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Title: The Corner House Girls on a Houseboat - How they sailed away, what happened on the voyage, and - what was discovered
Author: Hill, Grace Brooks
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Corner House Girls on a Houseboat - How they sailed away, what happened on the voyage, and - what was discovered" ***

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[Illustration: "There they are!" cried Ruth, clasping Mr. Howbridge's
arm in her excitement. "The same two men!"]



THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS
ON A HOUSEBOAT

  HOW THEY SAILED AWAY
  WHAT HAPPENED ON THE VOYAGE
  AND WHAT WAS DISCOVERED

BY

GRACE BROOKS HILL

Author of "The Corner House Girls," "The
Corner House Girls Snowbound," etc.

_ILLUSTRATED BY_

_THELMA GOOCH_

NEW YORK

BARSE & HOPKINS

PUBLISHERS



BOOKS FOR GIRLS

By Grace Brooks Hill

The Corner House Girls Series

12mo. Cloth. Illustrated.

THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS
THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AT SCHOOL
THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS UNDER CANVAS
THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS IN A PLAY
THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS' ODD FIND
THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A TOUR
THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS GROWING UP
THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SNOWBOUND
THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A HOUSEBOAT

BARSE & HOPKINS

Publishers, New York

Copyright, 1920,
by Barse & Hopkins

_The Corner House Girls on a Houseboat_

Printed in U. S. A.



CONTENTS

I. "What's That?"
II. Neale Has News
III. The Elevator
IV. An Auto Ride
V. The Houseboat
VI. More News
VII. Making Plans
VIII. The Robbery
IX. All Aboard
X. A Stowaway
XI. Overboard
XII. Neale Wonders
XIII. The Trick Mule
XIV. At the Circus
XV. Real News at Last
XVI. Ruth's Alarm
XVII. Up the River
XVIII. The Night Alarm
XIX. On the Lake
XX. Drifting
XXI. The Storm
XXII. On the Island
XXIII. Suspicions
XXIV. Closing In
XXV. The Capture



ILLUSTRATIONS

"There they are!" cried Ruth, clasping Mr. Howbridge's arm in the
excitement. "The same two men!" _Frontispiece._

"Get us down!" cried Dot and Tess in a chorus, while Mrs. MacCall stood
beneath them holding out her apron

While Dot and Tess clung to one another, Hank managed to fish up the
"Alice-doll"

"You shouldn't have come here, Aggie!" he cried above the noise of the
storm



THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A HOUSEBOAT



CHAPTER I

"WHAT'S THAT?"


Delicious and appetizing odors filled the kitchen of the old Corner
House. They were wafted even to the attic, were those whiffs and
fragrant zephyrs. Some of them even escaped through the open windows,
causing Uncle Rufus to cease his slow and laborious task of picking up
some papers from the newly cut lawn.

"Dat suah smells mighty good--mighty good!" murmured the old darkey to
himself, as he straightened up by the process of putting one hand to the
small of his back and pressing there, as though a spring needed
adjusting. "Dat suah smells mighty good! Mrs. Mac mus' suah be out-doin'
of herse'f dish yeah mawnin'!"

He turned his wrinkled face toward the Corner House, again sniffing
deeply.

A pleased and satisfied look came over his countenance as the cooking
odors emanating from the kitchen became more pronounced.

"Dey's suah to be some left--dey suah is, 'cause hit's Miss Ruth's
party, an' she's always gen'rus wif de eatin's. She suah is. Dey's suah
to be some left."

He removed his hand from the small of his back, thereby allowing himself
to fall forward again in the proper position for picking up papers, and
went on with his work.

Inside the kitchen, where the odors were even more pronounced, as one
might naturally expect to find them, two girls and a pleasant-faced
woman were busy; though not more so than a fresh-appearing Finnish maid,
who hummed an air full of minor strains as she opened the oven door now
and then, thereby letting out more odors which were piled upon, mingled
with, and otherwise added to those already bringing such a delicious
sensation to Uncle Rufus.

"Aren't you planning too much, Ruth?" asked her sister Agnes, as the
girl addressed carefully placed a wondrously white napkin over a plate
of freshly baked macaroons. "I mean the girls will never eat all this,"
and she waved her hand to include a side table on which were many more
plates, some empty, awaiting their burden from the oven, while others
were covered with white linen like some mysterious receptacles under a
stage magician's serviette.

"Oh, don't worry about that!" laughed Ruth. "My only worry is that I
shall not have enough."

"Well, for the land's sake! how many do you expect?" demanded Agnes
Kenway.

"Six. But there will be you and me and--"

"Then Mr. Howbridge _is_ coming!" cried Agnes, as if there had been some
question about it, though this was the first time his name had been
mentioned that morning.

"He _may_ come," answered Ruth quietly.

"He _may_! Oh my stars! As if you didn't _know_ he was coming!" retorted
Agnes. "Is it in--er--his official capacity?"

"I asked Mr. Howbridge to come to advise us about forming the society,"
Ruth said. "I thought it best to start right. If we are going to be of
any use as a Civic Betterment Club in Milton we must be on a firm
foundation, and--"

"Hear! Hear!" interrupted Agnes, banging on the table with an agate
mixing spoon, and thereby bringing from a deep pantry the form and face
of Mrs. MacCall, the sturdy Scotch housekeeper.

"Please don't do that!" begged Ruth.

"Hoots! Whut's meanin' wi' the rattlin' an' thumpin'?" demanded Mrs.
MacCall.

"Oh, some nonsense of Agnes'," answered Ruth. "I was just telling her
that I had asked the girls to luncheon, to talk over the new Civic
Betterment Club, and that Mr. Howbridge is coming to advise us how to
get a charter, or incorporate, or whatever is proper and--"

"I was only applauding after the fashion in the English Parliament,"
interrupted Agnes. "They always say 'Hear! Hear!' away down in their
throats."

"Well, they don't bang on tables with granite spoons," retorted Ruth, as
she handed a pie to Linda, the humming Finnish maid, who popped it into
the oven, quickly shutting the door, to allow none of the heat to
escape.

"Hoot! I would not put it past 'em, I would not!" murmured Mrs. MacCall.
"What those English law makers do--I wouldna' put it past them!" and,
shaking her head, she retired into the deep pantry again.

"Well, you're going to have enough of sweets, I should say;" observed
Agnes, "even as fond as Mr. Howbridge is of them. For the land's sake,
aren't you going to stop?" she demanded, as Ruth poured into a dish the
cake batter she had begun to stir as soon as the pie was completed.

"This is the last. You don't need to stay and help me any longer if you
don't want to, dear. Run out and play," urged Ruth sweetly.

"Run out and play! As if I were Dot or Tess! I like that! Why, I was
thinking of asking you to let me join the society!"

"Oh, of course you may, Agnes! I didn't think you'd care for it. Why,
certainly you may join! We want to get as many into it as we can. Do
come to the meeting this afternoon. Mr. Howbridge is going to explain
everything, and I thought we might as well make it a little social
affair. It was very good of you to help me with the baking."

"Oh, I like that. And I believe I will come to the meeting. Now shall we
clean up?"

"I do him," interposed Linda. "I wash him all up," and a sweep of her
muscular arm indicated the pots, pans, dishes and all the odds and ends
left from the rather wholesale baking.

"Oh, I shall be so glad if you will!" exclaimed Ruth. "I want to go over
the parlor and library again. And I wonder what has become of Dot and
Tess. I asked them to get me some wild flowers, but they have been gone
over an hour and--"

The voice of Mrs. MacCall from the deep pantry interrupted.

"Hi, Tess! Hi, Dot!" she called. "Where ha' ye been? Come ye here the
noo, and be for me waukrife minnie."

"What in the world does she mean?" asked Agnes, for sometimes, well
versed as she was in the Scotch of the housekeeper, there were new words
and phrases that needed translating. Especially as it seemed to the
girls that more and more Mrs. MacCall was falling back into her
childhood speech as she grew older--a speech she had dropped during her
younger life except in moments of excitement.

This time, however, it was beyond even the "ken" of Ruth, who rather
prided herself on her Highland knowledge. But Mrs. MacCall herself had
heard the question. Out she came from the pantry, smiling broadly.

"Ye no ken 'waukrife minnie'?" she asked. "Ah, 'tis a pretty little
verse o' Rabbie Burns. I'll call it o'er the noo."

Then she gave them, with all the burring of which her tongue was
capable:

    "Whare are you gaun, my bonnie lass,
    Whare are you gaun, my hinnie?
    She answered me right saucilie,
    An errand for my minnie."

Coming down to earth again, Mrs. MacCall shot back into the pantry and
from an open window in the rear that looked out in the orchard she
called:

"Hi, Tess! Hi, Dot! Come ye here, and be for me the lassies that'll gang
to the store."

"Are Tess and Dot there?" asked Ruth. "I've been wondering where they
had disappeared to."

"They be coming the noo," answered Mrs. MacCall. "Laden in their arms
wi' all sorts of the trash." And then she sang again:

    "O fare thee well, my bonnie lass,
    O fare thee well, my hinnie!
    Thou art a gay an' a bonnie lass,
    But thou has a waukrife minnie."

"What in the world is a 'waukrife minnie'?" asked Agnes, but there was
no chance to answer, for in the kitchen, making it more busy than ever,
trooped the two younger members of the Corner House girls
quartette--Tess and Dot.

Their arms were filled with blossoms of the woods and fields, and
without more ado they tossed them to a cleared place on the table,
whence Linda had removed some of the pans and dishes.

"Oh, what a lovely lot of flowers!" cried Ruth. "It's just darling of
you to get them for me. Now do you want to help me put them into vases
in the library?"

Dot shook her head.

"Why not?" asked Ruth gently.

"I promised my Alice-doll to take her down by the brook, and I just have
to do it," answered Dot. "And Tess is going to help me; aren't you,
Tess?" she added.

"Yes," was the answer. "I'm going to take Almira."

"Then you must take her kittens, too!" insisted Dot. "She'll feel bad if
you don't."

"I won't take 'em all--I'll take one kitten," compromised Tess. "There
she is, now!" And Tess darted from the room to pounce on the cat, which
did not seem to mind very much being mauled by the children.

"Will ye gang a'wa' to the store the noo?" asked Mrs. MacCall, with a
warm smile as she came from the pantry. "There's muckle we need an'--"

"I'll go if you give me a cookie," promised Dot.

"So'll I," chimed in Tess, coming in on the tribute. "We can take Almira
and your Alice-doll when we come back," she confided to her sister.

"Yes, I think they'll wait. I know Alice-doll will, but I'm not so sure
about Almira," and Dot seemed rather in doubt. "She may take a notion to
carry her kittens up in the bedroom--"

"Don't dare suggest such a thing!" cried Ruth.

"I'm to have company this afternoon, and if that cat and her kittens
appear on the scene--"

"Oh, I wasn't going to carry them in!" interrupted Dot, with an air of
injured innocence. "They're Almira's kittens, and she can do what she
likes with them, I suppose," she added as an afterthought. "Only I know
that every once in a while she takes a notion to plant them in a new
place. Once Uncle Rufus found them in his rubber boots, and they
scratched him like anything when he put his foot inside."

"Well, if you have to go to the store for Mrs. MacCall you won't have
any time to help me arrange the flowers," observed Ruth, anxious to put
an end to the discussion about the family cat and kittens, for she knew
Dot had a fund of stories concerning them.

"Yes, traipse along now, my bonnie bairns," advised the Scotch
housekeeper, and, bribed by two cookies each, a special good measure on
Saturday, Dot and Tess were soon on their way, or at least it was so
supposed.

Linda was helping Mrs. MacCall clear away the baking utensils, and Ruth
and Agnes were in the parlor and library, tastefully arranging the wild
flowers that Dot and Tess had gathered.

"Isn't Dot queer to cling still to her dolls?" remarked Agnes, as she
stepped back to get the effect of a bunch of red flowers against a dark
brown background in one corner of the room.

"Yes, she is a strange child. And poor Almira! Really I don't see how
that cat stands it here, the way Tess and Dot maul her."

"They aren't as bad as Sammy Pinkney. Actually I caught him yesterday
tying the poor creature to the back of Billy Bumps!"

"Not on the goat's back!" cried Ruth.

"Really, he was. I sent him flying, though!"

"What was his idea?"

"Oh, he said he'd heard Neale tell how, in a circus, a little dog rode
on a pony's back and Sammy didn't see why a cat couldn't ride on a
goat."

"Well, if he put it that way I suppose she could," assented Ruth. "But
Almira seems to take herself very seriously with all those kittens. We
really must get rid of them. Vacation will soon be here, and with Tess
and Dot around the house all day, instead of just Saturdays, I don't
know what we shall do."

"Have you made any vacation plans at all?"

"Not yet, Agnes. I thought I'd wait until I saw Mr. Howbridge at the
club meeting this afternoon."

"What has he to do with our vacation--unless he's going along?"

"Oh, no, I didn't mean that, at all! But the financial question does
enter into it; and as he is our guardian and has charge of our money, I
want to know just how much we can count on spending."

"Why, have we lost any money?"

"Not that I know of. I hope not! But I always have consulted him before
we made any summer plans, and I don't see why we should not now."

"Well, I suppose it's all right," assented Agnes, as she took up another
bunch of flowers. "But I wonder--"

She never finished that sentence. From somewhere, inside or outside the
house, a resounding crash sounded. It shook the walls and floors.

"Oh, my! what's that?" cried Ruth, dropping the blossoms from her hands
and hastening to the hall.



CHAPTER II

NEALE HAS NEWS


Deep, and perhaps portentous, silence had succeeded the crash. But both
Ruth and Agnes knew enough of the goings and comings in the Corner House
not to take this silence for serenity. It meant something, as the crash
had.

"What was it?" murmured Ruth again, and she fairly ran out into the
hall, followed by her sister.

Then came a series of bumps, as if something of no small size was
rolling down the porch steps. By this time it was evident that the
racket came from without and not from within. Then a voice cried:

"Hold it! Hold it! Don't let it roll down!"

"That's Dot!" declared Ruth.

And then a despairing voice cried:

"I can't! I can't hold it! Look out!"

Once again the rumbling, rolling, bumping sound came, and with it was
mingled the warning of the Scotch housekeeper and the wail of Dot who
cried:

"Oh, she's dead! She's smashed!"

"Something really has happened this time!" exclaimed Ruth, and her face
became a little pale.

"If only it isn't serious," burst out Agnes. "Oh, dear, what those
youngsters don't think of for trouble!"

"They don't mean to get into trouble, Agnes. It's only their
thoughtlessness."

"Well then, they ought to think more. Oh, listen to that, will you!"
Agnes added, as another loud bumping reached the two sisters' ears.

"It's something that's sure," cried Ruth, and grew paler than ever.

The happening was not really as tragic as it seemed, yet it was
sufficiently momentous to cause a fright to the two older girls.
Especially to Ruth, who felt herself to be, as she literally was, a
mother to the other three; though now that Agnes was putting up her hair
and putting down her dresses a new element had come into the household.

While yet in tender years the responsibilities of life had fallen on the
shoulders of Ruth Kenway. In their former home--a city more pretentious
in many ways than picturesque Milton, their present home--the Kenways
had lived in what, literally, was a tenement house. Their father and
mother were dead, and the small pension granted Mr. Kenway, who had been
a soldier in the Spanish war, was hardly sufficient for the needs of
four growing girls.

Then, almost providentially, it seemed, the Stower estate had come to
Ruth, Agnes, Dot and Tess. Uncle Peter Stower had passed away, and Mr.
Howbridge, the administrator of the estate, had discovered the four
sisters as the next of kin, to use his legal phrase.

Uncle Peter Stower had lived for years in the "Corner House" as it was
called. The mansion stood opposite the Parade Ground in Milton, and
there Uncle Rufus, the colored servant of his crabbed master, had spent
so many years that he regarded himself as a fixture--as much so as the
roof.

At first no will could be found, though Mr. Howbridge recalled having
drawn one; but eventually all legal tangles were straightened out, and
the four sisters came to live in Milton, as related in the first book of
the series, entitled "The Corner House Girls."

There was Ruth, the oldest and the "little mother," though she was not
so very little now. In fact she had blossomed into a young lady, a fact
of which Mr. Howbridge became increasingly aware each day.

So the four girls had come to live at the Corner House, and that was
only the beginning of their adventures. In successive volumes are
related the happenings when they went to school, when they had a jolly
time under canvas, and when they took part in a school play.

The odd find made in the garret of the Corner House furnished material
for a book in itself and paved the way for a rather remarkable tour in
an auto.

In those days the Corner House girls became acquainted with a brother
and sister, Luke and Cecile Shepard. Luke was a college youth, and the
friendship between him and Ruth presently ripened into a deep regard for
each other. But Luke had to go back to college, so Ruth saw very little
of him, though the young folks corresponded freely.

All this was while the Corner House girls were "growing up." In fact, it
became necessary to tell of that in detail, so that the reason for many
things that happened in the book immediately preceding this, which is
called "The Corner House Girls Snowbound," could be understood.

In that volume the Corner House girls become involved in the mysterious
disappearance of two small twins, and after many exciting days spent in
the vicinity of a lumber camp a clue to the mystery was hit upon.

But now the memory of the blizzard days spent in the old Lodge were
forgotten. For summer had come, bringing with it new problems, not the
least of which was to find a place where vacation days might be spent.

Ruth proposed to speak of that when her guardian called this Saturday
afternoon. As she had hinted to Agnes, Ruth had invited a number of girl
friends to luncheon. It was the plan to form a sort of young people's
Civic Club, to take up several town matters, and Ruth was the moving
spirit in this, for she loved to work toward some definite end.

This Saturday was no exception in being a busy one at the Corner House.

In pursuance of her plans she had enlisted the whole household in
preparing for the event, from Mrs. MacCall, who looked after matters in
general, Linda, who helped with the baking, Uncle Rufus, who was
cleaning the lawn, down to Dot and Tess, who had been sent for flowers.

And then had come the bribing of Dot and Tess to go to the store and,
following that, the crash.

"What can it be?" murmured Ruth, as she and Agnes hastened on. "Some one
surely must be hurt."

"I hope not," half whispered Agnes.

From the side porch came the sound of childish anguish.

"She's all flatted out, that's what she is! She's all flatted out, my
Alice-doll is, and it's all your fault, Tess Kenway! Why didn't you hold
the barrel?"

"I couldn't, I told you! It just rolled and it rolled. It's a good thing
it didn't roll on Almira!"

"Gracious! did you hear that?" cried Agnes. "What can they have been
doing?"

The two older sisters reached the porch together, there to find Mrs.
MacCall holding to Tess, whom she was brushing off and murmuring to in a
low voice, filled with much Scotch burring.

Dot stood at the foot of the steps holding a rather crushed doll out at
arm's length, for all who would to view. And stalking off over the lawn
was Almira, the cat, carrying in her mouth a wee kitten. Uncle Rufus was
hobbling toward the scene of the excitement as fast as his rheumatism
would allow. Scattered on the ground at the foot of the steps was a
collection of odds and ends--"trash" Uncle Rufus called it. The trash
had come from an overturned barrel, and it was this barrel rolling down
the steps and off the porch that had caused the noise.

"What happened?" demanded Ruth, breathing more easily when she saw that
the casualty list was confined to the doll.

"It was Tess," declared Dot. "She tipped the barrel over and it rolled
on my Alice-doll and now look at her."

Dot referred to the doll, not to her sister, though Tess was rather a
sight, for she was covered with feathers from an old pillow that had
been thrown into the barrel and had burst open during the progress of
the accident.

At first Tess had been rather inclined to cry, but finding, to her great
relief, that she was unhurt, she changed her threatened tears into
laughter and said:

"Ain't I funny looking? Just like a duck!"

"What were you trying to do, children?" asked Ruth, trying to speak
rather severely in her capacity as "mother."

"I was trying to put Almira and one of her kittens into the barrel,"
explained Tess, now that Mrs. MacCall had got off most of the feathers.
"I leaned over to put Almira in the barrel, soft and easy like, down on
the other pillow, and it upset--I mean the barrel did. It began to roll,
and I couldn't stop it and it rolled right off the porch and--"

"Right over my Alice-doll it rolled, and she's all squashed!" voiced
Dot.

"Oh, be quiet! She isn't hurt a bit," cried Tess. "Her nose was flat,
anyhow."

"Did the barrel roll over you?" asked Agnes, smiling now.

"Almost," said Tess. "But I got out of the way in time, and Almira
grabbed up her kitten and ran. Where is she?" she asked.

"Never mind the cat," advised Ruth. "She's caused enough excitement for
one Saturday morning. Why were you putting her in the barrel, anyhow,
Tess?"

"So I'd know where she was when I came back. I wanted her and one kitten
to play with if Dot is going to play with her Alice-doll when we get
back from the store. But I guess I leaned too far over."

"I guess you did," assented Ruth. "Well, I'm glad it was no worse. Is
your doll much damaged, Dot?"

"Maybe I can put a little more sawdust or some rags in her and stuff her
out. But she's awful flat. And look at her nose!"

"Her nose was flat, anyhow, before the barrel rolled over her," said
Tess. "But I'm sorry it happened. I guess Almira was scared."

"We were all frightened," said Ruth. "It was a terrible racket. Now let
the poor cat alone, and run along to the store. Oh, what a mess this
is," and she looked at the refuse scattered from the trash barrel. "And
just when I want things to look nice for the girls. It always seems to
happen that way!"

Uncle Rufus shuffled along.

"Doan you-all worry now, honey," he said, speaking to all the girls as
one. "I'll clean up dish yeah trash in no time. I done got de lawn like
a billiard table, an' I'll pick up dish yeah trash. De ash man ought to
have been along early dis mawnin' fo' to get it. I set it dar fo' him."

That explained the presence on the side porch of the barrel of odds and
ends collected for the ash man to remove. He had not called, and seeing
the receptacle there, with an old feather pillow among the other refuse,
Tess thought she had her opportunity.

"Run along now, my bonny bairns! Run along!" counseled the old Scotch
woman. "'Tis late it's getting, and the lassies will be here to lunch
before we know it."

"Yes, do run along," begged Ruth. "And then come back to be washed and
have your hair combed. I want you to look nice if, accidentally, you
appear on the scene."

Thus bidden, and fortified with another cookie each, Tess and Dot
hurried on to the store, Dot tenderly trying to pinch into shape the
flattened nose of her Alice-doll.

Rufus got a broom and began to clean the scattered trash to put back
into the barrel, and Mrs. MacCall hurried into her kitchen, where Linda
was humming a Finnish song as she clattered amid the pots and pans.

"Oh, we must finish the parlor and library," declared Ruth. "Do come and
help, Agnes."

"Coming, Ruth. Oh, here's Neale!" she added, pausing to look toward the
gate through which at that moment appeared a sturdy lad of pleasant
countenance.

"He acts as though he had something on his mind," went on Agnes, as the
youth broke into a run on seeing her and her sister on the steps. "Wait
a moment, Ruth. He may have something to tell us."

"The fates forbid that it is anything more about Tess and Dot!" murmured
Ruth, for the children had some minutes before disappeared down the
street.

"News!" cried Neale O'Neil, as he swung up the steps. "I've got such
news for you! Oh, it's great!" and his face fairly shone.



CHAPTER III

THE ELEVATOR


"Just a minute now, Neale," said Ruth, in the quiet voice she sometimes
had to use when Tess and Dot, either or both, were engaged in one of
their many startling feats. "Quiet down a bit, please, before you tell
us."

The boy had reached the porch, panting from his run, and he had been
about to burst out with the news, which he could hardly contain, when
Ruth addressed him.

"What's the matter? Don't you want to hear it?" he asked, fanning
himself vigorously with his hat.

"Oh, yes, it isn't that," said Agnes, with a smile, which caused Neale's
lips to part in an answering one, showing his white teeth that made a
contrast to his tanned face. "But we have just passed through rather a
strenuous time, Neale, and if you have anything more startling to tell
us about Tess and Dot--"

"Oh, it isn't about them!" laughed Neale O'Neil. "They're all right. I
just saw them going down the street."

"Thank goodness!" murmured Ruth. "I thought they had got into more
mischief. Well, go on, Neale, and tell us the news. Is it good?"

"The best ever," he answered, sobering down a little. "The only trouble
is that there isn't very much of it. Only a sort of rumor, so to speak."

"Sit down," said Agnes, and she herself suited her action to the words.
"Uncle Rufus has the spilled trash cleaned up now."

"Yes'm, it's done all cleaned up now," murmured the old colored servant
as he departed, having made the side porch presentable again. "But I
suah does wish dat trash man'd come 'roun' yeah befo' dem two chilluns
come back. Dey's gwine to upsot dat barrel ag'in, if dey gets a chanst;
dey suah is!" and he departed, shaking his head woefully enough.

"What happened?" asked Neale. "An accident?"

"You might call it that," assented Ruth, sitting down beside her sister.
"It was a combination of Tess, Dot, Alice-doll and Almira all rolled
into one."

"That's enough!" laughed the boy, to whom readers of the previous
volumes of the series need no introduction.

Neale O'Neil had once been in a circus. He was known as "Master Jakeway"
and was the son of James O'Neil. Neale's uncle, William Sorber, was the
ringmaster and lion tamer in the show billed as "Twomley & Sorber's
Herculean Circus and Menagerie." Some time before the opening of the
present story, Neale had left the circus and had come to Milton to live,
making his home with Con Murphy, the town cobbler.

"Well, go on with your news, Neale," said Ruth gently, as she gazed
solicitously at the boy. She was beginning to have more and more
something of a feeling of responsibility toward him. This was due to the
fact that Ruth was growing older, as has been evidenced, and also to the
fact that Neale was also, and at times, she thought, he showed the lack
of the care of a loving mother.

"Yes, I want to hear it," interposed Agnes. "And then we simply must get
the house in shape, if the girls aren't to find us with smudges of dust
on our noses."

"Is there anything I can do?" asked Neale eagerly. "Are you going to
have a party?"

"Some of Ruth's young ladies are coming to lunch," explained Agnes. "I
don't suppose I may be classed with them," and she looked shyly at her
sister.

"I don't see why not," came the retort from the oldest Kenway girl. "I'd
like to have you come to the meeting, Agnes."

"No, thank you, civics are not much in my line. I hated 'em in school.
Though maybe I'll come to the eats. But let's hear Neale's news. It may
spoil from being kept."

"Not much danger of that," said the boy, with another bright smile. "But
are you sure there isn't anything I can do to help?"

"Perfectly sure, Neale," answered Ruth. "The two irrepressibles brought
me the flowers I wanted to decorate with, and it only remains to put
them in vases. But now I'm sure we have chattered enough about
ourselves. Let us hear about you."

"It isn't so much about me; it's about--father," and Neale's voice sank
when he said that. He spoke in almost a reverent tone. And then his face
lighted up again as he exclaimed:

"I have some news about him! That's why I ran to tell you. I knew you'd
be glad."

"Oh, Neale, that's fine!" cried Agnes, clasping him by the arm. "After
all these years, really to have news of him! I'm so glad!"

"Is he really found?" asked Ruth, who was of a less excitable type than
her sister, though she could get sufficiently worked up when there was
need for it.

"No, he isn't exactly found," went on Neale. "I only wish he were. But I
just heard, in a roundabout way, that he may not be so very far from
here."

"That is good news," declared Ruth. "How did you hear it?"

"Well, you know my father was what is called a rover," went on the boy.
"I presume I don't need to tell you that. He wouldn't have been in the
circus business with Uncle Bill, and he wouldn't have had me in the
circus--along with the trick mules--unless he had loved to travel about
and see the country."

"That's a safe conclusion," remarked Agnes. To her sister and herself
Neale's circus experiences were an old story. He had often told them
how, when a small boy, he had performed in the sawdust ring.

"Yes, father was a rover," went on Neale. "At least that's the
conclusion I've come to of late. I really didn't know him very well. He
left the circus when I was still small and told Uncle Bill to look after
me. Well, Uncle Bill did, I'll say that for him. He was as kind as any
boy's uncle could be."

"Anyhow, as you know, father left the circus, gave me in charge of Uncle
Bill, and went off to seek his fortune. I suppose he realized that I
would be better off out of a circus, but he knew he had to live, and
money is needed for that. So that's why he quit the ring, I imagine.
He's been seeking his fortune for quite a while now, and--"

"Neale, do you mean to say he has come back?" cried Agnes.

"Not exactly," was the answer. "At least if he has come back I haven't
seen him. But I just met a man--a sort of tramp he is, to tell you the
truth--and he says he knew a man who saw my father in the Alaskan
Klondike, where father had a mine. And this man--this tramp--says my
father started back to the States some time ago."

"With a lot of gold?" asked Ruth, her eyes gleaming with hope for Neale.

"This the man didn't know. All he knew was that there was a rumor that
my father had struck it fairly rich and had started back toward
civilization. But even that news makes me feel good. I'm going to see if
I can find him. I always had an idea, and so did Uncle Bill, that it was
to Alaska father had gone, and this proves it."

"But who is this man who gave you the news, and why doesn't he know
where your father can be found?" asked Ruth. "Also is there anything we
can do to help you, Neale?"

"What a lot of questions!" exclaimed Agnes.

"I think I can answer them," Neale said. He was calmer now, but his face
still shone and his eyes sparkled under the stress of the happy
excitement. "The man, as I said, is a tramp. He asked me for some money.
He was driving a team of mules on the canal towpath, and I happened to
look at one of the animals. It reminded me of one we had in the
circus--a trick mule--but it took only a look to show me it wasn't the
same sort of kicker. I got to talking to the man, and he said he was
broke--only had just taken the job and the boss wouldn't advance him a
cent until the end of the week. I gave him a quarter, and we got to
talking. Then he told me he knew men who had been in the Klondike, and,
naturally, I asked him if he had ever heard of a man named O'Neil. He
said he had, and then the story came out."

"But how can you be sure it was your father?" asked Ruth, wisely not
wanting false hopes to be raised.

"That was easily proved when I mentioned circus," said Neale. "This
tramp, Hank Dayton, he said his name was, remembered the men speaking of
my father talking about circuses, and saying that he had left me in
one."

"That does seem to establish an identity," Ruth conceded. "Where is this
man Dayton now, Neale?"

"He had to go on with the canal boat. But I learned from him all I
could. It seems sure that my father is either back here, after some
years spent in Alaska, or that he will come here soon. He must have been
writing to Uncle Bill, and so have learned that I came here to live.
Uncle Bill knows where I am, but I don't know where he is at this
moment, though I could get in touch with him. But I'll be glad to see my
father again. Oh, if I could only find him!"

Neale seemed to gaze afar off, over the fields and woods, as if he
visualized his long-lost father coming toward him. His eyes had a dreamy
look.

"Can't we do something to help you?" asked Ruth.

"That's what I came over about as soon as I had learned all the mule
driver could tell me," went on the boy. "I thought maybe we could ask
Mr. Howbridge, your guardian, how to go about finding lost persons.
There are ways of advertising for people who have disappeared."

"There is," said Agnes. "I've often seen in the paper advertisements for
missing persons who are wanted to enable an estate to be cleared up, and
the last time I was in Mr. Howbridge's office I heard him telling one of
the clerks to have such an advertisement prepared."

"Then that's what I've got to have done!" declared Neale. "I've got some
money, and I can get more from Uncle Bill if I can get in touch with
him. I'm going to see Mr. Howbridge and start something!"

He was about to leave the porch, to hasten away, when Ruth interposed.

"Mr. Howbridge is coming here this afternoon," said the girl. "You might
stay and see him, if you like, Neale."

"What, with a whole Civic Betterment Club of girls coming to the Corner
House! No, thank you," he laughed. "I'll see him afterward. But I have
more hope now than I ever had before."

"I'm very glad," murmured Ruth. "Mr. Howbridge will give you any help
possible, I'm sure. Shall I speak to him about it when he comes to
advise us how to form our Civic Betterment Club?"

"Oh, I think not, thank you," answered Neale. "He'll have enough to do
this afternoon without taking on my affair. I can tell him later. But I
couldn't wait to tell you."

"Of course you couldn't!" said Agnes. "That would have been a fine way
to treat me!" Neale, who was Agnes' special chum, in a way seemed like
one of the family--at least as much so as Mrs. MacCall, the housekeeper,
Uncle Rufus, or Sammy Pinkney, the little fellow who lived across Willow
Street, on the opposite side from the Corner House.

"Well, I feel almost like another fellow now," went on Neale, as he
started down the walk. "Not knowing whether your father is alive or not
isn't much fun."

"I should say not!" agreed Agnes. "I wish I could ask you to stay to
lunch, Neale, but--"

"Oh, gee, Aggie!" The boy laughed, and off down the street he hastened,
his step light and his cheery whistle ringing out.

"Isn't it wonderful!" exclaimed Agnes, as she followed her sister into
the house.

"Yes, if only it proves true," returned the older girl, more soberly.

From the kitchen came the clatter of pans and dishes as Linda disposed
of the clutter incidental to making cakes and dainties for a bevy of
girls. Mrs. MacCall could be heard humming a Scotch song, and as Tess
and Dot returned from the store she raised her voice in the refrain:

    "Thou art a gay an' bonnie lass,
    But thou hast a waukrife minnie."

"What in the world is a waukrife minnie?" demanded Agnes again, pausing
in her task.

"It's 'wakeful mother,'" answered Ruth. "I remember now. It's in Burns'
poem of that name. But do hurry, please, Aggie, or the girls will be
here before we can change our dresses!"

"The fates forbid!" cried her sister, and she hastened to good
advantage.

The lunch was over and the "Civic Betterment League" was in process of
embryo formation, under the advice of Mr. Howbridge, and Ruth was
earnestly presiding over the session of her girl friends in the library
of the Corner House, when, from the ample yard in the rear of the old
mansion, came a series of startled cries.

There was but one meaning to attach to them. The cries came from Dot and
Tess, and mingled with them were the unmistakable yells of Sammy
Pinkney.

At the same time Mrs. MacCall added her remonstrances to something that
was going on, while Uncle Rufus, tottering his way along the hall,
tapped at the door of the library and said:

"'Scuse me, Miss Ruth, but de chiluns done got cotched in de elevator!"

"The _elevator_!" Agnes screamed. "What in the world do you mean?"

"Yas'um, dat's whut it is," said the old colored man. "Tess an' Dot done
got cotched in de elevator!"



CHAPTER IV

AN AUTO RIDE


Mr. Howbridge had been making an address to Ruth's assembled girl chums
when the interruption came. He had been telling them just how to go
about it to organize the kind of society Ruth had in mind. In spite of
her half refusal to attend the session, Agnes had decided to be present,
and she was sitting near the door when Uncle Rufus made his statement
about the two smallest Kenways being "cotched."

"But how can they be in an elevator?" demanded Agnes. "We haven't an
elevator on the place--there hardly is one in Milton."

"I don't know no mo' 'bout it dan jest dat!" declared the old colored
man. "Sammy he done say dey is cotched in de elevator an'--"

"Oh, Sammy!" cried Agnes. "If Sammy has anything to do with it you might
know--"

She was interrupted by a further series of cries, unmistakably coming
from Tess and Dot, and, mingled with their shouts of alarm, was the
voice of Mrs. MacCall saying:

"Come along, Ruth! Oh, Agnes! Oh, the poor bairns! Oh, the wee ones!"
and then she lapsed into her broadest Scotch so that none who heard
understood.

"Something must have happened!" declared Ruth.

"It is very evident," added Agnes, and the two sisters hurried out,
brushing past Uncle Rufus in the hall.

"Can't we do something?" asked Lucy Poole, one of the guests.

"Yes, we must help," added Grace Watson.

"I think perhaps it will be best if you remain here," said Mr.
Howbridge. "I don't imagine anything very much out of the ordinary has
happened, from what I know of the family," he said with a smile. "I'll
go and see, and if any more help is needed I shall let you young ladies
know. Unless it is, the fewer on the scene the better, perhaps."

"Especially if any one is hurt," murmured Clo Baker. "I never could
stand the sight of a child hurt."

"They don't seem to have lost their voices, at any rate," remarked Lucy.
"Listen:"

As Mr. Howbridge followed Agnes and Ruth from the room, there was borne
to the ears of the assembled guests a cry of:

"Let me down! Do you hear, Sammy Pinkney! Let me down!"

And a voice, undoubtedly that of the Sammy in question, answered:

"I'm not doing anything! I can't get you down! It's Billy Bumps. He did
it!"

"Two boys in mischief," murmured Lucy.

"No, Billy is a goat, so I understand," said Clo. "I hope he hasn't
butted one of the children down the cistern."

And while the guests were vainly wondering what had happened, Ruth,
Agnes and Mr. Howbridge saw suspended in a large clothes basket, which
was attached to a rope that ran over the high limb of a great oak tree
in the back yard, Tess and Dot. They were in the clothes basket, Dot
with her Alice-doll clasped in her hands; and both girls were looking
over the side of the hamper.

Attached to the ground end of the rope, where it was run through a
pulley block, was a large goat, now contentedly chewing grass, and near
the animal, with a startled look on his face, was a small boy, who, when
he felt like it, answered to the name Sammy Pinkney.

"Get us down! Get us down!" cried Dot and Tess in a chorus, while Mrs.
MacCall stood beneath them holding out her apron as if the two little
girls were ripe apples ready to fall.

"How did you get up there?" demanded Ruth, her face paling as she saw
the danger of her little sisters, for Tess and Dot were too high up for
safety.

[Illustration: "Get us down!" cried Dot and Tess in a chorus, while
Mrs. MacCall stood beneath them holding out her apron.]

"Sammy elevatored us up," explained Dot.

"Well, you wanted to go!" replied the small boy in self justification.

The goat kept on eating grass, of which there was an ample supply in the
yard of the Corner House.

"What shall we do?" cried Agnes.

"Run into the house and get a strong blanket or quilt," advised Mr.
Howbridge quickly, but in a quiet, insistent voice which seemed to calm
the excitement of every one. "Bring the blanket here. We will hold it
beneath the basket like a fire net, though I do not believe there is any
immediate danger of the children falling. The rope seems to be firmly
caught in the pulley block."

His quick eye had taken in this detail of the "elevator." The rope
really had jammed in the block, and, as long as it held, the basket
could not descend suddenly. Even if the rope should be unexpectedly
loosened, there would still be the weight of the attached goat to act as
a drag on the end of the cable, thus counterbalancing, in a measure, the
weight of the girls in the clothes basket.

"But I don't want to take any chances," explained the lawyer. "We'll
take hold and extend the blanket under them, in case they should fall."

"I have my apron ready now!" cried Mrs. MacCall. "Oh, the puir bairns!
What ever possit it ye twa gang an' reesk their lives this way, ye
tapetless one?" she cried to Sammy angrily, suddenly, in her excitement,
using the broadest of Scotch.

"Well, they wanted to ride in an elevator, an' I--I made one," he
declared.

And that is just what he had done. Whether it was his idea or that of
Tess and Dot did not then develop. What Sammy had done was to take the
largest clothes basket, getting it unobserved when Mrs. MacCall and
Linda were busy over Ruth's party. He had fastened the basket to a long
rope, which had been thrown over the high limb of the oak tree. Then
Sammy had passed the rope through a pulley block, obtained no one knew
where, and had hitched to the cable the goat, Billy Bumps.

By walking away from the tree Billy had pulled on the rope. The
straightaway pull was transformed, by virtue of the pulley, into an
upward motion, and the basket ascended. It had formed the "elevator" to
which Uncle Rufus alluded.

And, really, it did elevate Dot and Tess. They had been pulled up and
had descended as Sammy made the goat back, thus releasing the pull on
the rope. All had gone well for several trips until the rope jammed in
the pulley, thus leaving the two girls suspended in the basket at the
highest point. Their screams, the fright of Sammy, the alarms of Uncle
Rufus and Mrs. MacCall had followed in quick succession.

"Here's the blanket!" cried Agnes speeding to the scene with a large
woolen square under her arm. "Have they fallen yet?"

Behind her came stringing the guests. It had been impossible for them to
remain in the library with their minds on civic betterment ideas when
they heard what had happened.

"Well, did you ever!" cried one of the number in astonishment.

"What can it mean?" burst out a second.

"Looks to me like an amateur circus," giggled a third. She was a
lighthearted girl and had not taken much of an interest in the rather
dry meeting.

"Those children will be hurt," cried a nervous lady. "Oh, dear, why did
they let them do such an awful thing as that?"

"I think they did it on their own account," said another lady. "Our
Tommy is just like that--into mischief the minute your back is turned."

"I'm glad they came!" said Mr. Howbridge. "They may all take hold of the
edges of the blanket and extend it as firemen do the life net. You may
stand aside now, Mrs. MacCall, if you will," he told the Scotch
housekeeper, and not until then did she lower her apron and move out
from under the swaying basket, murmuring as she did so something about
Sammy being a "tapetless gowk" who needed a "crummock" or a good
"flyte," by which the girls understood that the boy in question was a
senseless dolt who needed a severe whipping or a good scolding.

Ruth, Agnes and the guests took hold of the heavy blanket and held it
under the basket as directed by Mr. Howbridge. Then, seeing there would
be little danger to the children in case the basket should suddenly
fall, the lawyer directed Sammy to loosen the goat from the rope.

"He'll run if I do," objected Sammy.

"Let him run, you ninnie!" cried Mrs. MacCall. "An' if ever ye fetchet
him yon again I'll--I'll--"

But she could not call up a sufficiently severe punishment, and had to
subside.

Meanwhile the mischievous boy had led Billy Bumps off to one side, by
the simple process of loosening the rope from the wagon harness to which
it was fastened. Mr. Howbridge then took a firm hold of the cable and,
after loosening it from where it had jammed in the pulley block, he
braced his feet in the earth, against the downward pull of the basket,
and so gently lowered Tess and Dot to the ground.

"I'm never going to play with you again, Sammy Pinkney!" cried Tess,
climbing out of the basket and shaking her finger at the boy.

"Nor me, either!" added Dot, smoothing out the rumpled dress of her
Alice-doll.

"Well, you asked me to make some fun and I did," Sammy defended himself.

"Yes, and you made a lot of excitement, too," added Ruth. "You had
better come into the house now, children," she went on. "And, Sammy,
please take Billy away."

"Yes'm," he murmured. "But they asked me to elevator 'em up, an' I did!"

"To which I shall bear witness," said Mr. Howbridge, laughing.

Mrs. MacCall "shooed" Tess and Dot into the house, murmuring her thanks
to providence over the escape, and, after a while, the excitement died
away and Ruth went on with her meeting.

The Civic Betterment League was formed that afternoon and eventually,
perhaps, did some good. But what this story is to concern itself with is
the adventure on a houseboat of the Corner House girls. Meanwhile about
a week went by. There had been no more elevator episodes, though this
does not mean that Sammy did not make mischief, nor that Tess and Dot
kept out of it. Far from that.

One bright afternoon, when school was out and the pre-supper appetites
of Dot and Tess had been appeased, the two came running into the room
where Ruth and Agnes sat.

"He's here! He's come!" gasped Tess.

"And he's got, oh, such a dandy!" echoed Dot.

"Who's here, and what has he?" asked Agnes, flying out of her chair.

"You shouldn't say anything is a 'dandy,'" corrected Ruth to her
youngest sister.

"Well it is, and you told me always to tell the truth," was the retort.

"It's Mr. Howbridge and he's out in front with a--the--er the
beautifulest automobile!" cried Tess. "It's all shiny an' it's got
wheels, an'--an' everything! It's newer than our car."

Ruth was sufficiently interested in this news to look from the window.

"It _is_ Mr. Howbridge," she murmured, as though there had been doubts
on that point.

"And he must have a new auto," added Agnes. "Oh, he has!" she cried.

A moment later they were welcoming their guardian at the door, while the
smaller children formed an eager and anxious background.

"What has happened?" asked Agnes, while Ruth, remembering her position
as head of the family, asked:

"Won't you come in?"

"I'd much rather you would come out, Miss Ruth," the man responded. "It
is just the sort of day to be out--not in."

"Especially in such a car as that!" exclaimed Agnes. "It's a--"

"Be careful," murmured Ruth, with an admonishing glance from Agnes to
the smaller girls. "Little pitchers, you know--"

"It's a wonderful car!" went on Agnes. "Is it yours?"

"Well, I sometimes doubt a little, when I recall what it cost me," her
guardian answered with a laugh. "But I am supposed to be the owner, and
I have come to take you for a ride."

"Oh, can't we go?" came in a chorus from Tess and Dot.

"Yes, all of you!" laughed Mr. Howbridge. "That's why I waited until
school was out. They may come, may they not, Miss Ruth?" he asked.
Always he was thus deferential to her when a question of family policy
came up.

"Yes, I think so," was the low-voiced answer. "But we planned to have an
early tea and--"

"Oh, I promise to get you back home in plenty of time," the lawyer said,
with a laugh. "And after that, if you like, we might take another ride."

"How wonderful!" murmured Agnes.

"Won't you stay to tea?" asked Ruth.

"I was waiting for that!" exclaimed Mr. Howbridge. "I shall be
delighted. Now then, youngsters, run out and hop in, but don't touch
anything, or you may be in a worse predicament than when you were in the
clothes basket elevator."

"We won't!" cried Tess and Dot, running down the walk.

"You must come back and be washed!" cried Ruth. It was a standing
order--that, and the two little girls knew better than to disobey.

But first they inspected the new car, walking all around it, and
breathing in, with the odor of gasoline, the awed remarks of some
neighboring children.

"That's part our car," Dot told these envious ones, as she and Tess
started back toward the house. "We're going for a ride in it, and don't
you dare touch anything on it or Mr. Howbridge'll be awful mad!"

"Um, oh, whut a lubly auto," murmured Alfredia Blossom, who had come on
an errand to her grandfather, Uncle Rufus. "Dat's jest de beatenistest
one I eber see!"

"Yes, it is nice," conceded Tess, proudly, airily and condescendingly.

A little later the two younger children and Agnes sat in the rear seat,
while Ruth was beside Mr. Howbridge at the steering wheel. Then the big
car purred off down the street, like a contented cat after a saucer of
warm milk.

"It was very good of you to come and get us," said Ruth, when they were
bowling along. "Almost the christening trip of the car, too, isn't it?"
she asked.

"The very first trip I have made in it," was the answer. "I wanted it
properly christened, you see. There is a method in my madness, too. I
have an object in view, Martha."

Sometimes he called Ruth this, fancifully, with the thought in mind that
she was "cumbered with many cares."

Again he would apply to her the nickname of "Minerva," with its
suggestion of wisdom. And Ruth rather liked these fanciful appellations.

"You have an object?" she repeated.

"Yes," he answered. "As usual, I want your advice."

"As if it was really worth anything to you!" she countered.

"It will be in this case, I fancy," he went on with a smile. "I want
your opinion about a canal boat."



CHAPTER V

THE HOUSEBOAT


Ruth stole a quick glance at the face of her guardian. There was a
silence between them for a moment, broken only by the purr of the
powerful machine and the suction of the rubber tires on the street.
Agnes, Dot and Tess were having a gay time behind the two figures on the
front seat.

"A canal boat?" murmured Ruth, as if she had not heard aright.

"Perhaps I had better qualify that statement," went on Mr. Howbridge in
his courtroom voice, "by saying that it is, at present, Minerva, on the
canal. And a boat on the canal is a canal boat, is it not? I ask for a
ruling," and he laughed as he slowed down to round a corner.

"I don't know anything about your legal phraseology," answered Ruth,
entering into the bantering spirit of the occasion, "but I don't see why
a boat on the canal becomes a canal boat any more than a cottage pudding
becomes a house. The pudding has no cottage in it any more than a club
sandwich has a club in it and--"

"I am completely at your mercy," Mr. Howbridge broke in with. "But,
speaking seriously, this boat is on the canal, though strictly it is not
a canal boat. You know what they are, I dare say?"

"I used to have to take Tess and Dot down to the towpath to let them
watch them often enough when we first came here," said Ruth, with a
laugh. "They used to think canal boats were the most wonderful objects
in the world."

"Are we going on a canal boat?" asked Tess, overhearing some of the talk
on the front seat. "Oh, are we?"

"Oh, I hope we are!" added Dot. "My Alice-doll just loves canal boats.
And wouldn't it be splendiferous, Tess, if we could have a little one
all to ourselves and Scalawag or maybe Billy Bumps to pull it instead of
a mule?"

"That would be a sight on the towpath!" cried Agnes. "But what is this
about canal boats, Mr. Howbridge?"

"Has some one opened a soda water store on board one?" asked Dot
suddenly.

"Not exactly. You'll see, presently. But I do want your opinion," he
went on, speaking directly to Ruth now, "and it has to do with a boat on
a canal."

"I still think you are joking," she told him. "And except for the fact
that we have a canal here in Milton I should think you were trying to
fool me."

"Impossible, Minerva," he replied, soberly enough.

As Ruth had said, Milton was located on both the canal and a river, the
two streams, if a canal can be called a stream, joining at a certain
point, so that boats could go from one to the other. Gentory River,
which acted as a feeder to one section of the canal, also connected with
Lake Macopic, a large body of water. The lake contained many islands.

The automobile skirted the canal by a street running parallel to it, and
then Mr. Howbridge turned down a rather narrow street, on which were
situated several stores that sold supplies to the canal boats, and
brought his machine to a stop on the bank of the waterway beside the
towpath, as it is called from the fact that the mules or horses towing
the boats walk along that level stretch of highway bordering the canal
and forming part of the canal property.

At this part of the canal, the stream widened and formed a sort of
harbor for boats of various kinds. It was also a refitting station; a
place where a captain might secure new mules, hire helpers, buy grain
for his animals and also victuals for himself and family; for the owners
of the canal boats often lived aboard them. This place, known locally as
"Henderson's Cove," was headquarters for all the canal boatmen of the
vicinity.

"Here is where we disembark, to use a nautical term," said Mr.
Howbridge, with a smile at the younger children.

"Is this where we take the boat?" asked Dot eagerly.

"You might call it that," said Mr. Howbridge, with another genial smile.
"And now, Martha, to show that I was in earnest, there is the craft in
question," and he pointed to an old hulk of a canal boat, which had seen
its best days.

"That! You want my opinion on _that_?" cried the girl, turning to her
guardian in some surprise.

"Oh, no, the one next to it. The _Bluebird_."

Ruth changed her view, and saw a craft which brought to her lips
exclamations of delight, no less than to the lips of her sisters. For it
was not a "rusty canaler" they beheld, but a trim craft, a typical
houseboat, with a deck covered with a green striped awning and set with
willow chairs, and a cabin, the windows of which, through their draped
curtains, gave hint of delights within.

"Oh, how lovely!" murmured Agnes.

"A dream!" whispered Ruth. "But why do you bring us here to show us
this?" she asked with much interest.

"Because," began Mr. Howbridge, "I want to know if you would like--"

Just then an excited voice behind the little party burst out with:

"Oh, Mr. Howbridge, I've been looking everywhere for you!" Neale O'Neil
came hurrying along the towpath, seemingly much excited.

"I hope that Supreme Court decision hasn't gone against me," Ruth heard
her guardian murmur. "If that case is lost--"

And then Neale began to talk excitedly.



CHAPTER VI

MORE NEWS


"They told me at your office you had come here, Mr. Howbridge," said
Neale. "And I hurried on as fast as I could."

"Did they send you here to find me?" asked the lawyer.

"Yes, sir."

"With any message?" As Mr. Howbridge asked this Ruth noticed that her
guardian seemed very anxious about something.

"Yes, I have a message," went on Neale. "It's about--"

"The Jackson case?" interrupted the lawyer. "Is there a decision from
the court and--"

"Oh, no, this isn't anything about the Jackson case or any other," Neale
hastened to say. "It's about my father. And--"

Ruth and Agnes could not help gasping in surprise. As for the two
smaller Kenway children all they had eyes for was the houseboat.

"Oh, your father!" repeated Mr. Howbridge. "Have you found him, Neale?"
There was very evident relief in the lawyer's tone.

"No, sir, I haven't found him. But you know you told me to come to you
as soon as I had found that tramp mule driver again, and he's back in
town once more. He just arrived at the lower lock with a grain boat, and
I hurried to tell you."

"Yes, that was right, Neale," said Mr. Howbridge. "Excuse me, Miss
Ruth," he went on, turning to the girl, "but I happen to be this young
man's legal adviser, and while I planned this for a pleasure trip, it
seems that business can not be kept out of it."

"Oh, we don't mind!" exclaimed Ruth, with a smile at Neale. "Of course
we know about this, and we'd be so glad if you could help find Mr.
O'Neil."

"All right then, if the young ladies have no objection," said the
lawyer, "we'll combine business with pleasure. Suppose we go aboard the
_Bluebird_. I want Miss Ruth's opinion of her and--"

"I don't see why in the world you want _my_ opinion about this boat,"
said the puzzled girl. "I'm almost sure there's a joke in it,
somewhere."

"No, Martha, no joke at all, I do assure you," answered her guardian.
"You'll understand presently. Now, Neale, you say this mule driver has
come back?"

"Yes, sir. You know I went to you as soon as he gave me a hint that my
father might have returned from Alaska, and you said to keep my eyes
open for this man."

"I did, Neale, yes. You of course know this story, don't you, Miss
Ruth?" he asked.

"Yes, I believe we were the first Neale told about it."

"Well," went on Mr. Howbridge, while Tess and Dot showed signs of
impatience to get on board the boat, "I told Neale we must find out more
from this Hank Dayton, the mule driver, before we could do anything, or
start to advertise for Mr. O'Neil. And now, it seems, he is here again.
At first, Neale, when I saw you hurrying along, excited, I was afraid I
had lost a very important law case. I am glad you did not bring bad
news."

Ruth stole a glance at her guardian's face. He was more than usually
quiet and anxious, she thought, though he tried to be gay and jolly.

"We'll have a look at this boat," said Mr. Howbridge, as they advanced
toward it. "I'll get Minerva's opinion, and then we'll try to find Hank
Dayton."

"I know where to find him," said Neale. "He's going to bunk down at the
lower lock for a while. I made him promise to stay there until he could
have a talk with you."

"Very good," announced the lawyer. "Now come on, youngsters!" he cried
with a gayer manner, and he caught Dot up in his arms and carried her
aboard the boat, Neale, Ruth and the others following.

It was a typical houseboat. That is, it was a sort of small house built
on what would otherwise have been a scow. The body of the boat was broad
beamed forward and aft, as a sailor would say. That is, it was very
wide, whereas most boats are pointed at the bow, and only a little less
narrow at the stern.

"It's like a small-sized canal boat, isn't it?" remarked Agnes, as they
went down into the cabin.

"But ever so much nicer," said Ruth.

"Oh, look at the cute little cupboards!" cried Dot. "I could keep my
dolls there."

"And here's a sweet place for the cats!" added Tess, raising the cover
of a sort of box in a corner. "It would be a crib."

"That's a locker," explained Mr. Howbridge, with a smile.

"Oh, I wouldn't want to lock Almira in there!" exclaimed the little
girl. "She might smother, and how could she get out to play with her
kittens?"

"Oh, I don't mean that it can be locked," explained the lawyer. "It is
just called that on a boat. Cupboards on the wall and the window seats
on the floor are generally called lockers on board a ship."

"Is this a ship?" asked Dot.

"Well, enough like one to use some of the same words," replied Mr.
Howbridge. "Now let's look through it."

This they did, and each step brought forth new delights. They had gone
down a flight of steps and first entered a small cabin which was
evidently intended for a living room. Back of that was very plainly the
dining room, for it contained a table and some chairs and on the wall
were two cupboards, or "lockers" as the lawyer said they must be called.

"And they have real dishes in them!" cried Tess, flattening her nose
against one of the glass doors.

"Don't do that, dear," said Ruth in a low voice.

"But I want to see," insisted Tess.

"So do I!" chimed in Dot, and soon the two little sisters, side by side,
with noses pressed flat against the doors, were taking in the sights of
the dishes. Mr. Howbridge silently motioned to Ruth to let them do as
they pleased.

"Oh, what a lovely dolls' party we could have here!" sighed Dot, as she
turned away from the dish locker.

"And couldn't Almira come?" asked Tess, appealing to Agnes. "And bring
one of her kittens?"

"Yes, we'll even allow you two kittens, for fear one would get
lonesome," laughed Mr. Howbridge. "But come on. You haven't seen it all
yet."

There was a small kitchen back of the dining room, and both Ruth and
Agnes were interested to see how conveniently everything was arranged.

"It would be ever so much easier to get meals here than in the Corner
House," was Ruth's opinion.

"Do you think so?" asked the lawyer.

"Yes, everything is so handy. You hardly have to take a step to reach
anything," added Agnes. "You only have to turn from the stove to the
sink, and another turn and you have everything you want, from a toasting
fork to an egg beater," and she indicated the different kitchen utensils
hanging in a rack over the stove.

"I'm glad you like it," said Mr. Howbridge, and Ruth found herself
wondering why he said that.

They passed into the sleeping quarters where small bunks, almost like
those in Pullman cars, were neatly arranged, even to a white counterpane
and pillow shams on each one.

"Oh, how lovely."

"And how clean and neat!"

"It's just like a sleeping car on the railroad."

"Yes, or one of those staterooms on some steamers."

"A person could sleep as soundly here as in a bed at home," was Ruth's
comment.

"Yes, unless the houseboat rocked like a ship," said Agnes.

"I don't think it could rock much on the canal."

"No, but it might on a river, or a lake. I guess a houseboat like this
can go almost anywhere."

There were two sets of sleeping rooms, one on either side of a middle
hall or passageway. Then came a small bathroom. And back of that was
something that made Neale cry out in delight.

"Why, the boat has an engine!" exclaimed the boy. "It runs by motor!"

"Yes, the _Bluebird_ is a motor houseboat," said Mr. Howbridge, with a
smile. "It really belongs on Lake Macopic, but to get it there through
the canal mules will have to be used, as this boat has such a big
propeller that it would wash away the canal banks. It is not allowed to
move it through the canal under its own power."

"That's a dandy engine all right!" exclaimed Neale, and he knew
something about them for one summer he had operated a small motor craft
on the Gentory River, as well as running the Corner House girls'
automobile for them. "I wish I could run this," he went on with a sigh,
"but I don't suppose there's any chance."

"I don't know about that," said the lawyer, musingly. "That is what I
brought Minerva here to talk about. Let's go back to the main cabin and
sit down."

"I'm going to sit on one of the lockers!" cried Tess, darting off ahead
of the others.

"I want to sit on it, too!" exclaimed Dot.

"There are two lockers on the floor--one for each," laughed Mr.
Howbridge.

As the little party moved into the main cabin, Ruth found herself
wondering more and more what Mr. Howbridge wanted her opinion on. She
was not long, however, in learning.

"Here is the situation," began the lawyer, when they were all seated
facing him. His tone reminded Ruth of the time he had come to talk to
them about their inheritance of the Corner House. "This boat, the
_Bluebird_, belongs to an estate. The estate is being settled up, and
the boat is going to be sold. A man living at the upper end of Lake
Macopic has offered to buy it at a fair price if it is delivered to him
in good condition before the end of summer. As the legal adviser of the
estate I have undertaken to get this boat to the purchaser. And what I
brought you here for, to-day, Minerva," he said, smiling at Ruth, "is to
ask your opinion about the best way of getting the boat there."

"Do you really mean that?" asked the girl.

"I certainly do."

"Well, I should say the best plan would be to start it going, and steer
it up the canal to the river, through the river into the lake and up the
lake to the place where it is to be delivered," Ruth answered, smiling.

"But Mr. Howbridge said the boat couldn't be moved by the motor on the
canal," objected Agnes.

"Well, have mules tow it, then," advised Ruth. "That is very simple."

"I am glad you think so," replied the lawyer. "And the next matter on
which I wish your advice is whether to start the boat off alone on her
trip, or just in charge of, say, the mule driver."

"Oh, I wouldn't want to trust a lovely houseboat like this to only a
mule driver!" exclaimed Ruth.

"That's what I thought," went on her guardian, with another smile. "It
needs some one on board to look after it, doesn't it?"

"Well, yes, I should say so."

"Then how would you like to take charge?" came the unexpected question.

"Me?" cried Ruth. "_Me?_"

"You, and all of you!" went on the lawyer. "Listen. Here is the
situation. I have to send this houseboat to Lake Macopic. You dwellers
of the Corner House need a vacation. You always have one every summer,
and I generally advise you where to go. At least you always ask me, and
sometimes you take my advice.

"This time I advise you to take a houseboat trip. And I make this offer.
I will provide the boat and all the needful food and supplies, such as
gasoline and oil when you reach the river and lake. Everything else is
on board, from beds to dishes. I will also hire a mule driver and engage
some mules for the canal trip. Now, how does that suit you?"

"Oh! Oh!" exclaimed Agnes, and it seemed to be all she could say for a
moment. She just looked at Mr. Howbridge with parted lips and sparkling
eyes.

"How wonderful!" murmured Ruth.

"Can we go?" cried Tess.

"The whole family, including Neale," said Mr. Howbridge.

"Oo-ee!" gasped Dot, wide-eyed.

Agnes and Neale stared entranced at each other, Agnes, for once,
speechless.

"Well, now I have made the offer, think it over, and while you are doing
that I'll give a little attention to Neale's case," went on Mr.
Howbridge. "Now, young man, suppose we go and find this mule driver who
seems to know something of your father."

"Oh, wait! Don't go away just yet!" begged Ruth. "Let's talk about the
trip some more! Do you really think we can go?"

"I want you to go. It would be doing me a favor," said the lawyer. "I
must get this boat to Lake Macopic somehow, and I don't know a better
way than to have Martha and her family take it," and he bowed formally
to his ward.

"And did you really mean I may go, too?" asked Neale.

"If you can arrange it, and Miss Ruth agrees."

"Of course I will! But, oh, there will be such a lot to do to get ready.
We'd have to take Mrs. MacCall along, too," she added.

"Of course," assented Mr. Howbridge. "By all means!"

"And would you go too?" asked Ruth.

"Would you like me to?" the lawyer countered.

"Of course. We'd all like it."

"I might manage to make at least part of the trip," was the reply. "Then
you have decided to take my offer?"

"Oh, I think it's perfectly _wonderful_!" burst out Agnes.

As for Tess and Dot, it could be told what they thought by just looking
at them.

"Very well then," said the guardian, "we'll consider it settled. I'll
have to see about mules and a driver for the canal part of the trip
and--"

An exclamation from Neale interrupted him.

"What is it?" asked the lawyer.

"Why couldn't we hire Hank Dayton for a mule driver?" Neale asked. "He's
rough, but I think he's a decent man and honest, and he knows a lot
about the canal and boats and mules."

"It might not be a bad idea," assented Mr. Howbridge. "We'll find him
and ask him, Neale. And it would be killing two birds with one stone. He
could help you in your search for your father. Yes, I think that will be
a good plan. Girls, I'll leave you here to look over the _Bluebird_ at
your leisure while Neale and I go to interview the mule driver."

"And I hope he will be able to tell you how to find your father, Neale,"
said Agnes, in a low voice.

"I hope so, too," added the boy. "You don't know, Aggie, how much I've
wanted to find father."

"Of course I do, Neale. And you'll find him, too!"

Neale went on with Mr. Howbridge, somewhat cheered by Agnes' sympathy.



CHAPTER VII

MAKING PLANS


Left to themselves on the _Bluebird_, Ruth, Agnes, Dot and Tess went
over every part of it again, from the engine room to the complete
kitchen and living apartments.

"Neale will just love fussing around that motor," said Agnes.

"You speak as if we had already decided to make the trip," remarked
Ruth, with a bright glance at her sister.

"Why, yes, haven't you?" Agnes countered. "I thought you and Mr.
Howbridge had fixed it up between you when you were chatting up on the
front seat of the auto."

"He never said a word to me about it," declared Ruth.

"He must have said something," insisted her sister.

"Oh, of course we talked, but not about _this_," and Ruth swept her
hands about to indicate the _Bluebird_. "I was as much surprised as you
to have him ask us if we would take her up to the lake."

"Well, it will be delightful, don't you think?"

"Yes, I think it will. But of course it depends on Mrs. MacCall."

"I don't see why!" exclaimed Agnes quickly and reproachfully.

"Of course you do. She'll have to go along to act as chaperone and all
that. We may have to tie up at night in lonely places along the canal or
river and--"

"We'll have Neale and Mr. Howbridge! And how about asking Luke Shepard
and his sister Cecile?" went on Agnes.

Ruth flushed a little.

"I don't believe Cecile and Luke can go," she replied slowly. "Cecile
has got to go home to take care of her Aunt Lorena, who is sick, and
Luke wrote me that he had a position offered to him as a clerk in a
summer hotel down on the coast, and it is to pay so well that he would
not dream of letting the opportunity pass."

"Oh, that's too bad, Ruth. You won't see much of him."

"I am not sure I'll see anything of him." And Ruth's face clouded a
little.

"Well, anyway, as I said before, we'll have Neale and Mr. Howbridge,"
continued Agnes.

"Neale. But Mr. Howbridge is not sure he can go--at least all the way.
However, we'll ask Mrs. MacCall."

"I think she'll be just crazy to go!" declared Agnes. "Come on, let's go
right away and find out."

"But we must wait for Mr. Howbridge to come back. He told us to."

"Well, then we'll say we're already living on board," said Agnes. "Oh,
won't it be fun to eat on a houseboat!" and she danced off to the dining
room, took her seat at the table, and exclaimed: "I'll have a steak,
rare, with French fried potatoes, plenty of gravy and a cup of tea and
don't forget the pie _à la mode_."

Tess and Dot laughed and Ruth smiled. They then went all over the boat
again, with the result that they grew more and more enthusiastic about
the trip. And when Mr. Howbridge and Neale came back in the automobile a
little later, beaming faces met them.

"Well, what about it, Minerva?" Mr. Howbridge asked Ruth. "Are you going
to act as caretakers for the boat to help me settle the estate?"

"Since you put it that way, as a favor, I can not refuse," she answered,
giving him a swift smile. "But, as I told the girls, it will depend on
Mrs. MacCall."

"You leave her to me," laughed the lawyer. "I'll recite one of Bobby
Burns' poems, and if that doesn't win her over nothing will. Neale, do
you think you can manage that motor?"

"I'm sure of it," said the boy. "It isn't the same kind I had to run
before, but I can get the hang of it all right."

"Is there any news about your father?" asked Ruth, glancing from her
guardian to the boy.

"Nothing very definite," answered the lawyer. "We found Hank Dayton, and
in spite of his rough and ragged clothes I discovered him to be a
reliable fellow. He told us all he knew about the rumor of Mr. O'Neil
having returned from the Klondike, and I am going to start an inquiry,
with newspaper advertising and all that. And I may as well tell you that
I have engaged this same Hank Dayton to drive the mules that will draw
the _Bluebird_ on the canal part of the trip."

"Oh!" exclaimed Agnes. "I thought Neale said this man was a tramp!"

"He is, in appearance," said Mr. Howbridge, with a smile. "A person can
not wear an evening suit and drive canal mules. But Hank seems to be a
sterling chap at the bottom, and with Neale and Mrs. MacCall to keep him
straight, you will have no trouble.

"It is really necessary," he went on, "to have some man who understands
the canal, the mules, and the locks to look after the boat, and I think
this Dayton will answer. He has just finished a trip, and so Neale and I
hired him. It will be well for Neale to keep in touch with him, too, for
through Hank we may get more news of Mr. O'Neil. And now, if you have
sufficiently looked over the _Bluebird_, we may as well go back."

"It would be a good while before I could see enough of her!" exclaimed
Agnes. "I'm just in love with the craft, and I know we shall have a
delightful summer on her. Only the trip will be over too soon, I'm
afraid."

"There is no necessity for haste," the lawyer assured her. "The
purchaser of the boat does not want her until fall, and you may linger
as long as you like on the trip."

"Good!" exclaimed Agnes.

A family council was held the next day at which Mr. Howbridge laid all
the facts before Mrs. MacCall. At first the Scotch housekeeper would not
listen to any proposal for the trip on the water. But when Ruth and
Agnes had spoken of the delights of the boat, and when the housekeeper
had personally inspected the _Bluebird_, she changed her mind.

"Though I never thought, in my old age, I'd come to bein' a houseboat
keeper," she chuckled. "But 'tis all in the day's work. I'll gang with
ye ma lassies. A canal boat is certainly more staid than an ice-boat,
and I went alang with ye on that."

"Hurray!" cried Agnes, unable to restrain her joy. "All aboard for Lake
Macopic!"

The door opened and Aunt Sarah Maltby came in.

"I thought I heard some one calling," she said anxiously.

"It was Agnes," explained Ruth. "She's so excited about the trip."

"Fish? What fish? It isn't Friday, is it?" asked the old lady, who was
getting rather deaf.

"No, Auntie dear, I didn't say _fish_--I said _trip_." And Ruth spoke
more loudly. "We are going to make a trip on a houseboat for our summer
vacation. Would you like to come along?"

Aunt Sarah Maltby shook her head, as Tess pulled out a chair for her.

"I'm getting too old, my dear, to go traipsing off over the country in
one of those flying machines."

"It's a houseboat--not a flying machine," Agnes explained.

"Well, it's about the same, I reckon," returned the old lady. "No, I'll
stay at home and look after things at the Corner House. It'll need
somebody."

"Yes, there's no doubt of that," Ruth said.

So it was arranged. Aunt Sarah Maltby would stay at home with Linda and
Uncle Rufus, while Mrs. MacCall accompanied the Corner House girls on
the houseboat.

There was much to be done before the trip could be undertaken, and many
business details to arrange, for, as inheritors of the Stower estate,
Ruth and her sisters received rents from a number of tenants, some of
them in not very good circumstances.

"And we must see that they will want nothing while we are gone," Ruth
had said.

It was part of her self-imposed duties to play Lady Bountiful to some of
the poorer persons who rented Uncle Peter Stower's tenements.

"Well, as long as you don't go to buying 'dangly jet eawin's' for Olga
Pederman it will be all right," said Agnes, and they laughed at this
remembrance of the girl who, when ill with diphtheria, had asked for
these ornaments when Ruth called to see what she most wanted.

Eventually all the many details were arranged and taken care of. A
mechanic had gone over the motor of the _Bluebird_ and pronounced it in
perfect running order, a fact which Neale verified for himself. He had
made all his plans for going on the trip, and between that and eagerly
waiting for any news of his missing father, his days were busy ones.

Mr. Howbridge had closely questioned Hank Dayton and had learned all
that rover could tell, which was not much. But it seemed certain that
Mr. O'Neil had started from Alaska for the States.

That he had not, even on his arrival, written to Neale, was probably due
to the fact that the man did not know where his son was. His Uncle Bill
Sorber, of course, knew Neale's address, but the trouble was that the
circus, which was not a very large affair, traveled about so, on no
well-kept scheduled route, that Mr. Sorber was difficult to find.
Letters had been addressed to him at several places where it was thought
his show might be, but, so far, no answer had been received. He was
asked to send a message to Mr. Howbridge as soon as any word came from
Mr. O'Neil.

To Hank Dayton was left the task of picking out some mules to tow the
houseboat through the stretch of canal. About a week, or perhaps longer,
would be consumed on this trip, as there was no hurry.

Where the voyage is kept up for any length of time, two sets of mules or
horses are used in towing canal boats. When one team is wearied it is
put in the stable, which is on board the canal boat, and the other team
is led out over a bridge, or gangplank, specially made for the purpose,
on to the towpath.

But on the _Bluebird_ there were no provisions for the animals, so it
was planned to buy only one team of mules, drive the animals at a
leisurely pace through the day and let them rest at night either in the
open, along the canal towpath, or in some of the canal barns that would
be come upon on the trip. At the end of the trip the animals would be
sold. Mr. Howbridge had decided that this was the best plan to follow,
though there was a towing company operating on the canal for such boat
owners as did not possess their own animals.

As Mr. Howbridge had shrewdly guessed, the rough clothes of Hank Dayton
held a fairly good man. He had been in poor luck, but he was not
dissipated, and even Mrs. MacCall approved of him when he had been
shaved, a shave being something he had lacked when Neale first saw him.
Then, indeed, he had looked like a veritable tramp.

Gradually all that was to be done was accomplished, and the day came
when Ruth and Agnes could say:

"To-morrow we start on our wonderful trip. Oh, I'm so happy!"

"What about your Civic Betterment Club?" asked Agnes of her sister.

"That will have to keep until I come back. Really no one wants to
undertake any municipal reforms in the summer."

"Oh, my! The political airs we put on!" laughed Agnes. "Well, I'm glad
you are going to have a good time. You need it."

"Yes, I think the change will be good for all of us," murmured Ruth.
"Tess and Dot seem delighted, and--"

She stopped suddenly, for from the floor above came a cry of alarm
followed by one of distress.

"What's that?" gasped Ruth.

"Dot or Tess, I should say," was the opinion of Agnes. "They must have
started in to get some of their change already. Oh, gee!"

"Agnes!" Ruth took time to protest, for she very much objected to Agnes'
slang.

A moment later Dot came bursting into the room, crying:

"Oh, she's in! She's in! And it isn't holding her up at all! Come on,
quick. Both of you! Tess is in!"



CHAPTER VIII

THE ROBBERY


Dot Kenway stood in the middle of the room, dancing up and down,
fluttering her hands and crying over and over again:

"She's in! She's in! And it isn't holding her up! Oh, come quick!"

With a bound Ruth was at her sister's side. She grasped Dot by the arm
and held her still.

"Be quiet, honey, and tell me what the matter is," Ruth demanded.

"Oh, she's in! She's in! And it isn't holding her up!" Dot repeated.

"We'd better go and see what it is," suggested Agnes. "Tess may merely
have fallen out of bed."

"Fallen out of bed--this time of day?" cried Ruth. "Impossible!"

But she let go of Dot and sped up the stairs whence floated down a
series of startled cries. Agnes followed, while Dot called after them:

"Look in the bathroom! She's in! It isn't holding her up!"

To the bathroom rushed Ruth and Agnes, there to behold a sight which
first made them gasp and then, instantly, started them into energetic
action. For Tess was floundering about in the tub, full of water, with
part of her bathing suit on and something bulky tied around her waist.
She was clinging to the edge of the tub with both hands and trying to
get to her feet. The tub was filled with water, and much of it was
splashing over the side. Fortunately the floor of the bathroom was
tiled.

"Oh, Tess! what are you doing?" cried Agnes, as she and Ruth pulled the
small girl to her feet. Tess was gasping for breath, and had evidently
swallowed some water.

"I--I--er--gug--I--was--" That was all Tess could say for a while.

"You poor child!" exclaimed Ruth, reaching for a towel, to dry the
dripping face. "Did you fall in? And what possessed you to put on your
bathing suit?"

"And what _have_ you got around your waist?" cried Agnes.

"That--that--that's my--my _life preserver_!" exploded Tess. "If--if
you'll take the towel out of my moo-oo-oo-uth I'll t-t-tell--you!" she
stammered.

"Yes, do let's let her tell, for mercy's sake!" exclaimed Ruth. "Did
your head go under, Tessie, dear?"

Tess nodded. It was easier than speaking, especially as she had not yet
quite got her breath back.

The two older sisters dried her partly on the towel, the little girl
raising her hands to keep her sisters from stuffing any more of the
Turkish towel into her mouth, and then Dot came up the stairs.

"Is she--is she drowned?" was the awed whisper.

"No, but she might have been," answered Ruth.

"What were you two doing? This is worse than the clothes basket
elevator. What were you doing?"

"I was making a life preserver," volunteered Tess, when she had been
helped out of the bathtub and was standing on a big mat that absorbed
the little rivulets of water streaming from her.

"A life preserver?" questioned Agnes.

"Yes," Tess nodded. "I thought maybe I might fall off the houseboat and
I didn't see any life preservers on it, so I made one."

"Out of the hot water bag," put in Dot. "She tied it around her waist
and she wanted me to tie one on me and make believe we fell into the
bathtub. But I wouldn't, and she got in, and it didn't hold her up."

"I should say it didn't!" cried Agnes. "How could you expect a rubber
bag full of water to hold you up? It couldn't hold itself up."

"It wasn't full of water. I blew it up full of air just as Sammy Pinkney
blows up his football," said Tess. "And that floats in water, 'cause I
saw it."

"A hot water bag is different," returned Ruth. "Yes, she has one on,"
she added, as she and Agnes unwrapped from their sister some folds of
cloth by which the partly inflated hot-water bag had been fastened
around Tess's waist.

"Don't you ever do anything like that again!" scolded Dot, as Tess was
sent to her room to dress while Linda came up to mop the floor.

"Well, what am I to do if I fall overboard off the _Bluebird_, I'm
asking you?" called Tess, turning back, and holding her bath robe around
her slim form. "There aren't any life preservers on it!"

"We will provide some if they are needed," said Ruth, laughing.

Just then Aunt Sarah Maltby came in and heard the story from Agnes.

"Just think, Dot and Tess, one of you might have been drowned," she said
severely. "If that bag had got around your feet, and the winding strips
had tangled, your feet might have been held up and your head down. You
might easily have been drowned in the bathtub."

"Not me--I wouldn't!" declared Dot.

"Why not?" Agnes wanted to know.

"'Cause I wouldn't get in it! I told Tess maybe it was dangerous."

"Well, it wouldn't have been if I'd had more air in the bag," called
Tess from the half-open door of her room. "That was the matter."

Mrs. MacCall shook her head when she heard what had happened.

"I ha me doots about them on the boat," she said. "If they cut up such
didoes here, what'll they do then?"

"Oh, I think we shall manage somehow," said Ruth with cheerful
philosophy. "We're used to mishaps."

By dint of hard work the final preparations for the houseboat trip were
made. The _Bluebird_ was got in shape for the first part of the trip
through the canal. Hank Dayton had been "slicked up," and had his two
sturdy mules in readiness. Neale had tested the motor again. A supply of
food had been put on board, together with gasoline to use as soon as the
transition from the canal to the river should have taken place.

Mr. Howbridge had arranged his plans so as to start with the girls, and
Mrs. MacCall had her small trunk packed and in readiness. All that was
possible had been done to get into communication with Neale's father,
and all that could be done was to await word from him, or from Mr.
Sorber, who might be the first to hear, that the missing Klondike
explorer had returned.

And at last the morning of the start arrived.

"Oh, it's going to rain!" cried Tess as she arose early and ran to the
window to look out.

"I don't care. We can take umbrellas, and the boat has a roof on it,"
said Dot. "My Alice-doll has been wet before."

"But Almira doesn't like rain, and her kittens might get cold," objected
Tess.

"We can't take Almira!" said Ruth in a voice that Tess knew it was
useless to appeal from. "The poor cat wouldn't have a good time, Tessie,
and she'd be in the way with her kittens."

"She could catch mice," suggested Tess, as a sort of last hope.

"There are mice on canal boats. I heard Hank Dayton say so," put in Dot,
seeking to strengthen Tess's position.

"We'll get a cat later if we need it," compromised Ruth. "Don't think of
bringing Almira."

"All right!" assented Dot, and then Tess called:

"There's Sammy, and he's got Billy Bumps. Let's go down and tell them
good-by!"

"Can't Sammy come with us?" asked Dot, turning to Ruth.

"No indeed, nor the goat either! So don't ask him and make him feel bad
when I have to refuse him."

"All right," sighed Dot.

Then she and Tess finished dressing and went out to greet Sammy, who was
paying one of his early morning calls.

"Want me to do any errands for you, Ruth?" he politely asked when he had
refused an invitation to breakfast, saying he had already eaten.

"No, thank you, Sammy," was the answer.

"I could go quick--hitch Billy to the wagon and get anything you wanted
from the village," he went on.

Ruth shook her head, and then had to hurry away to see about one of the
many last-minute details.

"Well, good-by, then," said Sammy to the other sisters, as he prepared
to depart. "I wish I was going! We could take Billy Bumps."

"But if they wouldn't let me take a cat on the boat I don't suppose
they'd want a goat," put in Tess.

"I don't guess so," said Sammy, more meekly than he usually spoke.
"Well, good-by!" And down the street he went, taking Billy Bumps, who
belonged to Tess and Dot, with him.

"It does look like rain," said Agnes, when it was almost time for Mr.
Howbridge to call for them in his machine to take them and their baggage
to the houseboat.

"It may hold off until we get on board," said Ruth. She gave a sudden
start. "Oh, Agnes! Our jewelry! We forgot to take it to the bank!"

"That's so! I knew we'd forget something! Well, haven't we time to run
down with it now before Mr. Howbridge comes?"

Ruth looked at her wrist watch.

"Just about," was her decision. "Come on. You and I can take the package
down and then hurry back."

"You'd best take an umbrella, ma dearies!" cautioned Mrs. MacCall. "'Tis
showery goin' to be this day!"

"We'll take one," assented Ruth.

She and Agnes had planned to leave their jewelry and some other articles
of value in their safe deposit box, but had forgotten it until now.

The two older girls sallied forth with a large umbrella, which Agnes
carried, while Ruth had the package of jewelry.

They were half way to the bank, no great distance from home, when
suddenly a downpour began with the usual quickness of a summer shower.

"Hurry! Raise the umbrella!" cried Ruth. "I'm getting drenched!"

"Isn't it terrible!" gasped Agnes.

She and her sister stepped into the shelter of the nearest doorway for a
moment. Something was wrong with the catch of the umbrella. Ruth was
just going to help her sister raise it when suddenly two rough-looking
men rushed from the hall back of the doorway in which the girls had
taken shelter.

One of the men rudely brushed past Ruth, and, as he did so, he made a
grab for the packet of jewelry, snatching it from her.

"Oh!" screamed the girl. "Stop! Oh! Oh, Agnes!"

The other man turned and pushed Agnes back as she leaned forward to help
Ruth.

Then, as the rain came down harder than ever, the men sped up the
street, leaving the two horror-stricken girls breathless in the doorway.



CHAPTER IX

ALL ABOARD


For a moment after the robbery neither Ruth nor Agnes felt capable of
saying anything or doing anything. Ruth, it is true, had cried out as
the burly ruffian had snatched the packet of jewelry from her, and then
fear seemed to paralyze her. But this was only for a moment. In few
seconds both she and Agnes became their energetic selves, as befitted
the characters of Corner House girls.

"Oh, Agnes! did you see? He has the jewelry!" cried Ruth.

"Yes, I saw! He pushed me back or I'd have grabbed it away again! We
must take after them!"

The girls started to leave, having managed to get the umbrella up, but
at that instant there came such a fierce blast of wind and such a
blinding downpour of rain that they were fairly forced back into the
doorway.

And, more than this, their umbrella was turned inside out and sent
flapping in their faces by the erratic wind, so that they could not see
what they were doing.

"This is awful!" exclaimed Agnes, and she was near to crying.

"We must call for help," said Ruth, but they would have needed to shout
very loud indeed to be heard above the racket made by the wind and rain.
A momentary glimpse up and down the street, when a view of it could be
had amid the sheets of rain, showed no one in sight.

"What shall we do?" cried Ruth, vainly trying to get the umbrella to its
proper shape.

At that moment the door behind them opened. The girls turned, fearing a
further attack, but they saw Myra Stetson, whose father kept a grocery,
and it was in the doorway adjoining the store that the Corner House
girls had taken refuge.

"What is the matter?" asked Myra, when she saw who it was. "I heard the
door blow open and I came down to shut it."

The Stetson family lived up over the grocery, where there were two
flats.

"What has happened?" went on the grocer's daughter. She was rather more
friendly with Agnes than with Ruth, but knew both sisters, and, indeed,
Ruth was planning to have Myra on one of the Civic Betterment
committees. There had been some little differences of opinion between
Myra and Agnes, but these had been smoothed out and the girls were now
good friends.

"We've been robbed! At least Ruth has!" exclaimed Agnes. "A ruffian took
our jewelry box!"

"You don't mean it!" cried Myra.

"I only wish I didn't," said Ruth brokenly. "Oh, my lovely rings!"

"And my pins!" added Agnes.

"Tell me about it," begged Myra, and, rather breathlessly, the Corner
House girls told the story of the assault of the two burly men in the
doorway.

"They ran off down the street with the box of jewelry we were taking to
the bank," explained Ruth.

"Then you'd better tell the police at once," advised Myra. "Come on up
into our flat and you can telephone from there. Mr. Buckley is a special
officer and he has a telephone. Father will send for him. Do come up!"

"Yes, I think we had better," agreed Ruth. "And we must notify Mr.
Howbridge. That is, if he hasn't left his office."

"If he has we can get him at our house," said Agnes. "We were just going
to start on a houseboat trip when this terrible thing happened," she
explained to Myra.

"Isn't it too bad!" said the grocer's daughter. "But do come upstairs.
Did you say the man came out of our hallway?"

"Yes," answered Ruth. "We stepped into the doorway to be out of the rain
for a moment and to raise the umbrella, the catch of which had been
caught in some way, when they both rushed past us, one of them grabbing
the box from under my arm."

"And one gave me a shove," added Agnes.

"That's the most amazing thing I ever heard of!" declared Myra. "Those
men must have been hiding in there waiting for you."

"But how did they know we were coming?" asked Ruth. "We didn't think of
going to the bank with the jewelry ourselves until a few minutes ago.
Those men couldn't have known about it."

"Then it's very strange," said Myra. "I must tell father about it. There
may be more of them hiding upstairs."

"Do you mean in your house?" asked Agnes, for they were now ascending
the stairs, the refractory umbrella having at last been subdued and
turned right side out.

"I mean in the vacant flat above ours," went on Myra. "It's to let, you
know, and two men were in to look at it yesterday. They said they were
from the Klondike."

"From the Klondike!" exclaimed Ruth, and she and Agnes exchanged
significant glances.

"Yes. That's in Alaska where they dig gold, you know," explained Myra.
"I didn't see the men. Father said they came to look at the flat, and
one of them remarked they had just come back from the gold regions. They
didn't rent it though, as far as I know."

"Isn't that strange?" said Agnes slowly.

"Very," agreed Ruth, and, by a look, she warned her sister not to say
any more just then.

They were ushered into the Stetson living apartment over the store and
Mr. and Mrs. Stetson were soon listening to the story.

"The idea of any men daring to use our hallway to commit a robbery!"
cried Mrs. Stetson. "Father, you'd better see if any more of the
villains are hiding. I'm sure I'll not sleep a wink this night."

"I'll take a look," said the grocer. "That hall door often blows open,
though. The lock needs fixing. It would be easy for any one to slip into
the lower hall from the street and wait there."

"That's what they probably did," said Agnes. "And it was just by
accident that we went up to the doorway to raise the umbrella. The men
must have seen us, and, though they couldn't have known what was in the
box, they took it anyhow. Oh, it's too bad! Our trip is spoiled now!"
and she was on the verge of tears.

"Don't worry, my dear," advised Mrs. Stetson. "We'll get the police
after them. Father, you must telephone at once. And you must have a look
in those vacant rooms upstairs."

"I will," promised the grocer, and then began a period of activity. A
clerk and a porter from the grocery downstairs made a careful
examination of the upper premises, but, of course, discovered no more
thieves. And, naturally, there were no traces of the men who had robbed
Ruth and Agnes.

The telephone soon put the police authorities of Milton in possession of
the facts, and Special Officer Buckley, was soon "on the job," as he
expressed it. He came, a burly figure in rubber boots and a glistening
rubber coat, to the Stetson apartment, there to hear the story
first-hand from Ruth and Agnes. With him also came Jimmy Dale, a
reporter from the Milton _Morning Post_.

Jimmy had been at the police headquarters when word of the robbery was
telephoned in, and he, too, "got on the job."

All the description Ruth and Agnes could give of the men was that they
were rough and burly and not very well dressed. But it had all taken
place so quickly and in such obscurity amid the mist of the rain that it
was difficult for either girl to be accurate.

Then as much as was possible was done. Several other special officers
were notified of the occurrence, and the regular police force of Milton,
no very large aggregation, was instructed to "pick up" any suspicious
characters about town.

Mr. Stetson confirmed the statement made by Myra that two men who
claimed to have recently returned from the Klondike had been to look at
the vacant flat the day before. In appearance they were rather rough,
the grocer said, though he would not call them tramps by any means.

There might be a possible connection between the two, it was agreed. Mr.
Howbridge was notified by telephone, and called in his automobile for
the two girls, who, after some tea, felt a little more composed.

"But, oh my lovely jewelry!" exclaimed Agnes. "It's gone!"

"And mine," added Ruth. "There were some things of Dot's and Tessie's in
the box, too, and mother's wedding ring," and Ruth sighed.

"The police may recover it," said the lawyer. "I am glad neither of you
was harmed," and his gaze rested anxiously on his wards.

"No, they barely touched me," said the older girl. "One of them just
grabbed the box and ran."

"The other one gave me a shove," declared Agnes. "If I had known what he
was up to he wouldn't have got away so easily. I haven't been playing
basket ball for nothing!" she boasted.

"Well, I think there is nothing more to be done," said their guardian.
"While there is no great rush, I think the sooner we get started on our
houseboat trip the better. So if you'll come with me, I'll take you
home, we can gather up the last of the baggage and make a quick trip to
the _Bluebird_. I have the side curtains up and the rain is stopping, I
think."

"Oh, are we going on the trip--_now_--after the robbery?" asked Ruth
doubtfully.

"Yes. Why not?" inquired the lawyer, with a smile. "You can do nothing
by staying here, and if the men should be arrested I can arrange to
bring you back to identify them. I know how bad you feel, but the trip
will be the best thing in the world for you, for it will take your mind
from your loss."

"Yes, Ruth, it will!" agreed Agnes, for she saw that her sister was much
affected.

"Well, we'll go back home, anyhow," assented Ruth. And after they had
thanked the Stetson's for their hospitality the two sisters left in
charge of Mr. Howbridge. As he had said, the rain was stopping, and when
they reached the Corner House the sun was out again, glistening on the
green leaves of the trees.

"It's a good omen," declared Agnes.

Of course there was consternation at the Corner House when the story of
the robbery was told. But even Aunt Sarah Maltby agreed with Mr.
Howbridge that it would do Ruth and Agnes good to make the houseboat
trip. Accordingly, after the two robbed ones had calmed down a little
more, the last belongings were gathered together, Dot and Tess, who had
considerably mussed their clothes playing tag around the furniture, were
straightened out, good-bys were said over and over again, and then, in
Mr. Howbridge's automobile, the little party started for the _Bluebird_.

"Where's Neale?" asked Agnes, as they neared the canal.

"He'll meet us at the boat," said the lawyer. "I just received a letter
from his uncle, the circus man, which contains a little information
about the boy's father."

"Has he really returned from the Klondike?" asked Ruth.

"I believe he has. But whether he has money or is as poor as when he
started off to seek his fortune, I don't know. Time will tell. But I am
glad the sun is out. It would have been rather gloomy to start in the
rain."

"If it had not rained those men never would have gotten our jewel box!"
declared Agnes. "It was only because we were confused by the umbrella in
the hard shower that they dared take it."

"Don't think about it!" advised Mr. Howbridge.

They reached the _Bluebird_, to find Neale waiting for them with smiling
face.

"I only wish we could start under gasoline instead of mule power!" he
cried gayly.

"Time enough for that!" said Mr. Howbridge, with a smile. "Is Hank on
hand?"

"He's bringing out the hee-haws now," said Neale, pointing down the
towpath, while Dot and Tess laughed at his descriptive name for the
mules.

The driver was leading them from the stable where they had taken shelter
from the downpour, and they were soon hitched to the long towing rope.

"It 'minds me of the time I came from Scotland," murmured Mrs. MacCall
as she went up the "bridge," as the gangplank of a canal boat is
sometimes called.

"All aboard!" cried Neale, and they took their places on the _Bluebird_.
Mr. Howbridge had arranged for one of his men to come and drive back the
automobile, and there was nothing further to be looked after.

"Shall I start?" called Hank, from his station near the mules, after he
had helped Neale haul up the gangplank which had connected the houseboat
with the towpath.

"Give 'em gas!" shouted the boy through his hands held in trumpet
fashion.

The animals leaned forward in their collars, the rope tauted, pulling
with a swishing sound up from the water into which it had dropped. The
_Bluebird_ began slowly to move, and at last they were on their way.

Ruth, Agnes and the others remained on deck for a while, and then the
older folk, including Neale, went below to get things "shipshape and
Bristol fashion." Dot and Tess remained on deck under the awning.

"Don't fall overboard!" cautioned Mrs. MacCall to the small sisters.

"We won't!" they promised.

It was about ten minutes later, during which time the _Bluebird_ was
progressing slowly through the quiet waters of the canal, that Agnes
heard shouts on deck.

"Hark!" she exclaimed, for they were all moving about, getting matters
to rights in the cabins.

"What is it?" asked Ruth.

"I thought I heard Tess calling," went on Agnes.

There was no mistake about it. Down the stairway that led from the upper
deck to the cabin came the cry of:

"Oh, come here! Come here quick! One of the mules is acting awful funny!
I think he's trying to kick Mr. Hank into the canal!"



CHAPTER X

A STOWAWAY


Ruth dropped some of the garments she was unpacking from her trunk.
Agnes came from the dining room, where she was setting the table for the
first meal on the craft. Neale and Mr. Howbridge ran from the motor
compartment in the lower hold of the boat. Mrs. MacCall raised her hands
and began to murmur in her broadest Scotch so that no one knew what she
was saying. And from the upper deck of the boat, where they had been
left sitting on camp stools under the green striped awning, came the
chorused cries of Tess and Dot:

"Oh, come on up! Come on up!"

"Something must have happened!" exclaimed Ruth.

"But the girls are all right, thank goodness!" added Agnes.

Together all four of them, with Mrs. MacCall bringing up the rear,
ascended to the upper deck. There they saw Dot and Tess pointing down
the towpath. Hank Dayton was, indeed, having trouble with the mules. And
Tess had not exaggerated when she said that one of the animals was
trying to kick the driver into the canal.

"Oh! Oh!" screamed Ruth and Agnes, as the flying heels barely missed the
man's head.

"I'll go and give him a hand!" exclaimed Neale, and before any one knew
what his intention was he ran down the stairs, out to the lower forward
deck of the craft, and leaped across the intervening water to the
towpath, an easy feat for a lad as agile as Neale O'Neil.

"What's the matter, Hank?" those on the _Bluebird_ could hear Neale ask
the driver.

"Oh, Arabella is feeling rather frisky, I guess," was the answer. "She
hasn't had much work to do lately, and she's showing off!" Arabella was
the name of one of the mules.

Neale, born in a circus, knew a good deal about animals, and it did not
take him and Hank Dayton long to subdue the fractious Arabella. After
she had kicked up her heels a few more times, just to show her contempt
for the authority of the whiffle-tree and the traces, she quieted down.
The other mule, a more sedate animal, looked at his companion in what
might have been disgust mingled with distrust.

"Are they all right now?" asked Ruth, as Neale leaped aboard the boat
again.

"Oh, yes. Hank can manage 'em all right. He just had to let Arabella
have her kick out. She's all right now. Isn't this fun, though?" and
Neale breathed in deeply of the fresh air.

"Oh, Neale, it's glorious!" and Agnes' eyes sparkled.

The day had turned out a lovely one after the hard shower, and
everything was fresh and green. They had reached the outskirts of Milton
by this time, and were approaching the open country through which the
canal meandered before joining the river. On either side of the towpath
were farms and gardens, with a house set here and there amid the green
fields or orchards.

Now and then other boats were passed. At such times one of the craft
would have to slow up to let the tow-rope sink into the canal, so the
other boat might pass over it. The mules hee-hawed to each other as they
met, and Hank exchanged salutations with the other drivers.

"I think it's just the loveliest way to spend a vacation that ever could
be thought of," said Agnes to Mr. Howbridge.

"I hope you all like it," he remarked.

"Oh, yes, it's going to be perfect," said the older Kenway girl. "If
only--"

"You are thinking of your jewelry," interrupted her guardian. "Please
don't! It will be recovered by the police."

"I don't believe so," said Ruth. "I don't care so much about our things.
We can buy more. But mother's wedding ring can never be replaced nor, I
fear, found. I believe those Klondikers will dispose of it in some way.
They'll never be caught."

"Klondikers!" cried Neale, coming into the main cabin just then. "Did
you say Klondikers?" and it was plain to be seen that he was thinking of
his father.

"Yes. There is a suspicion that the men who robbed Ruth were two men who
the day before looked at the Stetson flat," explained Agnes. "They said
they were Klondike miners."

"Klondike miners!" murmured Neale. "I wonder if they knew my father or
if he knew them. I don't mean the robbers," he added quickly. "I mean
the men who came to rent the flat. I wish I had a chance to speak to
them."

"So do I," said Mr. Howbridge. "I have hardly yet had a chance to tell
you, Neale, but I have a letter from your Uncle Bill."

"Does he know about father?" asked the boy quickly.

"No. This letter was written before he received mine asking for your
father's last known address. But it may be possible for you to meet your
uncle during this trip."

"How?" asked Neale.

"He tells me in his letter the names of the places where the circus will
show in the next month. And one place is not far from a town we pass on
the canal."

"Then I'm going to see him!" cried Neale joyfully. "I'll be glad to meet
him again. He may know something of my father. I wonder if they have any
new animals since last summer. They ought to have a pony to take
Scalawag's place.

"He didn't say," remarked the lawyer. "But I thought you'd be glad to
know that your uncle was in this vicinity."

"I am," said the boy. "This trip is going to be better than I thought.
Now, if he only has word of my father!"

"We'll find him, sooner or later," declared the guardian of the Corner
House girls. "But now, since the mules seem to be doing their duty,
suppose we take account of stock and see if we need anything. If we do,
we ought to stop and get it at one of the places through which we pass,
because we may tie up at night near some small village where they don't
keep hair pins and--er--whatever else you young ladies need," and he
smiled quizzically at Ruth.

"Thank you! We brought all the hairpins we need!" Agnes informed him.

"And I think we have enough to eat," added Ruth. "At least Mrs. Mac is
busy in the kitchen, and something smells mighty good."

Indeed appetizing odors were permeating the interior of the _Bluebird_,
and a little later the company were sitting down to a most delightful
meal. Dot and Tess could hardly be induced to come down off the upper
deck long enough to eat, so fascinated were they with the things they
saw along the canal.

"Isn't Hank going to eat, and the mules, too?" asked Dot, as she
finished and took her "Alice-doll" up, ready to resume her station under
the awning.

"Oh, yes. Mrs. MacCall will see that he gets what he needs, and Hank, as
you call him, will feed the mules," said Mr. Howbridge.

"Do you think we ought to call him Hank?" asked Tess. "It seems so
familiar."

"He's used to it," answered Neale. "Everybody along the canal calls him
that. He's been a driver for years, before he went to traveling around,
and met men who knew my father."

"Hum! That just reminds me," said the lawyer musingly, as Dot and Tess
hurried from the table. "Perhaps I ought to question Hank about the two
Klondikers who inquired about the Stetson flat. He may know of them.
Well, it will do to-night after we have tied up."

"Where is Hank going to sleep?" asked Ruth, who, filling the rôle of
housekeeper, thought she must carry out her duties even on the
_Bluebird_.

"He will sleep on the upper deck. I have a cot for him," said the
lawyer. "The mules will be tethered on the towpath. It is warm now, and
they won't need shelter. They are even used to being out in the rain."

The afternoon was drawing to a close, matters aboard the houseboat had
been arranged to satisfy even the critical taste of Ruth, and Mrs.
MacCall was beginning to put her mind on the preparation of supper when
Dot, who had come below to get a new dress for her "Alice-doll," ran
from the storeroom where the trunks and valises had been put.

"Oh! Oh, Ruth!" gasped the little girl. "Somebody's in there!"

"In where?" asked Ruth, who was writing a letter at the living-room
table.

"In there!" and Dot pointed toward the storeroom, which was at the stern
of the boat under the stairs that led up on deck.

"Some one in there?" repeated Ruth. "Well, that's very possible. Mrs.
Mac may be there, or Neale or--"

"No, it isn't any of them!" insisted Dot. "I saw everybody that belongs
to us. It's somebody else! He's in the storeroom, and he sneezed and
made a noise like a goat."

"You ridiculous child! what do you mean?" exclaimed Agnes, who was just
passing through the room and heard what Dot said.

"You probably heard one of Hank's mules hee-hawing," said Ruth, getting
up from her chair.

"Mules don't sneeze!" declared Dot with conviction.

Ruth had to admit the truth of this.

"You come and see!" urged Dot, and, clasping her sister's hand, she led
her into the storeroom, Agnes following.

"What's up?" asked Mr. Howbridge, coming along just then.

"Oh, Dot imagines she heard some unusual noise," explained Ruth.

"I did hear it!" insisted the younger girl. "It was a sneeze and a bleat
like a goat and it smells like a goat, too. Smell it!" she cried,
vigorously sniffing the air as she paused on the threshold of the
storeroom. "Don't you smell it?"

Just then the silence was shattered by a vigorous sneeze, followed by
the unmistakable bleating of a goat, and out of a closet came fairly
tumbling--a stowaway!



CHAPTER XI

OVERBOARD


"There! What did I tell you!" cried Dot, pointing a finger at the
strange sight. "I heard a noise, and then it was a sneeze and then it
was a bleat and then I _smelled_ a goat. I knew it was a goat, and it
is, and it's Sammy Pinkney, too!"

And, surely enough, it was. Tousled and disheveled, dirty and with his
clothes awry, there stood the urchin who was, it seemed, continually
getting into mischief at or around the Corner House.

But if Sammy was mussed up because of having been hidden in a small
closet, the goat did not appear to be any the worse for his
misadventure. Billy Bumps was as fresh as a daisy, and suddenly he
lowered his head and made a dive for Mr. Howbridge.

"Oh!" cried Ruth. "Look out!"

"Hold him!" yelled Agnes.

Neale, who had joined the wondering throng now gazing at the stowaway,
caught the goat by the animal's collar just in time, and held him back
from butting the lawyer.

"He--he's just a little excited like," Sammy explained.

"Well, I should think he would be!" declared Ruth, taking command of the
situation, as she often had to do where Sammy was concerned. "And now
what do you mean, hiding yourself and Billy Bumps on the boat?" she
demanded. "Why did you do it? And why, above all things, bring the
goat?"

"'Cause I knew you wouldn't let me come any other way," Sammy answered.
"I wanted to go houseboating awful bad, but I didn't think you'd take me
and Billy. So this morning, when you was packing up, me and him came
down here and we got on board. I hid us in a closet, and we was going to
stay there until night and then maybe you'd be so far away you couldn't
send us back. But something tickled my nose and I sneezed, and I guess
Billy thought I was sneezing at him, for he bleated and then he butted
his head against the door and it came open and--and--"

But Sammy really had to stop--he was out of breath.

"Well, of all things!" cried Agnes.

"It is rather remarkable," agreed Mr. Howbridge. "I don't know that I
ever before had to deal with a stowaway. The question that's puzzling me
is, what shall we do with him?"

"Can't me and Billy stay?" asked Sammy, catching drift of an objection
to his presence on board.

"Of course not!" voiced Ruth. "What would your mother and father say?"

"Oh, they wouldn't care," Sammy said, easily enough and brightening
visibly at the question. "They let me stay when I went with you on our
auto tour."

"They surely did," remarked Agnes dryly.

"And Billy's strong, too!" went on Sammy eagerly. "If one of the mules
got sick he could help pull the boat."

"The idea!" exclaimed Agnes.

"Oh, hello, Sammy!" called Tess, who had just heard of the discovery of
the stowaway.

"Hello," Sammy returned. "I'm here!"

They all laughed.

"Well," said Mr. Howbridge at length, as the houseboat was slowly pulled
along the canal by the mules driven by Hank, "we must get Sammy home
somehow, though how is puzzling me."

"Oh, please can't I stay?" begged the boy. "You can send Billy home, of
course. I don't know why I brought him. But let me stay. I'm going to be
a canal mule driver when I grow up, and I could begin now if you wanted
me to."

"Aren't you going to be a pirate?" asked Agnes, for such had been
Sammy's desire for years.

"Yes, of course. But I'm going to be a canal mule driver first."

"It's out of the question," said Ruth firmly. "It was very wrong of you
to hide away on board, Sammy. Very wrong indeed! And it is going to be a
great bother for us to send you and Billy Bumps back home, as we must
do. Twice for the same trick is too often."

"Aw, say, Ruthie, you might turn Billy Bumps loose here on the bank and
let me stay," pleaded Sammy. "Billy can take care of himself well
enough."

"Sammy Pinkney!" exclaimed Tess, her eyes blazing. "Turn our goat loose
just because you brought him along when you know you had no business to
do that! Sammy Pinkney, you are the very worst boy I ever heard of!"

Sammy looked rather frightened for the first time since being found on
the boat, for, after all, he had an immense respect for the usually
gentle Tess, and cared more for her good opinion than he did for that of
her elders.

"I didn't mean to be bad," he whined. "I wanted to go along, that's
all."

"But you wasn't asked," Tess insisted, pouting.

"But I wasn't asked on that auto tour," went on Sammy hopefully.

"Well, that was--was different," stammered Tess. "Anyway, you had no
right to talk about turning our goat loose. Why, somebody might steal
him!"

"What shall we do?" Ruth appealed to Mr. Howbridge. "Can a boat turn
around in the canal?"

"Not wide enough here," volunteered Neale, looking from a window. "But
we can when we get to the big waters, about five miles farther along."

"It will not be necessary to turn about and go back," said the lawyer.
"I'll have to make arrangements for some one either to take charge of
our stowaway at the next large town, and keep him there until his father
can come for him, or else I may see some one going back to Milton by
whom we can return our interesting specimens," and he included boy and
goat in his glances.

"Well, I was afraid you'd send us back," said Sammy with a sigh. "But
could I stay to supper?" he asked, as he sniffed the appetizing odors
that now seemed more completely to fill the interior of the _Bluebird_.

"Of course you may stay to supper, Sammy," conceded Ruth. "And then
we'll see what's to be done. Oh, what a boy you are!" and she had to
laugh, though she did not want to.

"I was hoping Sammy could come," murmured Dot, as she hugged her
"Alice-doll."

"And Billy Bumps is fun," added Tess.

"We have no room here for goats, whether they are funny or not,"
declared Agnes. "Take him out in front, on the lower deck, Sammy. Tie
him there, and then wash yourself for supper. I should think you would
have smothered in that closet."

"I did, almost," confessed the boy. "And Billy didn't like it, either.
But we wanted to come."

"Too bad--young ambition nipped in the bud," murmured Mr. Howbridge.
"Take Billy outside, Sammy."

The goat was rather frisky, and it required Neale and Sammy to tie him
to the forward rail on the lower deck. Then Mrs. MacCall, in the
kindness of her Scotch heart, sent the "beastie," as she called him,
some odds and ends of food, including beet tops from the kitchen, and
Billy, at least, was happy.

"Low bridge!" suddenly came the call from Hank, up ahead with the two
mules.

"What's he saying?" asked Ruth to Mr. Howbridge.

"He's giving warning that we are approaching a low bridge, and that if
we stay on deck and hold our heads too high we may get bumped. Yes,
there's the bridge just ahead. I wonder if we can pass beneath it. Our
houseboat is higher than a canal boat."

The stream curved then, and gave a view of a white bridge spanning it.
Hank had had the first glimpse of it. It was necessary for the occupants
of the upper deck either to desert it, or to crouch down below the
railing, and they did the former.

There was just room for the _Bluebird_ to squeeze through under the
bridge, and beyond it lay a good-sized town.

"I think I can get some one there to take Sammy home, together with
Billy Bumps," said Mr. Howbridge. "We'll try after supper, and then we
must see about tying up for the night."

The houseboat attracted considerable attention as it was slowly drawn
along the canal, which passed through the middle of the town. A stop was
made while Mr. Howbridge instituted inquiries as to the possibility of
sending Sammy back to Milton, and arrangements were made with a farmer
who agreed to hitch up after supper and deliver the goat and the boy
where they belonged.

"Well, anyhow, I'm glad I'm going to stay to supper," said Sammy,
extracting what joy he could from the situation that had turned against
him.

The _Bluebird_ came to rest at a pleasant place in the canal just
outside the town, and there supper was served by Mrs. MacCall. A
bountiful one it was, too, and after Hank had had his, apart from the
others, he confided to Neale, as he went back to the mules:

"She's the beatenist cook I ever see!"

"Good, you mean?" asked Neale, smiling.

"The best ever! I haven't eaten victuals like 'em since I had a home and
a mother, and that's years and years back. I'm glad I struck this job."

In the early evening the farmer came for Sammy and the goat, a small
crate, that once had held a sheep, being put in the back of the wagon
for Billy's accommodation.

"Well, maybe you'll take me next time, when I've growed bigger,"
suggested the boy, as he waved rather a sad farewell to his friends.

"Maybe," said Ruth, but under her breath she added: "Not if I know it."

"Good-by, Sammy!" called Dot.

But Tess, still indignant over Sammy's suggestion to turn the goat--her
goat--loose to shift for himself, called merely:

"Good-by, Billy Bumps!"

Mr. Howbridge went into the town and telephoned to Milton to let Sammy's
father know the boy was safe and on his way back, and then matters
became rather more quiet aboard the _Bluebird_.

The houseboat was towed to a good place in which to spend the night.
Lines were carried ashore and the craft moored to trees along the
towpath.

The mules were given their suppers and tethered, and Hank announced that
he was going to do some fishing before he "turned in."

"Oh, could I fish, too?" cried Dot.

"And me! I want to!" added Tess.

"I think they might be allowed to," said Mr. Howbridge. "There are
really good fish in the canal, coming from Lake Macopic, and we could
cook them for breakfast. They'd keep all right in the ice box--if any
are caught."

"Oh, I'll catch some!" declared Hank. "I've fished in the canal before."

"Oh, please let us!" begged the small girls.

"But you have no poles, lines or anything," objected Ruth.

"I've got lines and hooks, and I can easy cut some poles," offered Hank,
and so it was arranged.

A little later, while Ruth, Agnes and Mrs. MacCall were busy with such
housework as was necessary aboard the _Bluebird_, and while Neale and
Mr. Howbridge were getting Hank's cot in readiness on the deck, the mule
driver and Dot and Tess sat on the stern of the craft with their lines
in the water.

It was a still, quiet evening, restful and peaceful, and as Hank had
told the girls that fish liked quietness, no one of the trio was
speaking above a whisper.

"Have you got a bite?" suddenly asked Tess in a low voice of her sister.

"No, not yet. I'm going to set my Alice-doll up where she can watch me.
She never saw anybody catch a fish--my Alice-doll didn't." And Dot
propped her "child" up near her, on the deck of the craft.

Suddenly Hank pulled his pole up sharply.

"I got one!" he exclaimed.

"Oh, I wish I'd get one!" echoed Tess.

"Let me see!" fairly shouted Dot. "Let me see the fish, Hank!" She
struggled to her feet, and the next moment a wild cry rang out.

"She's fallen in! Oh, she's fallen in! Oh, get her out!"



CHAPTER XII

NEALE WONDERS


Dot's startled cries roused all on board the _Bluebird_. Neale and Mr.
Howbridge dropped the cot they were setting in place under the awning,
and rushed to the railing of the deck. Inside the boat Ruth, Agnes and
Mrs. MacCall hurried to windows where they could look out toward the
stern where the fishing party had seated themselves.

"Man overboard!" sang out Neale, hardly thinking what he was doing.

But, to the surprise of all the startled ones, they saw at the stern of
the boat, Hank, Dot and Tess, and from Hank's line was dangling a
wiggling fish.

But Dot was pointing to something in the water.

"Why!" exclaimed Ruth, "no one has fallen in. What can the child mean?"

"She said--" began Agnes, but she was interrupted by Dot who exclaimed:

"It's my Alice-doll! She fell in when I got up to look at Hank's fish!
Oh, somebody please get my Alice-doll!"

"I will in jest a minute now, little lady!" cried the mule driver. "It's
bad luck to let your first fish git away. Jest a minute now, and I'll
save your Alice-doll!"

Neale and Mr. Howbridge hurried down to the lower deck from the top one
in time to see Hank take his fish from the hook and toss it into a pail
of water the mule driver had placed near by for just this purpose. Then
as Hank took off his coat and seemed about to plunge overboard into the
canal, to rescue the doll, Ruth said:

"Don't let him, Mr. Howbridge. Dot's doll isn't worth having him risk
his life for."

"Risking my life, Miss Kenway! It wouldn't be that," said Hank, with a
laugh. "I can swim, and I'd just like a bath."

"Here's a boat hook," said Neale, offering one, and while Dot and Tess
clung to one another Hank managed to fish up the "Alice-doll," Dot's
special prize, which was, fortunately, floating alongside the houseboat.

[Illustration: While Dot and Tess clung to one another, Hank
managed to fish up the "Alice-doll."]

"There you are, little lady!" exclaimed the driver, and he began to
squeeze some of the water from Alice.

"Oh, please don't!" begged Dot.

"Don't what?" asked Hank.

"Please don't choke her that way. All her sawdust might come out. It did
once. I'll just hang her up to dry. Poor Alice-doll!" murmured the
little girl, as she clasped her toy in her arms.

"Were you almost drowned?" and she cuddled her doll still closer in her
arms.

"Don't hold her so close to you, Dot," cautioned Ruth. "She'll get you
soaking wet."

"I don't care!" muttered Dot. "I've got to put dry clothes on her so she
won't catch cold."

"And that's just what I don't want to have to do for you--change your
clothes again to-day," went on Ruth. "You can love your doll even if you
don't hold her so close."

"Well, anyhow I'm glad she didn't drown," said Dot.

"So'm I," remarked Tess. "I'll go and help you change her. I'm glad we
didn't bring Almira and her kittens along, for they look so terrible
when they're wet--cats do."

"And I'm glad we didn't have Sammy and Billy Bumps here to fall in!"
laughed Agnes. "Goats are even worse in the water than cats."

"Well, aren't you going to help me fish any more?" asked Hank, as the
two little girls walked away, deserting their poles and lines.

"I have to take care of my Alice-doll," declared Dot.

"And I have to help her," said Tess.

"I'll take a hand at fishing, if you don't mind," said Neale.

"And I wouldn't mind trying myself," added the lawyer. And when Hank's
sleeping quarters had been arranged the three men, though perhaps Neale
could hardly be called that, sat together at the stern of the boat,
their lines in the water.

"Mr. Howbridge is almost like a boy himself on this trip, isn't he?"
said Agnes to Ruth as the two sisters helped Mrs. MacCall make up the
berths for the night.

"Yes, he is, and I'm glad of it. I wouldn't know what to do if some
grave, tiresome old man had charge of our affairs."

"Well now, who is going to have first luck?" questioned Mr. Howbridge,
jokingly, as the three sat down to try their hands at fishing.

"I guess the luck will go to the first one who gets a catch," returned
Neale.

"Luck goes to the one who gits the biggest fish," put in the mule
driver.

After that there was silence for a few minutes. Then the lawyer gave a
cry of satisfaction.

"Got a bite?" questioned Hank.

"I have and he's a beauty," was the reply, and Mr. Howbridge drew up a
fair-sized fish.

A minute later Neale found something on his hook. It was so large he had
to play his catch.

"You win!" cried the lawyer, when the fish was brought on board. And he
was right, for it was the largest catch made by any of them.

The fishing party had good luck, and a large enough supply was caught
for a meal the next day. Hank cleaned them and put them in the ice box,
for a refrigerator was among the fittings on the _Bluebird_.

Then, as night came on, Dot and Tess were put to bed, Dot insisting on
having her "Alice-doll" placed near her bunk to dry. Hank retired to his
secluded cot on the upper deck, the mules had been tethered in a
sheltered grove of trees just off the towpath, and everything was made
snug for the night.

"How do you like the trip so far?" asked Mr. Howbridge of Ruth and
Agnes, as he sat in the main cabin, talking with them and Neale.

"It's just perfect!" exclaimed Agnes. "And I know we're going to like it
more and more each day."

"Yes, it is a most novel way of spending the summer vacation," agreed
Ruth, but there was little animation in her voice.

"Are you still mourning the loss of your jewelry?" asked the lawyer,
noting her rather serious face.

Ruth nodded. "Mother's wedding ring was in that box," she said softly.

"You must not let it spoil your trip," her guardian continued. "I think
there is a good chance of getting it back."

"Do you mean you think the police will catch those rough men who robbed
us?" asked Ruth.

"Yes," answered the lawyer. "I told them they must spare no effort to
locate the ruffians, and they have sent an alarm to all the neighboring
towns and cities. Men of that type will not find it easy to dispose of
the rings and pins, and they may have to carry them around with them for
some time. I really believe you will get back your things."

"Oh, I hope so!" exclaimed Ruth. "It has been an awful shock."

"I would rather they had taken a much larger amount of jewelry than have
harmed either you or Agnes," went on the guardian. "They were ruffians
of the worst type, and would not have stopped at injuring a person to
get what they wanted. But don't worry, we shall hear good news from the
police, I am sure."

"I believe that, too," put in Neale. "I wish I was as sure of hearing
good news of my father."

"That is going to be a little harder problem," said Mr. Howbridge.
"However, we are doing all we can. I am hoping your Uncle Bill will have
had definite news of your father and of where he has settled since he
came back from the Klondike. Your father would be most likely to
communicate with your uncle first."

"I suppose so," agreed Neale. "But when shall we see Uncle Bill?"

"As I told you," went on the lawyer, "his circus will soon show at a
town near which we shall pass in the boat. The younger children will
probably want to go to the circus, and that will give me a good excuse
for attending myself," the lawyer went on with a laugh, in which Ruth
joined.

The night passed quietly, though about twelve o'clock another boat came
along and had to pass the _Bluebird_. As there is but one towpath along
a canal, it is necessary when two boats meet, or when one passes the
other, for the tow-line of one to go under or over the tow-line of the
second boat.

As the _Bluebird_ was tied to the shore it was needful, in this case,
for the tow-line of the passing boat to be lifted up over it, and when
this was being done it awakened Ruth and Agnes. At first the girls were
startled, but they settled back when the nature of the disturbance was
known.

Dot half awakened and murmured something about some one trying to take
her "Alice-doll," but Ruth soon quieted her.

Neale was awake early the next morning, and went on the upper deck for a
breath of air before breakfast. He saw Hank emerge from the
curtained-off place that had been arranged for the sleeping quarters of
the mule driver.

"Well, do we start soon?" asked Hank, yawning and stretching.

"I think so," Neale answered, and then he saw Hank make a sudden dart
for something that had evidently slipped from a hole in his pocket. It
was something that rolled across the deck, something round, and shining
like gold.

The mule driver made a dive for the object and caught it before it could
roll off the deck, and Neale had a chance to see that it was a gold
ring.

Without a word Hank picked it up and put it back in his pocket. Then,
without a glance at the boy, he turned aside, and, making his way to the
towpath, he began carrying the mules their morning feed.

Neale stood staring after him, and at the memory of the ring he became
possessed of strange thoughts and wonderings.



CHAPTER XIII

THE TRICK MULE


Neale O'Neil was wiser than most boys of his age. Perhaps having once
lived in a circus had something to do with it. At any rate, among the
things he had learned was to think first and speak afterward. And he
decided to put this into practice now. He was doing a deal of thinking
about the ring he had seen roll over the deck to be so quickly, almost
secretively, picked up by Hank Dayton. But of it Neale said nothing to
the mule driver nor to those aboard the _Bluebird_.

Walking about on the upper deck and looking down the towpath toward
Hank, who was bringing the mules from their sylvan stable to feed them,
Neale heard Ruth call:

"How's the weather up there?"

"Glorious!" cried the boy. "It's going to be a dandy day."

"That's great!" exclaimed Ruth. "Come on, children!" she called.
"Everybody up! The mules are up and we must be up too," she went on,
paraphrasing a little verse in the school reader.

"Did any of the mules fall into the canal?" asked Dot, as she made haste
to look at her "Alice-doll," who had dried satisfactorily during the
night.

"'Course not! Why should a mule fall into the canal?" asked Tess.

"Well, they might. My doll did," went on the smallest Corner House girl.
"But, anyhow, I'm glad they didn't."

"Yes, so am I," remarked Mr. Howbridge, as they all gathered around the
breakfast table, which Mrs. MacCall had set, singing the while some
Scotch song containing many new and strange words.

"Well, shall we travel on?" asked the lawyer, when the meal was over and
Hank was hitching the mules to the tow-rope, the animals and their
driver having had a satisfying meal.

"Oh, yes, let's go on!" urged Agnes. "I'm crazy to go through one of the
locks."

"Will there be any trouble about getting the houseboat through?" asked
Ruth of her guardian. "She is a pretty big craft!"

"But not as long as many of the canal boats, though a trifle wider, or
'of more beam,' as a sailor would say," he remarked. "No, the locks are
large enough to let us through. But tell me, do you find this method of
travel too slow?" he went on. "I know you young folks like rapid motion,
and this may bore you," and he glanced quickly at Ruth.

"Oh, not at all," she hastened to say. "I love it. The mules are so calm
and peaceful."

Just then one of the animals let out a terrific hee-haw and Agnes,
covering her ears with her hands, laughed at her sister.

"That's just as good as a honk-honk horn on an auto!" exclaimed Tess.

"Calm and peaceful!" tittered Agnes. "How do you like that, Ruth?"

"I don't mind it at all," was the calm answer. "It blends in well with
the environment, and it's much better than the shriek of a locomotive
whistle."

"Bravo, Minerva!" cried Mr. Howbridge. "You should have been a lawyer. I
shall call you Portia for a change."

"Don't, please!" she begged. "You have enough nicknames for me now."

"Very well then, we'll stick to the old ones. And, meanwhile, if you are
all ready I'll give the word to Hank to start his mules. There is no
hurry on this trip, as the man to whom I am to deliver this boat has no
special need for it. But we may as well travel on."

"I'll be glad when I can start the gasoline motor," remarked Neale.

"Which will be as soon as we get off the canal and into the river," said
the lawyer. "I'd use the motor now, only the canal company won't permit
it on account of the wash of the propeller tearing away the banks."

The tow-line tauted as the mules leaned forward in their collars, and
once more the _Bluebird_ was under way.

Life aboard the houseboat was simple and easy, as it was intended to be.
There was little housework to do, and it was soon over, and all that
remained was to sit on deck and watch the ever-changing scenery. The
changes were not too rapid, either, for a boat towed on a canal does not
progress very fast.

"It's like a moving picture, isn't it?" remarked Agnes. "It puts me in
mind of some scenes in foreign countries--rural scenes, I mean."

"Only the moving pictures move so much faster," returned Ruth, with a
smile. "They show you hundreds of miles in a few minutes."

"Gracious, I wouldn't want to ride as fast as that," exclaimed Tess.
"We'd fall off or blow away sure!"

It just suited the Corner House girls, though, and Neale extracted full
enjoyment from it, though, truth to tell, he was rather worried in his
mind. One matter was the finding of his father, and the other was a
suspicion concerning Hank and the ring.

This was a suspicion which, as yet, Neale hardly admitted to himself
very plainly. He wanted to watch the mule driver for a time yet.

"It may not have been one of Ruth's rings, to begin with," reasoned
Neale. "And, if it is, I don't believe Hank had anything to do with
taking it, though he may know who did. I've got to keep on the watch!"

His meditations were interrupted, as he sat on the deck of the boat, by
hearing Hank cry:

"Lock! Lock!"

That meant the boat was approaching one of the devices by which canal
craft are taken over hills. A canal is, of course, a stream on a level.
It does not run like a river. In fact, it is just like a big ditch.

But as a canal winds over the country it comes to hills, and to get up
or down these, two methods are employed. One is what is called an
inclined plane.

The canal comes to the foot of a hill and stops. There a sort of big
cradle is let down into the water, the boat is floated into the cradle,
and then boat, cradle and all are pulled up over the hill on a sort of
railroad track, a turbine water wheel usually furnishing the power. Once
over the brow of the hill the cradle and boat slide down into the water
again and the journey is resumed.

The other means of getting a canal boat over a hill is by means of a
lock. When the waterway is stopped in its level progress by reaching a
hill, a square place is excavated and lined with rocks so as to form a
water-tight basin, the open end being closed by big, wooden gates.

The _Bluebird_ was now approaching one of these locks, where it was to
be raised from a low to a higher level. While Hank managed the mules,
Neale steered the boat into the stone-lined basin. Then the big gates
were closed behind the craft, and the mules, being unhitched, were sent
forward to begin towing again when the boat should have been lifted.

"Now we can watch!" said Dot as she and Tess took their places at the
railing. Going through canal locks was a novelty for them, as there were
no locks near Milton, though the canal ran through the town.

Once the _Bluebird_ was locked within the small stone-lined basin, water
was admitted to it through gates at the other and higher end. These
gates kept the body of water on the higher level from pouring into the
lower part of the canal. Faster and faster the water rushed in as the
lock keeper opened more valves in the big gates. The water foamed and
hissed all around the boat.

"Oh, we're going up!" cried Dot. "Look, we're rising!"

"Just like in an elevator!" added Tess.

And, indeed, that is just what it was like. The water lifted the
_Bluebird_ up higher and higher. As soon as the water had raised it to
the upper level, the other gates were opened, and the _Bluebird_ moved
slowly out of the lock, having been raised about fifteen feet, from a
lower to a higher level. Going from a higher to a lower is just the
reverse of this. Sometimes a hill is so high that three sets of locks
are necessary to get a boat up or down.

Once more the mules were hitched to the tow-line, and started off. As
the boat left the lock another one came in, which was to be lowered. The
children watched this as long as they could, and then turned their
attention to new scenes.

It was toward the close of the afternoon, during which nothing exciting
had happened, except that Tess nearly fell overboard while leaning too
far across the rail to see something in the water, that Neale, looking
forward toward the mules and their driver, saw a man leading a lone
animal come out of a shanty along the towpath and begin to talk to Hank.

Hank halted his team, and the _Bluebird_ slowly came to a stop. Mr.
Howbridge, who was talking to Ruth and Agnes, looked up from a book of
accounts he was going over with them and inquired:

"What's the matter?"

"Oh, Hank has met a friend, I imagine," ventured Neale. "It's a man with
a lone mule."

"Well, he shouldn't stop just to have a friendly talk," objected the
lawyer. "We aren't hiring him for that. Give him a call, Neale, and see
what he means."

But before this could be done Hank turned, and, making a megaphone of
his hands, called:

"Say, do you folks want to buy a good mule cheap?"

"Buy a mule," repeated the lawyer, somewhat puzzled.

"Yes. This man has one to sell, and it might be a good plan for us to
have an extra one."

"I never thought of that," said the lawyer. "It might be a good plan.
Let's go up and see about it, Neale."

"Let's all go," proposed Agnes. "It will rest us to walk along the
towpath."

The _Bluebird_ was near shore and there was no difficulty in getting to
the path. Then all save Mrs. MacCall, who preferred to remain on board,
walked up toward the two men and the three mules.

The man who had stopped Hank was a rough-looking character, but many
towpath men were that, and little was thought of it at the time.

"Do you folks want to buy a good mule?" he asked. "I'll sell him cheap,"
he went on. "I had a team, but the other died on me."

"I'm not much of an authority on mules," said Mr. Howbridge slowly.
"What do you say, Neale? Would you advise purchasing this animal if he
is a bargain?"

Neale did not answer. He was carefully looking at the mule, which stood
near the other two.

"Where'd you get this mule?" asked Neale quickly, looking at the
stranger.

"Oh, I've had him a good while. He's one of a team, but I sold my boat
and--"

"This mule never towed a boat!" said the boy quickly.

"What makes you say that?" demanded the man in an angry voice.

"Because I know," went on Neale. "This is a trick mule, and, unless I'm
greatly mistaken, he used to be in my uncle's circus!"



CHAPTER XIV

AT THE CIRCUS


All eyes were turned on Neale O'Neil as he said this, and it would be
difficult to say who was the more astonished. As for the Corner House
girls, they simply stared at their friend. Hank Dayton looked surprised,
and then he glanced from the mule in question to the man who had offered
to dispose of the animal. Mr. Howbridge looked very much interested. As
for the strange tramp--for that is what he was--he seemed very angry.

"What do you mean?" he cried. "This mule isn't any trick mule!"

"Oh, isn't he?" asked Neale quietly. "And I suppose he never was in a
circus, either?"

"Of course not!" declared the man. "Who are you, anyhow, and what do you
mean by talking that way?"

"I advise you to be a little more respectful in tone," said Mr.
Howbridge in his suave, lawyer's voice. "If we do any business at all it
will be on this boy's recommendation. He knows about mules. I do not. I
shall hear what he and Hank have to say."

"Well, it's all foolish saying this mule was in a circus," blustered the
man. "I've had him over a year, and I want to sell him now because he
hasn't any mate. I can't pull a canal boat with one mule."

"Especially not a trick mule that never hauled a boat in his life," put
in Neale.

"Here! You quit that! What do you mean?" demanded the man in sullen
tones.

"I mean just what I said," declared Neale. "I believe this is a trick
mule that used to be in my uncle Bill's show--in Twomley and Sorber's
Herculean Circus and Menagerie, to be exact. Of course I may be
mistaken, but if not I can easily prove what I say."

"Huh! I'd like to see you do it!" sneered the man.

"All right, I will," and Neale's manner was confident. "I recognize this
mule," he went on to Mr. Howbridge, "by that mark on his off hind hoof,"
and he pointed to a bulge on the mule's foot. "But of course that may be
on another mule, as well as on the one that was in my uncle's circus.
However, if I can make this mule do a trick I taught old Josh in the
show, that ought to prove what I say, oughtn't it?"

"I should think so," agreed the lawyer.

"You can't make this mule do any tricks," sneered the tramp. "He's a
good mule for pulling canal boats, but he can't do tricks."

"Oh, can't he?" remarked Neale. "Well, we'll see. Come here, Josh!" he
suddenly called.

The mule moved his big ears forward, as though to make sure of the
voice, and then, looking at Neale, slowly approached him.

"Anybody could do that!" exclaimed the man disdainfully.

"Well, can anybody do this?" asked the boy. "Josh--dead mule!" he
suddenly cried. And, to the surprise of all, the mule dropped to the
towpath, stretched out his legs stiffly and lay on his side with every
appearance of having departed this life.

"There!" exclaimed Neale. "That's the trick I taught him in the show,
before I left it."

The other mules were sniffing at their prostrate companion.

"Oh, isn't he funny!" cried Dot, as Josh opened one eye and looked
straight at her.

"I'd rather have a mule than Billy Bumps for a pet!" declared Tess.

"Did you really make him do it, Neale?" asked Ruth.

"Yes, and I can do it again!" declared the lad. "Up, Josh!" he
commanded, and the mule scrambled to his feet. "Dead mule--Josh!" cried
Neale again, and down the animal went a second time.

"Well, what have you to say to that?" the boy turned to ask the tramp.
But the man did not stay to answer. Off he ran, down the towpath, at top
speed.

"Shall I get him?" cried Hank, throwing the reins on the back of one of
his mules, while Josh, in response to a command from Neale, stood
upright again.

"No, let him go," advised Mr. Howbridge. "It is very evident that he had
no legal claim to this mule, and he either took him away from the circus
himself, or received him from some one who did. Neale, I congratulate
you."

"Thanks. I thought I recognized old Uncle Josh, but the trick proved it.
He hasn't forgotten that or me; have you, old fellow?" he asked as he
rubbed the mule's velvety nose. And the animal seemed glad to be near
the boy.

"Pretty slick, I call that," said Hank admiringly. "Guess you'll have to
teach my mules some trick, Neale."

"It takes too long!" laughed the lad.

"Is this our mule now?" asked Dot, as she approached the new animal,
which was quite gentle and allowed the children to pet him.

"Well, I don't know just who does own him," said Mr. Howbridge, not
wanting to give a legal opinion which might be wrong. "But he certainly
does not belong to that man," and he looked after the retreating figure,
now far down the towpath.

"'Cause if he's our mule I'd like to give my Alice-doll a ride on his
back," went on Dot.

"I'd like a ride myself!" exclaimed Tess.

"Oh, don't try that!" sighed Ruth.

"Josh wouldn't mind," put in Neale. "I used to ride him in the circus.
Look!"

With a spring he reached the mule's back, and then, at the word of
command, Josh trotted up and down the towpath.

"Oh, do let me try!" begged Tess.

"Shall I put her on?" Neale asked, and, at a nod from Ruth, he lifted
the little girl up on the mule's back, and the delighted Tess was given
a ride.

"Oh, it's ever so much nicer'n Scalawag!" she cried as she was lifted
down. "Try it, Dot!" Scalawag was the circus pony that Neale's uncle had
given to Tess and Dot.

"I will if I can hold my Alice-doll!" stipulated the youngest Kenway.

"Sure!" assented Neale, and the fun was continued.

"I wish I dared to do it!" exclaimed Agnes, with a look at Ruth. But
Ruth shook her head, and Agnes, after a moment's hesitation, yielded to
Ruth's sense of the fitness of things.

"Well, the question now arises," said Mr. Howbridge, "what shall we do
with this mule, which seems to have been stolen?"

"I say take him along with us," answered Hank. "One of our critters
might get hurt, and we'd have to lay up if we didn't have an extra one."

"I don't believe Uncle Josh would pull in harness with another mule,"
said Neale. "He has always been a trick mule, and has worked alone. He
is quite valuable."

"Do you suppose your uncle sold him?" asked the lawyer.

"I don't believe so," said the boy. "I believe he was stolen, and I
know, in that case, that Uncle Bill would be glad to get him back."

"Well, then let's take him back," suggested Hank. "I can drive him along
with my mules for a spell until we come to the place where the circus is
playing. He'll drive, I guess, if he won't pull a boat, and he'll be
company for my mules." Hank was fond of animals, and treated them
kindly.

"How does that plan appeal to you, Minerva?" asked Ruth's guardian.
"This is your trip, as well as mine. Do you want to be bothered with an
extra mule?"

"Oh, I don't see that he would be any bother," she said. "If Hank looks
after him, we shan't have to. And if it's Neale's uncle's mule he ought
to be returned."

"That settles it," said Mr. Howbridge. "We'll take the mule with us."

"I'm sure Uncle Bill will be glad to get him back," declared Neale. "And
I'm pretty sure he never sold him."

So it was arranged. Once more the _Bluebird_ was under way, the two
harnessed mules towing her and Uncle Josh, the trick animal, wandering
along at his own sweet will.

For a time the Corner House girls, with Neale and Mr. Howbridge, walked
along the towpath. Then they went back to the boat as Mrs. MacCall,
blowing on a horn, announced meal time.

The trip along the canal continued in leisurely fashion. Now the
_Bluebird_ would be lifted up at some water-foaming lock, or lowered in
the same fashion. Twice they were lifted over inclined planes, and the
young folks, especially Dot and Tess, liked this very much.

The weather had been all that could be desired ever since they started,
except the rain storm in which the girls were robbed. But now, about
four days after leaving Milton, they awoke one morning to find a
disagreeable drizzle. But Hank and the mules did not seem to mind it. In
fact they rather liked splashing through the rain and mud.

Of course getting out and strolling along the towpath was out of the
question for the voyagers, and they found amusements enough on board the
houseboat.

It rained all day, but it needed more than this to take the joy out of
life for the Corner House girls.

"Fair day to-morrow!" cried Neale, and so it proved.

They approached a small town early the next day, and as they tied up at
a tow-barn station to get some supplies Dot cried:

"Oh, look at the elephant!"

"Where?" demanded Tess.

"I mean it's a picture of it on that barn," went on the mother of the
"Alice-doll," and she pointed.

"Oh, it's a circus!" exclaimed Tess. "Look, Ruth--Agnes!"

And there, in many gay posters was the announcement that "Twomley &
Sorber's Herculean Circus and Menagerie" would show that day in Pompey,
the town they had then reached.

"It's Uncle Bill's show!" cried Neale. "Maybe I'll hear some news of my
father."

"And shall we have to give back Josh mule?" asked Tess, who had taken
quite a liking to the animal.

"Well, we'll see," said Mr. Howbridge. "But I think we may as well, all
of us, go to the circus," he added.

And, that afternoon, the trick mule having been left in the towpath barn
with Hank's animals, almost the whole party, including the driver, went
to the circus. Only Mrs. MacCall decided to stay on the houseboat.

On the way to the circus the party passed the post-office. Ruth
remembered that this was a town she had mentioned in a letter to Luke
Shepard and ran in to see if there was any mail.

"Ruth Kenway," said the clerk, in answer to her question, and a moment
later passed out a fine, fat letter, addressed in the hand she knew so
well.

"I'll read it to-night--I haven't time now," she told herself, and
blushed happily. "Dear Luke--I hope everything is going well with him."



CHAPTER XV

REAL NEWS AT LAST


"Oh, look at the toy balloons! Look, Alice-doll," and Dot held her
constant companion up in her arms.

Dot was in a state of great excitement, and kept repeating to Tess
stories of her experiences of the summer previous when Dot, her older
sisters and some friends, seated in a box of this very circus, Scalawag,
the pony, had been publicly presented to the smaller Corner House
girls--a scene, and a sensation, which is told of in a previous volume
of this series and which, alas! Tess had missed.

"There's pink lemonade!" cried Tess. "Oh, I want some of that! Please,
Ruth, may I have two glasses?"

"Not of that pink lemonade, Tess," answered the older girl. "It may be
colored with hat dye, for all we know. We'll see Neale's Uncle Bill, who
will take us to the best place to get something to drink."

"Just see the fat lady!" went on Dot next.

"Fat lady! Where? I don't see any!" exclaimed Tess. "Do you mean an
elephant?" she asked.

"No. I mean over there!" and Dot pointed to a gayly painted canvas
stretched along the front of the tent in which the side shows were
showing.

"Oh, that! Only a painting!" and Tess showed in her voice the
disappointment she felt.

"Well, the lady is real, and we can go inside and see her; can't we,
Ruth?" pursued Dot. "Oh, I just love a circus; don't you, Alice?" and
she hugged her doll in her arms.

"Yes, a circus is very nice," was the answer. "But now listen to me,"
went on Ruth. "Don't run away and get lost in the crowd."

"You couldn't run very far in such a crowd," answered Tess.

"No, but you could get lost very easily."

"Oh, see the camels! They are going for a drink, I guess."

"Well, they have to have water the same as the other animals."

"Oh, what was that?" cried Dot, as a gigantic roar rent the air.

"That must have been a lion," answered Ruth.

"Oh, do you think he'll get loose?" exclaimed Tess, holding back a
little.

"I guess not."

"It's the same old crowd," remarked Neale, as he looked on the familiar
scenes about the circus tent, while Mr. Howbridge walked along with
Ruth. Agnes and Neale were together, and Dot and Tess had hold of hands.
Hank, after the arrival at the grounds, said he would travel around by
himself, as he saw some men he knew. He agreed to be back at the canal
boat at five o'clock, after the show.

"Wait until I get you a ticket," Neale said, as the mule driver was
about to separate from them. Going to the red and gold wagon, Neale
stepped to the window. The man inside was busy selling tickets and
tossing the money taken in to an assistant, who sorted and counted it.

"How many?" asked the man in the ticket wagon, hardly looking up.

"Seven--two of 'em halves," answered Neale quickly.

"Well, where's the money--where's the cash?" asked the cashier rather
snappily, and then, for the first time, he looked up. A queer change
came over his face as he recognized Neale.

"Well, for the love of alligators!" he exclaimed, thrusting forth his
hand. "When'd you get on the lot?"

"Just arrived," answered Neale with a smile. "Got some friends of mine
here who want to see the show."

"Surest thing you know!" cried the cashier. "How many'd you say?
Seven--two halves? Here you are," and he flipped the tickets down on the
wooden shelf in front of him. "Are you coming back to join the outfit?"
he went on. "We could bill 'Master Jakeway's' act very nicely now, I
imagine. Only," and he chuckled, "we'd have to drop the 'Master.' You've
got beyond that."

"No, I'm not coming back," answered Neale. "That isn't saying I wouldn't
like to, perhaps. But I have other plans. I've heard that my father has
returned from the Klondike, and I want to see my uncle to find if he has
any news. Is he around--Uncle Bill, I mean?"

"Yes, he was talking to me a while ago. And I did hear him mention, some
time back, that he had news of your father. Well, well! I am glad to see
you again, Neale. Stop in and see me after the show."

"I'll try to," was the answer.

Hank, being given his ticket, went away by himself, and, after greeting
some more of his circus friends, Neale began a search for his uncle. It
was not an easy matter to locate any of the circus men on the "lot" at
an hour just before the performance was to begin. And Tess and Dot were
eager to go in and see the animals, the side shows, the main performance
and everything else.

"I'd better take them in," Ruth said finally. "You can join us later,
Neale, you and Mr. Howbridge."

So this plan was agreed on, and then the two eager girls were led into
the tents of childish mystery and delight, while Neale and the lawyer
sought the proprietor of the show.

They found him talking to Sully Sorber, the clown, who was just going in
to put on his makeup.

At first Uncle Bill just stared at Neale, as though hardly believing the
evidence of his eyes. Then a welcoming smile spread over his face, and
he held out his hand.

"Well! Well! This is a coincidence!" exclaimed the ringmaster. "I was
just figuring with Sully here if we would get any nearer Milton than
this, as I wanted to have a talk with you, and now here you are! How did
it happen? Glad to see you, sir," and he shook hands with Mr. Howbridge.
"I've been going to answer your letters, but I've been so busy I haven't
had time. One of the elephants got loose and wrecked a farmer's barn,
and I've had a damage suit to settle. But I am glad to see you both."

"Tell me!" exclaimed Neale eagerly. "Have you any news from father? Is
he back from the Klondike? Where can I find him?"

"My! you're as bad as ever for asking questions," chuckled Mr. Bill
Sorber. "But there! I know how it is! Yes, Neale, I have some real news,
though there isn't much of it. I never see such a man as your father for
not sending word direct. But maybe he did, and it miscarried. Anyhow,
I've been trying to get in touch with him ever since I got your letter,
Mr. Howbridge," he went on speaking to the lawyer.

"Yes, your father has come back from the Klondike," he resumed to Neale.
"He put in his time to good advantage there, I hear, and made some
money. Then he set out for the States, and, in an indirect way, I
learned that he is located in Trumbull."

"Trumbull? Where's that?" asked Neale eagerly.

"It's a small town on Lake Macopic!" answered the circus man.

Neale and the lawyer looked at one another in surprise.

"Do you know the place?" went on the ringmaster. "I must confess I
don't. I tried to look it up to see if it was worth moving there with
the show, but I couldn't even find it on the map. So it must be pretty
small."

"I don't know exactly where it is," the lawyer said. "But the fact of
the matter is that we are on our way to Lake Macopic in a houseboat, and
it is quite a coincidence that Neale's father should be there. Can you
give us any further particulars?"

"Well, not many," confessed Mr. Sorber. "Mr. O'Neil isn't much more on
letter writing than I am, and that isn't saying much. But my information
is to the effect that he had to go there to clear up some dispute he and
his mining partner had. He was in with some men in the Klondike, and
when it came to a settlement of the gold they had dug out there was a
dispute, I believe. One of the men lived in Trumbull, and your father,
Neale, had to go there to settle the matter. But I am glad to see you!"
he went on to the former circus lad. "And after the show, which is about
to begin, we can have a long talk, and then--"

At that moment a loud shouting arose from the neighborhood of the animal
tent. Mingled with the cries of the men was a peculiar sound, like that
of some queer whistle, or trumpet.

"There goes Minnie again!" cried Mr. Bill Sorber. "She's broken loose!"
and he ran off at top speed while other circus employees followed, the
shouting and trumpeting increasing in volume.



CHAPTER XVI

RUTH'S ALARM


"Minnie's loose!" cried Neale to Mr. Howbridge after the flight of the
circus men. "Minnie is one of the worst elephants in captivity! She's
always making trouble, and breaking loose. I imagine she's the one that
wrecked the farmer's barn Uncle Bill was telling about. If she's on the
rampage in the animal tent it means mischief!"

"An elephant loose!" cried Mr. Howbridge. "And Ruth and the children in
the tent! Come on, Neale!" he cried. "Hurry!"

But there was no need to urge Neale to action. He was off on the run,
and Mr. Howbridge showed that he was not nearly so old and grave as he
sometimes appeared, for he ran swiftly after his more youthful
companion.

The shouting continued, and the trumpet calls of the angry or frightened
elephant mingled with them. Then, as Neale and Mr. Howbridge came within
view of the animal tent, they saw bursting from it a huge elephant,
followed by several men holding to ropes attached to the "ponderous
pachyderm," as Minnie was called on the show bills. She was pulling a
score of circus hands after her, as though they were so many stuffed
straw men.

Mr. Bill Sorber at this time reached the scene, and with him were
several men who had hurried after him when they heard the alarm. The
ringmaster seemed to know just what to do. He caught an ankus, or
elephant hook, from one of his helpers, and, taking a stand directly in
the path of the onrushing Minnie, he raised the sharp instrument
threateningly.

On thundered the elephant, but Mr. Sorber stood his ground. Men shouted
a warning to him, and the screams and cries of women and children rose
shrilly on the air. Minnie, which was the rather peaceful name for a
very wild elephant, raised her trunk in the air, and from it came the
peculiar trumpet blasts. The men she was pulling along were dragged over
the ground helplessly.

"Can he stop her, Neale?" gasped Mr. Howbridge, as he ran beside the
former circus boy.

"Well, I've seem him stop a wild lion that got out of its cage," was the
answer. "But an elephant--"

And then a strange thing happened. When within a few feet of the brave,
resolute man who stood in her path, Minnie began to go more slowly. Her
shrill cries were less insistent, and the men being dragged along after
her began to hold back as they regained their feet.

Mr. Sorber raised the ankus on high. Its sharp, curved point gleamed in
the sun. Minnie saw it, and she knew it could cruelly hurt her sensitive
trunk. More than once she had felt it before, when on one of her
rampages. She did not want to suffer again.

And so, when so close that she could have reached out and touched the
ringmaster with her elongated nose, or, if so minded, she could have
curled it around him and hurled him to death--when this close, the
elephant stopped, and grew quiet.

"Minnie! Minnie!" said the man in a soothing voice. "Behave yourself,
Minnie! Why are you acting in this way? Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"

And the elephant really seemed to be. She lowered her trunk, flapped her
ears slowly to and fro, and then stood in her tracks and began swaying
to and fro in the manner characteristic of the big beasts.

Mr. Sorber went up to her, tossing the ankus to one of his men, and
began to pat the trunk which curled up as if in anticipation of a treat.

"Minnie, you're a bad girl, and you oughtn't to have any; but since you
stopped when I told you to I'll give you a few," said the ringmaster,
and, reaching into his pocket, he took out some peanuts which the big
animal munched with every appearance of satisfaction.

"She's all right now," said Neale's uncle, as the regular elephant men
came up to take charge of the creature. "She was just a little excited,
that's all. How did it happen?"

"Oh, the same as usual," replied Minnie's keeper. "All at once she gave
a trumpet, yanked her stakes loose, and set off out of the animal tent.
I had some ropes on her ready to have her pull one of the wagons, and we
grabbed these--as many of us as could--but we couldn't hold her."

"I'm afraid we'll have to get rid of Minnie, she's too uncertain.
Doesn't seem to know her own mind, like a lot of the women folks," and
Mr. Sorber smiled at Mr. Howbridge.

"You were very brave to stop her as you did," observed the lawyer.

"Oh, well, it's my business," said the animal man. "It wasn't such a
risk as it seemed. I was all ready to jump to one side if she hadn't
stopped."

"I wonder if any one in the animal tent was hurt," went on the lawyer.
"We must go and see, Neale. Ruth and the others--"

"I hope none of your folks were injured," broke in Mr. Sorber. "Minnie
has done damage in the past, but I guess she only just ran away this
time."

With anxious hearts Neale and Mr. Howbridge hastened to the animal tent,
but their fears were groundless. Minnie had carefully avoided every one
in her rush, and, as a matter of fact, Ruth, Agnes, Dot and Tess were in
the main tent when the elephant ran out. They heard the excitement, but
Ruth quieted her sisters.

"Well, now we'll go on with the show," said Mr. Sorber, when matters had
settled to their normal level. "I'll see you afterward, Neale, and you
too, Mr. Howbridge, and those delightful little ladies from the old
Corner House."

"Oh, Uncle Bill, I almost forgot!" cried the boy. "Have you that trick
mule yet--Uncle Josh? The one I taught to play dead?"

"Uncle Josh? No, I haven't got him, but I wish I had," said the circus
owner. "One of the stablemen took him away--stole him in fact--and I'd
give a hundred dollars to get him back!"

Neale held out his hand, smiling.

"What do you mean?" asked his uncle.

"Pay me the hundred dollars," was the answer. "I have Uncle Josh!"

"No! Really, have you?"

"I have! I thought you hadn't sold him!" exclaimed the boy, and he told
the story of the man on the towpath.

"Well, that is good news!" exclaimed Mr. Sorber. "I'll send for Uncle
Josh right away. I sure am glad to have him back. He was always good for
a lot of laughs. He's almost as funny as Sully, the clown."

A few minutes later Neale and Mr. Howbridge joined Ruth and the others
in the main tent.

Tess and Dot especially enjoyed the performance very much. They took in
everything from the "grand entry" to the races and concert at the end.
They were guests of the show, in fact, Neale having procured
complimentary tickets.

When the performance was over, they visited "Uncle Bill" in his own
private tent, and the Corner House girls had a glimpse of circus life
"behind the scenes," as it were, Tess's first experience of the sort.

Neale met many of his old friends and they all expressed the hope that
he would soon find his father. Uncle Josh, the trick mule, was brought
to the grounds by Hank, and the animal seemed glad to be again among his
companions.

"Will you be back again this evening?" asked Neale's uncle, when the
time came for the party to go back to the houseboat for supper.

"I think not," was Neale's answer.

He said good-by to his uncle, arranging to write to him and hear from
him as often as needful. And then they left the circus lot where the
night performance would soon be given.

"Well, I have real news of father at last," said Neale to Agnes, as he
went back toward the canal with his friends. "I would like to know,
though, if he got rich out in the Klondike."

"If he wants any money he can have half mine!" offered Dot. "I have
eighty-seven cents in my bank, and I was going to save up to buy my
Alice-doll a new carriage. But you can have my money for your father,
Neale."

"Thank you," replied Neale, without a smile at Dot's offer. "Maybe I
shan't need it, but it's very kind of you."

Mrs. MacCall had supper ready soon after they arrived at the boat, and
then, as the smaller girls were tired from their day at the circus, they
went to bed early, while Ruth and Mr. Howbridge, Agnes and Neale sat out
on the deck and talked. As they were not to go on again until morning,
Hank was allowed to go back to the circus again. He said seeing it twice
in one day was not too much for him.

"I do hope you will find your father, Neale," said Agnes softly, as,
just before eleven o'clock, they all went to bed.

But Ruth, at least, did not go to sleep at once. In her bosom she
carried the letter she had received from Luke, and this she now read
carefully, twice.

Luke was doing well at the summer hotel. The proprietor was sick, so he
and the head clerk and a night man had their hands full. He was earning
good money, and part of this he was going to spend on his education and
the rest he intended to save. He was sorry he could not be with the
houseboat party and hoped they would all have a good time. Then he added
a page or more intended only for Ruth's eyes. The letter made the oldest
Corner House girl very happy.

Soon after breakfast the next morning they were under way again. The
circus had left town in the night, and Neale did not know when he would
see his uncle again. But the lad's heart beat high with hope that he
might soon find his father.

The weather was propitious, and hours of sunshine were making the Corner
House girls as brown as Indians. Mr. Howbridge, too, took on a coat of
tan. As for Neale, his light hair looked lighter than ever against his
tanned skin. And Hank, from walking along the towpath, became almost as
dark as a negro.

One morning, Ruth, coming down to the kitchen to help Mrs. MacCall with
the dinner, saw two fat, chubby legs sticking out of a barrel in one
corner of the cabin.

The legs were vigorously kicking, and from the depths of the barrel came
muffled cries of:

"Let me out! Help me out! Pull me up!"

Ruth lost no time in doing the latter, and, after an effort, succeeded
in pulling right side up her sister Tess.

"What in the world were you doing?" demanded Ruth.

"I was scraping down in the bottom of the barrel to get a little flour
that was left," Tess explained, very red in the face. "But I leaned over
too far and I couldn't get up. And I couldn't call at first."

"What did you want of flour?" asked Ruth. "Goodness, you have enough on
your dress, anyhow."

"I wanted some to rub on my face to make me look pale," went on Tess.

"To make you look pale! Gracious, Tess! what for?"

"We're playing doctor and nurse, Dot and I," Tess explained. "I have to
be sick, and sick people are always pale. But I'm so tanned Dot said I
didn't look sick at all, so I tried to scrape some flour off the bottom
of the barrel to rub on my face."

"Well, you have enough now if you brush off what's on your clothes,"
laughed Ruth.

"And be careful about leaning over barrels," put in Mrs. MacCall. "You
might have been hurt."

"Yes," agreed Tess, "I might be but I wasn't. Only my head felt funny
and my legs felt queer, too, when I wiggled them."

They were approaching the end of the stretch of the canal through which
they must travel to reach Gentory River. The boat would be "locked" from
the canal to the larger stream, and then Neale could have his wish of
operating the motor come true.

Toward evening they arrived at the last lock of their trip. Just beyond
lay the river, and they would proceed up that to Lake Macopic.

As the _Bluebird_ emerged from the lock and slowly floated on the little
basin into which just there the Gentory broadened, the attention of Ruth
and Agnes was directed to a small motor boat which was just leaving the
vicinity.

Ruth, who stood nearest the rail, grasped her sister by the arm, and
cried an alarm.

"Look! Those men! In the boat!" exclaimed Ruth.

"What about them?" asked Agnes, while Mr. Howbridge glanced at the two
sisters.

"They're the same men who robbed us!" exclaimed Ruth. "The men who took
our jewelry box in the rain! Oh, stop them!"



CHAPTER XVII

UP THE RIVER


Neale O'Neil, who had been steering the houseboat during the operation
of locking it from the canal into the river, sprang away from the tiller
toward the side of the craft at Ruth's cries. There was no immediate
need of guiding the _Bluebird_ for the moment, as she was floating idly
with the momentum gained when she was slowly pulled from the lock basin.

"Are those the men?" asked Neale, pointing to two roughly dressed
characters in a small motor boat.

"I'm sure they are!" asserted Ruth. "That one steering is the man who
grabbed the box from me. Look, Agnes, don't you remember them?"

Mr. Howbridge, who heard what was said, acted promptly. On the towpath,
near the point where the river entered the canal through the lock, was
Hank Dayton with the two mules, the services of which would no longer be
needed.

"Hank! Hank! Stop those men!" cried the lawyer.

The driver dropped his reins, and sprang to the edge of the bank. Near
him was a rowboat, empty at the time, and with the oars in the locks. It
was the work of but a moment for Hank to spring in and shove off, and
then he began rowing hard.

But of course he stood no chance against a motor boat. The two men in
the gasoline craft turned on more power. The explosions came more
rapidly and drowned the shouts of those on the houseboat. Hank soon gave
up his useless effort, and turned back to shore, while Ruth and Agnes,
leaning over the side of the rail, gazed at the fast-disappearing men.

"There must be some way of stopping them!" cried Mr. Howbridge, who was
quite excited. "Isn't there a motor boat around here--a police boat or
something? Neale, can't you get up steam and take after them?"

"The _Bluebird_ could never catch that small boat," answered the boy.
"And there doesn't seem to be anything else around here now, except
rowboats and canalers."

This was true, and those on board the _Bluebird_ had to suffer the
disappointment of seeing the men fade away in the distance.

"But something must be done!" insisted the lawyer. "An alarm must be
given. The police must be notified. Where's the keeper of the lock? He
may know these ruffians, and where they are staying. We must do
something!"

"Well, they're getting away for the time being," murmured Neale, as he
gazed up the river on which the motor boat was now hardly discernible as
it was turning a bend. "But we're going the same way, and we may come
across them. Are you sure, Ruth, that these are the same men who robbed
you?"

"Positive!" declared the girl. "Aren't you, Agnes?"

"No, I can't be sure," answered her sister with a shake of her head.
"The men looked just as rough--and just as ugly--as the two who attacked
us. But it was raining so hard, and we were in the doorway, and the
umbrella was giving such trouble--no, Ruth," she added, "I couldn't be
_sure_."

"But I am!" declared the oldest Kenway girl. "I had a good look at the
face of at least one of the men in the boat, and I know it was he who
took my box! Oh, if I could only get it back I wouldn't care what became
of the men!"

"It ought to be an easy matter to trace them," said the lawyer. "Their
motor boat must be registered and licensed, as ours must be. We can
trace them through that, I think. Neale, would you know the men if you
saw them again?"

"I might," answered the boy. "I didn't have a very good look at them,
though. They both had their backs toward me, and their hats were pulled
down over their faces. As Ruth says, however, they looked rough and
desperate."

"We must take some action," declared the lawyer, with his characteristic
energy. "The authorities must be notified and that motor boat traced. We
shall have to stop here to register our own craft and get a license, and
it will give us an opportunity to make some inquiries."

"Meanwhile those men will get away!" exclaimed Ruth. "And we'll never
get our jewelry back. If we could get mother's ring," she added, "it
wouldn't be so bad."

"They can't get very far away if they stick to the river," said Mr.
Howbridge. "The river flows into Lake Macopic and there is no outlet
from that. If we have to pursue the men all the way to the lake we'll do
it."

"Well, then let's get busy," suggested Neale. "The sooner we have our
boat registered and licensed, the sooner we can start after those men.
Of course we can't catch them, for their boat goes so much faster than
ours. But we can trace them."

"I hope we can," murmured Ruth, gazing up the river, on which there was
now no trace of the boat containing the rough men. "We have two quests,
now," she added. "Looking for our jewelry box, and your father, Neale.
And I hope we find your father, whether I get back my things or
not--anything but the ring."

"Let us hope we get both," said the boy.

Then followed a busy hour. Certain formalities had to be gone through
with, in order to enable the _Bluebird_ to make the voyage on the river
and lake. Her motor was inspected and passed. Neale had seen to it that
the machinery was in good shape.

Mr. Howbridge came back from the boat registry office with the necessary
permit and license, and Ruth asked him:

"Did you find out anything about the men?"

"No one here knows them," he said. "They were never here before, and
they came only to get some supplies. It appears they are camping on one
of the islands in Lake Macopic."

"Was their boat registered?" asked Neale.

"Yes. At least it is presumed so. But as we did not see the number on it
we can give the authorities no clue. Motor boats up here don't have to
carry their number plates in such large size as autos do. That craft was
not registered at this office, but it was, very likely, granted a permit
at the office at the other end of the river or on the lake. So we can
only keep on and hope either to overtake the men or to get a trace of
them in some other way."

"We can never overtake them if they keep going as fast as they did when
they left here," said Agnes.

"They won't keep that speed up," declared Neale. "But we had better get
started. We'll be under our own power now, and can travel whenever we
like, night or day."

"Are we going to take the mules with us--and Mr. Hank!" asked Dot,
hugging her "Alice-doll."

"Hank is going to accompany us," said Mr. Howbridge. "But we'll leave
the mules behind, having no place for them on the _Bluebird_. I think I
will dispose of them, for I probably shall not go on a vacation along
the canal again."

"But it was a delightful and novel one," said Ruth.

"I'm glad you enjoyed it," her guardian remarked. "It would have been
little pleasure to me--this trip--if you young folks had not enjoyed
it."

"I just love it! And the best part is yet to come!" cried Agnes, with
sparkling eyes. "I want to see the islands in the lake."

"And I want to get to Trumbull and see if my father is there," added
Neale. "I think I'll send him a letter. I'll mail it here. It won't take
but a moment."

"You don't know his address," said Agnes.

"I'll send it just to Trumbull," said the boy. "Post-office people are
sharks at finding people."

He wrote the note while the final preparations were being made for
leaving on the trip up the river. Mrs. MacCall had attended to the
buying of food, which was all that was needed.

And then, after Neale had sent his letter to the post-office, he went
down in the engine room of the _Bluebird_.

"Are we all ready!" he called up to Mr. Howbridge, who was going to
steer until Neale could come up on deck after the motor had been
started.

"All ready!" answered Ruth.

Neale turned the flywheel over, there was a cough and a splutter, and
then a steady chug-chugging.

"Oh, we're going! We're going!" gayly cried Tess and Dot. Almost
anything satisfied them as long as they were in motion.

"Yes, we're on our way," said Mr. Howbridge, giving the wheel a turn and
sending the houseboat out into the stream.

The trip up the Gentory River was no less delightful than the voyage on
the canal had been, if one may call journeying on such a quiet stream a
voyage. It was faster travel, of course, with the motor sending the
_Bluebird_ along.

"The only thing is, though," said Hank, who sat near the wheel with
Neale, "I haven't anything to do. I miss the mules."

"Oh, I guess there'll be enough to do. Especially when we get up on the
lake. You'll have to help manage the boat," remarked Neale. "I hear they
have pretty good storms on Macopic."

"They do," confirmed Hank.

They motored along until dusk that evening, and then, as their way led
for a time through a part of the stream where many craft navigate, it
was decided to tie up for the night. It passed without incident, and
they were on their way again the next morning.

It was calculated that the trip on the river would take three days, but
an accident to the motor the second day delayed them, and they were more
likely to be five than three days. However, they did not mind the wait.

The break occurred on a lonely part of the stream, and after stopping
the craft and tying up, Neale announced, after an examination, that he
and Hank could make the needful repairs.

"We'll start in the morning," said the boy.

"Then we'll just go ashore and walk about a little," suggested Ruth, and
soon she and her sisters and Mr. Howbridge were on the bank of the
beautiful stream.

The twilight lingered long that night, and it was light enough to see
some distance ahead as Ruth and the others strolled on. The river bank
turned and, following it beneath the trees, the party suddenly heard
voices seemingly coming from a secluded cove where the stream formed an
eddy.

"Must be fishermen in there," said Mr. Howbridge. "We had better not
disturb them."

As they were turning away the voices became louder, and then on the
still night air there came an exclamation.

"I don't care what you think!" a man's voice shouted. "Just because
you've been in the Klondike doesn't give you the right to boss me!
You'll give me an even half of the swag or--"

And then it sounded as though a hand had been clapped suddenly over the
speaker's mouth.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE NIGHT ALARM


Mr. Howbridge and Ruth quickly looked at one another. The same thought
and suspicion came in each of their minds at the same time.

"Who's that?" Dot asked, she and Tess having lingered behind the others
to pick some flowers from the bank of the stream.

"Hush, children," cautioned Ruth in a whisper. "We must not disturb
the--fishermen."

She added the last word after a look at her guardian. No further sound
came from the cove where the voice had been uttering a protest and had
been so suddenly hushed.

"Oh, look at those big red flowers! I'm going to get some of those!"
cried Dot, darting off to one side. "My Alice-doll loves red flowers,"
she added.

"I'll get some, too," said Agnes. "Mrs. MacCall also loves red flowers,
though she says there's nothing prettier than 'Heeland hither' as she
calls it."

"Oh, yes, we'll get her some, and she'll have a bouquet for the table,"
assented Dot. "And then maybe she'll let us have a little play party for
Alice-doll to-morrow, and we can have things to eat."

"Oh, you're always thinking of your old Alice-doll!" complained Tess.
"You'd think all the play parties and all this trip were just for her,
and the things to eat, too."

"We can eat the things Mrs. MacCall gives us--if she gives us any,"
corrected Dot. "Come on, help me get the flowers."

"Oh, all right, I will," said Tess. "But you know, Dot Kenway, that
Ruthie will give us anything we want for a party."

As the two little girls darted toward the clump of gay blossoms Ruth
called:

"Be careful. It may he swampy around here."

"I'll look after them," offered Agnes, "and you and Mr. Howbridge can go
see if those men--"

She did not finish her sentence, which she had begun in a whisper, but
nodded in the direction of the clump of trees, around the eddy of the
river. It was from there the stifled exclamation had come.

"Yes, I think it would be a good plan to take a look there," said Mr.
Howbridge to Ruth in a low voice. "Especially if the children are out of
the way. I don't suppose it could by any chance be the same men, but--"

"Look!" suddenly exclaimed Ruth, pointing to something moving behind a
screen of bushes that hung over the river near the eddy. As she spoke
the bushes parted and a motor boat shoved her bow out into the stream.
In another instant the boat came fully into view, and there was revealed
as occupants two roughly dressed men. They gave one quick glance along
the bank toward Ruth and Mr. Howbridge, and then while one attended to
the wheel the other sprang to the engine to increase the speed.

There was a nervous spluttering from the motor, and the boat shot out
into the river, the two men in her crouching down as though they feared
being fired at.

"There they are!" cried Ruth, clasping Mr. Howbridge's arm in her
excitement. "The same two men!"

"Are you sure?" he asked.

"Well, they're the same two we saw down near the canal lock, in the
boat," Ruth went on. "I'm sure it's the same boat, and I'm as positive
as I ever was that they are the ones who robbed us."

"It is the same boat we saw the other day," agreed the lawyer. "And I
think the same men. Whether they are the thieves is, of course, open to
question. But I should very much like to question them," he added. "Hold
on there!" he called to the men. "I want to see you!"

But the boat did not stop, rather she increased her speed, and it seemed
that one of the men laughed. They did not look back.

"I wish there was some way of taking after them!" exclaimed Ruth's
guardian. "But, as it is, it's out of the question."

They were on a lonely part of the river. No houses were near and there
was no other boat in sight, not even a leaky skiff, though some farmer
boy might have one hidden along the shore under the bushes. But a rowing
craft would not have been effective against the speedy motor boat, and
finding another craft to match the one containing the two rough men was
out of the question.

Farther and farther away the men were speeding now. Agnes and the two
younger girls, having heard the shouts of Mr. Howbridge, turned back
from their flower-gathering trip.

"Is anything the matter?" asked Agnes.

"Oh, no, nothing much. Mr. Howbridge saw two men in that boat," answered
Ruth, with a meaning look at her sister. "But they did not stop." And
when she had a chance, after Dot and Tess had moved out of hearing
distance, Ruth added: "They're the same men, Agnes!"

"You mean the ones who robbed us?"

"I'm pretty sure; yes!"

"Oh dear!" voiced Agnes, and she looked around the now darkening woods.
"I wish we hadn't stopped in such a lonely place," she murmured.

"Nonsense!" laughed Mr. Howbridge. "I shall begin to think you doubt my
ability as guardian. My physical, not my mental," he added.

"Oh, no, it isn't that," Agnes made haste to say. "Only--"

"And we have Neale, and Hank, too," broke in Ruth. "While Mrs. MacCall
is a tower of strength herself, even if she is getting old."

"Oh, yes, I know," murmured Agnes. "But--well, don't let's talk about
it," she finished.

"And I think we'd better be going back. It will soon be quite dark."

"Yes," agreed the lawyer. "We had better go back."

He looked up the river. The boat containing the two rough men was no
longer in sight, but finally there drifted down on the night wind the
soft put-put of the motor.

"We thought you had deserted us," said Neale when he saw, from the deck
of the _Bluebird_, the lawyer and the girls returning.

"We went farther than we intended," answered Ruth.

"How's the motor?" asked the lawyer.

"Hank and I will have it fixed in the morning."

"Where is Hank now?" Agnes wanted to know, and it seemed as though she
had begun to rely on the rugged and rough strength of the man who had
driven the mules.

"Oh, he went off for a walk, and he said maybe he'd fish a while," Neale
said. "He's a bug on fishing."

Then, while Mrs. MacCall took charge of Tess and Dot, giving
exclamations of delight at the flowers, even while comparing them with
her Highland heather, Agnes and Ruth told Neale what had happened--the
swift-departure of the motor boat and its two occupants.

"They were evidently having a dispute when we came along," said Ruth.
"We heard one of them say something about the Klondike."

"The Klondike!" exclaimed Neale, and there was a queer note in his
voice.

"Yes, they certainly said that," agreed Agnes. "Oh, I do wish we were
away from here." And from the deck of the boat she looked at the wooded
shores of the river extending on either side of the moored craft. The
Gentory was not very wide at this point, but the other shore was just as
lonely and deserted as that where the voyagers had come to rest for the
night.

"Don't be so nervous and fussy," said Ruth to Agnes. "Mr. Howbridge
won't like it. He will think we don't care for the trip, and--"

"Oh, I like the trip all right," broke in Agnes. "It's just the idea of
staying all night in this lonely place."

"We have plenty of protectors," asserted Ruth. "There's Neale and--"

"What's that?" asked the boy, hearing his name spoken.

"Agnes was saying she was timid," went on Ruth, for Mr. Howbridge had
gone to the dining-room for a glass of milk Mrs. MacCall had suggested
he take before going to bed. "I tell her with you and Mr. Howbridge and
Hank to protect us--"

"Aggie timid! Oh, yes, we'll look after you!" he promised with a laugh.
"At the same time--Oh, well, I guess Hank won't stay late," and he
looked at his watch.

"You seem worried," said Agnes to her friend when they were alone for a
moment. "Do you think these men--those Klondikers--are likely to make
trouble?"

"No, not exactly that," Neale answered. "To tell you the truth I was
thinking of Hank. I may as well tell you," he went on. "I didn't see any
connection between the two happenings before, but since you mentioned
those men there may be."

"What are you driving at?" asked Agnes, in surprise.

"Just this--" answered Neale. "But let's call Ruth." Ruth came and then
Neale continued: "Hank suddenly dropped his tools when we were working
over the motor and said he was going for a walk. He also mentioned
fishing. I didn't think much of it at the time, for he may be odd that
way when it comes to a steady job. But now I begin to think he may have
gone off to meet those men."

"But he didn't meet them," Ruth said. "We saw them speed away in motor
boat alone."

"They may have met Hank later," the boy said.

"But what makes you suspicious of him?" Ruth asked.

"I'll tell you." And Neale related the episode of the gold ring.

"Oh, do you think it could be one of ours that the men took? Do you
think Hank is in with them, and wants his share of the 'swag' as one man
called it?" questioned Agnes eagerly.

"I don't know, I'm sure," answered Neale. "But he certainly had a ring.
It rolled to the deck and he picked it up quickly enough."

"Say, Ruthie!" exclaimed Agnes impulsively, "now's a good chance while
he's away. We could look through the place where he keeps what few
things he has--in that curtained off corner by his cot."

Ruth shook her head.

"I'd rather not," she remarked. "I couldn't bear to do that. I'd much
rather accuse him openly. But we won't even do that now. We'll just
watch and wait, and we won't even tell Mr. Howbridge until we are more
sure of our ground."

"All right," agreed Neale and Agnes after they had talked it over at
some length.

It was agreed that they should all three keep their eyes on Hank, and
note whether there were any further suspicious happenings.

"Of course you want to be careful of one thing," remarked Neale, as the
three talked it over.

"What is that?" questioned Agnes quickly.

"You don't want that mule driver to suspect that you are watching him.
If he did suspect it he'd be more careful to hide his doings than ever."

"We won't let him suspect us, Neale," declared Ruth.

"Of course he may be as innocent as they make 'em, and on the other hand
he may be as deep as----"

"The deep blue sea," finished Agnes.

"Exactly."

"He certainly doesn't appear very deep," remarked Ruth. "He looks rather
simple minded."

"But sometimes those simple looking customers are the deepest," declared
the youth. "I know we had that sort join the circus sometimes. You had
to watch 'em every minute." And there the talk came to an end.

The mule driver came along some time later. He had a goodly string of
fish. Agnes was asleep, but Ruth heard him putting them in the ice box.
She heard Neale speak to the man, and then, gradually, the _Bluebird_
became quiet.

"Well, he got fish, at any rate," Ruth reasoned as she turned over to go
to sleep. "I hope he has no connection with those robbers. And yet, why
should he hide a ring? Oh, I wonder if we shall ever see our things and
mother's wedding ring again."

Ruth was too much of a philosopher to let this keep her awake. There was
a slight feeling of timidity, as was natural, but she made herself
conquer this.

Finally Ruth dozed off.

How long she slept she did not know, but she was suddenly awakened by
hearing a scream. It was the high-pitched voice of a child, and after
her first start Ruth knew it came from Tess.

"Oh, don't let him get me! Don't let him get me!" cried the little girl.



CHAPTER XIX

ON THE LAKE


Instantly Ruth was out of bed, and while she slipped on her bath robe
and while her bare feet sought her slippers under the edge of her bunk,
she cried:

"What is it, Tessie? Ruth is coming! Sister is coming!"

At once the interior of the _Bluebird_ seemed to pulsate with life. In
the corridor which ran the length of the craft, and on either side of
which the sleeping apartments were laid off, a night light burned.
Opening her door Ruth saw Mrs. MacCall peering forth, a flaring candle
in her hand.

"What is it, lass?" asked the sturdy Scotch woman. "I thought I heard a
wee cry in the night."

"You did!" exclaimed Ruth. "It was Tess!"

In quick succession, with kimonas or robes over their sleeping garments,
Neale, Mr. Howbridge and Agnes came from their rooms. But from the
apartments of Tess and Dot no one came, and ominous quiet reigned.

"What was it?" asked Mr. Howbridge. "One of you girls screamed. Who was
it?"

Something gleamed in his hand, and Ruth knew it to be a weapon.

"It was Tess who cried out!" Ruth answered. "All I could hear was
something about her being afraid some one would catch her."

And then again from the room of Tess came a low cry of:

"Ruthie! Ruthie! Come here!"

"Yes, dear, I am coming," was the soothing reply. "What is it? Oh, my
dear, what has happened?"

When she opened the door she saw her sister sitting up in bed, a look of
fear on her face but unharmed. And a quick look in the adjoining
apartment showed Dot to be peacefully slumbering, her "Alice-doll" close
clasped in her arms.

"What was it, Tessie?" asked Ruth in a whisper, carefully closing Dot's
door so as not to awaken her. "What did you see?"

"I--I don't just remember," was the answer. "I was dreaming that I was
riding on that funny Uncle Josh mule that knows Neale, and then a clown
chased me and I fell off and the elephant came after me. I called to
you, and--"

"Was it all only a dream, dear?" asked Ruth with a smile.

"No, it wasn't all a dream," said Tess slowly. "A man looked in the
window at me."

"What window?" asked Agnes.

Tess pointed to one of the two small casements in her small apartment.
They opened on the bank of the river, and it would have been easy for
any one passing along the bank of the stream to have looked into Tess's
windows, or, for that matter, into any of the openings on that side of
the craft. But the windows, though open on account of the warm night,
were protected by heavy screens to keep out mosquitoes and other
insects.

"Do you really mean some one opened your window in the night, or did you
just dream that, too?" asked Ruth. "You have very vivid dreams
sometimes."

"I didn't dream about the _man_," insisted Tess. "He really opened the
screen and looked in. See, it's loose now!"

The screens swung outward on hinges, and there, plainly enough, the
screen of one of the casements in Tess's room was partly open.

"Perhaps the wind blew it," suggested Agnes, wishing she could believe
this.

Neale stepped over and tested the screen.

"It seems too stiff to have been blown open by the wind," was the
comment.

"But of course," Mr. Howbridge suggested, "the screen may not have been
tightly closed when Theresa went to bed."

"Oh, yes it was, sir!" exclaimed Mrs. MacCall positively. "I looked at
them myself. I didn't want any of the mosquitoes to be eatin' ma
pretties. The screens were tight closed!"

"Oh dear, I don't like it here!" said Tess, on the verge of tears. "I
don't want tramps looking in my room, and this man was just like a
tramp."

The noise of some one moving around on the upper deck of the craft
attracted the attention of all.

"That's Hank!" exclaimed Neale. "I'll go and see if he heard anything
unusual or saw any one. It may be that some fellow was passing along the
river road and was impudent enough to pull open a screen and look in,
thinking he might pick up something off a shelf."

But Hank, who in his curtained-off place had been awakened by the
confusion below him, declared he had seen or heard nothing.

"I'm a sound sleeper," he said. "Once I get to bed I don't do much else
but sleep."

So nothing was to be got out of him.

And it was difficult to tell whether or not Tess had dreamed about the
man, as she had said she dreamed about the elephant and the mule. Neale
volunteered to look on the bank underneath the window for a sign of
footprints. He did look, using his flashlight, but discovered nothing.

"I guess it was all a dream," said Ruth. "Go to sleep, Tess dear. You'll
be all right now."

"I'm not going to sleep alone," insisted the little girl, her lips
beginning to quiver.

"I'll stay with you," offered Ruth, and so it was arranged.

"It's an awful queer happening," remarked Agnes.

"Lots of things seem queer on this trip," put in Tess. "Maybe we better
give up the houseboat trip."

"You won't say that in the morning," laughed Neale.

"How do you know that?"

"Oh, I know," the boy laughed.

They all went back to their beds, but it was some time before several of
them resumed their interrupted slumbers. Tess, the innocent cause of it
all, fell off to dreamland with Ruth's arm around her in the rather
cramped quarters, for the bunks were not intended to accommodate two.
But once Tess was breathing deeply and regularly, Ruth slipped back to
her own apartment, pausing to whisper to Agnes that Tess seemed all
right now.

Ruth remained awake for some time, her mind busy with many things, and
mingled with her confused thoughts were visions of the mule driver, Hank
Dayton, signaling to some tramp confederates in the woods the fact that
all on board the _Bluebird_ were deep in slumber, so that robbery might
be easily committed.

"Oh, but I'm foolish to think such things," the Corner House girl told
herself. "Absolutely foolish!"

And at last she convinced herself of that and went to sleep.

The next morning Neale and Mr. Howbridge, with Hank to help, made a
careful examination of the soft earth on the river bank under Tess's
window. They saw many footprints, and the stub of a cigarette.

But the footprints might have been made by themselves when they had
moored the boat the evening before. As for the cigarette stub, though
Hank smoked, he said he never used cigarettes. A pipe was his favorite,
and neither Mr. Howbridge nor Neale smoked.

"Some one passing in the daytime before we arrived may have flung the
stub away," said the lawyer. "I think all we can do is to ascribe the
alarm to a dream Tess had."

The little girl had forgotten much of the occurrence of the night when
questioned about it next morning. She hardly recalled her dream, but she
did insist that a man had looked in her window.

"Well, next time we tie up over night we'll do it in or near some city
or village, and not in such a lonely place," decided Mr. Howbridge.

Neale and Hank made good their promise to repair the motor, and shortly
after breakfast the craft was in shape to travel on.

The weather continued fine, and if it had not been for the alarm of the
night before, and the shadow of the robbery hanging over Ruth and Agnes,
and Neale's anxiety about his father, the travelers would have been in a
most happy mood. The trip was certainly affording them many new
experiences.

"It's almost as exciting as when we were snowbound," declared Agnes.

"But I'm glad we don't have to look for two little runaways or lost
ones," put in Ruth, with a glance at Tess and Dot as they went out to
play on the upper deck.

It was just before noon, when Ruth was helping Mrs. MacCall prepare the
dinner, that the oldest Kenway girl heard a distressing cry from the
upper deck where Tess and Dot had been playing all the morning.

"Tess, stop!" Ruth heard Dot exclaim. "I'm going to tell Ruthie on you!
You'll drown her! Oh, Tess!"

"She can't drown! Haven't I got a string on her?" demanded Tess. "This
is a new way of giving her a bath. She likes it."

"Give her to me! Ruthie! Ruthie! Make Tess stop!" pleaded Dot.

"I wonder what the matter is," said Ruth, as she set down the dish she
was holding and hastened to the upper deck.

There she saw Dot and Tess both leaning over the rail, at rather a
dangerous angle, and evidently struggling, one to get possession of and
the other to retain, some object Ruth could not see.

"Be careful! You'll fall in!" Ruth cried.

At the sound of her voice her sisters turned toward her, and Ruth saw
they each had hold of a cord.

"What are you doing; fishing?" Ruth asked. "Don't you know Hank said you
couldn't catch fish when the boat was moving unless you trolled with
what he called a spoon?"

"We're not fishing!" said Dot.

"I'm just giving the Alice-doll a bath," explained Tess. "I tied her on
the end of a string and I'm letting her swim in the water. She likes
it!"

"She does not! And you must stop! And you must give her to me! Oh,
Ruthie!" cried Dot, trying to pull the cord away from Tess. In an
instant there was a struggle between the two little girls.

"Children! Children!" admonished Ruth, in perfect amazement at such
behavior on the part of the gentle and considerate Tess. "I'm surprised
at you! Tess, dear, give Dot her doll. You shouldn't have put her in
water unless Dot allowed you to."

"Well, but she needed a bath!" insisted Tess. "She was dirty!"

"I know it, and I was going to give her a bath; but she has a cold and I
was waiting till she got over it!" explained Dot. "Tess, give me that
string, and I'll pull my Alice-doll up!" she demanded.

The struggle was renewed, and Ruth was hastening across the deck to stop
it by the force of more authority than mere words, when Neale, who was
steering the craft, called out.

"There's the big water! We're at Lake Macopic now!"

Hardly had the echo of his words died away than Dot cried:

"There! Now look what you did! You let go the string and my Alice-doll
is gone!"



CHAPTER XX

DRIFTING


Dot burst into tears, and Tess, startled by the sudden tragic outcome of
her prank, leaned so far over the edge of the boat to see what happened
to the doll that Ruth cried:

"Be careful! You'll fall! Don't you go into the lake, as well as the
doll!"

Tess bounced back on deck. She looked ashamed when she saw Dot crying.

"You can have one of my dolls when we get back home," Tess offered. "Or
you can have my half of Almira the cat, and all her kittens. I'll give
you my share."

"I don't want 'em! I want my Alice-doll!" wailed Dot.

"I'll have Hank get her for you!" called Neale, as he swung the boat
around. "The string will float, even if your doll won't, and Hank can
fish it back aboard."

Neale signaled to Hank by means of a bell running from the upper deck
near the steering wheel to the motor room below, where the former mule
driver looked after the gasoline engine. It was arranged with a clutch,
so it could be thrown out of gear, thus stopping or reversing the power,
if need be.

"What's the matter?" called Hank, coming out on the lower deck and
looking up at Neale. "Going to make a landing?"

"No. But Dot lost her Alice-doll overboard," Neale explained. "Tess had
a string to it and--"

"Oh, is that what the string was?" exclaimed Hank. "I saw a cord drop
down at the stern past the motor-room window and I made a grab for it. I
thought it was somebody's fish line. Wait, I'll give it a haul and see
what I can get on deck."

Leaving the wheel, which needed no attention since power was not now
propelling the craft, Neale hastened to the lower deck, followed by
Ruth, Tess and Agnes. They saw Hank pulling in, hand over hand, the
long, white cord. Presently there came something slapping its way up the
side of the _Bluebird_, and a moment later there slumped down on the
deck a very wet, and much bedraggled doll.

"Oh, it's my Alice! It's Alice!" cried Dot. "I've got her back once
more."

"There won't be much left of her if she gets in the water again,"
prophesied Neale. "This is the second time this trip."

"She _is_ rather forlorn looking," agreed Ruth, trying not to smile and
hurt her little sister's feelings, for Dot was very sensitive about her
dolls, especially her "Alice" one. "I shall have to get you a new one,
Dot."

"I don't want anybody but my Alice-doll! Will you hang her up in the sun
for me so she'll dry?" begged Dot of Neale, holding out to him the
really wretched doll.

"Of course, Dottie. And when we get back to Milton we can take her to
the hospital again and have her done over as we did after she was buried
with the dried apples. Poor Alice-doll! She has had a hard life."

Tess had gone off by herself, thoroughly ashamed of her behavior. Dot
now went to her own little room, to grieve over the fate of the
Alice-doll.

"Aggie," said Neale, "I think our Tess must have surely gone insane. I
never knew her to do a deliberately unkind thing before."

"It certainly is curious. There, Neale, Mr. Howbridge is beckoning to
you."

"Yes," Neale replied. "He wants us to start, and he's right. Start her
up again, Hank," he added. "We're on Lake Macopic now, and we'll have to
watch our step. There's more navigation here than there was on the
river."

"Is this really the lake?" asked Ruth, "Are we really on Macopic at
last?"

"This is where the river broadens out into the lake," said Neale,
indicating the sweep of waters about them. "It is really a part of the
lake, though the larger and main part lies around that point," and he
indicated the point of land he meant.

Lake Macopic was a large body of water, and on its shores were many
towns, villages and one or two places large enough to be dignified by
the appellation "cities." Quite a trade was done between some of the
places, for the presence of so much water gave opportunity for power to
be obtained from it, and around the lake were many mills and factories.
There were a number of islands in the lake, some of them large enough
for summer hotels, while others were merely clumps of trees. On some,
campers spent their vacations, and on one or two, owned by fishermen,
cabins were built.

"Yes, we are really here at last," said Neale. "I must find out where we
are to head for. Where do you have to deliver this boat, Mr. Howbridge?"
he asked the lawyer.

"At the upper end of the lake," was the answer. "But there is no hurry
about it. I intend that we shall all have a nice cruise on Lake Macopic
before I let my client have possession of this boat. He is in no special
need, and the summer is not nearly enough over to make me want to end
our vacation yet. That is, unless you feel you must get back to the
Corner House, Martha?" and he smiled at his oldest ward.

"Oh, no," Ruth made haste to reply. "It is too lovely here to wish to
leave. I'm sure we shall find it most delightful."

"Can we go in swimming?" asked Tess, who liked the water.

"Yes, there are bathing beaches--several of them in fact," answered the
lawyer. "We will stop at one and let you children paddle around."

"I can swim!" boasted Tess.

"I can too," added Dot, not to be outdone by her sister.

Lake Macopic was beautiful, reflecting the sunlight, the blue sky, and
the white, fleecy clouds. The houseboat once more began slowly
navigating it as Hank threw the clutch in and Neale kept the wheel
steady. They passed several other boats, and then, as their supplies
were running low, it was decided to put in at the nearest town.

"We'll get some cake and maybe a pie or two," said Ruth, after
consulting Mrs. MacCall. "And of course, some fresh vegetables."

"Can't we get some strawberries?" questioned Dot.

"Too late I'm afraid, Dot. But maybe we can get huckleberries."

"Oh, I know what I would like," cried Tess.

"I know too," declared Agnes. "An ice-cream cone."

"Yep. Strawberry."

"I want chocolate," came promptly from Dot.

"And oh, can't we have some lollypops too?" went on Tess.

"Sure--if the stores keep them," answered Mr. Howbridge promptly. "Yes,
I see a sign, 'Ice Cream and Confectionery.' I guess we can get what we
want over there--when we reach the place."

"Oh, goody," cried Dot; and Tess patted her stomach in satisfaction.

It was early evening when they tied up at a wharf, which was operated in
conjunction with a store, and while Mrs. MacCall and the girls were
buying such things as were needed, Neale and Mr. Howbridge made some
inquiries regarding the rules for navigating the lake. They found there
would be no trouble in getting the _Bluebird_ from place to place.

"Have you seen a small motor boat run by two men around here lately?"
asked the lawyer of the dock keeper, after some unimportant talk.

"What sort of men?"

"Roughly dressed."

"That isn't much of a description," was the retort. "A lot of the
fishermen dress roughly, but they're all right. But we do have some
fellows up here who aren't what I'd call first-class."

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Howbridge.

"Well, I mean there's a bunch camping on one of the islands here.
Somebody said they were returned miners from the Klondike, but I don't
know that I believe that."

"Why, those may be the very men we mean!" cried the lawyer. "One of them
claims, or is said to have been, in the Alaskan gold regions. In fact
this young man's father is, or was, a Klondike miner," went on Mr.
Howbridge, indicating Neale. "Maybe these men could tell us something
about him. Did you ever hear any of them mention a Mr. O'Neil?" he
asked.

The dock tender shook his head.

"Can't say I did," he answered. "I don't have much to do with those men.
They're too rough for me. They may be the ones you mean, and they may
not."

Further questioning elicited no more information, and Neale and Mr.
Howbridge had to be content with this.

"But we'll pay a visit to that island," decided the lawyer, when its
location had been established. "We may get some news of your father in
that way."

"I hope so," sighed Neale.

Rather than tie up at the dock that night, which would bring them too
near the not very pleasant sights and sounds of a waterfront
neighborhood, it was decided to anchor the _Bluebird_ out some distance
in the lake.

Accordingly, at dusk, when supper was over and a little stroll on shore
had gotten the "kinks" out of their "sea legs," the _Bluebird_ was
headed into the lake again and moored, with riding lights to warn other
craft away.

In the middle of the night Neale felt the need of a drink, as he had
eaten some buttered popcorn the evening before and he was now thirsty.
As he arose to get a glass of water from a shelf in his apartment he
became aware of a strange movement. At the same time he could hear the
sighing of the wind.

"Sounds as if a storm were coming up," mused the boy. And then, as he
reached out his hand for the glass, he felt the _Bluebird_ rise, fall
and sway beneath him.

"Why, we're moving! We're drifting!" exclaimed Neale. "The anchor must
be dragging or the cables have been cut. We're drifting fast, and may be
in danger!"



CHAPTER XXI

THE STORM


Neale O'Neil was a lad to whom, young as he was, emergencies came as a
sort of second nature. His life in the circus had prepared him for quick
and unusual action. Many times, while traveling with the tented shows,
accidents had happened. Sometimes one of the animals would get loose,
perhaps one of the "hay feeders," by which is meant the elephants,
horses or camels. Or, worse than this, one of the big "cats," or the
meat eaters--including lions, tigers and leopards--would break from a
cage. Then consternation would reign.

But Neale had seen how the circus men had met these emergencies, always
working for the safety of others.

And now, as he seemed to be alone in the semi-darkness and silence of
the houseboat at midnight, Neale felt that the time had come for him to
act.

"We must have pulled our anchor, or else some one has cut us adrift,"
decided the lad. "And if any one has cut us loose it must be those men
from the motor boat--the tramps--the thieves!"

He visualized their evil countenances and thought of how they had
behaved toward Ruth and Agnes--that is, if these were the two men in
question.

"And I wonder if Hank stands in with them," mused Neale. "I must find
out. But first I've got to do something about the boat. If we're adrift,
as we surely are, we may run into some other craft, or one may run into
us, or--"

Neale paused as he felt a grating beneath the broad, flat bottom of the
boat and the craft careened slightly.

"We may go aground or be blown on an island," was his completed thought.
"But we're safe so far," he mentally added, as he felt the _Bluebird_
slip off some under-water rock or reef of mud over which she progressed.

Then Neale galvanized himself into action. He forgot all about the drink
he had been going to get, and, slipping on shoes and a rubber coat that
hung in his room, he stepped out into the corridor which ran the length
of the boat between the two rows of sleeping rooms.

Neale was going up on deck to look around and, if possible, find out
what had caused the boat to break away from her moorings.

As Neale passed Ruth's door it opened and she came out, wrapped in a
heavy robe.

"What is it, Neale?" asked the oldest Corner House girl. "Has anything
happened?"

"Nothing much yet. But it may," was the answer. "We're adrift, and it's
coming on to blow. I'm going to see what the matter is."

"I'll come with you," Ruth offered. Neale was like a brother to the
Kenway girls. "Shall I call Mr. Howbridge and Mrs. Mac?" she asked.

"Not yet," he answered in a low voice. "It may be that the cable has
only slipped, but I don't see how it could. In that case I'll only have
to take a few turns around a cleat and we'll be all right. No use
calling any one unless we have to."

"I'll come and help," Ruth offered, and Neale knew she could be of
excellent service.

Together they ascended the stairs in the half darkness, illuminated by
the glow from a night oil lamp in the hall. But no sooner had they
emerged on the open deck than they became aware of the gravity of the
situation. They were almost blinded by an intense glare of lightning.
This was followed by a menacing rumble of thunder, and then Ruth gasped
for breath as a strong wind smote her in the face, and Neale, just ahead
of her, turned to grasp her lest she be blown against a railing and
hurt.

"Great guns!" exclaimed Neale, "it's going to be a fierce storm."

"Are we really adrift?" exclaimed Ruth, raising her voice to be heard
above the howl of the wind.

"I should say we are!" cried Neale in answer. "But the boat is so big
and solid she isn't going as fast as an ordinary craft would. But we're
drifting all right, and it's going to be a whole lot worse before it's
better. Do you want to stay here?" he asked.

"Of course I do! I'm going to help!" declared Ruth. But at that moment
came another bright flash of lightning and a terrific peal of thunder.
And then, as if this had split open the clouds, down came a deluge of
rain.

"Go below and get on your waterproof and then tell the others to get up
and dress," advised Neale. "We may come out of it all right, and again
we may not. It's best to be prepared."

"Are we--are we far from shore?" panted Ruth, the wind almost taking the
words from her mouth. "Are we apt to be dashed against it, do you
think?"

"We can't be wrecked," Neale answered her. "This is a well built boat.
But we may have to go ashore in the rain, and it's best for the children
to be dressed."

"I'll tell them!" cried Ruth, and she descended, glad to be in out of
the storm that was increasing in violence every moment. That little time
she was exposed to it almost drenched her. Neale's rubber coat was a
great protection to him.

The boy gave one quick look around. The wind was blowing about over the
deck a number of camp stools that had been left out, but he reasoned
that they would be caught and held by the rope network about the deck.
Neale's chief anxiety was about the anchor.

The cable to which this was bent was made fast to a cleat on the lower
deck, and as the lad made his way there by an outside stairway he heard
some one walking on the deck he had just quitted.

"I guess that's Hank," Neale reasoned.

The boy was pulling at the anchor rope when he heard Hank's voice near
him asking:

"What's the matter, Neale?"

"We're either dragging our anchor or the cable's cut," answered the lad.
And then, as the rope came dripping through his hands, offering no
resistance to the pull, he realized what had happened. The anchor was
gone! It had slipped the cable or been cut loose. Just which did not so
much matter now, as did the fact that there was nothing to hold the
_Bluebird_ against the fury of the gale.

Realizing this, Neale did not pull the cable up to the end. He had found
out what he wanted to know--that the anchor was off it and somewhere on
the bottom of the lake. He next turned his attention to the boat.

"We're drifting!" he cried to Hank. "We've got to start the motor, and
see if we can head up into the wind. You go to that and I'll take the
wheel!"

"All right," agreed the mule driver. "This is some storm!" he added,
bending his head to the blast of the wind and the drive of the rain.

It was growing worse every moment, Neale realized. Buttoned as his
rubber coat was, the lower part blew open every now and then, drenching
his bare legs.

As the boy hurried to the upper deck again to take command of the
steering wheel, he heard from within the _Bluebird_ sounds which told
him the Corner House girls, their guardian, and Mrs. MacCall were
getting up. The voices of Tess and Dot could be heard, excited and
somewhat frightened.

"The only real danger," thought Neale to himself, "is that we may hit a
rock or something, and stave a hole in us. In that case we'd sink, I
guess, and this lake is deep."

But he had not told Ruth that danger. He grasped the spokes of the wheel
firmly, and waited for the vibration that would tell him Hank had
started the motor. And as he waited he had to face the wind and rain,
and listen to the vibrating thunder, the while he was almost blinded by
the vivid lightning. It was one of those fierce summer storms, and the
temperature took a sudden drop so that Neale was chilled through.

"Why doesn't Hank start that motor?" impatiently thought the lad. "We're
drifting fast and that big island must be somewhere in this
neighborhood. I wonder how close it is? If we hit that going like
this--good-night!"

A vivid flash of light split the darkness like a dagger of flame and
revealed the heaving tumultuous lake all about, the waters whipped and
lashed into foam by the sudden wind. Storms came up quickly on Lake
Macopic, due to the exposed situation of the body of water, and there
were often fatalities caused by boats being caught unprepared.

Just as Neale was going to take a chance and hurry below to see what was
delaying Hank, there came the vibration of the craft which told that the
motor had been started.

"Now we'll get somewhere," cried Neale aloud. "I think I'd better head
into the wind and try to make shore. If I can get her under the shelter
of that bluff we passed this afternoon, it will be the best for all of
us."

He swung the wheel around, noting that the _Bluebird_ answered to the
helm, and then he dashed the water from his face with a motion of his
head, shaking back his hair. As the craft gathered speed a figure came
up the stairs and emerged on deck. It fought its way across the deck to
the wheel and a voice asked:

"Are we making progress, Neale?"

[Illustration: "You shouldn't have come here, Aggie!" he cried,
above the noise of the storm.]

"Oh, yes! But you shouldn't have come up here, Aggie!" he cried, above
the noise of the storm. "You'll be drenched!"

"No, I have on Mr. Howbridge's raincoat. I made him and Ruthie let me
come up here to help you. You certainly need help in this emergency."

"It's an emergency all right!" declared Neale. "But we may come out of
it safely."

"Can't I help you steer?" asked Agnes. "I know how."

"Yes, you may help. I'm trying to make--"

Neale never finished that sentence. A moment later there was a jar that
made him and Agnes stagger, and then the _Bluebird_ ceased to progress
under the power of her motor and was again being blown before the fury
of the storm.



CHAPTER XXII

ON THE ISLAND


"What's the matter? What has happened?" cried Agnes, clinging partly to
Neale and partly to the wheel to preserve her balance. "Are we sinking?"

"Oh, no," he answered. "We either struck something, or the motor has
gone bad and stopped. I think it's the last. I'd better go and see."

"I'll take the wheel," Agnes offered.

"You don't need to," said her companion. "She had no steerageway on her;
and you might as well keep out of the storm. The rain is fierce!"

Agnes decided to take this advice, since staying on deck now would do no
good and Neale was going below.

Neale raced to the motor room, where he found Hank ruefully
contemplating the silent engine.

"What's the matter?" asked Neale. "Is she broken?"

"Busted, or something," was the answer. "If this was a mule, now, I
could argue with it. But I don't know enough about motors to take any
chances. All I know is she was going all right, and then she suddenly
laid down on me--stopped dead."

"Yes, I felt it," returned Neale. "Well, we'll have to see what the
trouble is."

Agnes had gone into the main cabin where she found her sisters and Mr.
Howbridge. Mrs. MacCall, in a nightcap she had forgotten to remove, was
sitting in one corner.

"Oh, the perils o' the deep! The perils o' the deep!" she murmured. "The
salty seas will snatch us fra the land o' the livin'!"

"Nonsense!" exclaimed Mr. Howbridge, for he saw that Dot and Tess were
getting frightened by the fear of the Scotch housekeeper's words. "Lake
Macopic isn't salty, and it isn't deep. We'll be all right in a little
while. Here's Agnes back to tell us so," he added with a smile at his
ward. "What of the night, Watchman?" he asked in a bantering tone.

"Well, it isn't a very pleasant night," Agnes was forced to admit.

"Why aren't we moving?" asked Tess. "We were moving and now we have
stopped."

"Neale has gone to see, Tess. He will have things in shape before long,"
was Agnes' not very confident reply.

"Well, we're nice and snug here," said Ruth, guessing that something was
wrong, and joining forces with Agnes in keeping it from Mrs. MacCall and
the younger children. "We are snug and dry here."

"I think I'll go and give the sailors a hand," Mr. Howbridge said.
"Ruth, you tell these little teases a story," he said as he shifted Dot
out of his lap and to a couch where he covered her with a blanket.

"I'll get this wet coat off," remarked Agnes. "My, but it does rain!"
She passed Mr. Howbridge his coat.

Ruth took her place as mistress of the little household of Corner House
girls--mother to the three parentless sisters who depended so much on
her.

"And now, children, for the story!" she said. "What shall it be about?"

This took the attention of Tess and Dot off their worries, and though
the wind still howled and the rain dashed against the windows of the
_Bluebird_, they heeded it not.

Meanwhile Mr. Howbridge had made his way to the motor room where a sound
of hammering on iron told him that efforts to make repairs were under
way.

"What is it, boys?" he asked as he saw Neale and Hank busy over the
motor.

"A wrench was jarred loose and fell into the flywheel pit," explained
Neale. "It stopped the motor suddenly, and until we get it loose we
can't move the machinery. We're trying to knock it out."

"Need any help?" asked the lawyer, who had donned an old suit of
clothing.

"I think we can manage," said Neale. "But you might take a look outside
and see what's happening. That is, besides the storm. We can hear that."

"Yes, it seems to insist on being heard," agreed the guardian of the
girls. "You say the anchor is dragging, Neale?"

"No, it's gone completely. At the bottom of the lake somewhere. I didn't
have a chance to examine the end of the cable to see if it was cut or
not."

"Cut!" exclaimed the lawyer in surprise.

"Well, it may have been cut by--accident," went on Neale, with a meaning
look which Mr. Howbridge understood.

"I'll find out," was the comment, and then the lawyer went out into the
rain while Neale and the mule driver resumed their labors to loosen the
monkey wrench which was jammed under the flywheel, thus effectually
preventing the motor from operating.

Mr. Howbridge made his way along the lower deck until he came to where
the anchor cable was made fast to the holding cleat. He pulled up the
dripping rope, hand over hand, until he had the end on deck.

A lightning flash served to show him that the end was partly cut and
partly frayed through.

"It may have chafed on a sunken rock or been partly cut on the edge of
something under water," thought the lawyer. "At any rate the anchor is
gone, and unless I can bend on a spare one we've got to drift until they
can get the motor going. I wonder if I can find a spare anchor. Captain
Leed said nothing about one when he turned the boat over to me."

Stumbling about the deck in the rain, storm and darkness, the lawyer
sought for a possible spare anchor. Meanwhile Ruth kept up the spirits
of her two smallest sisters and Mrs. MacCall by gayly telling stories.
She was a true "little mother," and in this instance she well deserved
the appellations of both "Martha" and "Minerva."

Fortunate it was for the Corner House girls that the _Bluebird_ was a
staunch craft, broad of beam and stout in her bottom planks. Otherwise
she never would have weathered the storm that had her in its grip.

Lake Macopic was subject to these sudden outbursts of the furious
elements. It was surrounded by hills, and through the intervening
valleys currents of air swept down, lashing the waters into big waves.
Sailing craft are more at the mercy of the wind and water than are power
boats, but when these last have lost their ability to progress they are
in worse plight than the other craft, being less substantial in build.

But the _Bluebird_ was not exactly of either of these types. In fact the
craft on which the Corner House girls were voyaging was merely a big
scow with a broad, flat bottom and a superstructure made into the
semblance of a house on shore--with limitations, of course. It would be
practically impossible to tip over the craft. The worst that could
happen, and it would be a sufficient disaster, would be that a hole
might be stove in the barge-like hull which would fill, and thus sink
the boat. And the lake was deep enough in many places to engulf the
_Bluebird_.

Mr. Howbridge realized this as he stumbled about the lower deck, looking
for something that would serve as an anchor. He soon came to the
conclusion that there was not a spare one on board, for had there been
it naturally would have been in plain view to be ready for use in
emergencies.

Having made a circuit of the deck, not finding anything that could be
used, Mr. Howbridge debated with himself what he had better do next. He
stepped into a small storeroom in the stern of the craft above the motor
compartment where Neale and Hank were working, and there the lawyer
flashed the pocket electric torch he carried. It gave him a view of a
heterogeneous collection of articles, and when he saw a heavy piece of
iron his eyes lightened.

"This may do for an anchor," he said. "I'll fasten it on the rope and
heave it overboard."

But when he tried to move it alone he found it was beyond his strength.
He could almost manage it, but a little more strength was needed.

"I'll have to get Neale or Hank," mused Mr. Howbridge. "But I hate to
ask them to stop. The safety of the _Bluebird_ may depend on how quickly
they get the motor started. And yet--"

He heard some one approaching along the lower deck and a moment later a
flash of lightning revealed to him Ruth.

"I heard some one in here," said the Corner House girl, "and I came to
see who it was. I thought maybe the door had blown open and was
banging."

"I was looking for an anchor, and I have found one, though I can't move
it alone," the lawyer said. "But why have you left your sisters?"

"Because Mrs. Mac is telling them a Scotch story. She has managed to
interest them, and, at the same time, she is forgetting her own
troubles. So I came out. Let me help move the anchor, or whatever it
is."

"Spoken like Martha!" said Mr. Howbridge. "Well, perhaps your added
strength will be just what is needed. But you must be careful not to
strain yourself," he added, anxiously.

"I am no baby!" exclaimed Ruth. "I want to help! Where is it?"

Flashing his light again, her guardian showed her, and then, while the
wind seemed to howl in fiercer fury, if that were possible, and while
the rain beat down like hail-pellets, they managed to drag out on deck
the heavy piece of iron, which seemed to be some part of a machine.

The storeroom opened on that side of the deck where the superstructure
of the houseboat gave some shelter, and, working in this, Ruth and Mr.
Howbridge managed to get the frayed end of the anchor rope attached to
the heavy iron.

"Now if we can heave this overboard it may save us from drifting on the
rocks until Neale and Hank can get the engine to working again," said
the lawyer.

"We'll try!" exclaimed Ruth. Her guardian caught a glimpse of her face
as the skies flashed forth into flame again. Her lips were parted from
her rapid breathing, revealing her white teeth, and even in the stress
and fury of the storm Mr. Howbridge could not but admire her. Though no
one ever called Ruth Kenway pretty, there was an undeniable charm about
her, and that had been greater, her guardian thought, ever since the day
of Luke Shepard's entrance into her life.

"It's our last hope, and a forlorn one," Mr. Howbridge said dubiously,
looking at their anchor.

Together they managed to drag the heavy piece of iron to the edge of the
deck. Then, making sure the rope was fast about the cleat, they heaved
the improvised anchor over the side. It fell into Lake Macopic with a
great splash.

"What was that?" cried Neale, coming out on deck, followed by Agnes, who
had been down watching him work at the engine.

"Our new anchor," replied the lawyer. "It may serve to hold us if you
can't get the engine to working," and he explained what he and Ruth had
done.

"Good!" exclaimed Neale. "I hope it does hold, for it doesn't seem as if
we were going to get that monkey wrench out in a hurry. I'm looking for
a long bar of iron to see if we can use it as a lever."

"There may be one in the storeroom where we found the anchor," remarked
Ruth.

"I'll have a look."

The _Bluebird_ was not living up to her name. Instead of skimming more
or less lightly over the surface of the lake she was rolling to and fro
in the trough of the waves, which were really high. Now and then the
crest of some comber broke over the snub bow of the craft, sending back
the spray in a shower that rattled on the front windows of the cabin.

Anxiously the four on deck waited to see the effect of the anchor. If it
held, catching on the bottom of the lake, it would mean a partial
solution of their troubles. If it dragged--

Neale hastened to the side and looked down at the anchor cable. It was
taut, showing that the weight had not slipped off. But the drift of the
boat was not checked.

"Why doesn't it hold?" asked Ruth.

"Is it dragging?" came from the lawyer.

"I don't believe it is touching bottom," replied Neale. "I'm afraid the
rope is too short. We are moving faster than before."

Just as he spoke there came a vivid flash of lightning. Involuntarily
they all shrank. It seemed as though they were about to be blasted where
they stood. And then, as a great crash followed, they trembled with the
vibration of its rumble.

The next instant Ruth and Agnes cried simultaneously:

"Look! We're being blown ashore!"

Neale and Mr. Howbridge peered through the darkness. Another lightning
flash showed their peril.

"We're going to hit the island!" shouted Neale.

A few seconds later the wind blew the _Bluebird_, beams-on, upon a rocky
shore.



CHAPTER XXIII

SUSPICIONS


The shock of the sudden stop, the tilting of the craft, which was
sharply careened to one side, the howl of the wind, the rumble of the
thunder, the flash of the lightning, and the dash of the rain--all these
combined to make the position of those aboard the _Bluebird_ anything
but enviable.

"Are we lost! Oh, are we lost?" cried Mrs. MacCall, rushing out of the
cabin. "Ha the seas engulfed us?"

"No, nothing of the sort!" answered Mr. Howbridge. "Please don't get
excited, and go back to the children. We are all right!"

"Yes, I believe we are," added Neale, as another flash showed what had
happened. "At least we are in no danger of sinking now."

For they had been sent before the fury of the storm straight upon the
rocky shore of one of the large islands of Lake Macopic. And there the
houseboat came to rest.

As Neale had said, all danger of foundering was passed, and in case of
need they could easily escape to substantial land, though it was but an
island. But tilted as the _Bluebird_ was, forming a less comfortable
abode than formerly, she offered a better place to stay than did the
woods of the island, bending as they were now to the fierce wind, and
drenched as they were in the pelting rain.

"We're here for the night, at least," said Neale, as the continued
lightning revealed more fully what had happened. "We shall not drift any
more, and though there's a lot of excitement going on, I guess we can
keep dry."

He and Mr. Howbridge, with Ruth and Agnes, stood out on the open, lower
deck, but there was a shelter over their heads and the sides of the
house part of the boat kept the rain from them. The storm was coming
from the west, and they had been blown on the weather side of the
island. The lee shore was on the other side. There they would have been
sheltered, but they could not choose their situation.

"We'd better take a turn with a rope around a tree or two," suggested
Hank, as he came up to join the little party. "No use drifting off
again."

"You're right," agreed Neale. "And then we can turn in and wait for
morning. I only hope--"

"What?" asked Agnes, as he hesitated.

"I hope it clears," Neale finished. But what he had been going to say
was that he hoped no holes would be stove in the hull of the boat.

It was no easy task for him and Hank to get two lines ashore--from bow
and stern--and fasten them to trees. But eventually it was accomplished.
Then, as if it had worked its worst, the storm appeared to decrease in
violence and it was possible to get a little rest.

However, before turning in again, Mrs. MacCall insisted on making a pot
of tea for the older folk, while the small children were given some
bread and milk. As the berths where Dot and Tess had been sleeping were
uncomfortably tilted by the listing of the boat, the little girls were
given the places occupied by Ruth and Agnes, who managed to make shift
to get some rest in the slanting beds.

"Whew!" exclaimed Neale as he went to his room when all that was
possible had been done, "this has been some night!"

As might have been expected, the morning broke clear, warm and sunny,
and the only trace of the storm was in the rather high waves of the
lake. Before Mrs. MacCall served breakfast Neale, Mr. Howbridge, Agnes
and Ruth went ashore, an easy matter, since the _Bluebird_ was stranded,
and made an examination. They found their craft so firmly fixed on the
rocky shore that help would be needed before she could be floated.

"But how are we going to get help?" asked Ruth.

"Oh, there may be fishermen living on this island," said Mr. Howbridge.
"We'll make a tour and see."

"And if there is none," added Neale, "Hank or I can row over to the next
nearest island or to the mainland and bring back some men."

The _Bluebird_ carried on her afterdeck a small skiff to be used in
making trips to and from the craft when she was at anchor out in some
stream or lake. This boat would be available for the journey to the
mainland or to another island.

An examination showed that the houseboat was not damaged more than
superficially, and after a hearty breakfast, Neale and Mr. Howbridge
held a consultation with Ruth and Agnes.

"What we had better do is this," said the lawyer. "We had better turn
our energies in two ways. One toward getting the disabled motor in
shape, and the other toward seeking help to put us afloat once more."

"Hank can work on the motor," decided Neale. "All it needs is to have
the monkey wrench taken out of the pit. In fact the space is so cramped
that only one can work to advantage at a time. That will leave me free
to go ashore in the boat."

"Why not try this island first?" asked Ruth. "If there are any fishermen
here they could help us get afloat, and it would save time. It is quite
a distance to the main shore or even to the next island."

"Yes, it is," agreed Neale. "But I don't mind the row."

"It is still rough," put in Agnes, looking over the heaving lake.

"Then I think the best thing to do," said Mr. Howbridge, "is for some of
us to go ashore and see if we can find any men to help us. Three or four
of them, with long poles, could pry the _Bluebird_ off the rocks and
into the water again."

"Oh, do let's go ashore!" cried Agnes, and Tess and Dot, coming up just
then, echoed this.

Mrs. MacCall did not care to go, saying she would prepare dinner for
them. Hank took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and started to work
on the motor, while the others began their island explorations.

The houseboat had been blown on one of the largest bits of wooded land
that studded Lake Macopic. In fact it was so large and wild that after
half an hour's walk no sign of habitation or inhabitants had been seen.

"Looks to be deserted," said Neale. "I guess I'll have to make the trip
to the mainland after all."

"Perhaps," agreed the lawyer, while Ruth called to Tess and Dot not to
stray too far off in their eagerness to see all there was to be seen in
the strange woods. "Well, we are in no special rush, and while our
position is not altogether comfortable on board the _Bluebird_, the
relief from the storm is grateful. I wonder--"

"Hark!" suddenly whispered Ruth, holding up a hand to enjoin silence. "I
hear voices!"

They all heard them a moment later.

"I guess some one lives here after all," remarked Mr. Howbridge. "The
talk seems to come from just beyond us."

"Let's follow this path," suggested Neale, pointing to a fairly well
defined one amid the trees. It skirted the shore, swung down into a
little hollow, and then emerged on the bank of a small cove which formed
a natural harbor for a small motor boat.

And a motor boat was at that moment in the sheltered cove. All in the
party saw it, and they also saw something else. This was a view of two
roughly dressed men, who, at the sound of crackling branches and
rustling leaves beneath the feet of the explorers, looked up quickly.

"It's them again! Come on!" quickly cried one of the men, and in an
instant they had jumped into the motor boat which was tied to a tree
near shore.

It was the work of but a moment for one of them to turn over the
flywheel and start the motor. The other cast off, and in less than a
minute from the time the Corner House girls and their friends had
glimpsed them the two ragged men were on their way in their boat out of
the cove.

"Look! Look!" cried Ruth, pointing at them. "They're the same ones!"

"The men we saw at the lock?" asked Neale.

"Yes, and the men who robbed us--I am almost positive of that!" cried
the oldest Corner House girl.

"The rascals!" exclaimed the lawyer. "They're going to escape us again!
Fate seems to be with them! Every time we come upon them they manage to
distance us!"

This was what was happening now. The tramps--such they seemed to be,
though the possession of a motor boat took them out of the ordinary
class--with never a look behind, speeded away.

"How provoking!" cried Agnes. "To think they have our jewelry and we
can't make them give it up."

"You are not sure they have it," said Mr. Howbridge, as the motor craft
passed out of sight beyond a tree-fringed point.

"I think I am," said Ruth. "If they are not guilty why do they always
hurry away when they see us?"

"Well, Minerva, that is a question I can not answer," said her guardian,
with a smile. "You are a better lawyer than I when it comes to that.
Certainly it does look suspicious."

"Oh, for a motor boat!" sighed Neale. "I'd like to chase those rascals!"

"Yes, it would be interesting to find out why they seem to fear us,"
agreed Mr. Howbridge. "But it's too late, now."

"I wonder why they came to this island," mused Ruth. "Do you think they
were fishermen?"

"They didn't have any implements of the trade," said Mr. Howbridge. "But
their presence proves that the island is not altogether uninhabited.
Let's go along, and we may find some one to help get the boat back into
the water."

They resumed their journey, new beauties of nature being revealed at
every step. The trees and grass were particularly green after the
effective washing of the night before, and there were many wild flowers
which the two little girls gathered, with many exclamations of delight.

Turning with the path, the trampers suddenly came to a small clearing
amid the trees. It was a little grassy glade, through which flowed a
stream of water, doubtless from some hidden spring higher up among the
rocks. But what most interested Neale, Agnes, Ruth and the lawyer was a
small cabin that stood in the middle of the beautiful green grass.

"There's a house!" cried Dot. "Look!"

"It's the start of one, anyhow," agreed Mr. Howbridge.

"And somebody lives in it," went on Ruth, as the door of the cabin
opened and a heavily bearded man came out, followed by a dog. The dog
ran, barking, toward the explorers, but a command from the man brought
him back.

"I hope we aren't trespassing," said Mr. Howbridge. "We were blown on
the island last night, and we're looking for help to get our houseboat
back into the lake."

"Oh, no, you aren't trespassing," the man replied with a smile, showing
two rows of white teeth that contrasted strangely with his black beard.
"I own part of the island, but not all of it. What sort of boat did you
say?"

"Houseboat," and the lawyer explained the trouble. "Are there men here
we can get to help us pole her off the shore?" he asked.

"Well, I guess I and my two boys could give you a hand," was the slow
answer. "They've gone over to the mainland with some fish to sell, but
they'll be back around noon."

"We'll be glad of their help," went on the lawyer. "Do you live here all
the while?"

"Mostly. I and my boys fish and guide. Lots of men come here in the
summer that don't know where to fish, and we take 'em out."

"Were those your two sons we saw in a motor boat back there in the
cove?" asked Neale, indicating the place where the tramps had been
observed. Rather anxiously the bearded man's answer was awaited.

"What sort of boat was it?" he countered.

Neale described it sufficiently well.

"No, those weren't my boys," returned the man, while the dog made
friends with the visitors, much to the delight of Dot and Tess. "We
haven't any such boat as that. I don't know who those fellows could be,
though of course many people come to this island."

"I wish we could find out who those men are," said Mr. Howbridge. "I
have peculiar reasons for wanting to know," he went on.

"I think they call themselves Klondikers, because they have been, or
claim to have been, to the Alaskan Klondike," said Neale. "Do you happen
to know any Klondikers around here?"

Somewhat to the surprise of the boy the answer came promptly:

"Yes, I do. A man named O'Neil."

"What!" exclaimed Neale, starting forward. "Do you know my father? Where
is he? Tell me about him!"

"Well, I don't know that he's your father," went on the black-bearded
man. "Though, now I recollect, he did say he had a son and he hoped to
see him soon. But this O'Neil lives on one of the islands here in the
lake. Or at least he's been staying there the last week. He bought some
fish of me, and he said then he'd been to the Klondike after gold."

"Did he say he got any?" asked Neale.

The man of the cabin shook his head.

"I wouldn't say so," he remarked. "Mr. O'Neil had to borrow money of one
of my boys to hire a boat. I guess he's poorer than the general run. He
couldn't have got any gold in the Klondike."

At this answer Neale's heart sank, and a worried suspicion crept into
his mind. If his father were poor it might explain something that had
been troubling the boy of late. Somehow, all the brightness seemed to go
out of the day. Neale's happy prospects appeared very dim now.

"Poor father!" he murmured to himself.

Suddenly, from the lake behind them came some loud shouts, at which the
dog began to bark. Then followed a shot, and the animal raced down the
slope toward the water.



CHAPTER XXIV

CLOSING IN


"Perhaps these are the men!" exclaimed Ruth to the lawyer.

"What men?" he asked.

"Those tramps--the ones who robbed us in the rain storm that day. If
they come here--"

"What's the matter?" asked the man of the cabin--Aleck Martin he had
said his name was. "What seems to be the trouble with the young lady?"
And, as he spoke, gazing at Ruth, the barking of the dog and the
shouting grew apace.

"She is excited, thinking the rascals about whom we have been inquiring
might now make their appearance," Mr. Howbridge answered.

"Mr. Martin laughed so heartily that his black beard waved up and down
like a bush in the wind, and Dot and Tess watched it in fascination.

"Excuse me, friend," the dweller in the cabin went on, "but I couldn't
help it. Those are my two boys coming back. They always cut up like
that. Seems like the quietness of the lake and this island gets on their
nerves sometimes, and they have to raise a ruction. No harm in it, not a
bit. Jack, the dog, enjoys it as much as they do."

This was evident a few moments later, for up the slope came two sturdy
young men, one carrying a gun, and the dog was frisking about between
the two, having the jolliest time imaginable.

"There are my boys!" said Mr. Martin, and he spoke with pride.

"Oh, will you excuse me?" asked Ruth, in some confusion.

"That's all right--they do look like tramps," said their father. "But
you can't wear your best clothes fussing around boats and fish and
taking parties out. Well, Tom and Henry, any luck?" he asked the
newcomers.

"Extra fine, Dad," answered one, while both of them stared curiously at
the visitors.

"That's good," went on Mr. Martin. "These folks," he added, "were blown
ashore last night in their houseboat. They want help to get it off."

"Will you go and look at her, and then we can make a bargain?"
interposed Mr. Howbridge.

"Oh, shucks now, friend, we aren't always out for money, though we make
a living by working for summer folks like you," said Mr. Martin,
smiling.

"Is that your boat over there?" asked one of the young men whose name,
they learned later, was Tom.

"Yes," assented Neale, for the fisherman pointed in the direction of the
stranded _Bluebird_, which, however, could not be seen from the cabin.

"We saw her as we came around," went on Henry. "I wondered what she was
doing up on shore, and we intended to have a look after we tied up our
craft."

"Will you be able to help us get her afloat?" asked Ruth, for she rather
liked the healthful, manly appearance of the two young men.

"Sure!" assented their father. "This is that O'Neil man's son," he went
on, speaking to his boys.

"What, O'Neil; the Klondiker?" asked Tom quickly.

"Yes," assented Neale. "Can you tell me about him? Where is he? How did
he make out in Alaska?"

"Well, he's on an island about ten miles from here," was the answer of
Henry. "As for making out, I don't believe he did very well in the gold
business, to tell you the truth. He doesn't say much about it, but I
guess the other men got most of it."

"What other men?" asked Neale, and again his heart sank and that
terrible suspicion came back to him.

"Oh, a bunch he is in with," answered Henry Martin. "They all live
together in a shack on Cedar Island. Your father hired a boat of us. I
trusted him for it, as he said he had no ready cash. But I reckon it's
all right."

This only served to make Neale more uneasy. He had been hoping against
hope that his father would have found at least a competence in the
Klondike.

Now it seemed he had not, and, driven by poverty, he might have adopted
desperate measures. Nor did Neale like the remarks about his father
being in with a "bunch" of men. True, Mr. O'Neil had been in the circus
at one time, and they, of necessity, are a class of rough and ready men.
But they are honest, Neale reflected. These other men--if the two who
had escaped in the motor boat were any samples--were not to be trusted.

So it was with falling spirits that the boy waited for what was to
happen next.

Agnes' quick mind and ready sympathy guessed Neale's thoughts.

"It will be all right, Neale O'Neil. You know it will. Your father
couldn't go wrong."

"You're a pal worth having, Aggie," he whispered to the girl.

"I would like to see my father," he said to the lawyer. "Do you think we
could go to Cedar Island in the houseboat?"

"Of course we can!" exclaimed Mr. Howbridge. "We'll go as soon as we can
get her afloat."

"And that won't take long; she didn't seem to be in a bad position,"
said Tom. "Come on, we'll go over now," he went on, nodding to his
father and his brother.

"I have an Alice-doll on the boat," said Dot, taking a sudden liking to
Henry.

"You have?" he exclaimed, taking hold of her hand which she thrust
confidingly into his. "Well, that's fine! I wish I had a doll!"

"Do you?" asked Dot, all smiles now. "Well, I have a lot of 'em at home.
There's Muriel and Bonnie Betty and a sailor boy doll, and Nosmo King
Kenway, and then I have twins--Ann Eliza and Eliza Ann, and--"

"Eliza Ann isn't a twin any more--anyway not a good twin," put in Tess.
"Both her legs are off!"

"Oh, that's too bad!" exclaimed Henry sympathetically.

"And if you want a doll, I can give you one of mine," proceeded Dot.
"Only I don't want to give you Alice-doll 'cause she's all I have with
me. But if you want Muriel--"

"Muriel has only one eye," said Tess quickly.

"I think I should love a one-eyed doll!" said the young man, who seemed
to know just how to talk to children.

"Then I'll send her to you!" delightedly offered Dot.

"And I'll send you one of Almira's kittens!" said Tess, who did not seem
to want her sister to do all the giving.

"Hold on there! Don't I get anything?" asked Tom, in mock distress.

"Almira's got a lot of kittens," said Dot. "Would you like one of them?"

"Well I should say so! If Henry's going to have a kitten and a doll, I
think I ought at least to have a kitten," he said.

"Well, I'll send you one," promised Tess.

And then, with the two children, one in charge of Henry and the other
holding Tom's hand, the trip was made back to where the _Bluebird_ was
stranded.

"It won't be much of a job to get her off," declared Mr. Martin, when he
and his sons had made an expert examination. "Get some long poles, boys,
and some blocks, and I think half an hour's work will do the trick."

"Oh, shall we be able to move soon?" asked Mrs. MacCall, coming out on
deck.

"We hope so," answered Ruth, as she went on board and told of the visit
to the cabin, while Neale hurried to the engine room to see what success
Hank had met with. The mule driver had succeeded in getting the monkey
wrench out from under the flywheel, and the craft could move under her
own power once she was afloat.

"What's the matter with Neale?" asked Mrs. MacCall, while the men were
in the woods getting the poles. "He looks as if all the joy had departed
from life."

"I'm afraid it has, for him," said Ruth soberly. "It seems that his
father is located near here--on Cedar Island--and is poor."

"Nothing in that to take the joy out of life!" And Mrs. MacCall strode
away.

"Well, being poor isn't anything," declared Agnes. "Lots of people are
poor. We were, before Uncle Peter Stower left us the Corner House."

"I think Neale fears his father may have had something to do with-- Oh,
Agnes, I hate to say it, but I think Neale believes his father either
robbed us, or knows something about the men who took the jewelry box!"

"But we know it isn't true!" exclaimed Agnes.

"Anyway, the Klondike trip was a failure."

"Yes, and I'm so sorry!" exclaimed Agnes. "Couldn't we help--"

"I think we shall just have to wait," advised her sister. "We can talk
to Mr. Howbridge about it after we find out more. I think they are going
to move the boat now."

This task was undertaken, and to such good advantage did Mr. Martin and
his sons work, aided, of course, by Neale, Mr. Howbridge and Hank, that
the _Bluebird_ was soon afloat again.

"Now we can go on, and when I get back home I'll send you a doll and a
pussy cat!" offered Dot to Henry.

"And I'll send you two pussy cats!" Tess said to Tom.

The young men laughed, their father joining in.

"How much do I owe you?" asked the lawyer, when it was certain that the
houseboat was afloat, undamaged, and could proceed on her way.

"Not a cent!" was the hearty answer of Mr. Martin. "We always help our
neighbors up here, and you were neighbors for a while," he added with a
laugh.

"Well, I'm a thousand times obliged to you," said the guardian of the
Corner House girls. "Our trip might have been spoiled if we couldn't
have gone on, though I must say you have a delightful resting spot in
this island."

"We like it here," admitted the fisherman, while his sons were looking
over the houseboat, which they pronounced "slick."

Neale seemed to have lost heart and spirit. Dot and Tess, of course, did
not notice it so much, as there was plenty to occupy them. But to Ruth
and Agnes, as well as to Mr. Howbridge, Neale's dejection was very
evident.

"Is the motor all right?" asked the lawyer of Neale, when the Martins
had departed with their dog.

"Yes, she runs all right now."

"Then we might as well head for Cedar Island," suggested the lawyer.
"The sooner you find your father the better."

"Yes--I suppose so," and Neale turned away to hide his sudden emotion.

Once more the _Bluebird_ was under way, moving slowly over the sparkling
waters of Lake Macopic. All traces of the storm had vanished.

"Mrs. Mac wants to know if we are going to pass any stores," said Agnes,
coming up on deck when the island on which they had been stranded had
been left behind.

"We can run over to the mainland if she wants us to," the lawyer said.
"Is it anything important, Agnes?"

"Only some things to eat."

"Well, that's important enough!" he laughed. "We'll stop at that point
over there," and he indicated one. "From there we can make a straight
run to Cedar Island. You won't mind the delay, will you?" he asked
Neale, who was steering.

"Oh, no," was the indifferent answer. "I guess there's no hurry."

They all felt sorry for the lad, but decided nothing could be done. Mr.
Howbridge admitted, after Ruth had spoken to him, that matters looked
black for Mr. O'Neil, but with his legal wisdom the lawyer said:

"Don't bring in a verdict of guilty until you have heard all the
evidence. It is only fair to suspend judgment. It would be cruel to
raise Neale's hopes, only to dash them again, but I am hoping for the
best."

This comforted Ruth and Agnes a little; though of course Agnes, in her
loyalty to Neale, did not allow doubt to enter her mind.

The point for which the boat was headed was a little settlement on the
lake shore. It was also the center of a summer colony, and was a lively
place just at present, this being the height of the season.

At the point were a number of stores, and it was there the supplies for
the Scotch housekeeper could be purchased. Ruth and Agnes had made their
selections and the things were being put on board when a number of men
were observed coming down the long dock.

One of them wore a nickel badge on the outside of his coat, and seemed
to have an air of authority. Neale, who had been below helping Hank
store away some supplies of oil and gasoline that had been purchased,
came out on deck, and, with the girls and Mr. Howbridge, watched the
approach of the men.

"Looks like a constable or sheriff's officer with a posse," commented
Ruth. "It reminds me of a scene I saw in the movies."

"It is an officer--I know him," said Mr. Howbridge in a low voice. "He
once worked on a case for me several years ago. That's Bob
Newcomb--quite a character in his way. I wonder if he remembers me."

This point was settled a moment later, for the officer--he with the
nickel badge of authority--looked up and his face lightened when he saw
the lawyer.

"Well, if it ain't Mr. Howbridge!" exclaimed Mr. Newcomb. "Well now,
sufferin' caterpillers, this is providential! Is that your boat?" he
asked, halting his force by a wave of his hand.

"I may say I control it," was the answer. "Why do you ask?"

"'Cause then there won't be no unfriendly feelin' if I act in the
performance of my duty," went on the constable, for such he was. "I'll
have to take possession of your craft in the name of the law."

"What do you mean?" asked Mr. Howbridge, rather sharply. "Is this craft
libeled? All bills are paid, and I am in legal possession. I have a bill
of sale and this boat is to be delivered to a client of mine--"

"There you go! There you go! Ready to fight at the drop of the hat!"
chuckled the constable. "Just like you did before when I worked on that
timber land case with you. But there's no occasion to get roiled up, Mr.
Howbridge. I only want to take temporary possession of your boat in the
name of the law. All I want to have is a ride for me and my posse. We're
on the business of the law, and you, being a lawyer, know what that
means. I call on you, as a good citizen, to aid, as I've got a right to
do."

"I recognize that," said the lawyer, now smiling, and glancing at Ruth
and the others to show everything was all right. "But what's the game?"

"Robbery's the game!" came the stern answer. "We're going to round up
and close in on a band of tramps, robbers and other criminals! They have
a camp on an island, and they've been robbin' hen roosts and doin' other
things in this community until this community has got good and sick of
it. Then they called in the law--that's me and my posse," he added,
waving his hand toward the men back of him. "The citizens called in the
law, represented by me, and I am going to chase the rascals out!"

"Very good," assented Mr. Howbridge. "I'm willing to help, as all good
citizens should. But what am I to do? Where do I come in?"

"You're going to lend us that boat," said Constable Newcomb. "It's the
only large one handy just now, and we don't want to lose any time. As
soon as I saw you put into the dock I made up my mind I'd commandeer the
craft. That's the proper term, ain't it?" he asked.

"Yes," assented the lawyer, smiling, "I believe it is. So you want to
commandeer the _Bluebird_."

"To take me and my posse over to Cedar Island, and there to close in on
a bunch of Klondikers!" went on the constable, and Neale, hearing it,
gave a startled cry.

"Anybody on board that's afraid to come may stay at home," said the
constable quickly. "I mean they can get off the boat. But we've got to
have the craft to get to the island. Now then, Mr. Howbridge, will you
help?"

"Certainly. As a matter of law I have to," answered the lawyer slowly.

"And will you help, and you?" went on the constable, looking in turn at
Neale and Hank, who were on deck. "I call upon you in the name of the
law."

"Yes, they'll help," said Mr. Howbridge quickly. "Don't object or say
anything," he added to Neale in a low voice. "Leave everything to me!"

"Fall in! Get on board! We'll close in on the rascals!" cried the
constable, very well pleased that he could issue orders.

Neale's heart was torn with doubts.



CHAPTER XXV

THE CAPTURE


Constable Newcomb and his posse disposed themselves comfortably aboard
the _Bluebird_, and, at a nod from Mr. Howbridge, Neale rang the bell to
tell Hank to throw in the gear clutch and start the boat.

The girls, much to Agnes' dissatisfaction, had been left ashore, since
there was likely to be rough work arresting the "Klondikers," as the
constable called the tramps on Cedar Island. Mrs. MacCall stayed with
them.

They had disembarked at the point dock and when the boat pulled off went
to the hotel there to await the return of their friends.

"Now, Mr. Newcomb, perhaps you can explain what it's all about,"
suggested the lawyer to the constable, when they sat on deck together,
near Neale at the steering wheel. The lawyer made the boy a signal to
say nothing, but to listen.

"Well, this is what it's about," was the answer. "As I told you, a
parcel of tramps--Klondikers they call themselves because, I understand,
some of 'em have been in Alaska. Anyhow a parcel of tramps are living on
Cedar Island. They've been robbing right and left, and the folks around
here are tired of it. So a complaint was made and I've got a lot of
warrants to arrest the men."

"Do you know any of their names?" asked the lawyer.

"No, all the warrants are made out in the name of John Doe. That's
legal, you know."

"Yes, I know," assented Mr. Howbridge. "And how many do you expect to
arrest?"

"Oh, about half a dozen. Two of 'em have a motor boat, I understand, but
they had an accident in the storm last night and can't navigate. That's
the reason we're going over there now--they can't get away!"

"Good!" exclaimed Mr. Howbridge. "I fancy, Mr. Newcomb, I may be able to
add another complaint to the ones you already have, if two of the men
turn out to be the characters we suspect."

"Why, have they been robbing your hen roost, too?" asked the constable.

"No, but two of my wards, Ruth and Agnes Kenway, were robbed of a box of
jewelry just before we started on this trip," said the lawyer. "Two
rough men held them up in a hallway on a rainy morning and snatched a
jewel box. The men were tramps--and the day before that two men who
called themselves Klondikers had looked at vacant rooms in the house
where the robbery occurred. Since then the girls think they have seen
the same tramps several times. I hope you can round them up."

"We'll get 'em if they're on Cedar Island!" the constable declared. "Got
your guns, boys?" he asked the members of his posse.

Each one had, it seemed, and the nervous tension grew as the island was
neared. Hank drove the _Bluebird_ at her best speed, which, of course,
was not saying much, for she was not a fast craft. But gradually the
objective point came into view.

"It's just as well not to have too fast a boat," the constable said. "If
the Klondikers saw it coming they might jump in the lake and swim away.
They won't be so suspicious of this."

"Perhaps not," the lawyer assented. But he could not help thinking how
tragic it would be if it should happen that Neale's father was among
those captured. Neale himself guided the houseboat on her way.

"Put her around into that cove," Constable Newcomb directed the youth at
the wheel, when the island was reached.

Silently the _Bluebird_ floated into a little natural harbor and was
made fast to the bank.

"All ashore now, and don't make any noise," ordered the officer. "They
haven't spotted us yet, I guess. We may surround 'em and capture 'em
without any trouble."

"Let us hope so," said Mr. Howbridge. "Have they some sort of house or
headquarters?"

"They live in a shack or two," the constable replied. "It's in the
middle of the island. I'd better lead the way," he went on, and he
placed himself at the head of his men.

"Don't make any outcry or any explanation if your father is among these
men," said Mr. Howbridge to Neale, as the two walked on behind the
posse. This was the first direct reference to the matter the lawyer had
made.

"I'll do whatever you say," assented Neale listlessly.

"It may all be a mistake," went on the lawyer sympathetically. "We will
not jump at conclusions."

Hank had been sworn in as a special deputy, and was with the other men
who pressed on through the woods after Constable Newcomb.

Suddenly the leader halted, and his men did likewise.

"Something's up!" called Mr. Howbridge to Neale. They went on a little
farther and saw, in a clearing, a small cabin. There was no sign of life
about it.

"I guess they're in there," said the constable in a low tone to his men.
"The motor boat's at the dock, and so is the rowboat, so they're on the
island. Close in, men!" he suddenly cried.

There was a rush toward the cabin, and Mr. Howbridge and Neale followed.
The door was burst in and the constable and his posse entered.

Three men were asleep in rude bunks, and they sat up bleary-eyed and
bewildered at the unexpected rush.

"Wot's matter?" asked one, thickly.

"You're under arrest!" exclaimed the constable. "In the name of the law
I arrest you! I'm the law!" he went on, tapping his nickel shield.

One of the men made a dart for a window, as though to get out, but he
was knocked back by a deputy, and in a few seconds all three men were
secured.

Neale, who had pressed into the cabin as soon as possible, looked with
fast-beating heart into the faces of the three tramps. To his great
relief none was his father.

"Now, what's all this about?" growled one of the men. "What's the game?"

"You'll find out soon enough," declared the constable. "Are either of
these the men you spoke of?" he asked the lawyer.

"Yes, those two are the ones that several times went off in a hurry in
the motor boat," said Mr. Howbridge. "But I can not identify them as the
ones who took the jewelry. Ruth and Agnes Kenway will have to do that."

As he spoke the two men looked at him. One shook his head and the other
exclaimed:

"It's all up. They got us right!"

"Come on now lively, men!" cried Constable Newcomb. "Search this place,
gather up what evidence you can, and we'll take 'em to jail."

"Are there any others?" asked Neale, hoping against hope as the men were
taken outside the shack and the search was begun.

"I guess we have the main ones, anyhow," answered Mr. Newcomb. "Oh, look
at this bunch of stuff!" he cried, as he threw back the dirty blankets
of one of the bunks. "They've been robbing right and left."

It was a heterogeneous collection of articles, and at the sight of one
box Mr. Howbridge exclaimed:

"There it is! The jewelry case I gave Miss Ruth! These men were either
the thieves or they know something about the robbery. See if anything is
left in the box."

It was quickly opened, and seen to contain a number of rings, pins, and
trinkets.

"Well, there's a good part of it," the lawyer remarked. "It will need
Ruth and Agnes to tell just what is missing."

Mr. Howbridge and Neale were watching the constable and his men finish
the search of the cabin, while others of the posse had taken the
prisoners to the boat, when suddenly into the shack came another man,
whose well-worn clothing would seem to proclaim him as one of the
"Klondikers."

But at the sight of this man Neale sprang forward, and held out his
hands.

"Father!" cried the boy. "Don't you know me?"

"It's Neale--my son!" was the gasping exclamation. "How in the world did
you get here? I was just about to start for Milton to look you up."

"Well, I guess, before you do, we'll look you up a bit, and maybe lock
you up, also," said the constable dryly. "Do you belong to the Klondike
bunch?" he asked.

"Well, yes, I might say that I do; or rather that I did." said Neale's
father, and though the boy gasped in dismay, Mr. O'Neil smiled. "I
understand the crowd has been captured," he added.

"Yes. And you may consider yourself captured also!" snapped out the
officer. "Jim, a pair of handcuffs here!"

"One moment!" interposed Mr. Howbridge, with a glance at Neale. "I
represent this man, officer. I'll supply bail for him--"

Mr. O'Neil laughed.

"Thank you," he said. "Your offer is kind, and I appreciate it. But I
shan't need bail. I believe you received a letter telling you to make
this raid, did you not?" he asked the constable.

"I did," was the answer. "It was that letter which gave us the clue to
the robbers. I'd like to meet the man who wrote it. He said he would
give evidence against the rascals."

"Who signed that letter?" asked Neale's father.

"I have it here. I can show you," offered Mr. Newcomb. "It was signed by
a man named O'Neil," he added as he produced the document. "He said he'd
meet us here, but--"

"Well, he has met you. I'm O'Neil," broke in the other. "And it was I
who gave you the information."

"Oh, Father!" cried Neale, "then you're not one of the--"

"I'm not one of the thieves; though I admit my living here among them
made it look so," said Mr. O'Neil. "It is easily explained. One of the
men made a fraudulent claim to part of a mine I own in Alaska, and I had
to remain in his company until I could disprove his statements. This I
have done. The matter is all cleared up, and I concluded it was time to
hand the rascals over to the law. So I sent the letter to the
authorities, and I'm glad it is all ended."

"So am I!" cried Neale. "Then you did strike it rich after all?"

"No, not exactly rich, Son. I was pretty lucky, though, and I struck pay
dirt in the Klondike. I wrote your Uncle Bill about it, but probably the
letters miscarried. I never was much of a letter writer, anyhow. And I
never knew until the other day that you were so anxious to find me. I
couldn't have left here anyhow, though, for I had to straighten out my
affairs. Now everything is all right. Do you still want to arrest me?"
he asked the constable.

"No," replied Mr. Newcomb. "I reckon you're a friend of the law and, in
consequence, you're my friend. Now come on, boys, we'll lock up the
other birds."

Neale walked by the side of his father and it was difficult to say who
talked the most. Mr. Howbridge accompanied the constable and from him
learned how the raid had been planned through information sent by Mr.
O'Neil.

When the party reached the houseboat, whither some of the deputies had
preceded with the prisoners, the sight of a figure on the upper deck
attracted the attention of Neale and the lawyer.

"Agnes!" gasped her guardian. "How did you get here?"

"On the _Bluebird_. I just couldn't bear to be left behind, and so I
slipped on board again after you said good-by on the dock. There wasn't
any shooting after all," she added, as if disappointed.

"No, it was easier than I expected," admitted the lawyer. "And, while
you should not have come, this may interest you!"

"Our jewelry!" cried Agnes as she took the extended box. Quickly she
looked over the contents.

"Only two little pins are missing!" she reported. "We shan't mind the
loss of them. Oh, how glad I am to get my things! And mother's wedding
ring, too! How did it happen?"

"I think you have Neale's father to thank," answered Mr. Howbridge.

"Oh, I am so glad!" cried Agnes, and she was happy in more ways than
one. "What did I tell you, Neale O'Neil?"

The _Bluebird_ made a quick trip back to the point and the rascals were
locked up. Two of them proved to be the thieves who had robbed Ruth and
Agnes, though their ill-gotten gains did them little good, as they dared
not dispose of them. The third prisoner was not involved in that
robbery, though he was implicated in others around the lake. Eventually,
all three went to prison for long terms.

Neale's father, of course, was not involved. As he explained, he had
located a mine in Alaska and it made him moderately well off. But he had
a rascally partner, and it was necessary for Mr. O'Neil to stay with
this man until a settlement was made. It was this partner who had
dealings with the thieves; and that had made it look bad for Neale's
father. This man was arrested later.

As soon as he saw how matters were on Cedar Island Mr. O'Neil decided to
give the evil men over to the law, and he carried out his plan as
quickly as possible. The two "Klondikers" who had inquired about rooms
from the Stetson family were part of the thieving gang, and they were
also later arrested. They were planning a bank robbery in town, and the
two men who took the jewelry from Ruth and Agnes were part of the same
crowd. The robbery of the girls, of course, was done on the spur of the
moment. The two ragged men had merely taken shelter in the doorway,
after having called at the Stetson house to get the "lay of the land."
And as such characters are always on the watch to commit some crime they
hope may profit them, these two acted on the impulse.

For some reason the bank robbery plans miscarried, and the two jewelry
robbers started back for Lake Macopic, where they had left some
confederates, including Mr. O'Neil's partner. The rascals imagined the
Corner House girls were following them, hence the several quick
departures in the motor boat. Whether one of these men looked in the
window of Tess was never learned.

"I'm so glad our suspicions of Hank were unfounded," said Ruth, when
later the events of the day were being talked over in the _Bluebird_
cabin.

"Yes, that ring was his mother's," said Neale. "He told me about it
after I had hinted that we had been watching him. And, oh, Father, I'm
so glad I found you!" he added. "You're through with the Klondike;
aren't you?"

"Yes, I'm going to sell out my mine and go into some other business."

"Do you mean back to the circus?" asked Mr. Howbridge.

"No. Though I want to see Bill and the others."

"Why don't you stay with us and finish the trip on the houseboat, Mr.
O'Neil?" Ruth asked.

"Thank you, I will," he answered, after the others had added their
urgings to Ruth's invitation.

And so, after the somewhat exciting adventures the trip was resumed, and
eventually the craft was delivered to her owner.

Before this, however, happy days were spent cruising about Lake Macopic,
the children and Mrs. MacCall enjoying life to the utmost. There were
days of fishing and days of bathing and splashing in the limpid waters
near sandy beaches. Tess and Dot were taught to swim by Neale, and his
father made the children laugh by imitating seals he had seen in Alaska.

Hank, too, seemed to enjoy the vacation days, and he proved a valuable
helper, forming a great friendship with Mr. O'Neil. During those days
Ruth received two more letters from Luke and one from his sister. Luke
was still working hard at the summer hotel, and Cecile reported that the
sick aunt was now much better. Luke congratulated Neale on finding his
father. And then, as was usual, he added a page or two intended only for
Ruth's eyes,--words that made her eyes shine with rare happiness.

"Oh, we had a lovely time!" said Agnes when they disembarked for the
last time. "The nicest summer vacation we ever spent."

"Indeed it was," agreed Ruth.

"And when I get home I'm going to send Mr. Henry my doll and a kitten so
he won't be lonesome on that island in winter," observed Dot.

"And I'm going to send Mr. Tom something," declared Tess. "He likes me,
and maybe when I grow up I'll marry him!"

"Oh, what a child!" laughed Ruth.

"I'm glad you liked the trip," said the lawyer. "And I think we can
agree that it accomplished something," he added as he looked at Neale
and his father.

"It made my Alice-doll a lot better!" piped up Dot, and they all
laughed.

And so, in this jolly mood, we will take leave of the Corner House
Girls.

THE END



CHARMING STORIES FOR GIRLS

(From eight to twelve years old)

THE CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SERIES

BY GRACE BROOKS HILL

Four girls from eight to fourteen years of age receive word that a rich
bachelor uncle has died, leaving them the old Corner House he occupied.
They move into it and then the fun begins. What they find and do will
provoke many a hearty laugh. Later, they enter school and make many
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    1 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS.
    2 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AT SCHOOL.
    3 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS UNDER CANVAS.
    4 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS IN A PLAY.
    5 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS' ODD FIND.
    6 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A TOUR.
    7 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS GROWING UP.
    8 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS SNOWBOUND.
    9 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON A HOUSEBOAT.
    10 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS AMONG THE GYPSIES.
    11 CORNER HOUSE GIRLS ON PALM ISLAND.

BARSE & HOPKINS, PUBLISHERS

Newark N.J.--New York, N.Y.



THE POLLY PENDLETON SERIES

BY DOROTHY WHITEHILL

Polly Pendleton is a resourceful, wide-awake American girl who goes to a
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    1 POLLY'S FIRST YEAR AT BOARDING SCHOOL
    2 POLLY'S SUMMER VACATION
    3 POLLY'S SENIOR YEAR AT BOARDING SCHOOL
    4 POLLY SEES THE WORLD AT WAR
    5 POLLY AND LOIS
    6 POLLY AND BOB

Cloth, Large 12mo., Illustrated.

BARSE & HOPKINS, PUBLISHERS

Newark N.J.--New York, N.Y.



CHICKEN LITTLE JANE SERIES

By LILY MUNSELL RITCHIE

Chicken Little Jane is a Western prairie girl who lives a happy, outdoor
life in a country where there is plenty of room to turn around. She is a
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    Adventures of Chicken Little Jane
    Chicken Little Jane on the "Big John"
    Chicken Little Jane Comes to Town

With numerous illustrations in pen and ink

By CHARLES D. HUBBARD

BARSE & HOPKINS, PUBLISHERS

NEWARK, N. J.--NEW YORK, N. Y.



Dorothy Whitehill Series For Girls

Here is a sparkling new series of stories for girls--just what they will
like, and ask for more of the same kind. It is all about twin sisters,
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6 Titles, Cloth, large 12mo., Covers in color.

    1. JANET, A TWIN
    2. PHYLLIS, A TWIN
    3. THE TWINS IN THE WEST
    4. THE TWINS IN THE SOUTH
    5. THE TWINS' SUMMER VACATION
    6. THE TWINS AND TOMMY JR.

BARSE & HOPKINS, PUBLISHERS

NEWARK, N. J.--NEW YORK, N. Y.



THE MARY JANE SERIES

BY CLARA INGRAM JUDSON

Cloth, 12mo. Illustrated.

With picture inlay and wrapper.

Mary Jane is the typical American little girl who bubbles over with fun
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    1 MARY JANE--HER BOOK
    2 MARY JANE--HER VISIT
    3 MARY JANE'S KINDERGARTEN
    4 MARY JANE DOWN SOUTH
    5 MARY JANE'S CITY HOME
    6 MARY JANE IN NEW ENGLAND
    7 MARY JANE'S COUNTY HOME

BARSE & HOPKINS, PUBLISHERS

NEWARK, N. J.--NEW YORK, N. Y.





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