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´╗┐Title: Billie Bradley on Lighthouse Island - The Mystery of the Wreck
Author: Wheeler, Janet D.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "Billie Bradley on Lighthouse Island - The Mystery of the Wreck" ***

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[Illustration: The girls came out upon the point where the lighthouse
stood. (See Page 175)]


                           BILLIE BRADLEY ON
                           LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND

                        THE MYSTERY OF THE WRECK


                            JANET D. WHEELER



                                NEW YORK
                         CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY


                         BILLIE BRADLEY SERIES
                          BY JANET D. WHEELER

                       12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.

                   Billie Bradley and Her Inheritance

                  Billie Bradley at Three Towers Hall

                  Billie Bradley on Lighthouse Island

                         CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY
                         Publishers -- New York

                            Copyright, 1920,
                         CUPPLES & LEON COMPANY

                  Billie Bradley on Lighthouse Island
                          PRINTED IN U. S. A.



              CHAPTER                                  PAGE
                    I  Lost                               1
                   II  The Hut in the Woods               9
                  III  Ferns and Mystery                 17
                   IV  At the School Again               25
                    V  Much Ado About Nothing            33
                   VI  Found--One Album                  41
                  VII  Strange Actions                   49
                 VIII  An Invitation                     57
                   IX  Amanda Again                      63
                    X  Two of a Kind                     71
                   XI  At Home                           79
                  XII  Preparing for the Trip            86
                 XIII  Pleasure Draws Near               95
                  XIV  The Light on Lighthouse Island   102
                   XV  Connie's Mother                  110
                  XVI  Clam Chowder and Salt Air        118
                 XVII  Fun and Nonsense                 125
                XVIII  Uncle Tom                        133
                  XIX  Paul's Motor Boat                141
                   XX  Out of the Fog                   150
                  XXI  The Boys are Interested          158
                 XXII  The Fury of the Storm            166
                XXIII  Fighting for Life                174
                 XXIV  Three Small Survivors            182
                  XXV  The Mystery Solved               191


                           BILLIE BRADLEY ON
                           LIGHTHOUSE ISLAND

                                CHAPTER I


Splash! went a big drop just on the exact tip of Laura Jordon's pretty,
rather upturned nose. She put her hand to the drop to be sure she had not
been mistaken, then turned in dismay to her companions.

"Girls," she cried, "it's raining!"

If she had said the world was coming to an end her companions could not
have looked more startled. Then Billie Bradley cocked an eye at what she
could see of the sky through the trees and held out one hand

"You're crazy," she announced, turning an accusing eye upon Laura. "It's
no more raining than you are. And, anyway, haven't we troubles enough
without your going and making up a new one?"

"M-making up!" Laura stuttered in her indignation. "If you don't believe
me, just look at my nose."

"I don't see what your nose has to do with it," Billie began scornfully,
but the third of the trio, Violet Farrington, by name, interrupted.

"Laura's right," she cried. "I just felt a great big drop myself. Now,
what ever are we going to do?" Vi dropped down in a pathetic little heap
on a convenient rock, looking up at her chums wistfully.

Violet Farrington was always a little wistful when in trouble, like a
small girl who can never understand why she is being punished. But just
now this wistfulness irritated Billie Bradley, who was very much given to
quick action herself, and she turned upon Vi rather snappily.

"Well, you needn't just sit there like a ninny," she cried. "Get up and
help us think what we can do to get out of this mess."

"Mess is right," said Laura Jordon gloomily.

And it must be admitted that the girls were in rather a trying situation.
Their botany teacher at Three Towers Hall, where they were students, had
sent them into the woods to gather some rare ferns which they were to use
in the botany class the next day.

That was all very well; for if there was anything the girls loved it was
a trip into the woods. They had started off in hilarious spirits; and
then--the impossible thing had happened.

They had gathered the ferns, turned to go back to Three Towers, and
found, to their absolute dismay, that they did not know which way to go.
There was no getting over the fact. They were absolutely and completely

For almost an hour now they had been wandering around and around, getting
deeper into the woods every minute, until they had finally begun to feel
really frightened. Suppose they couldn't find Three Towers before dusk?
Suppose they should be forced to stay in the woods all night? These and a
hundred other thoughts had chased themselves through their heads, but
they had said nothing of their fears to each other. The girls were
thoroughly "game."

But now had come this new complication. It had begun to rain. Hopelessly
lost in the woods and a storm coming on! It was a situation to try the
patience of a saint. And the girls were not saints. They were just happy,
fun-loving, lovable specimens of young American girlhood who could upon
occasion show rather alarming flashes of temper.

"I'm not a ninny," Vi protested hotly; but Billie was already started on
a different train of thought. She caught Vi's wrist in hers and her eyes
were big and round as she looked from her to Laura.

"Suppose," she said in a whisper, "we should meet the Codfish!"

Vi shivered nervously, but it was Laura's turn to be cross.

"Don't be silly," she said. "Don't you know that the Codfish is safe in
jail, and has been there for a long time? Now who's making up something
to worry about, I'd like to know."

"But thieves do break out of jail," Billie insisted. "And the Codfish is
just the kind who would do it."

"Goodness, Billie, what an idea!" said Vi breathlessly. "I never even
thought about his escaping. And I suppose," she added, beginning to feel
deliciously goose-fleshy, "that we'd be the very first ones he'd go for.
Revenge, you know--that's what they are always after in the stories."

"I hate to interrupt you," Laura broke in as sarcastically as she could.
"But if you two want to stand there all day talking about the Codfish and
revenge, you can, but I'm going to find some way out of this place.
Goodness, I felt another drop. And there's another!"

"Well, you needn't count them," Billie remarked briskly, bringing an
hysterical giggle from Vi. "Come on, there must be a path of some kind
around here."

"I suppose there is, but if we can't find it, it won't do us much good,"
said Laura, looking about her helplessly.

"Well, we certainly won't find it by standing still," snapped Billie.
"Come on. I feel it in my bones that Three Towers is somewhere off in
this direction." And she led the way into the woods, the girls following

And while the three chums are searching for the path, the opportunity
will be taken to recount to new readers some of the adventures and queer
experiences the girls had had up to the present time.

In the first book of this series, entitled, "Billie Bradley and Her
Inheritance," Billie had been left an old homestead at Cherry Corners in
the upper part of New York State. The strange legacy had come to Billie
from an eccentric aunt, Beatrice Powerson, for whom Billie had been
named. For Billie's real name was not Billie at all, but Beatrice.

It will be remembered that the girls had decided to spend their vacation
there, and that the boys, Billie's brother Chetwood, Laura's brother
Teddy, and another boy, Ferd Stowing, had joined them there and that
queer and exciting adventures had followed.

The most wonderful thing of all had been the finding of the shabby old
trunk in the attic whose contents of rare old coins and postage stamps
had brought Billie in nearly five thousand dollars in cash. The money had
enabled Billie to replace a statue which she had accidentally broken a
little while before and had also given her the chance to go to Three
Towers Hall, a good boarding school, and Chet the opportunity to go to
the Boxton Military Academy, which was only a little over a mile from
Three Towers Hall.

The good times the girls had at school--and some bad times, too--have
been told of in the second book of the series, called, "Billie Bradley at
Three Towers Hall."

In North Bend, where the girls had always lived, there lived also two
other girls, Amanda Peabody and Eliza Dilks. These girls were sneaks and
tattletales of the worst order and were thoroughly disliked by all the
girls and boys with whom they had come in contact.

When the chums had heard that Amanda was to accompany them to Three
Towers they were absolutely dismayed, for they expected that she would
spoil all the fun. Amanda had done her best to live up to the
expectations of the girls, but try as she would, she had not been able to
spoil entirely the fun. And this very failure had, of course, made her
and her chum, Eliza Dilks, furious.

Both Three Towers Hall and Boxton Military Academy had been built on the
banks of the beautiful Lake Molata, and the girls and boys had spent many
happy hours rowing upon the lake in the fall and skating upon it in the

But the most amazing thing that had happened to them at Three Towers had
been the capture of the man the girls called "The Codfish." This rascal
had attempted to steal Billie's precious trunk in the beginning, but
Billie and the boys had given chase in an automobile and had succeeded in
recovering the trunk. They had also succeeded in getting a good look at
the man, whose hair was red, eyes little and close together, mouth wide
and loose-lipped. It was this last feature that had given the thief his
name with the boys and girls. For the mouth certainly resembled that of a

Later the "Codfish" had turned up again near Three Towers Hall, had
robbed one of the teachers of her purse when she was returning from town,
and had later succeeded in making off with a great many valuables from
Boxton Military Academy.

The girls never forgot how, with the aid of the boys, they had captured
the Codfish and turned him over to the police. Though, as Laura said, the
thief had been in jail for some time, the chums had never stopped
thinking and wondering about him. But never before had the possibility of
his escaping been thought of.

But now, as they made their way through the forest that was growing
darker and darker, they could not shake off the thought of him.

They glanced often and uneasily into the shadowy woodland and drew closer
together as if for protection. The rain was beginning to come a little
faster now, and their clothes felt damp. Even Billie's courage was
beginning to fail.

Suddenly Laura stopped stock still and looked at them impatiently.

"There's not a bit of use our going on like this," she said. "For all we
know we may be getting farther away from the path every minute."

"And my feet hurt," added Vi pathetically.

Suddenly Billie called to them. She had gone on a little ahead and,
peering through the dusk, had seen the outline of something dark, a black
smudge against the gray of the woods.

"Girls, come here quick!" she cried, and half-fearing, half-hoping, they
knew not what, the others ran to her.

                               CHAPTER II

                          THE HUT IN THE WOODS

"What is it?" Laura cried.

For answer Billie pointed through the gloom.

"There! See it?" she cried excitedly. "It's some sort of little house, I
guess--a hut or something."

"A house!" cried Laura joyfully. "Glory be, let's go! What's the matter?"
she asked, as the other girls hung back.

"Better not be in too much of a hurry," Billie cautioned her. "The place
looks as if it were empty; but you never can tell."

"Well, there's something I can tell," Laura retorted impatiently. "And
that is, that I'm getting soaking wet." She started on again, but Billie
called to her to stop.

"Don't be crazy, Laura," she whispered. "We're all alone in the woods,
and it's almost night. How do we know who may be in that shack?"

"Oh, Billie, suppose it were the Codfish!" whispered Vi, and Laura looked

"It isn't apt to be the Codfish," returned Billie. "But whoever it is, I
think we'd better be careful. We'll go up to it softly and look about a
bit. Please don't any one speak until we're sure it's all right."

The girls were used to obeying Billie, even impulsive Laura, so now they
followed softly at her heels, stepping over twigs so as to make no noise.

"Goodness! anybody would think we were thieves ourselves," Laura giggled
hysterically, and Billie looked back at her warningly.

It was a strange thing and strangely made, this remote little shelter in
the woods. It probably had some sort of framework of wood inside, but all
the girls could see from the outside was a rude structure entirely
covered by moss and interwoven twigs. In fact, unless one looked closely,
one might think that the little hut was no hut at all, but part of the
foliage itself.

The girls could find no windows, but as they moved cautiously around the
hut Billie came upon a small door. The latter was hardly more than four
feet high, and the girls would have to stoop considerably to get through

"For goodness sake, open it, Billie," Laura whispered close in her ear.
"It's beginning to pour pitchforks and I'm getting soaking wet. I don't
care if a hyena lives in there, I'm going in too."

Billie wanted to laugh, but she was too wet and nervous. So she opened
the little door cautiously and peered inside.

For a minute she could not tell whether the hut was empty or not, for it
was very very dark. But as her eyes became accustomed to the darkness she
felt sure that the place was empty.

"Come on," she called over her shoulder to the girls, her voice still
cautiously lowered. "I can't see very well, but I guess there's nobody at

The girls had to stoop almost double to enter the tiny door, but once
inside they were surprised to find that they could stand upright.

They were in almost entire darkness, the only patch of light coming from
the little door that Vi had left open. Suddenly they began to feel
panicky again.

"If we could only get a light," whispered Vi.

"Goodness, listen to the child," said Laura scornfully. "She wants all
the comforts of home--ouch!" Her toe had come in contact with something

"What's the matter?" cried Billie startled.

"Matter enough," moaned Laura. "I've broken my toe!"

"Oh well, if that's all," said Billie, but Laura began to laugh

"Oh yes, that's all," she cried. "I only wish it had happened to you,
Billie Bradley!"

If all wishes could be fulfilled as quickly as that of Laura's there
would be few unsatisfied people in the world, for before it was out of
her mouth Billie uttered a sharp cry of pain, and, lifting a smarting
ankle in her hand, began to rub it gently.

"Did you do it, too?" cried Laura joyfully, adding with a good imitation
of Billie: "Oh well, if that's all--"

"Oh for goodness sake, keep still," cried Billie, from which it will be
seen that Billie was not in the best of tempers. "This place must be full
of stuff. Goodness, why didn't we think to bring matches with us!"

"Because we went out to get ferns, not to burn up the woods," said Laura,
with a chuckle.

"Goodness!" cried Vi suddenly out of the darkness. "It is--no it
isn't--yes it is----"

"For goodness sake, what's the matter with her?" asked Laura, getting
hysterical again. "Has trouble turned her head?"

"No. But something's turned yours," Vi's voice came indignantly back at
her. "I've found something, I have. But I've a good mind not to tell you
what it is."

"Violet, my darling," cried Laura, fondly. "Don't you see me on my

"Yes," said Vi, and suddenly there was a flare of light in the room that
illuminated the faces of the girls and made Billie and Laura jump.

"I see you," said Vi calmly, and stood laughing at them while the
flickering match in her hand died down to a little glimmer and went out.

"So that's what you found--matches," cried Billie joyfully, while Laura
just kept on gaping. "Oh, Vi, you're a darling, and I forgive you for
scaring us almost to death. Come on, light another one so we can see
where we are."

Vi obediently lighted another match, a box of which she had found quite
by accident, and the girls looked about them curiously. And as they
looked their curiosity and wonder grew. Billie was wild with impatience
when the match in Vi's hand flickered and went out again.

"Here, give them to me," she cried. "I thought I saw something. Look out,
don't spill them, Vi!"

"I should say not--they're all we have," chimed in Laura.

The match flared up in Billie's hand, and this time it was her turn to
make a discovery. The discovery was a pair of thick white candles, each
set in a white china dish and pushed to one end of a rudely-made table.

Quick as a flash, Billie put the match to the wick of one candle, and
then, with a sigh of excitement, blew out the match that was almost
burning her fingers.

"Girls," she cried, looking about her eagerly, "isn't this the queerest,
funniest little place you ever saw? And it's so complete."

Excitedly she crossed the little hut, whose floor was nothing but solid,
trampled-down earth, and began to examine a rude-looking cot that ran
along all one side of the queer little place.

"And here's a pantry!" exclaimed Vi excitedly. "Look, girls, shelves and
cans of things and--and--everything!"

The interior of the place was made of rough boards, rudely thrown
together as if by an amateur. Why the person who had made the little
cabin had not laid boards for his floor, nobody could tell. Perhaps he
had run short of lumber or perhaps he preferred the hard earth floor.

As Vi had said, in one corner some boards had been nailed up to form
shelves, and there were several tins of canned goods upon the shelves.
Quite evidently this must be the queer owner's pantry.

Besides this, the cot, the table, and an oddly-shaped chair, which had
evidently been made from an old soap box, made the only furnishings of
the place.

"I wonder," said Billie, looking about her while a sort of awe crept into
her voice, "what the person is like that lives here. He must be very
queer, to say the least."

"Oh," cried Vi, all her old fears coming back again. "Girls, I'd almost
forgotten the Codfish. Do you suppose--"

"No, we don't," said Laura shortly, wishing that the very mention of the
Codfish would not send the cold chills all over her. "Goodness, just
listen to that rain," she added, shivering. "I guess we're in for a night
of it."

"But we can't stay _here_ all night," said Billie anxiously.

"Suppose the owner should come back," added Vi, her teeth beginning to

"Well, he could only kill us if he did," said Laura gloomily.

"Besides, there are three of us to his one," said Billie, trying to speak
lightly. But Laura spoiled the attempt by adding more gloomily than ever:

"How do we know there's only one of him?"

"Well it doesn't look as if a whole family resided here."

"That's so too--but there may be two, at least."

Again the girls looked around the queer place. They saw a few tools as if
somebody had spent time in woodworking. There were shavings and parts of
cut tree branches and strips of bark.

"I'll wager he's a queer stick--whoever he is," was Billie's comment.

"And what will he say if he finds us here, prying into his private
affairs?" came from Laura, with something of a shiver. "Oh!"

All uttered a little cry as a crash of thunder reached them. Then the
rain seemed to come down harder than ever.

"Just listen to that!"

"It's good we are under cover. If we weren't we'd be drowned!"

The rain came in at one corner of the shelter, forming a pool on the hard
floor. But it did not reach the girls, for which they were thankful.

"I wonder how long it will last," sighed Vi presently.

"Maybe all night," returned Billie.

"Oh, do you really think it will last that long?" came pleadingly.

"You know as much about it as I do."

"What will they think of our absence at the Hall?" broke in Laura.

"They may send out a searching party----" began Billie.

"Hush," cried Vi suddenly, and her tone sent the gooseflesh all over them
again. "I hear something. Don't you think we'd better put something
against the door?"

                               CHAPTER III

                            FERNS AND MYSTERY

"Th-there's nothing to put against the door," stammered Billie nervously.
"I might put out the light though." She started for the candle, but Laura
put out a hand and stopped her.

"No," she said. "I'd rather see what's after us, anyway. I hate the

The noise that Vi had heard was a slow measured step that sounded to the
girls' overwrought nerves more like the stealthy creeping of an animal
than the tread of a man. But whoever or whatever it was, it was coming
steadily toward the hut--that much was certain.

The girls drew close together for protection and watched the little door

"It sounds like a bear," whispered Vi hysterically.

"Silly," Laura hissed back at her. "Don't you know that bears don't grow
in this part of the country?"

"But if it was a man," Vi argued, "he wouldn't be walking so slowly--not
in this kind of weather."

"Hush," commanded Billie. "He's almost here."

"If it's the Codfish--" Vi was saying desperately, when the little door
opened and she clapped her hand to her mouth, choking back the words.

Some one was coming through the door, some one who had to bend so much
that for a startled moment the girls were not at all sure but what it was
an animal, after all, and not a man that they had to reckon with.

Then the visitor stood up and they saw with real relief that it was a man
after all. As a matter of fact, after the first startled minute it was
the newcomer who seemed frightened and the girls who tried to make him
feel at home.

At first sight of the girls the man staggered backward and came up with a
thump against the wall of the hut. From there he regarded them with eyes
that fairly bulged from his head.

"Hullo!" he muttered, "who are you?"

The girls stared for a moment, then Laura giggled. Who could be
frightened when a person wanted to know who they were?

He was a queer looking man. He was tall, over six feet, and so thin that
the skin seemed to be drawn over the bones. His shoulders slumped and his
arms hung loosely, whether from weariness or discouragement or laziness,
the girls found it impossible to tell.

But it was his eyes that they noticed even in that moment of excitement.
They were big, much too big for his thin face, and so dark that they
seemed deep-sunken. And the expression was something that the girls
remembered long afterward. It was brooding, haunted, mysterious, with a
little touch of wildness that frightened the girls. Yet his mouth was
kind, very kind, and looking at it, the girls ceased to be afraid.

"Who _are_ you?" the man repeated, and this time Billie found her voice.

"We--we got lost," she said hesitatingly, speaking more to the kind mouth
of the man than to the strange, wild eyes. "It began to rain----"

"And we found this little place," Laura caught her up eagerly, "and came
inside to keep from drowning to death."

"We hope you don't mind," Vi finished, with her pleading smile which
sometimes won more than all Billie's and Laura's courage.

"Mind," the man repeated vaguely, passing a hand across his eyes as if to
wake himself up. "Why should I mind? It isn't very often I have company."

The girls thought he spoke bitterly but the next minute he smiled at

"I'm sorry I can't ask you to sit down," he said, so embarrassed that
Billie took pity on him.

"We don't want to sit down," she said, smiling at him. "We're too
nervous. Do you suppose the rain will ever stop?"

The man shook out his clothing and sent a shower of spray all about him.
He was soaking, drenching wet, and suddenly, looking at him, Billie had a
dreadful thought.

Suppose the man was not quite right in his mind? She had a horror of
crazy people. But what sane man would build himself a cabin in the woods
like this in the first place, and then go roaming around in the rain
without any protection?

A memory of the slow, measured steps they had heard approaching the cabin
made her shudder, and instinctively she drew back a little and snuggled
her hand into Laura's.

If he was not crazy he was probably a criminal of some sort, and neither
thought made Billie feel very comfortable. Three girls alone in the woods
with a crazy man or a criminal, with the darkness coming on----

Something of what she was thinking occurred to Laura and Vi also, and
they were beginning to look rather pale and scared.

As for the man--he hardly seemed to know what to do next. He took off his
dripping coat, threw it in a heap in one corner and turned back
uncertainly to the girls.

"No, I don't think it will stop raining for some time," he said, seeming
to realize that Billie had asked a question which he had not answered.
"And it is getting pretty dark outside. You say you are lost?"

"Yes," said Billie, wishing she had not told the man that part of their
troubles; but then, what else could she do? "We were sent into the woods
to find rare ferns----"

"Ferns!" broke in the man, his deep eyes lighting up with sudden
interest. "Ah, I could show you where the rarest and most beautiful ferns
in the country grow."

"You could!" they cried, growing interested in their turn and coming
closer to him.

"Are you--a--naturalist?" asked Vi a little uncertainly, for she knew
just enough about naturalists to be sure she was not one.

"I guess you might call me that," said the man. "I've had plenty of time
to become one."

Again the girls had that strange feeling of mystery surrounding the man.
He walked over to the other end of the room and before the girls' amazed
eyes took out what they had thought to be part of the table.

It was a very cleverly hidden receptacle, and as the girls looked down
into it they saw that it was half filled with curious little fern

"I make them," the man explained, as they looked up at him, puzzled. "And
then I sell them in the town--sometimes."

His mouth tightened bitterly, and he hastily returned the baskets to
their hiding place. Then he turned and faced them abruptly.

"Where do you come from?" he asked almost sharply.

"We come from Three Towers Hall," answered Billie.

"Three Towers!" The man looked very much interested. "Are you--er--teachers
there or pupils?"

"Teachers! Hardly," and Billie had to smile. "We are not old enough for
that. We are pupils."

"Do you like the place?'"

"Very much."

Again there was a pause, and it must be admitted that, for a reason they
could not explain, the girls felt far from comfortable. Oh, if only they
were back at the boarding school again!

"I don't know a great deal about the school," said the man slowly. "I
suppose there are lots of girls there."

"Over a hundred," said Laura, thinking she should say something.

"And quite a few teachers, too?"

"Oh, yes."

Then the man asked quite a lot of other questions and the girls answered
him as best they could. The man continued to look at them so queerly that
Billie was convinced that there was something wrong with him. But what
was it? Oh, if only the storm would let up, so they could start back to
the school!

But even when the rain stopped, how could they get back? They were lost,
and at night the way would be even harder to find than in the daytime.

No, they were completely in this man's power. If he put them on the right
path to Three Towers all well and good. If not----But she refused to
think of that.

"I'm sure it isn't raining hard any more," Laura broke in on her
thoughts. "Don't you think we could go now?"

"Even if it hasn't stopped raining we don't mind," added Vi eagerly.
"We're wet now, and we won't mind being a little bit wetter."

For an answer the man opened the door and crawled out into the open. In a
moment he was back with what seemed to the girls the best news they had
ever heard.

"The rain is over," he said, "but the foliage is still dripping. If you
really don't mind getting wet----"

"Oh, we don't!" they cried, and were starting from the door when Vi
suddenly remembered something.

"The ferns!" she cried. "Where are they?"

The girls searched frantically about, knowing that their botany teacher
would reprimand them if they did not bring back the ferns, and finally
found them on the floor where somebody had brushed them in the

Then they crept out through the door, their strange acquaintance
lingering behind to put out the light, and found themselves in the cool
darkness of the forest.

"Do you suppose he will really take us back?" Vi whispered, close to
Billie's ear.

"He'd better!" said Billie, clenching her hands fiercely against her
side. "If he doesn't I'll--I'll--murder him!"

"Goodness, don't talk of murder," cried Laura hysterically. "It's an
awful word to use in the dark, and everything!"

                               CHAPTER IV

                           AT THE SCHOOL AGAIN

"There's only one word worse," said a gloomy voice so close behind them
that Vi clapped a hand to her mouth to keep from crying out. "And that,"
the gloomy voice went on, "is _theft_!"

The girls never afterward knew what kept them from breaking loose and
running away. Probably it was because they were paralyzed with fright.

While they had thought the man was still in the hut he had come softly up
behind them and had overheard the last, at any rate, of what they had
said. Billie, as usual, was the first to recover herself.

"Will you take us to Three Towers now?" she asked in a voice that she
hardly recognized as her own. "Do you know the way?"

"Yes," he answered, adding moodily, as though to himself: "Hugo Billings
ought to know the way."

Billie caught at the name quickly, for she had been wondering what this
strange person called himself.

"Hugo Billings!" she said eagerly. "Is that your name?"

The man had started on ahead of them through the dark woods, but now he
stopped and looked back and Billie could almost feel his eyes boring into

"Did I say so?" he asked sharply, then just as quickly turned away and
started on again.

"Goodness, I guess he must be a crazy criminal," thought Billie
plaintively, as she and her chums followed their leader, stumbling on
over rocks and roots that sometimes bruised their ankles painfully. "I
suppose there are some people that are both. Anyway, he must be a
criminal, or he wouldn't have been so mad about my knowing his name."

The rest of that strange journey seemed interminable. There were times
when the girls were sure the man who called himself Hugo Billings was not
taking them toward Three Towers Hall at all. It seemed impossible that
they could have wandered such a long way into the woods.

Then suddenly their feet struck a hard-beaten path and they almost cried
aloud with relief. For they recognized the path and knew that the open
road was not far off. Once on the open road, they could find their way

Abruptly the man in front stopped and turned to face them. Once more the
girls' hearts misgave them. Was he going to make trouble after all? Why
didn't he go on?

And then the man spoke.

"I won't go any farther with you," he said, and there was something in
his manner of speaking that made them see again in imagination the tired
slump of his shoulders, the wild, haunted look in his eyes. "I don't like
the road. But you can find it easily from here. Then turn to your right.
Three Towers is hardly half a mile up the road. Good night."

He turned with abruptness and started back the way they had come. But
impulsively Billie ran to him, calling to him to stop. Yet when he did
stop and turned to look at her she had not the slightest idea in the
world what she had intended to say--if indeed she had really intended to
say anything.

"I--I just wanted to thank you," she stammered, adding, with a swift
little feeling of pity for this man who seemed so lonely: "And if there's
anything I can ever do to--to--help you----"

"Who told you I needed help?" cried the man, his voice so harsh and
threatening that Billie started back, half falling over a root.

"Why--why," faltered Billie, saying almost the first thing that came into
her mind. "You looked so--so--sad----"

"Sad," the man repeated bitterly. "Yes, I have enough to make me sad. But
help!" he added fiercely. "I don't need help from you or any one."

And without another word he turned and strode off into the darkness.

After that it did not take the girls long to reach the road. They felt,
someway, as if they must have dreamed their adventure, it had all been so
strange and unreal. And yet they knew they had never been more awake in
their lives.

"Please don't talk about it now," begged Vi when Laura would have
discussed it. "Let's wait till we get in our dorm with lights and
everything. I'm just shivering all over."

For once the others were willing to do as the most timid of the trio
wished, and they hurried along in silence till they saw, with hearts full
of thankfulness, the lights of Three Towers Hall shine out on the road
before them.

"Look, I see the lights!"

"So do I!"

"Thank goodness we haven't much farther to go."

"It's all of a quarter of a mile, Vi."

"Huh! what's a quarter of a mile after such a tramp as we have had?" came
from Billie.

"And after such an experience," added Laura.

"We'll certainly have some story to tell."

"I want something to eat first."

"Yes, and dry clothes, too."

"What a queer hut and what a queer man!"

"I've heard of people being lost before," said Billie, as they ran up the
steps that led to the handsomest door in the world, or at least so they
thought it at that moment. "But now I know that what they said about it
wasn't half bad enough."

"But not every one finds a hut and a funny man when they get lost," said

"Well, you needn't be so conceited about it," said Laura, pausing with
her hand on the door knob. "The girls probably won't believe us when we
tell them."

But Laura was wrong. The girls did really believe the story of Hugo
Billings and the hut and became tremendously excited about it. At first
they were all for making up an expedition and going to see it--the only
drawback being that the chums could not have directed them to it if they

And they would not have wished to, anyway. They had rather good reason to
believe that Hugo Billings would not want a lot of curious girls spying
about his quarters, and, being sorry for him and grateful to him for
helping them out of their fix, they absolutely refused to have anything
to do with the idea.

They were greeted with open arms on the night of their return. Miss
Walters, the much-beloved head of Three Towers Hall, said that she had
been just about to send out a searching party for them.

They were late for supper, but that only made their appetites better, and
as they were favorites of the cook they were given an extra share of
everything and ate ravenously, impatient of the questions flung at them
by the curious girls.

"Thank goodness the Dill Pickles aren't here," Laura said to Billie
between mouthfuls of pork chop. "Think of coming home with _our_
appetites to the kind of dinners they used to serve us."

"Laura! what a horrible thought," cried Billie, her eyes dancing as she
helped herself to two more biscuits. "That's treason."

For the "Dill Pickles" were two elderly spinsters who had been teachers
at Three Towers Hall when Billie and her chums had first arrived. Their
tartness and strictness and miserliness had made the life of the girls in
the school uncomfortable for some time.

And then had come the climax. Miss Walters, having been called away for a
week or two, Miss Ada Dill and Miss Cora Dill, disrespectfully dubbed by
the girls the twin "Dill Pickles," had things in their own hands and
proceeded to make the life of the girls unbearable. They had taken away
their liberty, and then had half starved them by cutting down on the
meals until finally the girls had rebelled.

With Billie in the lead, they had marched out of Three Towers Hall one
day, bag and baggage, to stay in a hotel in the town of Molata until Miss
Walters should get back. Miss Walters, coming home unexpectedly, had met
the girls in town, accompanied them back to Three Towers and, as one of
the girls slangily described it, "had given the Dill Pickles all that was
coming to them."

In other words, the Misses Dill had been discharged and the girls had
come off victorious. Now there were two new teachers in their place who
were as different from the Dill Pickles as night is from day. All the
girls loved them, especially a Miss Arbuckle who had succeeded Miss Cora
Dill in presiding over the dining hall.

So it was to this that Laura had referred when she said, "Thank goodness
the Dill Pickles are gone!"

After they had eaten all they could possibly contain, the girls retired
to their dormitories, where they changed their clothes, still damp from
their adventure, for comfortable, warm night gowns, and held court, all
the girls gathering in their dormitory to hear of their adventures, for
nearly an hour.

At the end of that time the bell for "lights-out" rang, and the chums
found to their surprise that for once they were not sorry. What with the
adventure itself and the number of questions they had answered, they were
tired out and longed for the comfort of their beds.

"But do you suppose," said Connie Danvers as she rose to go into her
dormitory, which was across the hall, "that the man was really a little
out of his head?"

"I think he was more than a little," said Laura decidedly, as she dipped
her face into a bowl of cold water. "I think he was just plain crazy."

Connie Danvers was a very good friend of the chums, and one of the most
popular girls in Three Towers Hall. Just now she looked a little worried.

"Goodness! first we have the Codfish," she said, "and then you girls go
and rake up a crazy man. We'll be having a menagerie next!"

                                CHAPTER V

                         MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING

It was the spring of the year, a time when every normal boy and girl
becomes restless for new scenes, new adventures. The girls at Three
Towers Hall heard the mysterious call and longed through hot days of
study to respond to it.

The teachers felt the restlessness in the air and strove to keep the
girls to their lessons by making them more interesting. But it was of no
use. The girls studied because they had to, not, except in a few
scattered cases, because they wanted to.

One of the exceptions to the rule was Caroline Brant, a natural student
and a serious girl, who had set herself the rather hopeless task of
watching over Billie Bradley and keeping her out of scrapes. For Billie,
with her love of adventure and excitement, was forever getting into some
sort of scrape.

But these days it would have taken half a dozen Caroline Brants to have
kept Billie in the traces. Billie was as wild as an unbroken colt, and
just as impatient of control. And Laura and Vi were almost as bad.

There was some excuse for the girls. In the first place, the spring term
at Three Towers Hall was drawing to a close, and at the end of the spring
term came--freedom.

But the thing that set their blood racing was the thought of what was in
store for them after they had gained their freedom. Connie Danvers had
given the girls an invitation to visit during their vacation her father's
bungalow on Lighthouse Island, a romantic spot off the Maine coast.

The prospect had appealed to the girls even in the dead of winter; but
now, with the sweet scent of damp earth and flowering shrubs in the air,
they had all they could do to wait at all.

The chums had written to their parents about spending their vacation on
the island, and the latter had consented on one condition. And that
condition was that the girls should make a good record for themselves at
Three Towers Hall. And it is greatly to be feared that it was only this
unreasonable--to the girls--condition that kept them at their studies at

It was Saturday morning, and Billie, all alone in one of the study halls,
was finishing her preparation for Monday's classes. She always got rid of
this task on Saturday morning, so as to have her Saturday afternoon and
Sunday free. She had never succeeded in winning Laura and Vi over to her
method, so that on their part there was usually a wild scramble to
prepare Monday's lessons on Sunday afternoon.

As Billie, books in hand and a satisfied feeling in her heart, came out
of the study room, she very nearly ran into Miss Arbuckle. Miss Arbuckle
seemed in a great hurry about something, and the tip of her nose and her
eyes were red as though she had been crying.

"Why, what's the matter?" asked Billie, for Billie was not at all tactful
when any one was in trouble. Her impulse was to jump in and help, whether
one really wanted her help or not. But everybody that knew Billie forgave
her her lack of tact and loved her for the desire to help.

So now Miss Arbuckle, after a moment of hesitation, motioned Billie into
the study room, and, crossing over to one of the windows, stood looking
out, tapping with her fingers on the sill.

"I've lost something, Billie," she said, without looking around. "It may
not seem much to you or to anybody else. But for me--well, I'd rather
have lost my right hand."

She looked around then, and Billie saw fresh moisture in her eyes.

"What is it?" she asked gently. "Perhaps I--we can help you find it."

"I wish you could," said Miss Arbuckle, with a little sigh. "But that
would be too good to be true. It was only an old family album, Billie.
But there were pictures in it that I prize above everything I own. Oh,
well," she gave a little shrug of her shoulders as if to end the matter.
"I'll get over it. I've had to get over worse things. But," she smiled
and patted Billie's shoulder fondly, "I didn't mean to burden your young
shoulders with my troubles. Just run along and forget all about it."

Billie did run along, but she most certainly did not "forget all about

"Funny thing to get so upset about," she said to herself, as she slowly
climbed the steps to her dormitory. "A picture album! I don't believe I'd
ever get my nose and eyes all red over one. Just the same, I'd like to
find it and give it back to her. Good Miss Arbuckle! After the Dill
Pickles, she seems like an angel."

She was still smiling over the thought of what had happened to the Dill
Pickles when she opened the door of the dormitory and came upon her

Laura and Vi and a dark-haired, pink-cheeked girl were sitting on one of
the beds in one corner of the dormitory, alternately talking and gazing
dreamily out of the window to Lake Molata, where it gleamed and shimmered
in the morning sunlight at the end of a sloping lawn.

The dark-haired, pink-cheeked girl was Rose Belser. Rose Belser, being
jealous of Billie's immense popularity at Three Towers Hall the term
before, had done her best to get the new girl into trouble, only to be
won over to Billie's side in the end. Now she was as firm a friend of
Billie's as any girl in Three Towers Hall.

"Well!" was Laura's greeting as Billie sauntered toward them. "Methinks
'tis time you arrived, sweet damsel. Goodness!" she added, dropping her
lazy tone and sitting up with a bounce, "I don't see why you have to go
and spoil the whole morning with your beastly old studying. Think of the
fun we could have had."

"Well, but think of the fun we're going to have this afternoon," Billie
flung back airily, stopping before the mirror to tuck some wisps of hair
into place, while the girls, even Rose, who was as pretty as a picture
herself, watched her admiringly. "It's almost lunch time."

"You don't have to tell us that," said Vi in an aggrieved tone. "Haven't
we been waiting for you all morning?"

"Oh, come on," said Billie, as the lunch gong sounded invitingly through
the hall. "Maybe when you've had something to eat you'll feel better.
Feed the beast----"

"Say, she's calling us names again," cried Laura, making a dive for
Billie. But Billie was already flying down the steps two at a time, and
when Billie once got a head start, no one, at least no one in Three
Towers Hall, had a chance of catching up with her.

It seemed to be Billie's day for bumping into people--for at the foot of
the stairs she had to clutch the banister to keep from colliding with
Miss Walters, the beautiful and much loved head of the school.

At Billie's sudden appearance the latter seemed inclined to be alarmed,
then her eyes twinkled, and as she looked at Billie she chuckled, yes,
actually chuckled.

"Beatrice Bradley," she said, with a shake of her head as she passed on,
"I've done my best with you, but it's of no use. You're utterly

Billie looked thoughtful as she seated herself at the table, and a moment
later, under cover of the general conversation, she leaned over and
whispered to Laura.

"Miss Walters said something funny to me," she confided. "I'm not quite
sure yet whether she was calling me names or not."

"What did she say?" asked Laura, looking interested.

"She said I was incorrigible," Billie whispered back.

"Incorrigible," there was a frown on Laura's forehead, then it suddenly
cleared and she smiled beamingly.

"Why yes, don't you remember?" she said. "We had it in English class the
other day. Incorrigible means wicked, you know--bad. You can't reform
'em, you know--incorrigibles." The last word was mumbled through a
mouthful of soup.

"Can't reform 'em!" Billie repeated in dismay. "Goodness, do you suppose
that's what she really thinks of me?"

"I don't see why she shouldn't," Laura said wickedly, and Billie would
surely have thrown something at her if Miss Arbuckle's eye had not
happened at that moment to turn in her direction.

Miss Arbuckle's eye brought to Billie's mind the teacher's trouble, and
she confided it in a low tone to Laura.

"Humph," commented Laura, her mind only on the fun they were going to
have that afternoon, "I'm sorry, of course, but I don't believe any old
album would make me shed tears."

"Don't be so sure of that, Laura."

"What? Cry over an old album?" and Laura looked her astonishment.

"But suppose the album had in it the pictures of those you loved very
dearly--pictures perhaps of those that were dead and gone and pictures
that you couldn't replace?"

"Oh, well--I suppose that would be different. Did she say anything about
the people?"

"She didn't go into details, but she said they were pictures she prized
above anything."

"Oh, perhaps then that would make a difference."

"I hope she gets the album back," said Billie seriously.

Then Laura promptly forgot all about both Miss Arbuckle and the album.

A little while later the girls swung joyfully out upon the road, bound
for town and shopping and perhaps some ice cream and--oh, just a jolly
good time of the kind girls know so well how to have, especially in the
spring of the year.

                               CHAPTER VI

                            FOUND--ONE ALBUM

"I'm sorry Connie couldn't come along," said Laura, drinking in deep
breaths of the fragrant air.

"Yes," said Billie, her eyes twinkling. "She said she wished she hadn't
been born with a conscience."

"A conscience," said Vi innocently. "Why?"

"Because," said Billie, her cheeks aglow with the heat and exercise, her
brown hair clinging in little damp ringlets to her forehead, and her eyes
bright with health and the love of life, "then she could have had a good
time to-day instead of staying at home in a stuffy room and writing a
cartload of letters. She says if she doesn't write them, she'll never
dare face her friends when she gets home."

"She's a darling," said Laura, executing a little skip in the road that
sent the dust flying all about them. "Just think--if we hadn't met her we
wouldn't be looking forward to Lighthouse Island and a dear old uncle who
owns the light----"

"Anybody would think he was your uncle," said Vi.

"Well, he might just as well be," Laura retorted. "Connie says that he
adopts all the boys and girls about the place."

"And that they adopt him," Billie added, with a nod. "He must be a
darling. I'm just crazy to see him."

Connie Danver's Uncle Tom attended the lighthouse, and, living there all
the year around, had become as much of a fixture as the island itself.
Connie loved this uncle of hers, and had told the girls enough about him
to rouse their curiosity and make them very eager to meet him.

The girls walked on in silence for a little way and then, as they came to
a path that led into the woods, Laura stopped suddenly and said in a
dramatic voice:

"Do you realize where we are, my friends? Do you, by any chance, remember
a tall, thin, wild-eyed man?"

Did they remember? In a flash they were back again in a queer little hut
in the woods, where a tall man stood and stared at them with strange

Laura and Vi started to go on, but Billie stood staring at the path with
fascinated eyes.

"I wonder why," she said, as she turned slowly away in response to the
urging of the girls, "nothing ever seems the same in the sunlight. The
other night when we were running along that path we were scared to death,
and now----"

"You sound as if you'd like to stay scared to death," said Laura
impatiently, for Laura had not Billie's imagination.

"I guess I don't like to be scared any more than any one else," Billie
retorted. "But I _would_ like to see that man again. I wonder----" she
paused and Vi prompted her.

"Wonder what?" she asked.

"Why," said Billie, a thoughtful little crease on her forehead, "I was
just wondering if we could find the little hut again if we tried."

"Of course we couldn't!" Laura was very decided about it. "We were lost,
weren't we? And when the man showed us the way back it was dark----"

"The only way I can see," said Vi, who often had rather funny ideas,
"would be to have one of us stand in the road and hold on to strings tied
to the other two so that if they got lost----"

"The one in the road could haul 'em back," said Laura sarcastically.
"That's a wonderful idea, Vi."

"Well, I _would_ like to see that man again," sighed Billie. "He seemed
so sad. I'm sure he was in trouble, and I'd so like to help him."

"Yes and when you offered you nearly got your head bit off," observed

Billie's eyes twinkled.

"That's what Daddy says always happens to people who try to help," she
said. "I feel awfully sorry for him, just the same," she finished

Then Laura did a surprising thing. She put an arm about Billie's
shoulders and hugged her fondly.

"Billie Bradley," she said sadly, "I do believe you would feel sorry for
a snake that bit you, just because it was only a snake."

"Perhaps that's why she loves _you_," said Vi innocently, and scored a
point. Laura looked as if she wanted to be mad for a minute, but she was
not. She only laughed with the girls.

They had as good a time as they had expected to have in town that
afternoon--and that is saying something.

First they went shopping. Laura had need of a ribbon girdle. Although
they all knew that a blue one would be bought in the end, as blue was the
color that would go best with the dress with which the girdle was to be
worn, the merits and beauties of a green one and a lavender one were
discussed and comparisons made with the blue one over and over, all from
very love of the indecision and, more truly, the joy that looking at the
dainty, pretty colors gave them.

"Well, I think this is the very best of all, Laura," said Billie finally,
picking up the pretty blue girdle with its indistinct pattern of lighter
blue and white.

"Yes, it is a beauty," replied Laura. "I'll take that one," she went on
to the clerk.

After that came numerous smaller purchases until, as Vi said dolefully,
all their money was gone except enough to buy several plates of ice cream

They were standing just outside the store where their last purchases had
been made when Billie, looking down the street, gave a cry of delight.

"Look who's coming!" she exclaimed.

"It's the boys!" cried Vi. "Mercy, girls, we might just as well have
spent the rest of our money, the boys will treat us to the ice cream."

"Goodness, Vi! do you want to spend your money whether you get anything
you really need or wish for or not?" inquired Billie, with a little gasp.

"What in the world is money for if not to spend?" asked Vi, making big
and innocent eyes at Billie.

Just then the boys came within speaking distance.

"Well, this is what I call luck!" exclaimed Ferd Stowing.

"Yes," added Teddy, putting his hand in his pocket, "just hear the money
jingle. A nice big check from Dad in just appreciation of his absent son!
What do you girls say to an ice-cream spree? No less than three apiece,
with all this unwonted wealth."

"Ice cream? I should say!" was Billie's somewhat slangy acceptance.

"Teddy," suddenly asked Laura, "how does it come that you have any money
left from Dad's check?"

"Check came just as we left the Academy, Captain Shelling cashed it for
me, and we have just reached town."

"Oh! Well, maybe I'll find one, too, when we reach Three Towers."

"So that's it, is it, sister mine? Envy!"

After that they ate ice cream to repletion, and at last the girls decided
that there was nothing much left to do but to go back to the school.

It was just as well that they had made this decision, for the sun was
beginning to sink in the west and the supper hour at Three Towers Hall
was rather early. As they started toward home, having said good-bye to
the boys, the girls quickened their pace.

It was not till they were nearing the path which, to Billie at least, had
been surrounded by a mysterious halo since the adventure of the other
night that the girls slowed up. Then it was Billie who did the slowing

"Girls," she said in a hushed voice, "I suppose you'll laugh at me, but
I'd just love to follow that path into the woods a little way. You don't
need to come if you don't want to. You can wait for me here in the road."

"Oh, no," said Laura, with a little sigh of resignation. "If you are
going to be crazy we might as well be crazy with you. Come on, Vi, if we
didn't go along, she would probably get lost all over again--just for the
fun of it."

Billie made a little face at them and plunged into the woods. Laura
followed, and after a minute's hesitation Vi trailed at Laura's heels.

They were so used to Billie's sudden impulses that they had stopped
protesting and merely went along with her, which, as Billie herself had
often pointed out, saved a great deal of argument.

They might have saved themselves all worry on Billie's account this time,
though, for she had not the slightest intention of getting lost
again--once was enough.

She went only as far as the end of the path, and when the other girls
reached her she was peering off into the forest as if she hoped to see
the mysterious hut--although she knew as well as Laura and Vi that they
had walked some distance through the woods the other night before they
had finally reached the path.

"Well, are you satisfied?" Laura asked, with a patient sigh. "If you
don't mind my saying it, I'm getting hungry."

"Goodness! after all that ice cream?" cried Billie, adding with a little
chuckle: "You're luckier than I am, Laura. I feel as if I shouldn't want
anything to eat for a thousand years."

She was just turning reluctantly to follow her chums back along the path
when a dark, bulky-looking object lying in a clump of bushes near by
caught her eye and she went over to examine it.

"Now what in the world----" Laura was beginning despairingly when
suddenly Billie gave a queer little cry.

"Come here quick, girls!" she cried, reaching down to pick up the bulky
object which had caught her attention. "I do believe--yes, it is--it must

"Well, say it!" the others cried, peering impatiently over her shoulder.

"Miss Arbuckle's album," finished Billie.

                               CHAPTER VII

                             STRANGE ACTIONS

Instead of seeming excited, Laura and Vi stared. Vi had not even heard
that Miss Arbuckle had lost an album, and Laura just dimly remembered
Billie's having said something about it.

But Billie's eyes were shining, and she was all eagerness as she picked
the old-fashioned volume up and began turning over the pages. She was
thinking of poor Miss Arbuckle's red nose and eyes of that morning and of
how different the teacher's face would look when she, Billie, returned
the album.

"Oh, I'm so glad," she said. "I felt awfully sorry for Miss Arbuckle this

"Well, I wish I knew what you were talking about," said Vi plaintively,
and Billie briefly told of her meeting with Miss Arbuckle in the morning
and of the teacher's grief at losing her precious album.

"Humph! I don't see anything very precious about it," sniffed Laura.
"Look--the corners are all worn through."

"Silly, it doesn't make any difference how old it is," said Vi as they
started back along the path, Billie holding on tight to the book. "It may
have pictures in it she wants to save. It may be--what is it they call
'em?--an heirloom or something. And Mother says heirlooms are precious."

"Well, I know one that isn't," said Laura, with a little grimace. "Mother
has a wreath made out of hair of different members of the family. She
says it's precious, too; but I notice she keeps it in the darkest corner
of the attic."

"Well, this isn't a hair wreath, it's an album," Billie pointed out. "And
I don't blame Miss Arbuckle for not wanting to lose an album with family
pictures in it."

"But how did she come to lose it there?" asked Laura, as the road could
be seen dimly through the trees. "The woods seem a funny place. Girls,"
and Laura's eyes began to shine excitedly, "it's a mystery!"

"Oh, dear," sighed Vi plaintively, "there she goes again. Everything has
to be a mystery, whether it is or not."

"But it is, isn't it?" insisted Laura, turning to Billie for support. "A
lady says she has lost an album. In a little while we find that same

"I suppose it's the same," put in Billie, looking at the album as if it
had not occurred to her before that this might not be Miss Arbuckle's
album, after all.

"Of course it is, silly," Laura went on impatiently. "It isn't likely
that two people would be foolish enough to lose albums on the same day.
If it had been a stick pin now, or a purse----"

"Yes, yes, go on," Billie interrupted. "You were talking about

"Well, it is, isn't it?" demanded Laura, becoming so excited she could
not talk straight. "What was Miss Arbuckle doing in the woods with her
album, in the first place?"

"She might have been looking at it," suggested Vi mildly.

Billie giggled at the look Laura gave Vi.

"Yes. But may I ask," said Laura, trying to appear very dignified, "why,
if she only wanted to _look_ at the pictures, she couldn't do it some
place else--in her room, for instance?"

"Goodness, I'm not a detective," said poor Vi. "If you want to ask any
questions go and ask Miss Arbuckle. I didn't lose the old album."

Laura gave a sigh of exasperation.

"A person might as well try to talk to a pair of wooden Indians," she
cried, then turned appealingly to Billie. "Don't you think there's
something mysterious about it, Billie?"

"Why, it does seem kind of queer," Billie admitted, adding quickly as
Laura was about to turn upon Vi with a whoop of triumph. "But I don't
think it's very mysterious. Probably Miss Arbuckle just wanted to be
alone or something, and so she brought the album out into the woods to
look it over by herself. I like to do it sometimes myself--with a book I
mean. Just sneak off where nobody can find me and read and read until I
get so tired I fall asleep."

"Well, but you can't look at pictures in a shabby old album until you
feel so tired you fall asleep," grumbled Laura, feeling like a cat that
has just had a saucer of rich cream snatched from under its nose. "You
girls wouldn't know a mystery if you fell over it."

"Maybe not," admitted Billie good-naturedly, her face brightening as she
added, contentedly: "But I do know one thing, and that is that Miss
Arbuckle is going to be very glad when she sees this old album again!"

And she was right. When they reached Three Towers Hall Laura and Vi went
upstairs to the dormitory to wash up and get ready for supper while
Billie stopped at Miss Arbuckle's door, eager to tell her the good news
at once.

She rapped gently, and, receiving no reply, softly pushed the door open.
Miss Arbuckle was standing by the window looking out, and somehow Billie
knew, even before the teacher turned around, that she had been crying

The tired droop of the shoulders, the air of discouragement--suddenly
there flashed across Billie's mind a different picture, the picture of a
tall lank man with stooped shoulders and dark, deep-set eyes, looking at
her strangely.

A puzzled little line formed itself across her forehead. Why, she
thought, had Miss Arbuckle made her think of the man who called himself
Hugo Billings and who lived in a hut in the woods?

Perhaps because they both seemed so very sad. Yes, that must be it. Then
her face brightened as she felt the bulky album under her arm. Here was
something that would make Miss Arbuckle smile, at least.

Billie spoke softly and was taken aback at the suddenness with which Miss
Arbuckle turned upon her, regarding her with startled eyes.

For a moment teacher and pupil regarded each other. Then slowly a
pitiful, crooked smile twitched Miss Arbuckle's lips and her hand reached
out gropingly for the back of a chair.

"Oh, it's--it's you," she stammered, adding with an apologetic smile that
made her look more natural: "I'm a little nervous to-day--a little upset.
What is it, Billie? Why didn't you knock?" The last words were said in
Miss Arbuckle's calm, slightly dry voice, and Billie began to feel more
natural herself. She had been frightened when Miss Arbuckle swung around
upon her.

"I did," she answered. "Knock, I mean. But you didn't hear me. I found
something of yours, Miss Arbuckle." Her eyes fell to the volume she still
carried under her arm, and Miss Arbuckle, following the direction of her
gaze, recognized her album.

She gave a little choked cry, and her face grew so white that Billie ran
to her, fearing she hardly knew what. But she had no need to worry, for
although fear sometimes kills, joy never does, and in a minute Miss
Arbuckle's eager hands were clutching the volume, her fingers trembling
as they rapidly turned over the leaves.

"Yes, here they are, here they are," she cried suddenly, and Billie,
peeping over her shoulder, looked down at the pictured faces of three of
the most beautiful children she had ever seen. "My darlings, my
darlings," Miss Arbuckle was saying over and over again. Then suddenly
her head dropped to the open page and her shoulders shook with the sobs
that tore themselves from her.

Billie turned away and tiptoed across the room, her own eyes wet, but she
stopped with her hand on the door.

"My little children!" Miss Arbuckle cried out sobbingly. "My precious
little babies! I couldn't lose your pictures after losing you. They were
all I had left of you, and I couldn't lose them, I couldn't--I

Billie opened the door, and, stepping out into the hall, closed it softly
after her. She brushed her hand across her eyes, for there were tears in
them, and her feet felt shaky as she started up the stairs.

"Well, I--I never!" she told herself unsteadily. "First she nearly scares
me to death. And then she cries and talks about her children, and says
she's lost them. Goodness, I shouldn't wonder but that Laura is right
after all. There certainly is something mighty strange about it."

And when, a few minutes later, she told the story to her chums they
agreed with her, even Vi.

"Why, I never heard of such a thing," said the latter, looking
interested. "You say she seemed frightened when you went in, Billie?"

"Terribly," answered Billie. "It seemed as if she might faint or

"And the children," Laura mused delightedly aloud. "I'm going to find out
who those children are and why they are lost if I die doing it."

"Now look who she thinks she is," jeered Vi.

"Who?" asked Laura with interest.

"The Great Lady Detective," said Vi, and Laura's chest, if one takes
Billie's word for it, swelled to about three times its natural size.

"That's all right," said Laura, in response to the girls' gibes. "I'll
get in some clever work, with nothing but a silly old photograph album as
a clue, or a motive--oh, well, I don't know just what the album is yet,
but an album is worse than commonplace, it is plumb foolish as a center
around which to work. Oh, ho! Great Lady Detective! Solves most marvelous
and intricate mystery with only the slightest of clues, an old photograph
album, to point the way! Oh, ho!"

                              CHAPTER VIII

                              AN INVITATION

The girls could never have told exactly why, but they kept the mystery of
the album and Miss Arbuckle's strange actions to themselves, with one

They did confide their secret to fluffy-haired, blue-eyed Connie Danvers.
For they had long ago adopted Connie as one of themselves and were
beginning to feel that they had known her all their lives.

Connie had been interested enough in their story to satisfy even the
chums and had urged Billie to describe the pretty children in the album
over whom Miss Arbuckle had cried.

Billie tried, but, having seen the pictures but once, it was hardly to be
expected that she would be able to give the girls a very clear
description of them.

It was good enough to satisfy Connie, however, who, in her enthusiasm,
went so far as to suggest that they form a Detective Club.

This the girls might have done if it had not been for an interruption in
the form of Chet Bradley, Teddy Jordon and their chum, Ferd Stowing.

The boys had entered Boxton Military Academy at the time the girls had
entered Three Towers Hall, and the boys were as enthusiastic about their
academy as the girls were about their beloved school.

The head of Boxton Military Academy was Captain Shelling, a splendid
example of army officer whom all the students loved and admired. They did
not know it, but there was not one of the boys in the school who did not
hope that some day he might be like Captain Shelling.

Now, as the spring term was drawing to a close, there were great
preparations being made at the Academy for the annual parade of cadets.

The girls knew that visitors were allowed, and they were beginning to
wonder a little uneasily whether they were to be invited or not when one
afternoon the boys turned up and settled the question for them very

It was Saturday afternoon, just a week after the finding of Miss
Arbuckle's album, and the girls, Laura, Billie, Vi and Connie, were
wandering arm in arm about the beautiful campus of Three Towers Hall when
a familiar hail came to them from the direction of the road.

"It's Chet," said Billie.

"No, it isn't--it's Teddy," contradicted Laura.

"It's both of 'em," added Vi.

"No, you are both wrong," said Connie, gazing eagerly through the trees.
"Here they come, girls. Look, there are four of them."

"Yes, there are four of them," mocked Laura, mischievous eyes on Connie's
reddening face. "The third is Ferd Stowing, of course. And I wonder, oh,
I wonder, who the fourth can be!"

"Don't be so silly! I think you're horrid!" cried Connie, which only made
Laura chuckle the more.

For while they had been at the Academy, the boys had made a friend. His
name was Paul Martinson, and he was tall and strongly built and--yes,
even Billie had to admit it--almost as good looking as Teddy!

If Billie said that about any one it was pretty sure to be true. For
Billie and Teddy Jordon had been chums and playmates since they could
remember, and Billie had always been sure that Teddy must be the very
best looking boy in the world, not even excepting her brother Chet, of
whom she was very fond.

But Billie was not the only one who had found Paul Martinson good
looking. Connie had liked him, and had said innocently one day after the
boys had gone that Paul Martinson looked like the hero in a story book
she was reading.

The girls had giggled, and since then Laura had made poor Connie's life
miserable--or so Connie declared. She could not have forgotten Paul
Martinson, even if she had wanted to.

As for Paul Martinson, he had shown a liking for Billie that somehow made
Teddy uncomfortable. Teddy was very much surprised to find how
uncomfortable it did make him. Billie was a "good little chum and all
that, but that didn't say that another fellow couldn't speak to her." But
just the same he had acted so queerly two or three times lately that
Billie had bothered him exceedingly asking him what the matter with him
was and telling him to "cheer up, it wasn't somebody's funeral, you
know." Billie had been puzzled over his answer to that. He had muttered
something about "it's not anybody's funeral yet, maybe, but everything
had to start sometime."

When Billie had innocently told Laura about it she was still more puzzled
at the way Laura had acted. Instead of being sensible, she had suddenly
buried her face in the pillow--they had been sitting on Billie's bed,
exchanging confidences--and fairly shook with laughter.

"Well, what in the world----" Billie had begun rather resentfully, when
Laura had interrupted her with an hysterical: "For goodness sake, Billie,
I never thought you could be so dense. But you are. You're absolutely
crazy, and so is Teddy, and so is everybody!"

And after that Billie never confided any of Teddy's sayings to Laura

On this particular afternoon it did not take the girls long to find out
that the boys had some good news to tell them.

"Come on down to the dock," Teddy said, taking hold of Billie's arm and
urging her down toward the lake as he spoke. "Maybe we can find some
canoes and rowboats that aren't working."

But when they reached the dock there was never a craft of any kind to be
seen except those far out upon the glistening water of the lake. Of
course the beautiful weather was responsible for this, for all the girls
who had not lessons to do or errands in town had made a bee line--as Ferd
Stowing expressed it--straight down to the lake.

"Oh, well, this will do," said Teddy, sitting down on the edge of the
little dock so that his feet could hang over and reaching up a hand for
Billie. "Come along, everybody. We can look at the water, anyway."

The girls and boys scrambled down obediently and there was great
excitement when Connie's foot slipped and she very nearly tumbled into
the lake. Paul Martinson steadied her, and she thanked him with a little
blush that made Laura look at her wickedly.

"How beautifully pink your complexion is in the warm weather, Connie,"
she said innocently, adding with a little look that made Connie want to
shake her: "It can't be anything _but_ the heat, can it? You haven't a
fever, or something?"

"No. But you'll have something beside a fever," threatened Connie, "if
you don't keep still."

"Say, stop your rowing, girls, and listen to me," Teddy interrupted,
picking a pebble from the dock and throwing it far out into the gleaming
water, where it dropped with a little splash. "Our famous parade of
cadets comes off next week. You're going to be on deck, aren't you?"

"We might," said Billie, with a demure little glance at him, "if somebody
would only ask us!"

                               CHAPTER IX

                              AMANDA AGAIN

The great day came at last and found the girls in a fever of mingled
excitement and fear. Excitement because of the great advent; fear,
because the sky had been overcast since early morning and it looked as if
the whole thing might have to be postponed on account of rain.

"And if there is anything I hate," complained Laura, moving restlessly
from her mirror over to the window and back again, "it's to be all
prepared for a thing and then have it spoiled at the last minute by

"Well, I guess you don't hate it any more than the rest of us," said
Billie, her thoughts on the pretty pink flowered dress she had decided to
wear to the parade. It was not only a pretty dress, but was very
becoming. Both Teddy and Chet had told her so. "And the boys would be
terribly disappointed," she added.

"I wonder," Vi was sitting on the bed, sewing a hook and eye on the dress
she had intended to wear, "if Amanda Peabody and The Shadow will be

Laura turned abruptly from the window and regarded her with a reproachful

"Now I know you're a joy killer," she said; "for if Amanda Peabody and
The Shadow (the name the girls had given Eliza Dilks because she always
followed Amanda as closely as a shadow does) succeeded in getting
themselves invited to any sort of affair where we girls were to be, they
would be sure to do something annoying."

"They are going to be there, just the same," said Billie, and the two
girls looked at her in surprise. "They told me so," she said, in answer
to the unspoken question. "They have some sort of relatives among the
boys at the Academy, and these relatives didn't have sense enough not to
invite them."

"Humph!" grunted Laura, "Amanda probably hinted around till the boys
couldn't help inviting her. Look--oh, look!" she cried in such a
different tone that the girls stared at her. "The sun!" she said. "Oh,
it's going to clear up, it's going to clear up!"

"Well, you needn't step on my blue silk for all that," complained Vi, as
Laura caught an exultant heel in the latter's dress.

"Don't be grouchy, darling," said Laura, all good-nature again now that
the sun had appeared. "My, but we're going to have a good time!"

"I'll say we are," sang out Billie, as she gayly spread out the pink
flowered dress upon the bed. "And we're not going to let anybody spoil it
either--even Eliza Dilks and Amanda Peabody."

The girls had an hour in which to get ready, and they were ready and
waiting before half that time was up. The Three Towers Hall carryall was
to call for the girls who had been lucky enough to receive invitations
from the cadets of Boxton Military Academy, and as the girls, looking
like gay-colored butterflies in their summery dresses, gathered on the
steps of the school there were so many of them that it began to look as
if the carryall would have to make two trips.

"If we have to go in sections I wonder whether we'll be in the first or
second," Vi was saying when Billie grasped her arm.

"Look," she cried, merriment in her eyes and in her voice. "Here come
Amanda and Eliza. Did you ever see anything so funny--and awful--in your

For Amanda and her chum were dressed in their Sunday best--poplin dresses
with a huge, gorgeous flower design that made the pretty, delicate-colored
dresses of the other girls look pale and washed-out by comparison. If
Amanda's and Eliza's desire was to be the most noticeable and talked-of
girls on the parade, they were certainly going to succeed. The talk had
begun already!

However, the arrival of the carryall cut short the girls' amusement, and
there was great excitement and noise and giggling as the girls--all who
could get in, that is--clambered in.

There were about a dozen left over, and these the driver promised to come
back and pick up "in a jiffy."

"I'm feeling awfully nervous," Laura confided to Billie. "I never
expected to be nervous; did you?"

"Yes, I did," Billie answered truthfully. "I've been nervous ever since
the boys invited us. It's because it's all so new, I guess. We've never
been to anything like this before."

"I'm frightened to death when I think of meeting Captain Shelling,"
Connie leaned across Vi to say. "From what the boys say about him he must
be simply wonderful."

"Paul had better look out," said Laura slyly, and Connie drew back

"I think you're mean to tease Connie so," spoke up Vi. "She doesn't like
Paul Martinson any better than the rest of us do, and you know it."

"Oh, I do, do I----" began Laura, but Billie broke in hastily.

"Girls," she cried, "stop your quarreling. Look! We're at the Academy.
And--look--look----" Words failed her, and she just stared wonderingly at
the sight that met her eyes. It was true, none of them had ever seen
anything like it before.

Booths of all sorts and colors were distributed over the parade ground,
leaving free only the part where the cadets were to march. Girls in
bright-colored dresses and boys in trim uniforms were already walking
about making brilliant patches of color against the green of the parade

There were some older people, too, fathers and mothers of the boys, but
the groups were mostly made up of young people, gay and excited with the
exhilaration of the moment.

There were girls and matrons in the costume of French peasants wandering
in and out among the visitors, carrying little baskets filled with
ribbon-tied packages. Some of these packages contained candy, some just
little foolish things to make the young folks laugh, favors to take away
with them and remember the day by.

As the carryall stopped and one after another the girls jumped to the
ground they were surprised to find that their nervousness, instead of
growing less, was getting worse and worse all the time.

They were standing on the edge of things, wondering just what to do next
and wishing some one would meet them when some one did just that very

Paul Martinson spied the carryall from Three Towers Hall, called to a
couple of his friends, and came running down toward the girls, his
handsome face alight with pleasure.

"Hello!" he said. "We thought you were never coming. Say, you make all
the other girls look like nothing at all." He was supposed to be talking
to them all, but he was looking straight at Billie.

But although the other girls noticed it, Billie did not. She was looking
beyond Paul to where three boys, Teddy in the lead, were bearing down
upon them.

After that the boys soon made their guests feel as if they had never been
nervous in their lives, and they entered into the fun with all their

The parade of cadets was the most wonderful part of it all, of course,
and the girls stood through it, their hearts beating wildly, a delicious
wave of patriotism thrilling to their finger tips. And when it was over
the girls looked at Teddy and Chet and Ferd and Paul with a new respect
that the boys liked but did not understand at all.

Several times during the afternoon they came across Eliza and Amanda and
their escorts--who did not look like bad boys at all. But only once did
the girls try to shove to the front.

It was when Teddy and Paul had taken Billie and Connie over to the ice
cream booth for refreshments, the other boys and girls having wandered
off somewhere by themselves.

Billie was standing up near the counter when Eliza Dilks deliberately
elbowed her way in ahead of her.

Billie began to feel herself getting angry, but before she could say
anything, Teddy spoke over her shoulder.

"Please serve us next," he said to the pleasant-faced matron who had
charge of this part of the refreshments. "Some of these others just came
in and belong at the end of the line."

"Yes, I noticed you were here first," the woman answered, and handed
Billie her ice cream over Eliza's head while Eliza, with a glance at
Billie that should have killed her on the spot, turned sullenly and
walked away.

"Teddy, you're a wonder," murmured Billie under her breath. "I couldn't
have done it like that myself."

After this encounter Billie and her party wandered over to the dancing
pavilion on the outside of which they met Laura and Vi and their escorts
for the afternoon.

"Isn't this the dandiest band in the world?" sighed Billie in supreme
content. "Such music would make--would make even Amanda Peabody dance

"Oh, come, Billie, that's too much!" laughed Teddy, swinging her on to
the floor and giving her what she called a heavenly dance.

And indeed what could have been better fun than this dance on a smooth
floor so large that it did not seem crowded, to the best of music, with a
partner who was a perfect dancer, and--though Billie did not say this to
herself--by a girl who was herself as light and graceful a dancer as was
on the floor?

All things must end, even the most perfect day in a lifetime, as Vi
called it, and finally the girls had been tucked into the carryall and
were once more back at Three Towers Hall, ready, with a new day, to take
up the routine of school life once more.

                                CHAPTER X

                              TWO OF A KIND

Several days had passed, and the girls were at last actually looking
forward to the end of the school term and to the Danvers bungalow on
Lighthouse Island!

The graduates were running around excitedly in the last preparations for
graduation with the strange look on their young faces that most graduates
have, half exultation at the thought of their success, half grief at
being forced to leave the school, the friends they had made, the scenes
they had loved.

Just the day before the one set for graduation Teddy ran over to tell the
girls some wonderful news. He was able to see only Billie, for the other
girls had been busy with their lessons. But that was very satisfactory to

As soon as the lunch gong rang Billie had called the girls together and
eagerly she told them what Teddy had told her.

"Paul Martinson's father gave him a beautiful big motor boat--a cruising
motor boat," she told the girls. "Paul got the highest average in his
class this term, you know, and his father has given him the motor boat as
a sort of prize."

"A motor boat!" cried Vi, breathlessly. "That's some prize."

"But, Billie, what's that got to do with us?" asked Laura practically.

"It hasn't much to do with us," said Billie, her face pink with
excitement. "But it has a great deal to do with the boys. Paul Martinson
has asked Chet and Ferd and Teddy to go with him and his father on a
cruise this summer."

She paused from lack of breath, and the girls looked at her in amazement.

"My, that's wonderful for them," said Laura after a minute, adding a
little regretfully: "But I suppose it means that we won't see very much
of the boys this summer."

"Oh, but that's just what it doesn't mean!" Billie interrupted eagerly.
"Don't you see? Why, Teddy said that it would be the easiest thing in the
world to stop off at Lighthouse Island some time and see us girls."

The girls agreed that it was all perfectly wonderful, that everything was
working just for them, and that this couldn't possibly help being the
most wonderful summer they had ever spent.

They did not have as much time to think about it as they would have
liked, however, in the busy excited hours that followed. Right after the
graduating exercises all the girls were to start for their homes, except
the few who expected to spend the summer at Three Towers Hall.

Many of the relatives and friends of the graduates were expected, so that
preparations had to be made for them also. The graduating exercises were
to be held earlier at Boxton Military Academy than at Three Towers Hall,
so that the three North Bend boys hoped to get away in time to
attend--not the exercises themselves--but the singing on the steps of
Three Towers Hall by all the students of the school, which was one of the
most important parts of the ceremony.

Then, of course, the boys would be able to go with the girls all the way
to North Bend.

The exercises that had been looked forward to for so long and that had
taken weeks of preparation to perfect, were over at last. The graduates
realized with a sinking of the heart that they were no longer students of
Three Towers Hall.

There was still the mass singing on the steps, to be sure, but that was
simply the last barrier to be crossed before they stepped out on the open
road, leaving Three Towers Hall with its pleasing associations behind
them forever.

As the girls, in their simple white dresses, gathered on the steps of the
school with the visitors, fathers and mothers and boys in uniform,
scattered about on the campus below them, and began to sing in their
clear, girlish voices, there was hardly a dry eye anywhere.

At last it was over, and the girls rushed upstairs again to change their
dresses for traveling clothes and say a last good-bye to their teachers
and to Miss Walters.

As Billie was hurrying down the corridor, bag in hand, toward the front
door a hand was laid gently on her arm, and, turning, she found herself
face to face with Miss Arbuckle.

"Billie," said the teacher hurriedly, "I have never thanked you rightly
for the great favor you did in returning my album to me. But I love you
for it, dear. God bless you," and before Billie could think of a word to
say in reply, the teacher had turned, slipped through one of the doors
and disappeared.

Billie stood staring after Miss Arbuckle, lost in thought about her,
until Laura and Vi, hurrying up, caught her by the arm and hustled her
through the front door, down the steps and into the waiting carryall. The
carryall, by the way, was to make many trips that day, even though a
great many of the girls had automobiles belonging to their relatives or
friends which would take them straight to their destination.

When the girls had climbed inside, the boys jumped in after them, and the
carryall, having by this time all that it could hold, started down the
long, winding driveway to the road.

"Good-bye, Three Towers, for a little time, at least," cried Billie,
while she felt a curious lump in her throat. She was terribly afraid she
was going to cry, so she stopped talking and turned to stare out of the

"We've had a wonderful time there," said Laura in, for her, a very sober
tone. "Better than we expected."

"Which is going _some_," finished Vi slangily, and as slang from Vi
somehow always made them laugh, they laughed now and felt better for it.

"Well, we didn't have such a very slow time ourselves," said Billie's
brother Chet, his good looking face lighting up with eagerness.

"And it's something to have made a friend like Paul Martinson," spoke up
Ferd Stowing from where he was squeezed in between Laura and Vi.

"You bet--he's some boy," added Teddy heartily, forgetting for the moment
that there had been times when he had longed to throw Paul Martinson into
the lake--or some deeper place--because he had talked too much to Billie.

But here was a beautiful long train ride before him when he could talk to
Billie--or any one else--all he liked without having any Paul Martinson
trying to "butt in" all the time. No wonder he was friends with all the

"Where is Paul? Why didn't he come with us?" asked Billie.

"He went home with his dad," Chet explained. "Of course he was crazy to
see his motor boat, and then he had to make arrangements for our cruise.
Oh boy, think of cruising around the coast in a motor boat!"

"We wanted Connie to come along with us," said Billie. "But she said she
would have to go home first."

"When are you girls going to start for Lighthouse Island?" Ferd asked
with interest. "Have you set any time yet?"

"Not a regular date," answered Laura. "But it will be in a week or two I
think. We'll have to have time to get acquainted with the folks again and
have our clothes fixed up----"

"And then Connie's coming on to North Bend," Vi added eagerly. "And we'll
all go together from there to the coast. Oh dear, I can't wait to start."

"Well, I guess you'll have to," said Billie, with a sigh, "since we
haven't even reached home yet."

"That reminds me," said Laura, turning upon Billie accusingly. "What were
you doing standing in the hall just now and looking as though you had
lost your last friend when Vi and I came along and woke you up? Come on,
'fess up."

Billie could not think for a moment what she had been doing, then she
remembered Miss Arbuckle and the rather peculiar way the teacher had
thanked her for the return of the album.

She told the girls about it, and they listened with interest while the
boys looked as if they would like to have known what it was all about.

"Now I wonder----" Laura was beginning when Billie suddenly caught her
hand and pointed to the road.

"Look!" she cried. "It's Hugo Billings, our sad, faced man again. Oh,
girls, I wish we could do something for him."

She leaned far out the window, smiled and waved her hand to the man, who
was standing moodily by the roadside. At sight of her he straightened up
and an answering smile flashed across his thin face, making him look so
different that the girls were amazed.

But when they looked back at him again a few seconds later his smile had
gone and he was staring after them gloomily.

"Goodness, I never saw a person look so sad in all my life," murmured Vi,
as a turn in the road hid the man from view.

"Well, I have," said Billie. "And that's Miss Arbuckle!"

"There must be some sort of mystery about them both," remarked Laura.
"Maybe that man has a whole lot on his mind."

"And maybe Miss Arbuckle isn't miss at all," added Vi. "Perhaps she's
Mrs. Arbuckle and those children were her own."

Billie did not reply to this. She heaved something of a sigh. She was
unable to explain it, but she felt very sorry for both the teacher and
the queer man. Would the queer mystery ever be explained?

                               CHAPTER XI

                                 AT HOME

A few hours later a train puffed noisily into the familiar station at
North Bend, and as it came to a stop three boys and three girls tumbled
down the steps of a car and literally ran into the arms of their waiting

At least, the girls did; the boys considered themselves far too
dignified. However, they soon forgot dignity and everything else in a
noisy and joyful recital of all the good times they had had during their
year of absence.

Of course there had been others from the Military Academy and Three
Towers Hall on the train whose friends and relatives had also come to
meet them so that it was a very much excited crowd that wound its way up
the ordinarily quiet main street of North Bend.

Gradually the crowd separated into little groups, each going its separate
way to its separate home, and so at last, after many promises between the
boys and girls to "call each other up right after dinner," the Bradley
family found itself alone.

"Well," said Mr. Bradley, beaming proudly upon his children, who seemed
to him to have grown at least twice as large during their absence, and
three times as handsome, "you thought you _would_ come back to your poor
old country relations, did you? Your mother and I," he glanced fondly at
his wife, "thought perhaps you had forgotten us by this time."

"We weren't very much worried, though," said Mrs. Bradley, looking so
lovely in her happiness that Billie had to snuggle close to her to make
sure she was real. For Mrs. Bradley was really a very beautiful woman, as
well as a very sweet one, and Billie was growing more like her every day.

"And there's the darling old house," breathed Billie happily, "looking
just the same as it did when I left it. Mother dear, and, Dad----" here
she reached a hand out to her father----"I think I'm the very happiest
girl in all the world."

For a day or two after that it seemed the best thing in the world just to
be at home again. But the third day the girls began to feel a little bit
restless. They were longing to be off to Lighthouse Island with Connie
Danvers. But they had not heard from Connie yet, and until they did there
was nothing to be done but get things in shape and wait.

"Suppose she should change her mind," remarked Laura dolefully on the
noon of the third day.

"Change her mind!" burst out Vi. She turned enquiringly to Billie. "Do
you think Connie would do anything like that?" she demanded.

"Certainly not," was Billie's quick reply. "Connie isn't that kind of a
girl. Besides all the arrangements have been made. It is more than likely
she has been so busy with a number of details that she has simply
forgotten to write or telegraph."

"Well, anyway, this waiting is getting on my nerves," declared Laura.

"Let's do something to make the time pass more quickly," suggested
Billie. "What do you say to going down town for a bit of shopping?"

"That suits me," answered Vi. "And we might have some ice-cream sodas
while we are down there."

This suited all of them, and soon they were on the way to the shops where
they spent the best part of the afternoon.

Then one day, over a week later, when they had begun to think that Connie
had forgotten about them, a telegram came from her, saying that she was
starting for North Bend the day after the next and she would be in on the
six o'clock train. Would somebody please be there to meet her? Her mother
and father had gone on ahead to Lighthouse Island to get everything ready
for the girls when they arrived.

Would they be there to meet her! Billie was so excited that she couldn't
eat her supper, and as soon as she could get away from the table she
rushed over to Laura's home to tell her the joyful news. From there the
pair called up Vi and invited her to come and celebrate.

And celebrate they did until it got so late that Mrs. Jordon had gently
but firmly to put them out, appointing Teddy to escort the girls home.

"I don't want your mothers to think I've kidnapped you," she called after
them as she and Laura, the latter pouting a little, stood in the doorway
to wave good-bye to them.

"Just the same, I think you might have let them stay a little longer,"
protested Laura as they turned to go inside. "It's only ten o'clock, and
we had so much to talk about."

"I know," said Mrs. Jordon, putting an arm lightly about her young
daughter's shoulders. "I was the same way at your age, dear. Mother had
to send away my friends and put me to bed regularly every week or so. Now
it's my turn, that's all."

Meanwhile Teddy and Billie had dropped Vi at her house and had turned
down the broad, elm-shaded street on which stood the Bradley home.

For some reason or other they did not talk very much. They did not seem
to find anything to say. Billie had never been alone like this with Teddy
before, and she was wondering why it made her tongue-tied.

"I say, Billie," began Teddy, clearing his throat and looking down at her
sideways--for all the world, as Billie thought, as if she were a mouse
trap and might go off any minute--"is it really settled that you are
going to start day after to-morrow?"

"Yes. And isn't it wonderful?" cried Billie, finding her voice as the
blissful prospect opened up before her again. "I've never stayed at the
seashore more than a day or two, Teddy, in my life, and now just think of
spending the whole summer there. I can't believe yet that it isn't a

"You want to be careful," said Teddy, staring straight before him, "if
you go in bathing at all. There are awfully strong currents around there,
you know."

"Oh, of course I know all about that," returned Billie, with the air of
one who could not possibly be taught anything. "Connie says her Uncle Tom
knows of a darling little inlet where the water's so calm it's almost
like a swimming pool. Of course we'll do most of our swimming there. Oh,
Teddy, you ought to see my new bathing suit!" She was rattling on
rapturously when Teddy interrupted with a queer sort of question.

"Who is this Uncle Tom?" he asked, still staring straight ahead.

"Why, he's Connie's uncle, of course! The keeper of the light on
Lighthouse Island," answered Billie, as surprised as if he had asked her
who Abraham Lincoln was. "Connie says he's a darling----"

"Is he married?"

"Why no. That is, I don't think so," answered Billie, knitting her brows
in an effort to think whether Connie had ever said anything on this
point. She had never even thought to ask if "Uncle Tom" was married.
"Why, no, of course he can't be," she answered herself and Teddy at the
same time. "If he was married he wouldn't be living in that old
lighthouse all alone. And Connie said he did live there all alone. I
remember that."

She nodded her head with satisfaction, but, strangely enough, Teddy did
not seem to be satisfied at all. He just stalked along beside her in a
sort of gloomy silence while she glanced up at him now and then with a
mischievous hint of a laugh dancing about her pretty mouth.

"Teddy, where are you going?" she asked a minute later, as they reached
the sidewalk that led to her house and instead of stopping Teddy stalked
straight on. "I don't live down at the corner you know."

Teddy turned about with a sort of sheepish grin and rejoined her.

"I was just thinking," he said as they turned up the walk together.

"No wonder you went past," said Billie mischievously. Then as they paused
at the foot of the steps she looked up at him with an imp of laughter
showing all the dimples about her mouth. "What were you thinking so hard
about, Teddy?" she dared him.

"I was thinking," said Teddy, clearing his throat and looking anywhere
but at Billie, "that I wouldn't mind going down to Lighthouse Island

Then he fled, leaving Billie to get into the house as best she could. But
Billie did not mind. She was chuckling to herself and thinking how funny
and foolish and--yes--awfully nice Teddy could be--sometimes.

                               CHAPTER XII

                         PREPARING FOR THE TRIP

Chet and Billie were at the train to meet Connie when she arrived, for it
had been decided almost without argument that Connie would spend her one
night in North Bend with the Bradleys.

Billie was in a fever of excitement even before the stream of people
began to pour from the train, and when she saw Connie she made a wild
dash for her that very nearly bowled over a couple of unfortunate men who
were in the path.

"You darling!" cried Billie, hugging her friend rapturously. "Now I know
it's all true. I was just scared to death for fear something would happen
and you couldn't get here."

Poor Chet tried his best to edge his way in and speak a word to Connie on
his own account--for Chet liked Connie Danvers very much--but he could
not do any more than shake hands with her over Billie's shoulder and
mumble one or two words which neither of the girls understood.

"They won't speak to you," he grumbled to himself as he brought up the
rear with Connie's suitcase and a hat box, "and the only time they know
you're alive is when they want a baggage truck or something. Catch me
ever coming to meet one of Billie's friends again."

He was relieved when Vi and Laura came running up all flushed with their
hurry to "spill over Connie" some more, as Chet disgustedly put it and he
had a chance to slip down a side street and "beat it" for home.

None of the girls even noticed that Chet had gone; a fact which, had he
known it, would have made the boy still more disgusted with girls and
everything about them.

"Connie, you do look sweet," Vi cried, as they all four tried to walk
abreast along a sidewalk that was not very wide--the result being that
Laura, who was on the end, walked half the time on the curb and the rest
of the time in the gutter. "Is that a new hat? And, oh, I know you've got
a new dress!"

"Well I'm not the only one who looks nice," said Connie, who, in spite of
her prettiness, was very modest.

"Oh, we are a mess," said Laura, balancing nicely between the curb and
the gutter. "We've got on our oldest dresses because everything we own is
packed except the things we're going to wear to-morrow."

"To-morrow!" That was the magic word that unlocked the gates and let
through a flood of conversation consisting of excited questions and
answers and joyful exclamations that lasted until they reached Billie's

Billie asked Laura and Vi in, but they reluctantly refused, saying that
their mothers had expressly ordered them to be home that day in time for

"We can't come over to-night," Vi called back to them, as she and Laura
started on arm in arm. "Mother says I have to get to bed early."

"But we'll see you the first thing in the morning," added Laura. "The
very first thing, remember that!"

"I'll say so," Billie sang back gayly, and then led her guest up the
porch steps and into the house, where her mother was waiting to receive
them. Mrs. Bradley and Connie fell in love with each other at first
sight--which was the last thing needed to make Billie absolutely happy.

They went to bed early that night, the two girls snuggled in Billie's
pretty bird's-eye maple bed in Billie's pretty bird's-eye maple room.

They went to bed, but neither of the girls had either the desire or the
intention of going to sleep. They felt as if they never wanted to go to
sleep again.

And so they talked. They talked of the next day and the vacation before
them until they could not think of another thing to say about it.

Then they talked of the things that had happened at Three Towers Hall--of
the "Dill Pickles" and of Amanda Peabody and Eliza Dilks. And last, but
not least, they talked in hushed tones of the mysterious little hut in
the woods and the strange man who lived there and wove fern baskets and
other things for a living.

By the time they had reached Miss Arbuckle and the finding of her album
in the woods they were feeling delightfully thrilly and farther away from
sleep than ever.

"It really must be a mystery," Connie was saying, snuggling deeper into
the covers and staring at Billie's pretty face and tousled hair weirdly
illumined by the pale moonlight that sifted through the window, when
there came a tap on the door. And right upon the tap came Mrs. Bradley,
wearing a loose robe that made her look mysteriously lovely in the dim
light. She sat down on the edge of the bed and regarded the girls

"It's twelve o'clock," she said, and they stared at her unbelievingly.
"Twelve o'clock," she repeated relentlessly, "and time for girls who have
to be up early in the morning to be asleep."

"But we're not sleepy," protested Billie.

"Not a bit," added Connie.

Mrs. Bradley rose decidedly.

"Then it's time you were," she said, adding, with a little laugh: "If I
hear a sound in here ten minutes from now, I'm coming after you with a
broomstick. Remember," she added, laughing back at them from the doorway,
"I give you just ten minutes."

"I think you've got just the loveliest mother," sighed Connie, as she
turned over obediently with her back to Billie; "but I'm sure I never can
go to sleep."

Five minutes passed, and the girls who could "never go to sleep," felt
their eyelids grow heavy and a delicious drowsiness steal over them. Once
Connie roused herself enough to say sleepily: "We'll just have to form
that Detective Club, Billie, you know."

"Yes," said Billie, already half in the land of dreams. "When
we--have--the time--good night, Connie----"

"Good night, Bil-lie----."

And the next they knew it was morning! And such a glorious morning had
never dawned before--of that they were sure.

Fat Deborah, nicknamed "Debbie," who had been the cook in the Bradley
family for years, and who thought that gave her the right to tell the
whole family what was expected of them, from Billie up to Mr. Bradley
himself, cooked them a breakfast of ham and eggs and cereal and toast and
corn bread, grumbling to herself all the time.

For Debbie did not approve at all of "the young folks scamperin' off jes'
so soon as dey gets back home agin."

"Scand'lous, I calls it," Debbie confided to the pan of corn bread she
was busily cutting into golden brown pieces. "Don' know what Miz Bradley
'lows she's thinkin' on, nohow. But these am scand'lous days--they sho
is." Whereupon she put on a white apron and her dignity and marched into
the dining room.

Yet in spite of her disapproval, Debbie gave the young "scalawags" the
best breakfast she could make, and from the way the young "scalawags" did
justice to it, one might have thought they did not expect to get any more
to eat for a week at least.

Then they went upstairs to pack bags with the last minute things. Billie
and Connie went over the whole list backward to be sure they had not
forgotten a toothbrush "or something." To them it was a very important

And when everything was done and their hats and coats on, they found to
their dismay that they still had three-quarters of an hour to wait for
the train.

"Goodness, why did Mother call us so early!" wailed Billie, sitting down
on her suitcase and staring at Connie. "I can do anything but wait. But
that I just can't do!"

"Couldn't we go over and call for Laura and Vi?" Connie suggested.

"My, they won't be up yet," said Billie hysterically, then chuckled at
Connie's look of dismay. "I didn't mean quite that," she said. "But Vi is
always late."

"Then I know we'd better go over!" said Connie, going over and giving her
hat one last little pat before the mirror.

But Billie had walked over to the window, and now she called out

"Here they come now," she reported, adding with a chuckle: "And there's
poor Teddy in the rear carrying two suitcases and something that looks
like a lunch box. Come on, let's go down."

And down they went, taking two steps at a time. Billie opened the door
just as the two girls and Teddy came up the steps. Chet, who had run out,
attracted by the noise, and was looking over Billie's shoulder, caught
sight of Teddy and the load he carried and emitted a whoop of joy.

"Hello, old moving van!" he called. "So they've got you doing it too,
have they?"

Teddie set his load down on the steps and mopped his perspiring brow.

"Yes. And you'd better get busy yourself," he retorted, adding as Chet
seemed about to protest: "I've got some good news. Get your duds and I'll
tell it to you on the way to the station."

That got Chet started in a hurry, and a few minutes later the young folks
had said a loving good-bye to Mr. and Mrs. Bradley, and were off, bag and
baggage, for the station.

The girls' trunks had been sent down the day before, so that all they had
to do was to check them at the station. Connie, of course, had had her
trunk checked right through to the station nearest their destination.

Chet clamored for Teddy's news, and excitedly Teddy showed him the letter
from Paul Martinson saying that the "old boat" would be ready to sail in
a few days.

"Whoop!" cried Chet joyfully, trying to wave a suitcase in the air and
nearly dropping it on his toe instead. "Say, girls, you may see us even
before you hoped to."

"Hoped to!" sniffed Laura. "Don't you hate yourself?"

"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Billie, her eyes shining. "It will be a lark to
have you boys drop in on us some morning when we don't expect you. Oh,
it's just grand! We'll be sure to be watching for all of you."

The rejoicing was cut short by the arrival of the train a few minutes
later. The girls scurried excitedly on board, the boys handing in their
suitcases after them.

As the train started to move Teddy ran along the platform with it and
suddenly thrust something into Billie's hand.

"Look out for those currents," he said. "They're awfully dangerous."

As he dropped back to join Chet, Billie looked down at the thing in her
hand. It was a package of chocolate.

                              CHAPTER XIII

                           PLEASURE DRAWS NEAR

As she looked, a flush stole over Billie's face and she tried hastily to
hide the chocolate in the pocket of her suit before the girls could see

She would have succeeded if Vi had not accidentally touched her elbow at
that moment, knocking the package of chocolate from her hand and into the
aisle of the car where it lay, face up, accusingly.

Billie stretched out an eager hand for it, but Laura was just before her.

"Aha!" she cried triumphantly, waving the little brown rectangle aloft.
"Candy! Where'd you get it, Billie Bradley?" She turned swiftly upon
Billie, whose face was the color of a particularly gorgeous beet. Vi and
Connie looked on delightedly.

"Goodness! anybody would think it was a crime to have candy," cried
Billie indignantly. "You give it to me, Laura, or----" She made a grab
for her property, but Laura snatched it back out of her reach.

"No, you don't," she said, putting her hands behind her determinedly.
"Not till you tell us where you got it."

"Well I'm not going to," said Billie crossly. "It's none of your
business." And she turned away and looked steadily out of the window.

"Give it back to her, Laura," begged Vi. "It isn't fair to tease her so."

"Well then, she shouldn't tease so beautifully," Laura retorted, as,
relenting, she slipped Teddy's gift back into Billie's pocket.

At that moment they were startled by a fearful racket--a sound as if all
the South Sea pirates that had ever been born had gathered together and
were all quarreling at once.

There was a great craning of necks as startled passengers tried to see
what it was all about and the girls fairly jumped from their seats--for
the racket sounded in their very ears.

Across the aisle from them there was a parrot--a great green and red
parrot that at that moment was hanging by its claws to the roof of its
cage and was still emitting the raucous squawks that sounded like the
talking of a hundred pirates all rolled into one.

An elderly woman who looked as if she might be a spinster of the type
generally known as "old maid" was doing her best to silence the bird
while she fished wildly in her bag for something.

She found what she was looking for--a heavy black cloth, and, with a sigh
of relief, flung it across the cage. Immediately the parrot's uproar
subsided to a muttering and a moment later stopped altogether.

Passengers who had craned their necks dropped back in their seats
chuckling, picked up magazines or papers or whatever they had been
reading where they had left off, and peace settled over the car again.
For all save the girls, that is.

For the elderly woman--who most certainly _was_ an old maid--had been
terribly embarrassed over the bird's outbreak and began explaining to the
girls how she happened to have it in her possession, what troubles she
had already had with it, how glad she would be when she delivered the
bird to her brother, who was its rightful owner, and so on until the
girls became desperate enough to throw things at her.

"Isn't there some way we can stop her!" whispered Vi in Connie's ear,
while Billie and Laura were listening to the woman's chatter with forced
smiles and polite "yeses and nos." "If I have to listen to that voice
another minute I'll scream--I know I shall."

"The only way to stop her that I can think of," Connie whispered back,
"would be to take the cover off the parrot's cage. He would drown out
most anybody."

This kept up practically all morning with the owner of the parrot talking
on tirelessly and the girls trying to listen politely until lunch time

Thankfully they made their way through the swaying train to the dining
car and sat themselves gratefully down at a little table set for four.

"Thank goodness we've escaped," sighed Billie, as her eyes wandered
eagerly down the bill of fare, for Billie was very hungry. "What will you
have, girls? I could eat everything on the card without stopping to

When they returned to their car after lunch they found to their relief
that the talkative old woman was gathering up her things as if about to
change cars at the junction--which was the next stop.

She did get out at the junction, parrot and all, and the girls fairly
hugged each other in their delight.

"Poor old thing," said Billie as the train swung out from the station and
the parrot cage disappeared. "I wonder," she added after a moment, "if
I'll ever get like that."

"You!" scoffed Vi, with a fond glance at Billie's lovely face. "Yes, you
look a lot like an old maid."

"And didn't Teddy give her candy this morning?" added Laura, with a
wicked glance at Billie, who said not a word, but stared steadily out of
the window.

They bought magazines and tried to read them, but finally gave up the
attempt. What was the use of reading about other people's adventures when
a far more thrilling one was in store for them at Lighthouse Island?

Billie said something like this, but Connie shook her head doubtfully.

"I don't know how we're going to have any adventures," she said. "There
isn't so very much to do besides swimming and rowing in Uncle Tom's

"Goodness, isn't that enough?" said Billie, turning on her. "Why, just
being at the seashore is an adventure. Just think, I've never in my life
been inside a really truly lighthouse. It's going to be just wonderful,

"And aren't the boys coming in their motor boat, too?" added Vi eagerly.
"Why, they will probably take us for a sail around the point and
everything. Connie, how can you say we're not going to have any

Connie laughed.

"All right," she said. "Don't shoot. I'll take it all back. And there's
Uncle Tom's clam chowder," she added. "People come from all over just to
taste it."

"What time is it, Laura?" asked Billie, turning from the window suddenly
and tapping nervously on the window sill. "It won't take us very much
longer to get there, will it?"

"Only three hours," answered Laura, consulting her wrist watch.

"Only three hours!" groaned Billie. "And I thought we were nearly there."

There was silence for a little while after that while the girls took up
their magazines again and turned the pages listlessly. At the end of
another half hour they gave up the attempt entirely and leaned their
heads wearily against the backs of the seats, fixing their eyes upon the
ever-changing scenery that fled past them.

"Are we going to form our Detective Club?" asked Connie suddenly out of
the silence.

The girls stared at her a minute as if she had roused them out of sleep.

"For goodness sake, what made you think of that now?" asked Laura a
little peevishly. "I'm so tired I don't want to form clubs or anything
else. All I want is to get out somewhere where I can stretch my legs, get
some supper, and go to bed. I'm dead."

"You're making lots of noise for a dead one," chuckled Billie, and Laura
made a face at her.

"But no one's answered my question," broke in Connie plaintively. "I
thought you girls loved mysteries and things."

"Well, who says we don't?" cried Laura. "Just show me a good live mystery
and I'll forget I'm all tied up in knots and everything."

"Just listen to her!" exclaimed Connie indignantly. "Do you mean to say
you've forgotten that we have a mystery already?"

"Oh--that," said Laura slowly, while a light began to dawn. "Yes, I did
forget about it; we've been so busy getting ready and everything."

"Well, I haven't forgotten about it," said Billie, sitting up suddenly,
while her cheeks began to glow pink. "And the more I think about it, the
funnier it seems to me."

"What?" asked Vi.

"Oh, everything," answered Billie, getting more excited as she spoke.
"Hugo Billings in the first place. And then finding Miss Arbuckle's album
in the woods. And the children. Girls, I'm just sure they are
mysteries--and real ones, too."

                               CHAPTER XIV


Laura looked faintly excited for a minute, then she leaned back wearily
in her seat again.

"I'm just as sure as you are, Billie, that there's something funny about
it," she said. "But if we really had wanted to solve the mystery, we
should have stayed at Three Towers. The first thing they do in detective
stories is to shadow the people they suspect. And how can we do that, I'd
like to know, when we're running straight away from them?"

This was very good reasoning. Even Billie and Connie had to admit that,
and they began to look worried.

"Perhaps I shouldn't have asked you girls to visit me. Then you might
have stayed at Three Towers for the summer and solved the mystery. Now
I've spoiled all the fun----"

"Connie! don't be such an absolute goose," cried Billie, putting a hand
over Connie's mouth. "Do you suppose we'd have missed this for anything?"

"Anyway," added Vi hopefully, "we may find some more mysteries on
Lighthouse Island."

"Humph," grumbled Laura, who was feeling tired and cross, "you talk as if
mysteries were just hanging around loose begging to be found."

"Well, I think maybe we'll manage to enjoy ourselves, even without
mysteries," said Billie gayly. Nevertheless, she could not help thinking
to herself: "Oh, dear, I do wish there was some way I could find out
about Miss Arbuckle and those lovely children and poor lonely, sad Hugo
Billings. I should like to help if I only knew how!"

"Billie, wake up! Wake up--it's time to get off!"

She must have been very sound asleep because it was several seconds
before she fought her way through a sea of unconsciousness and opened
heavy eyes upon a scene of confusion.

"What's the matter?" she asked sleepily, but some one, she thought it was
Laura, shook her impatiently, and some one else--she was wide awake
enough now to be sure this was Vi--put a hat on her head and pushed it so
far over her eyes that she temporarily went blind again.

"For goodness sake, can't you put it on straight?" she demanded
indignantly, pushing the hat back where it belonged. "What do you think
you're doing anyway?"

A little anger was the best thing that could have come to Billie. It was
about the only thing in the world that would have gotten her wide awake
just then. And it was very necessary that she should be wide awake, for
the train was just drawing into the station where they were to get off to
take the boat to Lighthouse Island.

She took the bag thrust into her hands by Laura, and the girls hurried
out into the aisle that was crowded with people. A minute more, and they
found themselves on a platform down which people hurried and porters
rolled their baggage trucks and where every one seemed intent upon making
as much noise as possible.

Billie and Laura and Vi felt very much bewildered, for they had never
done any traveling except in the company of some older person; but with a
confidence that surprised them, Connie took command of the situation. For
Connie had traveled this route several times, and everything about it was
familiar to her.

"Give me your trunk checks," she ordered, adding, as the girls obediently
fumbled in their pocketbooks: "We'll have to hustle if we want to get our
trunks straightened out and get on board ourselves before the boat
starts. What's the matter, Vi, you haven't lost your check, have you?"

For one terrible minute Vi had been afraid she had done just this, but
now, with a sigh of relief, she produced the check and handed it over to

"My, but that was a narrow escape," she murmured, as they hurried down
the crowded platform.

The boat that plied from the mainland to Lighthouse Island and one or two
more small islands scattered about near the coast was a small but tidy
little vessel that was really capable of better speed than most people
gave her credit for. She was painted a sort of dingy white, and large
black letters along her bow proclaimed her to be none other than the
_Mary Ann_.

And now as the girls, with several other passengers, stepped on board and
felt the cool breeze upon their faces they breathed deep of the salty air
and gazed wonderingly out over the majestic ocean rolling on and on in
unbroken swells toward the distant horizon.

Gone was all the fatigue of the long train ride. They forgot that their
lungs were full of soft coal dirt, that their hands were grimy, and their
faces, too. They were completely under the spell of that great,
mysterious tyrant--the ocean.

"Isn't this grand!"

"Just smell the salt air!"

"Makes you feel braced up already," came from Billie, who had been
filling her lungs to the utmost. "Oh, girls! I'm just crazy to jump in
and have a swim."

"I'm with you on that," broke out Vi. "Oh, I'm sure we're going to have
just the best times ever!"

There was a fair-sized crowd to get aboard, made up partly of natives and
partly of city folks. The passengers were followed by a number of trunks
and a small amount of freight.

"Evidently we're not the only ones to take this trip," remarked Billie,
as she noted the people coming on board the _Mary Ann_.

"A number of these people must live on the islands the year around," said

"My, how lonely it must be on this coast during the winter months," said
Billie. "Think of being out on one of those islands in a howling

"I wonder how they get anything to eat during those times?" questioned

"I presume they keep stuff on hand," answered Billie.

With a sharp toot of her whistle the boat moved out from the dock, made
her way carefully among the numerous other craft in the harbor, and
finally nosed her way out into the water of the channel.

"O--oh," breathed Vi, softly. "It's even more wonderful than I thought it
would be. I'd like to go sailing on and on like this forever."

"Well, I wouldn't," said Laura practically. "Not without any supper. I'm
getting a perfectly awful appetite."

"It will be worse than that after you've been here a little while,"
laughed Connie. "Mother says that it seems as if she never can give me
enough to eat when we come out to the seashore, so she has given up

"Your poor mother!" said Billie dolefully. "And now she has four of us!"

"I know," chuckled Connie. "Mother was worrying a little about that--as
to how she could keep four famished wolves fed at one time. But Uncle Tom
said he'd help her out."

"Your Uncle Tom," Vi repeated wonderingly. "Can he cook?"

"Of course," said Connie, looking at her as if she had asked if the world
was square. "Didn't I tell you about his clam chowder?"

"Oh," said Vi thoughtfully, while something within her began to cry out
for a sample of that clam chowder. "Oh yes, I remember."

"Connie, you're cruel," moaned Laura. "Can't you talk of something
besides clam chowder when you know I'm starving to death? Goodness, I can
almost smell it."

"That's the clams you smell," chuckled Connie. "They always have some on
board the _Mary Ann_ to sell to the islanders--if they haven't the sense
to catch them themselves. We never need to buy any," she added, proudly.
"Uncle Tom keeps us supplied with all we want. Look!" she cried suddenly,
pointing to a small island which loomed directly ahead of them, looking
in the grey mist of evening like only a darker shadow against the
shifting background. "That's our island--see? And there's the light," she
added, as a sudden beacon flashed out at them, sending a ruddy light out
over the dark water.

"Oh, isn't it beautiful!" cried Billie rapturously. "Just think what it
must mean to the ships out at sea--that friendly light, beckoning to

"No, it doesn't--beckon, I mean," said Connie decidedly. "That's just
what it isn't for. It's to warn them to keep away or they'll be sorry."

"Is there so much danger?" asked Laura eagerly.

"I should say there is," Connie answered gravely. "In a storm especially.
You see, the water is very shallow around here and if a big ship runs in
too close to shore she's apt to get on a shoal. That isn't so bad in
clear weather--although a ship did get stuck on the shoal here not so
very long ago and she was pretty much damaged when they got her off. But
in a storm----"

"Yes," cried Billie impatiently.

"Why, Uncle Tom says," Connie was very serious, "that if a ship were
driven upon the shoal in a gale--and we have terrible storms around
here--it would probably come with such force that its bottom would be
pretty nearly crushed in and the people on board might die before any one
could get out there to rescue them."

"Oh, Connie, how dreadful!" cried Vi. Laura and Billie only stared at the
lighthouse tower as though fascinated, while the little boat came
steadily nearer to it.

"Has anything like that ever happened here, Connie?" asked Laura in an
awed voice.

"No," said Connie. "There was a terrible wreck here a long time
ago--before they built the lighthouse. But Uncle Tom says no one will
ever know just how many lives have been saved because of the good old
light. To hear him talk to it you would think it was alive."

"It is!" cried Billie, pointing excitedly as the great white globe that
held the light swung slowly around toward them. "Didn't you see that? It
winked at us!"

                               CHAPTER XV

                             CONNIE'S MOTHER

The steamer scraped against the dock and the girls straightened their
hats, picked up their suitcases, and started down the narrow winding
stairs that led to the lower deck.

Connie led the way as she had done ever since they had left North Bend.
She scrambled quickly out upon the pier and the chums, following more
slowly, were in time to see Connie rapturously embrace first a lady and
then a gentleman standing near by.

"Well, well!" a deep masculine voice was saying, "it seems mighty good to
see our girl again. But where are the others?"

Connie turned eagerly to the girls.

"This is my mother and father, Billie and Laura and Vi," she said, with a
proud wave of her hand toward her smiling parents, who came forward and
greeted the girls cordially.

"It's too dark to see your faces," Mrs. Danvers said. "But Connie has
described you to us so many times that it isn't at all necessary. I'm
sure I know just exactly what you look like."

"Oh, but they're three times as nice as anything I've said about them,"
Connie was protesting when her father, who had been conversing with the
captain of the _Mary Ann_, stepped up to them.

"If you young ladies will give me your checks," he said--and the girls
knew they were going to love him because his voice sounded so kind--"I'll
attend to your trunks and you can go on up to the house."

The girls produced their checks, Mr. Danvers went back to the captain,
and Mrs. Danvers and the girls started off in high spirits toward the

"Are you very tired?" Mrs. Danvers asked them, and the turn of her head
as she looked at them made the girls think of some pert, plump, cheery
little robin.

It was really getting very dark, and the girls could not make out what
she looked like, but they could see that she was small and graceful and
her voice--well, her voice had a gay lilt that made one want to laugh
even though all she said was "what a pleasant day it is." No wonder, with
that father and mother, Connie was such a darling.

"Why, no, we're not very tired," Billie said in answer to Mrs. Danvers'
question. "We were on the train, but the minute we got on board the boat
we seemed to forget all about it. It's this beautiful salt air, I
suppose," and she sniffed happily at the soft, salt-laden breeze that
came wandering up from the sea.

"Of course it's the air," agreed Mrs. Danvers gayly. "The air does all
sorts of wonderful things to us. You just wait a few days and see."

They were walking along a rough boardwalk set quite a way back from the
water's edge so that there was a white stretch of beach between it and
the first thin line of lapping waves.

"Why, look at the boardwalk!" cried Laura, in wonder.

"You didn't say anything about a boardwalk down here, Connie," added Vi.
"You're really right up to date, aren't you?"

"What did you suppose?" put in Billie. "That Lighthouse Island was in the
backwoods and had no improvements?" And she laughed gayly.

"Well, I know that very few of the islands on this coast have
boardwalks," defended Laura. "Most of them have the roughest kind of
stony paths."

"You are right, there," said Connie. "I remember only too well when I was
on Chatter Island we had to climb over the rocks all the way, and one day
I twisted my ankle most dreadfully--so badly, in fact, that I was laid up
for three days while all the other girls were having the best time ever."

"I know what I'd do on a real dark night," remarked Billie dryly. "If I
couldn't see where I was stepping, I'd take my chances and walk in the

"I do that myself sometimes," answered Connie.

Several bungalows dotted the rather barren landscape, for Lighthouse
Island was an ideal spot for a summer home--that is if one liked the

But the girls were not so much interested in what was on the island as
they were in what was beyond it. The ocean--the great dark, mysterious
ocean drew their eyes irresistibly and set their minds to wandering. And
as the days passed they were to feel the spell of it more and more.

"Here we are," Mrs. Danvers said cheerily, and with an effort the girls
brought their thoughts back to the present.

Mrs. Danvers had turned from the main boardwalk down another that led to
a bungalow whose every window was cheerfully and invitingly lighted.

"Be careful where you step," Mrs. Danvers called back to them, and the
girls saw that she was picking her steps very carefully. "There are two
or three boards missing, and I can't get Mr. Danvers to do the repairing.
He spends whole days," she added, turning plaintively to Connie, "up in
that old lighthouse just talking to your Uncle Tom. I don't know whether
it's your Uncle Tom's conversation he finds so fascinating or his clam

She opened the door as she spoke and the girls had a vision of a
comfortable, gayly lighted room all wicker chairs and chintz cushions and
chintz hangings, a room pretty and cozy, a room that seemed to be
beckoning and inviting the girls to come in and make themselves at home.

Which they did--immediately. All except Billie, who stepped back a moment
and gazed off through the dusk to the light in the lighthouse tower
glowing its warning to the travelers over the dark highways of the sea.

"I love it," she said, surprising herself by her fervor. "It looks so
bright and brave and lonely."

Then she stepped in after the others and almost ran into Connie, who was
coming back to get her.

"What were you doing all by yourself out there in the dark?" she asked
accusingly. "We thought you had run away or something."

"Goodness, where would I run to?" asked Billie, as they went upstairs
together arm in arm. "There's no place to run except into the ocean, and
I'd rather wait for that till I have my bathing suit on."

They found Mrs. Danvers and Laura and Vi in a large room as pretty and
comfortable as the room downstairs, though not quite so elaborate. Laura
and Vi were busily engaged in making themselves entirely at home.

Laura had her hat off and was fixing her hair in front of a mirror and Vi
was hanging up her coat in the closet.

"You see there's a connecting door between these two rooms," Mrs. Danvers
said in her pleasant voice; "so that you girls can feel almost as if you
were in one room."

Then as she caught sight of Billie and Connie in the doorway she beckoned
to them and disappeared into the next room, and with a laughing word to
Laura and Vi they followed her.

This was the room that she and Connie were to occupy, Billie found, and
she looked about her at the handsome mahogany furniture and dainty
dressing table fixings with interest.

But she was even more interested in seeing what Connie's mother looked
like in the light. She was not a bit disappointed, for Mrs. Danvers'
looks entirely matched her voice.

Her eyes were a wide laughing hazel, set far apart and fringed with dark
lashes. Her hair, for she had not worn a hat, was a soft brown, and the
night wind had whipped a pretty color into her face.

"She is awfully pretty. Not as pretty as my mother," Billie thought
loyally, "but awfully pretty just the same."

Billie must have been staring more than she knew, for suddenly Mrs.
Danvers--it seemed absurd to call her "Mrs." she looked so like a
girl--turned upon her and took her laughingly by the shoulders.

"So you're Billie Bradley," she said, her hazel eyes searching Billie's
brown ones. "Connie said you were the most popular girl at Three Towers
and that all the girls loved you. I can't say that I blame them, my
dear," giving Billie's flushed cheek a gay little pat. "I'm not very sure
but what I may do it myself. Now here----" And she went on to give
directions while Billie followed her with wondering eyes. How could a
woman who was old enough to be Connie's mother look so absolutely and
entirely like a girl of twenty? She was not even dignified like most of
the mothers Billie knew--she did not even try to be. Connie treated her
as she would an older and much loved sister. One only needed to be with
them three minutes to see that mother and daughter adored each other and
were the very best chums in the world. And right then and there Billie
began adoring too.

"Now I'll run downstairs and get something on the table for you girls to
eat, for I know you must be starving," said Mrs. Danvers, or rather
"Connie's mother," as Billie called her from that day on. "Don't stop to
fix up, girls, for there won't be a soul here to-night but Daddy and
me--and we don't care. Hurry now. If you are not downstairs by the time I
have dinner on the table I'll eat it all myself, every bit." With that
she was gone into the next room, leaving a trail of laughter behind her
that made Billie's heart laugh in sympathy.

"Connie," she said, sitting down on the edge of the bed and regarding her
chum soberly as she opened her bag and drew out a brush and comb, "I'm
simply crazy about your mother. She's so young and pretty and--and--happy.
Does she ever do anything but laugh?"

"Not often," said Connie, adding with a little chuckle: "But when she
does stop laughing you'd better look out for 'breakers ahead,' as Uncle
Tom says. Mother's French you know, and she has a temper--about once a
year. But for goodness sake, stop talking, Billie, and get ready. You've
got a patch of dirt under one eye. What's that I smell? It's clam

"Clam chowder," repeated Billie weakly. "Are you sure it's clam chowder,

"Yes, clam chowder," repeated Connie firmly.

                               CHAPTER XVI

                        CLAM CHOWDER AND SALT AIR

Connie was right, gloriously right. It was clam chowder--the kind of clam
chowder one dreams about--come true. Uncle Tom had made it just that very
afternoon and had brought it over in a huge bucket that was always used
for such occasions.

The girls ate and ate and ate and then ate some more until they were
completely satisfied with life and were feeling contented and
beautifully, wonderfully drowsy.

Connie's mother had served them other things beside clam chowder. There
were pork chops and apple sauce, there were muffins and honey and apple
pie, and when they had finished, the once full table looked as if a swarm
of locusts had been at it.

And all the time Connie's mother had watched them with wide, delighted
eyes and Connie's father had lounged back in his chair, smoking a cigar
and looking on with an indulgent smile.

Mr. Danvers, with the aid of a couple of men from the dock, had got the
girls' trunks up to the house and into the rooms they were going to
occupy for the summer.

And now, having done his duty, he had sauntered into the dining room to
get acquainted with the girls and smoke a cigar. He and Mrs. Danvers had
had their dinner earlier, because, as Mrs. Danvers laughingly explained,
"she had been famished and could not wait," so that now there was nothing
to do but watch the girls enjoy themselves.

The dining room was like all the other rooms in the cottage, cheerful and
cozy and tastefully furnished, and as the girls looked about them happily
they felt that they must have known the house and its owners all their

Mr. Danvers was many years older than his wife, and he looked even older
than he was. But he was a handsome man, and the touch of gray in the hair
at his temples only made him look more distinguished. He adored his wife,
and his eyes followed her wherever she went.

"As if any one could blame him for that," thought Billie, as Mrs. Danvers
slipped a second piece of apple pie on her plate.

"My gracious! do you expect me to eat a second piece of pie?" cried
Billie, glancing up at Mrs. Danvers, with a smile.

"A second piece of pie isn't very much for a young girl with a healthy
appetite," returned the lady of the bungalow.

"You give her too much pie, and she'll be dreaming of all sorts of
things," remonstrated Vi.

"Why, Vi! To talk that way when you are eating a second piece yourself!"
broke in Laura.

"If we dream, perhaps we'll all dream together, so what's the
difference?" remarked Billie; and at this there was a laugh in which even
Mr. Danvers joined.

After dinner Connie's mother sent them up to their rooms, saying that she
knew they must be tired to death and should go to bed early so they could
get up to see the sun rise the next morning.

They did not protest very much, for they were tired and the prospect of
bed was very alluring. To-morrow--well, to-morrow they would go
exploring. Perhaps they might even be permitted to visit the lighthouse
and Uncle Tom. Speaking of Uncle Tom made Billie think of the clam
chowder, and although she could not have eaten another scrap if she had
tried, her mouth watered at the memory.

The girls left the connecting door open between the two rooms so that
they could talk to each other if they wanted to, but they did not do very
much talking that night.

"Oh, this feels good," sighed Billie, as Connie turned down the covers
and she crawled thankfully into bed. "I didn't know I was so awfully
tired. And that dinner! Connie, does your mother always serve dinners
like that?"

"Yes," said Connie, flinging her thick braid over her shoulder and
crossing the room to turn out the light. "Mother's an awfully good cook,
and although we have a maid to do the heavy work Mother does all the
cooking herself."

"Well," said Billie, snuggling down under the covers luxuriously as
Connie joined her, "I'm mighty glad I came."

"Even if we don't solve any mysteries?" asked Connie, a trifle wistfully.

Billie turned over and tried to see her face, a thing impossible, of
course, in the dark.

"What a foolish thing to say," she cried. "I'll shake you, Connie
Danvers, if you ever say a thing like that again. We could have stayed at
Three Towers if we had wanted to solve mysteries more than we wanted to
come here, couldn't we?"

"Y--yes," said Connie doubtfully. "Only, of course, we didn't know
anything about the mystery when I asked you to come here. So you couldn't
have backed out very well, even if you had wanted to."

Billie turned over impatiently and caught Connie by the shoulder.

"Connie Danvers!" she cried, "now I know you want to be shaken. Are you
really trying to say that we didn't want to come with you and only did it
to please you?"

"No," said Connie, with a shake of her head. "Of course I didn't mean
just that. Just the same," she added longingly, "I am awfully anxious to
find out about Miss Arbuckle and her album and--that strange

It was then that a horrible thought struck Billie, and it was so horrible
that it sat her straight up in bed.

"Connie--I just thought--could it--were you sorry you asked us to come?"
she stammered. "Would you rather have stayed at Three Towers yourself?"

For a minute there was silence and Billie knew that Connie was staring
through the dark at her in absolute amazement.

"You perfectly silly goose," said Connie then, her bewilderment changing
to indignation. "Now I know who wants to be shaken. Lie down here,
Billie, and see if you can act sensibly. Sorry I asked you!" she exploded
indignantly. "Why, who ever heard of such a thing!"

"But you said you wanted to solve the mystery--if there is one," Billie
reminded her, lying down again.

"Well, of course I do. So do all the rest of you," Connie shot back. "But
as to being sorry I asked you, why, I've a good mind----" She rose
threateningly in the bed and Billie put out a pleading hand, saying with
a chuckle:

"Please don't kill me or do whatever you were going to. I take it all

"I should say you'd better!" sputtered Connie, coming down with a thump
in the bed.

"What are you girls raving about?" asked a sleepy voice from the next
room that they recognized as Vi's. "Can't you keep still and let a fellow
sleep? Laura's snoring already."

"Oh, I am not!" came indignantly from Laura. "I never snore!"

"How do you know?" asked Vi with interest.

"Know!" sputtered Laura. "Why, I don't know how I know, but I do know."

"Perhaps you are like an aunt of mine," Vi's voice came lazily back. "She
says she knows she never snores because she stayed awake all night once
just to see if she did."

Billie and Connie chuckled, which would have made Laura more indignant if
she had not been so sleepy.

"Oh, for goodness sake, keep still and let me sleep," she cried, adding
ferociously: "I saw a knife around somewhere downstairs. If anybody
speaks another word I'm going down and get it."

Whether this threat had anything to do with it or not, it would be hard
to say. But at any rate the girls did stop talking and settled down for

All but one of them succeeded in drifting off into the land of nod in no
time at all, but that one of them--who was Billie--lay for a long time
with eyes wide open staring into the dark.

Then gradually the soft lapping of waves upon the beach soothed her into
a sort of doze where tall thin men and shabby picture albums and queer
little huts were all confused and jumbled together. Only one thing stood
out clearly, and that was the great searchlight, twinkling, winking,
glowing, sending its friendly message far out upon the sea.

Then all the troubled visions disappeared in a soft black cloud. Billie
was asleep.

                              CHAPTER XVII

                            FUN AND NONSENSE

The next morning the girls were up with the sun. They were in hilarious
spirits and made so much noise that Mrs. Danvers, busily getting
breakfast in the kitchen below, smiled to herself and hugged a big collie
that at that moment strolled leisurely into the room.

The big collie's name was Bruce, and he belonged to Uncle Tom of the
lighthouse. But although Uncle Tom was his master and was first in his
dog's heart, Connie's mother was his very next best beloved and Bruce
spent his time nearly equally between the lighthouse and Uncle Tom and
the cottage and Connie's mother.

Now he answered the woman's hug with a loving look from his beautiful
eyes and waved his brush gratefully.

"Bruce darling," said Connie's mother, as she lifted a pan of biscuits
and shoved it into the oven, "it's a perfectly gorgeous morning and a
perfectly gorgeous world and you're a perfectly gorgeous dog. Now don't
deny it. You know you are! How about it?"

To which Bruce responded by a more vigorous waving of his white tipped
brush that very nearly swept a second pan of biscuits off on to the
well-swept floor.

Connie's mother rescued it with a quick motion of her arm and stared at
Bruce reproachfully.

"Bruce, just suppose you had spoiled it!" she scolded, as she slipped the
pan into the oven after its fellow. "Don't you know that I have four
hungry girls to feed, to say nothing of a great big husband----"

"Now what are you saying about me?" asked a man's pleasant voice from the
doorway, adding as Connie's mother turned toward him: "Can't I help,
dear? You look rather warm."

"Warm! Well, I should say I was!" said Connie's mother, sweeping a stray
lock of hair back out of her eyes. "But what do I care when it's such a
wonderful world? Haven't I got my baby back again, and three others as
well? They're sweet girls, aren't they, John? And Billie Bradley is going
to be a beauty."

"Well, I know some one else who is a beauty," said Mr. Danvers, looking
admiringly at his wife's rosy face and wide-apart, laughing eyes, adding
with a smile: "Even though she has a big patch of flour under one eye."

"Oh!" cried Connie's mother, and wiped her face vigorously with a pink
and white checked apron. "Now just for that," she said, turning to her
husband, who was still lounging in the doorway, "I'm going to put you
out. And Bruce, too. I have enough to do without having a husband who
makes fun of me and a dog who sticks his tail into everything under my
feet all the time. Hurry on," and she pushed her protesting, laughing
husband and the reluctant dog out through the open door and into the
brilliant sunshine beyond.

"Are you going to call us in time for breakfast?" Mr. Danvers called back
to his wife over his shoulder.

"Of course," she answered. "I'll send Connie after you." And she
playfully waved a frying pan at him.

"She put us out, Bruce," said Mr. Danvers laying a caressing hand on the
dog's beautiful head as he walked gravely along beside him. "But we love
her just the same, don't we?" And Bruce's answer was to press close to
Mr. Danvers and wave his tail enthusiastically.

Hardly had Mrs. Danvers had time to put the bacon in the oven to keep
warm and break the eggs into the pan when there was a sound of
skirmishing on the stairs, and a moment later a whirlwind broke in upon

"Mother, Mother, Mother, everything smells good!" cried Connie, dancing
over to her mother and hugging her so energetically that she almost sent
the eggs, pan and all, on the floor. "Is there anything we can do to

"Yes--go away," cried Connie's mother, seeing with dismay that one of the
eggs in the pan was broken--and Connie's mother prided herself upon
serving perfect eggs. Then, as she saw the surprise in the girls' faces,
she relented, left the eggs to their fate, and hugged them all.

"You're darlings," she said. "But you're awfully in the way. Billie, for
goodness sake, hand me that pancake turner. Quick! These eggs are going
to be awful!"

But Billie had jumped to the rescue, and when the eggs were turned out on
the platter with the bacon surrounding them on four sides, they did not
look "awful" at all, but just about the most appetizing things the girls
had ever laid hungry eyes on.

"Oh, let me carry them!"

"No, let me!"

"I'll do it!"

And to a chorus of a score or so other such pleas, the eggs were borne
triumphantly into the dining room and set carefully on the table.

"Now the biscuits!" cried Connie, running back into the kitchen where her
mother was just heaping another platter high with golden brown

"Oh, Mother," said Connie, darting a kiss at her mother that landed just
exactly on the tip of Mrs. Danvers' pretty astonished nose, "everything
you cook always looks just exactly like you."

Then she disappeared with the biscuits, leaving her mother to rub her
nose and smile somewhat proudly.

"I guess it must have been a compliment," she chuckled, as she followed
Connie with a second plate of biscuits, "for they always seem to like
what I cook."

The girls were already waiting politely but impatiently for her. She was
about to sit down when she thought of Mr. Danvers. She looked hastily at

"I told your father I'd send you after him when breakfast was ready," she
said; and Connie looked dismayed.

"Oh, bother!" she said. "I just know they'll eat all the biscuits before
I get back."

"No, we won't. We promise," said Billie; but Connie still looked doubtful
enough to make them giggle as she flung out of the door in search of her

She had been gone scarcely two minutes when she returned triumphantly
with her father and Bruce in tow.

"They were just coming back," she told her mother, as she sank into her
seat and reached for a biscuit. "Daddy said he smelled the biscuits and
they drew him with----What was it you said they drew you with, Daddy?"

"Irresistible force?" asked Mr. Danvers, as he greeted the girls and took
his seat at the head of the table. "Now, if they only taste as they
smell----" He smiled at his wife across the table and she handed him a
plate full of the golden brown biscuits.

"Who owns the dog?" asked Laura boyishly, as Bruce sat down gravely at
Mrs. Danvers' side, looking up at her adoringly.

"Oh, please, excuse me; I forgot to introduce him," cried Mrs. Danvers,
dimpling and laying her hand lightly on the dog's head. "This is Robert
Bruce, and he's a thoroughbred and belongs to Uncle Tom, and lives over
at the lighthouse."

"The lighthouse," repeated Billie eagerly, then added as though she were
thinking aloud: "Oh, but I'm crazy to see it."

"Are you?" asked Connie's mother, looking surprised at Billie's
eagerness, for the lighthouse was an old story to her. "Connie can take
you over there to-day if you would like to go."

"Oh, won't that be lovely!" cried Vi. "I've always wanted to see inside a
real lighthouse. I want to know all about the lights and everything. When
can we go, Mrs. Danvers?"

"Any time you like," answered Mrs. Danvers, her heart warming to their
girlish enthusiasm. She was falling in love with Connie's friends more
and more every minute. "Uncle Tom receives visitors at all hours of the

"And he has lots of 'em," added Connie, nodding over her coffee cup. "All
the children and the men love him. He can tell so many stories, you

"And fish stories too, I reckon," put in Connie's mother laughingly. "You
know you can never really depend upon a sailor's telling the truth."

Good as the breakfast was, the girls found themselves hurrying through
it, so eager were they to see the lighthouse and Uncle Tom. They took
Bruce with them at Mrs. Danvers' request, for she was going to be very
busy and the big dog did have a habit of getting in the way.

As the girls swung along the boardwalk they had a wild desire to shout
with the sheer joy of living. Everything looked so different by daylight.
It was not half so thrilling and mysterious, but it was much more

The ocean was calm, for there was almost no wind. The water gleamed and
sparkled in the brilliant sunshine, and the beach was almost too
dazzlingly white to look upon.

In the distance rose the irregular outline of the mainland, but on all
other sides there was nothing but an illimitable stretch of long,
graceful, rolling combers.

As the girls came out upon the Point, there, before them, rose the
lighthouse tower, robbed of the mystery it had worn the night before, yet
wearing a quaint, romantic dignity all its own.

"Connie," said Billie happily, "I'm sure this is the most wonderful place
in the world."

                              CHAPTER XVIII

                                UNCLE TOM

Uncle Tom was undeniably glad to see them. He was sitting in the little
room at the base of the tower which was his living room, smoking a great
corn-cob pipe and idly turning over the pages of a book.

But as Connie entered and ran to him with a joyful cry, he put the pipe
down carefully, flung the book on the floor and caught the girl in a
bear's hug.

"Well, well!" he cried, his great voice filling the room like thunder,
"here's my little girl come back to me again. I was beginning to think
you'd deserted your uncle in his old age, Connie, lass. When did you get
back? And who are these other very pretty young ladies you have with

"They are my chums and the nicest girls in all the world," said Connie,
turning to them gayly. "You must have known they were coming, Uncle Tom.
Mother said she told you."

"Yes, yes, so she did," said Uncle Tom in the same hearty tones that
seemed to fill the little room and--the girls could almost have sworn to
it--make it tremble. "But my memory is getting worse and worse, Connie,
lass," he added, with a doleful shake of the head that was belied by the
merry twinkle in his eyes. "Let me see now, what was it their names

Then laughingly Connie introduced the girls and Uncle Tom had some funny
personal little thing to say to each one of them so that by the time the
introductions were over they were all laughing merrily and feeling very
well acquainted.

"I suppose you will be wanting to see the tower," said Uncle Tom, after
he had shown them all around the quaint little room and introduced them
to some of his treasures--queer racks and shells and pebbles that he had
picked up in his wanderings. "Everybody always wants to climb the tower,
and it's mighty hard on a poor old fellow with a weak back, let me tell
you." And again the doleful shake of the head was belied by the twinkle
in his eyes.

"Oh, we're in no hurry, please," put in Billie, turning from one of the
small-paned, outward-opening windows that looked straight out upon the
ocean. "I think this is the darlingest room I ever saw. I could spend
days and days just looking around here."

Connie's Uncle Tom stood six feet two in his stocking feet and was broad
in proportion. He had a shock of reddish brown hair that was becoming
slightly streaked with gray, but his face was clean shaven. His features
were rugged, rather than handsome, but his eyes were large and red-brown
to match his hair and with an everlasting humor in them that made
everybody love him who knew him.

And now he stood looking down at Billie's pretty, eager face, and, though
his face was grave, his eyes were laughing as usual.

"I'm glad you like it," he said. "I do. But then, I have to."

"I should think you'd want to," Billie shot back. "Why, I am sure I would
just love to live here myself----"

"No, you wouldn't," Uncle Tom interrupted, taking up his pipe and puffing
at it thoughtfully. "It's mighty nice in the day time, I'll admit. Then
it's a mighty pretty, homey place. But at night, especially on a stormy
night, it's different. The wind wails round here like a tortured ghost,
the waves beat upon the rock foundation of the tower like savage beasts
trying to tear it apart, and the tower itself seems to quiver and
tremble. And you start to wonder--" the girls had gathered closer to him,
for his voice was grave and his eyes had stopped laughing--"about the
ships away out there in the fury of the storm, some of them crippled,
distressed, sinking perhaps. And you get to thinking about the men and
women, and little children maybe, on board and wondering how many will be
alive when the storm dies down. I tell you it grips you by the throat, it
makes your eyes ache with pity, and you curse the storm that's bringing
disaster along with it."

His hands were clenched, his face was hard and stern, and the girls felt
thrilled, stirred, as they had never been before. But suddenly he jumped
to his feet, went over to the window and stood there looking out for a
moment. And when he came back he was smiling so naturally that the girls
caught themselves wondering if they had not dreamed what had gone before.

"I didn't mean to give you a lecture," he told them gayly. And with
strange reluctance they shook off the spell and smiled with him. "Come
on, let's take a look at the tower, and then I'll give you some clam
chowder. Would you like some clam chowder?"

They were too fresh from breakfast to be wildly enthusiastic even over
clam chowder just then, but they knew the time would come soon when they
would be hungry again, so they assented happily and followed the broad
back of Uncle Tom up the winding tower steps.

They exclaimed over the tower room, and the wonderful revolving light,
but the thing that charmed them most was the platform that completely
encircled the tower.

They reached the platform through a small door, and as the girls stepped
out upon it they felt almost as if they were stepping out into space.

The water seemed unbelievably far away, farther a good deal than it
actually was, and Billie did not dare look down very long for fear of
becoming dizzy.

It was almost half an hour before Uncle Tom finally succeeded in luring
them away from the platform, and then the whole crowd of girls went

They went downstairs with Uncle Tom and listened to his yarns, with Bruce
curled happily up at his master's feet, until the thought of the clam
chowder he had promised them became insistent and Connie asked him
pointblank whether he had forgotten all about it.

Uncle Tom indignantly denied the latter imputation, and set about
preparing the chowder immediately, the girls offering eager but
inexperienced help. Bruce tried to help, too, but only succeeded, as
usual, in getting himself in the way.

And after that came bliss! The girls succeeded in devouring a huge pot of
delicious chowder--it was better than that they had had the night before,
because it was freshly made--and it was after three o'clock before they
finally tore themselves from the lighthouse and Uncle Tom and started for
the Danvers' bungalow.

"Come again and come often," he called after them in his megaphone voice,
one hand stroking Bruce's beautiful head as the big dog stood beside him.

"We will," they answered happily.

"Especially if you give us clam chowder every time," Billie laughed back
at him over her shoulder. "Good-bye, Bruce." She turned once more before
they lost sight of the lighthouse keeper, and there he was, towering in
the doorway, his dog at his side, smoking his corn cob pipe and gazing
thoughtfully out to sea.

"I don't wonder you love him, Connie," she said, shading her eyes with
her hand, for the brilliant sunshine made her blink. "I think he's
wonderful. He's like--like--somebody out of a book."

"Poor Teddy," said Laura, with a wicked side glance at her chum. "I guess
he'd better hurry up, if he's coming."

Billie tried hard to think of something crushing to say in reply, but
before she could speak Connie gave an excited little skip that very
nearly landed her in the sand a couple of feet below the boardwalk.

"Oh, when do you suppose the boys will get here?" she asked eagerly. "I'm
just crazy to go out in that motor boat of Paul's."

"Yes, to have the boys come will be all we need to make us perfectly
happy," declared Vi.

"Well, they ought to be along in a few days now," said Billie. Then she
suddenly caught Connie's arm and pointed out toward the water's edge.

"Look!" she cried. "There are some people in swimming."

"Why, of course," said Connie. "We can go in swimming, too, to-morrow if
we want to. Maybe Uncle Tom will come along. I always feel safer with
him, he's such a wonderful swimmer."

"Oh, I hope so," said Vi, adding plaintively: "I only wish to-morrow
wasn't such a long way off," and she sighed.

The girls walked along in silence for a few minutes. Then Billie spoke as
if she were thinking aloud.

"I wonder," she said, "what your Uncle Tom----"

"You'd better call him your Uncle Tom," said Connie, with a laugh,
"because he's already adopted you."

"All right," agreed Billie. "I wonder what made Uncle Tom speak the way
he did about storms and wrecks and--and--things----"

"Why, since he's a sailor," said Laura, "I suppose he's been in all sorts
of wrecks, and of course he thinks about them most in a storm."

"No," said Connie gravely. "No, that isn't it. You see," she lowered her
voice a little and spoke slowly, "Uncle Tom lost somebody in a wreck
once. She was a very lovely girl, it is said, and Uncle Tom was engaged
to marry her."

The girls' young faces were very sober as they gazed at Connie.

"Oh," said Billie softly. "Now I see. Poor, poor Uncle Tom!"

                               CHAPTER XIX

                            PAUL'S MOTOR BOAT

The days flew by on wings and the girls were surprised to wake one
morning to find that they had been at Lighthouse Island over a week.

They had been bathing and boating and swimming till they were tanned a
beautiful brown, the color not being confined to their faces, but
covering their arms and hands as well.

What with the exercise and Mrs. Danvers' wonderful cooking, they had
gained flesh so fast that they had begun to wonder a little anxiously if
they were "bound for the freak show."

"Why, it's positively dreadful!" Laura declared one morning, feeling
ruefully of her waistline which she was quite certain had expanded at
least two inches. "I've simply got to stop eating, or something."

"Stop eating!" echoed Billie, taking up a handful of sand and letting it
sift slowly through her fingers. "Well, maybe you can do it, Laura dear,
but I certainly can't--not with Connie's mother doing the cooking."

"I don't intend to try, no matter how fat I get," declared Vi.

It was right after breakfast, and the girls had jumped into their bathing
suits, as they did at almost the same time every morning, and were
waiting impatiently for the hour to pass that Mrs. Danvers had insisted
must pass before they went in swimming after breakfast.

"Mother said she might come down this morning and go in with us," said
Connie, her eyes fixed dreamily on the horizon. Then suddenly she sat up
straight and stared.

"What's the matter?" asked Billie. "Seeing ghosts or something?"

"No. But look!" Connie clutched at her arm. "Isn't that a motor boat?"

"That" was a tiny spot that grew bigger as they looked and seemed to be
headed in their direction.

"It's a boat of some sort, I think," said Vi. "But you can't tell whether
it's a motor boat or some other kind of a craft."

"Of course you can," Laura broke in excitedly. "It's got to be a motor
boat because there aren't any sails or anything. It is! It is! Oh, girls!
could it be----"

"The boys?" finished Billie, shading her eyes with her hand and gazing
eagerly out toward the speck that was growing larger every minute. "Oh,
wouldn't it be wonderful?"

"But we're not a bit sure it's the boys," Connie reminded her. "Lots of
motor boats come here in the summer."

"Oh, stop being a kill-joy," Laura commanded, giving her a little shake.
"I just feel it in my bones that the boys are in that boat. Where will
they land, Connie?"

"At the dock, of course," Connie answered, in a tone which said very
plainly: "You ought to have known that without asking."

"Well, let's run around there then," cried Billie, her cheeks red with
excitement. "They won't know what to do if nobody's there to meet them."

As always with Billie, to think a thing was to do it, and before the
girls had a chance to say anything she was off, fleet-footed, down the
sand in the direction of the dock.

The girls stared for a minute, then Laura started in pursuit.

"Come on," she cried. "She's crazy, of course, but we've got to follow
her, I suppose."

Billie had almost reached the dock before they caught up with her. Then
Laura reached out a hand and jerked her to stop.

"Billie," she gasped, "be sensible for just a minute, please. Suppose it
isn't the boys? Then we won't want to be waiting around as though we
wanted somebody to speak to us!"

"Well, but I'm sure it is the boys. You said so yourself," retorted
Billie impatiently, her eyes fixed on the mysterious spot dancing and
bobbing on the glistening water. "And they certainly won't know what to
do if there isn't a soul here to meet them."

"But we don't want to meet them in our bathing suits," said Vi, who, with
Connie, had just come pantingly up. "It wouldn't be just proper, would

Billie looked at her doubtfully a moment, then reluctantly shook her

"No, I don't suppose it would," she admitted, adding with a stamp of her
foot. "But I did want to be here to meet them."

"Well, we can be, if we rush," broke in Connie. "The boat won't reach the
dock for fifteen or twenty minutes anyway, because it's still a long way
off. We may be able to throw some clothes on and be back by that time."

"'Throw' is right," Laura said skeptically, but Billie was already racing
off again in the direction of the cottage. With a helpless little laugh,
the girls followed.

The boys would have declared it could not be done. But the girls proved
that it could. They were panting when they reached the house, stopped
just long enough to explain to the surprised Mrs. Danvers and then
scurried upstairs, and with eager fingers tore off their bathing suits
and substituted their ordinary clothes.

"It's good we didn't go in bathing and get our hair all wet," Vi panted,
but Laura put a hand over her mouth.

"Stop talking," she commanded. "You need your breath!"

As a matter of fact, they were pretty much out of the last-named article
when they reached the dock again. But the great thing was that they had
succeeded in getting there before whoever was in that motor boat made a

"Suppose after all this it isn't the boys?" panted Laura, and Connie gave
her a funny glance.

"Kill-joy," she jeered, paying her back.

Laura was about to retort, but Billie interrupted with a chuckle.

"Stop fighting, girls," she commanded, "and tell me something. Is my hair
on straight?"

"No, it's too much over one eye," replied Connie in the same tone.

Then Vi claimed their attention.

"Look!" she cried. "They are coming around the other side of the dock.
Oh, isn't that a perfectly beautiful boat?"

It was, but the girls were just then too much interested in finding out
who was in the boat to pay very much attention to its beauty. The
graceful craft swung around toward them, the motor was shut off, and the
boat glided easily in to the dock.

The girls were standing a little way back, so as not to appear too
curious, and that was the reason why the boys saw them before they saw
the newcomers.

There was a whoop from the deck of the motor boat, a shout of, "Say,
fellows, look who's here!" and the next moment three sportily clad young
figures leaped out on the dock and made a dash for the girls, leaving the
fourth member of their party protesting vigorously.

The fourth member was none other than Paul Martinson, and, being the
owner and captain of the handsome motor boat, he had no intention of
following the other boys and leaving his craft to wander out to sea.

So he told the boys what he thought of them, which did not do a particle
of good since they did not hear a word he said, and remained in the boat
while he held on to the dock with one hand.

Meanwhile Chet had hugged his sister and Teddy had hugged his sister and
Ferd had declared longingly that he wished he had a sister to hug, it
made him feel lonesome, and there was laughter and noise and confusion

It was Connie who reminded them of poor Paul grumbling away all by
himself in his boat, and the boys ran penitently over to him while the
girls danced after them joyfully.

"Oh, what a splendid boat!"

"Isn't she a beauty!"

"What good times you must have in her."

It was really an unusually handsome craft, and it was little wonder that
Paul regarded it with pride. He invited the girls on board, and they went
into raptures enough over it to satisfy even him.

It was a good fifty feet in length and had a cabin in which one could
stand up if one were not very tall. There were bunks running along both
sides of the cabin that looked like leather-cushioned divans in the
daytime and could be turned into the most comfortable of beds at night.

There was a galley "for'ard," too, where the boys cooked their rather
sketchy meals, and into this the girls poked eagerly curious heads.

"Oh, it's all just the completest thing I've ever seen!" cried Billie,
clapping her hands in delight while Paul looked at her happily. "Those
cunning curtains at the window and--everything!"

"My mother did that," Paul admitted sheepishly, as he followed the girls
out on the deck. "And I didn't like to take them down."

"Well, I should say you wouldn't take them down!" said Connie
indignantly. "The idea! Don't you dream of it! Why, they are just what
make the cabin!"

"But isn't this some deck! Did your mother do this too, Paul?" asked
Laura, her eyes traveling admiringly from the pretty wicker lounging
chairs to the gayly striped awning and brilliant deck rail that shown
like gold in the dazzling sun. "Why, Paul, I never knew a motor boat
could be so pretty and comfy."

"Say, but you ought to see her go!" put in Chet eagerly. "She's as fast a
little boat as she is pretty. Oh, she's great!"

"Yes, it almost makes me wish I had done some studying at school," said
Ferd Stowing, rubbing his head ruefully. "Maybe if I had my dad would
have given me an aeroplane or something."

After they had fastened the boat securely to the dock so that there was
no danger of its floating off they turned reluctantly away from the dock
and started off toward the Danvers' cottage.

Then the girls tried to tell the boys all that had happened since they
had last met and the boys tried to do the same, the result being hopeless
confusion and perfect happiness.

"Say, make believe that beach doesn't look good!" exclaimed Teddy to
Billie, for they had fallen a little behind the rest. "And the good old
ocean--say, what a day for a swim!"

"That's just what we were going to do when we saw you coming," Billie
confided, thinking how exceedingly handsome he looked in his white
trousers and dark coat. Then she told him of the wild scramble they had
had to get dressed, and she looked so pretty in the telling of it that he
did not hear much of what she was saying to him for looking at her.

"But what made you so sure it was us?" asked Teddy ungrammatically.

Billie chuckled and gave a little skip of pure happiness.

"Laura said she felt it in her bones," she said.

                               CHAPTER XX

                             OUT OF THE FOG

That afternoon the boys and girls went in swimming and that evening
Connie's mother treated them all to a substantial dinner such as only she
knew how to cook.

And the way it disappeared before those ravenous girls and boys made even
Mr. Danvers hold up his hands in consternation. But Connie's mother
laughed happily, pressed them to eat everything up, "for it would only
spoil," and looked more than ever like Connie's older sister.

That night the boys were put up in a spare room which contained one bed
and two cots which Connie's mother always kept stowed away for
emergencies. For the cottage on Lighthouse Island was a popular place
with Mrs. Danvers' relatives and friends, and she often had unexpected

They went out on the porch a little while after supper, and the boys were
at their funniest and kept the girls in a continual gale of merriment.

The time passed so quickly that before they knew it eleven o'clock chimed
out from the hall inside and in consternation Connie's mother hurried
them all off to bed.

"To-morrow is another day," she added with a little smile.

As they started up the stairs Teddy looked down at Billie and said

"Say, Billie, you've got _some_ sunburn, haven't you? You're--you're
mighty pretty."

Then Teddy blushed and Billie blushed, and Billie hoped with all her
heart that Laura had not heard it.

Laura had not, for she was talking and laughing with Paul Martinson and
Connie. And so Billie, running ahead and reaching her room first, turned
on the light and stepped over to the mirror.

Was that Billie, she wondered, who gazed back at her from the mirror? For
this girl was surely prettier than Billie ever had been. Her eyes were
shining, her cheeks were flushed under their tan, and her hair, a little
tumbled by the breeze from the sea, made an unexpectedly pretty frame for
a very lovely face.

The next day the girls insisted that the boys take them out in their
motor boat. The boys protested a little, for the sun was acting rather
queerly--going under a cloud and staying there sometimes for half an hour
on a stretch.

"I don't know," said Paul, a doubtful eye on the sky. "It isn't what you
could call a real clear day, girls, and I don't want to take any chances
with you."

"Oh, we're not afraid, if you're not," sang out Laura teasingly, and he
turned round upon her with a scowl.

"I'm not afraid for myself, and I think probably you know that. Just the

"Oh, but here's the sun!" called Vi suddenly, as the sun burst forth from
the cloud and showered a golden glory over everything. "It's going to be
a beautiful day--just beautiful."

So it was settled, and amid great fun and laughter they picked up the
lunch that Connie's mother prepared for them and started happily off,
humming as they went.

As they clambered aboard _The Shelling_--Paul had named his craft after
Captain Shelling, the master of Boxton Military Academy,--the sun went
under a cloud again, and this cloud was bigger and blacker than any that
had swallowed it before. But Laura's taunt still rang in Paul's ears, and
he said nothing.

In a little while there was no need for words. The girls began to see for
themselves that Paul had been right and that it would have been far
better if they had waited till a really clear day.

They had put some distance between them and the mainland when the sun
went under a cloud for good, and a cool little breeze began to rise.

This had been going on for some time before they even realized it, they
were having such fun. Then it was Connie who spoke.

"Doesn't it look a little--a little--threatening, Paul?" she asked
timidly. "Do you suppose it is going to rain?"

"No, I don't think it's going to rain," Paul answered, his hands on the
wheel, his eyes rather anxiously fixed on the water ahead. "But I do
think we're going to have one of those sudden heavy mists that come off
the coast here. Dad said to look out for them, because they're thick
enough to cut, and if you get caught in one you can't see your hand
before your face."

The girls were sober enough now as they looked at each other.

"But what makes you think we're going to have one, Paul?" asked Laura

"Because the air is so still and muggy," Paul answered, then added with a
wave of his hand out over the water: "Look--do you see that?"

"That" was a faint, misty cloudlike vapor hanging so low that it seemed
almost to touch the water. And suddenly the girls were conscious that
their hair was wet and also their hands and their clothes.

"Goodness, we must be in it now!" said Vi looking wonderingly down at her
damp skirt. "Only it's so light you can't see it."

"I'm afraid it won't be light very long," said Paul grimly, as he swung
_The Shelling_ around and headed back the way they had come.

"What are you going to do?" asked Laura, still more humbly, for she now
was beginning to think that she was to blame for the fix they were in--if
indeed it were a fix.

"I'm going to get back to land as soon as I can," Paul answered her.
"Before this fog closes down on us."

"What would happen, Paul?" asked Billie softly. "I mean if it should
close down on us."

"We'd be lost," said Paul shortly, for by this time he was more than
anxious. He was worried.

"Lost!" they repeated, and looked at each other wide-eyed.

"Well, you needn't look as if that was the end of the world," said Teddy,
trying to speak lightly. "All we would have to do would be to keep on
drifting around till the fog lifted. It's simple."

"Yes, it's simple all right," said Chet gloomily. "If we don't run into

"Run into anything!" gasped Connie, while the other girls just stared.
"Oh, Paul, is there really any danger of that?"

"Of course," said Paul impatiently, noticing that the fog was growing
thicker and blacker every moment. "There's always danger of running into
something when you get yourself lost in a fog. And it's the little boat
that gets the worst of it," he added gloomily.

"Say, can't you try being cheerful for a change?" cried Teddy
indignantly, for he had noticed how white Billie was getting and was
trying his best to think of something to say that would make her laugh.
"There's no use of singing a funeral song yet, you know."

"No, and there's no use in starting a dance, either," retorted Paul,
wondering how much longer he would be able to keep his course. "We're in
a mighty bad fix, and no harm can be done by everybody knowing it. I
can't possibly get back to the island--or the mainland either--before
this fog settles down upon us."

It took a minute or two for this to sink in. There was no doubt about it.
He was telling them that in a few minutes they would be lost in this
horrible fog. And that might mean--they shivered and turned dismayed
faces to each other.

"I--oh, I'm awfully sorry," wailed Laura. "If I hadn't said what I did to
Paul we might never have come."

"Nonsense! that had nothing to do with it," said Billie, putting a loyal
arm about her chum. "We would have come just the same."

Then followed a waking nightmare for the boys and girls. In a few moments
the fog settled down upon them in a thick impenetrable veil, so dense
that, as Paul had said, you could almost have cut it.

It became impossible for Paul to steer, and all there was to do was to
sit still and wait and hope for the best. Fog horns were sounding all
about, some seeming so close that the girls fully expected to see some
great shape loom up through the mist, bearing down upon them.

For a long time nobody spoke--they were too busy listening to the weird
meanings of the fog horns and wondering how they could have escaped a
collision so long. For a while Paul had kept the engine running in the
hope that he might be able to keep to his course and eventually get to
Lighthouse Island. But he had decided that this only made a collision
more likely, and so had shut it off. And now they had been floating for
what seemed hours to the miserable boys and girls.

It was Connie who finally broke the silence.

"Oh, dear," she said, apropos of nothing at all, "now I suppose we'll
have to die and never solve our mystery after all." She sighed
plaintively, and the girls had a wild desire to shout with laughter and
cry at the same time.

"Goodness," said Laura hysterically, "if we've got to die who cares about
mysteries anyway?"

The boys, who had been peering ahead into the heavy unfriendly fog,
looked at the girls in surprise.

"What do you mean--mystery?" Ferd asked.

Before the girls could answer a sharp cry from Paul jerked their eyes
back to him.

"Look!" he cried, one hand on the wheel and the other pointing excitedly
before them to a dark something which loomed suddenly out of the mist.
"There! To starboard. We'll bump it sure!"

                               CHAPTER XXI

                         THE BOYS ARE INTERESTED

For a moment the girls were too terrified to speak. And the next moment
they could not have spoken if they had wanted to, for _The Shelling_
collided so suddenly with whatever it was that had risen out of the mist
that they had all they could do to keep from being thrown to the deck.

Then Paul gave a cry of joy and sprang wildly to the side of the boat.

"Say, how's this for luck, fellows?" he cried. "I thought it was another
boat and that we were bound for Davy Jones' locker sure, and here it's
the dock instead. Say, talk about luck! I'll say it's grand!"

"The dock!" the others echoed wonderingly. The sudden relief was so great
that they were feeling rather dazed.

"You mean it's our dock--Lighthouse Island?" Connie asked stupidly, and
Paul's answer was impatient.

"I guess it is--looks like it," he said. "But then it doesn't matter much
what dock it is as long as it's _a_ dock. What do you people say to going

What they said was soon shown by the eagerness with which they scrambled
on to the dock. And when they found that it was really Lighthouse Island
dock their thankfulness was mixed with awe.

"Why, it's a miracle!" said Vi, staring wide-eyed about her.

"That's just about what it looks like," agreed Chet soberly.

"A miracle!" exclaimed Ferd derisively. "It's just that the wind and the
tide happened to be going in the right way, that's all."

"Well, it's a miracle that the wind and the tide did happen to be going
the right way," retorted Laura.

"Yes, and it's another miracle," said Billie softly, "that even with the
wind and the tide going the right way we didn't run into something before
we got here."

"I guess we did come pretty close to it," said Teddy soberly, staring out
into the heavy mist that still showed no sign of lifting. "I don't know
about the rest of you, but I do know that I'm mighty glad to be on the
good old ground again. It beats the water, just now."

"You bet," said Paul fervently, as he made his boat fast to the dock. "It
would have been a hot note if I'd had to lose my boat that way after
working all year to earn it."

The girls and boys stared at him in surprise for a moment. Then they
laughed, and the laughter broke the tension that they had been under and
made them feel more natural.

"Never mind us as long as you saved your boat," said Ferd with a chuckle.
"Come on, folks. It's mighty damp out here. I'll be glad when we can get
under cover and dry out a bit. Gee, but I'll say I'm some wet."

"And Mother will be just worried to death," cried Connie penitently, for
this was the very first minute she had given her mother a thought. "Oh,
let's hurry."

They were starting off almost at a run when Billie called to them.

"Do you know we forgot something?" she asked. Then she pointed to the
untouched lunch hamper which Mrs. Danvers had heaped high with good
things. This was still standing close to the railing on the deck of _The
Shelling_ where the boys had put it when they climbed aboard.

"We forgot all about eating," she said in an incredulous voice. "Now I
know we were scared."

"Say, what do you know about that?" asked Ferd weakly. "I'd have said it
couldn't be done."

"And it must be away past lunch time, too," added Chet.

"Oh, gosh! why did you go and remind me I was starving?" groaned Teddy,
and with a quick movement he leaped into the boat and caught up the
basket. "Come on, who's first?" he cried.

But Billie stopped him by pressing a determined hand down on the lid.

"Not here," she begged. "We're all wet and uncomfortable, and we'll enjoy
it ever so much more if we wait till we get to the house. Please, Teddy,
now mind."

Teddy looked longingly at the basket, then at Billie, and gave in.

"All right," he said. "Only we'll have to walk fast!"

When they reached the cottage they found Connie's mother almost beside
herself with anxiety and Connie's father doing his best to soothe her. So
that when the young folks came in the door looking rather damp and
bedraggled but safe, Mrs. Danvers cried out joyfully, ran to them, and
hugged them one after another till she was completely and rapturously out
of breath.

"You precious kiddies!" she cried, standing back and regarding them with
shining eyes. "You will never know how horribly worried Dad and I have
been. You poor children, why, you are soaked through! And," as her eyes
fell on the basket, "you don't mean to tell me you haven't had any lunch.
Oh dear, oh dear! Run into the library, the lot of you. Daddy made a fire
thinking if we ever did get you back you'd need some drying out--and you
can be starting in on sandwiches while I make you some hot chocolate. Now
run along--quick." And she disappeared into the kitchen while the young
folks went on into the library.

Connie would have run after her mother to offer her help, but Mr. Danvers
stopped her.

"I'll help Mother," he said. "You run along with the others, dear, and
get warmed through. I don't want my little girl to catch cold. It might
spoil your whole summer."

So Connie went on into the library and found that the boys had arranged
the chairs in a semicircle around the fire and were already opening the
lunch basket.

Mrs. Danvers came in a few minutes later with the chocolate, and, oh, how
that hot drink did taste! She demanded to know all about everything. They
told her, speaking one at a time, two at a time, and all at once, till it
was a wonder she could make any sense out of it at all. But when she and
her husband did realize how terribly close the young folks had been to
disaster they looked very sober and in their hearts thanked Providence
for guiding them back to safety.

After they had eaten, the girls and boys felt very lazy and lingered in
the pretty library before the open fire till the shadows began to fall.

"I hope we have half-way decent weather to start out on to-morrow," said
Paul suddenly as he gazed out of the window.

"Oh! must you go _to-morrow_?" asked Billie, with such genuine regret
that Teddy looked at her sideways.

"I'm afraid so," said Paul, also turning to look at her. "We've had a
bully good time and we'd like to stay longer, but you see I promised Dad
I'd pick him up a little farther along the coast and I can't do it unless
we start to-morrow."

"But suppose it isn't a nice day?" Connie put in. "Will you go anyway?"

"Oh, of course, if it was really stormy we couldn't. We would have to
wire Dad or something. But I think it's going to be clear to-morrow," he
finished cheerfully.

Connie shook her head.

"I don't know about that," she said. "Uncle Tom says that a terribly
heavy mist like this generally forecasts a storm, and a pretty bad storm,

"Well, we don't have to worry about that now, anyway," said Teddy,
stretching his long legs out contentedly toward the fire. "Let's enjoy
ourselves while we can. By the way," he added, turning to Billie, and
Billie thought that Teddy was getting better looking every minute--or was
it the firelight? "What did you girls mean by speaking of a mystery? We
haven't heard a word about any mystery."

"Of course you haven't. You don't suppose we tell you _everything_, do
you?" said Laura, with a sisterly sniff.

"Well, but what did you mean?" asked Ferd, adding his voice to Teddy's
while the other boys seemed interested.

The girls looked at one another and then at Billie.

"Shall we tell them?" asked Vi.

"I don't see why we shouldn't," Billie answered, her eyes on the fire.
"Of course we don't know that there's any mystery about it. It only looks
queer, that's all."

Then with the help of the girls she told the boys all about the man who
lived in a hut in the woods and called himself Hugo Billings, and also
about Miss Arbuckle and the album she had been so overjoyed to recover.
The boys listened with an interest that fast changed to excitement.

"Well, I should say there was something queer about it!" Ferd Stowing
broke out at last. "Especially about the man who lives in the woods and
makes fern baskets. He's either crazy or he's a thief or something."

"Gee, I wish you had told us about it while we were there!" said Chet
regretfully. "We might have been able to find out something--landed him
in jail maybe."

"Then I'm glad we didn't tell you," said Billie promptly.

"Why?" asked Chet, amazed.

"Because I felt awfully sorry for him," his sister answered softly. "And
I'd rather help him than hurt him. I'd like to see him smile again."


"Yes, for he looked so awfully downhearted."

                              CHAPTER XXII

                          THE FURY OF THE STORM

The next day the boys went off again in spite of Mrs. Danvers' entreaties
to stay another night or two until the weather showed definite signs of
clearing up.

But the boys were decided--saying that since the mist had lifted they had
really no excuse for staying longer, and as Paul was evidently very
anxious to get to his father, Mrs. Danvers had nothing else to do but to
give in.

"It's true, the fog has lifted," she admitted, gazing up anxiously at an
overcast sky, "but after a calm like this we are sure to have a
storm--how much of one it's hard to tell. Well, go on. But promise me to
stay close to the mainland and to put in to shore if the weather man
looks too threatening."

The boys promised and the girls waved to them until _The Shelling_ was
only a tiny speck on the water. Then they turned rather sadly back toward
the Danvers' home.

"I feel as if somebody were dead or something," complained Vi, as they
neared the bungalow. "I don't know what's the matter with me."

"It's the weather, I guess," said Billie, feeling low in spirits
herself--a very unusual state for merry Billie. "We shall all feel better
when the sun comes out."

"If it ever does," said Laura, gloomily.

"It's got to," said Vi.

Half way home they saw Uncle Tom hurrying toward them with Robert Bruce
at his heels, and they wondered what the matter was.

"Hello!" he cried when he came within earshot. "I was just going to see
your dad, Connie. The boys haven't gone yet, have they?"

And when Connie said that they had he looked so grave that the girls were

"Why, Uncle Tom, what's the matter?" asked Connie fearfully.

"Matter enough," said Uncle Tom, turning to scowl up at the overcast sky.
"It's as much as those youngsters' lives are worth for them to set out
to-day. Why, there's a storm on the way," and he fixed his eyes gravely
on the girls, "such as this old Maine coast hasn't seen for years. Why,
every captain who can read the signs is going to make straight for the
nearest port, or if he is too far away to make port before the storm
breaks, he's going to get down on his knees and pray the good Lord to
make his old ship staunch enough to stand the test. It will be upon us by
night." His eyes sought the wild dreary waste of water and he spoke as
though to himself. "Lord, how I dread to-night!"

"But, Uncle Tom, what can we do about the boys?" Connie shook his arm
fiercely. "Why, if we have the kind of storm you say they may be drowned!
Oh, can't we do something?"

Uncle Tom's eyes came back from the horizon and he shook his head slowly.

"I don't know that there's much we can do--now," he said. "If they have
any sense they'll put in to port before the storm breaks. That is if they
stick close in to shore."

"They said they would," Billie put in eagerly. "Oh, I hope they do!"

Uncle Tom nodded absently, for his mind seemed to be upon other things.

"Then they ought to be all right," he said, adding, while the lines
deepened about his mouth: "But Heaven help the ships that can't put into
shore to-night."

He turned slowly and strode away from them toward the lighthouse with
Bruce still following worshipfully after him. He had forgotten they were

"Poor Uncle Tom!" said Connie, as they went slowly on toward the
bungalow. "He always gets so queer when there's a storm along the coast.
I guess it makes him think of--her."

                    *       *       *       *       *

It was night, and the storm had burst in all its fury. The four girls and
Connie's mother had gathered in the little front sitting room on the
second floor.

Mr. Danvers had started a few minutes before to press the button that
would flood the room with light, but Billie had begged him not to.

"I want to see the light in the tower," she had pleaded, adding softly:
"Somehow I'm not quite so afraid for the ships out there when I see the
light. Oh, listen to that wind!"

"I don't see how we can very well help it," said Vi, with a little shiver
and cuddling up close to Billie on the window seat and slipping a hand
into hers. "Oh--h!" and she clapped her hand to her ears as the wind rose
to a wailing scream and the windows all over the house shook and rattled
with the impact.

"I guess Uncle Tom was right," said Connie, from somewhere out of the
darkness. "Dad says, too, that this is the worst summer storm we have had
around these parts for years. Oh, I do hope the boys are safe somewhere
on shore."

"I don't think we need worry about them," said Mr. Danvers. Or rather he
started to say it, but at that moment the wind rose with insane fury,
bringing the rain with it in driving torrents that beat swishingly upon
the sand and drove viciously against the windows.

He waited for a moment until the wind died down. Then he began again.

"The storm was a long time in coming," he said. "The boys had plenty of
warning. Paul is very cautious, and I know he wouldn't go on in the face
of such danger. But," and he turned toward the window again, "heaven help
the ship that can't make port to-night."

"That's almost exactly what Uncle Tom said," remarked Connie, and then
there was silence in the little room again while outside the storm raged
and the light from the lighthouse tower sent its warning far out over the
foam-crested waves.

The girls went to bed at last. Not because they expected to sleep, but
because Connie's mother insisted.

"Poor Uncle Tom!" murmured Billie to herself as, in her little white
nightie, she stood at the window looking out toward the lighthouse tower.
"All alone out there. What was it he said? 'You think of the men and the
women and the little children out there on the sinking ships, and you
curse the storm that's bringing disaster along with it.' Poor, poor Uncle
Tom! I wonder if he _is_ thinking of--her."

And with a sigh she turned from the window and crept into bed beside

Toward morning the girls were awakened from an uneasy sleep by a strange
white light flashed suddenly in their eyes. They stumbled out of bed,
dazed by the suddenness with which they had been awakened and stared out
into the black night.

"What was it?" gasped Billie. "Oh my, there it is again!"

"The searchlight," cried Connie, running over to the window, her eyes
wide with horror. "Billie, that's the signal to the life-savers. And
there goes the siren," she groaned, clapping her hands over her ears as
the moan of the siren rose wailingly into the night. "It's a wreck!

"A wreck!" cried a voice behind them, and they turned to see Laura in the
doorway with Vi peering fearfully over her shoulder. "Oh, girls, I was
just dreaming----"

"Never mind what you were dreaming," cried Billie, beginning to pull on
her clothes with trembling hands. "If it is a wreck, girls, we may be
able to do something to help. Oh, where is my other stocking? Did any one
see it? Never mind, here it is. Oh, hurry, girls; please, hurry."

Twice more while they were dressing the searchlight flashed round upon
the island, filling their rooms with that weird white light, and the
siren wailed incessantly its wild plea for help.

The girls were just pulling on their waterproof coats when Connie's
mother, white and trembling, appeared in the doorway and stared with
amazement at sight of them.

"I heard you talking, girls," she said, "and knew you were awake. I hoped
you would sleep through it."

"Sleep through _that_?" asked Connie, as the siren rose to a shriek and
then died off into a despairing moan. "Oh, Mother----"

"But what are you going to do, kiddies?" asked Mrs. Danvers, taking a
step toward them. "The life-savers will be coming soon--perhaps they are
at work now--and they will do all that can be done. Why are you putting
on your coats?"

"Oh, please, please don't make us stay at home," begged Billie, turning
an earnest, troubled face to Connie's mother. "We may not be able to do
anything to help, but we shall at least be there if we should be needed."

"Muddie, dear, we couldn't stay here, we just couldn't," added Connie,
and with a little choked cry Mrs. Danvers turned away.

"You darling, darling kiddies," she cried. "Run along then if you must.
Only," she stopped at the doorway to look earnestly back at them, "don't
go any farther than the lighthouse until Dad and I come. We'll be along
right away."

The girls ran down the stairs, and Connie opened the front door with
hands that fumbled nervously at the lock. As the door swung open the wind
sprang at them like a living thing, taking their breath, making them
stagger back into the hall.

"Th--that wind!" cried Laura, clenching her hands angrily. "I'd like to
kill it! Come on, girls."

Laura rushed out into the storm while the other girls followed, pulling
the door shut behind them.

                              CHAPTER XXIII

                            FIGHTING FOR LIFE

Foot by foot they fought their way through the storm, conscious that
other hurrying forms passed them from time to time. Their minds were
fixed upon one thing. They must get to Uncle Tom. He would be able to
tell them everything and perhaps let them know how they could help.

But they soon found that just getting to the lighthouse was a problem.
Time and again they had to stop and turn their backs to the furious wind
in order to catch enough breath to fight their way on.

"Look!" Connie had shouted once, pointing toward the east. "It must be
almost morning. The sky is getting light."

As they hurried on they became more and more conscious that everybody
seemed to be heading in the same direction--toward the lighthouse.

"The shoal!" gasped Connie in Billie's ear. "The wind must have driven
some ship upon it, and in this gale----"

But she never finished the sentence, for at this minute they came out
upon the Point where the lighthouse stood and stopped dead at the scene
that met their eyes.

The Point was black with people all gesticulating and pointing excitedly
out toward a great shape which, looming grayly against the lifting
blackness of the sky, staggered and swayed like a drunken thing in the
grip of the gigantic foam-tipped waves.

"Oh," moaned Connie, "it's just as I thought! There's Uncle Tom. Come on,
Billie." And she elbowed her way through the crowd to where Uncle Tom
stood, his great height making him conspicuous among the other men,
bawling out directions to the life-savers who were just making ready to
launch their staunch little boats.

"Say, do you call this hurrying?" Uncle Tom was crying, his eyes
traveling from the life-savers to the wreck and back again. "Don't you
see she's just hanging on by her eyelashes? Another sea like that and you
won't have a chance to save anybody. Good boys--that's the idea. Bend
your backs, my lads. God help you--and them!" he added under his breath,
his eyes on the laboring vessel.

"Uncle Tom!" cried Connie, tugging at his arm, "have they got a
chance--those people out there? Have they?"

He glanced down at her for a moment, then his eyes sought the furious
sea. He shook his head and his hands clenched tight at his sides.

"About one chance in a thousand," he muttered, more to himself than to
her. "The Evil One's in the sea to-night. I never saw the like of it--but

Then followed a struggle of human might against the will of the
overpowering elements--a struggle that the girls never forgot. On, on,
fought the gallant men in the staunch little boats. On, on toward the
quivering giant that hung on the edge of destruction--her fate the fate
of all the lives on board.

The storm that had beaten her on to the treacherous shoal was now doing
its best to loosen her hold upon it. And that hold was the one slender
thread that kept alive the hope of the passengers on board.

If the pounding waves once succeeded in pushing her back into the deeper
water of the channel, nothing could save her. The great hole ripped in
her side by the impact with the shoal would fill with water, and in five
minutes there would be nothing left but the swirling water to mark the
spot where she had been.

And the passengers! At the thought Billie cried out aloud and clenched
her fists.

"Oh, oh, it can't be, it can't be! Those boats will never reach her in
time. Oh, isn't there something somebody can do?" She turned pleadingly
to Uncle Tom, but the look on his face startled her and she followed his
set gaze out to sea.

"No, there isn't anything anybody can do--now," he said.

The storm had had its way at last. The elements had won. With a rending
of mighty timbers the tortured ship slid backward off the shoal and into
the deep waters of the channel.

"There she goes!"

"That's the last of that vessel!"

"I wonder if any of the folks on board got off safely."

"I couldn't see--the spray almost blinds a fellow."

Such were some of the remarks passed around as the ship on the shoal
slipped slowly from view.

The girls clung to each other in an agony of suspense. Never had they
dreamed that they would witness such a dreadful catastrophe as was now
unfolding before them.

"Oh, Billie, this is dreadful!" groaned Laura, her face white with

"I can hardly bear to look at it," whimpered Vi. "Just think of those
poor people! I am sure every one of them will be drowned."

"Some of them must have gotten away in the small boats," answered Billie.

"I didn't see any of the boats," protested Connie. "But, of course, you
can't see much of anything in such a storm as this."

"All we can do is to hope for the best," said Billie soberly.

"It's the worst thing I ever heard of," sighed Vi. "Why must we have such
storms as this to tear such a big ship apart!"

A groan went up from the watchers, and many of them turned away. They
could not see the end.

But the girls stared, fascinated, too dazed by the tragedy to turn their
eyes away.

The life-savers, who had almost reached the ship, backed off a little,
knowing that they could not help the passengers now and fearful of being
drawn under by the suction themselves.

The great ship hesitated a moment, trembled convulsively through all her
frame, then her stern reared heavenward as though protesting against her
fate, and slowly, majestically, she sank from view beneath the swirling

Then the girls did turn their eyes away, and blindly, sobbingly, they
stumbled back through the crowd toward the lighthouse.

"Oh, Billie, Billie, they will all be drowned!" sobbed Laura. The tears
were running down her face unchecked. "Oh, what shall we do?"

"If they could only have held on just a few minutes more," said Vi,
white-faced, "the life-savers would then have had a chance to have taken
them off."

"They may save some of them anyway," said Billie, her voice sounding
strange even to herself. "The life-savers will pick up anybody who
manages to get free of the wreck, you know."

"Yes; but Uncle Tom says that when a ship sinks like that it is hard to
save anybody," said Connie, twisting her handkerchief into a damp little
ball. "Girls," she said, turning upon them eyes that were wide with
horror, "it makes me crazy to think of it. Out there, those people are

"Oh, don't" cried Billie, pressing her hands to her ears. "I--I can't
stand it. Girls, I've got to walk!" And Billie started off almost at a
run along the beach, fighting her way against the wind.

The other girls followed her, and for a while they ran along, not knowing
whither they were going, or caring. All they wanted was to forget the
horror of the thing they had seen.

"What's that?"

Billie stepped back so quickly that she almost lost her footing in the
slippery sand.

"What do you mean, Billie?"


"Why, it--it looks like----"

"Come on. Let's find out." And Billie ran to the thing that looked like a
large piece of driftwood washed up on the sand by the heavy sea.

And as she reached it she drew in her breath sharply and brushed a hand
across her eyes to make sure she was not dreaming. On the thing that was
not a piece of driftwood at all, but looked like a sort of crudely and
hastily constructed raft, were lashed three small, unconscious little

"Girls, look!" she almost screamed above the shrill wind. "Do you see
them, too?"

"Why--why, they are children!" cried Laura. "Oh, Billie, do you suppose
they're alive?"

"I don't know," said Billie, dropping to her knees beside the three
pitiful little figures. Two of them were girls, twins evidently, and the
third was a smaller child, a boy. Something in their baby attitudes,
perhaps their very helplessness, stung Billie to sudden action.

"Help me get them loose!" she cried to the other girls, who were still
staring stupidly. "I don't know whether they're dead or not yet. But they
will be if we don't hurry. Oh, girls, stop staring and help me!"

Then how they worked! The slippery wet rope that bound the little forms
was knotted several times, and the girls thought they must scream with
the nightmare of it before they got the last knot undone.

"There! At last!" cried Billie, flinging the rope aside and trying to
lift one of the little girls. She found it surprisingly easy, for the
child was pitifully thin. She staggered to her feet, holding the little
form tight to her.

Laura and Vi each took one of the children and Connie offered to help
whoever gave out first. Then they started back to the lighthouse. Luckily
for them, the wind was at their backs, or they never could have made the
trip back.

When they reached the Point they found that most of the crowd had
dispersed. Only a few stragglers remained to talk over the tragedy in
awed and quiet whispers.

These stared as the girls with their strange burdens fought their way
toward the door of the lighthouse. Some even started forward as though to
offer assistance, but the girls did not notice them.

Through the window Billie could see Uncle Tom standing before his
mantelpiece, head dropped wearily on his arm. Then Connie opened the door
and they burst in upon him.

"Oh, Uncle Tom!" she gasped. "Please come here, quick!"

                              CHAPTER XXIV

                          THREE SMALL SURVIVORS

It did not take Uncle Tom very long, experienced as he was, to bring the
three children back to consciousness. As it was, they had been more
affected by the cold and the fright than anything else, for the raft,
crude as it was, had kept them above the surface of the waves and saved
their lives.

As the girls bent over them eagerly, helping Uncle Tom as well as they
could, the faint color came back to the pinched little faces, and slowly
the children opened their eyes.

"Oh, they are alive, bless 'em," cried Billie, jumping to her feet. But
the quick action seemed to terrify the children, and they cried out in
alarm. In a minute Billie was back on her knees beside them, looking at
them wonderingly.

"Why, what's the matter?" she asked, putting out her hand to the little
boy, who shrank away from her and raised an arm before his eyes. "Why,
honey, did you really think Billie would hurt a nice little boy like

But all three children had begun to cry, and Billie looked helplessly at
her chums.

Uncle Tom had spread a large rug on the floor and had laid the children
on it while he worked over them. Up to this time he had been on his knees
beside the girls, but now he got to his feet and looked down at them

"Somebody's been mistreating 'em," he said, his eyes on the three
cowering, pathetic little figures. "Poor little mites--poor little mites!
Found 'em on a sort of raft, you say? Washed up by the waves?"

The girls nodded, and Billie, putting a tender arm around the little
fellow, succeeded in drawing him up close to her while Laura and Vi tried
to do the same with the little girls. Connie was watching her Uncle Tom.

"H'm," said the latter, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Folks on the
ship probably--drowned out there. Poor little waifs. Kind of up to us to
take care of 'em, I reckon."

"Of course it is," cried Connie, jumping to her feet. "Uncle Tom, where
did Mother and Daddy go?"

"On, toward the house," said Uncle Tom, nodding his head in the direction
of the bungalow. "When they couldn't find you they got kind o' worried
and thought you must have made tracks for home."

"Here they come now," cried Laura, for through the windows she had caught
sight of Mr. and Mrs. Danvers hurrying along the walk toward the

"Oh, I'm glad," said Billie, hugging the little boy to her and smoothing
his damp hair back from his forehead. The child had stopped crying and
had snuggled close to Billie, lying very still like a little kitten who
has found shelter and comfort in the midst of a wilderness. The soft
little confiding warmth of him very suddenly made Billie want to cry.
"Your mother will know what to do," she said to Connie.

"Mother always does," said Connie confidently, and a minute later opened
the door to admit two very much wind-blown, exhausted and very anxious

"Oh, kiddies, what a fright you gave us!" cried Connie's mother, looking
very pale and tired as she leaned against the door post while Mr. Danvers
patted her hand gently and tried not to look too much relieved. "Where
did you go? Why, girls----" She stopped short in absolute amazement and
bewilderment as she caught sight of Laura and Vi and Billie on the floor,
each with a child clasped in her arms. "Where did you get them?"

She did not wait for an answer. She flew across the room and, dropping to
her knees, gazed at the children who at this new intrusion had started
away from the girls and regarded her with wide, doubtful eyes.

"Why, you precious little scared babies, you!" she cried, pushing the
girls away and gathering the children to her. "I don't know where you
came from, but what you need is mothering. Where did they come from?" she
asked, looking up at Uncle Tom.

"From out there," said Uncle Tom gravely, waving his hand toward the spot
where the ship had gone down. Then he quickly told her and Mr. Danvers
what the girls had told him. They did not interrupt. Only, when he had
finished, Mrs. Danvers was crying and not trying to hide it.

"Oh, those poor, poor people!" she sobbed. "And these poor little
frightened, miserable children all, all there is left. Oh, I'll never get
over the horror of it. Never, never! John," she added, looking up at her
husband with one of those quick changes of mood that the girls had
learned to expect in her, "will you and Tom help me get the children
home? They mustn't be left like this in dripping clothes. They'll catch
their death of cold. What they need is a hot bath and something to eat,
and then bed. Poor little sweethearts, they are just dropping for sleep."

So Uncle Tom took one of the little girls, Mr. Danvers another, and
Connie's mother insisted upon carrying the little boy.

"Why, he's nothing at all to carry," she said, when her husband
protested. "Poor child--he's only skin and bones."

So the strange procession started for the bungalow, the girls, tired out
with nerve strain and excitement, bringing up the rear. But they did not
know they were tired. The mystery of the three strange little waifs
washed up to them by the sea had done a good deal to erase even the
horror of the wreck.

"And we haven't the slightest idea in the world who they really are or
whom they belong to," Connie was saying as they turned in at the walk.
"It is a mystery, girls, a _real_ mystery this time. And I don't know how
we'll solve it."

But they forgot the mystery for the time being in the pleasure of seeing
the waifs bathed and wrapped in warm things from the girls' wardrobes and
fed as only Connie's mother could feed such children.

Gradually the fear died out of the children's eyes, and once the little
boy even reached over timidly and put a soft, warm hand in Billie's.

"You darling," she choked, bending over to kiss the little hand. "You're
not afraid of Billie now, are you?"

The little girls, who were twins and as like as two peas, were harder to
win over. But by love and tenderness Connie's mother and the girls
managed it at last.

And then eyes grew drowsy, tired little heads nodded, and Connie's
mother, with a look at Mr. Danvers, who had been hovering in the
background all the time, picked up one of the little girls and started
for the stairs.

"I'm going to tuck them in bed," she said, speaking softly. "We can put
them in our room, John--in the big bed."

A few minutes later the girls stood in Mrs. Danvers' room, looking down
at three little flushed faces, three tousled heads that belonged to three
very sound-asleep little children.

Connie's mother tiptoed out of the room and motioned to the girls to
follow, but they lingered for a minute.

"Aren't they lovely?" asked Connie, with a catch in her voice.

"They're beautiful," said Laura. "Especially the little boy."

"And they ate," said Vi softly, "as if they had been half starved. Poor
little things--I wonder who they are?"

"Girls," said Billie gravely, "I suppose you will laugh at me when I tell
you, but ever since I first saw them I have had a strange feeling----"

"Yes," they said impatiently, as she paused.

"That I have seen them somewhere before," she finished, looking at them
earnestly. "And now, as they lie there I'm almost sure of it."

"Seen them before?" repeated Connie, forgetting in her astonishment to
lower her voice, so that the little boy stirred restlessly. Billie drew
them out into the hall.

"Come into our room," she said; and they followed her in wondering

"I wish you would say that all over again, Billie," said Vi eagerly, when
they had drawn their chairs up close to Billie. "You said you had seen
them before?"

"No, I said I thought I had seen them before," said Billie, frowning with
the effort to remember. "It seems foolish, I know----"

"But, Billie, if you feel like that you must have some reason for it,"
said Laura eagerly.

There followed a silence during which Billie frowned some more and the
girls watched her eagerly. Then she disappointed them by suddenly jumping
up and starting for the door.

"Well," she said, "I can't remember now. Maybe I will when I've stopped
trying to. Come on, Connie, let's help your mother with the dishes."

But Billie did not find the answer for several days. Meanwhile they had
received word from the boys that they had put into port the afternoon of
the great storm and had not been able to go out again until a couple of
days later. No news concerning the three waifs had come in.

The boys had received news of the wrecked ship, of course, and were
tremendously excited about it.

"You girls have all the luck, anyway," Chet wrote to Billie. "Just
think--if we had stayed over a few hours we would have seen the wreck

Billie tore the letter up and flung it into the paper basket.

"Luck!" she had murmured, her face suddenly grown white as she gazed out
over the water that was brilliantly peaceful once more in the afternoon
sunlight. "He calls _that_ luck!"

The boys had promised to return in a couple of weeks and give the girls a
regular "ride in the motor boat." If it had not been for the waifs who
had so strangely been entrusted to them, the girls would have looked
forward more eagerly to the return of the boys.

As it was, they were too busy taking care of the sweet little girls and
beautiful little boy and falling in love with them to think much of the
boys one way or another except to be deeply thankful that they had
escaped disaster in the storm.

And then, when Billie had nearly forgotten that strange impression she
had had in the beginning of having seen the children before, suddenly she

It was one night after the girls had gone to bed. They had been laughing
over some of the cunning things the children had been doing, and Laura
had been wondering how they would go about finding the relatives of the
children--if they had any--when suddenly Billie sat up in bed with a look
of astonishment on her face.

"Girls," she cried, "I know where I saw those children."

"Oh, where?" they cried, and then held their breath for her answer.

"In Miss Arbuckle's album!"

                               CHAPTER XXV

                           THE MYSTERY SOLVED

For a moment there was silence in the two rooms while the girls let this
sink in. Then Laura and Vi jumped out of bed, and, running into Connie's
room, fairly pounced upon Billie.

They were all so excited that for a moment they could not speak. And then
they all spoke at once.

"Miss Arbuckle's album!"

"Billie, you must be crazy!"

"I never heard anything----"

"Billie, are you sure?"

These, and a dozen other wild questions like them fairly smothered poor
Billie, and it was a long time before she could get a word in edgewise.

"Please keep still a minute," she cried at last. "You're making so much
noise you'll wake the children."

"Goodness! who cares about the children?" cried Laura impatiently.
"Billie, if you don't say something, I'll scream."

"Well, give me a chance then," retorted Billie.

"What did you mean by saying that you saw them in Miss Arbuckle's album?"
asked Connie.

Billie looked at her soberly and then said very quietly. "Just that!"

"But, Billie, when did this happen?" cried Laura, fairly shaking her in
her impatience. "For goodness sake, tell us everything."

"Why, I know!" Vi broke in excitedly. "Don't you remember what Billie
said about Miss Arbuckle's crying over the pictures of three children in
the album----"

"And said," Connie took up the tale eagerly, "that she had lost her dear
ones, but didn't want to lose their pictures too? Oh, Billie, now it is a

"But if you are sure these are the same children you saw in the album,
Billie," said Laura, walking up and down the room excitedly, "you will
have to do something about it."

"Of course," said Billie, her eyes shining. "I'll write to Miss Arbuckle
and tell her all about it. Oh, girls, I can't wait to see her face when
she sees them. I'm sure it will make her happy again."

They talked about Billie's remarkable discovery late into the night,
until finally sheer weariness forced them to go to bed. But in the
morning they were up with the first ray of sunlight.

They told Connie's mother and father about it at the breakfast table, and
before they got through the meal the two older people were almost as
interested and excited as the girls.

As soon as she could get away Billie flew upstairs to write her letter,
leaving the others still at the table. The children had already had their
breakfast--for like all children they woke up with the birds--and were
out playing on the front porch.

"Why, I never heard anything like it!" said Connie's mother to her
equally astonished husband. "It seems like a fairy tale. But, oh, I do
hope it is true--for the kiddies' sake and for that of that poor Miss

Again and again Mrs. Danvers had tried to question the children about
their parents and where they lived, but the little things had seemed to
be thrown into such terror at the very first questions and had refused so
absolutely to say a word that might lead to the discovery of their
relatives that she had been forced to give up in despair. Just the very
night before Mr. Danvers had decided to go over to the mainland and put
an advertisement in all the leading papers.

"Although I rather dread to find their guardians," he had confided to his
wife that night, as they had stood looking down at the sweet little
sleeping faces. "I'm falling in love with them. It's like having Connie a
baby all over again."

And Connie's mother had patted his arm fondly and reached down to draw a
cover up over one little bare arm.

"I feel that way too," she had said softly.

When Billie had finished her letter Mr. Danvers volunteered to take it
over to the mainland for her and send it special delivery.

"You won't put the ad in the paper then, will you?" his wife asked as he
started off.

"No," he said, stooping down to pat the little boy's dark head. "I'll
give Billie a chance to clear up her mystery first." And with a smile at
Billie he swung off down the walk while with quickened hearts the girls
and Mrs. Danvers watched him go.

Suddenly the little fellow got up from the hollow in the sand where he
and his sisters had been making sand pies and ran up to Billie, waving
his shovel excitedly.

"Him goin' 'way?" he asked, pointing down the beach toward Mr. Danvers.

"Yes. But he's coming back," said Billie, catching the little fellow up
and kissing his soft rosy cheek. Then she looked at the girls and her
eyes filled with tears. "Oh, girls," she cried, "I don't see how I'm
going to give him up!"

Then followed days of anxious waiting for the girls. Every night when the
mail came in on the _Mary Ann_ they were at the dock to meet it. But
though they searched for a letter postmarked Molata with eager eyes, day
after day went by and still there was no word from Miss Arbuckle.

This state of affairs continued for over a week until the girls had begun
to give up in despair. And then one night it came--the letter they had
been waiting for.

They did not wait to get home, but sat down on the edge of the dock while
Billie read it aloud.

The letter was such a mixture of joy and hope and fear that sometimes the
girls had hard work making anything out of it. However, this much was
clear: Miss Arbuckle intended to leave Molata Friday night--and this was
Friday night--and would probably be at Lighthouse Island Saturday
morning. And to-morrow was Saturday!

"She says," Billie finished, her voice trembling with excitement, "that
the reason she didn't write to us before was because she was out of town
and didn't receive my letter for almost a week after it reached Three
Towers Hall. She says----"

"Oh, who cares about that?" cried Laura impatiently. "The main thing is
that she will be here to-morrow."

"Only a little over twelve hours to wait."

The girls did not sleep very well that night, and they were up and
dressed and at the dock almost an hour before the steamer was due.

They were so nervous that they could not stand still, and it was just as
well that the _Mary Ann_ was a little early that morning, or the dock
would have been worn out completely, Connie declared.

"Oh, Billie, suppose she doesn't come?" whispered Vi as the boat slid
into the dock. "Suppose----"

"No suppose about it," Billie whispered back joyfully. "Look, Vi! There
she is."

"But who is the man with her?" cried Laura suddenly, as Miss Arbuckle
waved to them from the upper deck and then started down the narrow
winding stairway, followed by a tall, rather stoop-shouldered man who
seemed to the girls to have something vaguely familiar about him.

"He may not be with her," Billie answered. But suddenly she gasped. Miss
Arbuckle had stepped upon the dock with hands outstretched to the girls,
and as the tall man followed her Billie got her first full look at his

It was Hugo Billings, the mysterious maker of fern baskets whom they had
found in his hut in the woods!

As for the man, he seemed as much astonished as the girls, and he stood
staring at them and they at him while Miss Arbuckle looked from one to
the other in amazement.

"What's the matter?" she cried. "Hugo, have you met the girls before?"

"Why, why yes," stammered the man, a smile touching his lips.

"You see we were lost in the woods and he very kindly showed us the way
out," said Billie, finding her voice at last.

"Oh," said Miss Arbuckle.

Then she introduced her companion to the girls as "my brother" and once
more the girls thought they must be losing their minds. But this time
Miss Arbuckle did not seem to notice their bewilderment, for her whole
mind was on the object that had brought her here.

"The children?" she asked, her voice trembling with emotion. "Are they

"They are at my house, Miss Arbuckle," said Connie, recovering from her
bewilderment enough to realize that she was the hostess. "I suppose
you're crazy to see them."

"Oh yes! Oh yes!" cried the teacher. Then, as Connie led the way on
toward the cottage, she turned to Billie eagerly.

"Billie," she said, "are you sure you recognized my children? If I should
be disappointed now I--I think it would kill me. Tell me, what do they
look like?"

As Billie described the waifs Miss Arbuckle's face grew brighter and
brighter and the man whom the girls had called Hugo Billings leaned
forward eagerly.

"I guess there's no mistake this time, Mary," he said, and there was
infinite relief in his tone.

When they reached the cottage the children were playing in the sand as
usual, and the girls drew back, leaving Miss Arbuckle and her brother to
go on alone.

Miss Arbuckle had grown very white, and she reached out a hand to her
brother for support. Then she leaned forward and called very softly:
"Davy, Davy, dear."

The children stopped playing and stared up at the visitors. But it was
the little fellow who recognized them first.

"Mary! My Mary!" he cried in his baby voice, and ran as fast as his
little legs could carry him straight into Miss Arbuckle's arms. Then the
little girls ran to her, and Miss Arbuckle dropped down in the sand and
hugged them and kissed them and cried over them.

"Oh, my children! My darling, darling children!" she cried over and over
again, while the man stood looking down at them with such a look of utter
happiness on his face that the girls turned away.

"Come on," whispered Billie, and they slipped past the two and into the

Connie's mother and father were in the library, and when the girls told
them what had happened they hurried out to greet the newcomers, leaving
the chums alone.

"Well, now," said Laura, sinking down on the couch and looking up at
them, "what do you think of that?"

"I'm so dazed, I don't know what to think of it," said Billie, adding,
with a funny little laugh: "The only thing we do know is that everybody's

"Talk about mysteries----" Connie was beginning when Connie's mother and
Miss Arbuckle came in with the clamoring, excited children. And to say
that Miss Arbuckle's face was radiant would not have been describing it
at all.

"Oh girls, girls!" she cried, looking around at them, while her eyes
filled with tears, "do you know what you've done for me--do you? But of
course you don't," she answered herself, sitting down on the couch while
the children climbed up and snuggled against her. "And that's what I want
to tell you."

"Ob, but not now," protested Connie's mother. "I want to get you a cup of
tea first."

"Oh, please let me tell the girls now. I want to," begged Miss Arbuckle,
and Connie's mother gave in.

"You see," the teacher began while the girls gathered around eagerly,
"only a few months ago Hugo--my brother--and I were very happy. That was
before the dreadful thing happened that changed everything for us. I was
nurse and governess," she hugged the children to her and they gazed up at
her fondly, "to these children at the same house where Hugo was head
gardener. Our employers were very wealthy people, and, having too many
social duties to care for their children, Hugo and I sort of took the
place of their father and mother. Indeed we loved them as if they
belonged to us."

She paused a moment, and the girls stirred impatiently.

"Then the terrible thing happened," she continued. "One night the
children disappeared. I had put them to bed as usual, and in the morning
when I went in to them they were gone."

"Oh!" cried the girls.

"But that wasn't enough--Hugo and I weren't sorrow-stricken enough," she
went on, a trace of bitterness creeping into her voice. "But they--Mr.
and Mrs. Beltz--must accuse us--us--of a plot to kidnap the children.
They accused us openly, and Hugo and I, being afraid they had enough
circumstantial evidence to convict us, innocent though we were, fled from
the house.

"That's about all," she said, with a sigh. "Hugo built himself a little
refuge in the woods and made fern baskets, selling enough to make him a
scanty living, and I went as a teacher and house matron to Three Towers
Hall. That is why," she turned to Billie, who was staring at her
fascinated, "I was so desperate when I lost the album, and why," she
added, with a smile, "I acted so foolishly when you returned it."

"You weren't foolish," said Billie. "I think you were awfully brave. I
understand everything now."

"But I don't--not quite," put in Connie's mother, her pretty forehead
puckered thoughtfully. "Of course you didn't kidnap the children,"
turning to Miss Arbuckle, "but it is equally certain that somebody must
have done it."

"Oh, but don't you see?" Connie broke in eagerly. "The kidnappers,
whoever they were, must have gone down on the ship out there on the

"And they bound the children on that funny raft and set them adrift,
probably thinking they would be able to get away themselves," added Vi

"And then the ship went down before they could follow," said Billie,
adding, as she turned earnestly to the teacher: "Oh, Miss Arbuckle, it
was awful--that poor ship out there going down with all the people on

"Yes, it must have been horrible. I read about it in the papers," nodded
Miss Arbuckle soberly. Then a great light broke over her face as she
looked down at the three children who were still not much more than
babies. "But some good comes of almost everything. I have my precious
children now, and I can take them back to their family and prove my
innocence--and Hugo's. Oh I'm so happy--I'm so happy!"

"But won't you come back to Three Towers any more?" asked Laura, her face
so long that Miss Arbuckle laughed delightedly.

"Yes, my dear," she said, a joyful light in her eyes that made her quite
a different person. "Hugo will probably go back to his old position, but
I--oh, I could not desert Three Towers now after all you girls have done
for me."

Then Connie's mother had her way and whisked joyful Miss Arbuckle away
upstairs to "take off her hat" while the children trailed after, leaving
the girls alone.

Laura and Connie and Vi fairly hugged each other over the marvelous
clearing up of their mystery, but Billie turned away and looked out of
the window, while sudden tears stung her eyes.

She did not notice that the little boy whom Miss Arbuckle had called Davy
stopped at the foot of the stairs and crept softly back to her, she did
not know he was anywhere around, till a soft little hand was slipped into
hers and a baby voice said plaintively:

"Me loves my Billie, too."

"You darling!" cried Billie, kneeling down and catching him close to her.
"I suppose they will take you away now where you belong, honey, but don't
ever forget your Billie."

And when the girls went over to her a few minutes later they were
surprised to find that her eyes were wet.

"Why, Billie, you've been crying!" Laura exclaimed. "And you ought to be
as happy as the rest of us."

"I am," said Billie, wiping her eyes hard. "Only I was thinking of little

"Well, don't, if it makes you cry and gets your nose all red," scolded

"Never mind, honey," said Vi, putting an arm about her. "We are all sorry
to see the kiddies go, of course. But we can see them again some time if
we want to."

"And just think," added Laura happily, "the boys are coming back next
week. And that means Teddy, too," she added slyly.

"Yes, I'm glad he--_they_ are coming," stammered Billie, and the others
laughed at her confusion. Then suddenly she wiped away the last trace of
her tears and her eyes began to shine, making her look like the Billie
the girls knew and loved best. "We _will_ have some good times when the
boys come, girls. Why," as if making a surprising discovery, "our fun has
just begun!"

And that Billie was speaking the truth and that there were more
adventures in store for the boys and girls than even the girls dreamed of
on that beautiful summer day, will be shown in the next volume of the

In the due course of time the three Beltz children were restored to their
parents. It was learned that they had been kidnapped by three men who had
thought to make a large sum of money out of their scoundrelly game. But
all three kidnappers had lost their lives in the wreck.

At first it was supposed that many had gone down in the foundering of the
_Daniel Boley_, as the ship was named. But later on it was learned that
three small boats had got away in safety and the survivors had been
picked up by a vessel bound for Halifax. So the loss of life was, after
all, small.

Mr. and Mrs. Beltz were heartily ashamed of having suspected Miss
Arbuckle and her brother of wrong doing, and they offered both their
positions back at increased salaries. Hugo returned to the Beltz estate,
but not so his sister.

"I love the children very, very much," said Miss Arbuckle. "But I also
love Three Towers Hall and the girls there. I shall remain at the
school." And she did, much to the delight of Billie and her chums.

And now the sun shining brightly once more and happiness all around them,
let us say good-bye to Billie and the other girls on Lighthouse Island.

                                THE END



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This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
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