my wife ain't neither."

"When will she come back, Captain Mike?" asked Madge in a friendly
tone, hoping the title of "captain" would soften the surly sailor.

"She's not comin' back," the man replied impatiently.  "I've got to go
to my dinner, and I ain't goin' to answer no more questions.  Don't you
come foolin' around this way any more; my old woman don't like it.  I
warn you for your good."

Phil was tired of deceit.  She knew Mike had not told them the truth.
"Captain Mike," she demanded coolly, "have you put your daughter in an
asylum?  If you have, I think you have been both inhuman and cruel.
Mollie is not crazy.  If you will tell us where she is we will look
after her, and she need not bother you any more."  She raised her dark
eyes and gazed defiantly at the angry sailor, who shook his great red
fist full in her face.

"You'll take a man's own daughter away from him, will you?" he raged.
"What makes you so interested in my gal?  And who told you Moll was
shut up with a lot of crazies?  My Moll is going to be married; she has
gone away to git her weddin' clothes."

He laughed tantalizingly into the girls' faces as though well pleased
with his own joke.

"Mollie married?" Phil exclaimed in horror.  "Why, she----"  Then Phil
stopped herself and inquired, with an innocent expression of interest,
"Whom did you say Mollie was going to marry?"

"She is going to marry Bill Barnes, a friend of mine," retorted the
sailor sarcastically, his heavy shoulders shaking with savage
amusement.  "He ain't much to look at.  It's kind of a case of Beauty
and the Beast with him and my Moll.  But she's powerful fond of him."

"Mike!" a shrill voice screamed from the shanty boat kitchen, "come
along in here."

Mike glared at his questioners, his face set in savage lines.  "Don't
never come here agin," he growled.  "If you do, I ain't sayin' what
will happen to you."  Turning abruptly he strode toward his boat,
leaving the girls standing where he had first met them.

There was nothing for Madge and Phil to do but to return once more to
their own boat.  "O Madge! it is too dreadful!" exclaimed Phil in a
husky voice.  "I understand now what poor Mollie meant.  She said there
was one thing she would never do, no matter how cruel her father might
he with her.  Of course, she knew they were going to try to force her
to marry some frightful looking fisherman.  We simply must try to find
her and save her.  It is a wicked shame!"

"Don't be so wretched, Phil," comforted Madge, though she felt equally
miserable.  "You are right; we must find out how to save poor, pretty
Mollie.  I can't think what we ought to do, just this minute, but we
must do our best.  Now I think we shall have to go home and talk things
over with Miss Jenny Ann and the girls.  We will come back to-morrow,
prepared to make a fight to save Mollie.  Surely she can't be married
by that time."

The two friends stopped by the tent for their basket of food and sat
down just outside it under a tree to eat their luncheon.  Neither of
them noticed that they had seated themselves with their backs to the
water, and they were so interested in talking of Mollie that they gave
no thought to the outgoing tide.  By rising they could see their boat
drawn up on the shore, where, as arranged with Lillian and Eleanor, it
had been left by the farm boy.  What they failed to notice, however,
was the distance it lay from the water line, and they also had
forgotten that it was time for the going out of the tide.

As they sat quietly eating their luncheon the sound of running feet was
borne to their ears.  Nearer and nearer they came.  Then round the
curve of the beach darted the object of their morning's search.  With a
wild cry she flung herself upon Phil.  "You said you would help me,"
she moaned.  "Oh, help me now."  Little rivulets of water ran from her
ragged clothing.  The pupils of her dark blue eyes were distended with
fear.  Her dress was torn across her shoulder and an ugly bruise showed
through it.  There was a long, red welt on her cheek that looked as
though it had been made with a whip, and another across one forearm.

Madge and Phyllis rushed toward the frightened girl.  Phil put her arm
protectingly about Mollie while Madge stood on guard.  Resolution and
defiance looked out from their young faces.  They were not afraid of
poor Mollie's captors.  They would fight for her.

"How did you come to us?  Where have you been?" questioned Phil.

Five minutes had passed and no one had appeared.  "Sit down here,
Mollie.  We won't let any one hurt you."

"I was hidden in the shanty boat, locked in a dark closet," faltered
Mollie, casting a terrified glance about her.  "I heard you ask for me,
but I could not come out.  The woman is more cruel to me than the man.
She would have killed me.  But when my father came home he was so angry
because you had been to see me that he beat me and said I must marry
Bill to-morrow, before you could come back to help me.  Oh, he is
horrible!  I won't marry him!  I'll die first!  I crawled through a
porthole in the boat when I heard what they said.  I dropped into the
water and swam and swam until I could land on the beach out of sight of
my father's boat.  Then I ran until I found you.  But they will try to
find me.  They may be looking for me now.  Tell me, tell me what I must
do?"

"Don't be frightened," soothed Madge.  "They can't force you to marry
Bill or any one else against your will.  Phil and I will take care of
you.  Come with us.  We are going over to our houseboat now.  Your
father need not know what has become of you.  Hurry!"  Madge was
listening intently for sounds announcing the coming of Mollie's
pursuers.  So far the girls were safe.  A moment more and they would be
in their rowboat.

Linking their arms within Mollie's her rescuers hurried her along.
Straight to the water's edge they ran, then a cry of consternation went
up from the two girls.

"O Madge! what shall we do?  We forgot all about the tide," mourned
Phil.  "It has gone out, and now we'll have to drag our heavy boat half
a mile through the sand to the water or else wait until the tide runs
in again before we can get away from the island."



CHAPTER XVII

THE CAPTURE

Madge hurried down to where their rowboat lay.  She dragged the anchor
out of the sand and pulled at the skiff with all her might.  Phil also
took hold and together the two girls worked like beavers, but without
success.  The boat was firmly wedged in the sand.

"Is there any place on the island where we can hide, Mollie?"
questioned Phil as the two girls rested for a moment from their
fruitless effort.  "We can not leave here until the tide turns."

"I know a cave," said Mollie hesitatingly.  "It is in the woods not
very far from the beach.  But I am afraid they will find us there."

"We had better go to it," urged Madge, wiping the perspiration from her
tired face.  "At least we can hide in the cave for a while, until we
make up our minds what is best for us to do, We may not be discovered
until the tide turns.  Later on I shall slip down here again to see if
things are safe, and then we can make a run for our boat.  If we wait
here along the shore, we shall not have the least chance of escaping.
The first person who comes to look for Mollie will surely see us.  Come
on.  We have no time to lose."

This time Mollie led the way through a tangle of trees and underbrush
to the center of the little island.  Here they found the cave which was
only an opening behind an immense old tree that had been uprooted by a
storm.  A flat rock protruded over the hollow, and the sand had
gradually drifted away until the cavity was hardly large enough to hold
the three girls.  These were cramped quarters, and they were only
partially protected from view by the immense roots of the fallen tree,
but they knew of no other refuge and resolved to make the best of it.

The girls had barely crept into their hiding place when they heard a
noise of some one tramping through the underbrush.  A few moments later
a man slouched along a narrow path between the trees.  His hat was
pulled down over his face, but Madge and Phil recognized him by his
dress as the man they had seen asleep on the ground earlier in the day.

Mollie made no sound.  She was hidden between the two friends, and
never in her life before, so far as she could recall, had she been so
protected by affection.  But her increased trembling told her rescuers
that she had recognized the man who passed so near to them, and that
she feared him.

"It's Bill," she faltered when the figure disappeared without having
the slightest suspicion that he was being watched.  "He is on his way
to our boat.  He will ask for me, and my father will be sure to find
out that I have gone.  Then they will come out here to hunt for me."

For a long time after Mollie's disquieting prediction none of the three
prisoners spoke.  They hardly dared to breathe.  Their bodies ached
from their cramped, uncomfortable positions; they were hungry, and,
worse than anything else, Madge and Phyllis were tormented with thirst.
Since leaving the houseboat early in the morning they had drunk no
water.  Phil was thinking remorsefully that all this trouble had come
from her asking Madge to go with her to the island in search of Mollie.

Madge was wondering just what she would do and say if Mollie's father
should find them, while Mollie's delicate face had lost its expression
of apathy and now wore one of lively terror.  Even the faint rustle of
leaves as a passing breeze swept through the trees caused her to start.
An hour passed and no one came to look for them.  Either Mike had not
learned of his daughter's escape, or else he had not taken the trouble
to come to search for her.  He must have believed that she would return
to the boat later on of her own accord, driven by hunger and loneliness.

It was now growing late in the afternoon.  Neither Madge nor Phyllis
wore a watch, so it was impossible to tell how much time they had spent
in the cave.  Miss Jenny Ann would wonder what had happened.  Of
course, Lillian and Eleanor would explain matters.  Miss Jones might
remember the tide and understand what was keeping them away.  Yet there
was a lively possibility that she might fail to take the tide into
consideration.

At last Madge decided to end the suspense.

She knew their skiff would float from the shore of Fisherman's Island
several hours before full tide.  They had tried to make their escape at
the moment when the tide was almost at its lowest ebb.  The tide had
been high that morning.  It was nearly two o'clock in the afternoon
when they had attempted to leave the island.  She now believed it to be
almost five o'clock.  At least, it was time to reconnoitre.  She put
her ear close to the ground.  She could hear no sound of any one
approaching.

"Phil," she whispered, "will you and Mollie please wait here for me.  I
am going down to the water to see if it is possible to get the boat
off.  It must be very late.  Remember, high tide is at eight o'clock
to-night.  We ought to be able to pull away from here between five and
six o'clock.  When I come back to tell you how things are we can make a
run for it to the beach, and perhaps get a fair start before we are
seen."

"Let me go with you," insisted Phil, as anxious as her chum to get out
of their close quarters.

"I don't think we ought to leave Mollie alone," demurred Madge.  "But,
if you think best, you may go and I will stay here."

Mollie's terror at Phyllis's suggestion of deserting her was too much
for tender-hearted Phil.  "No, I won't leave you," she said gently,
taking Mollie's hand in hers.  "You had better run along, Madge.  I'll
stay here.  But, for goodness' sake, do be careful.  If anything
happens to you, Mollie and I will starve in this cave like Babes in the
Woods, if you don't come back to find us."

Madge crawled cautiously out of the hole.  Her muscles were so stiff
that she rose to her feet with difficulty.  But she soon started off
through the narrow path between the trees, making as little noise as
she possibly could.  Her way through the grove of trees covered the
greater part of the distance to the shore.  But there was still a
stretch of open beach, where she feared she would be discovered.  When
she came to the shelter of the last tree she stopped and peered
cautiously up and down the line of the shore.  As far as she could see
the beach was empty.  And, surely enough, the tide was coming in.  Tiny
waves touched the prow of the "Water Witch."  It was true the water was
not yet deep enough to float their boat, but in less than an hour they
might be able to row away from danger with their new friend.

There was but one thing to do.  She must return to Phyllis and Mollie,
and they must make up their minds to remain in their hiding place for a
little while longer.  Madge hated to go back to the cave.  She would
have liked to linger in the woods, hiding behind the trees until they
were able to leave the island.  But she knew it would not be fair to
Phyllis and Mollie to leave them any longer in suspense.  They would
think something had happened to her unless she returned to them at
once.  The knowledge that she had not been seen made her feel more
cheerful.  She was sure that she would yet outwit the brutal sailor,
Mike Muldoon, and carry Mollie safe to the shelter of their houseboat,
where Miss Jenny Ann, or perhaps Mrs. Curtis, would tell them how they
could continue to take care of the poor girl.

Unfortunately, Madge's gown was of some soft, white material and
altogether too conspicuous.  She could be easily seen for some distance
as she ran along the shore, and in her anxiety to return to her friends
as soon as possible she did not look about her as carefully as she
should have done.  Therefore she missed seeing the cruel face that
stared malignantly forth from the opening in the tent where Phil had
her first talk with Mollie.  The man's whole body was carefully
concealed, and as Madge flitted by the tent his head disappeared from
sight.

The man in the tent had caught sight of Madge's white gown the moment
she stepped forth from the shelter of the woods.  He had at once
understood the situation, but he did not stir until she started to
return to the cave.  He knew that Madge had come down to see if she
could get the boat off the beach and into the water.  It was evident
that the other girls must be hidden somewhere in the forest.  There was
nothing to be gained by capturing Madge alone; he must wait until she
went back to her friends, then he could find out where Mollie was
concealed.

The boat on the shore and the disappearance of the two girls who had
visited him that morning told the whole story.  Why had the two young
women concealed themselves unless they meant to guard the fugitive
Mollie?

When Madge started back through the woods the man followed her at a
safe distance.  He did not wish her to know that he was following her,
for fear she would lead him off the trail, but he kept near enough to
know exactly where she was going.

She arrived, as she believed undiscovered, at their hiding place in the
woods.

Phyllis and Mollie heard her light footfalls and gave a united sigh of
relief.  Their friend had escaped discovery.  So far all was well!

Madge leaned over the opening of the cave, to reassure her friends
before she crawled into it again.

"It's all right!" she cried softly.  "I saw no one, heard nothing.  We
can get away, without any trouble, in another hour."

She crouched down to slip into the place of concealment.  At the same
instant the three girls heard a noise.  It was unmistakably the hurried
tramp of heavy feet!  Mike Muldoon burst through the thicket of trees,
his face blazing with heat and anger.



CHAPTER XVIII

ON A STRANGE SHORE

Madge had just time enough to leap to her feet.  She would not allow
their determined enemy to catch her while in the act of hiding.

"Keep still," she whispered quickly to Phyllis and Mollie.  Then she
turned, with flashing eyes, to the approaching figure of Captain Mike
Muldoon.

"What do you want?" she demanded imperiously, stamping her foot.  "Why
have you followed me through the woods?"

For a moment the man was speechless.  It had not dawned on him that
Madge would turn upon him.  He had expected her to burst into tears and
exhibit signs of fear.

"I want my daughter, and I want her quick, young woman," he answered
gruffly.  "When I find her I will settle with you."  He pushed past
Madge and dragged the unfortunate Mollie from her place of shelter.
Phil sprang out after her.  Her black eyes were flashing with anger and
disappointment.  She fastened a firm grip on Mollie's arm.  If Mike
Muldoon jerked or shook his daughter, he would jerk and shake Phyllis
Alden, too, for nothing would induce her to let go her hold on Mollie.

"Let me go," whispered Mollie gently, looking affectionately into the
faces of her new friends.  "I don't want you to be in trouble for my
sake.  I ran away.  It was no fault of yours."  Mollie appeared to be
quite rational.  She seemed to appreciate the girls' loyalty to her.

"Give up my daughter and get back to where you came from, and I will
let you off this time," roared Mike savagely.  He did not think it wise
to deal roughly with the girls.  Their friends would surely come to
look for them and hold him responsible for their disappearance.

"We won't go a step unless you will let Mollie go with us," returned
Phil wrathfully.  "You shan't make her marry that horrible Bill.  It is
unlawful for you to force her to marry against her will."

Mike moved stolidly ahead, gripping his daughter and pulling her along
with him.  Phyllis, who was still clutching Mollie's arm, followed
after, while Madge walked valiantly by Phil's side.

"Leave go!" Mike shouted, raising his fist threateningly at Phyllis.
Mollie cried out at the thought of possible hurt to her friend, but
Phyllis did not falter.  She gazed up at the burly sailor with a look
of such intense scorn, mingled with defiance, that he dropped his hand
to his side and said sneeringly: "Come back to my shanty boat, then.  I
will settle with you when we get there."

Tightening his hold on his daughter's arm he strode off toward the
shanty boat, dragging poor Mollie along at a cruel rate of speed.
Phil, still clasping Mollie's other arm, kept pace with her, while
Madge marched a little to the rear with the air of a grenadier.

Mollie's beautiful white face was set in lines of despair, but her
companions felt nothing save righteous indignation against the brutal
man they were forced either to follow or else leave Mollie to her fate.

On the deck of the wretched shanty boat, this time, a man and a woman
were waiting with burning impatience.  The man was Bill and the woman
was Mike Muldoon's wife.  A group of fisher folk stood near, evidently
anxious to know what was going to happen.  It was late in the
afternoon, and they had returned from the day's work on the water.

Madge broke away from her own party to run toward these men and women.
There were about half a dozen in number.  "Won't you help us?" she
cried excitedly.  "Captain Mike is trying to force his daughter to
marry that dreadful Bill.  He has beaten her cruelly because she
refuses to do it.  My friend and I tried to get Mollie away from him,
but he found us and forced her to come back here."

"Don't hurt the young ladies, Mike," remonstrated one of the fishermen,
with a satirical grin in their direction, "it wouldn't be good
business."  Then he turned to Madge and said gruffly: "It ain't any of
our lookout what Mike does with his daughter.  She's foolish, anyhow.
Can't see why Bill wants to marry her."

Muldoon had jerked Mollie from Phil's restraining grasp and flung her
aboard the shanty boat.  The woman pushed the girl inside the cabin and
closed the door.  Then she stood waiting to see what her husband
intended to do with the two girls.

Captain Mike was puzzled.  He stood frowning angrily at Mollie's
defiant champions.  They had refused to go back home.  He had given
them their opportunity.  It was just as well they had not taken it, for
suddenly the man was seized with an idea.

"Git into my rowboat," he ordered Phil and Madge.  "I am going to put
you aboard my sailboat and carry you home to your friends.  You had
better take my offer.  You'll only get into worse trouble if you stay
around here.  How do you think you are going to take care of
Moll--knock me and Bill and my old woman down and run off with Moll?"

"Won't any one here help us?" asked Phil, turning to the grinning crowd.

"You had better go home with Mike.  It's the only thing for you to do,"
advised a grizzled old fisherman.  "Your hanging around here ain't
going to help Moll."

Madge and Phil exchanged inquiring glances.  For the time being they
were beaten.  It was better to go home.  Later on they would see what
could be done for their friend.

"We would rather go back in our own boat," Phil announced, making a
last resistance.  Madge, who was already in Mike's skiff, beckoned to
Phil to join her.  It was too undignified and hopeless for them to
argue longer with these coarse, rough men.  Phyllis followed her chum
reluctantly.  She hung back as long as she could, staring hard at the
shanty boat.  But there was no sight nor sound of Mollie.

Even after they were aboard Captain Mike's sailing craft Phil's eyes
strained toward the receding shore.  When it was no longer to be seen
she sat with her hands folded, gazing into her lap.  She was still
thinking and planning what she could do to rescue Mollie.  Madge sat
with closed eyes; she was too weary to speak.

The sailor's boat had left the island far behind and was moving
swiftly.  It was after sunset, and the sun had just thrown itself, like
the golden ball in the fairy tale, into the depth of the clear water.
The girls were looking anxiously toward the direction of their boat,
and wondering if their friends were worrying over their late return.

The houseboat lay a little to the southwest of Fisherman's Island, and
so far they had not been able to catch sight of it.  It was growing so
dark that it was impossible to see the shore very clearly on either
side of the bay.  It was Madge's sharp eyes that first made the
discovery that what she could see of the shore was unfamiliar.  Captain
Mike was not taking them to their houseboat.  He was sailing in exactly
the opposite direction.  Madge glanced quickly at Phyllis, who was yet
happily unconscious of their plight, then, turning to Muldoon, she said
sharply: "You are sailing the wrong way to bring us to our houseboat.
The boat lies southwest of the island and you are taking us due north.
Turn about and take us to our boat instantly."

"I am taking you to where I am going to land you, all right," the
sailor replied gruffly.  "You have got to learn that you can't come
foolin' in my business without getting yourselves into trouble.  I'm
goin' to learn you."

"You had better do as we ask you to do or you may regret it," put in
Phyllis.

The sailor appeared not to have heard her threat.

"Don't speak to him, Phil.  He isn't worth wasting words over."

The sailboat was evidently making for the land.  The long line of a
pier was faintly visible.  A few lights shone along a strange shore.

It was plain that Captain Mike meant to land at this pier.  The girls
did not know why he meant to take them there, but they were too proud
to ask him his reason.

Mike drew his boat close along the flight of steps that led to the top
of the pier.

"Jump off, quick!" he called sharply.

It was night.  Neither Madge nor Phyllis had the faintest idea of the
hour.  Neither one of them knew in what place they were being cast
ashore, nor had they a cent of money between them.  But anything was
better than to remain longer on the sailboat.

With a defiant glance at the scowling man Madge climbed out on the
steps of the pier.  She gave her hand to Phyllis, who leaped after her.

Captain Mike watched them walk up the steps to the top of the pier.
Then, turning his boat about, he sailed away, leaving the two girls to
the darkness of an unknown shore.



CHAPTER XIX

FINDING A WAY TO HELP MOLLIE

Girls do not keep silent long, no matter how grave the situation.  The
two castaways were no exception.

Madge shook her clenched fist after the retreating mast of the sail
boat.  "You horrid, horrid old man!" she cried.  "We won't give up
trying to save poor Mollie, no matter what you do to us.  Come on,
Phil," she said, taking Phyllis by the hand, "let us go up to the shore
and ask some one where we are.  I suppose nobody will believe our
story, because it seems so improbable, but perhaps some kind soul will
give us a drink of water, even if we do look perfectly disreputable."

Phyllis giggled softly in spite of their plight.  Madge had lost her
hat.  Her curls had long since come loose from the knot in which she
wore them, and her gown was sadly wrinkled.

Madge was in no mood for laughter.  "You needn't make fun of me,
Phyllis Alden," she said reproachfully.  "You are just as tattered and
torn as I.  We do look like a couple of beggars.  Your hair is not
down, but your collar is crumpled and your dress is almost as soiled as
mine."

"I look much worse than you do, Madge, I am sure of it," conceded Phil
cheerfully.  "You see, I am not pretty to begin with."  To this speech
Madge would not deign to reply.  Phyllis laughed good-humoredly.
"Loyal little Madge, you won't acknowledge my lack of fatal beauty."
Then in a graver tone she added, "What do you think we had better do,
Madge?"

"Find out where we are and how far away the 'Merry Maid' is," returned
Madge decisively.  "We must reach there to-night, Phil.  Miss Jenny Ann
and the girls will believe something dreadful has happened to us."

The chums had walked to the end of the pier.  Between them and the
nearest house lay a stretch of treacherous marsh.  They paused
irresolutely, staring at the marsh with anxious eyes.  "I am afraid we
shall get lost in the marsh if we try to find our way through it on a
dark night like this," faltered Phyllis.

Madge shook her head determinedly.  "We must try to pass through it.  I
don't like the looks of it any better than you do, but we can't stay
here all night, that is certain.  Come on.  Here goes."

Phyllis obediently followed her companion into the marsh, and then
began a never-to-be-forgotten walk.  With each step they took the salt
water oozed up from the ground and covered their shoes.  Madge felt her
way carefully.  She was obliged to put one foot cautiously forth to see
if the earth ahead were firm enough to bear the weight of her body.  On
she went, with Phyllis close behind her.  In spite of the difficulty
the girls were plainly making headway.  "Hurrah!" called Madge, "we are
almost out of this quagmire.  There is dry land ahead!"  With one long
leap she made the solid ground which stretched just ahead of her.
Phyllis was not so fortunate.  She lunged blindly after Madge, struck
an unusually bad part of the marsh and sank knee deep in the soft mud.
With a terrified cry she began struggling to free herself, but the
harder she struggled the deeper she became imbedded in the marsh.

The moon was just coming up.  Madge could faintly see what had happened
to her friend.  She ran toward Phyllis, but the latter cried out
warningly: "Go back.  If you try to help me, you'll only sink into this
marsh with me."

Madge hesitated only a minute.  "Don't move, Phil, if you can possibly
help it," she cried.  "But in a few minutes from now call out, so that
I can tell where you are.  Good-bye for a little while; I am going for
help."  Madge never knew how she covered the space that lay between her
and the nearest house.  This house had a low stone wall around it, and
stood on top of a steep hill that sloped down to this wall.  Madge
scrambled over the wall and climbed the hill, sometimes on her feet,
but as often on her hands and knees.  There was a light in a window.
She staggered to it and rapped on the window pane.  A moment later a
man appeared in a doorway at the right of the window.

"Who's there?" he called out sharply.  "What do you mean by knocking on
my window?  Answer me at once!"

Madge stumbled over to him.  "Oh, won't you please come with me?" she
said.  "My friend Phyllis is stuck fast in the marsh.  I must have help
to get her out."

Without a word the man disappeared into the house.  For one dreadful
instant, Madge thought he did not intend to help her; she thought he
must believe that she was an impostor and was making up her story.  The
next minute the man returned, wearing a pair of high rubber hoots and
carrying a dark lantern and a heavy rope.

"Don't be frightened," he said kindly to her as she walked wearily
after him.  "People often lose their way in this marsh after dark.
We'll soon find your friend."

But to himself Judge Arthur Hilliard asked the question: "What in the
world are two young girls doing alone on this dangerous shore at such
an hour of the night?"

It was well that Phyllis remembered Madge's order, else they might have
had some trouble in locating her.  As soon as Phyllis saw the friendly
light from the oncoming lantern she called at the top of her lungs:
"Here I am!  Here I am!"

"Keep perfectly still!" Judge Hilliard commanded.  "I'll have you out
in a short time."  He waded into the marsh, his high boots protecting
him from the black ooze.  When he was about five yards from Phil he
flung her the rope.  "Now work your way along toward us," he directed.
Phyllis obeyed his command and in an incredibly short time was safe on
dry land, her shoes heavy with mud.

"It is bad enough to be lost," declared Phil as she thanked the
stranger, "but it is worse to be not only lost, but stuck in the mud as
well."

"You were in a most unpleasant, though I can hardly say a dangerous
plight," returned the stranger.  "Can I be of further service to you?"

"Would you--could you tell us where we can get a drink of water?" asked
Madge.  "We are so tired and thirsty."

"My name is Arthur Hilliard," returned the man.  "If you will come to
my house, my mother will be glad to offer you refreshment."

"Thank you," bowed Madge sedately.  "We will go with you."

Mrs. Hilliard, a stout, comfortable looking old lady, received the
wanderers with true Southern hospitality.  Without waiting to hear
their story, she insisted that they change their bedraggled clothing
for two comfortable looking dressing gowns which she laid out for them,
and by the time they had washed their faces and hands and dressed their
hair they found a hot supper ready for them in the dining room.

"We are so sorry to have troubled you," declared Madge apologetically,
as Mr. Hilliard entered the dining room when they were finishing their
meal.  "Now we must tell you who we are and how we came to be
floundering in the marsh so late in the evening."

Beginning with their visit to the island that morning Madge related all
that had transpired during that long day of adventures.  Judge Hilliard
shook his head disapprovingly as the tale continued, but listened with
grave interest to the part of the story relating to Mollie, the
sailor's daughter.

"This girl of whom you speak is like the girl in the fairy story, who
has a cruel step-mother and an ogre of a father," he commented when the
story had ended.

"Of course she is," answered Madge; "only our girl is not in a fairy
story, she is real.  I can't believe that that dreadful Mike Muldoon is
her father, and I know there must be some way to take her from him and
make her happy."

"We are going to save her yet," declared Phyllis stoutly.  "I don't see
just how we are to manage it, but to-morrow we are going to try again.
How far are we from Fisherman's Island?"

"About thirty miles," Judge Hilliard replied.  "I have telephoned to
the nearest town to let your chaperon know you are safe.  The message
will be taken over to your houseboat tonight, and I will take you home
in the morning.  My mother insists that you remain here tonight.  She
will join us in the library in a few minutes."

"Thank you again," said Madge gratefully.  "It was very thoughtful in
you to send a message to our friends.  In the morning we wish to go
first to the Belleview Hotel.  We wish to see a friend of ours who is
staying there.  Her name is Mrs. Curtis."

"Mrs. Curtis is an old friend of mine," said Judge Hilliard in pleased
surprise.  "I have known her ever since I was a little boy.  Now I have
something to say to you that may interest you.  I told you I was a
judge.  It is my business to look into people's legal difficulties.
This trouble which concerns your friend looks to me as though it might
have a legal side to it.  We are in the State of Maryland.  Fisherman's
Island is in my jurisdiction.  Suppose I issue an injunction forbidding
the marriage between Mollie and the sailor, and take you up to the
island in the morning to see it served.  I have a steam yacht, and I
think I shall take along two court officers or policemen, who will
terrify your dreadful Captain Mike.  At any rate, I'll see justice done
his afflicted daughter, if I have to take the law in my own hands."

Madge clapped her hands joyously.  Tears stood in Phil's dark eyes.
"Oh, how splendid!" she breathed.

At this juncture Mrs. Hilliard entered the library, and after a little
further talk the two girls announced themselves as being quite ready to
retire.

"Be ready at seven o'clock," Judge Hilliard reminded them, as he bade
his guests good night.  "We shall reach Captain Mike's shanty boat
before he has time to proceed with the marriage.  They won't expect you
at your houseboat until after breakfast, and I hope to have three girls
to deliver aboard, instead of two."

Phyllis and Madge dropped asleep that night the instant their heads
touched their pillows.  They had asked to share the same room, and as
they had sleepily undressed, they congratulated each other on the fact
that Mike Muldoon's cowardly act had resulted in nothing but good to
them.  It looked as though it might even prove a boomerang to him.

By seven o'clock the next morning the girls had breakfasted and said
good-bye to Mrs. Hilliard, after promising to visit her at some future
time.

"Judge Hilliard," announced Madge, as the yacht "Greyhound" steamed out
from the pier, "we forgot to tell you last night that we think Mollie
is old enough to come away from her father if she wishes.  She doesn't
know how old she is.  That is one of the queer things about Mollie.
She seems quite sensible until you ask her to recall something, and
then she becomes confused.  Still, I am sure she is several years older
than either Phil or I."

The shanty boat colony on the east side of Fisherman's Island had also
risen early on this warm morning in July.  Bill crossed over to the
mainland in his sailboat to bring a Justice of the Peace back with him
to marry him to Mollie.  Captain Mike was determined to have his way
with his daughter.  Once she was married to Bill, her new friends would
find it difficult to get her away from him.

Since Mollie's return to the shanty boat she had made no further
outcry.  She did not seem to know what was going on.  The vacant,
hopeless look had come over her face.  The fright and ill treatment of
the day before had completely subdued her.  She seemed to have
forgotten everything.

All night long she had lain awake in her miserable berth in the dirty
shanty boat.  She lay still, with her eyes closed, until the breathing
of her family told her they were fast asleep.  Then she crept out on
the deck of the boat.  She sat for hours without moving, her wonderful
blue eyes, with the empty look in them, staring out over the silent
waters.  She was waiting, wistful and patient, for something to come to
save her.  When the dawn broke, and a rosy light bathed the bay and the
sky, she rose, went quietly into the cabin and lay down in her berth
again.  She stayed there while the family ate their breakfast.  She
made no resistance when her step-mother came toward her, grinning
maliciously, and bearing a coarse white cotton dress, which she called
"Moll's wedding gown."

Mollie let the woman put the dress on her.  She even combed her own
sun-colored hair; and, for the first time in her life, she knotted it
on her head, instead of letting it stream in ragged, unkempt ends over
her shoulders.  A loose lock of hair over Mollie's low forehead covered
the ugly scar that was her one disfigurement.  She was so startlingly
lovely that her stupid step-mother stared at her in a kind of
bewildered amazement.  Mollie was pale and worn, and painfully thin,
yet nothing could spoil the wonderful color of her hair and eyes, nor
take away the peculiar grace of her figure.  Her expression was dull
and listless.  Even so Mollie looked like a lily transplanted to some
field of dank weeds, but growing tall and sweet amid their ugliness.

Mike looked at his daughter curiously when her step-mother dragged her
out before him.  Brutal as he was, a change passed over his face.  He
glanced over the water to see if Bill's boat were approaching.  "I
ain't never understood how things has turned out," he muttered to
himself.  "If Mollie wasn't foolish, I wouldn't let Bill have her.  She
is a pretty thing, and she looks like a lady.  That's what makes it so
all-fired queer."

Mollie sank down on the bench that ran around the deck of the shanty
boat.  She dropped her head in her hands.  What she was thinking, or
whether she was thinking at all, no one could know or tell.  She heard
a boat coming through the water, then a cry from her father.  If she
believed the hour had arrived for her marriage, she gave no sign.  She
did not raise her head when Mike Muldoon cried out savagely.

Captain Mike went ashore.  He stood with his heavy arms folded, smoking
and scowling.

Judge Hilliard stepped up to Captain Mike.  Two police officers
accompanied him.  Madge and Phil were directly behind their new friend.
They did not like to call to Mollie, but they wished she would look up
at them.

"I have an injunction forbidding the marriage of your daughter, Mollie
Muldoon, to a fisherman named Bill," Judge Hilliard's peremptory voice
rang out.  "You are forcing your daughter into this marriage against
her will."

"I ain't forcing Moll," denied Captain Mike, glaring at Phil and Madge.
He was driven into a corner, and he knew nothing else to say.

"I would like to ask the girl what she desires," the judge announced.

"Moll," called Mike.

For the first time Mollie lifted her head.  She left the boat and came
slowly toward the little party.

Judge Hilliard stared, and for a moment he forgot to speak to her.
Madge and Phil had assured him that their protégé was beautiful, but he
had expected to behold the simple beauty of a country girl; this young
woman was exquisitely lovely.

Madge and Phil trembled with excitement.  Suppose Mollie should not
understand the Judge's question and make the wrong answer?  Suppose the
poor girl had been bullied into submission?  Suppose she should not
even recall the struggle of yesterday?  She forgot so much--would she
forget this?

"Do you desire to marry this 'Bill'?" Judge Hilliard queried, looking
with puzzled wonder into Mollie's lovely, expressionless face.

Mollie shook her head gently.  Madge and Phil held their breath.

"I will not marry him," Mollie answered simply.  "Nothing could make me
do so."

"Then you will come home to the houseboat with us, Mollie," Madge and
Phil pleaded together, taking hold of the girl's hands to lead her away.

"I am sorry," interposed Judge Hilliard, speaking to the girls, "but we
can't take her away at once.  We must observe the law.  Muldoon,"
continued the Judge as he took a document out of his pocket and handed
it to the sailor, "of course you know that you can not force this girl
to marry against her will whether she is of age or not, but, aside from
that, here is an order of court directing you to show cause why the
girl should not be taken from you upon the ground of cruelty and
neglect.  The case will be heard in the court at the county seat of
Anne Arundel County five days hence, the 30th of the month.  You will,
of course, be expected to prove that the girl is your daughter.  This
order also contains an injunction forbidding you to take the girl out
of this jurisdiction within that time.  These officers will remain here
to see that the order of the court is carried out.  If you make any
attempt to remove the girl from this vicinity, you will be arrested at
once."

"And now, ladies," said Judge Hilliard, turning to the girls, "we will
go aboard the 'Greyhound'."

"I say, Judge," broke in Muldoon, starting hurriedly after Judge
Hilliard, "I don't want to get mixed up in the law.  I'll tell you
something if you won't be too hard on me.  Moll isn't my daughter!  I
picked her up almost drowned on a beach on the coast of Florida.  My
first old woman took a liking for the kid, so we just kept her.  We
didn't intend her any harm.  That was ten or twelve years ago."

Judge Hilliard did not appear to be surprised; in fact, he had expected
some such statement.

"Your confession," said he, speaking to Muldoon, "is all we need to
enable us to take this girl away.  Under the circumstances, it will not
be necessary to serve this paper," he continued, taking the order of
court away from Muldoon.  "We shall take the girl with us now.
Muldoon, see to it that you don't get into any other trouble.  You are
getting off easily.  Your carrying off these two young ladies under
false pretence and depositing them against their will in an unknown
place, as you did last night, is very much like abduction, and
abduction is a penitentiary offence."

There being nothing left to do, Judge Hilliard and his party, now
including the rescued Mollie, went aboard the "Greyhound" and steamed
away toward the houseboat.



CHAPTER XX

MADGE'S OPPORTUNITY

Mollie slipped into her place as a member of the little houseboat
family as quietly as though she had always been a part of it.  She was
shy and gentle, and rarely talked.  She was more like a timid child
than a woman.  She liked to cook, to wash the dishes, to do the things
to which she was accustomed, and to be left alone.  At first the
houseboat girls tried to interest her in their amusements, but Miss
Jenny Ann persuaded them that it was wiser to let Mollie become
accustomed to the change in her life in any way she could.  Mollie
never spoke of the past, and she seemed worried if any one of the girls
questioned her about it.  They did not even know whether she feared the
return of Captain Mike or Bill.  The girls hoped that Mollie's lack of
memory had made her quickly forget her unhappy life.

One thing haunted Mollie: it was her fear of strangers.  If a visitor
came aboard the houseboat the young girl would disappear and hide in
the cabin until there was no danger of her being noticed.  Jack Bolling
and Tom Curtis came calling nearly every day, but neither one of them
had seen anything of Mollie, except her flying skirts as she ran away
to hide from them.  They were vaguely aware of her unusual beauty, but
neither of them knew what she actually looked like.

Madge was particularly sorry that Mollie would not see Mrs. Curtis.
The houseboat holiday could only last a short time longer.  Mr. and
Mrs. Butler had written that they expected to return from California in
about ten days, and must have Madge and Eleanor back at "Forest House."
Lillian's and Phil's parents were also clamoring for their girls to
spend a part of their summer vacation at home.  So the question must
soon arise: What could be done with Mollie when the crew of the "Merry
Maid" disbanded?  Madge felt they needed their friend's advice.  But
neither Mrs. Curtis nor Miss Jenny Ann thought it best to force Mollie
to see people until she became more used to the atmosphere of affection
about her, and had learned that no one meant to harm or ill treat her.
Once Mrs. Curtis caught a brief glimpse of Mollie, standing framed in
the cabin doorway.  The girl had given a frightened stare at her, and
then had fled inside her room.  She could not be coaxed out again.
Mrs. Curtis was curious.  The one quick look at Mollie seemed oddly to
recall some friend of her youth.  It was nothing to think of seriously.
She would know better when she saw the girl another time.

Daily Mrs. Curtis seemed to grow more and more fond of Madge.  If Madge
failed to come to see her every day or so, she would send Tom over as a
messenger to bring her little friend back with him to luncheon or to
dinner.  She and the little captain used to have long, confidential
talks together, and Mrs. Curtis seemed never to weary of the young
girl's romantic fancies.  She used to make Madge tell her of her family
and what she knew of her dead father and mother.  At times Madge
wondered idly why Mrs. Curtis was interested in them, and every now and
then she thought Tom's mother wished to ask her an important question.
But Mrs. Curtis always put off the inquiry until another time.

Toward the close of their stay on the "Merry Maid" the girls were
invited to a six o'clock dinner at the Belleview, given in their honor
by Mrs. Curtis and Tom.  On the day of the dinner Tom was sent to the
"Merry Maid" to ask Madge to come to his mother an hour earlier than
the others were expected.  Miss Jenny Ann had elected to stay at home
with Mollie.  Nothing would induce Mollie to attend the party, and Miss
Jenny Ann would not allow any one of the girls to remain on the
houseboat with her.

Tom and Madge went up to the hotel on the street car, since it was
impossible for Tom to row with his lame arm.  They found Mrs. Curtis on
a little balcony that opened off her private sitting-room.  The piazza
overlooked the waters of the small bay.  It was a wonderful summer
afternoon; white clouds were rioting everywhere in the clear, blue sky;
the water was astir with white-masted boats, dipping their sails toward
the waves like the flapping wings of sea gulls.

Madge was looking her prettiest.  She had on her best white frock, and
as a mark of her appreciation of Mrs. Curtis wore the string of pearls
about her throat.  Without making any noise, she crept out on the
balcony and kissed Mrs. Curtis lightly on the forehead.  Then she
dropped into a low, cushioned chair near her friend's side.

"Here I am, dressed for the dinner," she announced happily.  "How do
you like me?  Tom said you wanted me to come before the other girls,
and that this was perhaps our farewell dinner with you, for you might
be going away in a few days.  Dear me, I am sorry.  Are you going to
Old Point Comfort for the rest of the summer, or to your own summer
place?"

Mrs. Curtis shook her head.  "I don't know, Madge, just where I shall
go," she answered, pushing Madge's curls to one side of her white
forehead.  It was the way that Mrs. Curtis liked best to have Madge
wear her hair.  "But, wherever we go, can't you go with us?" she
concluded.

Madge sighed.  "I'd love to go with you," she sighed, "but I can't.
You see, Nellie and I have to go back to 'Forest House,' to spend the
rest of our holiday with Uncle and Aunt.  They would be dreadfully hurt
if I suggested making a visit to you, instead of coming home to them."

"Then I wonder if your uncle and aunt would allow me to make them a
short visit?" questioned Mrs. Curtis gravely.

Madge opened her blue eyes.  Why in the world should Mrs. Curtis wish
to go to "Forest House"?  But she answered her friend promptly.  "Of
course Uncle and Aunt would be most happy to have you, and Nellie and I
would be perfectly delighted."

"Why do you think I am anxious to come, Madge?"

Madge smiled in her sauciest fashion.  "To see me, of course," she
replied.  "Doesn't that sound conceited?"

But Mrs. Curtis was not smiling.  She was looking at Madge so seriously
that the young girl's merry face sobered.

"I am not coming merely to see you, dear.  I am coming to ask if I may
take you away with me for always.  Haven't you guessed, that I want you
to come to live with me, to be my daughter?  Tom and I are lonely.  My
husband is dead, and I have no other child now, except Tom.  I can't
tell you how much I want a daughter.  I have plenty of money,
dear--more than I know what to do with.  So we could have wonderful
times together, and do anything we chose to do.  Only I would wish you
with me all the time.  I couldn't let you wander off with the girls or
go to boarding school.  Tom has to be away so much.  You haven't any
own father and mother, and you told me that you were poor and would
have to earn your living some day.  So I thought perhaps your uncle and
aunt would give you up to me.  But, first, I wish to know whether my
plan pleases you."

[Illustration:  "I wish you to come and live with me, Madge."]

Mrs. Curtis stopped talking to gaze earnestly at Madge.  The girl had
turned so white that her friend was startled.  She did not realize what
a surprise her suggestion had been to the little captain.  She believed
that Madge must have partly guessed her intention.  Miss Jenny Ann and
Phil had understood that some day Mrs. Curtis might make just this
proposal to Madge Morton.  But to Madge it was a complete surprise.
She had never for an instant dreamed of such a thing.

In a moment all the young girl's familiar world fell broken at her
feet--the old childhood home in the country, her happy friendships at
school.  She saw a new world, like a vision in a fairy tale.  It was a
wonderful world, that contained all the marvels of which she had
dreamed--wealth, position, admiration.  Yet it was a homesick world,
for it was peopled with few of the friends whom Madge loved, with none
of the familiar places.  In spite of the girl's fancies, the actual
every-day life of poverty and hope was too dear to be laid lightly
aside.

Mrs. Curtis still waited for Madge to speak.

"Uncle and Aunt----" she faltered.  "They--would miss me----"

"Yes, I know," returned Mrs. Curtis sympathetically.  "Of course, your
own people will find it hard to give you up just at first, and Eleanor
will miss you.  But I do not believe your uncle and aunt will stand in
your way if you really wish to come to me."

Mrs. Curtis concluded in the tone of a woman accustomed to having her
own way.  She was puzzled at Madge's indecision.

"Are you sure you care for me enough to wish me to live with you, Mrs.
Curtis?" asked Madge quietly.  "You see, you know only the nicest part
of me, but I have a miserable temper.  Nellie and my friends are used
to me.  Suppose you should take me away to live with you, and then grow
tired of me?"  The girl's clear eyes questioned her new friend gravely.

Mrs. Curtis smiled and shook her head.  "No; I shouldn't grow tired of
you.  People may sometimes grow vexed with you, but they are not going
to become tired of you.  Now sit quite still.  I want you not to speak,
but to think very hard for three minutes and then to tell me whether
you wish to be my adopted daughter.  I do not wish to trouble your
uncle and aunt unless you feel sure of yourself."

Mrs. Curtis took out her watch and laid it in her lap.

She did not look at the watch; she kept her gaze on Madge's face.

The little captain did not speak.  She knew her eyes were filled with
tears.  She was so young, and it was hard to decide her whole future
life in the space of three minutes.  She realized that if Mrs. Curtis
adopted her, she would have to give up her gay, independent existence
among her old friends, the joy of doing for herself and of learning to
overcome obstacles.  Then, on the other hand, Mrs. Curtis loved her and
she would give her everything in the world that a young girl could
desire.

"Mrs. Curtis," declared Madge, when the three minutes had gone by, "I
can't--I can't decide what you ask me now.  Please don't think I do not
love you.  It is too wonderful for you and Tom to wish me to come to
live with you.  But may I have a few days to think things over before I
give you my answer?  The thought of leaving Aunt Sue and Uncle William
and Nellie does--does----"  Madge could not go on.

"Never mind, dear," soothed Mrs. Curtis.  "It was not fair in me to
take you unawares, and then expect you to make up your mind so soon.
Suppose I give you three days, instead of three minutes, to think
things over.  Even then, Madge, we can't be sure that your uncle and
aunt will be willing to let you be my girl instead of theirs."



CHAPTER XXI

MOLLIE'S BRAVE FIGHT

Mollie was sitting alone on the deck of the houseboat.  She and Miss
Jenny had just finished an early tea.  The girls were still away at
their dinner, and Miss Jenny Ann had gone up to the nearest farmhouse
to get some eggs for breakfast.  It was the first time Mollie had ever
been left by herself on the houseboat.  But Miss Jenny Ann did not
think there was any possible danger.  Neither Captain Mike nor Bill had
made the slightest attempt to get possession of Mollie.  Nor did Miss
Jones intend to be out of call for more than fifteen minutes.

Mollie had begun to lose the vague dread that had haunted her all her
life.  The peaceful hours of the past ten days seemed more real to her
than the dreary, ugly years of her childhood.  She began faintly to
realize what life could mean when one was not afraid.

Mollie's hands, a little roughened from hard work, were folded
peacefully in her lap.  Her beautiful head, with its crown of
sun-colored hair, was resting against the cushion of the big steamer
chair.  She was on the small upper deck, facing the bow of the boat.  A
strolling breeze had blown the hair back from her forehead, and the
ugly scar was visible.  But, now that Mollie's head no longer ached
from the hard work she had been forced to endure, the throbbing and the
old pain in this scar had almost gone.  The girl was slowly finding
herself.  So far she had accepted her new life without a question,
taking what was done for her like a contented child.  Now she sat
looking up the bay for the return of her friends.  They would not be at
home for several hours, but time meant very little to Mollie, and she
had been lonely since they had gone away.

A skiff came down the bay with a single figure seated in it.

Mollie heard the faint splashing of the oars, but since water sounds
had been familiar to her all her life she did not even turn her head to
see if any one were coming near to the houseboat.

She knew the girls were due from the other direction.

The boat moved slowly in toward the shore.  It made almost no sound,
now that it drew nearer the land.  With a final dip of the oars and a
strong forward movement the small boat glided well within the shadow of
the stern of the houseboat.  There it stopped.

Mollie did not see nor hear it.  For some moments the boat rested
quietly in the shallow water, moving only with the faint movement of
the evening tide.  The solitary boatman sat without stirring.  He
leaned forward, listening intently for any sounds of life aboard the
houseboat.  He had espied the deserted figure on the upper deck.

In almost complete silence the man fastened his boat to the houseboat
and in his stocking feet clambered up the side of "The Merry Maid" and
came aboard.  He slipped around the deck, crouching on his hands and
knees.  He listened at the doors of each room in the cabin.  No one was
about except the girl in the steamer chair.  The man moved like a cat,
with almost complete noiselessness.  He made no effort to onto the
deserted cabin.  Nor did he, at first, make any movement that showed
the least interest in Mollie.

At the farther end of the deck, outside the kitchen, the prowler made a
discovery which caused him great satisfaction.  He smiled.  He picked
it up and shook it furtively.  The treasure was a big tin can, nearly
full of kerosene.

Still on his hands and knees, the man tilted the can until the oil ran
in a little stream down the deck and soaked well into the wood.  He
then put his hand in his pocket to look for something.

Mollie did not hear him.  At least, her ears were not conscious that
they caught a distinct sound.  Finally she became conscious of the
presence of some one near her.  She got quickly up out of her chair and
leaned over the railing of the top deck.

At this moment the man, with his back toward her, struck a match.
Mollie beheld the crouching figure.  She could not tell who the man
was.  Was it Bill or her father come to steal her away?  The old,
dreadful fear swept over her, with enough of memory to make her realize
what her capture would mean.  The girl's first instinct was to hide.
She did not realize how poor a refuge the houseboat offered her.  It
seemed to her that, if she could only get into one of the cabin
bedrooms and conceal herself in her berth, she might escape.  Poor
Mollie had no better idea to aid her.  She came running down the
outside steps and ran toward the cabin door.

The man rose quickly.  He did not move toward Mollie.  Outside the
cabin kitchen was a big box filled with chips and bits of kindling,
used to light the kitchen stove.  The man gathered up a handful of
these pieces of wood and ran back to his old position.  He glanced at
Mollie.  But it was easy to see that she was trying to get away, not to
hinder him in what he was doing.  He picked up the oil can again.  This
time he poured the few remaining drops on a little pile of chips and
lit another match.  The tinder blazed up.  The man fanned the tiny
flames with the brim of a torn hat.  The flare of light grew brighter;
a great flame leapt up and then a snake-like curve of fire followed the
oil-soaked wood.

When the man did not move toward Mollie she stopped in the cabin door.
She was afraid of him.  She was not like other girls.  Ever since she
had been able to know anything she had felt a curious, confused feeling
in her head.  She did not know who the man was on the deck of the boat.
But she did know that he was trying to set their houseboat afire.

Mollie paid no further attention to the man.  She did not scream at
him, nor try to stop what he was doing.  She rushed forward and began
stamping on the pile of blazing sticks.

The man did not attempt to prevent her.  He was watching the increasing
length of flame spread over the deck.  A second later he sprang up, ran
across the deck, slipped over the side of "The Merry Maid," dropped
into his rowboat, and rowed swiftly out of sight.

Mollie flew for the big bucket of water, which they always kept in a
certain spot.  She flung the water on the flames, but water will not
quench the flames made from oil.  The rail began to crackle, the sparks
to fly.  The "Merry Maid" was afire, with only one, feeble girl to save
it!

Mollie knew that there were steamer blankets in the bedrooms of the
cabin.  She often had one to cover her when she took her afternoon
rest.  Remember, Mollie had had little education, but she had been
brought up to work and to do practical tasks.  It was but the work of a
moment to drag out two blankets and spread them over the flames.  The
fire died down for a moment; then it crept through the fringe of the
rugs, and a choking smell of burning wool showed that the blankets also
were beginning to burn.  But the brave girl had no intention of giving
up the fight.

There were two other blankets left.  Mollie started back to the cabin
for these, when to her terror she discovered that the skirt of her
cotton dress was in names.  She tried to beat it out with her hands,
but it crept steadily up toward her head.  She cried aloud, but she
could see no one coming to save her.  The pain was more intense every
moment.  She could not keep still.  She ran toward the edge of the
deck.  Before her the placid water lay cool and sweet.  With a cry of
pain, Mollie threw herself over the side of the houseboat.  She did not
realize how shallow the water was.  She flung herself with all her
force.  Her head struck against the bottom with a heavy thud.  At least
the water was cool; the fire no longer burned her.

Miss Jones and Mr. Brown, who had joined Miss Jenny Ann on her way back
from the farmhouse, heard Mollie's first cry of alarm.  The artist had
been coming down to the houseboat to make an evening call.  Two
strangers, a man and his wife, were strolling along the top of the
small embankment.  They also heard the call.  The four of them started
down the hill almost at the same time.  Before they reached the
houseboat, the odor of burning wood was borne to their nostrils.  Miss
Jenny Ann cried out for Mollie, but Mollie did not answer.  Mr. Brown
and the two strangers began beating out the fire on the boat.  It had
not spread far; the blankets had covered the flames and kept them from
increasing.  The overturned oil can gave the clue to the mystery.  Mr.
Brown dashed into the kitchen for a bag of salt, because salt more
quickly puts out the flames from burning oil.

Miss Jenny Ann had, so far, been unable to find Mollie.  Now she looked
over the side of the boat, and Mollie's body could be plainly seen
lying in the shallow water.  Mr. Brown and the stranger together
brought the girl back to the houseboat.  She was insensible.  In her
plunge into the water she had struck her head with great force against
the bottom of the bay.  She was stunned by the shock, and when she
returned to consciousness the pain from the burn and the blow made her
delirious.  As she alone could tell what had transpired in that brief
hour, the cause of the fire remained a mystery.



CHAPTER XXII

THE EVIL GENIUS

"I think I had better go up to the hotel to prepare the girls for what
has happened," suggested Mr. Brown a short time afterward.

Miss Jenny Ann seemed surprised at the thought of his leaving her alone
with Mollie, and said so.

"Yes; I think I had better go at once," he announced decisively.  "The
doctor will be here in a few minutes.  I can do nothing for you or for
Mollie, but I can save the girls from the shock of returning to find
their houseboat damaged and their friend so ill."

Miss Jenny Ann agreed quietly.  If Mr. Brown thought it best to go, it
did not really matter.  "Ask the girls to come home as soon as they
can," she added.  "Phil is so clever in cases of illness."

"I'll borrow the 'Water Witch.'  I think I can get up to the Belleview
quicker if I go by water than if I wait for the street car to take me
there.  The girls will bring the boat home with them."

Mr. Brown disappeared from the deck of the boat a few moments later.
He climbed into the "Water Witch" and rowed very swiftly up the bay.

Miss Jones had taken it for granted that their houseboat had caught
fire by accident.  She had not had time to give much thought to the
matter.  But Mr. Brown had other views.  He remembered the boy who had
attempted the robbery, and he had other reasons for his suspicions.  A
can of oil might very easily have turned over on the deck, but was
there any reason to suppose that a pile of matches would be left lying
at one side of the can?  The young artist meant to make a thorough
search for the possible offender.  He wished to get out on the water as
soon as he could, because he believed the incendiary had escaped that
way.  Mr. Brown and Miss Jenny Ann had been walking down the embankment
at the very time the trespasser must have made his escape.  If he had
gone by land, one of them must have caught sight of him.

Theodore Brown was an ex-member of a Yale boat crew.  He made the
"Water Witch" skim through the waters, and at the same time he kept a
sharp lookout for a small boat.  There were a number of skiffs filled
with young girls and men.  But Mr. Brown was looking for a boat with
the single figure of a boy in it.

He went toward the hotel, believing that the boatman would feel more
secure if he were swallowed up in a crowd, than if he were seen in a
more deserted part of the bay.  Mr. Brown had almost reached the hotel
pier before he came up to the character of skiff he desired to find.
Then he was embarrassed how to accost the young man in it, as it was
possible for him to see only the oarsman's back.  Mr. Brown.  came as
close up alongside the stranger's boat as he could.  Still he could not
see the man's face.  He leaned out of his own boat and called: "I want
to drift along here and smoke.  Would you be kind enough to lend me a
match?"

The other oarsman apparently did not hear him.  He rowed on faster.
Again Mr. Brown caught up with him.  He called, in an even more
friendly fashion, "Haven't you that match?"

The stranger fumbled a minute in his pocket.  "Sorry to disoblige you,"
he answered.  "I haven't a match about me."

Theodore Brown laughed.  The two small boats were almost touching each
other.  "Sorry to have troubled you," continued Mr. Brown, leaning as
far over the side of his boat as he could.  "After all, I find I have
some matches in my own pocket.  You had better take a cigar to show you
forgive me for annoying you."

The artist struck a light and held it for a moment full in the other
oarsman's face.  It was only a second; the light flickered and went
out.  The man in the boat winced as the light shone on his face.  "No,
thank you; I don't smoke," he answered politely.  With that he shot his
skiff on ahead.

Mr. Brown followed behind him.  He saw the other man was about to land
at a deserted beach a short distance to the left of the Belleview Hotel
pier.  Mr. Brown did not make for the same shore immediately.  He
waited until the man was on land and striding out of sight; then the
artist jumped from his own boat and went after the other man.  Not many
yards away was the side lawn of the hotel.  It was a warm summer night,
and a number of guests were strolling about under the trees.  Mr. Brown
put his hand on the arm of the fellow whom he had been following.

The boy leaped forward in an effort to wrench himself away.  At this
moment he recognized the artist and knew he had been overtaken.  Mr.
Brown kept a firm hold on his arm.

"What do you want with me?" demanded the lad, trying to appear at his
ease.  "Aren't you the fellow who came alongside of me in the boat?"

"I am," was the curt reply, "and I don't wish to ask a great favor of
you.  I simply wish you to come over to the hotel with me to see some
friends of mine.  We would like to ask you a few questions.  Of course,
if you can answer them satisfactorily, I shall let you go with my best
apologies.  I would advise you not to make any resistance here.  You
will attract the attention of the people on the lawn."

Mrs. Curtis and her guests were rather surprised when a hotel boy came
up to her sitting room to say that Mr. Theodore Brown and some one else
would like to speak to Mr. Tom Curtis for a few minutes, if that were
possible.

Tom came back to his mother a little later, his eyes flashing.  He
related a part of Mr. Brown's story.

"If you don't mind, Mother, I think we had better have the fellow up
here for the girls to see.  I know he is the man who took the sailboat
from Madge and me, and Mr. Brown says he is the fellow who attempted to
rob the houseboat; but whether he has set it afire and nearly been the
death of Mollie, we have no way of finding out.  He vows he has not
been near the houseboat since the day he promised never to return.  If
we cross-examine him up here, perhaps we can get at the truth."

Eleanor had slipped out of the room to find her coat and hat as soon as
she learned of the accident to Mollie.  The other young women were
trembling with sympathy and alarm, but they waited to see the boy
brought upstairs.

The girls were not long in agreeing to the identity of the prisoner as
the evil genius of their past experiences.  But there was no way of
proving that he had actually set fire to the houseboat, for he still
absolutely denied all knowledge of it.

Eleanor came back to the sitting-room.  "Aren't you ready to leave,
girls?" she demanded.  "Miss Jenny Ann and Mollie need us."

Eleanor sniffed the air daintily.  "What is that curious odor of
kerosene, Mrs. Curtis?" she inquired curiously.  "Do you think any of
the lamps could be leaking?"

"Good!" Mr. Brown ejaculated.  "What a chump I am!  I have been
conscious of that smell all this time and had not associated it with
the houseboat."

Mr. Brown put his nose down to his prisoner's hands.  Then he inhaled
the scent of his coat.  Tom Curtis followed suit.  The odor was
unmistakable.  The lad was well smeared with oil.  The circumstantial
evidence was strong against the captured boy when Mr. Brown related the
discovery of the overturned can and the spread of the kerosene on the
houseboat deck.

"I am awfully sorry to have made this scene, Mrs. Curtis," apologized
the young artist, "but I knew no other way for us to settle the matter
at once.  This young man has done too much mischief to our friends to
be allowed to go free again.  But you need not think further of the
experience, I'll take the lad and give him up to the police to-night.
Your son and I will be able to identify him.  It will not be necessary
to draw you girls into the business.  We can manage without you."

Mrs. Curtis looked exceedingly uncomfortable.  She had been bitterly
angry at the way the lad had served Tom and Madge, and at that time she
would have given a great deal to have had him properly punished.  Since
then he had added one evil deed to the other.  But the boy, who was
being led away to prison, seemed so young, not much older than Tom.  He
was wild and reckless in his appearance, yet he had the aspect of
having been born of gentle people.

The youth had not spoken since the discovery of the oil on his hands
and clothes.  Now, as he was being led from the sitting room, he turned
on his cross-questioners and shook with swift laughter.  He threw back
his head, so that his long, dark hair uncovered his ears.  His eyes
gleamed.

Madge, who was staring hard at the boy from her position on the far
side of the room, gave an unexpected movement of surprise.  She waited
for the young prisoner to speak.

"You needn't trouble your girls to appear against me," he said
savagely, "but you will have to introduce their chaperon in court, and
a pretty thing it will be for a sister to appear as a witness against
her own brother!"

A frozen silence fell on the group of listeners.  Phil shook her head
emphatically.  "You are not our Miss Jenny Ann's brother," she retorted
decidedly.  "It would be perfectly impossible for her to have a wicked
brother like you."

Theodore Brown's face flushed and paled.  He would have liked to drag
the lad out of the room without waiting another instant.  Yet he feared
to make the scene even worse.  He did not have the slightest faith in
the lad's statement; he was only fiercely angry at the boy's impudence
and wondered if the fellow even knew the name of the chaperon of the
"Merry Maid."

Lillian and Eleanor were flushed with indignation.  Tom Curtis was
equally so.  But Mrs. Curtis happened to catch a glimpse of Madge's
face.  Her expression was a puzzle.  She ran forward and touched Mr.
Brown on the sleeve.  "Wait a minute, Mr. Brown," she pleaded.  "Don't
take the boy to jail yet.  What he says may be true.  Don't you think
we ought to ask him some questions first?"

The entire company stared at Madge in amazement.  But in the single
moment when Mr. Brown's captive started to leave the room, the little
captain had seen the tips of his pointed ears.  She had caught the
wild, almost animal gleam in his eyes.  She recalled the midnight
visitor to their chaperon on the first night their houseboat had rested
at anchor.  She remembered Miss Jenny Ann's curious behavior, and how
she had absolutely refused to give the name of her caller.  All this
swept through Madge's mind and now she understood Miss Jenny Ann's
poverty, her reticence about her own affairs, her unhappiness when the
girls first knew her at school.  Of course, this wicked brother was the
cause of their chaperon's difficulties.  If they punished the boy, Miss
Jenny Ann must suffer more than he would.  She had lately grown to be
as merry as any of the girls on board the "Merry Maid."

"O Mrs. Curtis!" exclaimed Madge, "please don't let Tom and Mr. Brown
take him off to jail.  I think he _is_ our Miss Jenny Ann's brother.  I
wouldn't have her find out the wicked things he has done for all the
money in the world."  Madge was almost in tears as she made her plea to
Mrs. Curtis.

"Never mind, dear," replied Mrs. Curtis soothingly.  "If the lad really
turns out to be your chaperon's brother, you are right; his behavior
must be kept a secret from her."

Mrs. Curtis, Mr. Brown and Tom afterward found the statement of the
wild boy to be true.  He was really Miss Jones's brother.  His parents
had died when he was a little boy, and his sister had sacrificed her
life's hopes to him.  Yet her efforts had been in vain.  He had always
been hard to control.  In the last few years he had broken away from
all restraint.  He had been concealed in the motor boat that first
towed the girls and their chaperon to their anchorage and had seen his
sister on the houseboat.  His plan had been to get money from her.
When she told him that she had none to give him he had devoted his time
to tormenting the crew of the "Merry Maid" in order to be revenged on
his sister.

After long consultation it was decided not to send him to prison.  Mrs.
Curtis gave him the money to sail for South Africa, after making him
promise to try to turn over a new leaf, and not to write to his sister
until he was safely out of the country.  And so Miss Jenny Ann's ghost
was laid without her knowing it until some time afterward.



CHAPTER XXIII

"MOTHER"

Not one of the four girls closed her eyes during the long night
following the dinner given by Mrs. Curtis.  Miss Jenny Ann sat by
Mollie until toward morning, when Eleanor and Lillian relieved her.
Madge and Phil walked up and down the deck in order to be ready if they
were called.  But as the long night wore on, Mollie exhibited no sign
of returning consciousness.

After an early breakfast the next morning Miss Jones went back to her
charge, and the girls lingered in the cabin sitting room talking
together in low tones.

Madge kept her arms about Eleanor.  Every now and then she would lean
over to kiss her cousin.

Nellie laughed softly.  "What's the matter, Madge?  Why are you so
affectionate with me all of a sudden?  Does it make you care more for
me because poor, lovely Mollie is so ill, and because it might just as
easily have been me, or Phil, or Lillian?"

Madge nodded.  "Perhaps that is the reason."

Neither Lillian nor Eleanor even faintly dreamed that their friend had
anything on her mind to worry her, except the critical condition poor
Mollie was in; but Phil knew differently.  She had long suspected what
Mrs. Curtis's preference for Madge meant.  Phyllis and Miss Jenny Ann
had even discussed the possibility of their captain leaving them.
However, Phil had never broached the subject to Madge.  She Phil
couldn't, she wouldn't think of it.

Mrs. Curtis and Tom arrived at the houseboat just as Madge and Phil
were about to relieve Miss Jenny Ann's second watch.  The physician had
said that he expected Mollie to regain consciousness some time during
the morning, and that she must not be left alone for a moment.

"Mrs. Curtis, slip into the room to see Mollie," whispered Madge.
"Phil and I must go to her now.  She is unconscious, so your presence
could not frighten her.  I want you to see how beautiful she is.  She
is really the prettiest person I ever saw, except you," Madge declared,
as she threw a kiss to her friend and hurried after Phil into the cabin.

Miss Jenny Ann went into the sitting-room to lie down.  Eleanor and
Lillian went into the kitchen to wash the dishes.

Madge and Phil sat side by side at Mollie's berth.  Madge's eyes were
fixed on Mollie's unconscious face, but Phil looked often at her chum.
Phyllis cared very little for wealth and position, for fine clothes and
servants, but she knew these things were very dear to her friend.  Yet,
in a vague way, she realized that Madge would be likely to grow into a
finer, sweeter woman without them.  Phyllis understood their little
captain.  She knew that Madge was full of fine impulses, was brave and
loyal in the midst of difficulties; but she also knew that she was
easily spoiled and that too much money and admiration would not be good
for her.

"Phil," asked Madge, "isn't Mollie stirring?  Is there anything we
ought to do for her?"

Phil bent over to gaze more attentively at their patient.  She studied
every curve and line in the girl's exquisite face.  Now that Mollie's
eyes were closed, and the vacant, pathetic stare was no more visible in
them, her beauty was the more remarkable.  Something in Mollie's quiet
features seemed to surprise Phyllis, but she said nothing.

"We can't do anything but wait," answered Phil.  "The doctor said that
quiet is all Mollie needs.  She is sure to come to herself some time
to-day."

Phil slid her chair up close beside her chum's and kissed her friend on
the cheek.  It was an unusual demonstration for the reserved Phyllis.
Madge stared at her.  Then she turned a little pale.  "You know what
has happened to me, don't you?" she whispered.  "I am sure you must
know."

Phil bowed her head.

"Can't you help me decide?" begged Madge.

"No."  Phil shook her head sadly.  "You'll have to make up your mind
for yourself."

The two girls sat in silence after this.  They heard Mrs. Curtis come
softly into the room and take a low chair in the far corner of the
cabin, so as not to disturb Mollie if the girl should awake.  She could
just see the bed, but not the face of the girl on the pillow.

By and by Mollie stirred.  "I am thirsty," she said distinctly.  "Will
some one please get me a glass of water?"

Phil rose quickly.  "Here it is, Mollie," she answered, handing the
girl the water, and trying to lift her with the other arm.  Madge
stooped over to aid her.

"Thank you," responded Mollie gently.  "But why do you call me Mollie?
My name isn't Mollie."

"We never liked to call you 'Moll'," replied Madge soothingly.  "Mollie
seemed to us to be a prettier name."

The girl laughed lightly.  "No, I shouldn't think you would.  My name
is Madeleine, not Mollie.  And you are Phyllis and Madge.  I wonder why
I never told you before that my name is Madeleine."  Mollie's eyes had
lost their pathetic stare.  They were quiet and reasonable.

"Don't try to talk, Mollie--Madeleine, I mean," murmured Phil.  "You
must try to go to sleep again."

She and Madge never changed their positions until the ill girl's head
grew heavy on their arms and she slept peacefully.

"O Phil!" Madge faltered, "you don't think Mollie is going to----"

"Sh-sh!" returned Phyllis warningly.  "Don't show her you are surprised
at anything she says."

Madge clenched her hands to keep them from trembling, but she could
feel her knees shaking under her.

The patient opened her eyes again.  "I fell off the yacht, didn't I?"
she inquired.  "It's funny, but I couldn't think what had happened to
me for a long time.  I was trying to remember all night.  It was such a
long night.  I kept seeing dreadful, rude men, who were cruel to me.  I
must have been dreaming.  Where is my mother?  Why doesn't she come to
me?"

"Your mother!" exclaimed Madge.  A glance from Phil silenced her.

"Your mother can't come to you now, she is----"  Phyllis faltered.

"Never mind," the gentle girl spoke faintly.  "Mother may be resting.
She must have been dreadfully frightened when she learned I had tumbled
overboard.  I think something fell and struck me on the head."

"Don't talk any more, please, dear," entreated Phyllis.  "You can tell
us all about what happened when you have rested a little longer.  You
are very tired."

The sick girl dozed again.  Phyllis and Madge slipped their aching arms
out from under their patient's pillow.

"Mollie's memory has come back to her, hasn't it?" Madge breathed in
her chum's ear.  "I wonder if it will go away again, or if she will
remember more about herself when she is stronger?"

"I believe her memory has returned," Phil answered softly.  "It is a
miracle.  We must be very careful.  Any excitement or surprise might
kill her.  I wish the doctor were here."

Some one stole across the room without a sound.  The girls knew it must
be Mrs. Curtis.  Neither one of them stirred nor for the instant
glanced at their friend; they were too intent on their patient.  But
they were grateful for her presence.  She had heard Mollie's peculiar
remarks.  She would know what they ought to do when Mollie began to
talk again.

Mrs. Curtis came so close to the sick girl's bed that Madge and Phil
stepped back to let her have the nearest place.  She leaned over and
looked at Mollie as though she would never grow tired of gazing at her.
Once her lips moved, but it was impossible to tell what she said.  Then
Mrs. Curtis's strength seemed to give way.  She dropped on her knees,
with her arms resting on the edge of Mollie's bed.

Ten minutes passed.  No one moved or spoke in the tiny cabin chamber.
Mollie slept peacefully.  Mrs. Curtis did not stir.  She was like a
figure carved in stone.  She was waiting for something to happen.  Was
it for the girl on the bed to speak again?

Madge and Phil scarcely dared to breathe.  They did not understand the
situation, but they felt themselves to be in the presence of a mystery.
A drama was being enacted in the tiny room, and they were the only
audience to it.

"Mother, where are you?"  Mollie's voice sounded clear and strong.

"I am here," Mrs. Curtis replied softly, not stirring from her position
by the bed.

"Why hasn't Tom been here to see me?  And why are Phyllis and Madge so
good to me?  I don't understand."

Mollie turned restlessly on her pillow.  Her hair fell away from her
forehead and revealed the jagged, ugly scar.  Mrs. Curtis saw it.  For
the first time she gave an involuntary shudder of emotion.  Mollie put
up her hand to her head with the old, familiar gesture of pain.

"My head hurts," she announced, as though she had not known of her
injury before.  "Have I been sick a long time?  Somehow, you look so
different."

Mrs. Curtis nodded.  "Yes, daughter, you have been ill a long, long
time.  But you will be well and happy when you wake up again.  You are
with Mother now."

Mrs. Curtis gathered Mollie into her arms and the two girls stole out
of the tiny cabin, closing the door behind them.  The mother and
daughter were alone.

"What has happened to you, Madge Morton?  Why do you girls look so
strangely at me?" demanded Tom Curtis as he caught sight of Madge's
face.  He was leaning against the deck rail staring curiously at his
friends.  "Is Mollie worse?"

"Oh, no; she is not worse.  She is well.  That is, she can remember.
She is----  Oh, I don't know what I am saying," cried Madge in
confusion.

Miss Jenny Ann came out of the sitting room.  Lillian and Eleanor also
joined the little group on deck.  Still Madge was silent.

"Ought I to tell?" she faltered, looking at Phyllis.  "Don't you think
Mrs. Curtis ought to tell Tom?"

"If you have bad news for me speak quickly!" returned Tom.  "I would
rather hear it from you than anybody in the world.  You are almost like
a sister to me, Madge."

The little captain went forward and put her hand gently on Tom's arm.
"You won't need me for a sister now, Tom," she said gently.  "Phil and
I do not understand what has happened.  Your mother will have to
explain to you.  But our Mollie is not Mollie at all.  Her name is
Madeleine.  Her memory has come back to her.  She thinks your mother is
her mother.  And Mrs. Curtis called her daughter!"

The cabin door opened.  Mrs. Curtis walked out, moving like a woman in
a dream.  "Don't speak loudly," she said.  "Madeleine has gone to
sleep."  She crossed over to Tom.  "Tom," she explained quietly, "the
girls have found your sister after twelve years; my baby is a young
woman."

Tom put his arm about his mother.  Mrs. Curtis spoke rapidly now, as
though she feared her voice would fail her.  "Miss Jones, years ago my
little daughter, who was ten years old, fell from our steam yacht.  She
had been left alone by her nurse for a few minutes.  When the woman
came back the child was not to be found.  No one saw or heard her fall
overboard.  The boat was searched, but Madeleine had disappeared.  We
were off the coast of Florida.  For months and months we searched for
my daughter's body.  We offered everything we had in the world for news
of her.  No word came.  I used to think she would come back to me.
Long ago I gave up hope.  Now, when I saw this poor Mollie, I thought I
recognized my child, and when she opened her eyes her memory returned
to her.  She knew I was her mother, in spite of my white hair.  I think
it is because she now remembers nothing of her unhappy past.  She
thinks she was hurt only a short time ago.  She must not learn the
truth until she is stronger.  Will you keep me here with you until I
can take my daughter home?"

Mrs. Curtis staggered slightly and grew very white.  It was Madge who
sprang to her side and led her to a chair.  "You have found what you
want most in the world," she whispered, "I am so glad for your sake."



CHAPTER XXIV

FAREWELL TO THE MERRY MAID

"Miss Jenny Ann, I can't get all these things packed in this barrel,"
protested Madge despairingly.  "I don't see how they ever got in here
before."

Miss Jenny Ann laughed from the depths of a large box, where she was
folding sheets and placing them in neat piles.  "Remember, we have
added a number of tin pans to our store since we came aboard the
houseboat.  But don't worry, dear.  We will get all the belongings
packed in time."

"Isn't it too awful that the houseboat has to be left to its poor dear
self for the rest of the summer?  Just think, we have had over six
weeks' holiday, and, if it weren't for Madeleine, it would seem like
six days."

"I have something to tell you, Madge," announced Miss Jenny Ann,
raising a flushed face from her task.  "Do you remember when you came
into the library, at school, and found me crying over a letter?  I told
you that I was frightened at what my doctor had written me.  I have a
different story to tell now.  I am well as well can be.  I have gained
ten pounds in six weeks; that is a record, isn't it?"

"I am so glad," bubbled Madge.  "You've been the jolliest kind of a
chaperon, dear Miss Jenny Ann, and we love you.  You know I am sorry I
used to be so disagreeable to you at school, and you do like me now,
don't you?"

Miss Jenny Ann and Madge desisted from their labors long enough to
embrace each other.

"Here, here, what is all this love-feast about?" demanded Tom Curtis
cheerfully.  He had come quietly aboard the houseboat, and was standing
at the cabin door, smiling cheerfully at the little captain.

"Go away, Tom," returned Madge reproachfully.  "I told you we couldn't
have any company to-day.  I said good-bye to you last night.  We are
getting things in shape to leave the houseboat.  A man who has a
boat-house is going to take care of the 'Merry Maid' for us until we
come into another fortune and have another holiday."

"What time does your train leave?" inquired Tom coolly, picking up a
hammer and preparing to fasten the top on Madge's barrel.

"At four o'clock," sighed Madge.  "We are going to Baltimore together,
and start home from there."

"It is all right, then," answered Tom Curtis placidly.  "I have plenty
time to stay to luncheon."

"Tell him he can't, Miss Jenny Ann Jones," declared Madge inhospitably,
"we haven't a thing to eat except some crackers and stale bread, and a
few odd pieces of cold meat.  And I am so dreadfully hungry that I can
eat them all myself."

"I am going to stay just the same," asserted Tom.  "I am going to be
the busiest little worker on the 'Merry Maid'."

The houseboat party would never have finished its packing except for
their uninvited visitor.  He sat on trunks, fastened locks and doors.
At one o'clock "The Merry Maid" was in order to be deserted.

"Let's go up to the farmhouse to get some food," suggested Tom.  "I am
hungry as a bear, and I know they will give us some milk and bread."

Madge demurred, but the other three girls and Miss Jenny Ann were much
too hungry to stand on ceremony.

Tom led the way to the farmhouse as though he felt sure of his welcome.

At the old gate, however, they found Mrs. Curtis and Madeleine
apparently waiting for them.  "We couldn't bear that yesterday should
be good-bye," explained Mrs. Curtis, putting her arm about Madge and
drawing her away from the others.

Madeleine held out her hands to Phyllis.  She still looked white and
fragile from her illness, but she was so exquisitely lovely that people
turned about to gaze at her as she passed by them.  Her face wore the
expression of a serious child.  She could not immediately make up for
the lost years of her life, and she never left her mother or her
brother but for a short time.  Still she was at ease with the girls and
talked a little with them.  Her memory had come back to her, whether
from the second blow on her head, or from the quiet life--which, the
medical men could not say.  After a while Madeleine would be able to
take the place in the gay world which her beauty and wealth made for
her.  For the present she needed rest, quiet, and absolute peace of
mind.

"You haven't changed your mind, have you, Madge?" asked Mrs. Curtis, as
she and the little captain walked side by side to the farmhouse
together.

Madge shook her bead.  "It isn't a case of changing my mind.  I had not
decided.  Now that you have found your real daughter you surely do not
wish to be burdened with an imitation one."

"But I still want you, my dear.  A woman is richer with two daughters
than with one," replied Mrs. Curtis.

"No; you and Madeleine ought to be together," concluded Madge wisely.
"You are awfully good, and I shall always feel that you are the best
friend I have.  But I had not been able to make up my mind to leave my
own people and the girls, so, of course, everything has turned out for
the best, and I am so happy for you and Tom and Madeleine.  It is as
good as playing a part in a fairy story to see one come true before
your very eyes.  Have you seen Captain Mike?"  Madge lowered her voice,
so that Madeleine could not overhear her.

Mrs. Curtis flushed.  "Once, and for always.  I hope never to look upon
the dreadful man again.  Tom felt that he and I must go to this Mike to
ask him something of my little girl's history.  He claims to have
picked her up and, thinking her dead, left her for a few hours
unnoticed in his sailboat.  The man had done something reprehensible
while in Florida, and was sailing for the Atlantic Ocean to flee from
justice, so he did not stop to inquire about my child, or to give her
more than a passing thought.  His first wife was evidently a better
woman than this second one.  She worked with my Madeleine, brought her
back to life and must have been good to her.  But my baby could never
remember her name, nor tell anything about herself.  Captain Mike was
on the ocean for two weeks, and too ignorant to study the papers
afterward.  The first wife wished to keep the child.  After a short
time she died, and then----"  Mrs. Curtis stopped abruptly.

"We won't ever mention it again," said Madge tactfully.  "I can only
say I am so glad you found her."

Mrs. Watson, the farmer's wife, met the houseboat party with a smiling
face.  She conducted them into the dining room.  Miss Jenny Ann and the
four girls sighed with satisfaction for they were very hungry.  The
great mahogany table was weighted down with food--roast chicken, ham,
salad, doughnuts.

"This is Tom's party," smiled Mrs. Curtis, in answer to a look of
delighted astonishment from Madge.  "It was his idea to say a last
good-bye to our houseboat friends, and to see them safely started on
their journey toward home.  But, Miss Jenny Ann, I have something to
say.  I wish to tell you a story and I wish you to tell me what you
think without any reference to anybody or anything at this table."

"Of course I will," answered Miss Jenny Ann lightly, not dreaming what
Mrs. Curtis intended to say.

"Suppose, once upon a time you had lost something very precious,"
continued Mrs. Curtis.  "Say it was a mine of precious stones.  Suppose
you had hunted for years but could never find it.  After a while some
friends discover the treasure for you, and give it back to you?  Don't
you believe you would like to do something to show your gratitude?"

"Certainly I should," replied Miss Jenny Ann promptly, falling into the
trap.

"Then why not let me have a houseboat party this fall?" proposed Mrs.
Curtis.  "Madeleine and I will be staying near Old Point Comfort.  Tom
will be camping with some boy friends near Cape Charles.  I am going to
count on your bringing the houseboat down the shore to pay us a visit
and you are to be my guests from the moment you set foot on the boat."

The four chums looked at Mrs. Curtis, their eyes shining with delight.
Another holiday on their beloved houseboat!  But ought they accept so
great a gift from Mrs. Curtis.  They understood that it was her
intention to finance the trip.

Tom looked at his watch.  "It's a pity to break up the party.  But as
we are to drive to the village we must soon be off.  The expressman has
already taken the trunks.  You'd better accept mother's invitation."

"We thank you," said Madge slowly, "but will you give us a few days in
which to decide?  Then we will write you at Old Point Comfort."

"Very well," replied Mrs. Curtis, "but let us hope that your answer
will be 'yes.'  I wish you would look upon the trip as a love offering
from Madeleine."

Mrs. Curtis looked wistfully at the circle of girlish faces.  Her eyes,
mute with pleading, met Madge's.  They seemed to say, "Why not decide
now, and make us happy?"

Their appeal was too strong for Madge.  "Girls, I think we ought to
accept Mrs. Curtis's gift to us.  It is right and she wishes us to do
so.  Of what use is it to wait three days.  Let us say 'yes' now and
then we shall all he happy.  All together!  Is it 'yes'?"

"'Yes,'" chorused four voices.

Madge turned to Mrs. Curtis.  "We must say good-bye this minute, but
we'll write you, and one of these days you'll find our 'Ship of Dreams'
anchored on your beach."

How Madge kept her promise and what happened during their visit to Old
Point Comfort is fully set forth in "MADGE MORTON'S SECRET," a story no
wide-awake girl can afford to miss.



THE END.





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