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Title: The Motor Maids by Palm and Pine
Author: Stokes, Katherine
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 "The Motor Maids by Palm and Pine" ***

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[Illustration: WHEN THE TRAIN STOPPED AT THE PALM BEACH STATION, THERE
WAS THE COMET WAITING FOR THEM.--Page 14.]


THE MOTOR MAIDS BY PALM AND PINE

by

KATHERINE STOKES

Author of "The Motor Maids' School Days," etc.



M. A. Donohue & Company
Chicago--New York

Copyright, 1911,
by
Hurst & Company

Made in U. S. A.



CONTENTS

     CHAPTER                                          PAGE
          I. To the Sunny South                          5
         II. Making New Acquaintances                   19
        III. Timothy's Drowning                         37
         IV. A Race and What Came of It                 50
          V. The Two Edwards                            64
         VI. The Gray Motor Car                         79
        VII. The Coward                                 94
       VIII. Mr. Duffy Gives a Party                   111
         IX. The Bullfrog and the Pollywog             128
          X. The Song of the Motor                     138
         XI. The Orange Grove                          150
        XII. An Unwished Wish                          161
       XIII. In the Deep Woods                         173
        XIV. The Mocking Bird                          186
         XV. Out of the Wilderness                     196
        XVI. Mrs. L'Estrange                           208
       XVII. A Morning Call                            220
      XVIII. It's an Ill Wind                          234
        XIX. A Passage at Arms                         246
         XX. The Hand of Destiny                       258
        XXI. Picnicking Under the Pines                270
       XXII. The Last of the House of Troubles         280
      XXIII. Explanations                              291
       XXIV. So Endeth the Second Lesson               298



THE MOTOR MAIDS BY PALM AND PINE



CHAPTER I.--TO THE SUNNY SOUTH.


The Atlantic Ocean and the breadth of Europe including half of Russia
lay between Mr. Duncan Campbell and his daughter, Wilhelmina. But that
did not prevent Mr. Campbell from thinking of numerous delightful
surprises for Billie and her three friends in West Haven.

Sometimes it was a mere scrawl of a note hastily written at some small
way station, saying: "Here's a check for my Billie-girl. Treat your
friends to ice-cream sodas and take 'em to the theater. Don't forget
your old Dad."

Sometimes the surprise took the form of queer foreign-looking packages
addressed to "the Misses Campbell, Butler, Brown and Price," containing
strange articles made by the peasants in the far-away land. He sent them
each a Cossack costume with high red boots and red sashes. But some
three weeks before the Easter holidays came the best surprise of all.

"I believe the Comet needs a change of air," wrote Mr. Campbell. "A fine
automobile must have as careful handling as a thoroughbred horse, or,
for that matter, a thoroughbred young lady. What does my Billie-girl say
to an Easter trip to Florida with Cousin Helen as guardian angel and Nan
and Nell and Moll for company and the Comet for just his own sweet
self?"

Mr. Campbell, who received long, intimate letters from his daughter once
a week, felt that he knew the girls almost as well as she did, and he
would call them by abbreviated, pet names in spite of Billie's
remonstrances.

"It so happens," the letter continued, "that my old friend, Ignatius
Donahue, who holds the small, unimportant, poorly-paid position of
vice-president of an insignificant railroad, not knowing that I was
digging trenches in Russia, has offered me the use of his private car,
including kitchen stove, chef and other necessities. I have answered
that I accept the invitation, not for self, but for daughter and friends
and Comet; which latter must have free transportation on first-class
fast-going freight, or he is no friend of mine. You will be hearing from
Ignatius now pretty soon. Your old dad will be answerable for all other
expenses, including hotel and-so-forth and if the and-so-forth is bigger
than the hotel bill, he'll never even chirp. Life is short and time is
fleeting and young girls must go South in the winter when they have a
chance."

So, that is how the Motor Maids happened to be the four busiest young
women in West Haven--what with those abominable High School examinations
which always came about this time, and the getting together of a Palm
Beach wardrobe.

And that is also how, one cold wet day at the end of March, they found
themselves lolling in big comfortable chairs in Mr. Donahue's private
car while the train whizzed southward.

It had been a bustle and a rush at the last moment and they were glad to
leave West Haven, which was a dreary, misty little place at that time of
the year.

Miss Campbell leaned back in her wicker chair and regarded her four
charges proudly. How neat they looked in their pretty traveling suits
and new spring hats!

"I am so glad they are young girls and not young ladies," she was
thinking, when her meditations were interrupted by Sam, the colored chef
and porter combined, whose arms were laden with packages.

"Why, what are you bringing us, Sam?" asked the little lady with some
curiosity.

"With Mr. Donahue's compliments, ma'am, and he hopes the ladies won't
git hungry and bored on the journey," replied Sam, depositing the
packages on a chair and drawing it up within Miss Campbell's reach.

"Dear me, children," she exclaimed excitedly, "look what this nice man
has sent us. I feel like a girl again myself. A beautiful bunch of
violets apiece----"

"And a big box of candy," exclaimed Nancy Brown.

"And all the latest magazines," added Billie Campbell, laughing.

"What a dear he is," finished Elinor Butler, fastening on her violets
with a long lavender pin; while Mary Price gave her own violets a
passionate little squeeze.

"I hopes," went on Sam, shifting from one foot to the other, "I hopes
the ladies ain't goin' to eat so much candy they won't have no appetite
for they dinner. We g'wine have spring chicken to-night, an' fresh green
peas an' new asparagrass, an' strawbe'ies. I'd be mighty sorry if de
ladies don' leave no space for my dinner. Marse Donahue he don' kill de
fatted ca'f fo' dis here 'casion."

"Sam, we'll close the candy box this minute," said Miss Campbell. "And
you needn't bring us any tea this afternoon. You need feel no uneasiness
about your spring chickens and your new peas. I shall write to Mr.
Donahue myself as soon as I get to Palm Beach and thank him for his
kindness."

"He's a very nice gemman, he is that," observed Sam.

"Is he a young man, Sam?" asked Nancy, with young girl curiosity.

"He ain't to say young or old, Missy. He don' took his stan' on the
dividin' line an' thar he stan'."

"How long has he been standing there, Sam?" put in Elinor.

"I knowed the gemman twenty years an' he ain't never stepped off yit."

The private car rang with their cheerful laughter.

"He must be a wonderful man," said Miss Campbell. "I wish he would teach
me his secret."

"His secret is, ma'am, he ain't never got married and had no fambly
troubles to age his countenance," answered Sam.

"But," cried Miss Campbell, "I've never been married either, and I'm
white-haired and infirm."

"You infirm, ma'am! You de youngest one in de lot," answered the colored
man, turning his frankly admiring gaze on the pretty little lady as he
backed down the car, grinning, and disappeared in his own quarters.

"You see, Cousin," said Billie, patting Miss Campbell's cheek, "you must
never try to make people believe again that you are old. You are a
pretty young lady gone gray before her time."

It was plain that Mr. Ignatius Donahue was very much pleased with the
arrangements he had made with his old friend, Duncan Campbell. All along
the journey he had fresh surprises for his five guests. At one place
came a big basket of fruit; at another station a colored woman climbed
on the train and presented each of them with a splendid magnolia in full
bloom, that filled the car with its fragrance.

"With Mr. Donahue's compliments, ma'am; an' he says he hopes the ladies
is enjoyin' they selves," she added as she gave Miss Campbell the
largest blossom in the bunch.

"Dear, dear," cried Miss Campbell. "One would think Mr. Donahue were
taking this journey with us. He is so attentive. Is he anywhere around
here?"

"No, ma'am," interrupted Sam, with a warning look at the colored woman.
"Marse Donahue, he jes' give orders and specs 'em to be kerried out like
he says."

"I feel as if Mr. Donahue were a sort of spirit always hovering near
us," said Billie, when the two colored people had disappeared, "a kind
of guardian angel. I wish papa had told us something about him."

"A very substantial spirit," observed Miss Campbell, "showering upon us
all these gifts of fruits and flowers and candy."

"What does Mr. Donahue look like, Sam," Nancy asked the colored man
later. "Is he tall and thin?"

"No, ma'am; he ain't what you might call tall. An' he ain't short
neither.

"Medium, then?"

"Not jes' exactly mejum, neither, ma'am."

"Go way, Sam. You don't know what he is. I don't believe you ever saw
Mr. Donahue."

"Ain't I don' tol' you I knowed Marse Donahue twenty years? But I
couldn't paint no picture of him, Missy."

"What color is his hair, Sam?" asked Mary.

"It ain't white an' it ain't black, neither, Missy."

Miss Campbell herself joined in the laughter which Sam's reply raised
and they asked no more questions about Mr. Donahue's appearance. But the
magnolias were not the last token from their mysterious host, who seemed
to have arranged everything with the greatest care and forethought. When
the train stopped at the Palm Beach station, there was the Comet waiting
for them like a faithful steed. The red motor had been shipped nearly a
week before, and the sight of his cheerful face was like meeting an old
friend.

"Sam, you just give Mr. Donahue _my_ compliments," exclaimed Billie,
patting the Comet affectionately, "and tell him that next to my father
he's the nicest man I ever knew, or rather didn't know, because I
haven't met him yet."

Sam bowed and scraped and grinned in the familiar manner of his race as
he helped the ladies into the car. A young chauffeur was at the wheel,
and Billie and Nancy crowded into the front seat beside him while the
others sat in the back as usual. For a long time the train had been
passing through a flat country, monotonous with palm trees and
undergrowth, and now they seemed to have broken into fairyland. The air
was laden with the scent of flowers and the sound of music floated to
them in the stillness.

"The concert in Cocoanut Grove," explained the chauffeur to Nancy and
Billie.

"Are we in heaven?" asked Mary Price, dreamily.

"It will be three weeks of heaven, I hope, my child," answered Miss
Campbell, patting the young girl's hand.

Those of you who have read the first volume of this series will recall
how Mary Price had been made the victim of a cruel conspiracy a few
months before, during which only the faith of her friends and a strange
combination of circumstances prevented her from being branded as a
thief. The unhappiness and anxiety which she had endured during that
trying time, followed by months of hard study, had sapped her strength,
and Mary more than any of the Motor Maids needed this change to a
southern climate.

"This is Lake Worth," observed the chauffeur, pointing to a beautiful
placid body of water, the little waves of which lapped the shores so
softly that the whir of the motor engine seemed out of place in that
quiet spot.

For the first time, the girls noticed the chauffeur. He seemed very
young to be running a machine; although Billie did not reflect that she
herself was not much past the sixteenth goal; but then she ran her own
machine, and he was a public chauffeur. He was a handsome boy with black
hair and blue eyes and he spoke with a soft, beautiful accent.

Billie was about to ask him a question, when they drew up in front of
the great hotel where their rooms had been engaged for days in advance.

A curious thing happened in connection with their chauffeur while the
Motor Maids and Miss Campbell stood in a group at the hotel desk waiting
for the busy clerk to give them his attention. The boy had gallantly
helped them out of the car, carried in their suitcases and satchels and
placed them in a pile, and Miss Campbell had extended her hand with the
usual tip, when a muscular-looking man with smooth face and burnsides,
touched the chauffeur respectfully on the shoulder.

"I beg your pardon, Mr. Edward," he said in a low voice, "your
grandmother is waiting to see you."

"My grandmother waiting to see me?" repeated the chauffeur with
amazement.

The English servant, for that was evidently what he was, gave him a long
and searching look and stepped backward with a puzzled expression on his
face.

"You've made a mistake, I reckon," said the boy, smiling gently.

"Beg pardon, sir," replied the man and moved quickly away.

Miss Campbell, who liked the looks of Edward, as he by a curious
coincidence happened also to be named, and was taken with his quiet,
respectful manners, engaged him on the spot to be their chauffeur and
guide, since they were unfamiliar with the roads.

"I can run a motor-boat, too, ma'am," he said.

And that was another reason for taking him into their service; for they
had planned to take many a sail on the placid waters of Lake Worth and
to picnic along those verdant shores.



CHAPTER II.--MAKING NEW ACQUAINTANCES.


"Mr. Ignatius Donahue's compliments, and will the ladies take a ride in
his motor-boat this afternoon? Mr. Donahue is sorry he cannot go too,
but a business engagement prevents his being at Palm Beach."

This was the message brought to Miss Campbell the morning after their
arrival at Palm Beach. The bearer of the message was Edward, the young
chauffeur, who stood at a respectful distance while she read the note.

"But if Mr. Donahue isn't here, how did the note come?" asked Miss
Campbell, much mystified.

"I can't say, ma'am," replied Edward, turning his face away so that they
could not see the smile which twitched the corners of his mouth.

"Perhaps he telegraphed it," observed Billie.

"But it's written on note paper," replied Miss Campbell, rather
irritably. "Would you like to go, girls?"

"Oh, yes," chorused the four voices.

"Very well, Edward, there seems no one to tell it to but you. We shall
accept the invitation with pleasure. It would be absurd, I suppose, to
telegraph this important communication to Mr. Donahue at Kamschatka or
Boston or wherever he is, but he is very kind to offer us his boat and
you may expect us on the pier this afternoon at four. Is that a good
time for sailing?"

"Yes, ma'am," replied Edward, withdrawing down the corridor just as the
door of an adjoining room opened and an angry voice cried:

"How dare you meddle with anything in this room? Leave it instantly."

Some one replied in a low musical voice,

"I am very sorry. I was only looking at a picture. I noticed a
likeness----"

"You are here to clean up and not to notice. You are a servant and not a
visitor. Another time and you will be reported. You may go."

At this point a girl was thrust out into the hall so roughly that she
fell on her knees. It was only a chambermaid, and perhaps she was
accustomed to being spoken to harshly, although she did not appear to
be, for she covered her face with her hands and crouched against the
wall.

"How could any one be so brutal?" exclaimed Billie indignantly as she
ran to the trembling little figure and helped her to her feet. "Won't
you come into our room until you calm down? It was cruel to have spoken
to you so roughly."

The door opened again and an old woman stood on the threshold, leaning
on a cane. There was something rather regal in her appearance, in spite
of her plain black dress and grotesque-looking old garden hat with its
flapping brim which half concealed her face.

"Don't interfere, young woman," said the formidable-looking personage.
"Young American girls are far too impertinent."

Billie, who all her life had been the champion of the oppressed, was not
frightened by the glare from the old woman's steely blue eyes. She made
no reply, however. Her father had taught her never to engage in a battle
of words if she could possibly avoid it, especially with an older
person.

Putting her arm around the little chambermaid's waist, she drew her into
Miss Campbell's room and closed the door. The other girls who had been
silent witnesses of the scene gathered around them.

"What a dreadful old person," Billie burst out at last, giving vent to
her indignant feelings, when the girl staggered and almost fell on the
floor.

"Oh, the poor dear is fainting," cried Miss Campbell, hurrying to the
dressing-table for her smelling salts, while the others quickly lifted
the little maid to the bed. They opened her dress at the throat and
moistened her lips with water and performed the numberless little
services a woman, with any kindly sympathy in her nature, will never
withhold from another woman who needs her help.

"She is much too young and pretty to be a servant," observed Miss
Campbell, looking down with pity into the white, tired face of the
chambermaid, who appeared hardly older than her own girls, although her
fluffy blond hair was drawn up into a knot on top of her head. Presently
the color came back to her face, and she opened her eyes which were
large and very deep blue.

"Are you better now?" asked Billie, waving a palm-leaf fan gently over
her head.

The girl sat up and looked about her in bewilderment.

"Where am I?" she asked. Then her eyes caught Billie's kind gray ones
and memory came back to her. "It was so good of you to take my part and
so stupid of me to faint! I was frightened, I suppose, and a little
tired. I must be going, now," she looked toward the door uneasily. "It
would be dreadful to lose my place on the first day I began to work."

"But you are not going back to work when you are ill, child?" exclaimed
Miss Campbell.

"I'm afraid I must. It will be only a few hours more. I am off at
twelve. My work isn't hard. I only sort and distribute the fresh linen,"
she added with a note of apology in her voice, which was soft and
beautiful. The girls were struck also with her lady-like manner. They
could see that she was not accustomed to being a maid because she never
said, "Yes, Miss," and "No, Miss," like the usual chambermaid. But they
were too polite to ask any questions, and presently she withdrew without
their knowing much more about her than they had at first.

But they soon forgot the chambermaid and her troubles in the joys of
Palm Beach. Probably nobody in the world can have a better time than
four intimate young friends on a pleasure trip, and many admiring
glances were turned in the direction of the Motor Maids as they sat in a
row on the hotel veranda after breakfast, while Miss Campbell composed a
letter in the writing-room. They were entirely unconscious of the
attention they attracted, however, so interested were they in watching
the rippling waters of Lake Worth already dotted with white sails.

Groups of people, dressed in white, strolled about the hotel grounds or
sat on garden seats under the palm trees. It was that delicious lazy
time in the morning when one is on a holiday and there is only pleasure
to anticipate.

"Billie," whispered Nancy, "there is that brutal old woman who was so
rude to the chambermaid this morning. I honestly believe she would have
struck you with her stick if you had answered a word."

"If she had," replied Billie, laughing, "and I had cabled it to Papa, he
would have taken a flying leap across the Atlantic Ocean and got here
before midnight. But I really don't think she would have dared go that
far."

"Be careful, here she is upon us," warned Elinor, and the four girls,
without intending to be rude, turned their eyes toward the approaching
figure.

The old woman still wore her flapping garden hat tied under the chin
with brown silk strings. She leaned on her cane heavily as she walked,
and noticed no one until she saw the four pairs of eyes regarding her
with evident curiosity.

She paused in front of the group and brandished her stick in their
faces.

"Well, what do you think you are looking at," she cried, "a chimpanzee
or an elephant or one of your own native wild people?"

"Oh, grandmamma," cried a tall, slender girl walking at her side. "How
can you talk in that way? You mortify me terribly." And she led the old
woman into the hall.

"What a fierce old party," exclaimed a young man in white flannels, who
was sitting so low in a deep chair that he appeared all legs and arms.
"'Native wild people,'" he repeated, laughing gaily. "We look like
native wild people in this civilized place, don't we?"

"Now, Timothy," said a girl sitting next to him, "she meant you, I am
sure. You resemble a native wild person more than any one here, with
your absurd bristling red hair."

The young man laughed good-naturedly, and the girls could not resist
joining in, for Timothy might have been taken for a human porcupine any
day. And that was how the Motor Maids came to make friends with Timothy
Peppercorn, whose ridiculous name and funny appearance never failed to
set them laughing.

"But who is this old lady?" asked the girl who had spoken to Timothy,
and whom they came to know later as Miss Genevieve Martin of Kentucky.

"I don't know," answered Billie, smiling. "I've only seen her once
before, and the meeting wasn't very friendly then."

"Did she beat you with her stick?" asked Timothy Peppercorn.

"If I had said anything, she would have tapped me on the head with the
gold knob, I believe, but I kept very still."

"What happened?" asked Miss Martin, turning to Elinor who was nearest
her.

Elinor related the story of the poor little chambermaid or "linen
sorter," as she was careful to call her.

"What a brutal old wretch!" exclaimed the other indignantly. "Does she
expect to teach manners to Americans by treating them like this?

"Timothy, run quick and look at the hotel register and see who she is."

Timothy gathered his loose frame together and rose to his feet. He was
really not so tall as he appeared when sitting, but he seemed all arms
and legs like a grand-daddy-long-legs.

"After I come back, will you have that swim?" he demanded.

The girl nodded her head gaily.

"No one can ever resist that funny red-headed boy," she exclaimed to the
others. "I don't know quite what it is about him. He is really one of
the best natured creatures alive, and he has had a great deal to make
him unhappy, too, but he is always in a good humor."

"What has happened to him?" asked Nancy, who had a childish curiosity
and was still young enough to ask questions.

"His mother and his brother and sister have all died of consumption.
Timothy would be delicate, too, but he is determined not to be, and when
he finishes college he is going to be an engineer and live out of
doors."

"We are engineers," put in Billie, "Papa and I and it's the nicest work
in the world."

Miss Martin laughed. She had taken a tremendous fancy to these four nice
young girls who seemed so unaffected and natural. But Timothy returned
before she could reply.

"The military lady in the flap-brimmed hat," he announced, "is
registered as Mrs. Paxton-Steele. The meek young person at her side is
Miss Georgiana Paxton, and there appear to be also in the family Edward
Paxton and Clarence Paxton, all of England."

"Steele is a good name for such a stern old personage," said Genevieve.

"Well, 'her is naught to we, nor we to she,'" added Timothy, "so let's
go in bathing and forget all about her."

"Are you sure you feel strong enough, Timothy?" asked his friend,
looking at him critically.

"Of course I do, Genie," answered the boy, flushing as red as his ruddy
upstanding hair.

"But I don't want to lose my new friends just as I have made them,"
continued the charming girl, changing the subject quickly and smiling
into Billie's face. "Perhaps you will go with us?"

"Oh, may we?" cried Billie and Nancy in one voice.

Mary and Elinor were no swimmers.

"Where are your mammas, then, so that I may ask permission first?"
demanded Miss Martin.

"We haven't but one with us and she's a cousin, but here she is,"
replied Billie.

Miss Martin had the easy gracious manners of the South and she never
permitted any one in her company to feel awkward or strange for long.
She introduced herself and her friend, Timothy Peppercorn, to Miss
Campbell simply and gracefully, and after a moment's pleasant chat she
had learned Miss Campbell's name and the names of the four girls, and
the swimming party was arranged.

"How quickly things do happen once they begin," thought Billie, as she
ran lightly into the surf where they chose to bathe instead of going to
the pool which most people preferred. "If old Mrs. Paxton-Steele, of
England, hadn't been so quarrelsome with the chambermaid this morning,
we should never have stared at her on the piazza. She would probably
have passed us by without noticing us at all. Then, we should not have
made friends with Miss Martin and that funny Timothy-boy, and no one
would have suggested this glorious morning swim."

She plunged under the foamy crest of a cool green wave, rose breast high
on another, shook herself like a young water spaniel and made for the
raft with long overhand strokes.

Swimming was a real accomplishment with Billie, although her father, who
had brought her up very much as he would have reared a son, had not
taught her this particularly boyish pastime. She had learned to swim at
the age of five from an old peasant woman in a village on the coast of
Brittany, where they had spent a summer. These old fisherwomen were the
only swimming masters on that sequestered beach. Billie could still
remember with something of a shiver the ancient, gnarled creature with
her skirts tucked up about her wrinkled limbs, who, standing waist-high
in the water, had taught her the first strokes. Hard as it had seemed at
the time, she had never ceased to be thankful for those early lessons.

"My, but you're a corker," exclaimed Timothy Peppercorn, breathlessly.
"I thought Genevieve was pretty good, but you're the best I have ever
seen."

"Thank you," answered Billie, as she swung herself on the raft.

Many other swimmers dotted the surf that morning and groups of people in
light clothes sat about on the shining strand. Splendid palm trees and
poincianas made a cool green background to the lovely shore, and Billie
half closed her eyes as she lay on the raft, so as to make a picture she
might carry in her mind always. She had not noticed that Timothy was too
winded to hoist himself on the raft.

Her attention was presently attracted by a frolicking group of swimmers
coming toward the raft. In the midst of them, puffing and snorting like
a Triton, was a jolly big fat man whom they called Duffy. Mr. Duffy had
a red rubber ball--not much redder or rounder indeed than his own
face--which he was tossing ahead of them on the water while the others
raced to get it.

"Let's get in the game," called Timothy as the ball skipped toward them
over the waves.

Billie dived off the raft and came up just where she had seen the ball
strike, but some one seized it and tossed it a score of yards away.
There is always a swimmer in a water party who does reckless and
dangerous things. This time it was the individual who had seized the
ball before Billie could get it. One by one the other swimmers left off
chasing and made for shore. Mr. Duffy, turning his immense frame over,
floated away on his back in happy oblivion. But the stranger, pitching
the ball again as far as he could send it, challenged Timothy to race
for it.

It was in vain that Genevieve, who had at that moment reached the raft,
protested and looked coldly at the man whose back was turned. Timothy
darted off in the water while the two girls watched his red head
uneasily as it rose and fell on the white-tipped waves.

Both swimmers reached the ball at the same moment, struggled over it,
and then that reckless, inhuman stranger tossed it further out to sea.

"Idiots!" cried Genevieve, beating her hands helplessly together as she
sat on the side of the raft.

All the other swimmers had gone ashore now and were making for the bath
houses, while loiterers on the beach were scattering to the tennis
courts and golf links or the morning concert in Cocoanut Grove.

Suddenly Billie saw the strange man throw up both hands with a loud cry,
which sounded very much like "Sharks!" and start to shore as fast as he
could go.

"Oh! Oh!" cried Genevieve, covering her face with her hands.

Some twenty yards beyond Timothy they could just make out the ugly
square nose and upstanding fin of a big fish sticking above the water.

"Hurry, Timothy, hurry," called the girl in an agony of anxiety.

"I'm all right," he answered faintly, but each movement seemed to be
weaker than the last and suddenly he sank beneath the waves.

While Genevieve was calling for help toward the now almost empty beach,
Billie made a running dive off the raft, and with long, clean strokes,
swam for the red head which appeared on the surface once more.



CHAPTER III.--TIMOTHY'S DROWNING.


When one is swimming in a great hurry minutes change to hours and yards
to miles, and to a small human speck in the ocean the sky overhead
appears like an immense arc. As the eyes of the human speck follow the
horizon line, many things seem to be happening in the circular zone
which girdles the whole world.

It was only an instant that Billie had turned her eyes away from
Timothy's head, and yet in that moment she saw first the shark, more
frightened than they were, making for the open sea; then a seagull
swooping down on the water. Then she saw Genevieve standing irresolutely
on the raft; next a line of sea, and finally the reckless stranger who
had enticed Timothy to race for the ball and left him to his fate. He
was still swimming desperately, as if a whole army of sharks was at his
heels.

"Coward," thought Billie, as she cut through the waves as neatly and
swiftly as the prow of a little ship. She was swimming on one side, far
down, making a wide circular motion with her right arm.

As she neared the struggling boy, she called out cheerfully:

"All right, Timothy. Keep up a minute. I'm almost there."

He tried to smile, and beat the water feebly in a last effort to save
himself. But when she was almost at arm's-length distance, he sank
again. Billie dived under, caught him by his stiff red hair and pulled
him to the surface.

Loungers on a beach are not apt to notice what is really going on among
the bathers. A man has been drowned in sight of a hundred spectators and
no one knew that anything had happened. So it was with the group of
people lying on the sand. They had not even looked seaward for ten
minutes, and were as oblivious to the fact that a struggle for life was
taking place in the water, as if they had been sitting in an inland
meadow.

Once again, Genevieve called weakly: "Help, help!" but her voice was
lost in the sound of the surf as it broke on the shore. Then, at last,
seeing she could not attract anybody's attention, she jumped into the
water and began swimming slowly out toward Timothy and Billie. But she
was frightened, and fright in deep water takes the form of a creeping,
all-pervading exhaustion. Once she turned and tried to go back to the
raft, but the strong current carried her along faster than she could
swim. It was all she could do now to keep her own head above water, and
she forgot Billie and Timothy and everything in the world but her
determination to stay on top.

In the meantime, Billie, with Timothy in tow, was also in the grip of
the current.

"Take your own time, Billie," she heard her own voice saying, and she
half smiled when she remembered how often she had heard her father use
those very words in the early days of her swimming. "I can't keep this
up forever," her thoughts continued, as her arm began to feel numb and
the pressure became almost unbearable.

It had not come into her head that she could let Timothy go and save
herself. Her father had had his own peculiar ideas in bringing up his
little daughter, and it was a very courageous heart that now thumped and
thumped in her athletic young frame. One hand still gripped Timothy's
hair while with the other she paddled gently and let herself drift
along. Hours seemed to pass. It was really only a few minutes. Billie
closed her eyes.

"I'm so tired, Papa," she whispered. "Don't think I'm a coward if I----"

Bump! Straight they drifted into something large and soft and yielding.

It was Mr. Duffy whose enormous frame was floating on the water like an
empty cask.

"Br-r-r!" he spluttered, as his head went under and came up again. It
was impossible to sink that vast bulk of human frame.

Billie had just sense enough to call out as he struggled to see what had
collided with him:

"Keep on floating--we're--almost--drowning."

"Hey, hey! Little girl, tired out, are you? Hold on tight. Why, you've
got a boy there."

"Yes," gurgled Billie. "He's about all--in--don't move--I must rest."

Timothy opened his eyes.

"Did I faint?" he asked in a weak, shaky voice.

"Something like it," called Mr. Duffy. "Hold on, boy, and don't talk."

At last Billie's arm was relieved of the weight which had grown so heavy
that she thought every moment it would break. But she had kept Timothy's
nose above the water line, and she breathed a sigh of satisfaction.

"What's that! What's that on my foot?" demanded Mr. Duffy, not daring to
move and unable to see over the hemisphere of his portly frame.

Billie looked up mechanically. In her relief and weariness, she had
really forgotten that Genevieve existed in the world, and there was her
new friend clinging desperately to the fat man's foot and breathing
hard.

Billy could hardly keep from laughing! What a funny picture they must
make to the people on shore: a big whale surrounded by small fry; or an
ocean liner being pushed seaward by three little tugs.

"It's just another tired swimmer," she answered at last.

Mr. Duffy's round, good-natured face wrinkled into a delightful smile.

"I seem to be a sort of general life-preserver," he exclaimed. "Do the
people on land think we are playing a game? Why doesn't somebody come
out and help this poor boy before we float on out to sea?"

"I'm awfully sorry, but we're too tired to call for help," said Billie,
apologetically.

"Of course you are, little girl. But you've done a brave thing, so don't
reproach yourself and don't be frightened any of you. I'm going to send
out one of my chest notes."

With that, Mr. Duffy roared out "Help, help!" in such deep bass tones
that the ocean fairly rocked with the sound. Just as he called, Billie
noticed a girl run up to the group of people on the beach and point
toward the sea. It was Georgiana Paxton, she was almost certain. Two men
in white flannels, taking off their coats as they ran, dashed into the
surf. As they swam, they appeared like two great white fish leaping out
of the water. Presently they came alongside the human flotilla and
swimming to the other side of Mr. Duffy's huge frame, paused for breath.

"What's the matter?" asked one.

"Matter?" cried Mr. Duffy with half-comic irritation. "Let go of me. Do
you think I'm the strong Turk who lifts a dozen people at once? There's
a poor boy would have drowned if it hadn't been for this brave young
lady, and there's another young lady about to go under, and you sitting
on the beach playing mumbly-peg when human life is at stake! If I hadn't
been an animated cork there'd have been three drownings this morning.
Get busy and look alive."

"I'm all right," said Billie, as one of the young men swam toward her.
"Look after the others please."

It was Genevieve and Timothy who were towed ashore while Billie and Mr.
Duffy slowly followed the rescuing party, swimming side by side and
chatting as if they had been old friends.

"I'm glad there's a happy ending to this little story," gurgled the fat
man, moving easily along in the water like a man walking on shore.

"I am, too," answered Billie, pillowing her cheek on a green wave and
propelling herself gently toward shore. She felt as if she could swim
forever now; so much has the state of mind to do with swimming.

"You are a brave girl," went on Mr. Duffy. "How far had you towed the
boy?"

"I don't know. Not as far as it seemed, I suppose. The current kept us
going. All I had to do was to hold his head above water."

"Wasn't he the boy who raced for the rubber ball?"

"Yes."

"What became of the other fellow, the one who threw the ball," demanded
Mr. Duffy, looking out seaward as if he expected to see him also
struggling in the waves.

"He was frightened at a shark and swam in. I suppose he thought Timothy
was coming, too. But he needn't have made such a fuss. The shark was one
of the scary kind."

"The low contemptible coward! Did he leave you to look after that
drowning boy?"

"He didn't know Timothy was drowning, you see," said Billie, trying to
be just.

But they had reached the shore now and there was no time to argue about
it. A crowd of people had surrounded Timothy, who was still weak and
exhausted. Billie and Mr. Duffy hurried up the beach to the bath houses.

"Would you know that cowardly fellow again if you were to see him?" he
asked, when they had reached the pavilion.

"No," she answered, "I never saw anything but the back of his head when
he swam ashore."

Nancy appeared at the bath-house door. She had been dressing during the
last fifteen minutes and had missed "Timothy's drowning," as the girls
always called it afterwards.

"Oh, Billie," she cried to her friend who was hastening toward her, "I
have just had such a fright!"

"I hoped you had missed it, Nancy," interrupted Billie.

"Then you saw it, too?"

"Saw it? I was in it."

"In the fight?" demanded Nancy.

"We are talking about different things, Nancy. What is it you saw?"

"I saw that terrible old English lady, what's-her-name, Mrs.
Paxton-Steele, beat a boy with her stick! She took him by the arm and
beat him well across the back, and called him 'Low, dastardly coward,'
and he howled like a whipped dog, and when I said 'Oh, don't,' she
turned on me and I thought she was going to hit me with her stick, too."

"That must have been the boy who threw the ball," cried Billie. "I'm
glad some one punished him. What did he look like?"

"How could I tell? He was all dripping wet in a bathing-suit, and his
face was turned away."

In a few words and with very modest allusions concerning her connection
with the saving of Timothy Peppercorn, Billie described the accident to
Nancy.

"That is the reason why I asked you what the boy looked like, Nancy. I
just wanted to see which of all the men in this hotel he was," Billie
added, after she had finished the story.

"Oh, Billie," cried her friend, putting her arms around Billie's neck,
"you are the bravest, finest girl in the whole world."

"But it was that nice fat Mr. Duffy who saved us all, child. Go hug
him."

"Don't belittle your brave deeds," said Nancy, "and don't try to excuse
that cowardly man who called out 'sharks!'"

As the two girls disappeared into the pavilion, a young man about
seventeen emerged from one of the alleys. He was tall and well-built
with handsome, regular features and brown hair, but there was an angry
flush on his face and a snarl on his weak, rather effeminate mouth. He
did not leave the pavilion, but waited until Nancy and Billie came out
of the bath-house, and as they walked arm in arm down the corridor, he
took a long look at their two faces and followed slowly after them, his
hands in his pockets.

"Little cats!" he ejaculated, as he turned toward the hotel, "I'll get
even with them yet."

Miss Campbell and the other girls were sitting in big wicker chairs on
the piazza. They, too, had heard nothing of Timothy's drowning, and were
laughing and chatting together while they absorbed iced fruit drinks
through long straws.

"My dear children," cried Miss Campbell, "how long you have been. Here
are some delicious lemonades especially ordered for us by that
mysterious individual, Mr. Ignatius Donahue. I really wish he would come
forth from his hiding-place. He reminds me of an attentive ghost."



CHAPTER IV.--A RACE AND WHAT CAME OF IT.


"I feel rather badly about leaving the poor old Comet in his stable all
day," observed Billie, who had taken a long rest after her adventure in
the water that morning and was enjoying a trip in the Firefly, Mr.
Donahue's motor-boat.

"He will be wondering why you brought him down if you use his rival the
very first afternoon," said Elinor.

They were skimming over the blue water of Lake Worth, which was dotted
with every kind of pleasure craft imaginable. The shores of Palm Beach
shimmered gold in the afternoon sunshine and across the lake came the
faint sound of music from the band in the Grove.

"Any kind of machine is glad to take a rest, my dear, human or
otherwise," put in Miss Campbell. "No doubt the Comet is well pleased to
stop whirring and whirling for awhile and stay quietly in the garage."

"You see how real our motor car is to us," said Billie to Edward, who
was running the boat. "We feel toward him just as we should toward any
faithful animal, a horse or a dog----"

"Or a cat," put in Mary, who loved cats to the exclusion of all other
dumb creatures.

"I could never love a cat the same as a horse or a dog or a motor car,"
cried Billie with enthusiasm.

"Now, I've planted my affections on a canary bird," said Elinor, "and I
wouldn't exchange him for the finest cat in seven kingdoms. He is always
in a good humor. He sings and carols all day long and his little heart
palpitates with joy when I let him hop out and perch on my finger."

Edward's face lighted up. He had been listening silently to the chatter
of the young girls while he guided the boat somewhat nearer the
beautiful tropical shores which bordered the lake, and slowed down so
that they could have a passing glimpse of this fairyland.

"We have a bird," he said presently. "I'd feel mighty bad if anything
should ever happen to him. He's the finest little fellow you ever saw."

"What kind is he?" asked Elinor with polite interest.

"A mocking bird."

"A mocking bird?" repeated Billie. "How I should love to hear one sing!
What is he like?"

"He's a beautiful brown," returned Edward, warming to the subject. "His
tail and wings are tipped with white and he has a white breast. His
little eyes are so bright and black, they see everything that happens.
He knows he can sing, too. He's just as proud of it as we are. He's a
wonder, I can tell you, and he is as fond of us as we are of him. I
found him when he was little. His wing was broken and he had fallen out
of the nest. His name is Dick and he's just like a member of the
family."

"What a dear little fellow!" cried Billie. "I would like to have him hop
on my finger and look at me with his shiny little black eyes. Do you
live near Palm Beach, Edward? Couldn't we motor over and see him some
time?"

There was a whirring noise behind them. The boy turned quickly without
answering and looked back. Another motor-boat was coming toward them at
a clipping rate.

"Would you like a little race?" he asked, rather wistfully. "I know that
boat, and ours can beat it, if that's the same fellow who ran it the
other day."

"Wouldn't it be dangerous?" asked Miss Campbell, smiling indulgently in
spite of her objections.

The Motor Maids exchanged amused glances. They had long had a secret
conviction that there was nothing the little lady enjoyed more than to
sit on the back seat of the Comet and close her eyes, while they took a
breathlessly swift run up the Cliff Road at West Haven.

"I don't think it would be dangerous, ma'am," replied Edward. "This is a
dandy little boat if it is handled properly."

"And you're sure you know how to handle it, Edward?"

"Certainly, ma'am. I've raced in it before and raced this other boat,
too."

"Did you win the race, Edward?"

"Yes, ma'am," replied the boy earnestly.

"I have no objections to trying it again, then, Edward," said Miss
Campbell, "only don't upset us in the water, whatever you do."

The girls laughed happily. Who could be solemn in this magical place
where everything was beautiful? The sky, the water, the land, even the
faces of the most ordinary human beings were glorified by the bewitching
atmosphere.

"You are a precious little sport, cousin," cried Billie, kissing her
relative on her peach-blossom cheek, "with all your baby-blue eyes and
your laces and frills, you enjoy a race as much as any of us."

"And why not, my child? I'm not a stock or a stone always to stay
planted in one spot and never to have any good times."

The other boat had come alongside of them now.

"Want to race?" called out the young man at the engine, who by the way
was the same person who had called Nancy and Billie "cats" that very
morning in the bathing pavilion.

"All right," answered Edward. "We'll start now if your friend will give
the signal, and race to the little house on the shore."

There were two other people in the boat, one a boy who sat in the stern.
He wore smoked glasses and his hat was pulled well down over his face.
The other was a girl.

"Why, it's the same girl who was walking this morning with the terrible
old English lady," whispered Nancy. "Her name is Georgiana Paxton."

But no one replied, for the boy with the smoked glasses had called out:
"One--two--three--off you go," and the two boats had shot out over the
water.

It was glorious fun skimming along the lake in the pretty little craft.
Shores flew past and sail boats and canoes were left far behind. The
other boat kept well ahead of them for awhile. Over the noise of its
chugging engine they could hear the scornful laugh of the young man who
was running it.

"What an impolite person," observed Miss Campbell. "There is nothing
ridiculous about any of us, I hope."

"He's laughing because he thinks he's going to beat us," said Edward
over his shoulder. "But wait and see what happens when we beat him. We
are almost at the goal now."

Gradually the Firefly began to get up speed, and chug and work as the
other boat would, it could not keep abreast of the graceful swift-moving
craft which shot ahead and presently slowed up just opposite the
knock-kneed, rickety little boat-house on the shore.

The girls were standing up, and Miss Campbell was waving her
handkerchief in her enjoyment and excitement.

"It was thrilling," she cried. "I have never actually been in a race
before, and how beautiful to be the winner. If I had known there was
going to be a race I should have offered a prize for us to win,
ourselves. The young man should never have laughed. It is unlucky to
laugh before a race is decided."

At that moment the other boat came up.

"The race was not a fair one," exclaimed the young man, whose name we
will presently find is Clarence Paxton. He was frowning and biting his
lips angrily.

"What was wrong about it, I'd like to know?" demanded Edward.

"You had the start of at least half a minute."

Edward's blue eyes took on a steely look.

"You are mistaken," he said quietly.

"I tell you I am not mistaken," began the other, when Miss Campbell
interfered.

"Edward," she said, in her gentlest and most charming manner, "this
would be a good place to land and have our tea. Perhaps these young
people will join us."

The girl in the other boat turned toward her gratefully.

"Oh, thank you," she said, "we should love to."

"That will be very nice," answered Miss Campbell. "An excellent way to
celebrate a well-fought battle," she added, blinking her blue eyes a
little mischievously.

"It will be impossible, Georgiana," said Clarence, "I have an engagement
at the hotel at five o'clock."

"An engagement!" she exclaimed. "Why you don't know anyone to make an
engagement with."

"Is it any of your business one way or the other?" he replied angrily.

"If this young man is anxious to get back," put in Miss Campbell, "don't
detain him, please. We shall be delighted to take you home later in our
boat, if you care to come ashore, and your friend, too."

Georgiana flushed with pleasure. She was a pale thin girl with a rather
plain face and sad dark eyes.

"I should love to come," she said, looking wistfully at the Motor Maids.
"I have no friends here."

"Will you come, too?" asked Miss Campbell hospitably of the boy who wore
glasses.

"Do come, Edward," cried Georgiana, and the other Edward started at
hearing his name called out.

The boy took off his slouch hat diffidently.

"Are you sure there will be room in the boat?" he asked.

"Plenty," said the other Edward.

"I believe I will come," he said with a shy eagerness that the girls
noticed at once.

"Take your friends ashore," commanded Miss Campbell sternly to Clarence,
"and then you need not trouble about them further. They will be our
guests."

Clarence obeyed sheepishly, and as the two boats pointed toward the
beach, Miss Campbell remarked:

"The only way to avoid a quarrel with that singular young man was to ask
them all to tea. But I'm sure if it gives them any pleasure it is well
worth the trouble."

Presently they found themselves on a smooth beach, just back of which in
a little hollow was a lovely grove of palm trees.

"What a perfect place for a picnic," cried Elinor. "Do the fairies dance
here by moonlight, I wonder?"

"Isn't it sweet?" cried Mary, clasping her hands rapturously.

The prow of the other boat then grounded on the beach and the boy and
girl jumped out so eagerly, that it was plain to be seen they were glad
to get rid of the ill-natured Clarence.

"I can't tell you how much pleasure this will give us," said Georgiana
to Miss Campbell, a slight tremble in her voice.

"It gives me a great deal of pleasure, too, I'm sure," replied the other
cordially. "Your name is----"

"Georgiana Paxton, and this is my brother, Edward Paxton."

Miss Campbell introduced them to her charges, and nobody took any more
notice of Clarence, who busied himself with his engine and occasionally
cast a surly glance at the others.

Edward and Elinor had carried the tea basket and a package of sandwiches
into the little hollow, and the rest now followed.

"What a beautiful spot, what an ideal place," they cried, as they
grouped themselves about the little dell, while Elinor opened her tea
basket and laid out the dainty crockery and the kettle.

There was a spring bubbling in the dell, and the ground all about was
carpeted with a thick bed of moss. The yellow jasmine grew in abundance
there and violets were thickly strewn in the shady corners.

"What an enchanting place----" Miss Campbell was saying, when suddenly
Edward, the chauffeur, said "Sh-h-h," and pointed to the upper branches
of an immense old pine at the edge of the grove.

"Listen," he whispered.

Hidden among the thick green foliage, a bird was singing the most
lovely, trilling song imaginable. The liquid notes poured from his
little, quivering throat like so much pure gold. It was such a joyous
song and they were so afraid he might stop that they hardly dared
breathe. Elinor clasped her hands rapturously and tears came into her
eyes.

"It's a mocking bird," whispered Edward, proudly.

So much absorbed and enchanted were they with the music that they did
not notice what was taking place on the beach. Two steps up and they
would have seen something which would have caused them a far different
emotion. Clarence, who had no business whatever in the Firefly, leaped
into it for a moment, then back again into his own boat, and presently
the chug-chug of his engine broke the spell of the mocking bird's song.



CHAPTER V.--THE TWO EDWARDS.


"'Knowest thou the land of the citron bloom,'" sang Elinor as she busied
herself with the tea things.

There were not quite enough cups to go around and the two boys waited
until two of the girls had finished; but it was only one more excuse for
lingering in that lovely spot; pulling the yellow jasmine and the sweet
violets and dipping their hands in the cool waters of a little brook
which had hidden itself in a corner of the dell.

Georgiana showed a kind of awkward, shy joy in being with the four young
girls. So absorbed was she in her new happiness that she had not
noticed, and indeed, no one had observed, a very curious coincidence.

It was not until Elinor had poured out two fresh cups of tea and was
saying: "Sugar or lemon, Mr. Paxton--er--I mean Edward--I mean--why, which
Edward are you?" that they waked up.

Edward Paxton had removed his black glasses and slouch hat and stood
revealed as Edward, the chauffeur, or his living image. The others
formed an interested circle around the two boys, who were certainly very
much alike. They had the same blue eyes and black hair; the same
handsome, regular features. They were indeed the same height.

"It is only when they are together that I could tell them apart," cried
Nancy, with Irish obscurity.

"Why, they are as alike as two peas in a pod," ejaculated Miss Campbell.

The two boys stood face to face and regarded each other curiously.

"I feel as if I were looking in a mirror," said Edward Paxton gravely.

"And they are both named Edward," put in Georgiana. "Isn't it strange?"

"What is your last name?" asked Edward Paxton.

"My name--is Edward l'Estrange," he said. Then he looked anxiously at the
others, but no one gave any sign of having heard the name before and he
appeared to breathe a sigh of relief.

"There is this difference between them," announced Billie, who, when she
had observed a person's face, usually finished by looking at their
chests and shoulders exactly as her father would have done, "Edward
Paxton is not as broad as Edward l'Estrange, and he is much paler."

"It's because Edward's always ill," said his sister, in a half-accusing
tone. "He has headaches and pains and side aches. Grandmamma says he is
determined to be delicate."

Edward Paxton flushed painfully.

"Is that why you wear those smoked glasses?" demanded Billie.

"Yes, the glare on the water gives me a headache."

"How dark and hideous everything must look," went on Billie. "The sky
must always be cloudy and the water gray and the woods a dusty green. I
should be very unhappy, I'm sure, if I had to wear them. One could never
see anything as it really was."

"He doesn't," cried his sister. "He's always sad and sorrowful and
quiet--and--and moody, too, Edward, you know you are."

"I'm not," exclaimed her brother. "Or rather if I am, I suppose I have
enough to make me so. Grandmamma----" he began, and then paused and bit
his lips.

There was an awkward silence. The others recalled the terrible
grandmamma who wielded her gold-headed cane with almost as much freedom
as an ancient warrior did his battle-axe. Miss Campbell felt sorry for
the boy and girl. No doubt the fierce old lady led them a wretched life.

"Well, well," she said, patting Edward Paxton on the arm. "No one can
judge for any one else, because no one knows how much another has to
bear. You will grow strong and well down here, I'm sure, my dear, and I
hope you and your sister will spend a great deal of time with my girls.
They are so merry and bright, you can't help catching the fever when you
are with them. They have made a new creature of me, I assure you."

"It's you who started all the happiness a-going, dearest cousin," said
Billie, giving her relative a little squeeze.

"And speaking of going," went on Miss Campbell, "we must be tearing
ourselves away from this charming place. But you will bring us here
again, will you not?" she added, turning to the other Edward, who had
been silently assisting Elinor to gather up the tea things and store
them in the basket.

"Certainly, ma'am," he replied, "if you wish it."

Miss Campbell could not help feeling that this quiet, rather masterful
boy was really the host of the beautiful afternoon party, and not merely
the engineer of the boat. But he knew his duties as engineer, and his
place, too, evidently, for he rarely spoke except to answer questions.
With the basket under one arm and a cushion under the other he hurried
over and jumped into the boat.

"He is really much the more manly of the two," thought Billie, as she
watched his self-reliant movements, "but I suppose that old grandmamma
would be enough to cow any one's spirit."

Presently they were seated in the Firefly and their youthful engineer
shoved off from shore. They were drifting lazily along over a miniature
ripple of waves which the movement of the boat had set in motion, when
Edward l'Estrange gave an exclamation of surprise and annoyance. As he
bent over the machinery, they waited for the whir of the motor, but the
engine was silent and the little boat bobbed up and down like a piece of
driftwood that had shifted all responsibility in life. Motor boats are
much like delicate people who are subject to sudden and unexpected
attacks. The girls, therefore, were not surprised that the engine was
indisposed, and they began chatting and laughing gaily with their new
friends, while Edward l'Estrange got out his box of tools and set
stoically to work.

"Why don't you help him, Edward?" asked Georgiana. "I always thought you
knew so much about motor-boats."

Edward Paxton rose languidly and joined his counterpart. The girls
thought they had never seen such a spiritless boy, and secretly they
preferred the Edward who was their own first discovery.

"There is nothing to do," said Edward l'Estrange, "because there is
nothing the matter with the engine, as far as I can see."

"Why, the gasoline tank is empty," exclaimed the other.

"What?" cried the young engineer. "But that is impossible, unless there
is a leak somewhere, because I just filled it this morning. By Jove," he
added, with a steely light in his eye that looked dangerous, "well of
all the----" his voice died away and the two boys exchanged a long and
meaning look.

The girls could not help laughing. They were like the two Dromios, these
two young men. The resemblance was even more striking when Edward Paxton
had waked into life.

"But what is it?" demanded Miss Campbell. It was so difficult to have
anything but agreeable sensations in this pleasant land.

"All the gasoline's gone," said the engineer. "There's not a drop of it
left in the tank and we started with plenty. There has been foul play
somewhere," he added in a lower voice.

"Are you sure you started with plenty?" asked Billie, who was accustomed
to the appetite of a gasoline motor engine.

"Perfectly," answered the self-reliant young man. "I cleaned and
overhauled the machinery and filled the tank this morning."

"There's lots of gasoline here," observed Mary Price, "only it's all
outside."

Suddenly they became aware that there was a strong odor of gasoline in
the air and that the waters about them were covered with a bluish gray
film.

"Ho ho," cried Edward Paxton, with some excitement. "I've found the
leak. A hole has been bored straight through the side of the boat, tank
and all." He was leaning far over the boat. "It's just above the water
line," he added.

"But who could have played such a trick as that?" exclaimed Miss
Campbell.

The English brother and sister looked uncomfortable. There was no doubt
in the minds of the company regarding the author of that practical joke,
but no one cared to accuse Clarence Paxton since his cousins were their
guests.

"What are we going to do, boy?" asked Miss Campbell helplessly. "How are
we going to get back? I don't suppose you can find any more gasoline in
this wilderness, even if you could mend the boat."

"No, the hotel is the nearest place," replied Edward l'Estrange.

He knitted his brows and sat thinking for a moment, while the others
waited in respectful silence. Surely this Edward must have been well
accustomed to taking charge of things.

"There is nothing to be done," he said at last, "but for me to go back
to the hotel and get the motor car."

"But how will you get there?" demanded Billie. "It must be at least ten
miles."

"Oh, I'll manage," he answered evasively.

"And must we wait here?" asked Miss Campbell.

Edward hesitated for some time before he replied.

"I live not far from here. If you don't mind walking a little, you could
wait at my home until I come back with the motor."

"And then we could see the mocking bird," put in Elinor.

The boy's face lit up.

"Yes."

"It would be very, very kind of your--of you to take such a crowd of us
in, Edward," said Miss Campbell. "We should appreciate your hospitality.
I don't seem to fancy stopping in this lonely spot all that long time,
especially after dark."

Once more they landed and formed a silent procession along an old wagon
road from the beach through a great grove of trees. It was a gloomy
place in the late afternoon. The branches draped in gray Spanish moss
made a mournful picture.

"We look like a troop of spirits," whispered Mary to Billie.

The two girls had lingered a little behind the others.

"What spirit was it, do you think, that sprung a leak in our boat?"
whispered Billie.

"It was the spirit of mischief. And it might have been very serious
mischief, too, if it had not been for our wise little engineer."

"We should have had to sleep in the dell. Cousin Helen could have taken
the launch and perhaps Georgiana, because she is so frightened and
nervous. I am so sorry for her, Mary, and for all of them, even that
wretch of a Clarence. They are all orphans, you know, and wards of their
fierce old grandmother. Georgiana and Edward lived in Canada until a few
years ago. That is why they speak with so little accent, I suppose."

Presently the wagon road emptied itself, like a tributary into the main
stream, into what had once been a broad carriage road, a splendid avenue
bordered with giant pine trees.

"Why, this must lead to a mansion," exclaimed Billie as they turned into
the avenue. "I suppose Edward works for the family who live here; but,
somehow, I never can imagine his working for any one. He seems so--so
different from chauffeurs and people like that in general."

They walked along silently for a few minutes. There was only the last
twittering of the birds to break the hushed stillness of the place.

"I feel as if I were approaching an enchanted palace," whispered Elinor,
who had dropped back with her two friends.

"It was on just such an evening as this, I fancy, and along just such a
road that the prince came to waken the sleeping beauty," exclaimed Mary.

"Oh, look," cried several voices at once, and suddenly right in front of
them loomed an immense house.

Four classic Doric columns supported the two galleries on the first and
second floors, and at one side rambled a huge wing which must at one
time have been the servants' quarters, in this fine old mansion.

"Is this where you work, Edward?" asked Miss Campbell, without intending
to be patronizing.

"Yes," he replied. "It is my home," he added, as he led them to the
first gallery and banged the knocker loudly.

Presently footsteps sounded in the empty hall, and an old colored woman
carrying a lighted candle opened the door and peered at them curiously.

"Mammy, will you look after these ladies, please? They will wait here
until I can get a motor car from the hotel. Our boat was wrecked a while
ago."

"Come right in, ladies," said the old colored woman, leading the way
into a large almost empty room at one side of the hall.

A grand piano stood at the end. On the walls a few old portraits were
half visible in the flickering candlelight. At one side was a long
mahogany sofa covered with faded tapestry, and the only other piece of
furniture in the immense apartment was a small supper table set for one.

"I'll jes' go up and fetch little Missy, Marse Edward," whispered Mammy,
while the others strolled about looking at the portraits and Elinor
touched a soft chord on the piano.



CHAPTER VI.--THE GRAY MOTOR CAR.


It was not long before the door opened and a young girl bearing a
lighted candle in each hand entered the room.

"This is my sister, Virginia," said Edward l'Estrange, introducing her
to Miss Campbell.

Billie could hardly conceal her surprise, and Nancy, who always forgot
not to speak out, was about to exclaim: "Why, it's the little
chambermaid," when a reminding nudge from Elinor stopped her.

It was indeed the little chambermaid, although the fluffy pale gold hair
was no longer tucked in a knot under the maid's cap, but hung in a
shining mass down her back and was caught at the neck with a pink
ribbon. Virginia was like a charming woman of the world. Her manners
were so gracious and easy that they began to feel at home at once in the
ghostly old place.

"These Southern girls," Miss Campbell was thinking, "how graceful and
well-bred they are!"

"I'm so glad my brother brought you here," said the girl in the soft
musical voice that had attracted them in the morning. "It would have
been lonely for you on the beach and he may be some hours in getting
back."

"Before you go, Edward," put in Elinor, "may we not see the mocking
bird? Or has he gone to bed?"

"Oh, Dick? He'll wake soon enough if he knows there is company," said
Virginia. "Do get him, Edward."

But Edward had already left the room and presently returned with a large
covered cage which he placed on the table.

"Won't all these people and lights frighten him?" asked Billie.

"Not Dick," replied Edward. "He's a gentleman, first and foremost, and
loves the ladies. And he's a very obliging rascal. Watch him open one
eye when I take off the cover."

When the brown linen cover was removed, the graceful little fellow was
disclosed, standing on one foot, the other drawn up under his body,
which gave him a ministerial appearance, as if he were about to deliver
a speech.

"Why, what an elegant little gentleman he is," cried Elinor delightedly.
"Look at his neat brown coat and his white waistcoat. He might have just
dressed to go to church."

Dick cocked his head on the side and opened one of his intelligent
little black eyes as much as to say:

"Of course I'm a gentleman. I belong to the Mocking Bird family."

But he was well pleased with the attentions of these young people, for
he hopped gravely out and stood on Edward's finger looking at them
critically.

"Darling little Dicky," exclaimed Virginia. "He's the very life of this
house. I'm sorry you're not to hear him sing. He makes it a rule never
to sing after dark. The dawn is his favorite time."

Dick gave an apologetic little chirp. He regretted evidently that it was
impossible to display his musical powers at this time.

Edward regarded him with the yearning gaze of a father toward his first
born.

"You are very fond of him, aren't you?" asked Billie, noticing the look
of pride and affection in the boy's eyes.

"He adores him," put in his sister, laughing. "But you had better go
now, Edward. Uncle Peter said he would be around with Alexander in a few
minutes."

"Oh, that reminds me, how are you going to get back to Palm Beach?"
demanded Miss Campbell.

Edward blushed and looked at his sister, who, although she was the
younger, was not so shy.

"He's going to ride," she said.

Just then the old colored woman the boy and girl so lovingly addressed
as "Mammy," entered the room and walking straight over to Edward Paxton,
said:

"Marse Edward, Alexander is at de do'."

The other Edward laughed.

"You didn't know I had a twin, did you, Mammy?"

The woman held up her hands in amazement.

"Fo' de Lord," she said, "I thought 'twas my young Massa."

Virginia, too, was amazed at the strong resemblance between the two
boys.

"But I must be hurrying away," said Edward l'Estrange.

They followed him to the front door. Georgiana Paxton wanted to send
word to her grandmother that they were safe. Miss Campbell had another
errand for him, and Edward Paxton whispered something gravely in his
ear. The two boys looked at each other. Already, they had established a
sympathetic understanding. Then the American boy mounted an old bony
mule and rode off down the avenue.

Billie now understood why Edward l'Estrange did not want to explain how
he was to get back to the hotel. But Virginia laughed gaily. It was
impossible to say whether it was really a pleasure to her to be
entertaining these strangers in her dismantled old home or whether her
manners were so perfect that she was able to make it appear so. One
thing was plain, however. She was determined not to be recognized as the
chambermaid of the morning.

They strolled back into what they strongly suspected was the only
furnished room on that floor, and distributed themselves about on the
sofa and two chairs.

"Won't you play for us, dear, on that beautiful big piano?" asked Miss
Campbell, who was really enjoying the adventure.

"I'm afraid I don't play well enough to play before company. It was
papa's piano. He was a musician. Perhaps some of you will play, and I'll
open the door so that mamma can hear the music from upstairs."

"Is your mother ill?" asked Miss Campbell. "Are you sure we won't
disturb her?"

"She is always ill," answered the girl sadly. "She never leaves her
room. But music was once her greatest pleasure and I know she would
enjoy hearing some one else play besides me."

"Edward," said Georgiana, "won't you play for Miss l'Estrange?"

The quiet English boy became suddenly animated. He had been leaning on
the piano ever since he had been in the room. Perhaps his fingers were
itching to touch the keys, for when he sat down and began to play the
notes seemed to run from their ends like water from the mouth of a
fountain. He played so beautifully that the girls began to comprehend
why he never appeared to be hearing anything that was said around him.

"Supper is served, Miss Virginia," announced Mammy at the door, just as
they were crowding around the young pianist with exclamations of
pleasure.

"I'm sorry we can't eat in the dining-room," said Virginia, "but, as you
see, the table is too small."

And that was the only apology she made that evening.

"My dear child," cried Miss Campbell, "you ought not to have taken all
this trouble for us. I am afraid we have put you out terribly."

Virginia smiled and took her hand.

"It is a pleasure. What would Mamma say if she knew we let our guests
leave the house hungry?"

The Motor Maids will never forget that supper party. They were taught a
lesson in good manners and hospitality that they had not dreamed was
possible.

They found themselves in a big old-fashioned kitchen. In the center was
a table covered with a splendid damask cloth and set with the most
motley and variegated pieces of glass and china ever beheld together
outside of a curiosity shop. At Miss Campbell's place was a beautiful
Bohemian glass tumbler. Two silver mugs, one marked "Edward" and the
other "Virginia," stood at the sides and at the other places were
several pressed glass tumblers and one or two cracked and chipped
teacups of rare old china. Miss Campbell had the only silver knife and
fork on the table. In the center was a crystal bowl, which had been
cracked and mended, filled with oranges.

Uncle Peter, who was Mammy's husband, and the ex-butler of this fine old
mansion, now appeared in an old blue swallowtail coat with brass
buttons. He bore a platter of crisp, fragrant smelling bacon, and Mammy
walked behind him with a dish of cornbread.

That was all the supper and no food ever tasted better to the hungry
tourists.

"After all," thought Billie, "everything depends on who gives the
party."

After his duties as butler were finished, Uncle Peter passed through the
room bearing a large tray, and those who were facing him could not help
noticing the appetizing and dainty meal set upon it on plates of
old-fashioned blue and gold china. Billie caught a glimpse of half a
broiled chicken and a small glass dish of jelly.

"It's for the sick mother," she thought, as she followed the others back
into the living room, and it came to her with a throb that this boy and
girl were probably denying themselves every luxury in life and working
hard to look after their invalid mother. "I feel so worthless and no
account when I think of those two," she thought. "I have never had to
give up anything in all my life so that some one else could have it."

Elinor played for them after supper, and Virginia also played and sang
some delightful old negro melodies. Finally, when she struck up the
"Suwanee River," the girls joined in and the house was filled with
music.

"Oh dear, I'm having such a good time," exclaimed the young Southern
girl. "What a treat it is to be with other girls! I wish you were all
going to make me a long, long visit."

"Perhaps you could make the girls a visit in West Haven," said Miss
Campbell. "That would be a nice change for you from this Southern
climate."

"It would be beautiful but I can't leave mother----"

"Miss Virginia," said the voice of Mammy in the hall, "your ma wants you
quick----"

Virginia darted from the room and they heard her running up the stairs.
A door opened somewhere above and for an instant there was a sound of
weeping, which was shut out immediately when the door was closed.

"Dear, dear! I'm afraid we have disturbed Mrs. l'Estrange," said Miss
Campbell. "How very unfortunate!"

They sat in a silent row listening for more sounds, but the place was as
still as a tomb.

Elinor began to talk with Edward in a low voice about music. Georgiana
and Mary presently became absorbed in conversation, and Miss Campbell,
with her head against the back of the sofa, dropped off into an
after-dinner nap.

Billie and Nancy rose and held a whispered conference at the window.

"Let's do it," said Nancy to some suggestion of Billie's. "What can harm
us in this wilderness?"

"Mary," said Billie, "if Cousin Helen should wake, tell her we are
taking a little stroll in the avenue. We can't endure this close, still
place any longer."

The two girls tiptoed from the room and presently found themselves in
the broad road which led to the house. How beautiful the place looked by
moonlight, with its galleries and noble Doric columns! It was too dark
to see the stained and discolored walls, the staring, empty windows, but
even in this light they could discern the rickety look of the house
which appeared to have slipped over on one side.

"I can easily imagine this place was haunted," whispered Billie.

They were standing in the avenue, examining the old building.

"Heavens, how you give me the creeps," exclaimed Nancy, taking her
friend's hand and starting to walk.

They were like ghosts themselves as they flitted down the avenue in
their white dresses. They felt it would soon be time for Edward to
return, and they planned to meet him at the entrance and ride back.

"There he is now," said Nancy at last.

Far down the avenue they could hear the whirring of a motor engine.

"He's traveling fast," observed Billie, listening with practised ears to
the sound of the machinery. "I didn't know the Comet could take such a
pace as that."

"How strange for him to have no light," observed Nancy.

"Very careless, but I suppose something happened to the light. I don't
think we'd better try to stop him," she added hurriedly. "He's going
like the wind," and she drew Nancy back into the path beside the road.

To their surprise, as the machine approached, they saw that two men were
in it, and, strange to say, it was not the Comet but a gray car which
slowed up gradually as it neared the house.

"Better stop here," said one of the men in a low voice. "So this is the
old place," he added. "Poor things! Poor things!"

"I don't see why you should pity them," said the other man. "You have
more reason to hate the mother, than not."

There was silence.

"Now, Ignatius Donahue," went on the second man,--the girls' hands met in
a frightened clasp and they pressed together behind the trees,--"I didn't
bring you out here to sentimentalize. I want to talk business. We are
both looking for the same thing. If I find it, I tell you frankly, I
shall destroy it----"

"You scoundrel," cried the man called Ignatius Donahue. "You thief, you
sneak----"

The two men grappled and began to fight. They fought like wild cats,
first in the car and then on the ground. Presently the one on top hit
his adversary a terrific blow on the head. He fell backward and lay
quite still in the road.

Nancy was about to scream but Billie put her hand over her mouth.

The man kneeled on the ground and felt the other's heart.

"Stone dead," he muttered.

He lifted the man in his arms and, staggering under the weight, carried
him through the thick undergrowth of what had once been the park of the
old place and deposited him on the ground.

Then, with a terrified glance over his shoulder, as if he were already
afraid the ghost of the dead man might follow him, he rushed blindly to
the car, cranked it up, backed off and was gone like the wind.



CHAPTER VII.--THE COWARD.


Billie and Nancy, too frightened to speak or move, were as still as one
of the old pine trees which had shielded them from the gaze of the two
men. As the whirr of the motor died away in the distance, the girls
heaved a deep sigh almost at the same moment, as if they had awakened
from a terrible dream.

"Billie have we just seen a man killed?" whispered Nancy, her knees
knocking together with fright.

"Yes," whispered Billie unsteadily.

"What shall we do?"

"Wait and let me think. Must we go and alarm the people in the house or
wait for Edward l'Estrange? You wouldn't dare go over there with me and
see if the man is really dead, would you, Nancy?"

"No-o-o," cried Nancy. "Never, never, never!"

"Why not tell Edward Paxton?"

"Why not?" answered the other, and pressing close together, the
frightened girls hurried back to the house as fast as their shaking
knees could carry them.

It was gloomy enough in the great dark hall with only one candle
sputtering in a bracket on the wall, and they were not reassured when on
opening the door they found the living room empty.

"Where on earth are they?" exclaimed Nancy.

"Perhaps they couldn't stand it in here either, and have gone out doors.
Let's look for them on the piazzas."

Hand in hand they hastened from the house, looking back fearfully at
their fantastic shadows dancing on the walls.

"Thank heavens, I hear them," said Nancy, pulling Billie toward the low
sound of voices at the end of one of the side galleries.

"Don't you say anything, Nancy. Leave me to manage it. You will be
certain to frighten Cousin Helen."

"Why, there you are," called Miss Campbell herself, as the two girls
approached. "Somebody started a false alarm that the sound of a motor
had been heard and we came out hoping it was Edward. I was beginning to
get uneasy for fear you had wandered too far."

"We just walked down the avenue and back."

"Didn't you hear the motor?" demanded Mary, who scented something in
Billie's manner.

"Yes, but it was not Edward, evidently. I suppose there are lots of
motors around the neighborhood."

"What did you see? Anything interesting?" asked Elinor. "You both look
as if you had seen a ghost."

"You are pale," exclaimed Miss Campbell, "or is it the moonlight? And
Nancy's hands are cold as ice. Come in the house, child. You should not
be out in this night air. You are trembling. Are you ill?"

"Keep it up, Nancy," whispered Billie in her ear.

"I feel a little faint," said Nancy. "Perhaps I'd better go in and sit
down a moment."

Miss Campbell, who was consumed with anxiety if one of her girls had the
suspicion of a pain, drew her into the house, made her lie on the sofa
and took off her own coat to throw over her.

In the meantime, Billie pulled Edward Paxton's sleeve and whispered,
"Wait, I have something to tell you."

"What is the matter," he asked, wonderingly.

"When Nancy and I were in the avenue, an automobile drove up and stopped
near us. Two men, who were in it, began fighting. They fought out of the
car and on the road and one of them hit the other an awful blow. The man
is dead, I'm afraid, because the other man pulled him over into the
bushes and left him there. Then he jumped into the motor and rushed
away. The dead man is over in the bushes down there now." She pointed
down the avenue. "What do you think we'd better do?"

Billie had been too agitated to realize how strange the story sounded
until she put it into words.

"He's there, I tell you," she exclaimed impatiently, when Edward made no
reply. "You look as if you didn't believe me."

"It does sound very much like a curious dream. Why should people be
killing each other in this wilderness?"

"I don't know, I'm sure. But it happened just as I told you."

"You are not playing a joke on me, are you?"

There was nothing in the world which irritated Billie so much as to have
her word doubted. Her father had often said that she was absurdly
truthful, and as a matter of fact she stuck to the letter of the truth
with scrupulous care. She always believed other people, because she
expected the truth. And she seldom got anything else. It, therefore,
seemed incredible to meet some one who could believe that she would
invent a tale just for the sake of excitement.

With a slightly contemptuous spark in her fine gray eyes, she turned to
Edward and said,

"If you have any doubts on the subject, you had better come with me and
see for yourself."

"Don't you--think--we'd better wa-a----" he stammered, and broke off
with an embarrassed laugh.

Then it was she realized that Edward was timid. She could hardly call it
cowardice because the boy followed her; but from the corner of her eye
she could see that it was with reluctant steps.

She felt sorry for him, somehow. Probably his grandmother had taken all
the spirit out of him. That is why he permitted his cousin Clarence to
ride over him, and his old granny, too.

"Are you certain he was dead?" he whispered.

"No, I'm not certain at all. We ought to hurry," she continued, "if he
isn't, we might be able to help him."

Half way down the avenue, she stopped at two tall pine trees standing
closely together like a loving pair which had grown up side by side.

"I think it was just here," she whispered. "We were behind these two
trees, Nancy and I, when they began to fight, and it was along this
smudged place that he pulled the man's body and pitched it into that
clump of bushes."

Edward paused and drew in a deep breath. A brave soldier about to go
under fire could not have been more resolute than he when he finally
doubled his fists and plunged through the bushes followed by Billie.
Although the moon was bright, they could not see any signs of an object
having been dragged over the ground. The elastic undergrowth had sprung
back into place and the body might have lain there forever under the
trees and no one the wiser.

"Was this the place?" he whispered, trying to keep Billie from seeing
that he was shaking all over.

"Yes," she answered, parting the branches of the acacias. "It was right
in here, I think."

But there was no sign of any creature, living or dead, in the high
grasses.

They searched, growing bolder every moment.

At last, with a sigh of deep relief, Edward said,

"Dead or alive, he's gone. And still you say it wasn't a dream?"

Even the most patient and amiable natures have their turning points.
Now, Billie, with all her high spirits, was singularly free from
outbursts of temper. From her father she had inherited a happy, even
disposition, always willing to see the best and overlook the worst. But
the young girl was very tired that evening. It had been only a few hours
since she had saved Timothy Peppercorn's life, and that followed by the
shock of seeing a man struck down, had unnerved her.

She regretted afterwards the words which came to her lips now, for she
was terribly and uncontrollably angry and she hardly knew that it was
herself who spoke them.

Perhaps, after all, Billie was at that moment an unconscious instrument
of fate, because her impetuous, passionate outburst was the means of
changing the lives and destinies of several actors in this little
history.

"How dare you accuse me of speaking a falsehood?" she said. "You are a
coward and you are glad we didn't find the man's body because you are
afraid. You haven't even the spirit or courage to believe the truth. You
are afraid of everything and everybody. Afraid of your grandmother and
your cousin. You are afraid of me now. You are afraid of being sick; of
losing your eyesight. You are afraid of the dark, and you are afraid of
the sun. You shut it out with black glasses. You may look like Edward
l'Estrange. But you are not really like him. He is brave and strong. He
is not afraid to fight to make a living and take care of his sick
mother. This afternoon when your cousin told that falsehood about the
boats starting wrong, you knew it was a lie, but you were afraid to
stand up for what was right. It was your cousin who punched a hole in
our boat this afternoon. You know that perfectly well; but you will be
afraid to tell him so.

"Just change places with Edward l'Estrange once and let him fight your
battles and you will see what courage is."

Billie stopped. The fire of her anger had burned out almost as soon as
it had started. She felt shaken through and through and very tired.

"I wonder if Vesuvius feels like this after one of her eruptions," she
thought, shamefacedly.

But there was no time for any inward reflections just then, for her
attack on Edward bore very quick results. Instead of giving fire for
fire as a real coward would do with some one smaller and weaker than
himself, Edward buried his face in his hands and burst into a perfect
tempest of sobs.

"Oh, don't," cried Billie, remorsefully. "It was cruel of me to speak in
that way. I was very angry, but it's all over now, and I apologize. I
must have hurt you awfully. Of course you're not a coward."

"No, no. You are quite right. I am a coward. Every word you said was
true. I am afraid of everything: the daylight and the dark and draughts
and people. I am even afraid of the only thing I want to do in the
world--be a musician; because my grandmother threatens to cut me off with
a shilling if I touch the piano. I am afraid of being poor. You were
right in saying I was afraid of the truth, because it hurts, and what
you said hurt me terribly. I sometimes wonder why I was ever born. I
have always been so miserable."

"You poor boy," said Billie, all the kindness in her nature rising to
the top. "I am so sorry I hurt you. Won't you forgive me?" she asked,
putting her hand on his arm.

"Oh, yes," he answered. "I'm not angry with you. I wish I could be mad
just once. I have always been afraid of scenes."

"Well, don't say again you wish you had never been born, because perhaps
some day you may be awfully glad you were, and then you would be sorry
you had said it. After all, you have an easier time than Edward
l'Estrange. Think how hard he has to work, and Virginia, too. If you
were to change places----" she began, when the English boy interrupted
her.

"Do you think we are very much alike?" he demanded with some excitement
in his voice.

"Wonderfully."

"Why not change places then? Our accents are not so very different. I
can run boats and automobiles and Edward l'Estrange can----"

"Can fight your battles," Billie thought, but she said aloud, "Can take
your place for a while?"

"Yes," went on Edward, warming up to the subject. "I would gladly give
him my allowance. I dare say it's more than he makes now and he could
have what I made, too. I don't want it. All I want is a little freedom."

"But what about your sister and Clarence? Wouldn't they find out?"

"Clarence wouldn't because he has never noticed Edward l'Estrange and
doesn't know anything about the likeness. If it were necessary, we could
tell Georgiana. But I would rather not. It will be a secret between us
three."

"And are we to trust you to run the Firefly and take us out in the
motor?" asked Billie, doubtfully.

"Won't you please?" asked the boy so earnestly that Billie smiled.

"It may not be necessary," she said. "Edward has to be won over first.
There he is at last," she added, looking down the avenue. "We had better
hurry back. They will be missing us."

It was not long before the Firefly party was hastening back to the hotel
in the faithful red motor.

"Billie," whispered Nancy, "what happened? Did you find him? And was it
Mr. Ignatius Donahue? And was he dead----"

"No, Nancy dear, the dead man had run away, thank heavens, whichever one
he was."

Nancy gave an hysterical little giggle.

"Then he was alive?"

"What a foolish question, child. You don't suppose the dead can walk, do
you? 'Dead men rise up never.'"

"Ugh--" shivered Nancy. "Oh, dear, but I'm glad that we didn't really see
a murder. Which did you think struck the blow?"

"How can I tell," answered Billie. "But I would much rather it would be
Ignatius Donahue, if it was our Mr. Donahue, who was struck down.
Because the other man ran away."

Early the next morning just as sunrise flooded the world with a mellow
light, Virginia l'Estrange tiptoed from the front door of her house and
climbed into the back of an old spring wagon where she sat down
composedly in a rocking-chair.

"Git up, Alexander," said Uncle Peter, who occupied the driver's seat,
and off they started down the avenue.

As they turned into the main road, they noticed a man sitting on the
ground holding his head in both hands.

"Stop, Uncle Peter," ordered the girl. "Are you ill?" she asked.

The man looked up with a dazed expression.

"I--I think I am," he answered.

"Would you like to ride?"

"You are very kind."

The man climbed into the wagon, and suddenly grasping his head with a
groan, fainted dead away.

"Oh, mercy, what shall we do, Uncle Peter? Take him home?"

"We'll have to, little Missy. We cyant car' him to the hotel."

The long-suffering Alexander once again turned his face toward the house
and trotted patiently up the avenue. Perhaps he thought he was not to
take his usual early morning trip to Palm Beach. By the time they had
reached the end of the avenue, the man opened his eyes.

"Where am I?" he asked.

"This is my home," said the young girl. "My name is Virginia l'Estrange.
You had better stay here until you feel better. You will look after him,
won't you please, Mammy?" she said to the colored woman who had come
around the side of the house at the sound of approaching wheels. "This
gentleman is ill."

"Virginia l'Estrange," repeated the man, getting slowly out of the wagon
with the help of the two old colored people. "Virginia," he said again,
presently, stretching himself wearily on the long sofa while the colored
woman bound a wet cloth about his forehead.

In the meantime, Virginia, herself, rocking gently back and forth, was
again on her way to the hotel.

"I suppose it's all right, Uncle Peter," she said. "We couldn't leave a
sick man in the road."

"Yes, little Missy," said the colored man, "an' they ain't nothin' in
our house wuth takin' anyhow ceppen it be the gran' pianner."



CHAPTER VIII.--MR. DUFFY GIVES A PARTY.


  "O'er the waters so blue, o'er the waters so blue,
  We're afloat, we're afloat in our birch-bark canoe."

Elinor's sweet fresh voice, floating across the waters of Lake Worth,
seemed a part of the rippling accompaniment made by the waves as they
lapped the bow of the Firefly. Edward, the young engineer, absorbed in
listening to the music, forgot he was guiding a boatful of people down
the lake to an evening party at Mr. Duffy's villa.

"Be careful," whispered Billie, sitting near him. "Look out for that
boat on the right."

Edward started from his dream, smiled, and turned the Firefly out of the
track of the oncoming boat.

"That's a pretty song," said Timothy Peppercorn, "only to be strictly
truthful, you should substitute--'We're afloat, we're afloat in our
little motor-boat.'"

"There's nothing poetical about the smell of gasoline," interrupted
Elinor. "It out-perfumes all the orange blossoms and yellow jasmine at
Palm Beach."

"Speaking of gasoline," Miss Campbell here broke in, "Edward, did you
find out any more about that leak that came in the Firefly the other
night? Was it--do you--er, could it possibly have been----"

Miss Campbell hesitated. She never liked to make accusations on
circumstantial evidence, but it certainly looked very much as if
Clarence Paxton had done the deed, out of spite.

Edward hesitated and Billie replied for him.

"The engineer is busy at this moment, Cousin Helen," she said, "but I
will tell you that if it wasn't the person who shall be nameless, he got
a good beating anyhow for some one else's sins the next day."

"Is it possible?" exclaimed the little lady with great concern. "Dear,
dear. Who beat him?"

"The other one."

"It all sounds very mysterious," laughed Timothy, "like the letter at
the trial of the Knave of Hearts:

  "'I gave her one; they gave him two,
    You gave us three or more.
  They all returned from him to you,
    Though they were mine before.'"

"What are these Paxton people like?" asked Genevieve Martin.

"They are English and peculiar," answered Nancy. "Two orphans and one
almost-orphan, and their grandmother. The two orphans are very nice and
the almost-orphan is--well, rather disagreeable. The grandmother beats
them when she is angry----"

"Oh, Nancy," exclaimed Elinor.

"She does, for I saw her at Timothy's drowning. She beat Clarence."

"Oh, Clarence. I should think she would have to beat him. But Edward is
really quite nice."

The others laughed at this, and the engineer bent down over his machine
as if motor engines were the only thing in life that interested him.

"Here we are," cried the ever-watchful Billie, pointing to a pretty
villa which was one of many built on a long strip of land separating the
lake from the ocean. "This is Mr. Duffy's villa. I can tell it by the
three lanterns hung in the boat-house. He told me that would be the
Duffy signal."

Since Billie's bravery in keeping Timothy from drowning, Mr. Duffy had
been her devoted follower. It was impossible for him to conceal his
admiration, he said. He wished all the world to know that she was the
finest young lady in three kingdoms and all the states. He brought his
wife to the hotel to call on Miss Helen and the girls, but chiefly to
exhibit the brave young woman who had kept two heads above water at the
same time and not lost either of them. And then he wished to give Billie
a party at his own house, and he invited her and all her friends who
were at the moment in speaking distance on the piazza. Timothy
Peppercorn and Genevieve Martin were included, and the three English
cousins who happened to be near at the time. The Firefly party could see
their launch now making for the pier.

"Why, look," exclaimed Mary. "Clarence isn't running the boat to-night.
Edward Paxton is doing it."

"Good!" cried Billie. "It's a fine sign."

"Sign of what, pray?" demanded Elinor.

"Oh, nothing," began Billie, when she was interrupted by a burst of
music played by three negroes on a guitar, a banjo and a triangle which
sent a silver tinkling note through the melody. Mr. Duffy, himself, was
at the boat landing looking as large as a white elephant in his spick
and span linen suit.

"This is a pleasure and an honor, Madam," he exclaimed, helping Miss
Campbell out of the boat as gallantly as if he had been a slender young
cavalier. "Mrs. Duffy and I have been looking forward to this, I can
tell you. The old woman's on the porch. She never walks a step if she
can avoid it, you know."

Mr. Duffy always called his wife "the old woman," but it was simply a
term of endearment for she was not really old at all. She was almost as
fat as her husband, however, but at the top of her mountainous figure
was the most charmingly pretty face imaginable, as pink and white as a
wax doll's and always wrinkling with little smiles which played
hide-and-seek among her many dimples. Her eyes were as blue and innocent
as an infant's and her naturally blonde hair, made blonder by artificial
means, gave her face a singularly childlike appearance.

"Are you all here?" she cried, giving a funny little elephantine run
down the piazza, as they came up the steps. "I do hope no one stayed
behind. I wish I had told you to bring more people. Mr. Duffy and I love
boys and girls, because we haven't any of our own, I suppose. If I
wasn't so fat and lazy, I think I should like to be at the head of a big
orphan asylum. It would be different from any orphan asylum I have ever
seen. The children should have such a good time they would forget they
had no parents. The little girls should have pretty dresses," she
rattled on, "and not those hideous dun colored things, and every
Saturday they should have a party----"

"You see how my old woman does run on," laughed Mr. Duffy, winking at
the others. "Orphan asylums are her particular fad, but I don't believe
any Methodist Association would engage her if they heard her views
first."

"If they ever do make you a superintendent of an orphan asylum, Mrs.
Duffy," called Billie, on her way up the stairs to leave her scarf and
wrap, "you will have your hands full because we shall all join the
orphan brigade."

"Bless you, child, Mr. Duffy and I would be only too glad to make a
little asylum just for you all alone if you should ever feel inclined to
try it," returned the warm-hearted soul who had yearned in vain for a
little girl of her own.

Mr. and Mrs. Duffy's winter home was built very much as they were: broad
and commodious and of an exceedingly comfortable disposition.

There was plenty of room in the big parlors for dancing; on the broad
piazzas were lounging chairs and hammocks, and in the tropical garden,
now lighted with Japanese lanterns, settees had been placed in all the
prettiest nooks.

Other guests now began to arrive from the neighboring villas, and our
Motor Maids soon found themselves at what Nancy called "a real party."

And, oh, how busy Mrs. Duffy was introducing all the boys and girls! She
chose Timothy Peppercorn as her assistant and the incongruous pair kept
the couples spinning about the room like so many human tops.

"No one shall ever have a stupid time in my house," declared the good
woman, leading forth young men and maids to the dance like so many
sacrificial lambs. But once things got into swing, she had no further
trouble except with poor, awkward, shy Georgiana. The young English girl
danced a hoppety dance instead of the American glide, and it was
difficult to obtain a partner for her a second time. At last Mr. Duffy
himself was called into action. With rivers of perspiration pouring down
his rotund countenance, like spring freshets down the side of a
mountain, he gallantly piloted Georgiana through the mazes of the waltz.
But Mr. Duffy had a light and graceful step, in spite of his enormous
weight.

There was a dancer at the ball whose enjoyment was so apparent that Mrs.
Duffy felt a thrill of gratification whenever she noticed his flushed,
happy face. It was Edward--which Edward, you may guess for yourselves,
but he danced as Cinderella must have danced when she knew that at
midnight she must fly. Billie was his partner as often as Timothy
Peppercorn would permit. As soon as Edward had arrived he had pushed his
way through the crowd and gone straight to her side.

"How many dances may I have, Miss Billie?" he asked, with a candor not
unusual in young Southerners.

"As many as you can get," replied Billie, laughing, but with a bright
flush on her cheeks, and Edward had taken her at her word.

Elinor, who was standing next to Billie when this happened, turned away
and bit her lip. It was only because she had been saving up something to
tell Edward about a duet she wanted him to try some day with her at the
hotel, and Edward had merely bowed to her and gone away. Such things are
disturbing even to the most dignified and high-bred natures, and it was
natural for poor Elinor to wonder why Edward Paxton had never been near
her since the evening they all spent together at Virginia's home.

Elinor had many partners that night, but Edward was not one of them. Her
feelings were hurt and she could not resist a slight coldness toward
Billie, who seemed to have forgotten that she had three intimate
comrades and was always talking to Edward in a low voice and stopping
immediately any one came near.

"Won't you and Timothy come and stroll in the garden with us, Elinor?"
asked Billie, as they passed each other between dances.

"Thanks," replied Elinor, with all the dignity of an injured queen, "I
would rather stay indoors."

So it was that Billie and Edward strolled alone in the garden.

"How are you getting on?" she asked.

"Splendidly," he replied. "I gave Clarence such a licking as he'll never
forget, and yesterday when the old lady started to rap me in the head
with her cane, I caught it in my hand and said 'Don't do that again.' I
could hardly keep from laughing. But she has treated me very politely
ever since. I have to watch out for Clarence, though. He is just waiting
for a chance to get at me. It will be from behind. That's why I have to
be careful. And I want to warn my twin brother. I suppose we'll find him
at the boat landing."

"How do you like being in another boy's shoes?" Billie asked, as they
turned in the direction of the boat-house.

"It's rather jolly having plenty of clothes and nothing to do but amuse
myself; but I'd just as soon live at the foot of Mount Etna as take a
permanent job with my present grandmamma.

"Nonsense," said Billie, "I believe you will find her all right if she
learns to respect you. She has no respect for her grandchildren. That's
why she bullies them with her cane."

Stretched on the cushioned seat of the Firefly, they found the other
Edward gazing at the stars, the very picture of contentment.

"Hello," he exclaimed, looking up as he stifled a yawn. "How's the
party?"

"Fine!" answered Edward l'Estrange.

"I wish you could have come, too," said Billie.

"Thanks, but I'm much happier here. I hate dancing. It always gives me
palpitation. The lights hurt my eyes, too, in a ball-room. I'm just as
well off here."

Billie gave a humorous groan.

"Dear me, what a delicate invalid you are," she laughed.

"I am getting better every day," he admitted. "This life of freedom is
doing me a lot of good. There is nothing really the matter with me but
constant worry and nagging, you know."

"And that reminds me," said the American boy. "You will have to give up
your life of freedom, as you call it, for a day or two and go to St.
Augustine with your family. They are all going to-morrow night."

"Oh, fizzle," exclaimed the other. "Why can't Grandmamma stay in one
place for a week at a time? We came over to New York on business and she
couldn't rest until she got here and now she wants to go somewhere
else."

"It's only for two days," continued Edward l'Estrange. "They want to see
the city. That's all."

"I say, Edward," said his counterpart in a coaxing voice, "won't you go
in my place?"

"I'm afraid to. I can't always remember to say 'been' as you do and they
might find out. You see, I shall have to be with them constantly. Now I
only see them at meals and I never talk unless some one asks me a
question."

The English Edward was silent for a few minutes. For the first time in
all his days he had been happy. He had tasted the joy of being his own
master and of living his own life. He had not even minded the work,
although he was not as diligent as the other boy and twice Billie had
scolded him about the appearance of the Comet which was not in its usual
spick and span order.

"Look here," he said at last, "I'm so anxious for another week's
happiness that I'd be willing to do almost anything to get it. Didn't
you tell me when you undertook this business that money was the thing in
the world you needed most?"

"Yes,"

"Would you do it for twenty pounds? That's about a hundred dollars in
your money."

Edward l'Estrange thrust his hands in his pockets and kicked the ground
meditatively with one toe.

"That seems a good deal for you to give and a good deal for me to ask.
Have you really got that much money?"

"Oh, yes; I saved it out of last year's allowance. I have kept it a
secret. Clarence would have borrowed it from me. He's always in debt. I
would gladly pay it to you for going to St. Augustine."

"Do you advise me to accept, Miss Billie?"

"Why, yes, I do," hesitated Billie.

"All right, then, I'll do it. I want some money so badly, that I would
do almost anything to earn a hundred dollars all at one time."

Billie, who felt that she was a very responsible party to this strange
transaction, was rather uneasy after it was settled. But she knew that
Edward l'Estrange must need money very much and it was a quick way to
earn it.

"We'll have to change places to-night, though," said the American boy,
"because I must go home first and see my mother if I'm to be away for
two days. Come into the boat-house and we'll change now."

Billie waited for them, sitting on a bench by the water's edge, and
pondering on the curious situation. Overhead the stars gleamed twice as
brilliantly as they did at West Haven. The air was full of sweet odors.
A little breeze ruffled the bosom of the lake and stirred the palm
trees. How sweet it all was! And Mr. and Mrs. Duffy, what adorable,
good-natured, fat, funny souls they were. She smiled to herself and
closed her eyes. The next dance had begun and the music of a waltz
floated out through the open windows. She was to have danced it with
some one, but, never mind, she would wait for the other Edward who would
now make his appearance in the drawing-room in his real character. It
was a pity he was so shy. And she was afraid, too, that he was just a
little lazy.

"I believe you have this waltz with me, Miss Campbell," said some one
close behind her.

It was the sharp voice of Clarence Paxton that broke the peaceful
stillness. Billie remembered that she had promised him a dance early in
the evening. She had not had the spirit to refuse with Mrs. Duffy
standing at her elbow.

"Oh, yes," she replied. "I am coming now," and she started down the
path.

"Do wait a moment, Billie. Perhaps I won't see you again for several
days. Won't you say good-bye?" called Edward l'Estrange, running out of
the boat-house.

He stopped when he saw Clarence standing near her.

Billie felt very uncomfortable. She wished Edward had not been so hasty,
but Southern boys take little pains to conceal their likes and dislikes.
Edward liked Billie very much and he was not at all ashamed of it.
However he was not prepared for what was now to happen.



CHAPTER IX.--THE BULLFROG AND THE POLLYWOG.


Billie hesitated, too embarrassed to know what to reply.

"But----" she began, when Clarence interrupted.

"Do you know you are speaking to a lady," he exclaimed angrily, "and you
a servant! How dare you call her by her first name, you insolent young
upstart. Can't you see that you have made her very angry?"

Billie was so surprised at this unexpected attack that she lost her
voice and choked indignantly.

"He is not a servant," she tried to say, but her words were drowned in
the abuse which Clarence poured out on Edward.

"Go back to your boat and remember your place hereafter. Don't interrupt
when I'm speaking to you, sir--in England servants are trained not to
answer back."

Even in the half darkness Billie could see the flush on Edward's face
growing deeper every instant. He seemed to breathe in sharp little gasps
and his body trembled as if he had an ague.

"Run," she said to Clarence, who after one swift glance at Edward had
actually turned on his heel and started up the path. But the warning
came too late. In an instant Edward had seized him by the collar and was
shaking him as a terrier shakes a rat. Then, without a moment's
hesitation, he tossed him into the lake.

"You low, contemptible coward," he said. "Stay there until you
apologize."

Clarence floundered about in the water snorting and coughing, and
started to wade ashore.

"I'm in earnest," said Edward. "Apologize, or you'll get pitched in
again if you try to come out."

All this time Billie had been standing silently on the bank. She could
hardly blame Edward for punishing the cowardly boy who had insulted him,
but she wished with all her heart that she had not been the cause of the
quarrel.

"It's just what I get for mixing into other people's affairs," she
thought. "It all came about because I put it into the two Edwards' heads
to change places. I do wish I hadn't said so much that night."

The other Edward strolled out of the boat-house just then with his hands
in his pockets. He was dressed in the white duck trousers and blue serge
coat his counterpart had just removed.

"You look as if you had been having a quarrel," he said. "What's
happened?"

"Edward, please give that fellow a good flogging," called Clarence from
the lake where he stood waist-deep in water. "You can do it, I know. I
found that out the other day."

But Edward l'Estrange was in no humor to be bothered.

"You touch me and you go where your cousin did," he said, feeling equal
at that moment to exterminating the line of Paxton-Steeles, root, branch
and stock.

"Is that old Clarence out there in the water," said Edward Paxton
chuckling. "By Jove, but that's funny. You look like 'the bullfrog on
the bank and the pollywog in the pool.'"

Billie laughed outright at this because it was funny--Edward crouched on
the bank with a black look on his face, like an angry bullfrog, and
pollywog Clarence wading about in the water afraid to come out!

At that moment there was a sound of shouting and laughing and a crowd of
boys and girls came running from the piazza into the garden. They were
chasing Timothy Peppercorn, who was racing down the path in front of the
others. It was only a child's game they were playing, but there are
always some big children ranging anywhere from fifteen to fifty who love
to play games, and the biggest child at Mr. Duffy's party that night was
Mr. Duffy himself. He resembled a jolly fat old satyr with a crowd of
pretty wood nymphs around him as he ran puffing and blowing through the
palm-bordered walks.

It was Nancy, fleetest nymph of them all, who was the first to catch
Timothy by the tail of his coat and hold him fast until the others came
up, and it was on the bank of the lake she had caught him, not two feet
from where Edward l'Estrange was sitting embracing his knees, in moody
silence.

Just as the others came up, a row-boat shot from round the boat-house
and pulled into shore.

"Is this Marse Duffy's res-dence?" some one called from the boat.

Edward started. He recognized the voice of Uncle Peter.

"Is that you, Uncle Peter?" he called. "What is it?"

"You's needed at home, Marse Edward."

"All right. Pull over to the boat landing. I'll meet you there. Will you
take back the Firefly for me to-night?" he asked Edward Paxton.

"I'll be glad to," replied the other.

"You may expect me to-morrow morning," added Edward l'Estrange in a low
voice. "I'll probably need that hundred dollars more than ever now.
Before I go will you promise to take my place in every way until I come
back?"

"I promise," said the English boy.

He had not noticed that Clarence, seeing a chance to escape, had now
advanced within hearing distance.

"And tell your blackguard cousin," continued Edward l'Estrange, "that
the apology is only postponed."

"Edward," said Billie, running after him as he hastened to the
boat-house, "if you want to use the Comet to-night to get home in,
you're welcome to it."

"Thank you, Billie," replied the boy, giving her hand a warm grasp. "You
don't mind my not calling you 'Miss,' do you?"

"Of course not," said Billie. "We're just a boy and girl, anyway.
Besides, I called you 'Edward' first."

"Good-bye, again," he said, and was gone down the steps before she could
say a word.

Billie took another path to the house and avoided the crowd.

In the meantime, Edward Paxton, seeing Elinor standing apart from the
group of young people, had whispered to her.

"It's awfully jolly to see you again. I'm not strong on dancing but I'd
like one with you, if you don't mind my bungling."

Elinor looked at him in amazement.

"You seem to have been rather strong on dancing the first part of the
evening," she said coldly.

"Oh--er, perhaps I was," answered the boy, suddenly remembering that he
could not speak for his actions during the first part of the dance.

"But you will dance with me now," he went on, "or better still, suppose
we sit on the piazza. I have been thinking up the music for that song,"
he went on eagerly. "You remember the words you gave me the other night:

  "'On thy fair bosom, silver lake,
    The wild swan spreads his snowy sail
  And round his breast the ripples break,
    As down he bears before the gale.'

"You said you would like to sing it on Lake Worth, and I've got the
music all ready to put down. If it's ever published, I'll dedicate it to
you. It goes like this," he added, humming the air to the song as they
moved slowly off toward the house.

"What's that in the water?" called Nancy, after Uncle Peter had
interrupted the game and the merry-makers had paused on the bank of the
lake to rest and cool off. Mr. Duffy, mopping his face with his pocket
handkerchief, had seated himself on the bench occupied by Billie a few
moments before.

"It's a man," announced several voices. "It's a man standing in the
water."

"What are you doing, my friend? Cooling your ankles?" asked Mr. Duffy,
politely.

Seeing that he was discovered, the man waded in.

"Why, it's Clarence," cried Georgiana Paxton.

"Are you quite mad? What will Grandmamma say?" she added in an awed tone
of voice.

"Mr. Duffy," said Clarence in a voice quivering with rage, "I have been
insulted by a boatman on your place. I thought I wouldn't speak of it at
first because I didn't wish to make a scene, but since you have seen me,
I must explain."

"Dear me, dear me, dear me," exclaimed Mr. Duffy with great concern. "A
boatman on my place? Who could it be? I'm sorry, sir, I'm sure. And what
did he do, pray?"

"He was impertinent to a young lady and I reprimanded him, and later
when I was standing here talking with her he came up from behind and
pushed me off the bank. He rowed off with a man in a boat before I could
come out and give him a good flogging."

"Why, he must mean our Edward," said Nancy. "He runs the motor-boat and
the Comet, too."

"Edward, of course. He's a fine boy," said Mr. Duffy. "He often does
work for Mrs. Duffy in the garden. It's hard to believe he would play
such a mean trick on any one. But you'd better come into the house, Mr.
Paxton, and get on some dry things."

"Thanks, I'll take the motor-boat back to the hotel. My cousins can go
with the others. Ask the young Miss Campbell," he called after them, "if
that low fellow didn't have the impertinence to call her 'Billie,' and
speak to her as familiarly as if he were her equal?"

"He is her equal," exclaimed Mary, indignantly.

But of course the others only knew Edward as a very useful and capable
boy who worked around the hotel at anything he could find to do. He had
even been known to carry luggage, so anxious was he to earn money.



CHAPTER X.--THE SONG OF THE MOTOR.


Mr. and Mrs. Duffy enjoyed their own party so much that they concluded
to give another one immediately. Accordingly at eleven o'clock the next
morning, the Comet containing the Motor Maids and Timothy Peppercorn
started off behind the Duffy motor in which sat those two ample souls,
the master and mistress of the machine, Miss Helen Campbell and the
chauffeur.

It was a picnic party, during which they were to visit Mr. Duffy's
orange grove and his famous alligator farm.

As the motors passed the station, Billie saw a group of familiar figures
standing on the platform. Mrs. Paxton-Steele, as usual, was flourishing
her gold-headed cane, this time to point out pieces of luggage to the
man and maid-servants who traveled with her. Nearby stood Edward,
Clarence and Georgiana. Billie sounded the motor horn several times to
attract the attention of the others. Clarence looked over his shoulder
and turned around quickly without speaking. Georgiana waved her hand and
her handkerchief both at once, and Edward flourished his cap and looked
only at Billie, who thought regretfully:

"So, he did get back in time."

"Strange he didn't tell me last night he was going away," observed
Elinor.

"I think Edward Paxton is a person of many moods," said Mary. "He is
never the same from one day to the next. I don't think he is a bit like
Edward l'Estrange in character. It's only his face."

"They are certainly alike in face," put in Billie. "I believe their
nearest relatives could not tell them apart if they were dressed alike."

"I could," exclaimed Elinor with conviction in her tones. "There is such
a difference in their expressions. Edward Paxton's face is so much more
spiritual."

Billie could not help laughing at this, and Elinor was piqued.

"Well, I do think he is much more refined," she observed. "After all,
Billie, it was rather familiar of Edward l'Estrange to call you by your
first name."

"Nonsense," ejaculated Billie. "He's as good as I am, and I call him
Edward. Besides, haven't we accepted his hospitality, 'eaten his bread,'
as Papa says? It was quite right for him to call me Billie if he wanted
to."

The girls were rather surprised at this little tiff between the two
friends, who were never known to have had the shadow of a quarrel
before. Billie made up her mind that she would tell the girls the truth
about the two Edwards that very night, even if it were not her secret.
She couldn't bear these small misunderstandings, though they disturbed
the placid waters of their friendship ever so little.

"Why is it no one ever sees Virginia?" asked peacemaker Mary, changing
the subject.

"I did see her in the corridor of the hotel not long ago," replied
Nancy, "but when she recognized me she flew down a side hall. Miss
Campbell wanted to ask her to luncheon with us and tried to catch her,
but she had disappeared."

"Ever since you saved my life, Billie," here broke in Timothy, "I've
been meaning to tell you something. I'm almost certain it was Clarence
Paxton who yelled 'sharks,' that morning. Of course I couldn't testify
in a court about it, because when you are chasing around in deep water
you are not apt to examine people's lineaments. Anyway, it was not his
face I recognized, but his laugh. The last time he pitched the ball he
gave a jeering laugh, and that was why I kept on swimming farther out. I
had a feeling he thought I couldn't."

"If it was Clarence, he was punished," said Nancy. "His Grandmamma beat
him well with her stick; for I saw her do it and he saw me see her and I
saw that he saw that I saw her----" she finished breathlessly, while the
others laughed and clapped their hands.

"Bravo! Bravo!" cried Timothy.

They now entered a road which was not unlike a green tunnel. As a matter
of fact, it was a tunnel, only it had been cut through vegetation and
not through earth and rock.

"This must be the road to Miami," observed Billie. "You see it is cut
through the jungle. Isn't it wonderful?"

On each side of them tropical trees had grown in such thick profusion
and were so closely interwoven with vines and undergrowth as to form an
impenetrable wall.

"This must be a dreadful place to be lost in," said Timothy seriously.
"There are paths that lead through it, they say. But it is said that the
people who ventured to find them were lost themselves and never
returned."

"Criminals have hidden there----" Mary began, when the sound of another
motor coming up behind at a tremendous rate of speed attracted their
attention from the jungle. It was a gray racing car and as it flashed
past them, Billie and Nancy exchanged a meaning glance.

The other girls had heard the story of their strange adventure that
night at the l'Estranges, but they had half forgotten it already, since
it was only a fight after all. However, it had been a very real
occurrence to Billie and Nancy. They wondered if the gray car contained
a man who thought he had committed a murder; and was that man Ignatius
Donahue? Of course, there may have been other Ignatius Donahues in the
world, but since that night, they had heard no more from Mr. Campbell's
old friend.

Ten miles down one road and almost as many along another flew the Comet,
flashing his red breast gloriously in the sunshine.

In the whir of his smoothly running motor engine they could hear a song
of the joy of living.

"He's singing this morning," exclaimed Mary ecstatically. "He's got a
little song all his own. Listen!"

They sat silently for a few minutes harkening to the music of the motor
machine.

"I know exactly what he's singing," said Elinor. "I can distinctly hear
him say:

  'God's-in-His-Heaven-all's-right-with-the-world
  God's-in-His-Heaven-all's-right-with-the-world.'"

"I don't hear him say that," put in Nancy.

"He seems to me to be singing:

  'Begone-dull-care-begone-dull-care-begone-dull-care.'"

"What do you think he's saying, Mary?" asked Timothy.

"Something entirely different from the others," replied Mary. "Here's
what his song sounds to me like:

  'My-coursers-are-fed-with-the-lightning
  they-drink-of-the-whirlwind's-stream.'"

"This sounds like a quotation party," laughed Billie. "It reminds me of
Friday afternoon in the rhetoric class. It's my turn now, I suppose, and
I'm afraid I haven't got the Oriental imagination that will make a motor
car know verses from Shelley and Browning. All I can hear the old Comet
sing is

  'Punch-punch-punch-with-care--
  punch-in-the-presence-of-the-passengere.'"

"You've none of you struck it right," said Timothy. "This is the song of
the motor and once you catch it you never hear anything else:

  'Ketch a nigger by the toe,
  Ketch a nigger by the toe.
  When he hollers, let 'im go,
  When he hollers, let 'im go.'"

"Timothy!" protested the two most poetic souls of the party, Mary and
Elinor. But having got that insidious verse in their minds they could
not get it out, and for the rest of the journey they heard the motor
singing joyfully to himself:

  "Ketch a nigger by the toe;
  When he hollers, let him go."

Before them stretched the road like a long white ribbon fading into the
blue horizon. But they had left the tangled wildwoods far behind them,
and were now passing orange groves hedged in with tall fences of
arbor-vitæ or bushes of the roses of Sharon in full bloom, their white
blossoms gleaming in the sunshine like a line of new-fallen snow.

"This must be the Duffy grove," exclaimed Billie. "He told me he had
built a board fence as high as the wall of China around his place,
because next to his wife, he loved his orange trees."

It was the Duffy grove, for the rotund gentleman himself could now be
seen frantically waving his Panama hat and pointing toward a whitewashed
board fence, some twenty feet high, at the top of which branched rafters
like the uncovered roof of an enormous building.

"He stretches canvas over it when the weather is cool, and he has stoves
all about inside with wood fires to keep the baby oranges from catching
cold. Isn't he a funny man?"

"In other words he has an orange asylum instead of an orphan asylum,"
put in Timothy, as they drew up at the gate of the two-acre enclosure
wherein Mr. Duffy indulged his taste for an ideal orange grove.

The avenue itself did not enter the enclosure but took its unconsecrated
way outside the great white wall. Tall palms, like a row of giant
sentinels, seemed to keep guard over the secrets of the grove; but the
inquisitive vine of the yellow jasmine had almost reached the top, and
innumerable and brilliant flowers grew at its foot. At the end of the
avenue was the Duffy lodge.

"Ladies, you must excuse these simple accommodations," he said as he
helped them out of the motor. "Mrs. Duffy and I like to come here and
camp out occasionally, but it's a little too primitive for the old
woman. She prefers Palm Beach and society. And she's right," he added
good-naturedly. "This is a fine place to motor to, but it's too far from
people, and Mrs. Duffy and I like people, don't we, old lady? Especially
young people, eh? I feel like blessing that current that carried you and
Timothy against me that day, Miss Billie."

"We feel like blessing it, too," said Billie.

"It was a very well-bred and respectable current," exclaimed Timothy.
"It not only saved our lives but it carried us into a moonlight dance
and an orange grove."

Although the lodge was hardly the primitive affair Mr. Duffy had
described, being a well-built and comfortable bungalow, it had only
three rooms--a large living room, a bedroom and a kitchen.

"Take off your coats and hats, my dears," exclaimed Mrs. Duffy, "and put
on these aprons, because when people eat oranges in a real grove they
need protection, and I would not for worlds have you ruin your pretty
frocks."

Thus enveloped in large white aprons, they followed Mr. Duffy, looking
like a jolly fat comic opera pastry cook in that costume, to the
entrance of the orange grove.

"Jason must have felt like this when he found the Golden Fleece,"
whispered Mary, while they stood in a group waiting for Mr. Duffy's man
to unlock the small door in the wall.

As for their jolly host himself, he smiled mysteriously and beckoned
them to follow.



CHAPTER XI.--THE ORANGE GROVE.


As they passed through the door they gasped with amazement and wonder.
Nothing on the outside of the whitewashed fence could have given them an
idea of what it concealed.

Mr. and Mrs. Duffy stood arm in arm, smiling with proud pleasure, as
rotund as their own round oranges. It was a thing to be proud of
certainly to possess this noble grove.

Imagine rows and rows of orange trees all exactly the same size and each
cut in the shape of a beautiful dark green ball. And, as if nature could
not be lavish enough with gifts to one of her favorite children, each
tree was a bouquet of flowers, ripe fruit and green fruit. Through the
polished cool green leaves gleamed the brilliant golden balls, and the
clusters of white flowers sent out a fragrance that was sweeter and more
delicate than the most delicious perfume ever distilled.

"Perhaps the Garden of Eden was an orange grove," said Mary, pinching
herself to see if this really were a dream.

"Only this fruit is not forbidden, my sweet child," answered Mrs. Duffy,
"and you shall have all you can eat of it this minute. Mr. Duffy, did
you tell James to bring the knives?"

"Certainly, my dear. I couldn't forget them because they are in the
pocket of this garment, and I've been afraid of sitting on them
inadvertently."

He drew forth a number of sharp steel knives and distributed them among
the guests.

"The old woman and I will show you first how to peel the oranges," he
said, "and then just fall to and help yourselves. You can eat all you
want and don't be afraid they will make you sick. They never do. They
are very much like rattlesnakes, I think. They won't strike you unless
you are afraid of them."

After a few trials they learned to reverse the peeling on the orange and
draw it down to one end like a handle. The proper way to eat the orange
was to bite into it as if it were an apple.

They never knew how many oranges they consumed that day. Most of them
lost count after the fourth or fifth. They even lost sight of each other
and wandered about in the beautiful grove like a band of greedy sleep
walkers.

"I declare," exclaimed Billie at last, coming out of her absorption long
enough to squeeze Mrs. Duffy's plump waist and smile into her face, "we
are just a lot of butchers stabbing fruit to death."

"I don't wonder you never stay here for any length of time, Mrs. Duffy,"
said Timothy Peppercorn. "The smell of these blossoms and the fruit have
hypnotized me already. I can't remember who I am. I feel that I am
rapidly becoming an orange."

"Or a mock orange, perhaps," suggested Nancy.

"No, the real thing. I'm a genuine Florida orange, a delicious
concoction of juice and pulp----"

"Not much pulp, Timothy, my son," interrupted Mr. Duffy. "You must lay
on a little before you leave Florida. But what about lunch, my dear?"

"Lunch?" gasped Miss Helen Campbell, who had retired to a bench and was
leaning back exhausted. "How can you mention the word?"

"Oh, you'll be ready enough to eat after you shake down a bit," said Mr.
Duffy. "We'll see the alligators first."

"But, my dear," objected Mrs. Duffy, "alligators are such unappetizing
creatures. Perhaps Miss Campbell would prefer to lie down and rest while
you take the children to see the animals."

"I feel as if I had been dipped in a shower bath of orange juice," cried
Elinor, joining the others who had gradually assembled under one of the
trees.

"Now you see why I keep these pinafores for my guests," answered Mrs.
Duffy. "I wouldn't have you ruin your pretty frocks for the sake of a
few oranges."

"It was worth it," ejaculated Billie. "I haven't a dress I wouldn't have
sacrificed for the opportunity of eating all the oranges I wanted to,
right off the trees."

"I should have hated to give up my pale pink mulle," observed Nancy
regretfully, as if she had already laid that cherished costume on the
altar of the goddess of fruits.

After removing their juice-stained pinafores and washing their streaming
faces and hands, they repaired to the alligator farm which was another
fad of good Mr. Duffy's. Mrs. Duffy loathed the creatures, however, and
she and Miss Campbell took their siesta at the bungalow in the absence
of the others.

Billie herself harbored a secret distaste for the animals ever after
that, on account of what happened while she was feasting her eyes on
their hideous bodies.

The alligator farm in another part of Mr. Duffy's plantation appeared to
have been arranged and devised solely for the comfort and happiness of
these creatures, who disported themselves on the banks of a small lake
or wallowed about in the shallow water like the great lazy reptiles they
were. Immense logs and great boulders had been placed in the lake for
their amusement.

"I could easily imagine they would eat Hindoo babies," said Mary,
watching them fearfully through the wire netting which served to screen
her from their enormous jaws.

"Jennie is really the only vicious one in the family now," observed Mr.
Duffy, apologetically, pointing to an immense alligator which had
stretched its length on a log. Jennie opened her jaws with a humorous
grin as if her vicious reputation was an amusing subject to her.

They were still laughing at her when one of the children of the
lodge-keeper ran up quite breathlessly.

"Miss Campbell is wanted on the telephone," she said.

"Me?" cried Billie. "What in the world? There must be some mistake. Who
could want to speak to me over the telephone?"

"Best way to find out is to run and see," replied Mr. Duffy. "If it's
long distance, and it probably is, they may be paying for time,
remember."

Billie hurried after the child and the other Motor Maids followed, being
as curious as she to learn who could be telephoning her in this remote
region.

"Oh, my dear, I'm afraid the person couldn't wait, whoever it was,"
exclaimed Miss Campbell, meeting her young cousin at the door of the
bungalow. "I thought it was for me at first, and I tried to take the
message. There was some confusion about it. You know I'm no good over
the telephone."

Billie seized the receiver.

"Hello!" she cried. "This is Billie Campbell."

An immense distance off, a still, small, and yet strangely familiar
voice seemed to be speaking to her out of space:

"Billie-e-e--" it said.

"Who are you?" asked the girl, with a feeling of foreboding which an
unexpected call on the long distance telephone always causes.

"It's Edward--Edward l'Estrange. Listen. I must go away. Something has
happened. Make Edward Paxton keep his word. You are the only one who
knows about it. Tell Virginia if necessary. But no one else. Everything
depends on nobody's knowing I'm not at Palm Beach. Tell Edward I'll be
back, and he must represent me in every way until I come, as he
promised. You understand, don't you? Every way. You won't lose faith in
me, Billie, will you?"

"No," she replied, wondering what it all meant.

"Good-bye."

"Good-bye," she answered mechanically, feeling that she was in some sort
of strange dream.

"Wait," called the voice that sounded so like and still so unlike
Edward's. "Do you promise?"

"Yes," replied Billie.

"Good-bye again."

"Good-bye," she answered, feeling very much like giving way to a few
inexplicable tears.

"Was it Edward?" burst out the bunch of curiosity as soon as Billie had
hung up the receiver.

"Yes," said Billie, groping about in her mind for some explanation which
would explain, without telling what Edward had really said.

"Which Edward?" asked Elinor.

"Why, the one we saw this morning. They must be in St. Augustine, now."

"But what did he want?" demanded all the girls in one voice.

"He wanted to say good-bye."

"Didn't he send any messages?" demanded Elinor.

"Just to say good-bye," replied Billie, flushing a little under the
scrutiny of her friends. "He's going away."

"Not to come back any more?"

"He's coming back but not for a while. He really didn't make any
explanations. He just said he was going away."

Mary and Nora laughed and Elinor was silent.

"I always said he was a queer boy," observed Mary.

"But why telephone you, child?" observed Miss Campbell, much mystified.

"I can't imagine," answered Billie. "He just seemed to have to tell some
one that he was going away. That's all I know. He is queer," she
admitted, laughing.

"Luncheon is served," announced a respectful colored woman who was in
charge of the bungalow at all times.

At one end of the vine-covered piazza a table had been spread with a
white cloth, and there the hospitable mistress of the establishment
served tea and sandwiches to her guests.

During the ride back home, Billie tried to laugh and talk with the
others, and Elinor, too, made a great effort to be gay. But Elinor could
not conceal a slight coldness which was creeping into her heart toward
her friend, and Billie, somehow, was not happy.

What did Edward l'Estrange mean by going away and shifting all his
responsibilities on a strange boy and his poor little sister? And why,
oh, why, would he insist on drawing her into his troublesome affairs?
She wished with all her heart that he had not been such a nice,
interesting boy. Then it would have made no difference if he had chosen
to go to China. Only she would have still been disappointed in him, of
course. And what had he meant by saying:

"You won't lose faith in me, Billie?"

It was all very strange and perplexing.



CHAPTER XII.--AN UNWISHED WISH.


Miss Helen Campbell was laid low with a sick headache the day after the
orange grove party.

"A little too much juice of the fruit, my dear," she explained to
Billie, who had tiptoed into her room to see if there was anything she
could do. "But you mustn't stay with me. I shall be all right as soon as
my head stops throbbing. Only never show me another orange as long as I
live. Get Edward to look after you and go for a ride in the Comet. You
mustn't miss a moment of this beautiful visit on my account."

"Do you think there would be anything out of the way in our going over
to see Virginia, Cousin Helen? She is not working here any longer the
housekeeper says, and I suppose we shall find her at home. We could take
her for a motor ride and bring her back to luncheon."

"Certainly, child, if she will come. Ask her brother's opinion. He ought
to know better than any one else. But whatever you do, be sure and be
back to lunch or I shall be very uneasy."

Billie wished to see Virginia very much. She also wished to find Edward,
and the plan of the morning she hoped would bring both of these things
about. She felt worried, and anxious to disburden her soul of its
secret.

Her three friends had noticed at breakfast how quiet Billie was, for her
frank and honest face had never been able to conceal any emotion which
saddened or brightened it.

"Aren't you feeling well to-day, dear?" Mary asked, as they hurried down
the hotel walk to look for Edward, who they had been told was probably
at the boat landing.

"Quite well," replied Billie.

"Wilhelmina," said Nancy sternly, "you know something and you won't
tell. Now, get it out of your system right off, or it will be making you
ill."

Elinor said nothing at all. It was impossible for her to explain her
feelings just then even to herself. She was hurt with Billie for no good
reason, and she was angry and ashamed of herself for permitting this
ugly little bitterness to enter her mind.

"Do tell us, Billie," pleaded Nancy, whose curiosity when with her three
intimate friends was insatiable.

"But it isn't mine to tell," answered Billie desperately.

"Ha! She admits she has a secret," cried Nancy dramatically.

"The only way for you to learn this secret," said Billie, cornered at
last by her own confession, "is to find it out for yourselves. I can't
tell because I promised not to. For some reason, which I don't know any
more than you do, it's very important for the secret to remain a secret,
and everything depends on its being kept a secret. That's all I can tell
you, because, except for the actual thing itself, that's all I know."

"Heavens, how mysterious!" cried Nancy. "I feel I shall burst in a
minute if I don't find out."

"I'm afraid you'll have to burst then, you inquisitive child," laughed
Billie, giving her a friendly shake.

It was really something of a relief to talk about it, even in this vague
and unsatisfactory manner.

Edward was nowhere to be seen at the boat landing.

"Perhaps he's in the Firefly," suggested Mary.

The motor-boat was the last of a row of launches moored to the landing,
and as they approached they heard a clear, boyish voice, singing:

  "On thy fair bosom, silver lake,
  The wild swan spreads his snowy sail,
  And round his breast the ripples break,
  As down he bears before the gale."

Nancy and Mary, who were already half down the flight of steps leading
to the boats, paused to listen. Billie also lingered on the platform,
when suddenly Elinor, who had lagged behind, busy with her own thoughts,
ran up to her friend and seized her by the shoulders with a little low
cry that was half a laugh and half a sob.

"Billie Campbell," she whispered, "I know the secret. They've changed
places. But why did they do it?"

"For fun, at first," replied Billie. "And now I don't understand.
Something has happened because Edward l'Estrange is not coming back."

The two girls looked at each other a moment in silence.

"You mean he's left the other Edward to take his place here?" Elinor
whispered.

Billie nodded.

"But that isn't fair."

"I'm sure it is," said Billie stoutly. "Because--because----," she went on
lamely, "he couldn't do anything that wasn't fair."

"But think what it will mean to him," Elinor persisted. "He will have
plenty of money and he can go to school and travel----"

"I know," said Billie, "but he told me he was coming back and I believe
him."

"And Edward Paxton, what will he be doing? He will have to work for a
living."

"It will do him good."

"You are not fussing, I trust," called Mary, who had run back up the
steps to look for them.

"No, no, only arguing," replied Elinor.

Edward Paxton now appeared, his hands in his pockets, whistling the same
air he had been singing only a moment before. His eyes met Elinor's and
he stopped in the middle of a bar. This double identity was awfully
mixing. He was always forgetting that as engineer of the boat, Firefly,
he was not supposed to know about music.

"What are your orders this morning, Miss Campbell?" he asked, with just
a suspicion of mockery in his voice.

"Get the Comet, please, Edward," she said, flushing. "We are going to
motor out to see Virginia. Can you go with us?"

"At your service," replied the boy, smiling broadly.

He really seemed so happy that Billie thought, after all, the news she
had to tell him would not be so unwelcome.

"How do you like the life?" she asked him presently, following him to
the garage, while the other three girls returned to the hotel for mail,
motor veils and a last word to Miss Campbell.

"Wonderful," he replied with enthusiasm. "If I only had a piano it would
be perfect. I have just finished composing a song and I want to try it."

"You don't mind the work, then?"

"Not specially. You see I don't do very much. I've got it down to the
Firefly and the Comet, and let everything else slide."

"But----" began Billie with a tone of protest in her voice. "After all,"
she thought, "it isn't any of my business."

"But what?" he asked.

"I have something to tell you, Edward. What would you say if you really
had to work for a living for awhile?"

"Is that what you had to tell me?" he asked smiling. "I should say I
would rather study music."

"But you aren't studying music," said Billie. "You're just lying around
making up pretty tunes and neglecting the work you promised to do. I'm
afraid you can't neglect it any longer, Edward. You've got to look alive
and earn some money."

Then Billie gave him the message she had received over the long distance
telephone.

Edward was too amazed to answer at first. His lips formed the word
"scoundrel," but he seemed to have no voice. At last he burst out
indignantly:

"And I thought I could trust him, Billie, when I let him have that money
in advance."

"But you can. He will be back, of course."

"What earthly reason could he have for staying away, except to take my
place? Don't you think it's a good deal easier life to live with a rich
old grandmother, even if she is a scold, than to slave down here as an
engineer and a porter and anything else that happens to come along and
take insults from people?"

"But I thought you liked it?"

"I did, but not forever. Of course, I shall telegraph Grandmamma or
Clarence at once and let them know he is an impostor."

[Illustration: "No, you won't," cried Billie. "No, no, Edward, you
couldn't do that."]

"No, you won't," cried Billie so suddenly that she surprised herself.
"No, no, Edward, you couldn't do that. That wouldn't be honest. You gave
him your promise, didn't you, to look after his work until he came back.
I am sure you would regret it very, very much if you didn't. If he had
not meant to come back, he would never have called me up on the
telephone. You see, it wasn't necessary. They expected to stay several
days, didn't they? But he knew I was going to be at Mr. Duffy's lodge
that afternoon, and although he seemed in a tremendous hurry, he called
me up to ask me to give you that message. You are to represent him," she
repeated, "as you promised. I am sure he meant every word he said.
Please, Edward, do wait until you get word from him. How can you
distrust any one who looks so exactly like you? It would be like
disbelieving in one's self."

Edward did not reply. With an angry, impatient gesture he left her, to
bring the car out of the garage. Presently she climbed in beside him.

"It won't hurt you to do something for some one else," she went on. "I
don't want to preach, of course, but I'd just like to ask you if you
ever have, that you can remember, really made a sacrifice for any one?"

"I can't say I have," said Edward. "Perhaps I've never had the
opportunity."

"Do you remember that night when we didn't find the dead man, you told
me you had been afraid all your life of daylight and dark and draughts
and people and poverty? This is such a splendid chance to show you are
not afraid of anything in the world, even of keeping your promise,
Edward."

"But," he exclaimed, "I have no money, Billie."

"Take out sailing parties and launch parties and carry baggage and do
the things Edward did. Papa always said the proudest moment of his life
was the first time he earned five dollars."

"By Jove, it would be rather nice," he said after a pause. "Grandmamma
has always treated me like an infant, you know. When she finds out I can
earn a living, perhaps she'll have a little more respect for me."

"I'm sure of it," said Billie, climbing into the back seat as they drew
up in front of the hotel. "It's a dangerous thing," she said to herself
as she sank down upon the cushions, "to wish for a thing unless you
really want it, because if your wish comes true, you are just as apt as
not to unwish it, and then things are in a muddle."



CHAPTER XIII.--IN THE DEEP WOODS.


Billie, having unburdened her mind, felt much happier. The whole
situation had come about of course by her own careless words spoken in
anger, but after all she could hardly be called a responsible party to
the transaction, a phrase which sounded very legal to her. She
remembered once her father had playfully called her "a little accessory
before the fact," when she had induced him to take her on a foolish
excursion that had ended in disaster. Certainly it all sounded very much
like a romantic tale, and she did hope it would have a happy ending, but
no amount of hopefulness could keep that little entering-wedge of
anxiety from finding its way into her mind.

"Billie, is this the road to the left?" asked Edward Paxton, suddenly.

Billie had just time to say she thought it was the road, they had never
been over it but once and then at night, when Mary and Nancy pounced
upon her.

"We know the secret," they whispered, pointing to Edward.

"You've guessed," she replied, relieved that she was no longer burdened
with a secret she had longed to discuss with her friends. And they did
discuss it in low voices from every point of view. It was impossible to
explain Edward l'Estrange's mysterious telephone message. It did look
very much as though he had taken a mean advantage, but Billie believed
in him and so did the other two girls.

So absorbed were these young people in their whispered conversations,
Edward and Elinor on the front seat and the others on the back, that
they had not noticed that the road they had taken was rapidly
degenerating from a hard beaten highway into a sandy trail.

The land about them had a lonely, uninhabited look. The stillness was
oppressive. Almost imperceptibly, the few sparse palm trees and scraggy
pines which stood far apart like people on the outskirts of a crowd,
began to grow more closely together in little friendly groups. Then the
groups joined and became companies and the companies a multitude, and
the multitude a vast legion whose branches interlocked so closely as to
form a roof over their heads.

It was hard pulling along the deep sandy ruts, but the Comet uttered no
complaints until suddenly with a groan that was almost human, his wheels
sank hub-high in the sand and he could go no more.

"For heaven's sake," cried Billie, "this can't be the road to
Virginia's."

The motor had stopped whirring and the place was as still as death.

They climbed out of the car and Edward, with his hands in his pockets,
stood looking gravely at the half-sunken wheels.

"I'm afraid I've got you into a deuced lot of trouble," he exclaimed
remorsefully. "I ought to have been watching the road instead of
talking. I'm a poor chauffeur."

Billie secretly thought he was and she wished with all her heart that
she had run the car that morning. But chauffeurs, like professional
singers, are apt to criticise each other, and Billie had great
confidence in her powers as engineer of the Comet.

"Now we have relieved him of our weight, maybe he'll pull out," said
hopeful Mary, pointing to the motor. "Why don't you start him up and
see?"

"Crank him up, Edward," called Billie, jumping into her own particular
seat at the wheel. Somehow she never could feel at home in the other
seats.

The machinery began to whir and the poor Comet strained and tugged until
his one "all-seeing eye," as the girls had called it, was almost
starting from its socket and his loyal engine heart was nigh to bursting
its bonds.

"It's no good breaking a blood vessel, you poor old dear," exclaimed
Billie, patting the red cushion beside her as she stopped the motor.
"Just you wait and we'll see if we can't find another way out of this
hole."

The others laughed. It was always funny to hear their friend talk to her
machine as if a heart really did beat in his throbbing mechanism. But
after all, it wasn't a joking matter when they began to look about them.
It seemed as if the only thing to do was to abandon the Comet and walk
back to the main road. But Billie was not one to give up so easily, and
before she would consent to a general retreat, her friends knew she
would try everything she could think of to release the machine.

"I suppose we'll have to foot it," said Edward with a sigh, glancing at
his watch.

Billie flushed. Somehow this lazy boy irritated her. She had been
brought up by a man who thought nothing of spanning a great chasm with a
bridge or tunneling through mountains for his railroads. There was
something very like contempt in her heart for this young man who played
tunes on the piano and thought chiefly of his own health.

"Foot it, indeed!" she exclaimed, "and leave the Comet here to be
swallowed in quicksands?"

"But it isn't really that, you know," he answered. "Besides, what can we
do? We can't push the thing out and this sun is awfully hot."

"You don't mean to say you're going to give up without a struggle?"
cried Nancy.

Even Elinor, who was Edward's champion at all times, was not pleased.

"If you want to watch us work, you can," went on Billie, making a great
effort not to be too rude.

Edward's face fairly burned with shame.

"I--I didn't mean that," he answered. "Of course, I'll do anything you
say. I was only thinking of you."

"He was not," thought Billie. "He was thinking of his own delicate
constitution."

But she did not voice her thoughts and tried to swallow her indignation.
Never had she met anything in trousers so utterly lacking in spirit.

Having decided to remain and see the Comet through, the question was
what would they do? Billie sat down on the ground and began to think.

Finally Edward approached her almost timidly and volunteered a
suggestion.

"I saw an ox cart stalled in some mud once, in England, and they got it
out with some boards and a cross log. I think we could manage this if we
could find the boards."

"But where can we get any boards?" asked Elinor hopelessly.

No one could answer this difficult question, and they were beginning to
think that after all, they would have to submit to the easiest way and
foot it back to the main road, several miles away.

"A road is obliged to lead somewhere," said Mary Price at last. "Else
how did it happen to be at all? Why not 'foot it,' as Edward calls it,
down this path a bit and see what we come to?"

Billie, already ashamed of the temper she had just displayed for the
second time in her acquaintance with Edward, jumped up.

"Wise little Mary," she exclaimed, "I think that would be a splendid
idea."

"We'll probably be eaten up by boa constrictors," said Nancy with a
groan, "but come ahead. They'd be just as vicious here as farther on, I
suppose."

"And tarantulas and scorpions," said Elinor, following the others.

As they ran along, they noticed the trail gradually narrowed into a path
as if a wagon were in the habit of coming to a sudden stop and the
driver got out and walked the rest of the way.

The outskirts of the forest had been as still as the entrance to a tomb.
The interior was filled with noises. The songs of the wild birds, the
humming of insects, all kinds of inexplicable cracklings and creakings,
as if unseen things were creeping about.

"Ugh," exclaimed Nancy. "I'm frightened. Please let's go back."

"Oh, oh, oh!" shrieked Elinor, wringing her hands.

A long green snake had wriggled across the path almost over the toe of
her shoe in its haste to hide itself in the undergrowth.

"Oh, Elinor," said Billie, filled with remorse. "I'm so sorry. I
remember now how you loathe snakes. Do let's go back."

"Haloo-o-o," called Edward, who had run on ahead, "you were right, Mary.
Roads must lead to something."

Filled with curiosity, in spite of their horror of the creeping,
crawling things they felt sure the forest was alive with, they hastened
down the path which turned abruptly to the right, where a clearing had
been made, in the middle of which stood a little wooden shack of the
most primitive character, but still with a certain individual look as if
the one who had erected it must have put into it some of his own
personality.

And why was it that this crude little hut in the forest should have
reminded Edward of an English cottage?

The door opened straight on the ground and from under the low
overhanging roof peeped one little window. A jasmine vine had been
trained against the wall of the house and a hedge of acacia bushes
formed a sort of peaceful barrier between the clearing and the advancing
hosts of giant pine trees.

The door was open and they walked in boldly.

Inside were a few pieces of furniture, a cot, an old table and a chair.

"This must be a hermit's house," said Edward, who had forgotten all
about himself in the excitement and interest of the adventure.

"He must be dead or something, then," observed Nancy, looking about the
room curiously. "Because I can see with half an eye that no one has
lived here for some time."

"It's a snug little place," said Elinor. "It's almost cosy with this
solid wall of green around it. Now, who do you suppose lived here and
why did he do it?"

"He must have had some very good reason for hiding himself in this
forest," put in Billie, "but I hope if he is still living, he won't
begrudge us a few planks from his dwelling, and if he's dead his spirit
won't rise up and haunt us for disturbing his earthly dwelling place."

"Look," cried Mary, who had been standing in the doorway.

"What is it?" demanded the others.

"I'm almost sure I saw some one. It was a man. He stood out against the
green just for an instant. There was something white on his head like a
bandage or a handkerchief."

"Which way?" they asked, hurrying into the yard and scanning the green
wall on all sides.

"He seemed to be over there, but I am not sure. Perhaps I just imagined
it after all."

"Looking through the woods like this I could imagine I saw almost
anything," said Billie, making a frame of her hands and peering into the
forest. "People and animals and things."

Here and there a golden sunbeam, slanting through the foliage, cast a
flickering, dancing shadow on the trunks of the trees.

"They do look like people," said Mary thoughtfully, gazing at the
multitude of trees which seemed to be elbowing and jostling each other
for first place. Standing aloof among them was that slim dandy, the
magnolia, his black trunk gleaming richly, like a gentleman's frock
coat. Next came the rusty gray trunk of the vagabond pine which wanders
like a Gypsy into all lands; and beside him, like a good-natured
comrade, grew the palm, spreading his fan-shaped leaves in every
direction, like so many friendly hands outstretched in welcome.

Suddenly a bird, flying quite low, came so close to Elinor's face that
she almost fell backwards. Perched on a corner of the roof he regarded
them with two bright beady eyes, as a singer standing behind the
footlights might take stock of his audience. Then swelling out his
little bosom and throwing back his head, he began to sing.

"It's Dick, the mocking bird," whispered Elinor. "I'm certain of it. You
see, he's almost tame."



CHAPTER XIV.--THE MOCKING BIRD.


What a morning concert that was! It is true it lasted only a few
minutes, but it seemed to be a medley of all the beautiful songs ever
sung by birds. Surely Dick gave them his entire repertoire. His little
quivering throat seemed to be an instrument on which he played the long,
cool, clear notes of the wood thrush, the sweet trills of the canary
bird, arpeggios and runs, turns, quavers and semi-quavers. Edward threw
himself on the ground in a transport of enjoyment as he watched the
throbbing little creature.

Then, with a final chirp, Dick hopped down on the door sill, looked in
with an inquiring twist of his head, and flew away as quickly as he had
come.

"Was there ever anything to equal that?" cried Billie, breaking the
silence which had settled upon them during the concert.

"The darling little fellow," exclaimed Elinor. "Anybody would suppose he
had come to make a morning call on a sick friend and give him a concert
to cheer him up."

"Virginia's house must be near here, because she told me herself Dick
never went far from home," Mary observed.

"There's no telling," answered Billie. "I've lost all sense of direction
in this place; but I think we'd better get to work," she answered,
glancing at her blue enamel watch. "It's eleven o'clock. Edward, do you
think we could knock some of the planks off the lower part of the house
without doing much damage?"

Edward, who had been lying flat on his back in a day dream, pulled
himself together and jumped up quickly.

"Of course," he said apologetically, "if we can find anything to do it
with."

"Perhaps, if the hermit built his own house, he has a few tools," said
Mary. "Let's look in and see, at any rate."

Sure enough, they did find an old rusty hatchet standing in one corner
of the room. The house had been built on a slight foundation consisting
of four pine stumps about a foot high and the space from the floor to
the ground level was covered with planking. It was these boards Billie's
quick thought had designed to remove.

Warming to the work, Edward hammered vigorously, but it was very
difficult to release the thick boards which had been secured with long
nails. Edward's slim, piano-playing hands seemed hardly strong enough
for the task and after the top nails had been loosened, the four girls,
sitting in a row beside him, each took hold and began to pull. The rusty
nails clung to the wood with irritating obstinacy and then after all
gave way unexpectedly, as obstinate things and people are apt to do.
Over they went on their backs in a laughing, giggling confusion of
skirts and feet, with the plank on top of them.

They sat up rubbing the dust from their eyes.

Then with wild shrieks they jumped to their feet and fled in every
direction, Edward with them. There curled up under the house, his head
raised, ready to strike, was a long gray and green snake.

"Oh, dear, oh dear!" cried Elinor, while Edward shivered with disgust,
and the other girls pressed together with feelings of terror. How were
they not to know that hideous reptiles and beasts were not around them
everywhere in this wild place?

But the snake, evidently much relieved that matters were no worse,
glided off in the bushes.

"I hope his wife isn't around," groaned Nancy. "They always have a wife
about somewhere."

"I don't see her," said Edward, coming resolutely forth and seizing the
hatchet. "Shall we get this next board off and finish the thing as soon
as possible? This is a deucedly wild place to be in without any weapon
but a rusty hatchet."

With feelings of more or less repugnance they finally loosened the
second board. Placing one on top of the other, so that all five of the
party could lend a hand in carrying them back to the motor, they started
down the path.

"What's that?" exclaimed Mary, looking back.

"What's what?" they demanded in a chorus, almost dropping the boards in
their nervousness.

"Under the house."

"Not another snake?" shrieked Elinor.

"No, no; it's a box, I think."

"Let's leave it," said Elinor. "It's none of our concern. Probably love
letters of the hermit."

But, strange to say, as if a will stronger than his own impelled him,
Edward shifted his end of the board to one of the others and walked back
to the house.

"It is a box," he called, moving the object with his foot. "Shall I
bring it along?"

The girls laid the boards on the ground to consider. Elinor had worked
up a romantic tale in her head about the box which she now imparted to
her friends.

"The hermit who lived here," she said, "was probably disappointed in
love. He built a house in the woods and put his love letters in the
corner stone----"

"Which was a cedar post--" interrupted Nancy.

"And when he died," went on Elinor.

"But how do you know he is dead?" they demanded.

"If he were not dead, he'd be living there still, like the old woman who
lived on the hill," broke in Nancy.

The others laughed. It did not seem unkind somehow to make a little
innocent fun of the poor, dead, imaginary hermit who lived such an
uncomfortable life for his lost love.

"If you don't think it's highway robbery," observed Billie, "bring it
along. Having walked off with two boards, why pause at boxes?"

"A deserted box under a deserted house in a deserted wood should belong
to the first person who found it," said Elinor with conviction.

The box, which turned out to be an old cigar box with the lid tacked on,
was accordingly placed on top of the board with the hatchet, and once
more the procession started on its way.

"We look like a lot of pall bearers at a funeral," said Nancy
breathlessly as they trudged along.

At last they reached the Comet. It seemed an age since they had left him
wallowing in the sand, and his one great eye, which at night glared so
gloriously, now looked at them with mild reproach.

"The first thing to do is to find a log," said Edward, proceeding to
look for one.

The girls were surprised at his sudden energy when he appeared presently
dragging a fallen pine tree after him. Having got it across the road, he
chopped it to a proper length. The two boards he placed under the hind
wheels of the motor car, the ends being slightly raised by the pine
crossbeam.

"We'll have to run the car backwards," he said, "because, of course, if
we try to go on, we'll have to turn around eventually."

Billie had cranked up and was already sitting in the chauffeur's seat.
She was beginning to see the usefulness of Edward's plan now. Once more
the Comet struggled and groaned in his effort to climb out of the sand
pit, but without moving an inch.

"It'll have to be the front wheels or nothing," said Edward, wiping the
perspiration from his brow as he carried the two boards and the
crossbeam to the front and placed them under the car.

This time, with a mighty strain, the Comet rolled slowly onto the
boards, went the full length and promptly sank again into the sand. But
each time he responded promptly to the "board treatment," as Billie
called it, and after infinite patience and energy they finally pulled
him to harder ground.

"What shall we do now?" asked Nancy. "We're only getting deeper into the
woods."

"We can't turn around," answered Billie. "We'll just have to ride over
bush and brake, I suppose, and follow the path."

"Sound the horn, then," said Elinor, "to scare away the animals," and as
the honk, honk rang out in the stillness the birds and beasts who lived
in the woods must have thought some terrible new creature had come to
disturb their haunts.

It was a slow ride they took that morning along the trail. The Comet
picked his way cautiously, crushing vegetation under his iron wheels,
like the car of Juggernaut riding over its victims, while the Motor
Maids and Edward Paxton ducked their heads frequently to avoid being hit
with vines and branches.

Past the hermit's house they went, past the enclosure and still the path
persevered. They could trace it far in front of them. The trail had been
carefully and deliberately made, evidently. Trees had been felled on
each side and vines and plants torn away, and although a new vegetation
had grown up, the path was still open.

Except for the noise made by the wheels of the motor car as it passed
over bracken and fern and all the varied undergrowth of a great forest,
there was not a sound. The woods were deadly quiet. The birds had
stopped singing; even, the insects ceased to buzz. The quiet was
terrible.

"I feel," whispered Mary, "as if everything in the place was waiting for
something to happen. Do you notice there isn't a sound? The birds are
too frightened to sing. I have heard that a poisonous snake could
hypnotize a whole forest like this."

No one replied to this unpleasant suggestion. There was a long, uneasy
silence. Then, suddenly, the Comet gave a swift backward movement like a
terrified horse. Right in his path crouched a creature which might, in
that shady twilight spot, have been taken for a good-sized cat. But his
body was spotted, each spot outlined with an uneven circle of black, and
his tawny eyes gleamed more fiercely than any cat's eyes ever gleamed.

"It's a leopard!" whispered Billie, as she backed the Comet slowly along
the path.



CHAPTER XV.--OUT OF THE WILDERNESS.


From his reputed royal ancestors, the lion and the panther, the leopard,
or jaguar, as he is called in that region, had inherited a sinuous body,
swift as a flash in movement, and a savage, feline face. A ray of
sunlight, falling on the soft tones of his beautiful spotted skin, gave
out a rich lustre. The smooth padded paws, under their velvet covering,
were as strong as steel. His fierce, gray whiskers bristled at the
whirring of the motor and his ears stood up straight like an angry
cat's.

"The horn, the horn," whispered Mary in a choking voice, "it will
frighten him."

Billie reached mechanically for the rubber bulb and squeezed it again
and again. The honk-honk rang out in the forest like a cry for help, and
the leopard shivered where he crouched as if this unmelodious music
jarred on his nerves.

Suddenly with a flying leap, he landed in the branches of a tree beside
the motor. Billie never knew how she had the presence of mind to start
the car. She only knew that they were going as fast as possible on that
encumbered path and that the leopard, not counting on this swiftly
moving object, had jumped again, grazed the motor and landed just back
of them.

Perhaps it was Mary's ear-piercing shriek which frightened him, or
perhaps it was the red motor itself, which may have seemed to him a
newly created animal with a whirring, bristling noise that made his
nerves tingle. At any rate, instead of terrifying them again by jumping
into the branches over their heads, he crept behind, half cautiously,
but still ready to leap at the first opportunity.

"Keep up the horn, for heaven's sake, and make as much noise as you
can," cried Elinor. "They can be frightened, I know, by loud noises."

Edward on his knees beside Billie, worked the horn until his fingers
ached, and the girls gave Indian yells and hooted and yodeled until they
were exhausted.

For fully five minutes they rolled over the carpet of pine needles along
the trail and the leopard dropped farther and farther off, until finally
he slunk into the bushes. The intervals of hooting and calling grew
longer and longer, and at last they rested. Mary, only, kept watch,
kneeling backwards in the seat in a prayerful attitude.

"We'll be out of this dreadful place in a moment now," Billie was
saying, when suddenly, there was a blood-curdling shriek. A shot rang
out in the stillness, and with a strange vibrant noise that sounded like
the echo of the base string of a 'cello, the leopard jumped high into
the air and fell backward in the path just behind them.

Billie, with a very white face indeed, stopped the car and turned to see
who had saved their lives.

The leopard was still quivering in the death-throes when they reached
him, but it had been a clean shot straight through his body and it was
only a moment before he lay stiff and stark before them.

"But who killed him?" sobbed Nancy, quite unnerved now that the danger
was past.

"Yes, who?" they asked each other.

But there was no one in sight. Whoever had done the deed had slipped
quietly away without waiting to be thanked.

"Hello," called Edward, "come out, won't you?" and his voice echoed
through the place and came back to them like some one else's.

"I wish we had some way to thank him," said Billie, "but as we haven't,
let's be moving. The sooner we get out of this wood, the better. There's
no telling what will happen next."

"Shall we take this beast along?" asked Edward with a tone of disgust in
his voice, that brought to Billie's mind a remembrance of that evening,
not long before, when he could not hide his terror of death and blood.

"No, no," put in Elinor, who had a strong sense of justice. "His skin
should belong to the one who killed him. He isn't our trophy."

"I'm sure I don't want it," ejaculated Mary, jumping into the car. "Do
hurry and let's be off."

Once more they were on their way. After a long interval of silence, Mary
continued:

"This is like an enchanted wood in a fairy tale. It is full of goblins
and elves, wicked fairies and poisonous snakes and wild beasts."

"I don't mean to interrupt your poetic train of thought," said Nancy,
"but I'm certainly thankful at this moment that there is no smile on the
face of that dead tiger."

They all laughed but Billie. The woods were thinning now and the relief
from the strain of the last two hours made them light-headed.

"My beloved friends," exclaimed Billie finally, as the motor car slid
into a real road, and the great wood bristled behind them, black and
ominous, "oh my beloved friends, we are out of the wilderness at last.
And it's no thanks to me that we've all escaped alive. It was wicked,
wicked of me," she went on, choking to keep back her tears.

"What was wicked of you, Billie, dear?" asked Elinor, moved at the sight
of her friend's remorse.

"Not to have followed Edward's advice and walked back the other way. It
was wicked and stubborn of me. I can't forgive myself."

Not one of her friends had ever seen Billie so moved as she was now. Her
gray eyes were filled with tears and her generous, finely shaped lips
quivered painfully.

"Oh, Billie, dearest Billie," they cried, standing up and leaning over
the seat while she bent her head to hide her tears, "don't blame
yourself. It was everybody's fault. We agreed with you that it was
right, didn't we?" they asked each other.

"Yes, yes," they cried, and Elinor especially pressed her cheek to her
friend's shoulder. Billie seemed dearer to her now than ever before, and
all the morning a little verse had been running through her head:

  "Oh, blessings on that falling out
  Which all the more endears,
  When we fall out with those we love
  And kiss again with tears."

"Don't cry, Billie," said Edward. "I think we've had a great experience.
Nobody was hurt and we did the things we started out to do. We've saved
the Comet and we are on the road to Virginia's. Don't you recognize this
place?"

"It is the same," replied Billie, comforted by the reassurance of her
friends and smiling away her tears. "It's the very road we took that day
when we came up from the lake."

Already they could see the avenue of pines and as they turned in, the
sunlight gleamed quite cheerfully on the old white house at the far end.

"Virginia will have to go back with us," said Billie, "to show us the
way home."

The place was as still as ever, when they drew up at the front door, but
a certain inexplicable change had taken place. They could hardly tell
what it was. Perhaps, that the front door was wide open and a big easy
chair with a book and a newspaper stood on the gallery. They had not had
time to get down, when Virginia herself appeared at the door and
welcomed them as joyfully as if the very nicest thing in the world that
could happen to her that morning was to see these new friends.

With a little cry of pleasure she ran out to meet them, her fluffy
blonde hair blowing about her face like a pale gold halo.

"I am so glad to see you," she cried. "Won't you come in? Have you had a
nice ride?"

Nice? They exchanged glances.

"Wait until you hear about our ride, Virginia," said Elinor. "Then you
can judge for yourself how nice it was."

Billie was wondering which of the two Edwards Virginia thought was with
them, when the young Southern girl turned to Edward Paxton and said in
the most natural manner possible:

"I could almost have taken you for my brother in your chauffeur's
clothes, Mr. Paxton. But not quite."

They stirred uneasily.

Did Virginia know that her brother had run away? Elinor was wondering;
for Elinor had her own views on the subject of Edward's disappearance.

Billie hardly knew what to think. She had a bewildered feeling that
Virginia perhaps knew all about what had happened, until Edward Paxton
broke in with:

"Do you know when your brother is coming back, Miss l'Estrange?"

Virginia opened her eyes wide.

"When is your grandmother coming back?" she asked.

Edward shook his head. The young girl was too deep for him.

"Virginia," said Billie, "we've come to take you back with us to
luncheon and to stay all night, too, if you will. I hope you can come."

"If Mamma can spare me, I should love to," she answered eagerly. "Will
you come in while I find out?"

They preferred, however, to wait outside and the young girl flew into
the house and upstairs as lightly as a thistledown on the breeze.
Presently she was back again.

"I can go," she cried joyfully. "Mamma is feeling much better to-day and
she would like so much to meet you four girls. You don't mind waiting,
do you, Mr. Paxton? I would ask you up, too, but I'm afraid your
likeness to my brother might excite her."

As they followed her into the enormous empty house, she added in a lower
voice:

"Remember, Mamma knows nothing about our working, or--or anything. Be
careful what you say."



CHAPTER XVI.--MRS. L'ESTRANGE.


The second floor of the l'Estrange house was very different from the
first. The hall at the upper end was like a fine drawing-room. There
were rugs on the floor and opposite the door of the front bedroom were
several easy chairs and a sewing table. The door of this room stood ajar
and Virginia led the way inside.

"Mamma," she said softly, "I want you to meet my four friends who are
stopping at the hotel at Palm Beach."

The girls never forgot the picture of Mrs. l'Estrange in her bedroom. It
was all so unreal after the empty old house. It was really a sumptuous
chamber, large, and full of polished objects. The light came in dimly
through the heavy blue brocaded curtains at the windows and was
reflected in the mahogany secretaries and tables and the graceful
rosewood lounge at one end.

Mrs. l'Estrange was lying in an invalid's chair drawn up by a table on
which stood a bowl of oranges and a glass vase of flowers. She was a
small, slender woman, much like Virginia, only more beautiful, with
quantities of pale gold hair and sad blue eyes. A ray of light falling
across her thin white face gave her a look of one of the early saints,
resigned and gentle, sorrowful and happy, all at once.

"I am so happy to meet my little girl's friends," she said, stretching
out a small transparent hand through which they could see the pink light
shining. "She has told me how kind you have been to her."

"But she was very kind to us, Mrs. l'Estrange," replied Elinor. "I don't
know what we would have done if she had not taken us in and given us
supper one night when our launch was wrecked in the lake."

"Ah, but that was nothing," continued the poor, pretty invalid. "Think
how many times she has visited you at the hotel."

"Oh----" began Billie, and broke off quickly, for Virginia, standing back
of her mother's chair, had put her finger to her lips, and the truth now
dawned upon the Motor Maids.

The young girl had told a brave falsehood to her mother to explain her
frequent absences from home.

"It's what might be called a 'noble lie'," thought Billie, "but how can
they keep it up? And now there's Edward gone off and left it all to
Virginia," her thoughts continued, but she stifled the notion
immediately. "It's impossible. I believe he will come back, I do, no
matter how strange it seems."

"I am so sorry that Edward, my son, has gone away on a trip with some
friends," went on Mrs. l'Estrange. "But he writes he is having such a
beautiful time, I don't begrudge the boy a change. It is very dull for
him here. I wish you could help me persuade him to go to college next
year. He should go North and see something of the world, but he will not
leave Virginia and me, and as you see, I am quite helpless."

She spread out her pink hands and smiled faintly.

Presently Virginia, seeing that the girls understood, passed into the
next room to change her dress.

They were silent after she left, hardly daring to venture a remark until
Nancy threw herself into the breach by saying:

"What a beautiful old house this is, Mrs. l'Estrange. It is as big as a
hotel. I never saw so many rooms in a private house."

"I'm glad you like it, dear. It has been in my family for a great many
years and it is rather in disrepair now. The furniture is quite old. I
have not bought any in my time except the piano. It was all collected by
my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother, too. If you have been
in my drawing-room, perhaps you noticed the inlaid desk. It was brought
over from France nearly two hundred years ago. I value it more than
anything in the house, I think. And if you are interested in such
things, you must ask Virginia to show you the tea set which was once
owned by Lady Hamilton. And many other things, the silver bowl presented
to my great-grandmother by General Lafayette, and a beautiful sword
which was given to one of my great-great uncles by General Jackson."

So the invalid chattered away. It was evident that the lost treasures of
that house were her greatest joy and hobby, and her children had never
had the heart to tell her they were gone, scattered.

"Perhaps you would like to see my collection of miniatures," went on
Mrs. l'Estrange. "They are just inside the cabinet. Won't you bring them
over, and I can explain them myself."

On a shelf in the highboy they found two large black velvet plaques on
which were pinned a dozen beautiful miniatures, some in jeweled frames.

"These are all my family," she said. "I shall have the children done to
add to the collection as soon as I am well enough to go North. There are
no good artists in this part of the country. This is my aunt who danced
with the Prince of Wales. She is like Virginia, I think, blonde hair and
blue eyes and the same sweet expression. This is my uncle who was
presented with the sword. He was a brave soldier."

"Here is some one who looks very much like your son, Mrs. l'Estrange,"
put in Billie.

The picture they were looking at was a tinted photograph showing a
handsome young man with black hair and clear blue eyes. It resembled
Edward except that the mouth and chin were softer and less resolute in
outline. The face indeed was more like Edward Paxton's.

"Oh," said Virginia's mother, "I did not know that was on the plaque.
That is my husband's picture." She laid it on the table nervously and
then picked it up again and looked at it sadly. "My poor husband," she
said softly, continuing to gaze at it so long that the girls felt
uncomfortable and embarrassed.

"Who is this?" asked Mary, pointing to another old-fashioned photograph.

The invalid smiled as if the sight of this new face brought up pleasant
memories, and the young man in the picture smiled back at her, a kindly,
merry smile. It was not a tinted picture and they could only tell that
he had dark hair and eyes and a strong, rugged face.

"That," she said sadly, "was an old and--and dear friend--Ignatius
Donahue."

Virginia hurried into the room at this moment and looked a quick warning
at the girls. In another instant they would have exclaimed: "Ignatius
Donahue? We travelled down in his private car!"

"Good-bye, Mamma, dearest," Virginia said, taking the plaque and
photographs gently but firmly away from her mother and locking them in
the cabinet. "Mammy will take good care of you and I shall be back
to-morrow morning. If we are to get to the hotel by lunch time, we had
better be hurrying on. It's a quarter to one now. You won't forget your
drops at half-past, will you, dear? And your tonic to-night? See, I'll
put them here to remind you. Good-bye," and she kissed her mother twice
and hurried the girls out of the room quickly.

The old colored woman was waiting in the hall, probably to go on duty,
and Billie heard Virginia whisper as she passed:

"She's been looking at those pictures again, Mammy."

Only one thing more happened before they left that mysterious house.
Billie, who was the last in the line of young girls to file down the
staircase, heard a door creak in the hall and looked back. There,
standing in the doorway of one of the other rooms stood a tall,
well-built man. A long white bandage was wrapped around and around his
head. But it did not hide his rugged face, and at that moment, his lips,
for some unknown reason, were curled into a kindly, merry smile. Perhaps
it was Uncle Peter who provoked the smile, for he appeared just then
with Virginia's battered old suit case, standing very erect and
dignified in his old blue cloth swallowtail with its brass buttons, like
the fine old-time servant he was.

On the way back to the hotel, they told Virginia the story of their
adventures in the woods.

"Do you think it could have been Dick?" they asked, when they reached
the mocking bird part of the history.

"Perhaps," she answered. "He's been off all morning. But there are lots
of other mocking birds, you know."

Many and varying were the emotions which reflected themselves in
Virginia's face as she heard of the dangers they had been through. She
almost shed tears over the attack of the jaguar, as she called it.

"I didn't know there were any left around here," she said. "They are the
most dangerous, treacherous animals in the world."

But when she was questioned about the house in the woods, she pressed
her lips together into a thin line of determination and was silent for a
moment.

"Did you know there was such a house, with a path connecting directly
with your place, Virginia?" asked Billie in her usual direct, honest way
that was sometimes embarrassing.

"Oh, yes," answered the girl, "but the person who lived there is--is dead
now."

"Was he a hermit?" demanded Nancy.

"Yes, something like it."

"How interesting," put in Elinor. "And did you really know him?"

"I have seen him," answered Virginia guardedly.

"He must have walked frequently between your house and his," said
Edward, "because the trail looks as if it had been well trod."

"And the man who killed the panther?" asked Billie. "Who was he,
Virginia? I would like to give him something if it could be arranged. He
saved our lives."

"He does not need anything. He would not like a present, I'm sure, for
what he did."

"You know him, then?"

"I believe so. He is a man who has been staying in this neighborhood for
some time."

And not another word could be got out of Virginia. Soft, pretty little
creature that she was, it could be seen that she had a will of her own.

They were not late to luncheon and Miss Campbell had not been uneasy,
but it seemed strange to them to be sitting around a snowy damask-spread
table in a beautiful big dining-room, with softly treading waiters at
every hand to do their bidding and music floating to them from the
piazza. Was it only that morning that they had been lost in a wilderness
with poisonous snakes and wild animals about them; or had the forest
after all been enchanted and was it all a dream?

After drinking tea in the Cocoanut Grove and listening to the concert,
they strolled until dinner time in the splendid avenue of palms. But
there was one more sensation for the Motor Maids before bedtime. Edward
sought them in the evening, and calling Billie off from the others, gave
her a letter.

"This was in the old cigar box," he said.

It was addressed to "Ignatius Donahue, Esq.," and Billie, after
consulting with Elinor, added that gentleman's New York address under
the name, stamped it and dropped it in the mail box at the desk.

It was impossible to fathom the mystery which had wound itself about
that name, but if a letter had been waiting for him all this time in the
wild wood, he certainly ought to have it as soon as possible.



CHAPTER XVII.--A MORNING CALL.


One morning, a few days after the visit to Virginia's home, the Motor
Maids and Miss Helen Campbell received a surprise. Never was anything
more utterly unexpected than the event which I am now about to record.

They were in their rooms preparing for an after-breakfast dash in the
Comet, when there was a tap on Miss Helen's door.

"See who it is," she said to Elinor, the one Motor Maid who knew how to
fasten the little lady's blue veil to her satisfaction.

The knock proved to be a bellboy with a sealed note.

"It's addressed to Miss Helen Campbell and the Motor Maids," said Elinor
laughing. "Some one who knows us, evidently. Shall I open it?"

"Of course, my dear," answered Miss Campbell, busy at the mirror with
her headgear, just as the rest of the maids came in.

Elinor tore off the end of the envelope and took out two cards, while
the others with young-girl curiosity made haste to look over her
shoulder.

On a piece of folded note paper was written:

"Introducing the Marquis di Briganza and Lord Albert Spencer Ormond.
Ignatius Donahue."

The cards were foreign-looking square pieces of pasteboard engraved with
the names of these noble gentlemen, one of whom was attached to an
Embassy in Washington.

"Now, what in the world?" cried Miss Campbell, and the girls seemed
quite awe-struck at these high-sounding titles. "Why should Ignatius
Donahue send these titled persons to meet us? We are just plain, simple
Americans and I don't think a Marquis and a Lord would add to our
pleasure a bit. Do you, children?"

"No," answered Billie emphatically.

"I shall be afraid of them, I am certain," said Mary.

"We shall have to put on our best clothes to meet them, I suppose," was
Nancy's observation; while Elinor, holding herself very grandly,
remarked:

"I am sure, we are quite as good as they."

"Noble princess," laughed Billie, "of course you are and so are we all,
but don't you think it's a nuisance to have to give up our morning ride
and change our dresses just to spend half an hour with two silly foreign
lords? They'll probably have little mustaches that are waxed and turned
up at the ends, and wear high-heeled shoes and carry rattan canes and----"

"But the boy is waiting," interrupted Miss Campbell. "Shall I send word
we'll be down presently?"

"Of course," they answered in a chorus, and Miss Campbell smiled to
herself. After all, it was not an every-day occurrence to have a Lord
and a Marquis pay a friendly morning call.

"You may tell the gentlemen we will see them on the piazza in ten
minutes, boy," she said, commencing to unpin her veil as she spoke.

They were much longer than ten minutes, however, in making the proper
toilets in which to receive their distinguished guests. Miss Campbell
put on a lavender silk she usually wore in the afternoon. Nancy insisted
on wearing her very best lingerie and a leghorn hat with a wreath of
pink roses encircling the crown.

Billie removed a linen suit only slightly wrinkled and replaced it with
a fresh one as dazzling white as the snow that caps the Atlas Mountains.
Elinor wore a beautiful creamy organdy trimmed with real lace, a gown
that she had been saving for Mrs. Duffy's next party; and little Mary
attired herself in the daintiest and prettiest muslin that that clever
mother of hers had ever made.

"Shall I wear my hat or not?" asked Miss Campbell, taking a final survey
of herself in the cheval glass. "Billie, you have lived in Europe. Is it
customary over there to receive visitors at hotels in bonnets in the
morning?"

"Dearest Cousin," laughed Billie, "I never received a visitor in my life
that I can remember except some of Papa's friends, and I never wore a
bonnet for them. I suppose people in very high society may do as they
please. Papa told me he saw a funny, shabby old English lady once at a
hotel who turned out to be a real duchess. But she poured her tea into a
saucer and drank it, and when her granddaughter remonstrated Papa heard
her say in a deep bass voice: 'My dear child, don't you know a Duchess
may drink tea from a tin pail if she chooses?'"

"Very good, my dear, we are American princesses and it's nobody's
business whether we wear hats or not. Now, are you ready? Let me see how
all of you look first. Very charming and lovely, my four little
rosebuds. I am quite proud of you. Am I all right?"

"Sweet as a peach," answered Billie.

"Now, children, let me caution all of you not to let two foreign
noblemen make you feel ill at ease. They are not a bit better than you
are, remember, no matter how many titled generations they may have back
of them."

"I wonder if they live in castles," said Nancy with a little fluttering
laugh that showed the state of her feelings better than words could
tell.

Elinor swept along with her proud head held high. Her friends decided
that she looked the part of a noble princess to perfection. Mary, with a
feeling of timidity, stuck close to Miss Campbell's side, and Billie,
feeling rather bashful herself about confronting these grand strangers,
brought up the rear of the procession. Miss Campbell stepped resolutely
into the elevator, determined not to be frightened by two paltry titles,
and in this wise they approached the hotel piazza, unable to disguise
from themselves that they were all feeling slightly shaky in the region
of the knee joints.

"Where are the gentlemen who sent up these cards?" Miss Campbell asked a
bellboy, as she searched the piazza which was almost empty at this hour.

The boy took the cards and read them slowly. Then he began an itinerary
of the piazzas and parlors calling in a loud voice:

"The Marqueese dee Brigander,--Lord Albert Spencer Ormond."

"Good heavens, how very embarrassing," exclaimed Miss Campbell. "I
didn't know the child was going to scream the names all over the place."

It was indeed a conspicuous moment in the lives of these five ladies.
People scattered about the piazzas and in the parlors began slowly to
collect near the entrance to the lobby. There were faces at every
window. Bellboys peeped from the doorways and around corners. But no
gentlemen answering to the names of these ancient titles responded. In
truth, Miss Campbell and her charges appeared to form a highly
interesting group as they sat waiting for the noble strangers to
approach.

At last the boy returned.

"They ain't no such persons registered at this here hotel, ma'am. They
may have come over from one of the others. Do you remember the boy as
brought you the card?"

"I do," answered Elinor. "He had a freckled face and a snub nose and I
think his name is Joey."

Joey was produced immediately. It appeared that he had been watching the
callers who had sent up the sealed envelope, but he had not known that
it was their names being called about the hotel. He had noticed,
however, that they had slipped into the garden with some rapidity and no
doubt they were there now, although he, Joey, had distrusted them from
the first.

"But why, Joey?" asked Miss Campbell with some concern. "I'm sure they
came very properly introduced by our great, although still unseen
friend, Mr. Ignatius Donahue."

Joey could give no better reason for mistrusting the strangers than that
they seemed sly.

"I am afraid you are a person of exceedingly poor judgment then, Joey,"
answered Miss Campbell with great dignity. "We shall see the gentlemen
in the garden. It is less conspicuous than here. Go before and announce
us."

Following the little page, who resembled an imp in bottle green, they
went forth into the garden, where in the distance they beheld two
figures in white flannels seated on a rustic seat under a poinciana
tree.

"They are," whispered Nancy in an excited voice. "The blonde one is the
English lord, I suppose, and the dark one is the marquis."

"It may be just the other way around," replied Billie. "Things always
turn out contrariwise when you arrange them yourself beforehand."

"I'm sure the blonde one is English," repeated Nancy with conviction,
"and from the back of his head, I should say he was quite handsome."

While they were whispering together as they followed slowly after Miss
Campbell, they were amazed to behold Timothy Peppercorn running at full
speed down another walk which branched off toward the hotel. In his
haste he leaped over a low stone bench and landed right beside the two
strangers.

"If this isn't jolly," they heard him cry, slapping the blonde lord on
the back. "By Jove, but I'm glad to see you. How are you, old man?"

Suddenly Miss Campbell pressed her lips together. Two red spots appeared
on either cheek, and she hurried as fast as her diminutive feet could
carry her toward the group of young men.

"Percival Algernon St. Clair," she cried, shaking the blonde lord by the
shoulders. "Charlie Clay! You young rascals, how dare you play a
practical joke on an unprotected old lady and four helpless children? I
would just like to box your jaws well, the both of you two upstarts!
Marquis and Lord, indeed! Think of our having wasted the morning
dressing up in our best clothes like this! You are a precious pair, but
I'm glad to see you," she added, beginning already to relent.

Her occasional mild bursts of anger were like brief summer tempests,
done almost before they had begun.

"We are so ashamed, Miss Campbell," answered Percy. "We thought it would
be a bully good joke on you and the girls, but we had no idea they were
going to shout those names all over the hotel. I got the cards from my
senator-uncle in Washington, and we used Mr. Donahue's name for fun. But
when they began to yell those titles we had to run. We couldn't face
it."

"Well, well," said Miss Campbell, "I will forgive you this time, but
never play another practical joke on me. You've no idea what a sensation
your names created in the hotel."

There was no bad feeling on the part of the Motor Maids. They were too
glad to see their friends from West Haven to mind having been fooled.

"I recognized you as soon as I saw your back, Percy-Algy," said Nancy.
"Only I couldn't think who on earth you were."

"Do you call that recognizing, Miss Nancy-Bell?" laughed her friend, his
handsome ruddy face flushing deeper with the pleasure of seeing her
again.

"But how did you happen to come?" inquired Billie.

"It was Timothy, here, who got us down," answered Percy. "You see we
were great chums one summer in the mountains. I didn't know how much I
wanted to see him again until I found he was at Palm Beach, and the
Midget and I decided we'd run down and look him over."

"So you didn't come to see us at all, then?" inquired Miss Campbell.

Timothy winked slyly and grinned.

"I guess I'm a pretty good excuse, Miss Campbell," he said. "But don't
tease the lad. He blushes too easily."

"And Charlie came to see you, too, I suppose?" pursued Miss Campbell,
glancing at the other boy who was at that moment engaged in an earnest
and interested conversation with Mary Price.

"Let's go back and get into our every-days and take a ride in the
Comet," suggested Billie. "We can all squeeze in just as we used to do."

As the notion seemed agreeable, they parted company for a time, while
the ladies fled by a side door into the hotel. And you may be sure they
were not as long in "dressing down" for old friends as they were in
dressing up for foreign lords. It was not many minutes before they
crowded into the red motor which Edward Paxton had brought around from
the garage.

"Why, hello," exclaimed Percy, noticing the young chauffeur at once.
"I'm awfully glad to see you again, but I thought you were gone to New
York. You must have changed your mind in a hurry to have beat us down."

"You have made a mistake," said Edward stiffly. "I never saw you
before."

"Curious," said Percy, "but you are enough like a fellow we met on the
way down to be his twin brother."

"Was he alone?" demanded Billie.

"He seemed to be, but why?"

"Oh, nothing," she replied, jumping into the car with the others.

As the automobile turned down the driveway, it met another approaching.
The occupants in it bowed politely to Miss Campbell and her party. They
were old Mrs. Paxton-Steele, her granddaughter, Georgiana, and her
grandson, Clarence. Edward l'Estrange was not with them.



CHAPTER XVIII.--IT'S AN ILL WIND.


Billie and Elinor strolled together that evening along the palm-bordered
walk of the hotel.

They had grave matters to discuss and they had slipped away from their
friends to be alone. Percy and Nancy waited eagerly on the piazza for
the first strains of the orchestra, which meant that dancing would
begin, and Mary and Charlie lingered on a bench talking of West Haven.

"It is a queer business, Elinor," Billie was saying. "I do wish he had
written."

"He might have sent either you or Edward just a line," exclaimed the
other. "How can he think Edward is going to masquerade like this much
longer? He is really working quite hard for a boy who has never done
anything much in his life."

"It will do him good," insisted Billie. "He's twice as manly as he was
when we first met him."

"But what is going to happen now? Is he to wait until Edward l'Estrange
comes back?"

"He promised to."

"But he didn't expect him to go beyond St. Augustine, and he's gone to
New York."

"The family is here. Edward Paxton could let them know who he is at any
moment if he doesn't trust the other Edward. Why doesn't he?"

Elinor was silent.

"He's afraid, Billie, I think," she said presently.

"That's just it," cried Billie. "He's always afraid, afraid, afraid."

"It's certainly queer, all of it," answered Elinor, when a figure which
had been standing behind a clump of palms stepped into the path.

It was Clarence Paxton, and so little did Billie trust this treacherous
cousin of her friends, that she gladly joined Timothy Peppercorn who had
come running down the walk to find her.

"They are playing the barn dance, Billie," cried the red-headed youth,
eagerly. "We had such a jim-dandy barn dance together at the Duffy's, I
thought we might try it again to-night."

"'Barkis is willin'," answered Billie, and away they ran like two frisky
young colts.

"I don't know any of the native dances, Miss Butler," said Clarence, who
was much more English than his cousins, "or I would ask you to try
this--er--jig----"

"Barn dance," prompted Elinor, who also had no liking for Edward's
cousin.

"Will you go for a little stroll?"

"I will go as far as the hedge. Miss Campbell does not allow us to go
out of sight of the hotel in the evening."

Clarence thrust his hands in his pockets and walked beside her. He had
very grown-up airs, although she had heard from his cousins that he was
only seventeen.

"Perhaps you think our meeting just now was accidental," he went on.

"I hadn't thought of it at all," replied Elinor.

"Please don't be unkind to me, Miss Butler. It was because I was in
trouble that I wanted to speak to you. I knew you would listen to me
when perhaps the other girls wouldn't. You were especially fond of
him----"

"Fond of whom?" she interrupted.

"Why, of Edward, my cousin. Although we did quarrel a good deal, Miss
Butler, I loved him like a brother. That's why I'm so unhappy now."

"Do get to the point," she answered impatiently. "Has anything happened
to your cousin?"

"Yes."

"Can't you tell me what it is? Is he ill or hurt, or anything?"

"No, no; not that. Something much worse."

"But what?"

"My grandmother has disowned him; cast him off."

"Oh! Are you quite sure?"

"Perfectly. I was present when it happened."

For the first time since he had joined her, Elinor began to notice that
Clarence, far from being dejected and cast down, was in such high
spirits he could hardly conceal his joy. His eyes had a new light in
them. There was an unusual color in his cheeks, and he smiled
continually as he flicked the foliage with a light little cane and
walked with an elastic step as if he were going down the middle in a
quadrille.

"Yes," he went on joyfully, "I was in the room. So was Georgiana. And we
both saw the whole thing."

"But what brought it about? Had Edward done anything so terrible as to
be punished like that?"

"Oh, he's been going off ever since we came to this place. He's been
rebellious and bad tempered--and--and--" here Clarence smiled
reminiscently, "I've had some trouble with him myself. Finally, in St.
Augustine, Grandmamma and he had an out and out quarrel over nothing
apparently, but they worked it up between them until it came near being
a pitched battle. They really seemed to enjoy it, the two of them. It
was like a game of battledore and shuttlecock. I didn't know Edward had
it in him. But Grandmamma, she's a Tartar when she's scratched, and
anybody within range of that stick of hers had better look alive. She
started to strike him with it, and he caught it and broke it into two
pieces and threw it on the floor. Then she turned on him so calmly and
quietly Georgiana and I thought she wasn't angry but we changed our
minds. 'This changes every prospect you ever had,' she said. 'Leave me
and from this day your future, as far as I am concerned, is altered.'"

"Good heavens," exclaimed Elinor, her thoughts turning to the real
Edward Paxton, who was at that moment lying on his back under the Comet,
cleaning the machinery. "But don't you think it can be patched up? He's
only a boy. Surely, she will take him back."

"I'm afraid not," answered Clarence, smiling with secret pleasure. "I
doubt it very much. Georgiana has been on her knees to Grandmamma, but
the old General only says, 'Don't let me hear you speak that name
again.'"

"And what have you done for him? Anything?"

Clarence shrugged his shoulders.

"If Georgiana could do nothing, you don't suppose I could?"

"But think of his being in a strange country without any money or
friends? Couldn't you let him have some of your allowance until he gets
a start?"

"Hardly. My allowance is not sufficient for my own wants."

Here was a state of things, indeed. Elinor began to wonder how Edward
Paxton could ever induce his grandmother to forgive the trick he had
played on her. Would she ever listen to him? Would she even see him, no
matter how many proofs he could give her that he was the real Edward
Paxton? And where, oh where, was Edward l'Estrange?

"Then you will be your grandmother's heir," she said presently, breaking
the silence which had fallen between them.

"Oh, Georgiana will have a little, I suppose," he replied carelessly.
"But I shall have the bulk, of course. You see Grandmamma's second
husband, Mr. Steele, who left most of the money, had no heirs."

"What will you do with all those thousands, or millions, is it?"

"A million and a half. Oh, I shall live in a yacht a great deal. I shall
have a shooting box in Scotland and a town house in London. I don't care
for Grandmamma's London house. It's old and dingy and rather cramped. I
shall get rid of it at any price. I shall have a villa on the Riviera,
probably at Monte Carlo, and that reminds me, Miss Butler," he broke off
suddenly, looking at his watch, "you will pardon me if I leave you, will
you not? I am due at the Casino at twenty past eight. Good evening."

Lifting his straw hat with the affected air of a Piccadilly dandy, he
tripped down the walk out of sight.

Elinor laughed out loud as she watched him stepping off, flicking the
palm leaves with his rattan cane.

"And that is going to get the money!" she ejaculated. "What a shame. I'm
sure Edward Paxton has more in him than his ridiculous cousin, who has
already commenced to gamble at the Casino on prospects. If Edward could
only prove to his grandmother that there is something to him!"

The young people had finished the barn dance and were resting on the
broad piazza overlooking the lake, when Elinor found them.

"Do you suppose we could find Edward Paxton?" she whispered to Billie.
"I have a piece of very bad news for him. I will tell you about it if we
can get away."

Billie knit her brows.

"Is it about the other Edward?" she asked.

"It certainly is. He's been and gone and done it!"

"Done what?"

"Got disinherited and packed off by Mrs. Paxton-Steele, and if you can
explain why he didn't pack himself back home, you must know a great deal
more about him than the rest of us."

"I can't explain it, Elinor," replied Billie. "I can't even try. But I
still believe he's honest and I'd rather wait a little longer before I
pass judgment. There may be some explanation."

Elinor could not but admire her friend's loyalty, which was one of the
strongest characteristics in her fine nature.

"What a trump you are, Billie," she said. "You are the truest friend in
the world."

"The chauffeur wishes to speak to one of the ladies," announced a
bellboy. "He is at the side entrance."

"Elinor and I will go, Cousin Helen," said Billie, promptly seizing the
opportunity which had come so quickly.

Edward was waiting for them in a passage leading to one of the side
exits. He was in his chauffeur's suit and was singing to himself as they
approached the song he had dedicated to Elinor: "On thy fair bosom,
silver lake."

"I came for orders for to-morrow," he announced cheerfully. "I have a
good many engagements, and I was afraid I would be filled up if I didn't
see you this evening."

"Engagements for what?" demanded Elinor.

"To make money," he answered gaily. "I made six dollars to-day and I
expect to earn almost twice that much to-morrow. At this rate, I'll be
earning a real salary, soon."

"Good," cried Billie, clapping her hands.

"And you are really beginning to like the work, then?" asked Elinor.

"Well, rather. I find machinery almost as interesting as the piano. The
climate of this place agrees with me, too. I don't have those attacks of
indigestion any more. My eyes are lots stronger and I sleep seven hours
a night and eat everything in sight. But what are your plans for
to-morrow? There is a man waiting to see me, now."

"We are going to the Duffy's in the Firefly at four o'clock for a tea."

The two girls hadn't the heart to tell him the unwelcome news that
night.



CHAPTER XIX.--A PASSAGE AT ARMS.


Mr. and Mrs. Duffy's teas were quite different from other people's
afternoon affairs. There was always lots to eat for one thing; long
buffet tables piled with salads and sandwiches; great bowls of fruit
drinks and ices and cakes. There was dancing, too, in the big parlors,
and who ever heard of dancing at a tea before?

"Young people like to dance no matter what the hour of the day," Mrs.
Duffy had said in explanation to Miss Campbell.

"But this is a very beautiful entertainment, my dear," replied Miss
Campbell. "We had expected simple tea and you are giving us an elaborate
lawn party. You must have gone to no end of trouble, and what a good
time they all seem to be having. My girls are everywhere. Billie is on
the tennis court, and Mary is playing croquet, and Nancy is dancing, and
here is Elinor hovering over me like a guardian angel."

"You are a careful chaperone, I see," observed a deep, well-trained
English voice at her elbow.

Miss Campbell turned quickly. It was Mrs. Paxton-Steele leaning heavily
on her stick. Elinor could not keep from looking at that stick with much
curiosity. Edward Paxton had told her that the old lady had numbers of
canes which her man servant packed around in a case like golf sticks. It
would have been interesting, she thought, to have been an unseen witness
at that famous battle when the other Edward had seized the stick and
broken it in half. She wondered if there had been a great clap of
thunder and a flash of lightning, as there was when Siegfried smote the
staff of Wotan.

Miss Campbell turned smiling. Her manners were always exquisite and she
was not in the least afraid of the old bird of prey, as the girls had
disrespectfully christened the war-like English lady.

"Ah, well," she replied, "they are not my own. That is why I must be
particularly careful of them. They are only borrowed children. One feels
especially responsible for borrowed property, don't you think?"

"They are all equally troublesome, my dear lady," returned Mrs.
Paxton-Steele, "whether they are one's own or another's. I assure you
that bringing my three grandchildren with me to America was much more
difficult than bringing three packages of Bohemian glass of the most
expensive and brittle character. That is what they are, these young
people, expensive and brittle. They have no stability--no strength."

"With your permission, madam, I would like to introduce my four girls to
you," put in Miss Campbell proudly. "They are much more satisfactory
than Bohemian glass and I can rely on them always."

Elinor smiled to herself. The two ladies reminded her of an old
baldheaded eagle in a garden hat and a silver pheasant in a lavender
bonnet.

"Perhaps if you were suddenly deprived of your grandchildren, Madam,"
went on the silver pheasant, "you would realize how much you really
cared for them."

The old eagle shrugged her shoulders and flapped the brim of her garden
hat with a sort of fierce humor.

"Ah, but they are a problem, Madam, they are a problem. People should
not bring children into the world and leave them for others to rear. I
had hoped for a peaceful old age and I find neither peace nor rest."

"That's because you don't give any yourself," thought Elinor. "Just
leave a few of those canes behind and things would go smoother."

"This young woman," continued the old eagle, pointing to Elinor with her
cane--Elinor held up her head haughtily because she did not enjoy being
under inspection in this way--"this high-bred, proud young woman looks as
if she might have plenty of backbone."

Elinor blushed slightly. After all, Mrs. Paxton-Steele had a flattering
way with her that was not entirely unpleasant.

"Elinor, dear, have you met Mrs. Paxton-Steele?" asked Miss Campbell.
"This is Elinor Butler, one of my most precious charges."

"A very good name," pursued the old lady. "Butler, a fine, Irish name.
Perhaps, if you will excuse me, Madam, Mistress Elinor Butler will be
good enough to walk with me about the garden. I do not notice that my
granddaughter, Georgiana, is paying me much attention. What I like about
you, child, is that you are not timid. Georgiana is like a frightened
hare. She rushes under cover at the first loud noise."

"Perhaps," replied Elinor, feeling that it would do no harm to live up
to this high opinion of courage, "perhaps Georgiana is afraid of your
ebony stick."

The old lady chuckled.

[Illustration: "Perhaps," replied Elinor, "perhaps Georgiana is afraid
of your ebony stick."]

"My dear Mistress Elinor Butler," she exclaimed, "you have quite hit the
nail on the head. That is the very test of courage I have always been
setting them, but they don't seem to understand. Why should they be
afraid of a stick? I'm not going to murder them. Suppose I should
threaten to strike you with this stick. What would you do?"

"If I had the strength, I should break it in two; if not, I should throw
it as far as I could send it."

"And you would be quite right to do either. I have respect only for
those who stand up for their rights. If my sticks were loaded, if they
were pistols or rifles, there might be some excuse. They are merely
harmless splinters of wood. And yet, I assure you, not a member of my
household, either servants or grandchildren, has ever found it out.
There is no more harm in them than there was in the Queen of Hearts who
cried, 'Off with his head,' every other moment and never beheaded
anyone. But I have only to raise one of these bits of sticks and shake
it in the air and they are all at my feet. It is very monotonous."

"Why don't you tell them so?" asked Elinor. "Perhaps poor Georgiana
would be happier and so would the others, if they knew it was all a--a
bluff."

"Oh, child; that is the point. That is the test. A coward is always a
coward until he proves his own courage, and these grandchildren of mine
are cowards, worthless, characterless cowards. If Georgiana were only
like you or your friend who saved the young man in bathing--what's her
name? But she is not. She is a spiritless little creature."

"You mean you would like her better if she wouldn't allow you to--to go
on so?" hesitated Elinor, hardly knowing what name to call the old
lady's fits of rages.

"Nothing would give me greater pleasure than to see her stand up for
herself. But it is not in her. It is a pity some good red American blood
could not be injected into her veins."

"Oh," broke in Elinor, "but I thought you didn't like American girls. I
once heard you say you thought they were too bold."

The old lady looked at her with a shrewd smile.

"I find the species improving," she said.

While they had been idling along the path, a bold stroke had occurred to
Elinor and she now determined to put it into action. Gently, but firmly,
she had turned her companion's footsteps toward the boat landing. As
they took the lower walk, she said:

"Is Edward coming back to Palm Beach?"

"I know nothing of Edward or his movements," replied the other sharply.

"And you don't miss him?"

"Miss him, indeed! Lazy, piano-playing fellow! It was his music I could
forgive least of all. It has been a curse in my family. I am old and
bent from the misery it has brought me."

"But suppose he could do other things besides play? Couldn't you forgive
him then?"

"No, no," answered Mrs. Paxton-Steele. "I am tired of hearing his name.
Never speak to me of Edward again. You are a presuming, impudent young
upstart."

"And you," exclaimed Elinor, flushing scarlet, "and you, Mrs.
Paxton-Steele, are a cruel, vain old woman. You think you are wise and
you are only stupid. Because it is stupid to be a bully. You are
crushing all the soul and spirit out of Edward and Georgiana until,
instead of loving you, they--they hate you," she ended, stamping her foot
on the gravel path.

"What? What?" screamed the old woman, choking with rage.

She raised her stick. But before she could lay it across Elinor's back
the young girl seized it with both hands, wrenched it from her and
pitched it into the lake. Then she burst into tears.

Mrs. Paxton-Steele sat down on a bench and folded her hands in her lap.
"Don't cry, child," she said as calmly as if a moment before a tornado
of rage had not almost swept both of them off their feet. "But of course
all women must cry," she added. "I was curious to see if you would keep
your word, which I am delighted to see you did. I shall have no sticks
left if this keeps up. Dear, dear, dear!"

"But you had no right to experiment with me like that," sobbed Elinor.
"I'm not one of your unfortunate grandchildren."

Mrs. Paxton-Steele laughed good-humoredly.

"I haven't enjoyed myself so much in years," she said. "It's a dangerous
thing, my dear, for a rich old woman to be bored and disappointed, that
is, if she has a bundle of sticks nearby. But of course I had no
intention of striking you, just now. I should have had the whole Duffy
clan on my back in a moment if I had, and your little peacock chaperone
in the bargain. It was only an experiment, as you say. So I am a vain,
cruel, stupid bully, am I?"

Elinor hung her head. She was ashamed of her outbreak now that calm was
restored. She felt that Mrs. Paxton-Steele was really just a big tease;
that her grandchildren had never understood her and perhaps--perhaps. A
notion had come into Elinor's head. Might it not be that she was too
deep for any of them to fathom? For just one instant Elinor had caught a
glimpse into this strange woman's mind, and now she was more than ever
bent on the original object of the walk which had taken its course
downward toward the water's edge.

"Why didn't you add that I was an old cat playing with a harmless little
mouse?" her eccentric companion added leaning on the young girl's
shoulder almost affectionately.

"Because I didn't feel like a helpless mouse," returned Elinor, dabbing
her eyes with her pocket handkerchief to remove the last traces of tears
from them.

"But where are you bound for now, Elinor Butler?"

"Wouldn't you like to take a motor-boat ride? We have a splendid
engineer. He is reliable and knows the engine thoroughly."

"I should like it very much. It would cool our blood after our recent
passage at arms."



CHAPTER XX.--THE HAND OF DESTINY.


Edward Paxton, with nothing special to do, was lying on one of the
cushioned seats of the Firefly, humming his favorite tune. Mechanically
he felt in his pockets for a roll of bills.

"All earned," he said softly, smiling into the deep blue sky with an
expression of ineffable content. "Pretty good for a new hand," he added,
listening with pleasure to the quiet music of the waves lapping the
sides of the boat.

He drew the money from his pocket and began to count it.

"I beg your pardon," said a voice just over him.

Edward looked up quickly. It was his cousin, Clarence, flicking at his
duck trousers with his everlasting rattan cane. "By Jove," added
Clarence with a somewhat startled expression on his face, "by Jupiter,
but you resemble my cousin Edward! Georgiana told me, but I didn't
altogether believe her. I've really never seen your face well by
daylight before, you know."

Edward did not trust himself to reply.

"I came down here," Clarence went on, "to make you an humble apology. It
was awfully nasty of me, you know, that day to have spoken as I did. I
hope it's all over and forgotten now, old man. Isn't it?"

"Yes," said Edward, thrusting his hands in his pockets and turning his
face toward the lake.

"How is business at present? Pretty good?" went on Clarence in his most
ingratiating tone, climbing into the boat without being asked and
sitting down beside Edward.

"Pretty good."

"I imagine you earn quite a good deal now, don't you, taking out parties
every day? And I notice you are working on the motor cars at night,
too."

Edward shrugged his shoulders. He was not surprised at what was coming
next.

"I had a beastly stroke of luck last night, old man. I went over to the
Casino with some fellows and lost more than I happened to have on hand
just now. What do you say to lending me a small sum at a high rate of
interest?"

"Why don't you borrow from your cousin?" asked Edward.

"By Jove--but of course you haven't heard the news, old man, have you,
not having any way to hear it. Edward's played the deuce with my old
Grandmamma and she's disinherited him. Sent him packing, bag and
baggage, don't you know."

"What----" the engineer began and then turned his face away to hide his
expression of amazement, horror, and alas, fear.

"I'm the only heir, now, don't you know. Of course, Georgiana counts for
nothing. I'm the old lady's favorite grandchild and I shall be as rich
as Croesus, I tell you. You can safely lend me any amount. I'll pay you
back twice over. Grandmamma can't last much longer now. She'll go off
with apoplexy in one of her fits of rage. She's bound to, don't you
know. She'll not last a year."

Edward's shoulders suddenly began to shake with irrepressible laughter,
not at the thought of the ending Clarence had pictured for his
unfortunate grandmother, but at Clarence's unexampled assurance.

"It is something of a joke, old man, isn't it? But about that money, you
know," he was beginning, while he drew a package of cigarettes from his
pocket, offered one to Edward which was refused, and lit another
himself. "By Jupiter, if here isn't the old woman herself," he exclaimed
laying the cigarette down on the seat. "Were you looking for me,
Grandmamma?" he asked, jumping off and removing his hat with a flourish.

"No, I'm not looking for you. I'm looking for a boat with a first-class,
reliable engineer in it, who will take me out on the lake without
upsetting me into the water."

"Here is the one, Mrs. Paxton-Steele," said Elinor, trying not to smile,
as she helped the old lady into the Firefly with Clarence's assistance.
"This is the boat and the engineer both. Will you take us for a little
ride, Edward?" she asked, giving the boy a meaning glance.

"Let me out first," demanded Clarence, who had no mind to go boat riding
that afternoon with his aged relative.

"No such thing," snapped his grandmother. "Stay where you are. You know
how to run a motor-boat and if one engineer fails, we shall have another
at hand. Stay where you are, but don't talk. I want to hear Mistress
Elinor Butler talk about her home in America, and what methods her
parents used to rear her into such a fine, spirited young woman, who is
not afraid to speak out when she wants to."

Elinor blushed. She had planned other things for this boat ride and this
incorrigible old eagle was upsetting all her schemes. Both grandsons
looked up with interest. Never had they heard their grandmother speak in
this way before.

Edward started the boat and presently they were sailing smoothly over
the pleasant waters of Lake Worth. Mrs. Paxton-Steele, who was enjoying
the ride extremely, had hardly noticed the engineer who had pulled his
cap well down over his eyes and bent over the engine. Clarence, bored to
extinction, looked sullenly toward shore, and took furtive puffs from
his cigarette which was concealed between times on the seat beside him.
The English lady had become reminiscent. She was telling Elinor a really
thrilling story of a shipwreck in which she had nearly lost her life
some fifty years before. Elinor remembered afterwards that she had an
indescribable feeling of waiting for something. As the tropical shores
receded and the striped awnings on the lawn of the Duffy villa became
spots of white, she exchanged a long glance with Edward, who smiled
slightly and began whistling softly the air he had composed to "The
white swan spread his snowy sail."

After all, life was an exceedingly pleasant thing to a perfectly
able-bodied and quite talented young man, even if he were disinherited
by an irascible old grandparent.

"It all proved to me," finished Mrs. Paxton-Steele, "that courage--"
(Clarence laid down his cigarette and began to listen and Edward turned
his face toward her) "real courage, is the most admirable trait of
character that----"

One of those inexplicable little puffs of wind which people who sail in
boats on a lake must learn to expect, gave the old lady's hat brim an
impudent flop, tossed Edward's cap to the other end of the boat, and
blew Clarence's cigarette dangerously near the gasoline tank. But this
same frolicsome breeze was the means of saving two lives. Both boys rose
at the same moment and moved to the other end of the boat, one to get
his cap and the other his cigarette which he thought had blown that way.

The next instant there was a loud explosion. The boat was shaken as a
leaf in the wind, then with a convulsive shiver lay still in the water,
like a creature stricken to death. A puff of smoke followed the noise
and after that a tongue of flame shot high into the air and began
licking its way hungrily along the seat.

Elinor found herself lying across Mrs. Paxton-Steele's lap and the two
boys were flat in the bottom of the boat. The old lady's face had turned
a deep purplish red and she sat looking at the flames with a strange,
stupid expression.

Then up jumped Clarence, gave one look at his grandmother, another at
the burning boat, and leaped into the water. With long, even strokes he
made for the shore. As his grandmother watched him, a light came into
her eyes and she tried to speak, but she could only mutter in a thick
unnatural voice:

"Cow-ad-cowad-cowad!"

In the meantime Elinor was throwing water into Edward's face. He had
been stunned by the explosion but consciousness came back to him with
the first dash of cold spray on his cheeks, and he sat up. Perhaps, in
his dazed condition, he had forgotten that his grandmother and Elinor
were in the burning boat and only saw the flames leaping high into the
air. At any rate, without looking behind him, he jumped to the seat,
stood for an instant poised on the side of the boat, and dived into the
water as his cousin had done. When he rose again to the top and started
to strike out toward shore, he glanced back over his shoulder. What he
saw was his grandmother's countenance, still that strange purplish
color, and Elinor sitting beside her, holding her hand with a very
haughty, proud expression on her face.

With three strokes he was at the side of the boat.

"Oh, what have I done?" he cried as he drew himself on board again.

It all happened very quickly, and Clarence was still hardly twenty yards
from them, when Edward, kneeling in the bottom of the launch, drew out
the fire extinguishers.

"It's the gasoline that's burning now," he said in a quiet, steady
voice. "If we can only put that out we're all right."

Wrenching the cap off the top of the torpedo shaped object, he rushed to
the burning end of the boat and poured it over the flames. There were
only two extinguishers, however, and the fire still continued to lick
its way along the cushions after all the fluid had been used.

Elinor drew out a striped Roman blanket that Miss Campbell was in the
habit of using to keep her knees warm when sailing, and thrust it into
his hands.

They dipped it into the lake and throwing it over the obstinate little
flames which still remained, extinguished them completely.

"It's all out," announced Edward, looking quite old and grizzled with
his eyebrows and front hair burned to an ashen gray.

"I'm afraid your grandmother has had a bad shock, Edward," said Elinor.
"We must get her to shore as quickly as possible."

"Grandmamma, dear grandmamma," he exclaimed, kneeling beside her with a
sudden impulse of affection which he would have lavished on her long
before with a little encouragement.

The poor old woman lifted one hand heavily and put it on his head.

"Brase-boy sedward-my granson," she tried to say.

"There comes the other launch," cried Elinor as a boat shot out from
shore. And it did not reach them any too soon, for the Firefly had a
hole pierced in her side and was already fast filling with water.

It was not an easy matter to transfer Mrs. Paxton-Steele from one boat
to the other, but it was finally accomplished, and towing the stricken
Firefly after them, they made for the shore.

Nobody had remembered Clarence until they heard him hail loudly. He was
evidently very tired and had been resting on his back when they reached
him. But he clambered in and plucked up breath sufficient to say:

"I had hoped to get to land and bring a boat back myself, grandmamma."

"Cowad-an-liar," she mumbled and closed her eyes.



CHAPTER XXI.--PICNICKING UNDER THE PINES.


"We are very much like murderers returning to the scene of their crime,"
observed Mary Price as she followed her friends along a sandy trail
which led to the forest. "Suppose the mate of the dead leopard should be
lurking about somewhere?"

"And suppose the moccasin we didn't kill should return with self, wife
and numerous family," added Nancy.

"Don't suppose so many dreadful things," objected Billie. "The moccasin
isn't going to come out here in these open spaces, and as for Mrs.
Leopard, Charlie will kill her with his borrowed rifle if she comes
snooping about."

Ever since that eventful day when the Comet had been stalled in a sand
bank, Billie and her friends had wished to return to the pine forest for
a picnic. Leaving the Comet among those vanguard trees which lingered on
the outskirts of the woods, before the trail became too soft, they
carried their luncheon somewhat within the confines of the pine woods
and chose for their picnicking ground an open space carpeted with pine
needles. Here the trees grew to immense heights before they put forth
their crown of fringy foliage.

Miss Campbell, off on a motor trip with the Duffys that morning, had
trusted her young charges to their old West Haven friends, Percy and
Charlie. They had invited Timothy Peppercorn to come, and Edward Paxton,
who was growing more and more in favor with the Motor Maids every day.

Two days had passed since the explosion of the gasoline on the Firefly
and the old eagle, his grandmother, who had suffered a slight stroke,
had not asked for him again. Georgiana was at her side, but Clarence,
she had ordered to keep out of her sight.

"The girls are not to do any work to-day," announced Percy gallantly.
"Be seated, ladies, while we become your slaves."

"But you don't know how," exclaimed Billie. "You haven't been trained in
the business as we have."

"Just you wait and watch," returned Percy. "Charlie, you build the fire
while we prepare the victuals."

"What an unappetizing word," ejaculated Elinor, sniffing. "Why not
viands?"

"The first course will be viands, then," said Percy, proceeding to peel
the bark from a long, straight althea twig, while Charlie with a knife
and tablespoon dug a circular trench to keep the flames from spreading,
swept the pine needles into the centre, and built a beautiful fire of
pine logs and branches.

Presently it burned down to a bed of very hot cinders, on each side of
which he planted two stout sticks with forked ends.

"What on earth are you doing with those long gumbo shooters, Charlie?"
called Billie, fidgeting from the inactivity of being served by four
slaves.

"Something perfectly ripping," he answered. "Wait until you taste what's
to come, and see."

"This will be a course of viands, good strong food, I can tell you,"
added Percy, very busy over the luncheon hamper.

"We don't like the looks of it now," said Nancy. "Fortunately, there are
cakes and sandwiches in the basket for those who can't quite go strong
food, as you call it."

"Well, this is our contribution to the party beside our services, and
I'll wager a pound of candy apiece that after the cooking process you'll
eat every scrap, even the onions."

"Ugh!" shuddered Elinor.

In the meantime Edward had opened a bundle containing a large juicy
beefsteak which he cut into small round pieces. Percy was engaged in
peeling and slicing potatoes and Timothy was putting half a dozen
Bermuda onions through the same process.

"Ready, mates?" called Percy.

"Aye, aye, sir," answered the others. And with that they began spearing
slices of the meat and vegetables on a long stick and between every
potato slice and section of beefsteak, they sandwiched a slice of bacon,
then came another piece of potato, then a slice of onion and then the
beefsteak again.

"Now for the salt and pepper, gentlemen. Build up the fire a little,
Charlie. Swing him over. Who says we are not cooks?"

Resting neatly in the crotchet of the two upright sticks, this unusual
arrangement of meat and vegetables began sending out a sizzling,
appetizing odor while the four cooks danced a wild Indian war dance
around the fire.

"Dear me, it does smell good," admitted Billie at last. "I'm beginning
to think I may lose that pound of candy, Percy."

"Spread the cloth, Charlie, dear," called Percy in a high woman's voice
which always made them laugh. "Lady Elinor may make the tea now, and
Miss Nancy-Bell may cut the cake. I'm head chef of this kitchen. That's
the reason I give so many orders. Timothy, suppose you entertain the
guests with one of your stunts while the beefsteak is cooking."

"Do 'The Battle of Marathon,' Timothy," ordered Billie.

Timothy rose obediently and made a bashful bow.

"I'm supposed to be a little schoolgirl," he said, "ridiculous as that
may seem, and the teacher has commanded me to tell the story of the
Battle of Marathon. This is the history class.

"The Ba-el of Marathon," he began, in an absurd little girl's voice,
"the Ba-el of Marathon was a great ba-el. It happened in Greeth yearth
and yearth ago. There were two sidths to the ba-el and they fo't and
fo't and fo't and ever tho many pe-pel wath killed and at lath the thide
that had the moth men killed wath beaten an' the other thide won, an'
that wath the end. I forget which wath the thide that won."

A joyous laugh went up at this lucid and graphic account of the famous
battle. But deeper and merrier was the laugh which mingled with it. The
young people suddenly became aware that a stranger had joined their
circle and was now leaning against a pine tree looking at the picnic
party with an expression of intense amusement. He was a handsome man,
rather past middle age, of medium height with a fine rugged face,
bronzed with sun and wind, and quizzical, laughing, gray-blue eyes. He
wore khaki trousers much the worse for wear. His rather large head with
its iron-gray hair, slightly thin at the temples, was uncovered, and
across the forehead was the red mark of a recent bruise or scar. He
carried a rifle under one arm and a fishing rod under the other.

"I beg your pardon, young ladies," he said. "I didn't mean to intrude,
but I was attracted by the appetizing fumes of your beefsteak and bacon.
Not many visitors at Palm Beach are fond of Gypsy picnics like this. I
was curious to see whom it could be."

They knew, all of them, at once, that it was not a tramp who was
speaking, in spite of his shabby old trousers and his collarless shirt.

Then Billie, looking at his face closely again, and the beautiful smile
which now radiated it, rose rather shyly and said, somewhat to the
surprise of her friends--

"Won't you join us? We've brought lots of lunch, and I'm sure there is
enough of Percy's burgoo, or whatever it is, to feed a regiment."

The stranger hesitated a moment, looking at the others.

"Do please," echoed Nancy, always following the lead of Captain Billie.

"I hope you will," added Percy, cordially, never behind in dispensing
hospitality.

"I accept your invitation with pleasure," replied the stranger. "It's
most kind of you, I am sure. I'm hungry as a wolf, and it's rather far
from--er, supplies."

Without the slightest embarrassment, he sat down in the group of boys
and girls and joined in the talk and laughter so naturally, that
presently they quite forgot he was a stranger at all.

He had a talent, this ingratiating individual, of making all of them
talk a great deal, while he listened always with that amused, quizzical
expression which Nancy confided to Elinor's private ear "was
fascinating." He ate a great deal and enjoyed himself thoroughly. The
sizzling, delicious combination of beefsteak and other things, he
pronounced the most appetizing dish he had tasted in years. He smacked
his lips over Elinor's tea and asked for a second cup. He joked with
Nancy, smiled gravely into Mary's serious dark eyes, took many long
searching glances at Billie when she wasn't looking, and started each
boy, even silent Charlie, on his favorite hobby.

Before that famous luncheon was over, it really seemed that they were
entertaining an angel unawares.



CHAPTER XXII.--THE LAST OF THE HOUSE OF TROUBLES.


At last, as the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, everybody lent a
hand at clearing up the lunch things, while the stranger in the khaki
trousers sat under a tree smoking a short black pipe, and watched them
thoughtfully.

"I smell burning," announced Charlie, suddenly, sniffing the air like a
hunting dog.

"It's your own fire, midget," replied Percy.

"No, no, it's on the breeze. There, look at that."

As he spoke a spark fell at his feet, then another and another.

The stranger jumped up quickly, wet his finger and held it in the air.

"The wind's from the northwest," he exclaimed under his breath.

As he faced the wind, another group of sparks, borne on the breeze, blew
against him.

"By Jove," he cried. "It must be Virginia's house. Thanks for your
hospitality, I must go," he added, starting to run down the trail.

"Come back," called Billie, "we'll take you in the car quicker than you
can cut through the woods."

Without a word the stranger turned and joined them as they gathered
their belongings together and raced through the woods to the Comet.

Silently they piled themselves into the machine and in another ten
minutes Billie had guided them safely over the rutty wagon track to the
hard beaten automobile road and they were speeding along toward
Virginia's.

As they tore up the avenue of giant trees, over which hung a cloud of
dense smoke, Billie said to the stranger who was sitting beside her:

"I know that you are Mr. Ignatius Donahue. I have known it from the
first."

"How did you recognize me?" he asked smiling.

"From your pictures."

"Well, keep the secret awhile longer," he said. "I have been getting
over an--er--accident I was in not long ago, and staying here quietly with
Virginia and Edward."

The only living soul they could see as they approached Virginia's home
was old Mammy who was running up and down the front gallery like a
distracted creature, lifting up her voice in wails and lamentations. One
wing of the house had entirely burned down and the flames had leapt over
the main roof and were making rapid headway.

"Bress de Lord, oh my soul," she cried when she saw the automobile full
of people come up to the front door.

Mr. Donahue was the first to jump out.

"Is your mistress in her room, Mammy?"

"Yes, Marsa, yes, sir. I cyan't move her a step," wailed the poor old
woman.

"Where's Miss Virginia?"

"A lady don' sen' fur her to come to the hotel quick. She's been gone an
hour."

"Where's Uncle Peter?"

"He don' drive little Missy over, Marsa."

Another moment, and Mr. Donahue had disappeared in the smoke-filled
house, followed by the boys.

Then Billie did something for which I am sure you will hardly know
whether to commend her for her bravery or blame her for her
recklessness.

"Where's Dick, the mocking bird, Mammy?" she asked.

"In his cage in de kitchen, little Missy," moaned the colored woman,
rocking herself back and forth.

Running around the back of the house where she dimly remembered the
kitchen was situated, Billie pressed her face against one of the windows
and peered into the room, which was fast filling with smoke that poured
in from a passage leading from the burning wing. She knew it was the
kitchen because the floor was of brick and she could make out the dim
outline of the great range which had not been used in all these years.
It was impossible to find the door in all the intricate back region of
the old house. It must be somewhere in that smoke-filled passage.
Seizing an old stool under the window, Billie broke in the glass; then
using it to stand on, she climbed through.

"Dick, old fellow," she called.

A feeble chirp answered. Yes, there he was, huddled in his cage, his
feathers all ruffled up and his head under his wing. She seized the cage
and ran to the window just as the roof of the wing with a great crash
fell in, covering the porch outside with burning debris. A volume of
smoke and flame outside curled into the open window and she knew that
escape was impossible that way.

As she ran up the three steps which divided the kitchen from the next
room, she stumbled and fell over something stretched across the doorway.
It was the body of a man lying face downward, his head on his arm.
Seizing him by the shoulders, she dragged him away from the door and
closed it to keep the smoke from pouring in. Then to confirm the
suspicions which had come to her when she saw the rumpled black hair and
slight, well-knit frame, she turned the man over.

"Edward!" she cried. "Get in here, Dicky-bird," she said, slipping the
mocking bird from the cage into her blouse.

Seizing the unconscious boy by his ankles, she began dragging him slowly
across the floor. It required all her strength, but she managed to get
him through the doorway and into the hall. The smoke was terrible,
however. Not in the great fire at Shell Island had it seemed so dense
and thick. At last, staggering toward the door, she called:

"Help! Help!"

It was Ignatius Donahue who carried her out in his arms, while she
whispered hoarsely,

"Be careful not to crush the bird! He's in my blouse."

Edward's double and Charlie Clay lifted him out of the smoke-filled
hall.

"Shan't we try and save the house, sir?" asked Percy, who saw in the
stranger now only a very distinguished person, born to command.

"No, no, my boy. It can't be saved and it had better burn. It has been a
house of sorrow always."

They carried Edward l'Estrange farther down the avenue to the automobile
which had been moved out of reach of smoke and sparks. As Billie's dazed
senses began to return, she saw, sitting in the back, Virginia's mother,
very pale and ill. But strange to say, the invalid was not looking at
the house. Her eyes were fastened on Ignatius Donahue with an expression
in which could be read many things: wonder, surprise, perhaps even joy.
Billie thought her more beautiful even than the first time she had met
her, and it occurred to her, watching the delicate, lovely face, that at
least the poor lady would never know now about her prized heirlooms.
They would to her always have been burned with the house.

Edward l'Estrange was not long unconscious, after he was brought into
the fresh air. They chafed his wrists and temples and presently he
opened his eyes.

"Are they all safe?" he asked as memory returned to him.

"All safe, my boy, and if you are able to stand up, we'd better be
taking your mother back to the hotel," answered Mr. Donahue.

As he spoke, the roof of the old house crashed in and the four walls
stood out bleak and desolate in the smoking ruins.

The Comet carried a big load that afternoon. For the first time in her
life, old Mammy rode in an automobile, but the old woman, like her
mistress, was too dazed to realize that she was skimming along the high
road at the rate of thirty miles an hour.

On the way to the hotel, Billie heard Mr. Donahue say to Edward: "I
didn't know you were in the house or in the neighborhood, my boy."

"I only arrived this morning. I was to stay away two or three days
longer, but I went to your office in New York as you directed, with the
message for your secretary, and while I was waiting a bunch of mail
arrived. The letter on top was this. It may have been wrong, but I took
it because you see I couldn't help recognizing the handwriting as my
father's. Who directed it or where it came from, is a mystery."

He put his hand in his pocket and drew out a letter which Billie
recognized as the very one she had re-directed several days before.

"But where did it come from?" demanded Mr. Donahue in amazement.

"We found it under a little house in the woods," she broke in, "and I
sent it to your New York address, which is the one Papa gave me."

"You are a jolly, clever young lady," cried the older man delightedly,
"and you can never know what a debt of gratitude we owe you."

It was a lucky chance that Mr. Duffy's motor car happened to pass before
they reached the hotel, and some of the party were transferred to that
roomy and capacious machine. So that the overloaded Comet did not, after
all, create a sensation as it rolled up to the side entrance of the
hotel.

Contrary to their expectations, Mrs. l'Estrange was neither ill nor cast
down. Perhaps she did not realize yet that her home had just been burned
to the ground. At any rate, when Mr. Donahue carried her into the hotel,
she rested her cheek on his shoulder and said softly:

"You find me a broken old woman, Ignatius."

"No, no, Virginia. Only much paler and thinner. There is a great doctor
who is an intimate friend of mine, and he has promised to come down in a
few days and have a look at that spine of yours. I have enormous faith
in him. I believe he can cure you."

The two Edwards were talking earnestly together when Billie restored the
little mocking bird to its master, and before they parted they grasped
hands like two brothers who had been reunited after a long separation.



CHAPTER XXIII.--EXPLANATIONS.


Late that evening, when Billie sat resting on the piazza, not caring to
join the others who were laughing and talking together, Edward
l'Estrange drew up a chair beside her and told her the strange story
which had drawn them all into a network of puzzling incidents.

"My father was an Englishman, Billie. His name was Paxton."

Billie started.

"Then you are----"

"Yes. I am Edward's first cousin. Our fathers were twins and adored each
other as twins usually do. My father did not get on well with his mother
because he wanted to be a musician. Edward's father was more practical
and he was her favorite son. But he was dissipated, and once in a fit of
wild temper he committed a crime, and when they arrested my father by
mistake, his brother let him go to jail."

"How dreadful! How wicked!" put in Billie.

"Yes, it was pretty bad. But Edward's father made up for it afterwards
by his misfortunes, and at last he committed suicide. But to go on, my
father escaped and came to this country. He changed his name and went
south where he met my mother and eloped with her, although she was to
have been married the next day to Ignatius Donahue. It was wrong, of
course, and I can't defend it except that they were so much in love.
They lived very happily until my father got word that they were on the
track of him. My mother wanted him to fight it out in the courts, but it
would have been a difficult case, because you see he had run away. My
father was very delicate and visionary, and I suppose he lacked the
spirit to defend himself. At any rate, he would build the house in the
pine woods and hide himself, and there he stayed for several
months--until we brought him home to die, in fact. Just before the end
came, he called me into his room one day and told me that he had in his
possession a very valuable letter. He had addressed it to Mr. Donahue
but it was not to be delivered unless we were in actual want. As we had
plenty of money, it didn't seem likely then that the letter would ever
be sent. Anyhow, when I went to look for it, I couldn't find it. My
father's mind must have been wandering at the time.

"But that wasn't the end of our troubles, because after father's death,
mother had a fall and injured her spine so that she has never been able
to walk a step since. Then the cotton mills, in which all her money was
invested, failed and we lost every cent we had. Mother doesn't know
that, though. Virginia and I have managed to keep it from her, so far."

"I know," said Billie. "You were wonderful, both of you. But what was in
the letter?"

"It came just before father's death, while he was still at the little
house, and it was a full confession written by his brother. After we got
so poor, I wrote to Mr. Donahue, thinking perhaps he might have received
this lost letter. I suppose father wanted him to have it because of his
devotion to mother, and he has helped us in every sort of way. I think
he bought the Firefly just for me to take parties out in. He never came
to our house, but he used to run down here on his car for a night or two
and consult with me."

"One more question?" asked Billie. "What was he doing that night in the
avenue when he had the fight with the man in the motor car?"

"Well," said Edward, "you must know that there were people who were
trying to get that paper away from us before my grandmother could see
it. Clarence's people they were, a bad lot. I suppose they thought if
Clarence inherited his grandmother's millions, they would all come in
for their share.

"That fellow who fought with Mr. Donahue represented himself as coming
from my grandmother. But then he tried to play a double game and Mr.
Donahue caught on and they fought."

"Now, a last question, Edward. Where in the world have you been hiding?"

"You see, my grandmother and I made friends immediately. When I took the
stick away from her that day, she saw at once I was not Edward Paxton,
although that is really my name, and she knew she had found her other
grandson. The quarrel we had when I broke her stick later in St.
Augustine was all fixed up between us. She enjoyed it immensely. Then
she ordered me to lie low somewhere, until she sent for me. She was
anxious to see if Edward would really keep his word and get to work. He
has, so I suppose she's well pleased. But she has had a hard life. Her
children disappointed her one way or another, and have all died, and her
grandchildren didn't seem to come up to the mark either. She's just a
soured, embittered old woman, but I like her, anyhow, now that we
understand each other."

That night Billie related the strange story to her three intimate
friends in their bedroom. Each Motor Maid made her own characteristic
observation.

Nancy, standing before the mirror, rolling her curls on her pretty
fingers, smiled at her image and remarked:

"Mr. Ignatius Donahue is the most charming, fascinating, delightful man
I ever met."

Elinor, in a long white bath robe, her braids twisted around her small
head like a coronet, observed:

"It was really family pride, I suppose, that made Edward l'Estrange's
father keep the letter a secret."

"Oh, no, Elinor," cried Mary, seated cross-legged on the bed, while she
thoughtfully brushed her fine brown hair, "it was his love for his
brother. They say that the love of one twin for another passeth
understanding."

"Whatever it was," said Billie, lying flat on her back on the bed and
gazing up at the ceiling, "a fine American boy and girl, honest and
plucky and proud, too, for that matter, have come up, head and shoulders
from the whole wretched muddle."



CHAPTER XXIV.--SO ENDETH THE SECOND LESSON.


"Sit right there in a row in front of me, so that I may have a good look
at you, young ladies. Now, tell me all of your names. This one I know:
Mistress Elinor Butler, an American Princess. Wilhelmina Campbell? Ah,
you are the brave young woman who saves people's lives, Anne Starbuck
Brown? You're Irish, my dear, I can tell by your blue eyes and your
pretty, impudent face. Mary Anastasia Price? Those eyes of yours, my
child, are too earnest and serious for this wicked world."

Mrs. Paxton-Steele had left her room this morning for the first time
since the explosion, and the two Edwards, her grandsons, as like as two
peas in a pod, had pushed her rolling chair down to the beach. Then she
had sent her man servant scurrying back to the hotel with her
compliments to the Motor Maids--and would they do her the pleasure of
calling on her that morning on the sands?

Her tongue was still quite thick and her head shook a little as she
spoke, but the old eagle sat as erect as ever, the brim of her garden
hat flapping up and down in the breeze as it always had.

The girls felt sorry for the aged woman whose early life had been filled
with sorrows and disappointments and her last years poisoned by scheming
relatives who desired her money.

"So these are the Motor Maids," went on Mrs. Paxton-Steele. "Do you
know, my dears, why I asked you to spend one of your golden hours with a
stricken old woman like me? It is because I want to thank you. You have
taught me the second great lesson of my life. The first one I learned
when I was a young woman. The second one now comes to me on the brink of
the grave.

"A vain, cruel, stupid bully! A selfish old woman, eh?"

Elinor flushed. How disrespectful those words seemed to her now!

But the old eagle chuckled to herself.

"I have certainly been all those things," she continued, "and I want to
thank you, Mistress Elinor, for speaking out your mind. You might have
added blind, too. I have been blind--blind.

"My poor boys who have been dead so long, have been restored to me in
their own sons, and I am very happy."

Here she paused and closed her eyes to hide the tears which had welled
into them.

"Yes, I am happy," she went on. "They are fine boys, both of them. And
all of this I owe to the Motor Maids. You have done what I could not do.
You have righted a great wrong and reunited a broken, scattered family.

"I am glad--yes, proud, that my new grandchildren are half American. And
now give me your hand, each one of you, and run along and play. I am old
and tired, but, thank God, I am still alive and able to enjoy this last
blessing of my life."

One by one the four girls bowed their heads over the hand of the broken
old eagle, pretending not to notice the two tears which trickled down
her furrowed cheeks.

They smiled at the two Edwards, who stood like sentinels at the side of
her chair, waved a gay salutation to Virginia and Georgiana coming
toward them arm in arm, and all but collided with Mr. Ignatius Donahue
following behind at a slower pace.

"Where are you running away to, my pretty maids?" he cried, spreading
out his arms playfully to block their passage.

"This is our last day at Palm Beach, you know," answered Billie. "We
leave for home to-night, and we are going to ride out in the Comet to
say good-bye to the Duffys."

"And we are to have no more jolly picnics?" he asked.

"Not unless you come to West Haven, Mr. Donahue, and let us take you on
a Comet picnic to Seven League Island."

Mr. Donahue looked at them with that humorous, quizzical expression that
they remembered to have noticed in his photograph.

"I'm going to have a picnic party myself in a few months," he said, "and
if that picnic comes off, you may see a private car backed upon a side
track in West Haven, and you will know, if you do, that at the happiest
period of my life I have come to spend a day with the four nice girls
who helped to bring it about."

"Why, what does he mean?" asked Elinor, as they hurried on to the hotel.

"I think he means he is going to marry Mrs. l'Estrange," answered
Billie. "He has brought a big osteopath down here to see her and
something's being put to rights in her spine. She's expected to get
perfectly well, Virginia told me."

"But how did we bring anything about?"

"I can't say, unless it was the Comet, bless him, that got us to the
burning house in time to save her life."

The red car was waiting for them when they reached the hotel, and Miss
Campbell, also, on the piazza, her peach-blossom face framed in the
familiar motor veil of sky blue.

Presently they rolled swiftly away toward the home of their good
friends, the Duffys, and in the memories of all who saw them start on
that bright morning, there was left no happier impression of Florida's
holiday glory than the light in the faces of the four Motor Maids.

If the girls themselves could have seen, stretching far into the future,
the road of experience and adventure over which the Comet was to take
them, their faces would have been aglow with anticipation as well as
with present pleasure. For the way that they were next to travel is one
that each and all should know, and even if you can go in no other party,
we are sure that you will enjoy following "The Motor Maids Across the
Continent," in the story of their next trip.



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