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´╗┐Title: Linda Carlton's Island Adventure
Author: Lavell, Edith
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Linda Carlton's Island Adventure" ***

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  [Illustration: He looked as if he meant to hit her, and Linda
                 recoiled in terror.
                 (Page 50)]



                         LINDA CARLTON'S
                         ISLAND ADVENTURE

                         By EDITH LAVELL


               [Illustration: Linda and airplane]


                    THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING
                             COMPANY

              Akron, Ohio               New York



                        Copyright MCMXXXI

                THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY

                Linda Carlton's Island Adventure


             _Made in the United States of America_



Contents


  CHAPTER                                         PAGE

       I   _The "Ladybug"_                           7

      II   _The Aviation Job_                       25

     III   _Kidnapped_                              40

      IV   _Captive_                                56

       V   _Escape_                                 71

      VI   _The Enemy in the Autogiro_              85

     VII   _The Smash-Up_                           96

    VIII   _The Chief of Police_                   107

      IX   _Two Prisoners_                         123

       X   _Susie Disappears_                      138

      XI   _The Island in the Ocean_               158

     XII   _The Money-Bags_                        172

    XIII   _The Broken Motor-Boat_                 182

     XIV   _Searching Parties_                     194

      XV   _The Empty Island_                      209

     XVI   _Searching the Ocean_                   224

    XVII   _On to Cuba_                            237

   XVIII   _Luck for Ted and Louise_               251

     XIX   _The Return_                            263

      XX   _Conclusion_                            275



LINDA CARLTON'S
ISLAND ADVENTURE



CHAPTER I

_The "Ladybug"_


"There's a young lady here to see you, Linda," announced Miss Emily
Carlton, coming into her niece's room the morning after the latter's
return from the St. Louis Ground School. The girl had just graduated,
winning both commercial and transport licenses, and, besides that, she
was registered as the only feminine airplane mechanic in the country.

"Who is she, Auntie?" inquired Linda, rubbing her eyes and peering out
the window into the lovely June sunshine. What a wonderful day! Too
beautiful to spend on the ground! But she sighed as she recalled that
at the moment she did not possess a plane.

"A reporter, I believe," replied the older woman. "Miss Hawkins, from
the 'News'."

"But I haven't done anything to get into the newspapers," objected
Linda.

"My dear child, you don't have to! Aren't you the only girl who ever
flew the Atlantic alone? That's enough to keep you in the spotlight
forever."

"But I don't like spot-lights," Linda insisted, starting to dress.
"Couldn't you get rid of her, Auntie?"

Miss Carlton shook her head.

"I tried to, dear. But she wouldn't go. She wants to know your summer
plans. I told her you'd probably just spend a quiet vacation with me at
Green Falls, where we were last year. But she didn't believe me. She
said you weren't the type to take your vacations quietly."

Linda laughed.

"I guess she's right, Aunt Emily."

The latter looked troubled. She had been trying for a year--ever
since Linda's father had given her an Arrow Pursuit bi-plane for
graduation--to keep the girl out of the air as much as possible, but
she had not succeeded. The Carltons were comfortably well-off, and it
was Miss Carlton's wish that Linda go in for society, and make a good
marriage. But though Linda enjoyed occasional parties as much as any
normal young person, she had a serious purpose in life, to make flying
her career just as a young man would.

"You won't go to Green Falls--with all the rest of the crowd?" asked
Miss Carlton, anxiously.

"I can't, Aunt Emily. I--I--can't spare the time. I am trying to get a
job."

"A job? But you don't need money. Your father's business is dong
nicely----"

"Oh, it isn't the money I want," interrupted the girl. "It's the
experience."

Linda finished dressing and came down stairs to meet the young woman
who was waiting for her. The latter insisted that she eat her breakfast
while they talked.

"Honestly, I haven't done a thing interesting to the world since
my ocean flight!" Linda said. "Except win my licenses, and all the
graduates' names have already been listed in the papers."

The reporter smiled at her as if she were a child.

"My dear girl," she explained, "you are front-page news now, no matter
what you do. You are Queen of the Air, and will be until some other
woman does something more daring than your flight to Paris alone. So
everything you do interests the public. Naturally they want to know
what you are planning for the summer. Flying to South America, or
Alaska? And what kind of plane do you intend to buy next, since you
sold your Bellanca in Paris?"

Linda yawned, and fingered her mail--a great pile of letters beside her
plate. Invitations, mostly from the younger set in Spring City, for she
was very popular.

"I'm afraid I don't know yet," she replied, simply.

"Maybe if you read your mail--" suggested the reporter.

"She is to be a bridesmaid at Miss Katherine Clavering's wedding next
week," supplied Miss Carlton, entering the dining-room. As usual,
social events were all-important to her, especially affairs with the
Claverings, the richest people in Spring City. Katherine, or "Kitty,"
as her friends all called her, was to be married to Lt. Hulbert of
the U. S. Flying Corps, and her brother Ralph made no secret of his
devotion for Linda. If he had had his way, they would have been
married last Christmas, and aviation jobs would be out of the question
for Linda Carlton at the present time.

The girl searched through her mail rapidly, and picked out a letter
which interested her above all others. It was from the Pitcairn
Autogiro Company in the East.

As she read it, her blue eyes lighted up with enthusiasm, and she
examined the enclosed circular with excited interest, completely
forgetting her visitor.

The reporter waited patiently for a minute or two.

"Well, what's it all about, Miss Carlton?" she finally inquired.

Linda looked up at her as if she were startled, and suddenly remembered
her caller. She handed her the circular.

"I am going to buy an autogiro," she announced, with decision.

"A what?" demanded her aunt, thinking Linda referred to some kind of
automobile. "A new car?"

The reporter smiled.

"A flying bug?" she demanded.

Miss Carlton gasped in horror. A bug! What would her niece be up to
next?

"Linda!" she exclaimed.

"It's a plane, Aunt Emily," the girl explained. "You ought to like it.
It's the very safest kind there is. In the eight or nine years since it
was invented, nobody has been killed with one."

Miss Carlton looked doubtful.

"No airplane is safe," she remarked.

"This isn't an airplane. It's an autogiro."

"But it flies?"

"Of course."

Linda showed her the picture. It was indeed a queer looking object,
with its wind-mill-like arrangement on top, and its absence of big
wings. As the reporter had observed, its appearance was very like a
huge bug.

"They do say it's unusually safe," corroborated the latter. "You'll
have to take a ride in it, Miss Carlton."

"Not I!" protested the older woman. "Firm earth is good enough for
me.... No, it looks dangerous enough to me."

Linda smiled; she could never convince her aunt of the joy of flying,
or of the minimum risk, if one were a careful pilot. She was glad that
her father was more broad-minded; if he weren't, she would still be on
the ground.

"And where will you go with your Flying Bug, Miss Carlton?" asked the
reporter, tapping her pencil on her note-book.

"Not on any long flight," replied the girl, to her aunt's relief. "My
aim is to get some sort of aviation job."

"What would you like to do?"

"Anything connected with planes. I prefer flying, but I'd be satisfied
at the beginning with ground work.... If you will write down your
telephone number, Miss Hawkins, I will call you up when I have decided
definitely just what my plans will be."

"Thank you very much!" exclaimed the other girl, rising. "I think
you are a peach, Miss Carlton. Some celebrities are so mean to us
reporters."

"I'm afraid I'm not a real celebrity," laughed Linda. "I'll be
forgotten by the public this time next year. I sincerely hope that more
and more girls and women will be doing things in aviation, so that my
little stunt will seem trivial. That is progress, you know."

Scarcely had the visitor gone before Miss Carlton was begging Linda to
open her other letters.

"The Junior League picnic is tomorrow," she said. "And Dot Crowley is
giving a luncheon in honor of Kitty Clavering.... There are probably a
lot more things, too...."

Rather listlessly Linda opened her letters. It was not the same, she
thought, without Louise to share everything. Louise Haydock--Louise
Mackay now--had been her chum all through school, where they were so
inseparable that they were always referred to by their friends as the
"double Ls." The other girl's marriage had meant a sharp break to
Linda, for the Mackays had moved to Wichita, Kansas, where Ted was
employed as a flyer.

As if Miss Carlton understood her niece's thoughts, she remarked that
Louise was coming for Kitty's wedding.

Linda's eyes shone with joy.

"Flying?" she inquired, as a matter of course.

"Yes. She and Ted are arriving some time tonight. Mrs. Haydock called
up, and asked me to tell you."

Linda could not read her mail for a few minutes, so intense was her
happiness at this splendid news.

"Ted can go with me to see about the autogiro!" she exclaimed. "I do so
want his opinion!"

"Go where?"

"To Philadelphia, where the Pitcairn Company is located."

Again Miss Carlton looked annoyed, almost shocked.

"You don't mean to say you'll take time to fly to Philadelphia, with
all your engagements?"

Linda nodded.

"I'll be here for the wedding, Aunt Emily. Don't worry about that. But
nothing else is particularly important."

Miss Carlton groaned. What could you do with a girl like Linda? You
might as well have a boy!

The mail was finally opened and sorted, and Linda dutifully went to a
dinner dance at the Country Club that evening with Ralph Clavering. But
she was tense all evening, for she was hoping every moment that Louise
would arrive.

About midnight the young couple dashed in, radiant in their happiness.
To everyone's amusement Louise flew into Linda's arms in the middle of
the dance floor.

"How do you get that way?" demanded Ralph, pretending to be angry. "As
if it isn't enough to endure every fellow in the room tapping me when
I'm dancing with Linda, without having girls do it too!"

But the double Ls scarcely heard him. They were so enraptured at seeing
each other again.

"I'm going to stay a week!" announced Louise. "Luckily, Ted has some
business in Philadelphia and New York, and he'll be flying back and
forth."

"Philadelphia!" exclaimed Linda. "Isn't that great! Can we go with him
there?"

"Of course we can, if you don't mind a squeeze. The plane isn't very
big," explained Louise. "But then, we're not fat. Ted'll be tickled to
death to have company--he hates flying alone. But why do you want to go
to Philadelphia, Linda?"

"To buy an autogiro!"

"You always were crazy about those things. Remember the time you gave
up a dance to fly one?"

"I certainly do. And you wouldn't go with me."

"Well, there was a reason," laughed Louise, making no secret of her
admiration for her husband.... "I think Ted'll go day after tomorrow,"
she continued. "We thought we'd enjoy resting a day, and taking in the
Junior League picnic."

"Fine!" agreed Linda. "That will give everybody a chance to see you.
Besides, Aunt Emily would die if I missed that affair. Remember the one
last year. Didn't we have fun?"

"We certainly did," smiled Louise, reminiscently. "But it seems like
more than a year ago--so much has happened."

"I wasn't even flying then," observed the other.

"And I hadn't met Ted!"

"You're a real bride, Lou!" returned Linda, affectionately. "But you're
just the same old dear!"

The following day was just as delightful as it had been the previous
year, and the picnic another success. To Linda it was all the more
enjoyable, because of the novelty of seeing her old friends again after
the separation caused by a year at the school in St. Louis.

Ted went along with Louise, and entered into all the sports, just as
if he had been born and brought up with the crowd in Spring City.
Moreover, he was delighted at the prospect of having the two girls go
with him the next day, and appeared almost as enthusiastic about the
autogiro as Linda herself.

The weather continued perfect, and the three happy young people took
off from Spring City the following morning. An excellent mechanic
himself, Ted always kept his plane in tip-top condition, and it was
a rare thing indeed for him even to encounter a minor accident. This
flight proved no exception; straight and swift through the June skies
he flew to the field outside the city of Philadelphia where the
autogiros were on display.

"You really expect to buy one today, Linda?" asked Louise, as she
climbed out of the plane.

"Yes--if Ted gives his approval," replied the capable aviatrix. She had
always had the greatest confidence in this young red-haired pilot, who
had taken her on her first flight, and who had saved her and his wife
from disaster upon two occasions.

"Are you sure that it can go fast enough to suit you, Linda?" asked Ted.

"It can travel a hundred and twenty-five miles an hour, and that ought
to satisfy me. If I were entering any air-races, I'd want a special
racing plane anyhow, for the occasion. But I'm not going out for
races. I want to take a job, and I think an autogiro will be the most
convenient plane I can have, to take with me anywhere I want to go. I
shan't have to depend on big fields for landing."

"Right-o," agreed the young man.

They walked across the field and were shown a model by an enthusiastic
salesman. As the reporter had said, it did look like a flying bug, with
its odd wind-mill-like rotor on top, and its small stub-like wings,
which were there mainly to mount the lateral controls or ailerons.

"It isn't so pretty as the Arrow," remarked Louise.

"Handsome is as handsome does," returned Linda. "If we'd had an
autogiro that time in Canada, when our gas leaked out, a forced landing
wouldn't have been disastrous."

"Why?"

"Because the rotor takes care of that, after the engine is dead,"
explained Linda. "An autogiro can come down vertically at a slower rate
than we did with our parachutes."

"I'll never forget how scared I was that time we jumped off," remarked
her companion. "You know, it's one thing to see other people do it--in
the air, or at the movies--and its something else to step off into
space yourself. That all-gone feeling!"

"I don't mind it any more now--it doesn't seem any worse than dropping
ten stories in an elevator. But I know what you mean."

"Well, I have never had to jump since," Louise informed her. "But," she
continued as they walked around the autogiro, "isn't there really any
danger of crashing?"

"You can crash, of course," laughed Linda. "If you steer straight for
another plane, or a tree. But tail-spins are practically impossible;
they say no matter what happens the autogiro settles to the ground like
a tired hen. It's the principle of centrifugal force--it can't fail."

"Oh, yeah?" remarked Louise, hiding a yawn.

"What I want your opinion on, Ted," added Linda, turning to the young
man, "is the engine. You know more about engines than I do."

"I'm not so sure of that last," he replied, modestly. "Looks O.K. to
me--I've been examining it while you girls chattered."

The salesman, who had been listening to the conversation, suddenly
burst into a smile. He had been wondering where he had seen that girl
before. Now he knew! Her pictures had been in every newspaper in the
country. She was Linda Carlton, of course!

"You're Miss Carlton, aren't you?" he demanded, excitedly. "The girl
who flew to Paris alone?"

"Yes," answered Linda, indifferently. She didn't want to talk ancient
history now. "This is a P C A--2, isn't it?" she inquired, to bring the
man to the subject of autogiros.

"Yes. Fifteen thousand dollars. I suppose it's not necessary to tell
_you_ what instruments it is equipped with--an experienced flyer like
yourself can recognize them by a glance into the pilot's cock-pit."

"Yes, I see them. And I had a circular besides.... It's complete,
all right. The only thing I don't like about it is the separate
passenger's cock-pit. My Arrow Pursuit had a companion cock-pit."

"You can always talk to your passenger through the speaking-tube," the
salesman reminded her.

"Yes, of course----"

"And nobody you take along now-a-days will be as talkative as I always
was on our trips together," Louise observed, with a smile.

"Talkative!" repeated Linda, "All you ever wanted to do was sleep!
Every time I looked at you on that flight to Canada, you were
peacefully dozing!"

"And she still has a bad habit of dropping off," teased Ted.

"So long as that's the only way I 'drop off,' I'm satisfied," concluded
Louise.

In spite of their frivolous talk, Linda had been thinking seriously
about the autogiro, and had entirely made up her mind about it.

"I'll take it," she announced. "If you surely approve of it, Ted."

"I do, absolutely."

The salesman looked at her in amazement. Never had he made such an easy
sale before. But he did not meet people like Linda Carlton every day!

"Don't you want to try it out?" he suggested. "I can show you how to
fly it in a few minutes."

"I have flown one before," she told him. "But I would like to take it
up for a few minutes if you don't mind. Am I to have this particular
one? I have a certified check in payment."

The salesman blinked his eyes in further consternation. The check right
there, the girl ready to take the plane home with her! It was a moment
before he could catch his breath.

"Of course," he finally managed to answer. "I'll have her started for
you immediately. And--would your friends care to go up with you?"

"Sure!" exclaimed Ted. "We're your best friends, aren't we, Linda? So
oughtn't we to be privileged with the first ride?"

"You certainly are!" replied the famous aviatrix, squeezing Louise's
hand in her excitement and delight. "Come on!"

It was the Mackays' first flight in an autogiro, and though they were
very much crowded in the passenger's cock-pit, they insisted that
that only added to the fun. With a sureness which Ted watched in
admiration, Linda took off and flew round and round the field, putting
the new plane through all sorts of tests, proving conclusively that all
the claims for it were well-founded.

Fifteen minutes later they came slowly down to earth, landing on the
exact spot from which Linda had taken off.

"Unscramble yourselves!" she cried to her passengers, as she climbed
out of the cock-pit. "Let's go pay our bill."

"She's great, Linda!" approved Louise, as her husband helped her out.
"I'm for her, even if she is a funny-looking bug."

"Sh!" cautioned Linda, solemnly. "You might hurt her feelings.
She's--she's--a lady!"

"Ladybug!" exclaimed Louise, with a sudden burst of inspiration.

"Ladybug is right!" agreed her chum enthusiastically. "You've named her
for me, Lou!"



CHAPTER II

_The Aviation Job_


"It's marvelous!" exclaimed Linda, as the salesman came to meet her
after her test-flight in the autogiro. "Will you have her filled with
gas and oil, while I sign the contract? I'll take her with me."

The salesman smiled at Ted Mackay.

"In the same way any other woman would buy a hat," he remarked, to
Louise's amusement.

"You found it easy to fly, Miss Carlton?" he inquired.

"Wonderful!" she replied. "So simple that a child could almost do it!
It certainly is the plane of the future, or of the present, I should
say."

"We'll probably see one perched on everybody's roof within the next
five years," teased Louise, although in reality she shared her chum's
admiration for it.

While the mechanics gave the autogiro a thorough inspection, the
little group strolled to the office to sign the papers and to meet the
president of the company.

The salesman introduced Mr. Pitcairn, and added, proudly, "This is
_the_ Miss Carlton, of world-wide fame! The only woman who ever flew
the Atlantic alone! And I have had the honor, to sell Miss Carlton an
autogiro!"

Linda blushed as she shook hands, and her eyelids fluttered in
embarrassment. She could never get used to public admiration.
Immediately she began to talk about her new possession.

"I want it for every-day flying," she explained. "I think it will be
wonderful for that."

"We believe that it is," agreed the older man. "And we are honored
indeed, Miss Carlton, that you have chosen it. It will be a feather in
our cap."

"Miss Carlton never thinks of things like that," remarked Louise. "But
I guess we're glad that she doesn't!"

While Linda signed the necessary papers, and handed her check to the
salesman, the president inquired what her plans included now that she
had graduated from the Ground School with such success.

"I don't exactly know," she replied. "I want to get some kind of
aviation job--I am more interested in the use of planes in every-day
life than I am in races and spectacular events, though I understand
that these have their place. Of course I haven't found anything to do
yet, but I mean to try."

"You expect to give your whole time to flying?" asked the other. He had
thought, naturally, that a girl in Linda Carlton's circumstances would
just do it for sport.

"Yes--a regular full-time job. I'm not sure what--not selling planes,
for I don't believe I'd care for that. And not the mail--unless I can't
get anything else. You don't happen to know of any openings, do you,
Mr. Pitcairn?"

"Let me see," he said. "Things are a little slow now. Of course there
are the air-transportation companies, but their routes are about as
cut-and-dried as the mail pilot's.... I take it you would rather have a
little more excitement.... There's crop dusting, during the summer. You
have heard of that, no doubt?"

"Yes, I have read about it."

"You know, then, that one plane flying over a field can spray as many
plants in a day as a hundred of the ordinary spraying machines?"

His listeners gasped in astonishment. What marvelous advances in
progress aviation was bringing about!

"I happen to know of a company in the South that is just forming,"
he continued. "Because of lack of capital, they are in great need of
pilots with planes of their own. If you are interested, I am sure they
would be glad to take you on."

"That sounds very interesting," agreed Linda, eagerly. "I'm sure I'd
like that. And an autogiro ought to be especially adapted for this kind
of thing. I could fly so low--and land so easily----"

"Exactly! Incidentally, you'd be doing our company a big favor by
showing the public new uses for an autogiro. If Miss Carlton, of
international reputation, flies anywhere, the account of it is sure to
be in the newspapers!"

"I wouldn't count too much on that, Mr. Pitcairn," protested Linda,
modestly. "I really am not 'news' any more.... But I shall be grateful
for the name of this firm, if you will write it down for me. Where is
it located?"

"In Georgia--the southern part," he informed her. "Here is the
address," he added, handing her a card. "And I will write myself today
to tell them of their good fortune!"

"Georgia!" repeated Louise. "It's going to be awfully hot there, Linda.
Compared with Green Falls--or even Spring City."

"Why not pick a job in Canada?" suggested Ted. "You'd like Canada, if
you didn't choose the coldest part of the year to visit it."

Louise shuddered at the memory of their adventure during the preceding
Christmas holidays.

"I never want to see Canada again!" she said. "And I don't believe
Linda does either!"

It was not the memory of that cold night in the Canadian woods, or of
the cruelty of the police, however, that made Linda frown and hesitate
now. Nor did the heat of the South trouble her--weather was all in the
day's work to her. But the thought of the distance between Georgia and
Ohio, and what such a separation might mean to her Aunt Emily, deterred
her from accepting the offer immediately. It hardly seemed right to be
away all winter and spring, and then to go far off again in the summer.

"Would I have to promise to do this all summer, if I took it on?" she
inquired.

"No, certainly not. A month would be enough, for the first time. That
would give you August with your family, Miss Carlton, before you
accepted a regular aviation job in the fall."

This sounded much better to Linda, and she promised to write within the
nest week, if her father agreed.

It was lots of fun riding back to Spring City in her autogiro the
following day, although she flew alone, for Louise wanted to return
with Ted. Without a mishap of any kind she brought the "Ladybug" down
on the field behind her house.

When she entered her home, she found that her father had arrived during
her absence. He was waiting for her in the library.

"Daddy!" she cried, joyfully, for Mr. Carlton's visits were always a
pleasant surprise to his only child. "You came at just the right time!
Come out and see my Bug!"

"Must you call it that, Linda?" asked her Aunt Emily, who, like all
good housekeepers detested every sort of insect.

Linda laughed.

"Take a look at it, Aunt Emily, and see whether you could think of a
better name."

Miss Carlton peered through the screen door.

"Where is it?" she asked.

"Come out on the porch, and you can see it," replied Linda.

Dragging her father and her aunt each by a hand, she gleefully skipped
through the door.

"There!" she cried, as one who displays a marvel.

At the top of the hill, on the field behind the lovely Colonial house,
they saw the new possession. Or rather, the top of the autogiro, for it
was not wholly visible.

"It looks like a clothes-dryer to me," remarked Miss Carlton. "Or a
wind-mill."

"But you agree that I couldn't call it my 'Clothes-dryer,' or my
'Wind-mill,' don't you, Aunt Emily? The words are too long. Besides,
Lou thought of the cleverest name--the 'Ladybug.' But you needn't
worry, Auntie, she won't ever creep into your spotless house!"

"I should hope not!"

"In a way, Emily," observed Linda's father, "it's a good name as far as
you are concerned. You hate planes--and you hate bugs!"

"Only, Aunt Emily is going to love my autogiro," insisted Linda,
putting her arm affectionately about the older woman, who had been the
only mother she had ever known. "One of my biggest reasons for choosing
an autogiro was because it is the safest flying machine known." Her
tone grew soft, so low that her father could not hear, and she added,
with her head turned aside, "I do want you to know that I care about
your feelings, Aunt Emily."

Miss Carlton's eyes grew misty; Linda had always been so sweet, so
thoughtful! Her niece couldn't help it, if she had a marvelous brain,
and a mechanical mind. No wonder she wanted to use them!

"It's going to be the ambition of my life to convert Aunt Emily to
flying," she announced, in a gay tone. "See if I don't, Daddy!"

"I hope so," he said. "How about taking me up for a little fly?"

"A fly?" repeated Linda, playfully. "You a fly--and my new plane a bug!
Oh, think of poor Aunt Emily!"

"Now, Linda, I do believe you're getting silly!"

But already she was pulling her father down the steps, eager to show
off her beloved possession.

Mr. Carlton proved almost as enthusiastic as his daughter about it.
When they returned to the house, he laughingly told his sister that he
was thinking of buying one for himself, to use to fly back and forth
from New York, where his business was located.

Miss Carlton groaned.

"Then we'll have two flying maniacs in the house!" she exclaimed.

"No--Linda and I will usually be up in the air," he corrected, "not
often in the house."

Linda had scarcely time to change from her flyer's suit into an
afternoon dress, and no chance at all to talk with her father about
Mr. Pitcairn's suggestion about a job, when Ralph Clavering drove over
to see her. Linda was delighted, of course; here was another person to
whom she could display her autogiro. Ralph was a licensed pilot, too,
although with him flying was only a secondary interest, and he had
never had his own plane.

"Come out and see my 'Ladybug'!" she insisted. "And wouldn't you like
to try her out? I might let you!"

"No, thanks, Linda--I'd be sure to do something wrong. Besides, I'd
rather talk to you--those things make such an infernal noise. No, just
show it to me, and then let's go and have a game of tennis before
supper, if you're not too tired."

"I've almost forgotten how to play," replied the girl. "But I'll try.
If you will come out and see my 'Ladybug' first."

After they had examined the autogiro, and were driving to the Country
Club in Ralph's roadster, the young man turned the conversation to the
topic of vacation at Green Falls, the resort at which Linda's aunt, and
most of her friends, had spent the preceding summer. Ralph told Linda
about a new motor boat that he was getting, and spoke of the contests
in all sorts of sports that would be repeated this year.

"How soon do you think you can get off, Linda?" he concluded eagerly.

"Not till August, I'm afraid," she replied, to his dismay.

"August!" he repeated, in horror. "You're not going to pull some new
stunt on us, are you, Linda? Fly the Pacific--or the Arctic Ocean?"

The girl laughed, and shook her head.

"I'm through with stunts for a while, Ralph--you needn't worry about
that. No; what I am planning now is steady work. I expect to take a
job, as soon as Kit's wedding is over."

"A job? Where?"

"In Georgia, probably." She went into details about the proposition.

"You would!" he muttered, sulkily. "And pick out such a hot spot, that
nobody would want to go with you.... Linda, why can't you be sensible
like other girls--like my sister Kit, for instance?"

"Kit?"

"Yes. And get married."

He leaned over hopefully, and put his hand on her arm. Now that Linda
had accomplished her ambition in flying the Atlantic, perhaps she would
be willing to settle down to marriage and a normal life.

But she drew away, smiling.

"Don't, Ralph!" she warned him. "Remember that you promised me you
wouldn't ask me till you had finished college."

"All right, all right," he muttered, irritably, resolving that he
wouldn't again. Let her wait awhile! She'd probably get tired of
working after she'd had a taste of it for a month in that hot climate.

They met Dot Crowley and Jim Valier at the tennis courts, and doubled
up with them for a couple of sets. But they were badly beaten, for
these two were the best team at the Club.

After dinner that evening Linda had a chance to tell her father and her
aunt of her proposed plan for the coming month, and won their consent,
when she announced her intention of spending August at Green Falls. To
Miss Carlton she put the all-important question of clothes; the older
woman promised to get her half a dozen flyer's suits of linen for the
trip.

During the next week Linda accepted enough invitations to satisfy even
her Aunt Emily, and she wore one new dress after another, and flitted
from tennis match or picnic to tea or dance, as the program happened to
be. The grand finale was Kitty's wedding, at the girl's beautiful home
just outside of Spring City.

It was a gorgeous affair, and Linda could not help thinking how Bess
Hulbert, the Lieutenant's sister, would have enjoyed it, had she not
given her life in the attempt to win the big prize which Linda herself
had captured. Personally, she did not like the affair nearly so much as
Louise's simple wedding at Easter.

Linda was quiet as she drove home beside her Aunt Emily in the
limousine. She could not help wondering whether this event did not
mark the end of her girlhood, the beginning of her career as a
self-supporting woman--out in the world. No longer would she be free to
come and go as she liked, to see her old friends at any and all hours
of the day and evening. The thought was a little saddening, and she
sighed.

Her aunt laid her hand over her niece's.

"Why the sigh, dear?" she inquired. "Tired?"

Linda nodded.

"Yes--and weddings are so solemn--so sort of sad, aren't they, Auntie?
To the other people, I mean--for of course there's nothing sad about
Kit and Tom. But it means I won't see them much----"

"It isn't their wedding that causes that, dear," Miss Carlton reminded
her. "Kitty and Tom will be back and forth often, I think, for they
are not living far away.... But it's you who are leaving the rest,
Linda. Oh, if you only wouldn't go so far away, dear!"

"I guess you're right, Aunt Emily," admitted the other. "But I can't
have my cake and eat it too. There isn't any flying job in Spring City."

Miss Carlton was silent; there was no use in going over the old
argument. Instead, she asked:

"How soon do you go, Linda?"

"Tomorrow--if the weather is good. I received my map and my
instructions several days ago. I'm all ready. The Ladybug's in perfect
shape."

"If you only didn't have to go alone!" sighed the older woman.

"Yes. If I only had Lou!"

"Couldn't you take some other girl?"

"As a matter of fact, I did suggest such a thing to Dot Crowley. She's
competent, you know--has her pilot's license--and she's such a peach of
a girl. I know we'd get along beautifully together. But she's all tied
up with a tennis match, and can't possibly leave now."

Little did Linda think, as she took off the following morning in the
bright June sunshine, how deeply she was to regret this decision of
Dot's, how she was to wish a hundred times within the next week that
she had some companion who was a friend.

For the people she fell among proved to be the worst sort of
associates.



CHAPTER III

_Kidnapped_


As there was no particular hurry about the trip South--it was only
June twentieth--Linda decided to go slowly and to stop often. What a
marvelous way to see the country, at the most beautiful time of the
year! In an autogiro the flight would never become monotonous, for she
could fly low enough to watch the landscape.

Ohio--Kentucky--Tennessee--Georgia! Each day she could travel through a
different state, putting up each night at a hotel. Fortunately her Aunt
Emily had given up worrying about her staying alone in strange cities.
For Linda had already proved herself capable of taking care of herself.

"It is because Linda is always so dignified," Mr. Carlton had remarked
to his sister. "The girls who make chance acquaintances, and permit
familiarities are usually looking for it. Linda's mind is on her
plane--on her navigation--and she is too absorbed to be bothered. I
think we are safe, Emily, in trusting her."

"I suppose so," Miss Carlton had agreed. "Though of course she'll
always be a little girl to me."

The day after the wedding was warm and the skies were clear; the
Ladybug was in perfect condition, and her forty gallon tank was filled
with gasoline, so Linda decided to carry out her plan. While her Aunt
Emily packed her lunch basket and a box with an emergency supply of
food, the girl called Miss Hawkins on the telephone as she had promised.

"But don't put it into the paper until after I start," begged Linda. "I
always like to slip off quietly, without any fuss."

"I'll save it for the evening editions," agreed the reporter. "And then
you'll be well on your way.... And, thank you again, Miss Carlton."

An hour later she bade her aunt good-by, and was off. Heading her plane
south-west, she would avoid the mountains in Kentucky, and pass over
the blue-grass region, of which she had so often read. It was an ideal
day for a flight, and her heart beat with the same exultation she had
always felt when she was in the air; there was no feeling to compare
with it on earth. Someone had said it was like being in love--but Linda
Carlton had never been in love herself.

For several hours this sense of joy possessed her; then, as noontime
came, and she landed to eat her lunch, she suddenly grew lonely. If
only Louise were with her! She sighed as she thought that from now on
she would probably be traveling alone.

It grew hotter in the afternoon as she progressed farther south, but
her engine was functioning so beautifully that she hated to stop. Then
the sun went down, and the coolness was so delightful after the heat
that she continued on her course longer than she had planned, and did
not land until she had crossed the border into Tennessee. There she
followed a beacon light that led to an airport, and brought the Ladybug
down to earth.

No sooner had she brought the autogiro to a stop than a group of
curious people surrounded her.

"What do you-all call this?" drawled a big, good-natured looking man,
with the typical Southern accent. "It's a new one on me."

Linda smiled and explained, asking that the autogiro be housed for the
night, and inquired her way to the hotel.

"The hotel ain't so good," replied the man. "But I can direct you to a
fine boarding-house."

Everybody that Linda met in this little town was kindness itself. She
found herself in a pleasant home, with a marvelous supper of real
old-fashioned Southern cooking, all ready for her. It appeared to be
the custom to eat late in the South; no one thought it strange that she
should want her supper at nine o'clock.

These good people's hospitality only served to strengthen her
confidence in the fact that she was safe in traveling alone. For this
reason the shock was all the greater for her when that trust was so
rudely shaken later on during the trip.

Linda liked the town so well that she decided to remain a day, and go
over her Ladybug herself. For, she argued sensibly, if no one there had
ever heard of an autogiro before, it stood to reason that there would
be little chance of a competent inspection by anyone but herself.

Although Miss Hawkins, the reporter, had published the facts concerning
her trip that evening, the news had not reached this town in Tennessee
immediately. It was not until the next day that the story was
reprinted, and someone discovered that this stranger in the autogiro
who was visiting them was Linda Carlton of international fame. Then the
news spread like wild-fire about the town, and the band was gotten out
to give the girl a royal welcome.

It was hardly necessary, with all this celebration, to wire her aunt of
her safe arrival in Tennessee; nevertheless Linda did so, as she had
promised when she left home.

Her next day's journey brought her across Tennessee, over the mountains
where she had a chance to test her plane's climbing ability, and into
Georgia. Here again she was received with hospitality. It seemed almost
as if she were making a "good-will" flight, so delighted were the
people to greet her and make her at home.

A long flight lay ahead of her--across Georgia, the largest state in
the southeast. Over the mountains in the northern part, across cotton
and rice and sweet-potato plantations, towards the coast. The weather
was hot and dry; she grew tired and thirsty, and the thought of her
friends, enjoying the cool breezes at Green Falls made her envious for
a while. But she carried plenty of water in her thermos flasks, and she
reminded herself that she was having a more thrilling experience than
they could possibly have. Tonight she could rest--and sleep.

Her head ached and her body was weary, as she looked at her map and
tried to find out just where she was from the land-marks. Dismay
took hold of her as she realized that she must have gone off of her
course--beyond her destination. The ground below appeared marshy, in
many spots entirely covered with water, in which water-lilies and
rushes grew in abundance. Where could she possibly be?

Panic seized her as she realized that this was no place to land. Even
an autogiro couldn't come down in a swamp. She circled around, and went
back. If the light only held out until she reached some sort of level,
hard ground!

She thought of her flight over the ocean, when she had been so
absolutely alone, and she felt the same desolation, the same fierce
terror. Where was she? Where was she going? Wild-eyed, she studied her
map.

Then she located herself. This must be the Okefenokee Swamp, in the
southeastern part of Georgia. That lonely, forsaken land, some parts of
which had never been penetrated by a white man! Treacherous, dangerous
ground, which would mean certain death if she attempted to land! Miles
and miles of desolation, that only an Indian could safely explore!

There was nothing to do but head the plane towards the west, in hope
of passing over the swamp. The sun had set, and darkness was coming
on, but Linda could still see the ground beneath her. The water grew
scarcer, and trees--pine and cypress--here and there dotted the land.
But still the earth looked marshy, too treacherous for a landing.

A terrifying thought seized her when she remembered that she had not
filled her gasoline tank that morning. Glancing at the indicator, she
saw that she had only three gallons left. Would that be enough to take
her out of this "trembling land," which was the meaning of the Indian
word, "Okefenokee"?

It was like a horrible night-mare, watching the decreasing gasoline
supply, the fading light, and the trees and the swamp beneath her. Her
breath came in gasps; the idea of death in a swamp was more horrible
than that of drowning in the middle of the Atlantic, for the former
would be a lingering torture.

But at last to her delight she saw the trees widen, and a level stretch
of dry sand below. This must be an island, she concluded, for she had
read that there were half a dozen or so of these in the swamp, and that
they were several miles in length. If this were true, she could land,
and be safe for the night at least.

She brought her autogiro lower, and with her flash-light and her
glasses examined the ground. Yes, there was space enough for a landing,
with a plane like hers. She uttered a gasp of relief.

But she had rejoiced too soon, for when she lifted her eyes from the
ground to the level of her plane she was startled breathless by the
sight of another plane, which had come out of nowhere, apparently, and
was rushing madly at her. As if it were actually aiming to crash into
her! As if this were warfare, and the oncoming plane an enemy, intent
upon her destruction!

In that instant she realized that this was an old plane--possibly one
of those abandoned by the Army--one that would not now pass inspection.
No wonder it was tipping so strangely; it must be out of the pilot's
control.

Linda did the only thing possible, for she was too low to turn. She
dropped gracefully to the ground, avoiding a tree by a few inches.
Thank goodness, it was solid beneath her!

The other plane was landing too, she observed, landing with a speed
that was ten times that of the autogiro, in a space that was far
too small. The inevitable occurred; Linda closed her eyes as she
saw it about to crash. A terrifying thud followed; then a scream of
fright--and Linda opened her eyes to see the plane on its side, nosed
into a bank of bushes. Had it not been for that undergrowth, the wreck
would have been far worse than it was.

Linda had turned off her engine, and she jumped out of the autogiro
immediately and rushed to the scene of the disaster. What a smash it
was! No one would ever fly that plane again!

Two people were lying tangled up in the wreckage, whether dead or
alive Linda could not immediately tell.

At her approach the man in the rear cock-pit opened his eyes and began
to move his hands and legs.

"Got a good knife, Linda?" he yelled, to the girl's profound
astonishment.

"I'll get one," she replied, wondering how he could possibly know her
name. Or was he delirious, and thought he was talking to some other
Linda?

Hurrying back to her own plane she took out her thermos flasks and her
tool-kit, and returned to the spot of the wreck. It was too dark now
to see the men distinctly, until she turned on her flash-light. As she
came closer, she saw that the man who had spoken was wriggling himself
free. His face was scratched, blood was running down his hands, but he
apparently was not seriously hurt.

"Lucky this is an open plane," he muttered. "Now give me a hand, me
girl!"

Linda did not like his tone, but she could not refuse to help a human
being in distress. Gradually he crawled out.

"Now for Susie!" he announced, as he raised himself unsteadily on his
legs.

Linda gasped. Was the other occupant a woman? A thrill of relief passed
over her, for she had been terrified at the idea of being alone with
such a hard-looking man in this desolate spot.

"A girl?" she stammered, pressing close to the plane.

"Yeah. Me wife. Her name's Susie."

Linda flashed the light under the wreckage of the plane, and
distinguished a young woman in a flyer's suit. She was unconscious.

Without another word they both set silently to work to disentangle her.
At last they dragged her out--still unconscious. But she evidently was
still alive, though the man remarked that her arm must be broken--and
maybe an ankle or two. He seemed very matter-of-fact about it all.

"What's in that flask?" he demanded abruptly, of Linda.

"Water," she replied.

"Water!" he snarled angrily. "Water!"

He looked as if he meant to hit her, and Linda recoiled in terror.

"Go hunt my flask in that wreck!" he commanded.

"Do it yourself!" returned Linda, with sudden spirit. "How do I know
that that plane won't burst into flames any minute?"

She was surprised at her sudden display of independence; she had always
depended upon Louise to stick up for their rights. But she had risen to
the occasion, now that she was alone.

The man started to swear, when suddenly the girl on the ground opened
her eyes.

"Take care, Slats!" she begged, to Linda's astonishment. "We'll need
this girl and her plane--for I can't fly now!"

The man called "Slats" subsided, and went over to the wreckage. Linda
bent over the injured "Susie," and put the flask of water to her lips.

Like the man's, the girl's face was scratched and bleeding, and she
began to moan of the pain in her wrist. Her helmet had been pushed
off, and her blond hair hung about her face. Her lips were painted a
brighter red than even blood could have colored them.

"Where are you hurt?" asked Linda, wiping the girl's face with her
handkerchief, and pushing the hair out of her eyes.

"My wrist, worst. And this ankle. And my back."

"If I have enough gasoline, we'll take you to a hospital in my plane."

"No! No!" cried the girl, in terror.

"Why not?" questioned Linda.

"You'll find out," replied the other, mysteriously, closing her eyes in
pain.

Linda had no way of guessing what she meant, so she sat waiting in
silence until the man returned. Five minutes later he appeared with a
tank of gasoline, and a flask of brandy, which he gave to his wife to
drink.

"We're ready to go now, Linda," he announced. "You can help me carry
Susie over to your Bug."

Again Linda started violently at the mention of her own name.

"Do you really know me?" she asked.

"Sure we do! You're Linda Carlton. Think you're about the smartest
thing there is in the air today. Bought one of them new-fangled bugs.
Ain't that right?"

"Partly," admitted Linda, wincing at the slur in his remark. "But how
could you possibly know?"

"Because we are out to get you. Wasn't your story in all the
newspapers, tellin' all about this trip of your'n? And ain't your Bug
the easiest thing to spot in the air?"

"Out to get me!" repeated Linda. "Do you mean that you wanted to kill
me?"

"No, lady. You're more use to us alive than dead--for a while, anyway.
No. Our gang decided we could pick up a hundred grand easier by
kidnapping you than by swiping jewelry. It was my idea!" He swelled
with pride, believing himself exceedingly clever. "And that's what you
get for wanting to have your picture and glories in the papers all the
time!"

Linda listened wild-eyed to this information, and edged closer to
Susie, as if her only protection would be found in the girl.

"So now these is your orders: You fly us to our camp tonight, and we'll
keep you there. You can sleep with Susie. We won't hurt you, if you do
what we tell you, and don't get fresh, or try to get away. Once you do
that, we shoot. And believe me, I can aim--O.K. I've had a sight of
practice in my business! I'm a mighty successful man--in my line."

"And what is your line, outside of kidnapping?" asked Linda.

"High-class robbery. Banks. Big jewels. We don't never hold up nobody
on the street, for a few dollars. Too petty for us! Nope! We're big
men. Slick! Clever! Ask Susie!"

"Does Susie like all this?"

"Sure she does. We winter in Europe, and South America, and she struts
around with all the big dames, flashing diamonds and duds that make 'em
all look pale.... Now come along!"

It was useless to argue or talk any more, so Linda did as she was
told, and together they got Susie into the passenger's cock-pit of the
autogiro. Her husband sat with her, holding his pistol up threateningly
at the back of Linda's head.

"Go where I tell you!" he ordered.

"I haven't much gas," she protested.

"I've got an extra flask here. But I'm not pouring it in till we need
it, which I don't think we will. The camp ain't far--on Black Jack
Island."

"Black Jack Island," Linda repeated to herself. "What an appropriate
name!"

She was terrified, of course, but there was nothing to do except follow
directions, and in a few minutes she brought the plane down on the
island that the man had specified.

"Leave the Bug here, Linda," he commanded, as he lifted Susie out of
the plane. "And go ahead of me, as I tell you."

For several minutes the little procession made their way to the center
of the island, over the white sand towards the cypress and pine trees
that grew in greater profusion. Linda did not look back, but she knew
that while "Slats" carried Susie with one arm, he kept his pistol at
her back with his other hand.

At last, by the aid of her flash-light, Linda spied several tents set
up near together, and a welcome smell of food cooking greeted her as
she advanced.

"Stop here!" came the order. "This is where you spend the night!"



CHAPTER IV

_Captive_


Linda and her companions stopped in front of a large tent that was
dimly lighted within by a lantern. Two men were standing inside--one
bending over an oil cook-stove, the other at the door.

"We got Linda!" announced "Slats" triumphantly. "Without even smashing
her plane!"

He pushed through the doorway, past the other man, and deposited Susie
on a cot by the wall of the tent.

The man at the stove, a big, fat, repulsive looking brute, turned
around and uttered an ugly, "Hah!"

"Susie hurt?" inquired the tall, thin man who had been standing at the
edge of the tent.

"Yeah. Crashed her plane. I've got some scratches meself, but I ain't
whinin'!"

"My ankle's broken!" sobbed Susie, unable to suffer any longer in
silence. "Hurry up and get some bandages, Doc!"

Linda, who had been standing perfectly still during this conversation,
was startled by the use of the name "Doc." Was it possible that this
man was a physician? If so, wouldn't he perhaps be above the level of
the others--and might she not expect, if not sympathy, at least fair
play from him? But "Slats" instantly shattered her hopes with his
explanation.

"This is the 'Doc,' Linda," he said. "We call him that because he fixes
up all our aches and cuts for us. In a profession like our'n, it ain't
safe to meddle with 'saw-bones' and hospitals. They keep records."

Linda smiled at the idea of calling robbery a "profession," but she
made no comment.

"So long as you'll be with us fer a while," continued her captor, "I'll
interduce you to everybody. That there cook is 'Beefy.' Ain't he a good
ad for his own cookin'?"

Linda nodded; she could hardly be expected to laugh at such a poor joke
under the circumstances.

"You can go over and wash--there's water in Susie's tent--if you want
to, while the 'Doc' fixes Susie up. Then we'll eat."

Glad to be alone for a moment, Linda stepped across to the tent which
the man had indicated, hidden behind some pine trees a few yards away.
Guiding herself by her flash-light, she found the entrance, and dropped
down on a cot inside.

Letting the light go off, she sat, dry-eyed and utterly hopeless,
staring into the darkness. What terrible fate was hanging over her,
she dared not imagine. Would they torture her, perhaps, if her father
refused to raise the ransom, and called the police to his aid?

In these last few hours she had learned to realize how infinitely
crueler human-beings were than the elements of nature. The ice and
snow, the cold winds of Canada, or the vast, trackless depths of the
Atlantic could never bring about such untold agony as these fiends
in human form. She almost wished that she had gone down, like Bess
Hulbert, in the ocean, before she had lived to learn how evil men could
be.

A call from the mess-tent, as she supposed the larger one to be,
aroused her from her unhappy meditations, and she hastily turned on
the light and washed from a pitcher of water on a soap-box in Susie's
tent.

When she returned to the group, she found them already seated about a
board table, plunging into the food like hungry animals. Susie, who
sat with her bandaged ankle propped up on a box, was the only one who
ate with any manners at all. But it had been a long time since Linda
had tasted food, and she was too hungry to be deterred by the sight of
"Beefy" putting his fingers into his plate. So she sat down next to
Susie, and silently started to eat.

She found the meal exceedingly good, and was surprised at her own
appetite, for she hardly expected to be able to enjoy anything under
the circumstances.

The lantern threw a weird, ghastly light over the strange, ugly faces
about her, and the silence was unbroken, except by the noise and
clatter of eating. A tenseness took possession of her; she wished
desperately that somebody would say something. It was exactly like a
horrible dream, whose spell could not be destroyed. And still no one
uttered a word until the meal was concluded.

"You girls can go to bed now," Slats announced, finally. "I'll carry
you over, Susie, and give you a gun, in case Linda tries to sneak off
in the night." He smiled with vicious triumph.

"I'm afraid that wouldn't do me any good," replied Linda, trying to
make her voice sound normal. "I haven't an idea where I am."

"On Black Jack Island, in the Okefenokee Swamp," he again told her.
"With water all around you. Get that! You can't get away, without a
boat or a plane. And I'm tellin' you now, I seen to it that your Bug's
bone-dry!"

With a conceited grin, he leaned over and picked up his wife so roughly
that she cried out in pain.

When they were alone, the girls took off some of their outer garments,
and lay down on their cots. Linda longed to talk, but she was afraid to
begin, for fear it would only lead to some sort of punishment. So she
lay still, trying to forget her troubles, to believe everything would
come out right in the end, when her father paid the ransom.

She was just dozing off, when she was abruptly aroused by agonized sobs
from her tent-mate. She sat up and asked her companion whether there
was anything she could get her. But Susie did not answer; she continued
to cry wildly like a child of six.

"Oh, my ankle! My ankle!" she moaned. And then she used worse language
than any Linda had ever heard--from man or woman.

Linda was sorry for her, but she could not help contrasting this girl's
cowardice in the face of physical pain with Dot Crowley's, when the
latter had met with a similar accident, and had smiled bravely at the
hurt. She thought, too, of Ted Mackay's courage in the hospital, and
Susie suffered by the comparisons.

"Is there anything I can do?" she asked, again.

"No. Only take me to a _real_ doctor--or a hospital."

"I'd be glad to, if your husband would let me fly my plane!"

"Well, he won't!" There followed more oaths. "What does he care--so
long as he ain't the one that's hurt?" She continued to cry
hysterically, until a snarling order came from without the tent.

"Shut up your noise!" bawled her husband, and Susie softened her
sobbing.

Linda lay very still, thinking. Dared she suggest that the other girl
deceive her husband--or would she only be punished for such an idea?
She decided to give it a try.

"You must know where the men keep the gasoline," she whispered.
"Wouldn't you rather have your ankle fixed right, and not run the
chance of being a cripple for life?"

"What do you mean?" demanded Susie, raising her head from her pillow.

"I mean--wait till the men are asleep, and then you tell me where
the gas is, and we'll sneak off. I'd take you to a hospital, and I'd
promise never to tell on you."

"And lose all that ransom money? Slats'd never forgive me!"

"But what good's money, if you're a cripple?" countered Linda.

"Yeah--I see what you mean," agreed Susie. "Only we'd never get
away with it. They'd hear us gettin' out--remember I can't walk by
myself.... No, Linda--it's no go."

Disappointed, Linda dropped back on the cot, seeing that further
argument was no use, and, fortunately, fell quickly asleep. Had she
not been so tired, she would probably have been disturbed during
the night, for Susie tossed and moaned without any regard for her
companion. But Linda slept the sleep of exhaustion.

Just as dawn was beginning to show a faint light through the door of
the tent, Linda was rudely awakened by a gruff voice. Startled, she
looked into the unpleasant face of Susie's husband, and she shuddered
as she recalled where she was. The thought flashed into her mind that
soldiers and criminals were usually shot at sunrise, and her hands
shook with fear. What was the man going to do to her?

"Get up, Linda!" he commanded. "You're working today."

"Working?"

"Yeah. Flying."

"Where?" she demanded, with a trace of hope. If she were allowed to
fly, there might be some hope of escape.

"Across the swamp. To an island out in the ocean."

"Oh!"

An island! It sounded like imprisonment. She thought of Napoleon on St.
Helena, and she remembered the stories of the cruelties to the French
convicts, sentenced to die on an island. Terrible climate, probably,
reeking with disease. A slow death that would be far greater torture
than being shot--hours of lingering agony, when she would think of her
father and her aunt, and of the suffering that she was causing them!
And, worst of all, no one to rescue her, as Ted had twice saved her
from disasters that were not half so dreadful!

But she did not cry; she was disgusted with tears after the way that
Susie had carried on the night before, over her sprained ankle. After
all, it was no one else's fault that she had selected this job; she had
taken it on, and she must see it through, no matter what the outcome.

When she had washed and dressed, she walked over to the big tent, where
she found breakfast ready. Bacon and eggs and coffee--and even oranges!
Evidently they meant to feed her well--for this much she could be
thankful.

She ate in silence with the three men, for Slats did not carry Susie
to the table. When they had finished, and the men were lighting their
pipes, Slats pushed back his tin plate and began to talk.

"Our idea in running you down was to get a neat little ransom, Linda,"
he repeated, with the same triumphant grin which she had grown to
loathe. She winced, too, at each repetition of her first name, though
there was no way that she could stop him from using it.

"We figgered your old man could come across with a couple hundred
thousand to get you back. When we get ready, we'll let him know. But in
the meantime, we ain't ready."

He winked knowingly at Beefy, and a cold shiver of fear crept over
Linda. If they would only get the thing over quickly! Anything would be
better than the awful suspense.

The speaker laughed at her expression of terror.

"Don't be scared, Linda. We ain't a goin' a hurt you.... It just
happens we need you for a couple days in our business."

"Your business?" she faltered.

"Yeah. We got some jewelry right here in this tent worth about a
hundred grand. We fly across to an island with it, where a steamer
picks it up and gets it to our agent in South America."

"But what has that to do with me?" asked Linda. Did they mean to leave
her on the island, or send her to South America?

"Just this: we're usin' your Bug and you as pilot fer the job. Susie's
the only one of our gang can fly, and now she and the Jenny are busted,
we'll use you. Get me?"

Linda nodded, sadly. So she was to be made to play a criminal part in
their ugly game! How she wished they would be caught!

"And you needn't scheme to get away," Slats added. "Because I'll be
right behind you, with me gun loaded!"

Linda made no reply; after all there was nothing to be said. She must
take his orders, or be instantly killed.

"Ready now?" he inquired, satisfied with her silence. "We always work
early in the day. Maybe you better come over with me and take a look at
your plane, and I'll give you some gas. See if she's O.K."

Dutifully Linda accompanied the man to the edge of the island, and
there was the autogiro, safe and sound as ever--her only friend in the
world, it seemed!

She looked about her at the marshy water, the trees and vegetation of
the swamp, and then up into the sky, which she searched vainly for an
airplane. But except for the birds, there was no sign of life in that
desolate, vast expanse of land and sky. Not a human habitation in sight!

Desperately, she wished that she could think of some plan to outwit
this lawless gang, but everything seemed hopeless, as long as Slats
carried that pistol aimed at her head. So she meekly inspected the
autogiro and climbed into the cock-pit.

Her companion was in a good humor; he was enjoying the whole situation
immensely, pleased at his own cleverness. He liked to fly, and he
admired the autogiro; he even went so far as to say he believed he'd
keep this one for Susie.

Linda said nothing, but she was thinking what a mistake that would
be for him to make. Much as she would hate to lose her autogiro, she
realized that its possession would give the gang away to the police. It
was one thing to steal jewelry and money, and another to take a plane,
of a make of which there were only perhaps a hundred in existence.

They flew over the trees, eastward to the prairie land, and then on
through the coastal plain to the Atlantic Ocean. Whether they were
crossing Florida or Georgia, Linda did not know, and for once she was
not interested in the country. The sun rose as they came to the water,
but that beautiful sight, too, made no impression upon the unhappy
girl. Nothing but the sight of a plane or a boat--the promise of
rescue--could have any meaning for her.

On and on she went, leaving the land behind them, until finally they
sighted an island possibly five miles out. The man behind her shouted
to her to land, and she circled about, finally coming down on the beach.

As she brought her autogiro to earth, she was once more impressed by
the loneliness, the barrenness of it all. No habitation of any kind,
not even a tent! Motionless she sat in the cock-pit, wondering whether
she couldn't get away while this thief was unloading his treasure.

Slats, however, was too wise for any such trick; he commanded Linda to
get out of the plane, and help him carry a heavy box across the island
where a growth of bushes concealed a hole in the ground, which was
evidently the pre-arranged hiding-place. In silence they buried the
treasure and returned to the autogiro.

Retracing their course under his direction, Linda flew back to the
encampment. Here they found the others finishing their lunch, and Susie
was sitting with them, apparently much brighter and better, for she was
laughing and talking to her companions.

As Linda and her captor finished their meal, a stranger put in his
stealthy appearance at the door of the tent. He was well-dressed, in
riding-breeches, and clean-shaven. Linda's heart gave a wild bound of
hope. Was it possible that this man was an officer of the law, and the
criminals were caught?

But Beefy's greeting to the visitor instantly dispelled her hopes.

"Hello, Jake!" he exclaimed. "What's new?"

"Everything ripe for tonight," announced the new-comer, briefly. "Ready
to start now?"

Slats stood up. "O.K. with me," he said. "Want some grub first, Jake?"

"No--I just ate." The stranger turned smilingly to Linda. "And how's
the most famous girl-pilot in the world?"

Linda recoiled in horror. So he too knew all about the plot to catch
her! Another member of this terrible gang!

As she did not answer, he shrugged his shoulders.

"Got the lines out about her yet?" he inquired, of the other men.

"No," replied Slats. "We had a smash-up--wrecked Susie and the Jenny,
so we'll need Linda to fly her plane for us till this job's over
tonight. I'll give you the high sign when I'm ready to let her old man
know."

The four men stood together at the door of the tent.

"We're leaving for a day--maybe two," Slats informed Linda. "But
Susie's watching you, with a gun. And your plane's dry, so I wouldn't
advise to try any get-away. There's swamps everywhere....

"So long...."

A moment later the girls heard the men tramp away to the boat that the
new-comer had brought to the edge of the island.



CHAPTER V

_Escape_


It was with a sigh of relief that Linda watched her captors disappear.
Not that she had any hope of getting free--without gasoline--but at
least she would not see those dreadful men for a few hours. Susie was
not nearly so bad.

"I hope you can cook," remarked the latter, surveying her bandaged
ankle.

"Oh, yes," replied Linda. "I've often camped out before."

"Then we can enjoy ourselves for a while. I'm glad to get rid of that
gang.... And, Linda--how 'bout if we be friends? No use making things
worse by getting mad at _me_."

"True," admitted Linda, though she wondered what she could possibly
find in common with the other girl that might inspire friendship.

Seeing a kettle of water steaming on the oilstove, she set herself to
the task of washing the dishes.

"Wish I could help," remarked Susie, in a friendly tone. "But after
this there won't be so many dishes--for just the two of us."

"When do you expect them back?" inquired her prisoner.

"Tomorrow morning, probably. If they get their loot."

"Suppose they get caught?" suggested Linda.

"They won't. Don't worry! They've been planning this crack for months,
and you can bet everything's all set just right. They never get caught."

Linda sighed. It wasn't very promising.

"Tell me how you got into a gang like this?" she asked, suddenly.

"I fell for Slats," replied the other girl. "Thought he was a rich
guy--he spent so much money on me. I was working as a clerk at an
airport, and learning to fly. We ran off and got married."

"But when you discovered that he wasn't straight, why didn't you leave
him?"

"Couldn't. He said he'd hunt me down, and 'bump me off,' if I did.
And he meant it, too. Slats isn't afraid of anything.... I saw right
away that he didn't want a wife, but a pilot, who'd do what he said....
The only fun I get out of it is in the winter, when we go to Europe
or South America, and live like swells. Then he lets me spend all the
money I want."

"But doesn't it make you feel dreadful--at night, sometimes, or when
you're alone--to think of leading such a wicked life?"

"Now, Linda, be yourself!" answered Susie, flippantly. "No preaching!
From you, or anybody else!"

Linda turned away and completed her task in silence. What was the
use of talking to a person like that? She knew now what was meant by
the term "hard-boiled." If ever a word described anyone, that word
described Susie.

She wondered, as she worked, whether it would be worth-while to repeat
her suggestion of the night before. Susie's ankle was so much better
today that she would not be so eager to get to a real doctor. Still,
there could be no harm in trying.

"Wouldn't you like to go off in my autogiro today?" she inquired,
without turning around.

Her companion laughed bitterly.

"Not a chance!" she replied. "Didn't you see Beefy take that big can to
the boat with him? That was _gas_."

"Oh!" exclaimed Linda, her hopes dashed to the ground. "You mean they
don't trust you?"

"They don't trust anybody!" announced the other girl, emphatically. "It
don't pay--in a game like theirs."

"Would you have gone with me?" inquired Linda. "If they hadn't taken
it?"

"I don't know. My ankle's better. But I'm sick and tired of Slats,
though I guess I'd miss the cash and the excitement. And I guess I'd be
too scared he'd get me in the end if I double-crossed him."

Linda was silent. Now that this hope was frustrated, she must think
of something else. Surely this was her chance of escape--with the men
away, and her only companion a cripple.

But the swamp--the dreadful swamp was all about her. How far into the
depth of the Okefenokee she was, she did not know. It was all a vast
unexplored wilderness to her.

"Alive with snakes and wild animals, and alligators, I suppose,"
she mused. Yet nothing savage could be worse than those three fiends
in human flesh who were holding her captive. She determined to face
anything rather than them. Yes; she would run away, if it meant
swimming the swamp!

There was no use loading herself down with food, she concluded,
for most of her trip would be through the water. She would stop at
her plane and take out some chocolate, and her knife; thus lightly
equipped, she would face the wilderness alone.

"Linda," said Susie, interrupting these thoughts, "will you go to my
tent and get me a magazine I have there? I think it's under the cot."

Linda nodded, repressing a smile. She would go, but she would not come
back!

Stepping into the smaller tent, she dropped the flap, and picked up her
flash-light. Then, raising the wall on the other side, she crept out
through the trees to the edge of the island and circled about until she
reached the autogiro. This would give her a few minutes extra before
Susie should realize that she had gone.

As she stood there beside her plane for a moment, wondering whether
she would ever see it again, she had her first real sight of the
Okefenokee Swamp from the ground. Cypress and slash pine trees grew
in abundance, and heavy moss hung about. In the water all around her,
she noticed rushes and water-lilies, and ferns grew everywhere in
profusion. Beneath the surface, she could see thick vegetation; would
this, she wondered, support her weight if she were to attempt to walk
in it?

In the afternoon sunlight the water, the trees, were perfectly still;
except for the birds, the silence was profound. How desolate it was!
Her wrist-watch informed her that it was already four o'clock. Five
hours more, and darkness would come on, enveloping everything in a
blackness such as a city-dweller never sees. Even the sky might be
hidden by the trees, and the wild animals would be prowling stealthily
about in search of food. She shuddered and hesitated.

"But I have an even chance with the animals," she thought. "And with
those thieves, I am sure to lose!" So valiantly, she stepped out into
the water.

The depth was not great at this point, and she discovered that, though
the soft muck sunk beneath her feet, she could still make progress. The
hard rains of July and August had not yet set in, and the "bays," as
the stretches of shallow water were called, had not risen to any great
height.

Laboriously she waded onward, choosing a thick growth of trees in the
distance as her goal. Surely, she thought, where the trees could grow
there must be some dry land. If she could make that spot by nightfall,
she could hide in their depths and sleep. Then tomorrow she could press
on to the westward, and perhaps reach the end of the swamp.

It was a slow, weary progress that she accomplished, and she had to
pick her way carefully, measuring the depth of the water with a stick
which she had cut from a pine on Black Jack Island, but she kept
resolutely on until her watch registered seven o'clock. Then, all of a
sudden, the stick sunk so deeply into the muck that she knew she would
have to swim, and she hastily ate the chocolate which was to be her
evening meal, and plunged forward to swim.

As the time slowly passed, she watched Black Jack Island fading in
the distance, and hope swelled in her heart. She was nearing land
at last--perhaps only an island--but even if she were not out of the
swamp, at least she would be away from her enemies. She smiled when she
pictured the consternation and anger of the men at finding her gone.

She swam on for some distance, now and then pausing to cut the grasses
that became entangled about her legs. Her shoes were heavy, but she
hated to take them off, for they were a help in the shallow water.

After an hour of this exercise, she was utterly exhausted, and she
looked about her in dismay. What if she should drown now, in the
midst of her own country--after she had conquered the Atlantic Ocean
successfully? The thought was absurd; she steeled herself to press
forward, for she was coming nearer to that bank of trees. Surely, there
lay safety!

Had she but known it, she was now entering one of the so-called "Gator
Roads" of the swamp--channels of water which the alligators followed.
But it looked promising to the tired, hungry girl.

The foliage was growing thicker now, and the water-way narrowing. Some
distance on, the trees met overhead, and beautiful moss hung from their
branches, shutting out the setting sunlight, and forming a lovely green
bower. But Linda was scarcely conscious of this beauty, for she was
breathing with difficulty, panting with fatigue. If she could only make
that bank--where the land seemed firm!

A big tree had fallen across the water, and she managed to reach it,
and to cling to it for support while she rested. Her feet hung down in
the muck, and she realized that the water was comparatively shallow.
She wanted to laugh aloud in her relief.

Pulling herself up by her hands, she decided to walk the log to the
bank, and had just poised herself upon its rather perilous round
surface, when she encountered the greatest shock in her life thus far.
Not ten yards away, in the very water where she would have been now,
had she not mounted the log--was an alligator, at least eight feet
long! Brave as she was usually in the face of other dangers, she let
out a piercing scream of terror at the sight of this horrible monster.

"Now I've got to walk the log!" she thought. "It's death if I fall off!"

She watched the alligator a minute or two while she regained her
self-control, and made sure that he was not moving. Then, with eyes
straight ahead, she started to walk the log.

Once, toward the middle, she swayed, but it was only for a second. She
straightened herself staunchly and marched on--to dry land.

Oh, the joy of feeling her feet on firm ground again! To know that
whatever misfortune might come on the morrow, she was safe for that
night at least! She could not drown, or be tortured by enemies; her
only danger would come from snakes. She would take the precaution to
explore her sleeping-place thoroughly before she lay down.

Weary as she was, she did not stop until she had gone farther into the
island. The trees were denser here than they had been at Black Jack;
it would be more difficult to land an autogiro, if by chance Susie
should follow her. Nevertheless, she resolved to stay hidden as much as
possible.

Away from the shore, she finally dropped to the ground and took off her
wet shoes and stockings.

"Not that it will do me much good in the morning to start off dry," she
thought bitterly. "But anyhow, I don't want to sleep in them." And then
she removed her outer garments.

"Wouldn't supper taste good!" she said aloud, envying Susie that
well-filled larder at the camp. But Linda knew that there was no
danger of her starving so soon, after that big noon-day meal, and she
put the thought of food from her mind. Water she could not forget so
easily. After half an hour's thirst, she decided to risk a drink from
the swamp. Had she but known that the water of the Okefenokee is not
poisonous, she would have enjoyed her drink more. The "peat" gives it a
queer taste, but it is harmless.

She was relieved, in her return to the water, to see that the alligator
had gone--which way, she could not tell. Though she was desolately
lonely in that vast abandoned wilderness, she did not care for the
companionship of so ugly a beast!

When she returned to the spot which she had selected for her camp, she
took her knife from its wet case and cut a few stout sticks from a
tree. With these she would explore the ground before she lay down, and
keep them at her side while she slept, as some sort of protection from
snakes.

As with the water, however, Linda's fears regarding snakes proved
unnecessary, for the report of a large number of these in the
Okefenokee Swamp had been proved by hunters to have been exaggerated.
As a matter of fact, Linda did not see one during her entire visit to
the swamp.

She waited until the daylight had faded, and darkness completely
enveloped the landscape before she lay down to rest. The stars were
still visible here and there through the trees, and, as upon the
occasion of her lonely flight to Paris, they somehow seemed friendly.
After an hour or so, she slipped off to sleep.

Only once during that strange, desolate night did she awaken, and
that was when something cold and wet suddenly touched her face. She
started up fearfully, seizing a stick with one hand and her knife
with the other, squinting her eyes for snakes. Her flash-light had of
course been thrown away during her swim, so she could not immediately
identify the enemy that had awakened her.

She laughed out loud when she finally saw what it was. She had rolled
over against her shoes, which were still cold and clammy with water!

She went back to sleep again, and did not awaken until the sun was well
up in the sky. She had no way of telling the exact time, for her watch
refused to go after its bath in the swamp, but Linda judged from the
sun that it must be nine o'clock at least. Her clothing was dry, at any
rate, and her shoes only a little damp. But what a sight she was, she
thought, after that long swim!

She went down to the water's edge to wash, and to drink the water that
must serve as her breakfast, and looked carefully about her--into the
sky, and on the water--for the sight of her enemies. For she had no
doubt that as soon as the thieves returned, they would go in search of
her, believing that she could not have gotten far away.

She was relieved to see nothing, no sign of human beings anywhere, and
she paused to watch some wild birds fly past overhead. Everything was
peaceful and quiet--like a Sunday morning in the country. It was hard
to believe that wickedness existed in such a beautiful world.

Then, abruptly, she noticed the soft swish of water not far away from
her, and she looked up quickly, expecting to see the alligator again.
In that awful second, her worst fears were realized. A canoe, with two
men aboard, was coming straight towards her. The thieves! They had
sighted her--they were wildly waving their arms.

It was too late to hide!



CHAPTER VI

_The Enemy in the Autogiro_


Defeated, miserable, hopeless, Linda sank to the ground and buried her
face in her hands, waiting for the dreaded approach of her enemies. Oh,
the cruelty of fate, to deliver her to them again, after her superhuman
effort to escape! Bitter tears rushed to her eyes, scalding her face,
and she sat as one expecting death, listening to the rhythmic dip of
the paddles, as the canoe came closer and closer.

She kept her face hidden until the sound ceased, informing her thereby
that the craft had stopped at her side. Tensely she waited for the
harsh snarl of her captor's voice. But to her incredulous amazement,
she heard instead the soft, deep, well-bred tones of a Southerner!

"Can we be of any help to you, Miss?" inquired the speaker.

Linda looked up instantly into the kind eyes of two exceedingly
attractive young men.

"Oh! Please!" she gasped, the tears still running from her eyes. "Yes,
please!"

And then, for the first time in her life, Linda Carlton fainted.

When she came to, she was lying on the ground, with two strangers
bending over her, one offering her water, and the other hot coffee
from a thermos bottle. A warm glow of happiness surged over her as
she realized that she was among real human beings--not animals, or
criminals. Though not naturally impulsive, she longed to throw her arms
about these boys and weep with gratitude. If they had been girls, she
would not have hesitated a moment.

Instead, she sat up and smiled her sweetest smile, so that, bedraggled
as she was, she was still beautiful. The boys, man-like, each urged his
particular offering upon her.

"Put that coffee down, Hal!" commanded the tall, fair youth at her
right. "A lady who has just fainted doesn't want coffee."

"I do, though," Linda assured him. "I want water, and coffee--and
anything else you have to eat. I fainted from hunger as much as from
anything else."

The boy called "Hal" looked pleased at her acceptance of his gift, and
he hurried back to the canoe for some food.

"Are you alone?" asked the other, who remained at Linda's side. "And
how do you happen to be here?"

"It's a long story," replied the girl, wondering just how much of it
she had better tell. It was all so incredulous, that perhaps they
wouldn't believe her if she did tell them.

"First have some food," suggested the boy who had gone to the canoe.
"How long has it been since you ate?"

"Only yesterday noon--and I even had some chocolate about six o'clock.
But after that I waded and swam from Black Jack Island to this
place--whatever it is."

"This is 'Billy's Island,'" the boys informed her. "Named after
'Billy Bowlegs,' the Indian who once lived here.... But, Great Guns!"
exclaimed Hal, "that's five miles at least! Nobody ever tried to swim
the Okefenokee Swamp before!"

"Well, it seemed like twenty-five," remarked Linda. "And I hope nobody
ever has to try it again."

She did not go on with her story immediately, for she was too busy
eating bananas--one right after another. Nothing had ever tasted so
good! Meanwhile, the boys introduced themselves as Hal--short for
Harold--Perry, and Jackson Carter, both Juniors at the University of
Florida.

"We're both on the archery team at college," Jackson explained. "And
we take a little trip into the Okefenokee each summer, to try out our
bows and arrows on the wild game here. We camp each night on one of the
islands."

"Then you know the Swamp pretty well," remarked Linda, with relief.
They would be able to take her back to civilization.

"The southern end of it--yes," replied Hal.

"Now tell us who you are," urged Jackson Carter, regarding Linda with
silent admiration. There was no doubt about it, she certainly was an
attractive girl.

Linda hesitated a moment, and determined not to mention her first name.
She was tired of all the publicity and disaster which her ocean flight
had brought her. Besides, these boys might think she was just posing
as Linda Carlton, the famous aviatrix, in order to impress them. She
would tell them only her middle name, instead.

"I am Ann Carlton, from Ohio," she replied. "I was flying my new plane
when I got lost over the swamp, and had to come down on the first dry
land I saw, because my gas was running low, and I didn't know how far
the water extended."

"Smashed your plane?" inquired Hal, evidently satisfied with the
explanation.

"No. But unfortunately I fell among a gang of thieves, and they stole
it, and tried to hold me prisoner on Black Jack Island. But yesterday I
got away, as I told you."

Both boys gazed at Linda in admiration and wonder. What a plucky girl
she must be!

"Thieves in the swamp!" repeated Hal. "Not Indians?--a lot of Indians
used to live here, and they might have come back."

"No. White men--and one girl. Regular thieves, the kind that rob banks
and jewelry stores."

"But what were they doing? Hiding from justice?"

"I don't think so," answered Linda. "Because I don't think anybody
suspects them in particular. They have a regular camp on Black Jack
Island, and they bring whatever they steal there, and transfer it by
airplane to an island in the Atlantic Ocean, where it's picked up by
another partner in a boat."

Jackson let out a whistle.

"Pretty slick, aren't they? But they'll get caught sometime."

"I sincerely hope so. Unfortunately, though, nobody could identify them
as thieves, because they haven't been caught before."

"You could," remarked Hal.

"Yes, if I ever see them again. Do we have to pass Black Jack Island to
get out of the swamp?"

"I'm afraid so--but we needn't go very close to it--it's some distance
from the regular 'Gator Road' we always follow."

"'Gator Road'?" repeated Linda. "There aren't any roads in the swamp,
are there?"

"They're water channels," Hal explained. "Short for alligator-roads."

Linda shuddered.

"I saw an alligator last night," she told them. "I hope we don't meet
any more."

"You poor girl!" exclaimed Jackson. "It seems to me you've had most
every dreadful experience anybody could have in the last twenty-four
hours!"

"But they're over now," laughed Linda, wondering what the boys would
say if she told them the real account of the kidnapping.

Even now Jackson Carter was looking at her strangely. She seemed like
such a nice girl--but what sort of family could she have come from,
that would allow her to roam around the country unchaperoned and alone?
He himself was of an old-fashioned Southern family, who regarded such
independence in young women as mere boldness. Yet Linda Carlton seemed
anything but ill-bred, or bold.

"Aren't your family worried about you, Miss Carlton?" he inquired. "So
far away--in an airplane?"

"They must be by now," she replied with a pang of distress. "I had
promised to wire them every day--and it's been three nights now since I
could. My aunt probably is afraid I have been killed."

"Your aunt?"

"Yes. My mother is dead, and my aunt has always taken care of me."

"But she lets you do pretty much as you please I take it. You northern
girls certainly are different."

"Well, not exactly." Linda could not explain without telling the whole
story of her life, so she decided to let the matter pass. "Hadn't we
better be pushing on, if we expect to get out of the swamp before dark?"

"Yes," replied Hal. "But don't set your heart on that, Miss Carlton. I
don't know whether we can or not. But we'll get past Black Jack Island,
and at least as far as Soldiers' Camp Island."

"Soldiers' Camp Island?" repeated Linda.

"Yes. The story goes that some Civil War soldiers deserted, and hid
there. I don't know how true it is, but it certainly is a good place to
hide."

"Don't I know!" sighed Linda.

They climbed into the canoe, putting Linda on some blankets in the
center, and started upon their journey. For the first time since her
visit to the swamp, Linda was at last able to enjoy its beauty. The
thick ferns, the cypress trees growing in abundance, the pines and the
water-lilies! What a difference a boat could make! Yesterday she hated
the rushes and the moss; today she found everything lovely.

Avoiding the island where the thieves were camped, the boys made a
wide circle, and did not pass even in sight of it. With each mile of
progress, Linda's spirits rose higher and higher, until finally she
suggested that they sing. She just had to find some outlet for her joy
and thanksgiving.

"It must be long after noon," remarked Jackson, as they finished a
familiar college song. "Hadn't we better eat?"

"I see an island ahead--I think it's Soldiers' Camp," replied Hal.
"Wouldn't it be nice to stop and make some coffee?"

"I'm hot enough without any fire or hot coffee," returned Jackson,
wiping the perspiration from his face. "But I would like to stretch my
legs."

"Let me do the cooking!" urged Linda, eagerly. "I'd love to prove some
use to you, after all the trouble I've made."

"You haven't been any trouble!" protested Jackson, whose admiration for
Linda had been growing by leaps and bounds, in spite of the fact that
he could not wholly approve of her. For the past three hours he had
been sitting in the stern of the canoe, gazing at her lovely profile,
listening to the charm of her soft voice. Yet he knew he had better not
allow himself to care for this girl; she was just the type his mother
disapproved of, and with Jackson Carter, his mother's wishes were
supreme.

They pulled up to the island and unloaded the canoe. There were all
sorts of supplies--bacon, canned beans, fruit, and biscuits, as well as
tea, coffee, sugar and canned milk. Even a little folding stove to set
over a fire, and a coffee-pot.

"What a perfectly delightful spot!" exclaimed Linda, as she walked some
distance inland. "Look at these lovely little houses! Why, I could
almost live in them myself!"

What she referred to were the clumps, here and there, of cypress trees
and overgrowing vines and evergreens, which, as a matter of fact, the
hunters often used to camp in during their visits to the swamp. They
were very attractive indeed, and would afford complete privacy, Linda
thought, if she were obliged to spend another night in the Okefenokee.

The boys made a fire on the edge of the water, and Linda insisted that
they go off for half an hour while she prepared the meal. She laughed
and sang as she toasted the dry biscuits and the bacon, and boiled the
coffee. What fun it was to picnic when you were among friends--even if
they were very new ones!

When the boys came back, they each proudly displayed a wild goose, as
proof of their ability with the bow and arrow. Then, like three happy,
carefree school-children, they sat down to their meal, having forgotten
all about the thieves for the time being.

The shock was all the more terrible, therefore, when they suddenly
looked up into the sky and saw the autogiro overhead. Linda was the
first to identify the plane, to guess what danger they were in. She
stumbled to her feet, pulling Jackson with her, and just as she opened
her mouth to tell them to flee with her into the depths of the island,
a shot rang out from the autogiro, and a bullet whizzed past the little
group, so innocently enjoying their picnic!



CHAPTER VII

_The Smash-Up_


The robbery which was so carefully planned by the gang of thieves
who had kidnapped Linda Carlton, was highly successful. One of the
largest banks in Jacksonville was entered just before closing time on
the afternoon of June 23rd by four masked robbers, who calmly took
thousands of dollars in cash and securities, and escaped to a waiting
car, without being identified or caught.

By a secret route these men suddenly disappeared--whither, no one but
Linda and Susie knew. By midnight they were back again in the swamp,
and by dawn they had reached Black Jack Island.

Exhausted from their journey, three of the men dropped down on their
cots and fell instantly asleep. The fourth--Susie's husband--stopped to
look into his wife's tent.

Flashing the light inside, he peered through the doorway. There was
Susie, sleeping peacefully on her cot. But the other bed was empty!
"Susie!" he yelled in alarm. "Where's Linda?"

The girl awakened abruptly, and sat up, blinking her eyes at the
unexpected light. For a moment she could not think what he meant. Then
she remembered her prisoner.

"She's gone," she replied. "Beat it this afternoon."

"How?" he demanded roughly, coming over and shaking her by the arm.
Susie winced, and pulled herself free.

"You leave me alone!" she warned him. "How do I know how Linda got
away? Could I run after her?"

"No, but you might 'ave watched her!" snarled Slats. "Didn't I tell you
to?"

"Watching wouldn't keep her here," retorted Susie.

"Is her Bug still there?" he inquired.

"Yeah. I hobbled over and took a look myself."

"Oh, you did, did you?" Then, worn out and disappointed, Slats started
to swear.

Susie sat still, regarding him with contempt. How vulgar such language
sounded, when you actually stopped and listened to it! She did not
realize it at the time, but just the few hours which she had spent with
Linda Carlton had given her a new view-point. Or rather, had brought
back her training as a child, before she had "gone bad."

When the man's anger had spent itself in violent words, he began to
wonder how on earth Linda could have escaped.

"No human being could get far in this here bog, without a boat or a
plane!" he exclaimed. "She must be around here somewhere."

"Why don't you go look for her!" demanded Susie, with a sneer. She was
beginning to be glad that Linda had gotten away.

Her husband turned on her savagely.

"Look a here, Susie, if you helped that kid to get away--!" He held up
his fist threateningly. "I'll make you sorry! Give you a dose of the
medicine I was saving for Linda!"

"What do you mean?" she demanded, trembling.

"This gun!" he replied.

"Well, I didn't," she hastened to assure him. "Linda slipped off when I
wasn't watching.... But do you mean you were going to shoot Linda?"

"Sure, you fool! That's what kidnappers always do. Bait the big fish
till they get the cash, then kill the victim, and ship the corpse. If
we sent Linda back alive, she'd have us in the Pen in no time. Our
game'd be up."

Susie shivered; she had not realized that the men had any intention of
going to that end. True, Slats had once killed a bank messenger, but
Susie always excused him on the ground of self-defense. "Hard-boiled"
as she was, the idea of shooting an innocent girl like Linda Carlton
was too much for her to approve. She felt suddenly sick with the horror
of it all.

Slats sat down for a moment on the empty cot, while he thought things
over. Linda Carlton must not escape to tell the world of her experience
and to give such accurate descriptions of the gang that they would have
to be caught. Aside from the matter of the ransom which the kidnapping
ought to bring them, they dared not let her go. The case called for
immediate action.

"Can you fly that Bug, Susie?" he demanded, abruptly breaking the
silence.

"I guess so," replied the girl. "They say they're easier than
airplanes."

"O.K. Then we're off. Get dressed as quick as you can."

"But Slats," protested Susie, rubbing her injured ankle, "don't forget
I've been hurt!"

"Rats!" was his unsympathetic reply. "Get busy. I'll be getting the
gas, and some grub. We'll need coffee--and a lot of it."

Distasteful as the plan was, Susie could do nothing but obey. But she
was feeling very miserable as she ate her breakfast, very sorry for
the "poor, brave kid," as she called Linda, very resentful against her
husband.

The latter helped her down to the autogiro and put her into the pilot's
cock-pit, where she sat for some minutes examining the controls. The
dawn had changed into daylight, and the swamp was beautiful in the
early morning sunrise. But, like Linda Carlton, Susie did not even
notice it.

Impatient at the delay, her husband demanded, "Got the idea how to run
her?"

"Sure," she replied, listlessly. "Start her up and climb in.... Where
do you want to go!"

"Circle all around--flying low, so that we can spot the kid if she's
here. If we don't see her in the water, we'll stop at some of the
islands, and look there. She can't 'ave got out of this swamp."

"O.K.," agreed Susie.

Without much difficulty the girl ran the autogiro along the edge of
the island until it rose into the air. It was easy enough to keep it
flying; the test would come when she had to make a landing. But Susie
decided never to worry about anything until the time came. Luck was
usually with her; her only serious crash had been the one of two days
previous, and, after all, there was a reason for that.

Slats, who spurned learning how to fly, because he considered his a
master-mind, above such practical work, was, nevertheless, enjoying the
ride. He congratulated himself upon his own cleverness in securing this
new plane for the gang.

"Like her, Susie?" he shouted, through the speaking-tube.

The girl nodded, indifferently.

"You can have her!" he announced, proudly, as if he were giving her a
costly present of his own purchasing.

Susie drew down the corners of her lips in scorn, but made no reply.
Didn't he realize that she would never dare fly this autogiro where
anyone could see her? That the police all over the country would be on
the look-out for this very plane? She was understanding for the first
time that money was not much use without freedom.

As she sat in the cock-pit, silently thinking things over, she made
up her mind not to try to help Slats in his search. She would have to
continue to guide the plane, of course, for she never for one moment
forgot the pistol that her husband kept ready to enforce his orders
with. But she would not attempt to spot Linda, nor would she inform him
if she did happen by chance to see the girl. No; it would be better to
let "the poor kid" die by natural causes in the swamp than for her to
be killed by Slats in cold-blooded murder.

Over the trees and tropical plants of the swamp they continued to
fly, until the sun rose directly overhead, and they knew that it was
noon. All the while Slats kept his eyes glued to the ground, without
any success. Not a sign of human life did he see. Movements in the
swamp--yes--snakes and birds, and even an alligator--but no girl! Yet
he felt sure that even if Linda were hiding, she would come out at the
sound of the plane, for by this time she would realize that escape was
impossible. Driven by the pangs of hunger, she would have to surrender
to her fate. But noon passed, and they found no trace of her.

Perhaps she was dead by this time, the man thought bitterly--killed by
a snake, or drowned in the treacherous water! He would not mind that,
if he could only find her dead body. Without it, without the assurance
that she was not still at large, he dared not seek a reward. What a lot
of money he would be losing!

"We'll land on an island, and have some grub," he shouted to his
companion. "Fly south to 'Soldiers' Camp.'"

"O.K.," replied the girl, beginning to doubt her ability to make a
landing. But she was afraid to disobey--and besides, they had to come
down sometime.

After that things happened with a rapidity that must have startled the
peaceful bird-life in the Okefenokee Swamp. Approaching the island,
Susie and her husband spotted the carefree picnic at the same moment,
and the former made a sudden, sharp turn in the hope of hiding the
sight from Slats. At the same instant, he took out his pistol and fired
at the group--at Linda in particular--missing her only because of
Susie's rapid change of the position of the plane.

The sharp angle had its effect upon the pilot; she lurched over,
striking her injured ankle against the rudder, swerving the plane
violently to the other side. Panic-stricken, she tried to right the
plane, but she had not even throttled the engine down to a landing
speed. The inevitable crash followed. With an impact that was
frightful, the autogiro headed for a tree with relentless speed, struck
it and bounced thirty feet into the air.

By some miracle Susie, crouched as she was in the cock-pit, was not
thrown out, but her husband, who had not taken the precaution to
wear a safety-belt, was bounced wildly into the air, and landed,
face-downward, on a rock.

During all this excitement, Linda and her companions stood tensely
rooted to the spot, the girl gripping Jackson Carter's hand as if he
were her one support. As the crash came, she dropped her head on his
shoulder and moaned aloud, totally unconscious of the fact that the
young man was still little more than a stranger to her.

A cry from Susie aroused her to the fact that the girl was still alive.
Ignoring the man who had brought about the catastrophe by his hasty
shot, all three young people rushed to Susie's aid.

The plane was only partially turned over; the rotor and the wheels were
injured, and the nose smashed, but it did not look to Linda as if there
had been any serious harm to the engine. Susie's head was cut, and two
teeth were knocked out, but apparently no bones had been broken. Very
carefully the boys lifted her from the cock-pit and laid her on the
ground.

"I have a first-aid kit in the canoe," said Hal, immediately. "I'll get
it and fix up this cut. It doesn't seem awfully deep."

"Does it hurt very much, Susie?" asked Linda, offering her a drink of
water.

"Not as much as my ankle. And my poor mouth! Without these teeth! My
looks are ruined!"

"No, they're not," answered Linda, comfortingly. "Any good dentist can
fix you up so nobody will ever know the difference."

Still no one said anything about the man who was lying so silently
on the rock a dozen yards away. It was Hal Perry, returning from the
canoe, who made the announcement which they had all been secretly
expecting.

"The man with the gun is dead," he said, quietly, not knowing how Susie
would take the news.

"So he got his at last," muttered the latter, with a certain grim
satisfaction. "Nobody--not even his widow--is goin' to shed a single
tear!"



CHAPTER VIII

_The Chief of Police_


Half an hour after the accident, Susie expressed a desire to eat, and
Linda hastened to supply her with food. While the girl ate her lunch,
the little group discussed their plans.

"Is my bag still in the autogiro?" asked Linda, surveying the
disreputable suit which she had worn for three days. What a relief it
would be to get into clean clothing!

"It was when we left," replied Susie. "If it didn't bounce out when we
crashed.... Linda," she added apologetically, "I'm awful sorry about
your plane. I--I--didn't mean to crack it up."

"I know you didn't, Susie. I think it can be repaired, if we can get
the new parts to this forsaken place. Probably we can--by airplane."

Jackson Carter, who had been only half listening to this conversation,
interrupted by telling the girls that he and Hal would take care of
the burying of the criminal. "Unless," he added, turning to Susie, "you
would want to take the body back to your home?"

"We haven't any home," Susie admitted sadly. "And no friends, outside
the gang.... No, it's better for him to lie here in this swamp--where
he meant to plant Linda."

The implication was lost to the boys, who did not know the story of the
kidnapping, and who thought of Linda as "Ann."

"Then first we'll help you get your bag out of the autogiro, Miss
Carlton," offered Jackson. "You can go back into one of those little
'houses,' and change into clean clothing, if you want to, while we
attend to the burying."

"Wait a minute," urged Linda. "I think we ought to decide what we'll
do about tonight. We can't all four get into that canoe, so Susie and
I had better stay here, hadn't we? You could wire my aunt for me,
couldn't you?"

To Linda's amazement, before either of the boys had a chance to reply,
Susie put in a protest.

"It ain't safe for you to be here an hour more than you have to,"
she said. "Don't forget there's still three rough guys hot on your
trail.... No, I'll stay alone, if you leave me some grub, and a
blanket. You can come back for me when you bring somebody to fix your
plane." This generous offer came as a complete surprise to Linda; she
had not realized before that this girl had swung over to her side. What
a splendid sign it was! Susie must have decided to cut free from these
criminals, now that her husband was dead.

"That's great of you, Susie," replied Linda. "And you needn't worry
that I'll ever tell the authorities anything bad about you! I was
afraid I oughtn't to leave you alone--but if you really don't mind----"

The other girl shrugged her shoulders.

"I'll get along O.K. I'm used to being left by myself. But don't stay
away too long."

The arrangements suited the boys perfectly, for they were anxious to be
out of the swamp as soon as possible. With fast paddling, they ought to
be able to reach a little town in Florida by dark, where they believed
that they could hire an automobile to take them home.

Fifteen minutes later Linda stepped out from the enclosure, dressed
in a pale blue voile--the only dress she carried in her bag, for she
had shipped her trunk to Atlanta, where she had expected to report for
work. The wearing of clean clothing was a pleasure second only to that
of using a comb and a tooth-brush. She felt like a different girl.

If she had seemed pretty to Jackson Carter before, in that disheveled
green linen suit, she was radiantly beautiful now. Returning from his
gruesome task, he stood still, lost in admiration.

Linda laughed at his amazement.

"Do I look like another girl?" she inquired.

"The same girl--glorified," he answered, with awe.

Having unloaded the canoe of its food and blankets, and assured
themselves that Susie was able to hobble around with the aid of a
stick, the three young people pushed off. It was only three o'clock;
all these occurrences--the crash, the death of the criminal, his
burial--had taken place in less than two hours!

For some time the boys paddled forward in silence, each of the three
occupants of the canoe lost in his or her own thoughts. Hal was going
over the exciting events of the last two hours; Jackson was thinking
of Linda--or "Ann"--Carlton, and wondering whether her hiding her
head on his shoulder had meant that she cared for him. Linda's mind,
however, was occupied with the immediate future--with the part she
might play in assisting the police to catch those arch criminals who
were still at large.

It was she who first broke the silence.

"What would be the nearest large city to this southern end of the
swamp?" she inquired.

"Jacksonville, Florida," replied Hal, immediately. "That's where we
both live."

"Then that's where I want to go," announced Linda. "Have they a good
police department?"

"Best in the country," boasted Jackson.... "Miss Carlton," he added,
"would you stay at our home while you are in the city?"

"I'd love to," agreed the girl immediately. All through the South,
until she had lost her way in the Okefenokee, she had met with this
same southern hospitality, and had found it charming.

Jackson Carter was overjoyed at her acceptance, yet he was a little
fearful of the reception his mother would give to a girl who was so
different from all his other friends. Surely, however, the older woman
must see how fine Miss Carlton was, and accept her for her own lovely
charm.

The hours passed swiftly and the daylight was fast fading when the boys
finally informed Linda that she was out of the swamp. With a prayer of
thanksgiving, she gave it one last look, hardly able to believe her
good fortune. Less than twenty-four hours ago, she had been miserably
lost in its depths. Now she was free to live again in civilization,
untortured by the fears that had held her in such terror for the last
three days.

Leaving the canoe in a boat-house on the bank of the small stream which
they had been following out of the swamp, they walked to the nearest
village and asked for the Post Office. Here Linda made arrangements to
send a wire to her aunt, in which, however, she did not mention the
fact that she had been kidnapped.

"Have been lost in Okefenokee Swamp," she wrote. "But not hurt. Wire me
at Jacksonville, Fla. Love--Linda."

Her next move was to send for her trunk from Atlanta, and to wire for
new parts for the autogiro, and while the boys looked up a place to
eat supper, she bought a Jacksonville newspaper. She hoped there would
be nothing in it about her, for she hated so much publicity.

The first item that struck her eye was the announcement of the
Jacksonville Bank robbery. More than a hundred thousand dollars had
been stolen--in cash and securities--by four masked bandits on the
afternoon of June twenty-third, and still no trace of them had been
found.

"That money must be at Black Jack Island," she thought, resolving to
get this information to the police early the following day.

She had to go through the paper twice before she found her own name. It
was only a tiny notice, among the aviation briefs, and copied from an
Ohio paper--stating the fact that Linda Carlton, world-famous aviatrix,
had not been heard from for three days, and asking that the air-ports
of Georgia report any sight of her autogiro.

Linda breathed a sigh of relief, as she saw how inconspicuous this
notice was. For some reason she did not want Jackson Carter or Hal
Perry to connect her with the famous flyer, and she longed above
everything to keep the story of the kidnapping from her aunt's ears.

The boys came back with the information that they had found a place to
eat, and took Linda to a little frame house where a widow ran a sort of
restaurant. The cottage was run-down and out-of-repair, but everything
inside was neat and clean, and the food, though plain, was excellent.

"How long will it take us to get to Jacksonville?" inquired Linda, as
they finished the meal.

"Two or three hours," replied Hal. "Providing we have no mishaps. Why?"

Linda repressed a sigh. She was very tired, and longed intensely for
sleep in a real bed. These last two nights in the swamp had taken their
toll of her vitality.

"If only we had a plane!" she said.

"It wouldn't do me any good," remarked Jackson. "I've never been in
one--and I've promised my grandmother I won't fly until I'm twenty-one."

"Oh, I'm so sorry," offered Linda, with genuine sympathy. Life without
flying seemed a dreary thing to her.

The only car which the boys had been able to hire was a dilapidated
Ford that looked as if it would hardly last the trip. But it proved to
be better than its appearance; over the lovely hard roads of Florida it
traveled comparatively smoothly. To Linda's amazement, she found when
they reached Jacksonville that she had slept most of the way.

The short rest had freshened her considerably, and she suddenly decided
to go to the Police Headquarters that night. It was her duty to report
the crash of her plane, and the death of that criminal. She wished
that she had thought to ask Susie his real name--she was going to feel
rather silly calling him "Slats."

With this purpose in mind, she asked Jackson what time it was.

"Half-past nine," was his reply. "Why?"

"Because I think I ought to report to the Police tonight about those
thieves. I understand that it was a bank in Jacksonville that they
robbed."

"Which bank?" demanded the boy, excitedly.

"'The First National,' the paper says."

At this information, Jackson Carter dropped back in his seat and
groaned. His mother's bank--where all of her money was kept! The bank
of which his uncle was president! This was going to mean trouble to the
whole Carter family.

"Will you please take my bag to your house, and leave the address with
me?" asked Linda, not knowing what Jackson was suffering. "I'll take a
taxi out to your home, after I see the Chief of Police."

"Yes, yes, of course," agreed the young man, still absorbed in his own
thoughts.

It was a late hour to visit the Chief of Police, but when Linda
explained her reason to an officer at the City Hall, the latter sent
for the chief immediately.

When Captain Magee came in a few minutes later, Linda was impressed
with his appearance and delighted with his dignified and courteous
manner. She smiled at him confidently; how different he was from those
officers of the law with whom she had come in contact in Canada!

"I am going to tell you my whole story, if you will promise not to
repeat the part about the kidnapping to the newspapers," she began. "I
don't want my people at home to hear of that--for, after all, it is
over now, and I am safe."

"Kidnapping!" repeated the officer. "You don't mean to say that you
have been kidnapped?"

"Yes. My name is Linda Ann Carlton--I am the girl who flew the Atlantic
in May." She blushed, for she hated to talk about herself, or to appear
to boast about her own exploits, but this time it was necessary. "Here
in Jacksonville, among friends, I am going to be known as Ann Carlton,
because I want to avoid publicity." Her blue eyes became pleading, and
she asked, in an almost child-like tone, "You won't tell on me, will
you, Captain Magee?"

He smiled. "No, I won't tell. Unless it becomes necessary."

"Thank you so much! Well, to continue: I bought a new autogiro and flew
down here to report to a company in Atlanta about a job spraying crops,
and the newspapers printed the route of my flight. Early in the evening
of June 22nd I lost my way over the Okefenokee Swamp, and finally
landed on an island. A plane had been chasing me, as I later learned
after it landed--or rather crashed--beside mine. The man in it held
me at the point of a gun and compelled me to fly my autogiro to their
camp on Black Jack Island, where I was to be held for a ransom. _That
man was the chief of the gang of bandits that robbed the Jacksonville
bank._"

She paused a moment for breath, and the Captain leaned forward eagerly.
The story, which might have seemed incredulous to an ordinary person,
was perfectly believable to him. He was used to the ways of criminals.

"But how did you get away?" he demanded.

"I never should have, if it hadn't been for this bank robbery," she
explained. "While the men went off, I escaped, and was picked up by a
couple of Jacksonville boys in a canoe."

Linda went on to relate the happenings of the afternoon, concluding
with the death of the ring-leader of the gang, whom she knew only as
"Slats." She spoke lightly of Susie, showing her merely as a weak pawn
in her husband's hands.

The criminals' method of disposing of their stolen valuables was
another interesting point in her story, and she told Captain Magee
about the barren island in the ocean.

"Now whether this stuff is still on the island or at the camp," she
concluded, "I don't know. But I am ready to go and help you find out."

"You mean you are actually willing to go back into that swamp?" the
officer asked. "To show us the way?"

"Of course! That's why I came to you tonight. So that we can make
arrangements for tomorrow."

"But it may be very dangerous, Miss Carlton! These men will be armed,
and will shoot at sight."

"I'll take a chance. Can we go tomorrow morning? By plane?"

"By airplane?"

"Yes. Any other way would be too slow. They may have escaped already."

"But an airplane will be so much noisier than a boat. They'll hear you
coming."

"We'll have to take that chance." She stood up. "If you will get a
plane, Captain Magee--a large one--I will fly it, to save space. Then
we can take two or three armed guards."

"How do you know that you can fly any plane I happen to get, Miss
Carlton?" he inquired, incredulously.

"You see, I'm a transport pilot," she explained. "We have to be able to
manage most anything.... Can you send a car out for me to the Carters'
home, early in the morning?" She handed the Captain the address.

"Yes. I'll telephone as soon as I can make all the arrangements," he
agreed, seeing that he could not change her from her purpose.

Linda thanked him and hurried out to the waiting taxi. It was growing
late, long after ten o'clock, and she was anxious to be in bed.

Jackson Carter himself came to the door when she rang the bell.

"Where is your mother?" she asked, immediately, for there was no sign
of a hostess inside.

"She is ill," replied the young man. "The bad news about the bank--a
great deal of our money was lost--knocked her terribly. She hasn't told
grandmother, or it might kill her. So I had the maid get the guest room
ready, and hope that you will excuse them both."

Linda nodded; she had no way of knowing that Mrs. Carter had protested
about entertaining this girl whom Jackson had "picked up" on his canoe
trip, and had stubbornly refused to see her. The woman had worked
herself into such a state of nerves over her losses and over this
incident that she had actually made herself ill.

"I'm so sorry," said Linda, sympathetically. "If I weren't so tired,
I'd go to a hotel, for this is no time for your mother to be bothered
with a guest. But I'll just stay tonight, and leave early tomorrow. I'm
flying to the swamp again with the police officers."

"Ann!" cried Jackson aghast, using her name unconsciously. "Don't,
please! It's dangerous--you may be killed.... And, and, besides----"

"Besides, what?"

"Besides, it isn't done. You shouldn't go off to lonely places like
that, without an older woman along."

Linda smiled.

"I can't be bothered with social codes at a time like this," she said.
"I have to do all I can to get that money back. Think of the hundreds
of people hurt by that bank robbery--if the bank is forced to close its
doors! Including your own mother and grandmother! No, I just have to
go."

"Let me go instead," he suggested.

"You wouldn't know just where the camp is. It's pretty well hidden, and
I know the only spot where a landing is possible. Besides, you can't
fly a plane."

"You mean you will pilot the plane yourself? Your autogiro's broken."

"Oh, it'll be another plane--a hired one. Now please don't argue any
more, Mr. Carter--you sound like my aunt--and let me go to bed. And
will you ask one of the servants to waken me at seven o'clock?"

"Good night, then, Miss Carlton," he said, almost sorrowfully, for it
seemed like the end of what might have been a wonderful friendship for
Jackson Carter.



CHAPTER IX

_Two Prisoners_


Linda's telephone call came early the following morning, and after a
simple breakfast served by the cook, she left in the car which Captain
Magee sent. Not one of the Carter family appeared at the meal, and
there was no message of any kind. Linda, however, attributed this to
Mrs. Carter's illness, and wrote a polite note of thanks to her hostess.

She found three plain-clothes men waiting for her at the police
station, and they joined her in the car which then took them to the
airport. A large cabin plane, capable of accommodating six persons, had
been wheeled out on the runway, awaiting their arrival and two service
men were standing beside it.

"You are sure you can pilot her, Miss?" inquired one of these men,
skeptically.

Linda opened her bag and took out her two licenses--mechanic's and
transport pilot's--and handed them to him.

"A mechanic!" he exclaimed, in amazement. "Gee whiz! Will wonders never
cease? It's the first time I ever laid eyes on a lady-mechanic!"

Linda laughed.

"May I look the plane over before we start?" she asked. "And will you
map out the quickest course to Okefenokee Swamp! I want to get into the
southern part of it--Black Jack Island, if you know where that is."

With a grin the man disappeared to consult some one in the hangar, and
Linda went ahead with the examination.

"There ought to be plenty of room in here to bring back any prisoners
we may get," she said, cheerfully. "I think too, that you had better
send for some food and water, Sergeant--for we can't tell how long we
may be gone."

When she announced herself satisfied with the inspection, she and her
three companions climbed into the cabin while the mechanic fired the
engine. The plane taxied along the runway and rose gracefully into the
air, to the admiration of the three officers, none of whom could fly.

"You're there with the goods, Miss Carlton!" shouted the one named
"Worth," who apparently was in charge of the expedition.

"Don't praise me too soon," returned Linda. "That was child's play. But
wait till it comes to landing on that island in the swamp. There is
only one spot big enough, in a plane like this."

"Well, we got plenty of gas," remarked Worth, cheerfully. "I'm not
afraid. I'm enjoying the flight. It isn't every day that we go up in
the skies on our job."

Linda was enjoying it, too. She flew carefully, watching her map, her
instruments, and the landscape below. They flew over the island where
they had left Susie, and Linda made a mental note of the location, in
case she should be able to pick the girl up on the return trip.

It was difficult to keep her direction, for the swamp, covered as it
was with grasses and trees, seemed like an unbroken, monotonous expanse
from the air, but Linda had succeeded in spotting the little stream
down which the boys had paddled the canoe, and she resolved to follow
that to the place where they had picked her up. After that it ought to
be easy to locate Black Jack Island and the camp of the thieves.

But it was not as simple as she had hoped, even after she had located
the island. Again and again she circled about, looking for a space
large enough to make a landing. Finally she found what must be the edge
of the island, for the water came up unevenly, but this beach appeared
very small. It was one thing to bring the autogiro safely to earth in a
place like this, and another to land a big plane.

When she had selected her spot, she determined to try "fish-tailing."
She glided with considerable speed toward her field; as she approached
it, she swung her airplane from side to side, exposing the flat side of
the plane's body to the air so as to kill the speed.

Her companions, who had no idea what she was doing, looked at Linda in
alarm. Had she lost control of the plane, and were they about to be
dashed to pieces?

But a glance at their pilot's calm, confident expression allayed their
fears. This girl knew what she was doing! They need not be afraid.

Often at the ground school she had been compelled to land on a given
spot--such as a square of canvas; it was no wonder that she now felt
sure of herself. A moment later she came down on the very mark that she
had selected.

"Pretty neat!" exclaimed Worth, in admiration.

Linda turned off the engine and prepared to get out of the plane. But
the Sergeant stopped her.

"You stay in here, Miss Carlton!" he ordered. "This is no place for a
girl."

"But I have to show you where the camp is," she protested.

"Then show us from here! And remember, too, that you are our pilot. If
anything happened to you, we couldn't get out of this swamp."

Linda saw the reasoning in this last argument, and agreed to remain
inside of the cabin until she should be summoned. She sat there
tensely, while the three men advanced cautiously towards the trees at
the center of the island.

They had not gone more than a dozen yards when a shot rang out from
behind a tree, and a bullet whizzed past over their heads. A cry burst
from Linda's lips, then an exclamation of relief at the assurance that
her companions were unhurt.

"So they're still here!" she thought, excitedly, clasping her hands so
tightly together that they grew numb with the pressure. "Oh, if the men
only get them without being shot!"

The officers' pistols replied rapidly to the shot from the thieves,
in such quick succession that Linda could almost imagine that she was
in an actual war zone. But the volley lasted only a moment, for the
thieves were short of bullets since "Slats'" disappearance, and before
anyone was hurt, "Beefy" and "Jake" surrendered to Sergeant Worth.

Watching the whole proceeding from the window of the plane, Linda drew
a deep sigh of relief. Then suddenly she remembered the third member
of the gang--the man nick-named "Doc." Where was he? Hiding in the
background, waiting to shoot them all down when they were off guard?

Cautiously, therefore, Linda leaned out of the side of the plane and
called to Sergeant Worth to come back to her. Leaving the two thieves
in charge of the other men, who instantly handcuffed them, Worth
returned to the airplane, smiling over his easy victory.

With his assistance Linda jumped out of the cabin and whispered her
warning into his ear. The man scowled in disappointment.

"This fellow may be waiting for you, Miss Carlton," he said. "You stay
right here--behind the plane, while I go find out where he is."

Linda did as she was told, expecting every moment to hear renewed
shooting.

"Where's your other man?" she heard Worth shout, as he approached the
prisoners.

"Gone!" snarled Jake. "Two of 'em sneaked off. Double-crossed us, and
took the kale!"

"Money? What money?" demanded Worth, instantly, hoping to surprise the
man into a confession.

"Nothin'. None of your business," muttered Jake, seeing that he had
made a mistake by saying too much.

"You needn't try to hide anything," remarked the officer,
contemptuously. "We know all about the bank robbery--and other jobs,
too--that you fellows can account for. You'll serve plenty of time!"

Impatient at the delay, Linda felt that she had to be at the scene of
action, to hear what had happened to the "Doc," who evidently was not
on the island. She ran forward, just in time to hear Jake's explanation.

"One fellow made off with the girl in the plane yesterday morning," he
said. "The other guy must have beat it later on in the day--while us
two was still asleep. Took the boat and the cash. We ain't got nothin'
here of any value--outside of food.... Huh! Why, if there ain't Linda
herself!"

Angry as she was at this insolent manner of addressing her, Linda could
not help smiling at the man's consternation. But she was terribly
disappointed to learn that the money was gone. That meant that they had
failed to accomplish the main purpose with which she had set out--to
restore to the innocent bank depositors the savings which they had lost
through no fault of their own.

"Perhaps the money's over on the island in the ocean," she suggested
hopefully. "I had to help bury some boxes of jewels there while I
was a prisoner--and those may still be there, too. Shall we fly over
immediately, Sergeant Worth?"

"You know the way?" the latter inquired, in surprise. His admiration
for this plucky girl was growing every minute.

"Oh, yes, I think so. We can make these men direct us if I forget. They
are sure to know."

After a hasty search of Black Jack Island was completed--to make sure
that the third man was not still in hiding--the party returned to the
airplane, and Linda made ready to take off once more. This was an
exceedingly difficult feat, with a large plane, but the experienced
aviatrix calculated everything before she made the attempt, and the
airplane left the ground at the exact time that she had planned.
She directed it eastward now, out over the Georgia coast, on to the
Atlantic. She remembered the course perfectly, spotting the identical
island without any help from the prisoners, and landed on the wide
barren beach without any difficulty.

Once they were out of the plane she recalled even the hiding-place,
where "Slats" had placed the jewels, and she led the way through the
underbrush. Unrolling the stone, and pushing the sand aside at her
direction, the detectives brought out the three tin boxes which Linda
herself had been forced to help conceal.

Opening them up right there by twisting the locks, the officers gazed
at their contents in speechless amazement. Two diamond necklaces, a
string of real pearls, innumerable rings and pins and watches. And a
bracelet of priceless emeralds!

"Whew!" exclaimed Sergeant Worth, the perspiration running down his
face.

"The Van Tyn diamonds!" declared one of the detectives. "And these
pearls solve the mystery of that robbery at the Kenworthy estate!"

"Yeah. And that big jewelry store in Atlanta!" added another,
breathlessly. "Say, does this uncover a lot of money? I'll tell the
world!"

"It'll mean a nice little reward for Miss Carlton," remarked Sergeant
Worth, with a smile.

Linda shook her head.

"No, I don't want it," she said. "If there is any reward, it can be
divided among you men. You faced the guns!"

"But Miss Carlton----"

Linda held up her hand. "I mean it," she said. "If you can't use it
yourselves, perhaps your wives--or your children can."

"It would mean heaven to me," murmured one of the detectives--a quiet
man, who had scarcely spoken during the entire flight. "My child needs
an operation----"

"Then it's settled," concluded Linda. Suddenly she glanced timidly at
Sergeant Worth, almost as if she were about to ask a favor. "Could we
eat, Sergeant?" she asked. "I'm so hungry."

"Why of course!" replied the latter. "I'm sorry, I'd forgotten all
about lunch--but it must be way past noon. Griggs," he added to one of
his men, "you go and unload that basket."

It was an oddly assorted group that sat down to that picnic lunch on
the beach--the two thieves, the three police officers, and the slender,
fair-haired girl in her linen flying suit. Linda could not help smiling
to herself as she thought of what Jackson Carter's horror would be at
her association with people like these. Yet how foolish he was! One
look at Sergeant Worth's face, kindly as it was, assured her that she
was well protected with him at her side.

She wished that she might stop at Soldiers' Camp Island on the return
trip, but it was out of her way, and already the plane was loaded to
its capacity. So she mapped her return trip in a straight line back
to the city of Jacksonville. Late that afternoon she landed at the
airport, where the group separated, the detectives and the prisoners
taking one taxi to the police station, Linda taking another to a hotel.

It was only when she was quietly in her own room, with her bag
unpacked, that she realized how tired she was. What a strain she had
been through! How she longed for relaxation of some kind! If only she
had Louise with her--or somebody else from Spring City!

She rested for an hour before dinner, but the thought of eating
alone was not pleasant, with only a newspaper for her companion. She
brightened, however, when the idea came to her to call her Aunt Emily
on the long-distance wire. It would mean a great deal to hear that
dear, familiar voice.

She did not have time after dinner to put in the call immediately,
for just as she was leaving the dining-room, she was herself summoned
to the telephone. Who could it be, she wondered. Nothing interesting,
probably, for none of her friends knew where to get her. No doubt it
was Captain Magee, congratulating her on the success of the afternoon.

To her surprise, it was Jackson Carter who said, "Hello!

"Can I drive in to the hotel to see you, Ann?" he asked.

"How is your mother, Mr. Carter?" she inquired, instead of answering
his question.

"She's all right."

"Am I to meet her?"

The young man coughed in embarrassment. He would have liked to have
kept the truth from her, but he could not lie to a girl like Linda
Carlton, any more than he could lie to his mother.

"I guess I better tell you, Ann--mother's old-fashioned--and--she
doesn't approve of you. She says I may not invite you out here again.
I'm awfully sorry--I've tried to make her understand-----"

"Please don't bother," interrupted Linda, coolly. "Perhaps it is better
that an acquaintance like ours end as casually as it started....
Good-by, Mr. Carter. And thank you again for rescuing me."

"Ann! Ann! I can't let you go out of my life----"

But she had quietly replaced the receiver.

The tears came to her eyes, but she told herself that she was foolish.
She would probably have to get used to things like this, if she meant
to do a man's work in the world. It was worth it. Oh, the glorious
feeling of power which she had experienced that morning when she
stepped into that huge plane, and knew that she could control its
flight! The satisfaction of conquering difficulties, solving problems,
being of use to others as she had been today! Yes, it was worth all the
snubs of every society woman in the United States!

For a moment she sat beside the telephone, waiting to get control
of herself, when she suddenly heard a beloved voice behind her. Two
voices--three voices--then two pairs of arms around her neck! Dot
Crowley's and Louise Mackay's--and Ted was standing behind them!

"Oh!" she gasped, squeezing both girls at once. "Am I dreaming? It's
too good to be true!"

"Are you O.K., darling?" demanded Louise, kissing her chum again and
again. "When we read about your long flight south, and then heard
nothing of you for three days, we got worried. So we managed to hop
off."

"You angels!" cried Linda. "Oh, I might have known you would! When
everything looked blackest----"

"You mean about being lost in the Okefenokee Swamp?"

"Worse than that.... Let me call Aunt Emily, while you get a room, and
I'll tell you the whole story after that.... But first tell me how long
you can stay."

"Ted and I can only stay till tomorrow morning," replied Louise, "so
long as you are all right. But Dot'll keep you company--she thought you
might be lonely----"

"That isn't half of it!" interrupted Linda. "I was so lonely tonight
that I couldn't eat. I just felt sick. Worse, far worse than my flight
to France, because that was over quickly, and this just seemed to
stretch out interminably."

"Now do call your Aunt," urged Dot. "She must be dying to hear from
you--and we'll have you all evening. By the way, I'm rooming with you?"

"Nowhere else in the world!" exclaimed Linda, giving the girl an extra
hug in her joy. "Room 420--and I'll be there in a minute!"



CHAPTER X

_Susie Disappears_


When Linda entered her hotel bed-room after the conversation with
her Aunt Emily over the long-distance wire, she found two pleasant
surprises awaiting her. The first of these that she saw was her trunk,
sent on from Atlanta. The second was a telegram from the Pitcairn
Autogiro Company.

Her new roommate, who was bending over her own suit-case, looked up
expectantly.

"Good news, Linda?" she inquired.

"Splendid!" replied the other girl. "The parts for my 'Ladybug' have
been shipped from Miami, where the company has some autogiros on
exhibition. They'll be at the Jacksonville Airport tomorrow."

"Then your Ladybug is damaged?" asked Dot, who had heard nothing of the
story as yet, beyond the bare facts that had been in the newspapers.
All that she had read was that Linda Carlton, famous aviatrix, who had
been lost in the Okefenokee Swamp for several days, had turned up in
Jacksonville, Florida.

"Yes, quite a smash-up," answered Linda. "But I wasn't in it. Another
girl was flying----" She stopped abruptly. "Wait till Lou and Ted are
with us, Dot, so I can tell the story all at once. I'm rather fed up
with it myself. I'd loads rather hear what you've been doing at Spring
City."

"O.K.," agreed her companion, cheerfully, and proceeded to report to
Linda all the news that she could remember.

"What I can't understand," remarked Linda, a few minutes later, as she
unpacked her trunk and took a flowered chiffon which she decided to
wear, "is how everyone finds me at this hotel. I didn't know where I'd
be staying when I sent those telegrams yesterday."

"I can answer that," replied Dot, immediately. "It's your friends at
the City Hall. The Chief of Police there directed us. It was Ted's idea
to go to him, for I never would have thought of it."

"Ted knows that Lou and I have a failing for police stations and Court
Houses," laughed Linda, recalling their experience in Canada the
previous winter.

Five minutes later the girls joined the young Mackays on a cool upper
porch of the hotel, where they were able to be by themselves. It was
then that Linda told her story, first extracting a promise from the
group never to mention the kidnapping episode to anyone else, lest the
news get back to her Aunt Emily. The other girls listened in amazement,
now and then interrupting with exclamations of horror at the outrage of
it all. Ted sat grimly silent, more angry than anyone.

"And if you hadn't escaped, we probably shouldn't have gotten there in
time," observed Louise. "To rescue you, I mean. Because of course they
meant to kill you in the end."

"Did you realize that at the time?" asked Dot.

"Not exactly," replied Linda. "Though I really feared something much
worse. I thought they would imprison me on that island in the ocean,
and let me die of starvation. And I was horribly afraid of those men. I
tried to keep with Susie until they went away."

"It was that bank robbery that saved your life," remarked Louise. "And
spelled ruin for them. If they hadn't been so greedy----"

"Exactly!" exclaimed Linda. "That's one reason why I feel it's my
solemn duty to try to catch the fourth man, and get that money back.
I'm really the only person who could identify him--except Susie."

"Do you honestly think she'll reform?" asked Dot.

"I hope so. If those new parts for the autogiro really come tomorrow,
we'll fly over and get her, Dot."

"I'm crazy to see her," returned the latter. "And I'd enjoy going to
the jail to see those two prisoners, and gloat over their punishment!"

"Dot's as vindictive as I am!" joked Louise. "Remember all the dark
futures I used to wish for Bess Hulbert?"

"Poor Bess!" sighed Linda. "She certainly got hers----"

Thinking that the girls had heard enough of Linda's unpleasant
experiences, Ted interrupted them by suggesting that they all go
somewhere and have something to eat.

"If it's cool, I'm for it," agreed Louise, jumping up and putting her
hand through her husband's arm.

"You're not too tired, are you, Linda?" she inquired.

"Not a bit!" protested the girl. "I feel like a new person since you
three arrived.... There's a lovely screened tea-garden across the
street that looks awfully attractive. Shall we go there?"

Linda was right in her impression; the place was charming. Instead of
the customary artificial flowers or tiny bouquets so often seen in
restaurants, real rose-bushes showered their profusion of fragrance
all about the edges of the screen garden. Surprisingly, every one was
hungry; the three visitors because they had eaten only a light picnic
supper, Linda because she had been too homesick to eat much alone. The
food proved as delightful as the surroundings, and they all enjoyed it
immensely.

While Dot was, eating her ice, she noticed some people that she seemed
to remember--sitting at a table in back of Linda. But she could not
place them.

"Linda," she said softly, "see that young man over there at that table
back of you--to the right--with an older woman? Don't turn around
now, he's staring at us.... He looks sort of familiar to me, and I'm
positive I've seen that woman before. Do you know them, or are they
people I have met at Palm Beach sometime, one of those winters when we
went to Florida?"

Linda waited a moment, and then casually turned her head in the
direction which Dot had indicated. The boy was Jackson Carter!

In relating her story of the rescue by the two boys in the canoe, Linda
had not even mentioned their names, and had omitted entirely her visit
to the Carter home. After her telephone conversation with Jackson this
evening, she had decided to forget all about him.

She noticed that Dot was smiling and nodding.

"I remember her now," she explained. "A Mrs. Carter--she chummed a lot
with mother at Palm Beach. And that's her son--he wasn't more than
fourteen the last time I saw him.... I think I'll go over and speak to
them." Linda flushed and tried to hide her embarrassment by talking to
Louise and Ted about their flight. But Dot came back in a moment.

"I've got an invitation for us, Linda!" she announced. "Finish your
lemon ice, and come over and meet the Carters. All of you!"

Linda hesitated. She did not know what to say. Evidently Jackson had
not recognized her, or else was deliberately concealing the fact that
he knew her.

"All right," agreed Louise, rising and pulling Ted by the hand, for her
youthful husband was still shy about meeting the people whom he termed
the "four hundred." But his manners were as good as anyone's, and
Louise was always proud of him.

They stepped over to the table, Linda reluctantly following them.

"Mrs. Carter, I want you to meet Mrs. Mackay--our chaperon." Dot winked
slyly at Louise. "And Miss Linda Carlton, the famous aviatrix! And Mr.
Mackay.... And this is Mr. Carter."

The young people bowed in recognition of the introduction, but Jackson
gave no sign that he had ever seen Linda before.

"Mrs. Carter says that so long as our chaperon is leaving tomorrow,
we must come over and stay at her house, Linda," Dot said. "You see,
Mrs. Carter," she continued, turning to the older woman, "we're not
so strict in the North about chaperons as you are here--but Linda's
aunt would like to be. It really worries her to have her niece batting
around alone in an airplane."

Horribly embarrassed, her eyelids fluttering so that she could not
see anybody distinctly, Linda tried to summon words to decline the
invitation. It would be impossible for her to accept.

"We'd love to have you, girls," Mrs. Carter assured them. "For as long
as you can stay.... How I would enjoy seeing your mother, Dorothy! You
must tell me all about her."

"I'm awfully sorry," stammered Linda, still avoiding Jackson's
eyes, "but I'm afraid we can't possibly make it. The fact is, I am
expecting to get my autogiro tomorrow, and that will take us away from
Jacksonville."

"Bring it out to our place!" urged the young man, with the deepest
pleading in his tone. It was the first time that he had spoken, and
everybody was surprised at his eagerness. That is, everybody except
Linda--who had heard the same pleading over the telephone a few hours
before.

His mother smiled approvingly. She was glad to see that her son was
interested in Dorothy Crowley, for the Crowleys were wealthy people, of
unquestionable social position.

But, had she known it, Jackson did not even see Dot. He was lost in
admiration of Linda--or Ann, as he thought of her. In her pale chiffon
dress she looked absolutely ravishing. How could he ever have doubted
that she was of good family?

"No, thank you ever so much, but we can't possibly," Linda repeated.
"We--or rather I--have work to do. Of course if Dot wants to go----"

She looked at the other girl fearfully. How she would hate to lose her!

Dot's reply, however, was reassuring.

"No, Mrs. Carter, I must stick with Linda. It isn't often that my
mother gives in and lets me go off like this, and I mean to take
advantage of it Besides, there's adventure ahead!"

Mrs. Carter sighed; these modern girls were beyond her comprehension.
She was thankful that her only child was a boy.

While Dot was saying good-by, explaining that the Mackays had to be up
early in the morning, Jackson managed a whisper to Linda.

"When can I see you, Ann? I just _must_!"

Linda smiled; she was in command of herself again. She had won in a
difficult situation.

"Some time when we both winter at Palm Beach or Miami," she replied,
lightly, as she nodded good-by to his mother.

The young man's interest in Linda had not escaped Dot's notice. When
they had left the restaurant, she remarked, teasingly:

"You certainly made a hit, my dear. But I'm just as glad you turned
down their invitation. The Carters have a marvelous home, I believe,
but they're about 1890 vintage. They don't know that there was a War."

"Well, we really haven't any time to lose," was her companion's reply.
"I'm almost afraid now that Susie will be gone when we get to that
island. And I'm in a hurry to help the police trace that other thief
with the money."

"Adventure is right!" laughed Dot, as the girls said good-by to Ted and
Louise, and went to their room.

The Mackays left soon after dawn the following morning, but Linda and
Dot had decided to have a good sleep. They did not waken until after
ten o'clock, when they heard the telephone ringing in their ears.

It was Dot who answered it.

"Oh, hello, Jackson!" she said, with a wink at Linda. "I used to
call you by your first name, so I suppose I might as well now. How's
everything?"

"Just fine," replied the young man. "And Dot--may I speak to Miss
Carlton?"

"O.K.," answered the girl, holding the telephone towards Linda.

"Not awake yet!" yawned Linda, burying her head in the pillow.

"She says she's not awake yet," explained Dot, laughingly. "Better call
later, Jackson--after we get some breakfast."

Replacing the telephone, she turned to her roommate.

"That big boy certainly fell for you, Linda!" she exclaimed, still
unaware of the fact that Jackson had not met her for just the first
time.

"Well, I didn't fall for him," the other stated, firmly. "And Dot,
please, from now on I'm not at home when he calls."

Dot was surprised at this announcement; it was unlike Linda not to be
friendly to everybody. Why had she taken such a dislike to a young man
as handsome as Jackson Carter?

"May I ask you a personal question, Linda?" she inquired.

"Why certainly, Dot!"

"Are you engaged to Ralph Clavering--and is that why you're turning
other men away?"

Linda laughed at the idea.

"No, Dot--I'm not engaged to anybody. And I don't want to be. I want to
be free for a while. But not from my girl-friends!" she added hastily,
reaching over and giving Dot a hug. "Oh, Dot, if I could ever tell you
what it meant to me to have you three breeze in last night! Honestly, I
was awfully low."

"It was Lou's idea," explained Dot. "I guess she thought you would
be--so far away from everybody--even if you hadn't been in any
difficulty."

"Lou's a peach," observed Linda.

They ordered a tray sent up to their room, and lingered lazily over
their breakfast. Before they had finished the telephone rang again.
This time it was the Jacksonville Airport, informing Linda that the
new parts for her autogiro had arrived.

"I'll have to hurry!" she said to Dot. "I don't want to lose a minute
now."

"Just what are your plans, Linda?" asked the other girl, as she, too,
started to dress.

"Go to the airport and have the parts for the Ladybug put into a plane.
Then fly to Soldiers' Camp Island, taking another mechanic along. I'll
help this man fix the autogiro--collect Susie--and fly back here."

"You really believe you can fix it in one day?"

"Yes, of course. Why not!"

"Well," said Dot slowly, "I think if you don't mind, I'll stay here.
You'll need all the space you can get in your plane to carry those
parts to the wreck. And I'd be fearfully bored standing around while
you work."

"I guess you're right," agreed Linda. "It would be better for me to
take two men--a pilot and a mechanic. Because I can't fly this hired
plane back again--I'll have to pilot the Ladybug."

"And you have to bring Susie too," Dot reminded her.

Linda lost no time in getting ready, and she was pleased to have left
the hotel before Jackson Carter had a chance to telephone again. She
found a "repair" plane waiting for her at the airport, and she made
note of the new parts for the autogiro that were already packed into
it. Two men were prepared to go with her--one a pilot, the other a
mechanic. For once in her life Linda was to ride as a passenger.

The day was hot and dry, but over the swamp the air seemed cooler and
fresher. The rainy season was late, everybody said; by this time of
year the swamp was usually flooded.

As the plane flew over the desolate expanse, Linda smiled to herself at
the familiarity of the landscape. She was getting to be an authority
on the Okefenokee Swamp; she never need fear again being lost in its
southern part, at least. Although the pilot had a reliable map, he
found Linda's directions helpful, and before noon they came down on
Soldiers' Camp Island.

The first thing that struck their notice was the autogiro, still
leaning over on its side, looking pathetically helpless in its plight.
But Susie was not in sight.

While the men unloaded their tools and the new parts for the damaged
plane, Linda went in search of the girl she had left there two days
before. It was queer, she thought, that Susie had not come out to meet
them at the sound of their motor. Was it possible that she was sick--or
only asleep?

The island was a comparatively large one, several miles in length,
and Linda decided immediately to explore it. Susie might be waiting
somewhere within its depths, helpless or hurt, if she had fallen on her
injured ankle. It would be necessary to make a thorough search.

Linda ran back to the autogiro to inquire whether the men needed her
help, and explained what she was about to do.

"We don't need you yet, Miss," replied the mechanic. "Later on, when
she's almost finished, you can help me look her over, and take her up
for a test."

"By the way, Miss Carlton," put in the pilot, "did you think to bring
any food for lunch? I only brought water."

Linda shook her head regretfully. How could she have been so stupid?
Had her excitement over regaining her autogiro destroyed all her common
sense?

"I'm awfully sorry," she said. "I just plain forgot! And I usually have
some in the autogiro, but those thieves took it out.... Wait, though!
There may be some on the island. We left a half a dozen cans with this
girl."

A search of the little "houses" farther in on the island revealed what
she had been hoping for--the remainder of the supplies the boys had
left with Susie, consisting of two cans of baked beans, tea, coffee,
sugar and canned milk. This ought to be enough for their lunch, and she
ran back immediately to the men with the good news.

For the next two hours Linda searched the island diligently, calling
Susie by name at frequent intervals. But no answer came in reply, and
she found no trace of the girl. Susie had completely vanished.

Weary and hungry she returned to the shore of the island where the men
were working, and was delighted at the progress they had made. The job
was almost finished.

"I can't find the girl," she told them. "But I've collected enough
fire-wood to cook our coffee and beans. We'll have our lunch in a
little while."

Two hours later the autogiro was finished, ready for its flight back
to Jacksonville. The engine was running smoothly; Linda climbed into
the cock-pit and took it up in the air for a test flight. She found
everything satisfactory; dipping low, she gave the others the signal to
leave. With her Ladybug in the lead, the two planes made record time
back to Jacksonville.

"She's as good as new," she told the mechanic joyfully, after both
planes had landed, and she was paying her bill. "I wish I could fly her
right over to my hotel."

"I believe you almost could," remarked the man, admiringly. "Land her
at the front entrance, like a taxi-cab!"

"I'm afraid I'll have to take an ordinary cab," sighed Linda, spotting
one out near the gate. "Thanks a lot--and good-by! I'm in a hurry to be
back."

It was after six when Linda ascended the steps of her hotel, and found
Dot waiting for her on the porch, trying in vain to keep cool.

"Where's Susie?" she demanded, immediately.

"Gone!" replied Linda. "I searched the whole island carefully--but not
a sign of her!"

"Where could she go?" demanded Dot. "Do you 'spose some canoe picked
her up--maybe those same boys that rescued you?"

Linda shook her head. Not those boys, any way! "What I'm afraid of
is that the fourth man of the gang--the only one who escaped, you
know--picked her up in his boat."

"Not so good--not so good," muttered her companion.

"No, it isn't. Just when I thought Susie had reformed, too--and cut
free from those criminals!" Linda uttered a deep sigh.

"Well, let's forget her," suggested the other girl, cheerfully. "I've
been waiting all afternoon to take you for a swim--so let's go, and
have our dinner later. I understand there's a marvelous pool a couple
of blocks away."

Linda's face brightened. What could possibly be better on such a hot
day!

"Let's go!" she exclaimed. "Lead me to it."

After her disappointment at losing Susie, and her strenuous day in
the heat, the relaxation of swimming in the lovely out-door pool was
exactly what Linda needed. The water was cool and refreshing, and the
surroundings charming.

For half an hour Linda swam lazily about, resting now and then on her
back, occasionally mounting the board for a dive. At last she felt
that she had had enough, and seated herself on the edge of the pool,
dangling her feet in the water, and watching Dot perform all sorts of
fancy dives, for the other girl was a real champion.

"What a marvelous girl Dot is," Linda was thinking, when she was
suddenly startled by the sound of a masculine voice, almost in her very
ear.

"Ann! Think of finding you here!"

Linda squirmed a little, thinking that the man must have made a mistake
in thinking she was some other girl. For the time being, she forgot all
about her middle name.

"Miss Carlton," insisted the voice.

Turning about, she saw Jackson behind her,

"How do you do?" she said, coolly.

The young man became embarrassed at her manner. He did not know what to
say.

"Miss Crowley is a marvelous diver," he muttered, though it wasn't that
that he wanted to talk about.

"Yes, I think so," agreed Linda.

There was a silence. The girl made no effort to be entertaining.

"You really are the girl who flew across the ocean alone, and won that
big prize?" he persisted.

"Yes." Linda made a half-hearted gesture to repress a yawn. Jackson
Carter needn't think he could buy her favor by flattery!

"But why didn't you tell Hal and me that, when we found you in the
swamp?"

"It had no particular bearing on the subject, that I could see."

"If my mother had known that----"

"If your mother didn't wish to receive me at her home," interrupted
Linda, "there was no reason in the world why she should. Everyone has a
right to her own opinion!"

"But now that we've been formally introduced, it's different," he
urged. "Please tell me how long you'll be in Jacksonville."

"We're leaving tomorrow," she said, rising. "And will you please excuse
me--as I see Dot going to the dressing-room?"



CHAPTER XI

_The Island in the Ocean_


"I certainly am sorry we don't have Susie with us," remarked Dot, as
the girls sat down to their late dinner that evening, after their
refreshing swim. "I thought she'd be better than a 'talkie' for
amusement."

"Yes, you would have enjoyed her, Dot," agreed Linda, picking up the
menu and studying it with a great deal of interest. "I'm going to order
everything here, Dot. I'm simply starved."

"So am I, though I ought to be ashamed to admit it. You should have
seen the lunch I ate!"

"And you should have seen my lunch!" returned Linda. "We forgot to
carry anything, but fortunately Susie had left beans and coffee on the
island."

"Is that all you had?"

Linda nodded, and gave her order to the waiter.

"I'd certainly like to know where Susie is now," she remarked, after
she had satisfied the sharpest pangs of hunger with an iced fruit-cup.

"Yes, so would I," agreed Dot. "Her disappearance will make it a
lot harder to trace that other thief.... Do you really expect to do
anything about hunting him, Linda?"

"Indeed I do! Tomorrow's only the twenty-seventh, and I don't have to
report to Atlanta until July first. I'm going to use those four days."

"But what could you possibly do?" inquired Dot. "How would you know
where to go--without even a suggestion from Susie?"

"I have a theory," explained the other girl. "Wait till I eat some of
this beef-steak, and I'll tell you about it."

"I'm crazy to hear it, because I'll be with you all the time. Mother
said I must start back home the first of July--the day you go to
Atlanta. I have my ticket bought."

For a few moments Linda ate her dinner in silence, enjoying every
mouthful as only a hungry person can. Then, lowering her voice so that
there was no danger of being overheard, she told her chum her plan.

"I've thought it all out," she began. "This is what must have happened:
That thief--the 'Doc,' as the gang called him--took the boat and the
money the day after the bank robbery, when he woke up and found that
Susie and her husband had flown away in the autogiro, and the other
two were still asleep. His idea was to get out of the swamp to the St.
Mary's or some other river, that would take him to the ocean."

"And get on a steamer?" demanded Dot. "But Linda, if he did that, he's
out of the country by now."

"I'm not so sure of that. A canoe trip like that would take a good
while--the Okefenokee is fifty miles at least from the coast. And he'd
be afraid to take a train--or an automobile, for fear of being seen.
Besides, I don't think he'd take a steamer right away. He'd want to go
to that island first."

"In his canoe?" inquired the other, skeptically.

"No, of course not. He'd hire a motor-boat--or steal one."

"I still don't understand why he'd want to get to that island,"
remarked Dot.

"For two reasons," explained Linda. "One because he expected to pick up
those jewels--which we have already taken away--and the other reason is
that the gang has arrangements with some party that owns a steamer, to
stop at the island on certain specified dates. That would be his way of
getting out of the country."

"It does sound plausible," admitted Dot. "What a brain you have, Linda!"

"Not a bit of that, Dot! It's only that I've been so closely associated
with these criminals that I'm beginning to see their motives."

"And where does Susie come into all this?"

"The man must have seen her on Soldiers' Camp Island, from his canoe.
Or rather, he saw the wrecked autogiro, and knew she must be there."

"And forced her to go with him?"

"Probably. He didn't want to take any chances, leaving her free to help
the police."

Linda paused for a moment to eat the salad with which she had been
served, and glanced about the dining-room. No one seemed to know her,
or notice her--for that she was sincerely thankful.

It was not until they had finished their dinner and found a cool,
secluded spot on the veranda, that she went on with her plan.

"What I mean to do," she said quietly, "is to fly back to the camp on
Black Jack Island early tomorrow. Not that I expect to find anyone
there--but merely to get my direction--to go on to that island in the
ocean. I don't know its name, so I couldn't look it up on the map."

"You really expect to catch those two on that island?" asked Dot,
excitedly. "Will you take the police along?"

"No! I don't want to tell them a word about all this, except to say
that I am going scouting about the country, and to ask for a couple of
revolvers.... And, in answer to your first question, I don't really
expect to find Susie and the 'Doc' there yet. But I believe they'll be
along soon."

"And we wait for them there?"

"Yes. Take them unawares. Susie will probably be on our side, and we
can plan something with her.... Of course this is all only theory.
Maybe there isn't a thing in it. That gang was slick; they seemed to
know how to drop right off the face of the earth. And I believe this
man may be the cleverest of them all. He was quiet; it's the boasting
kind, like Susie's husband, who usually get caught first.... So you can
see why I don't want any of the police along."

"We better take plenty of food, though," remarked Dot.

"We will take some--but don't forget that we can easily fly back to the
coast each night. The island is only a few miles out--it's nothing in a
plane."

"True," admitted the other.

"And we'll keep our room here at the hotel, for we want some place as
headquarters. We'll put a few over-night necessities into my bag."

"O.K. I'll order a roast chicken and a chocolate cake from the
dining-room tonight."

"Oranges, too," added Linda. "They always taste so good. I mustn't
forget to fill my thermos-bottles, either."

They went to bed early that night, in order to get a good start on
the following morning. Dot, who was particularly enthusiastic about
the chocolate cake, carried the basket of food, while Linda took the
handbag. They arrived at the City Hall immediately after breakfast, and
were ushered right into Captain Magee's office.

"No news of the fourth man yet," he said, after he had greeted Linda
and been introduced to Dot. "But I've sent out a call for him by radio,
so that all ships are to be warned to be on the look-out for a fellow
of his description."

"There's something else I want to tell you," added Linda, "that may
help to spot him. There is probably a girl with him." Then, rather
reluctantly, she told what she knew of Susie, begging the Captain not
to punish her too severely if she were found.

"And now," she concluded, "Miss Crowley and I want to do a little
scouting ourselves--in the autogiro--and I want to know whether you
will lend us a couple of .38s for the undertaking."

The Captain smiled whimsically. What an unusual girl Linda Carlton was!
No wonder she had done things no other girl had even tried.

"Of course I will," he said. "Though such a request is rather out of
the ordinary----"

"This is an extraordinary occasion," remarked Linda.

"Don't you want a detective to go with you?" he asked.

"No, thank you, we haven't room in the autogiro. Besides, we don't want
to waste his time--for it may be only a wild goose chase. But if you
will lend us a couple of revolvers, I think we shall be safe."

"Can you shoot?"

"If it is necessary. But I don't think it will be. The girl got to be
very friendly with me, after her husband was killed. If I had only
gotten to her in time, I think I could have saved her. As it is, she
may not have joined the man of her own free will. You see she had been
hurt, and was partially helpless. So he could do most anything he liked
with her, if he had her alone."

"Well, good luck to you!" said the Captain. "I certainly take off my
hat to a plucky pair of girls."

When Linda and Dot arrived at the airport they found the Ladybug in
readiness for its second flight into the swamp. Linda inspected her,
and piled in the equipment.

"I feel as if the Okefenokee Swamp were my home," she remarked, as she
headed the autogiro in that direction. "I could almost fly it blind!"

"Don't!" warned Dot. "Your friend the Doc is still at large, and he may
be watching for us with a gun."

This was Dot's first view of the swamp, and as they approached it, she
was amazed at the vast expanse of it, stretching out in every direction.

"It's huge, isn't it?" she shouted to Linda, through the speaking-tube.

"Forty miles long and thirty wide," was the reply. "But we see only the
southern end of it."

Conversation was difficult, so the girls gave it up until they came to
Black Jack Island, where Linda had been held a prisoner.

"Shall we get out?" she asked her companion. "Or go straight on to the
ocean?"

"Let's get out," replied Dot. "They might possibly be here, you know.
Besides, I'm crazy to see their camp."

Linda brought the autogiro to earth and the girls climbed out
cautiously, their revolvers in readiness, lest the enemy appear. But
there was no human sound--nothing but the birds and the insects.

"Watch out for snakes, Dot!" warned Linda. "I'd almost rather meet the
Doc than a snake, I believe."

They walked carefully towards the camp only to find it absolutely
deserted.

"Let's look all around," suggested Linda, who remembered everything
only too well. "We'll begin with the mess-tent."

Quietly at first, they snooped around, peering into boxes of
provisions, looking under the cots, behind the tents, and, when they
were quite sure that they were alone, they began to act more natural,
to laugh and joke with each other.

Linda showed Dot the tent which she had shared with Susie that one
night of her captivity, and they both smiled over the sight of the
magazine which had led to Linda's escape.

"We could even stay here all night if we had to," Dot remarked. "Seems
comfortable enough."

Linda shuddered.

"Never again!" she protested. "But we may as well eat some lunch before
we fly to that island. I'm hungry."

"And thirsty. But it isn't so hot here as it was in Jacksonville."

"No. And the island out in the ocean ought to be cooler yet. You may
like it so well that you'll want to spend the summer there. Only it has
no tents or cots, like this camp."

"Thank you, I'd rather not play Robinson Crusoe," replied Dot.

"Poor man!" sighed Linda. "If he'd only had an airplane, how simple it
would have been for him."

They ate their lunch, and then, for the third time, Linda flew across
the Okefenokee and over the coastal plain of Georgia--out to the barren
island in the ocean where the treasure had been hidden. The desolate
loneliness of the spot impressed her companion.

"You suggested this as a summer resort!" she remarked, when they had
landed. "Why, I don't even see a fishing-boat!"

"That's just the trouble," replied Linda. "The first time I flew
here--with Susie's husband--I looked about desperately for somebody
to shout to for help. And there wasn't a soul! Nothing but ocean and
sky.... Do you have your revolver handy, Dot?"

"Yes. Right here. But I don't know much about shooting."

"I'm sure we shan't have to. I just want to explore. But 'be prepared'
is our motto."

"I will be. I won't shoot you, either, Linda--you can count on me for
that."

Climbing out of the autogiro they walked towards the center of the
island where the sand was soft and the underbrush thick. Perhaps,
thought Linda, there might be more hiding places than the one hole
which she knew; it would be worth while to make a thorough search. On
and on they plodded, the sand sinking into their shoes, the sun beating
down upon them with full blast, for what trees there were, were not
high enough to afford much shade. It was difficult to find the hiding
place in such monotonous desolation, but at last she came to the spot.

"Somebody's been here since I came with the police!" she said to Dot,
"because we left the stones as we found them. But it looks as if the
hole is empty."

She was correct in her surmise. After five minutes of pushing the sand
away, Linda had assured herself that nothing was there.

"Let's go down to the opposite shore from the one we came in on,"
suggested Dot. "And explore that."

"All right," agreed Linda. "If you can stand walking through this
sand again...." She stopped abruptly, peering towards the shore. An
instant later she dragged the other girl to the ground. "The Doc!" she
whispered, hoarsely. "I saw him down by the water--maybe there's a boat
coming!"

"What shall we do?" demanded Dot, clutching her revolver tightly.

"Wait till he gets on--and follow in the autogiro. I've got plenty of
gas.... Let's be creeping back to the Ladybug."

The girls kept well hidden behind the underbrush, crawling along on
their hands and knees. Suddenly Dot stopped; she had struck something
solid. A canvas bag--two bags, stuffed full with something. Could it be
the money?

Breathless, they both stopped while Linda untwisted with her pen-knife
the coarse pieces of wire around the tops of the bags, and dumped
out the contents. Money in an amount they had never seen before!
Hundred dollar bills in rolls that they had no time to count, bonds in
thousand-dollar denominations!

"Hide it quickly, Dot!" whispered Linda. "In your pockets, your
riding-breeches--stuff some of it in my clothes--while I re-fill these
bags with sand.... And have your revolver ready."



CHAPTER XII

_The Money-Bags_


Linda's theories regarding the fourth member of the gang of thieves had
been only partially correct. As she had surmised, the "Doc" slipped off
in the canoe from Black Jack Island while his companions slept, and he
did stop at Soldiers' Camp. But it was not he who compelled Susie to go
with him, but the girl herself who insisted upon accompanying him.

Susie's desire to reform had been sincere while Linda was with her. She
had actually meant to cut free from the gang and go back to a normal
mode of life--earning her living as she had done when she met her
husband. No more sneaking about in fear of the law, no more hiding in
that desolate camp in the Okefenokee Swamp! She would get a job at an
airport, and take up flying again. She might even become famous--like
Linda Carlton!

But unfortunately, after the famous aviatrix left her alone, her
enthusiasm faded, and her faith in her ability to make a "come-back"
died as suddenly as it was born. How could she ever hope to be free
from the stain of her last two years of living--since her marriage to
"Slats"? If Linda did not turn her over to the police authorities,
someone else would. She might have to serve five or ten years in prison.

As the afternoon passed, she grew more and more miserable, more anxious
to get away. If only she had a boat! If her ankle were not so painful,
and her bandaged head not so conspicuous! If there were only some way
for her to escape!

Having no appetite, she made no pretense at preparing any supper for
herself. There was still some cold tea left from lunch; she decided to
make that her meal, and an hour later she fell asleep where she was,
right on the shore of the island.

The sun was rising over the swamp when she awakened the following
morning, and she sat up with difficulty, cramped by her uncomfortable
position in sleep.

"I might as well be dead--with Slats," she thought, morbidly, as she
viewed the desolation around her. Again she tried to rise, when the
soft sound of a paddle, dipping into the quiet water attracted her
attention. She waited breathlessly. Were the boys coming back so soon?

Not long afterward a canoe came into sight. Susie's heart leaped with
joy when she recognized who was guiding it. The Doc!

"Doc!" she cried. "Bill Rickers!" she added, using the man's real name.
"It's Susie!"

The man pulled up to the island, amazed at finding her there. In the
dawning light he saw the autogiro, lying half on its side.

"Where's Slats?" he demanded.

"Dead," answered the girl, immediately. "We had a wreck.... Will you
take me with you?" she begged. "I'm almost crazy here all by myself."

"I wanted to make a get-away alone," he muttered.

"You have the money!" she cried, jumping at once to the correct
conclusion. "Where are the other two men?"

"Asleep at Black Jack Island."

"And where are you going?"

"Out of the swamp--across the state, and then over to our island. The
yacht's due there tomorrow--I want to be ready to go with it."

"O.K. with me," agreed Susie, as if she had been invited to go. "Let's
push off now--or wait--we'll eat some breakfast. There's beans and cold
tea."

"Maybe you could be some use," remarked the man, as he ate the meager
breakfast. "If we could get a plane. And I am sorry for you, Kid--all
alone here with Slats dead."

Susie gave him no chance to change his mind. Hobbling out to the little
"house" where the boys had put the blanket and the extra food, she
picked up the former, smoothed her dress and her hair, and returned to
announce herself ready. They pushed off again, following the little
stream out of the swamp.

"How do you expect to get across the state?" asked the girl, wearily,
when late that afternoon, they brought their canoe to a landing. She
had slept a little in the boat, but she was still very tired.

"Hitch-hike, I reckon," was the reply. "If we go hirin' any cars,
somebody might get suspicious. Once at the coast, I count on rentin' a
little fishing-boat from some fellow--one big enough to take us to the
island."

"I can't hitch-hike," objected Susie.

"Don't then,--stay here," answered the man, indifferently.

"You know I can't do that, either. Let's go to that house over there,
and see if we can't get some supper. Maybe they have an old Ford or a
team of horses."

"You foot the bill?" he asked, shrewdly. With all that money in his
possession, this man had no intention of spending any of it on anyone
but himself.

Susie considered a moment. She hadn't any money at all--she always got
what she wanted from her husband. But she owned some costly jewelry.

"I'll give you this diamond," she offered, "if you get me safe out of
the country. And no walkin'!"

"O.K.," he muttered, his greedy eyes gleaming at the sight of the
beautiful jewel. "You win. Go ask the woman yourself."

It was thus, by strange coincidence, that Susie and the Doc rode across
Georgia that evening in the same Ford that had driven Linda and the
boys to Jacksonville the night before. They reached a seaport town a
little after midnight, and Susie succeeded in finding a house to stay
in, though her companion preferred to remain out-doors, for he said
he "didn't trust nobody." In the morning, when she joined him, he had
rented an old motor-boat from a fisherman. "Rent" was the word he used,
but he had not the slightest intention of returning it.

"You can run her, Susie," he said. "You're better at engines than I am,
and she'll need coaxing. I'll steer."

It was a difficult cruise, for at times the engine coughed and died,
and Susie had to try all sorts of methods to start her up again. When
they finally came within sight of the island, the motor sputtered its
last and refused to function any longer. The man managed to get the
boat inshore by riding the waves, and using the oars kept at the bottom
of the boat for just such an emergency.

About the time Linda Carlton and Dot Crowley were eating their lunch on
Black Jack Island, Susie and the Doc were making their landing. They
pulled in at the opposite shore from the one which the girls later used
in the autogiro. The man's first concern was with the hiding-place
where he expected to find the boxes of jewels. His disappointment was
keen when he discovered that they had been taken away.

"The cops has found us out!" he snarled angrily at Susie, as if it were
her fault. "They'll be back again--I'll bet you! We gotta get out of
here!"

"How?" demanded Susie. "Not in that boat?"

"Nope. Maybe the yacht will be along early, but it ain't likely. It
usually runs after dark."

Dumping his bags in the sand not far from the hole, he tried to think
what would be best to do.

"We gotta act quick, Susie--if the cops come. No use tryin' to put
up a fight--with only one gun, and them two bags to guard.... You
watch on that other shore, and I'll go back to the one we came in on.
Whatever they come in--airplane or boat--we gotta swipe. Hide if you
see anything comin', give 'em a chance to get into the island--and grab
their boat. Give me a signal----"

"How?" she interrupted.

"You take the gun, and shoot when you're ready to push off.... If I
see anybody on my side, I'll whistle, as near like a bird as I can." He
grinned to himself; if the police came in anything but an airplane, he
wouldn't bother with Susie. Let her face the music!

"O.K. But I couldn't run, Doc. Don't forget that."

"I ain't forgettin'," he returned.

They separated, and for two hours waited tensely, keeping a sharp
look-out for the rescuing yacht, hoping against hope that it would
arrive before the police. But at three o'clock their worst fears were
realized. Susie saw the autogiro coming towards them, and hobbled off
into the depths of the island to conceal herself. Lying flat on the
sand, she was not able to identify the people who got out of the plane,
but she could see that they both wore riding-breeches, and she believed
they were men. So she kept still until they had disappeared into the
underbrush. Then she began to creep laboriously, in a round-about
fashion, to the autogiro.

Susie's progress was slow; she did not reach the plane until after
Linda and Dot had succeeded in emptying the bags of the money, and
refilled them with sand. The girls had just recognized the man on the
shore, and were creeping farther into the island, out of sight of him,
when the shot of the pistol rang out above the roar of the ocean. They
had no way of knowing that Susie had fired it.

A moment later they heard the rustle and crackle of underbrush, as the
man came towards them. From her hiding place, now some distance from
the bags, Linda raised her head cautiously, and saw the thief retrieve
the bags with a grab. Then he dashed back to the shore, circled the
island on the harder sand, and reached the opposite shore, where the
autogiro was standing.

"Why doesn't he come after us?" whispered Linda, in amazement.

"He will soon, I'm afraid," replied Dot hoarsely, clutching her
revolver tightly. "But I'm going to shoot if he does!"

"So am I," answered Linda, calmly. "We've got the advantage--we're
hidden."

Tensely they waited for five minutes--possibly ten; then something they
had not thought of happened. The engine of the autogiro began to roar!

"They're stealing the Ladybug!" cried Linda, aghast at such a
calamity. "Susie must be with him! Dot, we can't let them do that!"

Regardless of the danger, Linda jumped up excitedly, and rushed to a
clearing, where she had a view of the shore. She was just in time to
see her beloved autogiro taxi along the beach and rise into the air.

Dot dashed to her side, and the two girls stood together in helpless
agony of spirit.

"Prisoners!" cried Dot, at last, dropping her useless revolver into the
sand.

"Robinson Crusoes!" added Linda, bitterly. "No better off! No plane!"

"With thousands of dollars!" groaned her companion, ironically. "Where
money is no good at all!"



CHAPTER XIII

_The Broken Motor-Boat_


The two girls continued to stand perfectly still on the sand, gazing at
the retreating autogiro, which apparently was flying out farther over
the ocean, and circling about in a strange manner.

"Why don't they fly towards the coast--towards Georgia?" demanded Dot,
in bewilderment.

Linda took her spyglasses out of her pocket, and squinted through them
at the plane.

"I see a boat!" she exclaimed. "It must be that yacht the gang had
arrangements with--to pick up the stuff they steal.... Yes, and that's
another island.... Look, Dot--see if I'm right."

The other girl took the glasses, and confirmed Linda's statement.

"Yes, it is.... And the Ladybug's landing on it.... Two people getting
out--must be Susie and the Doc--and boarding the boat.... Linda!
They're leaving the plane on the island!"

It was true indeed; taking turns at the glasses, the girls watched the
yacht push off into the ocean.

"And here we are--and there's the Ladybug!" remarked Linda, grimly.
"Just out of reach! The question is--how to get to her."

"Swim," suggested Dot.

"Maybe you could, Dot. But I'd be afraid of sharks."

"No, I don't think I'll try it either. Besides, the currents probably
awfully strong."

"Oh, if Jackson and Hal would only rescue us now!" lamented Linda. "I
wouldn't treat them a bit coolly."

The truth of that situation flashed upon Dot.

"Was it Jackson Carter who rescued you before, Linda?" she asked.

Linda blushed. "Yes--it was," she admitted.

"Then why did you treat him so cruelly? I should think you would have
been everlastingly grateful."

"I was. Till his mother snubbed me--and he even doubted that I was a
nice girl, just because I was traveling about alone. Then, when you
introduced me, he wanted to be friends. Naturally I was hurt."

"I don't blame you! But Mrs. Carter is terribly old-fashioned."

While they were talking they had been slowly advancing towards the
beach. Suddenly Linda spied a pile of articles near the spot where the
autogiro had taken off.

"Look, Dot!" she cried. "There's our stuff on the shore! The basket!
My over-night bag--and I guess that other box is my tool kit, that I
always keep in the plane! Come on!"

Breathlessly they dashed down to the shore and found that their
belongings had indeed been tossed out of the autogiro.

"This proves that Susie's our friend!" cried Linda, hopefully. "She
must have done this."

"Fine friend--to steal the plane!" returned Dot. "She didn't have to go
with that man!"

"Maybe not.... I'm afraid I can't understand her," mourned Linda. "Half
good, and half bad----"

"Don't worry about Susie," urged her companion. "We have enough to
think about for ourselves.... Still, it is nice that we eat tonight.
Aren't we lucky to have that food?"

Dot's forced cheerfulness brought their wretched plight back to Linda.
How selfish she had been, to drag this other girl into this wretched
business, when she came South to enjoy a holiday!

"Oh, Dot!" she wailed, "I can't tell you how sorry I am--about bringing
you in on this! I had no right to let you come. Your mother will never
forgive me. It was different with Lou. When she set out on those wild
adventures with me, her parents knew what to expect."

"Cheer up, we're not dead yet," was the reassuring reply. "Things
aren't so black. Our enemy is safely out of the country, I take it, and
Captain Magee is sure to look us up soon, when he doesn't hear from us.
Besides, a friendly boat may come along at any minute."

"Dot, you're one girl in a thousand!" cried Linda, giving her chum a
hug. "You're just an old peach, not to be complaining. And for my own
sake, I'm so thankful you're with me! Just imagine how I'd feel all
alone!"

"Well, let's enjoy ourselves while the food lasts. Let's carry it
inshore farther, and find a camping place. You have matches in your
pocket?"

"Always!" replied Linda, thinking of her experience in Canada, when she
had lost her matches with her plane. "I keep my pockets as full as a
man's now, so if I am separated from my plane, I'm not helpless."

"Wise girl! You're learning, Linda. In a year or two you can do
exploring, like Byrd--if there are any places left to explore."

"I guess Aunt Emily will make me sit home with folded hands after
this," remarked Linda, soberly. "If we aren't rescued soon, it will be
bound to get into the newspapers."

She stooped over and opened her tool-box, in which she carried all
sorts of things besides actual tools. A flash-light, a knife, wire and
string, even nails and nuts. And down in the corner she found several
cans of food, which she thought the bandits had taken out when they
emptied the plane of its gas that first day in the swamp.

"This is going to be a big help," she said. "We might even build a
boat----"

"Out of underbrush?" asked Dot, sarcastically. "Why, there isn't a
decent tree on the whole island."

"I'm afraid you're right," sighed Linda. "Well, come on--let's get
farther in, and take this money out of our clothing. Money can be a
nuisance sometimes," she added, jokingly.

They picked up their possessions, Linda taking the tool-box, and Dot
the bag and basket of food, and hunted the shadiest spot they could
find for their camp. Then they set about diligently unloading the
money, and stuffing it into the over-night bag, which they first
emptied of its contents.

"Let's see what we have to keep us alive," suggested Dot, peering into
the basket. "Three quarters of a chicken, ten oranges, almost a whole
cake, four bananas, and eight rolls, besides that stuff you found. And
one thermos bottle full of water--and another half full."

"It's the lack of water that's going to make it hardest," observed
Linda. "If only the ocean weren't salty."

"Well, maybe we shan't even need all this! If we rig up some kind of
signal of distress----"

"What shall we use? Clothing?"

"We might take hundred dollar bills," laughed Dot. "They're the most
worthless things we have now."

"True. Only think how glad the people will be to get them back. Mrs.
Carter, for instance.... I have it!" exclaimed Linda, brightly. "Our
pajamas! Lucky we put them into the bag! We won't need them in the
day-time, and no boat could see a signal at night anyway."

"Good idea!" approved her chum. "Now let's leave all this stuff here,
and explore the island. We might find something--and anyhow, it will
give us something to do."

Arm in arm they returned to the beach, where the sand was harder, and
began to circle the island. They had gone half way around--to the
opposite shore--when they both spied the old motor boat at the same
moment. So great was their joy that they jumped up and down, hugging
each other wildly.

"Of course that's what the man came in!" cried Linda. "We might have
known he and Susie couldn't swim the ocean!"

They started to race to the boat, and arrived together. Dot immediately
set about examining it for leaks, while Linda gave her attention to
the engine.

"It's broken," she said. "But I'm sure I can fix it. You know how I
love to take motors apart. Just give me a day----"

"Darling, you can have a week if you want!" agreed Dot, wild with
happiness and relief. "We can make our food last."

"A day or maybe two ought to be enough. Then we can get to that other
island and retrieve the Ladybug, before anybody even misses us!"

"It seems to be pretty sound," said Dot. "No leaks, or anything. And
there are even a couple of oars in the bottom, if the engine won't go."

"Oars wouldn't take us far, with such a heavy boat. But I'm sure I can
fix the motor, and there's a can of gasoline here, besides what's in
the tank.... But I don't believe I better start now--I'd just get it
apart, and the daylight would be gone. I'll get up early tomorrow...."

"Suits me," agreed the other. "Now let's go back to our camp and fix
some supper."

Both girls felt exceedingly cheerful as they collected sticks and
lighted a fire. From one of Linda's cans they took out tea, but the
rest they left unopened. The beans and jam and biscuits would keep
until after the picnic food was gone.

"I have a bright idea," remarked Dot, as she ate a leg of chicken. "Why
couldn't we make chicken soup, out of the bones and sea-water? You
have to put salt in it anyway, don't you?"

"Yes, but I'm afraid it would be too salty. It would make us so thirsty
we'd want to drink all our water at once.... Still, we might try. We
wouldn't be wasting anything."

"Too bad we haven't sore throats," said Dot, still in a mood for joking.

"Sore throats!" repeated Linda, in amazement. "What's the connection
between chicken soup and sore throats?"

"Nothing--I was only trying to think up ways to use salt water. We
always have to gargle with salt water, at home, when we have sore
throats. Doesn't your Aunt Emily make you do that?"

Her companion laughed. "No, we always use Listerine. But it's an idea.
Think up some more, Dot--we'll get some uses for it yet!"

They drank very sparingly of the water in the thermos bottle--one cup
apiece--and decided to limit themselves to that at each meal. Sometimes
they would substitute oranges--how thankful they were that they had
brought so many!

Their light-hardheartedness diminished as the sun went down and
darkness settled over the island. The loneliness of the night, the
solemn roar of the ocean, the isolation of the island, appalled them.
Not a human being except themselves--not a human sound!

But they had each other, and this comfort was so overwhelming to Linda,
that it shut out all her other troubles. She could not help exulting
every few minutes over the joy of having a companion, and Dot was
thankful that she was there, so long as Linda had to meet with such a
fate. Yes, surely, they would make the best of things.

They slept well that night, for the sand, covered with leaves the girls
had plucked, made a soft bed. A breeze from the ocean was so cooling
that Linda had to pull their slickers over them as a covering. The
stars shone in a friendly sky; hand in hand, as Linda and Lou had so
often slept, the two girls dropped off into unconsciousness.

Their first thought upon awakening, after remembering where they were,
was the autogiro. Their second was the motor-boat. They could not eat
any breakfast until they had made sure that both of these were still
safe.

"That island doesn't look very far away, does it?" Dot remarked, after
they had satisfied themselves upon these two questions.

"No, it doesn't," agreed Linda, taking out her spyglasses. "Only, you
can't tell by appearances--they're so deceiving on the ocean."

They went back to their camp and breakfasted on oranges and rolls,
finishing off with chocolate cake.

"Because we might as well enjoy it while it is fresh," Dot said
laughingly. Neither girl ever had to worry about indigestion.

All day long Linda worked on the engine, with her companion at her
side, watching her in admiration. All that day and the next. On
the evening of the twenty-ninth of June she announced that she was
finished. The engine was condescending to run!

"Tomorrow we get the Ladybug!" Linda announced, exultantly. "And get
back to Jacksonville in time to keep our engagements for July first!"

They were very happy as they sat beside their camp fire that night,
eating their supper of baked beans and crackers and oranges. Happy and
light-hearted, never thinking to glance at the sky, and to guess the
meaning of the dark clouds that were gathering. Had they only done
so, they might have gone to the autogiro that night in their repaired
motor-boat--and saved their relatives and friends all the anguish and
anxiety that they were to experience during the coming days.

But neither Linda nor Dot gave the weather a thought; they went to
sleep that night in the joyful expectation of returning to Jacksonville
the following day.

At dawn the storm came, pouring down upon them in torrents, arousing
the ocean to terrifying waves, shutting out the sight of the island
where the autogiro was waiting--imprisoning the girls once more in
their desolate loneliness. And now practically all of their food was
gone!



CHAPTER XIV

_Searching Parties_


When Linda Carlton and Dorothy Crowley left Jacksonville Airport on
the morning of June twenty-seventh in the Ladybug, and flew into the
Okefenokee Swamp, they fully expected to telephone to their families
that night, or at least to send a wire to them, as they had promised.
So when Miss Emily Carlton heard nothing from her niece she became
anxious, and directed her chauffeur to drive her to Mrs. Crowley's
cottage.

Both women were established at Green Falls for the summer, which
was the favorite resort of all Linda's friends from Spring City. It
was there that the girl had called her aunt from Jacksonville, the
night that Dot and the Mackays had arrived. Only one telegram had she
received since that time.

Mrs. Crowley, who was less inclined to be nervous than Miss Carlton,
tried to reassure the latter, saying that she realized how busy the
girls would be. But when June twenty-eighth passed without any word
from them, she too became alarmed, and together the two women put in a
long distance call to Captain Magee at Jacksonville.

Briefly he told them what he knew--of Linda's decision to go
"scouting," as she called it. And of her request for the revolvers.

The shock of that piece of news was almost too much for Miss Carlton.
She jumped to the conclusion that the girls were dead.

"Aren't you doing a thing to find them, Captain?" she demanded, harshly.

"I was thinking about it," he replied. "But after all, they've only
been gone two days----"

"You don't know my niece!" interrupted the unhappy woman. "Linda always
wires or telephones me every day, when she goes on these flying trips.
She doesn't forget. It's because she can't--she has been injured or
killed!"

"I hope not," he replied. "But I will send a plane over the Okefenokee
Swamp tomorrow, Miss Carlton," he promised.

The two women gazed at each other in helpless dismay at the conclusion
of this conversation. What could they possibly do, aside from
informing the newspapers--a decision which they carried out immediately.

Accordingly, on June twenty-ninth, every newspaper in the country
stated the fact that Linda Carlton, the famous aviatrix who had flown
to Paris alone, was missing again--somewhere in Georgia--probably in
the Okefenokee Swamp, with a chum, Miss Dorothy Crowley of Spring City,
who was also a pilot.

The unhappy news instantly produced the effect which Miss Carlton hoped
it would accomplish. It aroused no fewer than five searching parties,
all bent upon locating these two popular girls.

Captain Magee's men were the first to go. Summoning Sergeant Worth, he
commandeered a plane from the airport, and directed the pilot to fly
over the swamp, searching from the air by means of spyglasses.

The second party was composed of the girls' fathers, both of whom were
in New York City at the time. Mr. Crowley telephoned Mr. Carlton, and
after sending a wire to their families, they boarded a Florida train
together.

The third volunteers were two young men at Green Falls, two college
boys who considered Linda and Dot their special girl-friends, though
neither of them was engaged, Jim Valier and Ralph Clavering heard the
sad news at the out-door pool at Green Falls, just as they were about
to join a group of young people for a swim. Kitty Hulbert, Ralph's
married sister, read the head-lines aloud.

"Jim," muttered Ralph, when Kitty finished, "let's do something! We can
take a plane to Florida--and go on a search from there."

"O.K.," agreed the other boy, and quietly and quickly the two young men
disappeared from the group.

The story came to the Mackays in Washington, where Ted had business on
his return from Georgia. The instant that Louise read it, she jumped up
in excitement.

"We must go, Ted!" she cried. "You can get your vacation now."

"I'll wire immediately," he agreed, without an instant's hesitation,
and he went out to make the necessary arrangements and to order his
plane in readiness.

The fifth and last party was none other than Linda's two latest
admirers, the two young men she had mentioned to Dot in the hope of a
rescue--Jackson Carter and Hal Perry.

All in all, it ought to have been enough to satisfy Miss Carlton that
every effort was being made to find the girls and to bring them back to
safety.

The airplane from the police department was the first of these groups
to get into action, the first to enter the swamp. Yet it did not
actually enter it, but merely flew above it, for the pilot, less
experienced than Linda herself, did not believe it possible to come
down on one of those islands. For hours, however, he circled about,
over the bog, and the cypress-trees, while Sergeant Worth in the rear
cock-pit scanned the landscape with his spyglasses. But neither man saw
any trace of the autogiro or the girls, and late that afternoon they
had to return in discouragement to Captain Magee.

"I couldn't even locate that camp on the island," Worth said. "The
one where we got the prisoners, you know. Unless you have the exact
directions, it's hard to find anything in that swamp.... And--I don't
see much use in trying again."

Captain Magee looked exceedingly grave; he was genuinely worried.
He blamed himself for letting the girls go alone. But there had been
nothing official about the project--he had not really expected that
they would run into the criminal. Besides, Linda Carlton had seemed so
capable, and both girls were so eager to go.

"We mustn't give up, Worth," he said quietly. "It's more important to
find these girls than a dozen criminals. We owe it to them, to their
families--to the whole country. Everybody has admiration and affection
for Miss Linda Carlton, after all she has done.... You'll have to go
back tomorrow--or get another man, if you feel too discouraged."

"No, I'm only too glad to help," the other assured him. "I would do
anything in the world for Miss Carlton. But I don't see how it can do
any good. A scouting party in boats would be much more likely to be
successful."

"We'll try that, too, as soon as I can get some men together. But
tomorrow you fly out over the ocean to that island where the thieves
had the jewels. The girls might be stranded there. Take another pilot,
and a bigger plane."

Worth looked doubtful.

"We haven't any way of locating that island, either," he said. "It was
Miss Carlton who took us there before, and I have no idea where it is."

"Just do your best, Worth," urged the Captain. "Fly around all the
islands near the Georgia coast, keeping a sharp look-out for the
autogiro."

"Rain or shine? It looks like a storm tomorrow."

"Yes, whatever the weather, you must go--or get someone else."

So, in spite of the terrible downpour and the high winds of June
thirtieth, a cabin monoplane flew across Georgia and out over the ocean
to a group of islands just off the coast. Three men were aboard--two
experienced pilots, one of whom was also a mechanic--besides the police
officer.

Leaving the coast behind, they flew out into the grayness that was
ocean and sky. The waves were high, the sea rough and angry, and the
rain was coming down in sheets, blinding their vision, but they pressed
on, two of the men keeping their spyglasses on the water, watching for
islands. They passed over several, but they were small, with little or
no place to land. Eagerly the men watched for some sign of human life,
some signal, some glimpse of the autogiro.

"They'd never be alive if we did find them," remarked Worth, gloomily.
"And if they did run into that gangster, he'd surely have made away
with them."

"If only it would clear up," grumbled the pilot. "So we could see
something!"

They were flying much lower now, for it was comparatively safe over the
water, and despite the weather, they were able to spot the islands. All
of a sudden the mechanic uttered a sharp cry.

"There she is! Look! Over there!"

"Miss Carlton?" demanded Worth, excitedly. "Where?"

"Not the girl! The plane--the autogiro! See--that island to the west!
See the wind-mill on top?"

"By George! You're right!" agreed Worth, a thrill running up and down
his spine. Thank Heaven, he hadn't given up!

The pilot directed the plane over the island and circled about, landing
finally some distance from the autogiro. A glance at the latter
assured them that it had not been wrecked. Why, then, hadn't the girls
come back? Was it possible that all this scare had risen to alarm the
world for the simple reason that Linda Carlton had run out of gas?

The three men climbed out of the cabin and shouted as loud as they
could, since the girls had evidently failed to hear their plane, above
the noise of the storm and the roar of the ocean. Eagerly they waited
for a reply. But when none came, fear crept over them all.

Had the girls died of starvation, or was there foul play of some kind?
With gloomy forebodings, they walked about the beach, seeking evidence
of some kind to tell the story of what had happened.

Finding nothing, the mechanic began to examine the autogiro. She was
undamaged, unhurt--everything in order, gasoline in the tank. The
engine started easily in answer to his test, and ran smoothly until he
turned it off. No, the gallant little Ladybug could not be blamed for
whatever disaster had taken place!

Then, forgetful of the weather, the three men set out to search the
island thoroughly. Buckled in oil-skin coats, they felt protected
themselves, but Worth shuddered as he thought of these girls alone in
such desolation, with no roof to cover them, no food to satisfy their
hunger, or water for their thirst. Gloomy and discouraged they plowed
through the wet sand, calling the girls' names. Finally, abandoning the
hope of finding them alive, they set themselves to the gruesome task of
looking among the underbrush for their bodies. At last they gave up.

"We'll fasten a canvas sheet over these bushes, so that we can locate
the island, and we'll pin a note on it to say that we'll be back,"
decided Worth, "in case they are alive. One of you men take the
autogiro, and the other the plane, and we'll go back now."

The rain was abating somewhat, and the two planes made the return trip
without any mishaps, arriving at the Jacksonville Airport before dark
that evening.

A wildly enthusiastic crowd, which had collected in spite of the
weather, greeted them with resounding cheers. The Ladybug was back
again--safe and sound! Women cried with joy, men threw their hats into
the air, children clapped their hands and whistled. In a miniature way
it was a demonstration like the one given Lindbergh upon his arrival
at the French Flying Field. But it was a false rejoicing, and the
gayety was quickly changed into despair when the pilot reported that
the girls themselves had not been found.

Weary and disappointed, the crowd turned away, and Sergeant Worth told
the sad story to the newspaper reporters who waited to interview him,
before he returned to the police headquarters.

Captain Magee was terribly affected by the news. Linda Carlton might
have been his own daughter, from the grief which he could not conceal.

Two well-dressed young men were waiting in his office when Worth
arrived, and they listened to the grim account. They were the first
of the rescue parties to arrive from the North--Jim Valier and Ralph
Clavering.

"These two young men are friends of Miss Carlton and Miss Crowley,"
explained the Captain. "They want to go into the swamp tomorrow in a
boat.... Perhaps the girls have reached the main-land, or perhaps that
autogiro was stolen, and they never were on the island at all....
Anyhow, we'll search the swamp again. Will you go with them, Worth?"

"Certainly," agreed the sergeant, though he felt as if it would be
fruitless. Those girls were at the bottom of the ocean, he was sure!

"A light motor-boat ought to be able to go up that little stream,"
continued the Captain. "I will have one ready at the edge of the swamp
tomorrow morning at ten o'clock. If you young men will come here at
nine, I'll send you over there in a car."

Jim and Ralph expressed their thanks to the officer, and promised to be
on hand at the arranged time in the morning. But, like Sergeant Worth,
they were exceedingly discouraged; they had little hope of success.

When they awakened the following morning, which was the first day of
July--the day that Linda should have reported to Atlanta--they found
that it was still raining, although the storm had ceased, giving way to
a dismal drizzle. What an unpleasant day to start off on an excursion
like theirs, that was gloomy at best! Yet the weather did not deter
them from their purpose, nor did it stop Hal Perry and Jackson who
started earlier that morning in their canoe.

But it was difficult with a motor-boat, and all three of the men were
unfamiliar with the swamp and its little streams. No one knew where to
turn off, as Jackson and Hal had learned from many vacations, and after
pushing ahead for two or three hours, they found themselves off their
course--grounded.

"It's no use," muttered Worth. "We can't make it in a motor-boat.
Magee's never been in the swamp, or he would have known. We'll have to
turn back and get a canoe!"

"A whole day wasted!" growled Ralph angrily, as if it were the
sergeants fault. "A day! When every minute is precious!"

"Well, it's nobody's fault," remarked Worth. "The sooner we get back
the better."

"Nobody's fault!" repeated Ralph. "No--ignorance is O.K.--if it
pertains to the police! They shouldn't know a thing about the country
around them!"

"No use getting mad at policemen, Ralph," drawled good-natured Jim
Valier. "Haven't you learned from driving a car that it doesn't pay?
Besides, they're always right."

"No, we're often very wrong," said Worth, humbly and seriously. "And
maybe you don't think I care, Mr. Clavering, about finding those girls.
But I do! I haven't thought about a thing but that for the last three
days."

Ralph made no answer, but applied his attention to searching the
landscape with his glasses. But, like everybody else thus far, he found
nothing.

Discouraged and silent, they managed to push the boat into the deeper
water and to turn it around. All that afternoon they spent in retracing
the progress they had made, and returned to the Captain's office just
before supper.

"You want to try it again in canoes?" asked Captain Magee.

"Yes," replied Ralph. "Without any of your police this time. No use
taking an extra man--it only means more provisions to carry."

"True. But you must be careful of snakes and alligators."

The boys looked none too pleased at the idea, but when they remembered
that Linda and Dot, if still alive, would be subjected to the same
perils, they were all the more eager to go.

This time, they decided, they would do it scientifically; they would
go prepared with a map of the swamp, equipment, food, and rifles.
And above all, a compass! And they would not give up until they had
searched every part of that dismal Okefenokee Swamp!

So, cheered by the optimism of youth and the promise of another day,
the boys slept well that night.



CHAPTER XV

_The Empty Island_


The same morning upon which Ralph Clavering and Jim Valier went into
the Okefenokee Swamp in a canoe, the fourth searching party arrived.
Delayed by a stop-over in Norfolk, Virginia, where Ted had some
business for the company, he and Louise did not reach the Jacksonville
Airport until the morning of July second. Leaving the plane at the
field, they taxied immediately to the City Hall, arriving there a
little after ten.

They did not expect any good news about the missing girls, for they
had read the papers and had inquired the latest word at the airport.
They had gazed at the Ladybug, so forlorn and desolate in the hangar,
and their fears were dark. Even Louise, who was usually optimistic,
believed this time it was the end. Yet how dreadful it was! That
Linda Carlton, so young, with such a glorious future before her,
should perish like this before she was twenty! When she had the whole
world at her feet--a world she had won not through mere beauty and
charm--although she was both beautiful and charming, but through her
courage, her ability, her modesty! Louise made no attempt to hide the
tears that rolled down her cheeks; even her husband's strong arm about
her shoulders could not stop her sobs.

"Don't give up yet, dear!" he urged. "Why, you and I haven't even had
our try."

The girl smiled bravely through her tears.

"I know, Ted dear. I'll try to remember." Her eyes brightened with
genuine hope. "It always has been _you_ who have rescued her! Maybe you
will this time."

"We're going to make a bigger effort than ever before," he reassured
her. "Because this time I have you to help me."

The minute they entered the City Hall they saw that something had
happened. Louise's heart gave a wild leap of excitement. Were Linda and
Dot safe?

But no. If they were, somebody would be shouting the news from the
house-tops--and no one was looking particularity jubilant. There was
a crowd outside, but it was not an exulting one. Was it possible that
they had found the girls--dead? In spite of the heat of the day, a
cold shiver of horror crept over Louise, and she clung tightly to her
husband's arm.

They had little difficulty in passing through the crowd to the
captain's office, for the latter had given orders to his men that Miss
Carlton's and Miss Crowley's friends and relatives were to be admitted
immediately, whenever they appeared.

As they entered the room, they saw half a dozen officials standing
around, several in plain clothes, with only badges to identify them.
And on a chair by the desk, opposite Captain Magee, a strange young
woman was sitting.

The girl was flashily dressed--or over-dressed--in the latest style.
A long green gown trailed almost to the floor, not quite concealing a
bandaged ankle. Her little, off-the-face hat of the same bright color
was decorated with a diamond bar-pin. Her lips and her cheeks were
painted, and there was a gap in her mouth where two front teeth had
been knocked out.

The Captain nodded to the Mackays to sit down, and he continued the
questions he was putting to this young woman.

"You might as well confess if you know where that man is--with all the
bank's money!" he was saying. "I know your scheme. Pretending you don't
know where he escaped, so that you won't be locked up, and can get back
to him!" His eyes narrowed, and he lowered his voice to an uncanny
whisper. "But we'll keep you here till you tell where that thief is!"

"I can't tell you--when I don't know!" she persisted. "He ran off from
me--he never wanted me with him anyway. I'll swear to it, Sir, if you
think I'm lyin'.... Besides, he hasn't got that money."

"Then where is it?"

"Linda--and the cops she had with her--tricked us, double-crossed us,
by swiping the money and fillin' the bags with sand. The Doc was in
such a Hurry to get away from those cops, he never found it out till we
were on that yacht. He was afraid to go back."

Captain Magee leaned forward eagerly at the mention of Linda Carlton's
name. She was far more important than the money that had been stolen.

"Miss Carlton?" he demanded. "With the police? Where did you see her?"

Susie shook her head.

"No, I didn't actually see her. But I saw her Bug, with her stuff in
it--a bag and a basket of food. I tossed them out of the plane, too, so
she wouldn't starve when we swiped the plane. You can put that down to
my credit."

"You stole the autogiro?"

"No. Only borrowed it. Left it on an island--you can get it when you
want it."

"We have it.... Now, suppose instead of my asking you questions, you
tell us the whole story, Miss----?"

"_Mrs._ Slider, if you please," she said. "I am a widow." She lowered
her eyes dramatically, enjoying the sensation of holding the center of
the stage.

"Well," she began, "after my husband got killed in the plane accident
that Linda probably told you about, she and I got to be quite good
friends. I even promised to leave the gang and go straight, for I never
really took part in any of their stealing myself--believe it or not!
Linda left me on that island in the swamp, and promised to come back
for me when she came for the Bug."

"But you weren't there when Miss Carlton returned!" Captain Magee
reminded her.

"No. I got terrible lonesome. If you ever spend a night in the swamp
with only a dead man for company--oh, he was buried all right, but it
was spooky just the same--you'd excuse me for takin' the first way out,
Sir. The Doc come along, in his canoe, and I promised him my diamond
ring if he'd take me away.... Well, we got out of the swamp in his
boat, and hired a Ford across Georgia. Then we took a motor-boat out to
that island in the ocean."

Everyone waited breathlessly; at last the girl was coming to the part
they all longed to hear about--the part of the story in which Linda
Carlton figured. Pausing dramatically, Susie asked for a glass of water.

"Go on!" urged the captain, as soon as she had drained it.

"It was a terrible boat," she finally continued. "An awful old one. You
can imagine going ten miles out to sea in a thing like that! The engine
gave out----"

"Never mind all that!" commanded the officer, impatiently. "Come to the
point."

"Yes, Sir.... Well, we got to the island finally, and waited for the
yacht that was to pick us up and take us to Panama, but before she come
along, the autogiro arrived. Linda--and the police, of course."

"Did you see them--the police, I mean?" was the next question.

"No, we didn't. We were too scared, so we hid till they got out of the
plane and searched the island. Then we grabbed the bags and ran for the
plane. I flew the Bug out to sea, and in a few minutes we spotted our
yacht, and signaled it to stop on another island. That's where we left
Linda's plane.... When we got to Panama, the Doc slipped off, and I got
caught.... So you see there's nothing to punish _me_ for--you got the
autogiro back, and the cops, or Linda, took the money----"

"There were no policemen with Miss Carlton," Captain Magee informed
Susie. "Only another girl. But they are lost."

"They must be still on that island, waiting for you to come for them.
Nothing could hurt them, and they had some food...."

This was enough for Ted Mackay. Jumping to his feet, he announced his
intention of flying there immediately.

"Give me the latitude and longitude of that island!" he demanded.
"There isn't a moment to lose!"

"The what?" asked Susie, wrinkling her nose.

"Show me where it is on a map," explained Ted.

"Yeah," agreed Susie, pointing out the island on a map of the Georgia
coast, which the Captain took from his desk. "But what's the grand
rush?"

"You've forgotten the storm we just had!" said the young man. "The
girls may be sick or dead by this time."

"Girls," repeated Susie, significantly. "It beats everything the way
they fooled us--in their riding-breeches! If the Doc ever finds out he
ran away from a pair of girls----"

"Never mind all that, Mrs. Slider," interrupted Captain Magee,
signaling to the prison matron to take the girl away.... "Now, Mr.
Mackay, is there anything I can do for you, before you go?"

"You might get me a taxi," replied Ted. "To take my wife and myself to
the airport."

"Take my private car," offered the Captain, rising to say good-by. "And
good luck to you!"

Louise was so excited at the whole occurrence that she could scarcely
sit still in the limousine, as it sped over to the airport.

"If we only aren't too late! Ted, do you suppose they're starved? What
does it feel like to starve to death? Or to die of thirst?"

"I wouldn't worry too much about thirst," he reassured her. "Because of
that big rain we had. They could get water from it, you know."

"I never thought of that!"

"The worst is over now, I'm sure," continued Ted. "Five days isn't so
long, and the girl said they had food. Besides, it wasn't cold. Think
of that time you girls were lost in Canada!"

Louise shuddered; she could still remember that long, hopeless night
very vividly, when she and Linda had jumped from parachutes down into
the snow of the Canadian Woods, and how they had been forced to keep
walking to avoid freezing to death.

"Still, we found a shack to sleep in. And Linda and Dot haven't even a
blanket to cover them in all that storm!"

"Well, they were together, that's one thing to be thankful for."

"Yes--and I'm glad Linda's companion is Dot. Of all our crowd at Spring
City, Dot Crowley is the nicest girl--after Linda, of course. Most of
the girls, like Kitty Clavering--Kitty Hulbert, I mean--or Sue Emery,
would be pitying themselves so that they'd make Linda miserable. But
not Dot. She always sees the bright side of everything."

"And wasn't it clever the way they got hold of that money, and fooled
that bandit!" exulted Ted. "My, but that was slick. And think what it's
going to mean to that bank and its depositors! Because if that fellow
hadn't been fooled, he'd have made off with it. I don't believe they'll
ever find him now."

"I guess nobody will care if he never comes back to the United States!"
agreed Louise.

They arrived at the airport and found the plane in readiness, wheeled
out on the runway, and Ted took time to give it an inspection himself,
while Louise ran off to get the necessary supplies--some food and
water, and a first-aid kit, as a necessary precaution. She borrowed
sweaters and knickers from the supply at the airport, for she reasoned
that Linda and Dot would be chilled and drenched from the rain. Dry
clothing ought to be a god-send, even if they used it only on the short
trip back in the plane.

Inside of an hour they took off. It was still drizzling, but Ted was
such an experienced navigator that he had no difficulty at all in
flying in any kind of weather, and he found the island from Susie's
directions. Shortly after noon, he brought it down on the beach.

A feeling of apprehension stole over Louise, when she saw neither of
the girls on the shore to greet them. In spite of the noise of ocean,
surely they would have heard the plane! Why weren't they there?

Ted turned off the motor, and looked about expectantly.

"Do you suppose they're both sick--or injured?" faltered Louise. She
did not add, "or dead," but she could not help thinking it.

"Maybe they didn't hear us. Let's shout together--'Linda and Dot!'
If they hear their first names, they'll know we're friends, maybe
recognize our voices. You see they may be hiding--for fear it's that
gangster returning."

"I never thought of that," replied Louise, more hopefully. "All
right--both together when I count three.

"One--two--three!"

"LINDA AND DOT!"

Their voices rose clearly over the splashing of the waves, and they
waited tensely.

But there was no reply!

They waited, and tried again.... Still silence.... Louise put out her
hand, and grasped her husband's, in fear.

"What does it mean?" she cried, in anguish. "Is this surely the right
island? There seemed to be a lot of them."

"Maybe it isn't" he answered, optimistically. "That girl seemed to be
telling the truth--but she was a queer one. Besides, she might not be
sure which island it was.... Anyway, we'll search. If Linda and Dot
were here, we'll see some evidences of their camp--burnt out fires, or
worn paths, or something. Come on, let's start!"

Arm in arm they began their search, stepping carefully through the
underbrush, now and then stopping to call, "Linda" or "Dot," in the
hope that the girls might only have been asleep. They did not have to
go far before they saw that at least someone had been here recently,
for there was a path worn through the underbrush.

Farther and farther in they went, until they came to a small cluster of
pine trees. And here, sure enough, they found the remains, or rather
the ashes, for the place had been left neat, of a camp fire.

The sight of this forsaken spot brought sudden tears to Louise's eyes.

"They've been dragged off and killed! I just know it!" she moaned.

"Don't cry, please, dear," begged Ted. "We're not sure yet. This may
not be their island--their fire. Somebody else may have camped here.
Let's look about a bit."

Slowly they walked around the place, examining the ground for some
forgotten belonging that would identify the former campers. Noticing a
pile of leaves where someone had evidently made a bed, Louise kicked
them aside with her foot, and she saw an empty matchbox. It wasn't
much, but it was something, and she leaned over and picked it up.

The letters on the lid leaped out at her like living tongues. Marked
with a purple rubber-stamp over the trade-mark, were the words:

"J. Vetter, Spring City, Ohio."

The explanation was only too plain. No one but Dot and Linda could
have used that box. Louise dropped to the ground in an agony of
wretchedness, and buried her face in her hands.

Even the optimistic Ted found all his hopes blasted by this little
box. Gloom spread over his features, and he sat down beside his wife,
comforting her as best he could.

For fifteen minutes, perhaps, they remained motionless, overcome by the
thought of their friends' awful death. The food which they had brought
with the idea of sharing a gay picnic lunch with Dot and Linda was
forgotten. Though they had not eaten since breakfast, neither Ted nor
Louise could have swallowed a mouthful.

At last Ted got up, gently raising Louise to her feet. Each silently
decided to make one more search--a gruesome one this time--for the
girls' bodies.

Round and round the island they walked, looking carefully, among the
underbrush, near to the beach, even scanning the water with their
spyglasses. But they saw nothing. That one matchbox had been their only
evidence. Like good campers to the end, Linda and Dot had burned every
trace of rubbish.

It was mid-afternoon when Ted realized that Louise was faint from
hunger and thirst, and he made her sit down while he brought some
supplies from the plane. She drank the water eagerly, but she could not
eat. For Louise Mackay was going through the deepest tragedy of her
young life: her first experience with the loss of a loved one.

During the entire flight homeward she kept her hand on Ted's knee, but
she did not utter a word.



CHAPTER XVI

_Searching the Ocean_


Louise and Ted Mackay did not go to the police headquarters that night.
They were too miserable, too discouraged by the outcome of their
excursion to the island. After leaving the plane at the airport, Ted
called Captain Magee on the telephone, and briefly related the results
of their flight.

Supper was a dreary affair for them both. It was only by putting forth
a tremendous effort that they ate at all--in an attempt to stave off
exhaustion. The ice cream, at least, tasted good to Louise, for she was
still very hot.

The worst ordeal of all came after the meal, just as the saddened young
couple were passing through the hotel lobby to take the elevator to
their room. Louise suddenly recognized two familiar figures at the
desk, two men who had just arrived with their luggage. Mr. Crowley and
Mr. Carlton--the fathers of the two unfortunate girls!

The tears which Louise had bravely forced back ever since her collapse
at the discovery of the matchbox on the island, rushed to her eyes
again. How could they ever tell these two men the terrible news?

For an instant she hoped they would not see her or her husband, that
she could at least put off the evil tidings until the morning. But
it was not to be. Linda's father recognized her instantly, and came
quickly towards her.

"Louise!" he exclaimed, holding out his hand. "And Ted! Any news?"

Louise could not answer for the sob that was choking her, and Ted, shy
as he always was, knew it was his duty to explain.

"Bad news, Sir," he said. "We had information this morning that the
girls were stranded on an island in the ocean, and that their autogiro
had been stolen from them. As you probably read in the newspaper, it
was found yesterday.... We--Lou and I--flew to the island where the
girls were supposed to be, this afternoon, and found evidences of their
camp--burnt out fires--but no trace of the girls."

Mr. Carlton looked grave.

"But they may have been rescued," suggested Mr. Crowley, who had the
same optimistic disposition as his daughter.

"Possibly," admitted Ted. "But if they had, wouldn't we have heard? The
whole country is waiting for news of those two brave girls."

"I'm afraid you're right," agreed Mr. Carlton, darkly. "Yes, you must
be right. Foul play----"

"Or the ocean!" put in Louise. "Oh, the cruel, dreadful ocean! If it
couldn't swallow Linda up on her flight to Paris, it had to have its
revenge now!"

"Have you had your dinner, Sir?" asked Ted of Mr. Carlton.

"Yes. On the train. Suppose we get our rooms--I'll ask for a private
sitting-room--and then we can all go up and discuss the matter together
from every angle, and decide upon what is the best thing for us to do."

Louise brightened at this ray of hope.

"Then you're not going to give up yet, Mr. Carlton?" she inquired.

"Never, till we find them--dead or alive. We're going to think of no
news as good news."

Mr. Crowley nodded his approval.

"I have a week's vacation," added Ted, "and I shall be at your service."

"Thank you, my boy," answered Mr. Carlton, gratefully. He was a great
admirer of Ted Mackay, ever since he had recovered from his prejudice
against him because he was the son of a ne'er-do-well.

The new-comers made their arrangements at the desk, and were fortunate
enough to secure a very pleasant suite. Louise and Ted went up in the
elevator with them, and Mr. Carlton ordered coffee to be sent to the
room.

They settled down into the easy chairs and Louise poured the
iced-coffee. The evening was hot, but there were large windows on three
sides of the sitting-room, and a lovely breeze was blowing. Mr. Carlton
brought out cigars and offered one to Ted.

"But I suppose you'd rather have a cigarette," he said, when Ted
refused.

"No thank you, Sir. I never smoke. A great many of us pilots don't. We
want to keep as fit as possible."

Mr. Carlton nodded. Linda had never expressed any desire to smoke, and
he supposed it was for the same reason.

"There are two places where the girls might be," he said slowly, as he
puffed on his cigar. "On another of those small islands, off the coast,
or in some boat--on the ocean. If they had reached the coast, we should
have heard of it."

"A boat!" repeated Louise, with sudden inspiration. "There was that
broken down motor-boat, that the girl and the gangster used to get to
the island! Could Dot and Linda have gone off in that?"

"What boat?" demanded Mr. Carlton and Mr. Crowley, both at once.

Louise explained by repeating most of the story which they had heard
from Susie that morning.

"Funny we didn't think of that before," observed Ted. "Come to
remember, I didn't see any boat this afternoon. Did you, Lou?"

"No, I didn't. And we searched the whole island," she explained to the
older men. "We'd surely have seen it if there had been one."

"This sounds hopeful!" exclaimed Mr. Crowley, joyfully. "If it didn't
have a leak----"

"But didn't you say that it was broken?" asked Mr. Carlton.

"The girl said the engine was broken, but as far as I know, the boat
itself was sound," replied Ted.

"Linda could fix the engine!" cried Louise, almost hysterical in her
relief. For the first time since the finding of the matchbox, she
actually believed that Linda and Dot were still alive.

"We'll work on that theory, anyway," decided Mr. Carlton. "And go out
on the ocean tomorrow."

Before they could discuss their plans any further, the telephone on the
desk interrupted them, and Mr. Carlton was informed that there were two
young men who wanted to see him--Ralph Clavering and James Valier.

"Well, of all things!" exclaimed Mr. Carlton, who had not even known
that the boys had started South. "Yes," he added to the clerk on the
phone, "ask them to come up right away, by all means."

"Who? What?" demanded Louise, eagerly. "Any news?"

"I don't know yet. Ralph and Jim are here."

"They would be," smiled Louise. Linda could never get away from Ralph
Clavering, no matter how far she went.

A minute later the boys appeared, dressed in camping clothes, looking
very unlike the neat, immaculate young men they always appeared to be
at Spring City, or at Green Falls. Even if they took part in athletics
at home, their white flannels were always spotless. But now, except
for the fact that their faces were clean and shaved, they looked like
tramps.

Ralph and Jim were just as much surprised to see Ted and Louise as the
latter were at their visit.

"Where in the world have you been?" demanded Louise, in amazement at
their appearance. "You both look as if you had been ship-wrecked and
lost besides."

"We have," muttered Jim, sinking wearily into a seat, and extending his
long legs in front of him. "Please pardon our slouching, Lou--but we're
dead."

"But where have you been?" repeated Mr. Carlton.

"In the Okefenokee Swamp!" answered Ralph. "And if Lou weren't here,
I'd tell you what it's like, in no uncertain language!"

Mr. Carlton smiled, and yet he was horror stricken. If these boys found
it so dreadful, what must it have seemed like to Linda?

"Tell us about it!" he urged. "But wait, have you had your supper?"

"Yes. We had food along with us. We left the canoe at the edge of the
stream, and taxied back here, because we have rooms in this hotel. They
told us at the desk that 'Miss Carlton's father had arrived,' so we
didn't wait even to change our clothing. We had to get the news of the
girls immediately."

"I'm afraid there isn't much to tell," sighed Louise. "At least nothing
hopeful." Briefly she repeated what she and Ted had been doing all
afternoon, as a result of Susie's capture and story, and she displayed
the matchbox, with the name of Spring City stamped on its lid.

"I recall Linda's getting that from her aunt," remarked Ralph,
dolefully. "She asked for half a dozen boxes, and Miss Carlton got them
right away, so she wouldn't forget."

"Now tell us what you boys have been doing," urged Mr. Crowley. "And
Louise, why don't you pour them some of this iced-coffee? It really is
very refreshing."

Briefly Ralph told his story, aided now and then by Jim. Their second
expedition into the swamp had been as useless as their first, though
they admitted the superiority of a canoe over a motor-boat, if one knew
where to go. But they had become hopelessly lost in a couple of hours,
in spite of their maps, and, as time passed, they became all the more
certain that the girls were not in the swamp. They decided to turn
back, in order to concentrate their efforts on the islands near where
the autogiro had been found.

Susie's story naturally confirmed their suspicions, and they instantly
agreed with Mr. Carlton to abandon all further search of the Okefenokee.

"I believe the thing to do," announced the latter, after serious
contemplation, "is to hire a yacht, and cruise all along the Georgia
and Florida coast. The most reasonable explanation to me is that Linda
and Dot are adrift somewhere in that motor-boat. Either the engine is
broken beyond repair, or the gasoline has given out."

"Or that terrible storm has wrecked them," faltered Louise, who could
not silence her fear of the ocean. "Upset that little boat, and----"

"Don't, Lou!" cried Jim. "Don't even think of things like that, unless
we find an empty boat!"

"I'll try not to," she promised.

"Well, whatever has happened, the ocean is the place for us to be, if
we hope to rescue the girls," concluded Mr. Carlton, "You all agree on
that point?"

Everyone assented, and Ralph and Jim expressed their desire to get into
action immediately.

"We ought to be able to get a yacht tomorrow," continued Mr. Carlton.
"Because of the publicity of this affair someone who has one ready will
probably be glad to rent it to us on the spot. I think I'll go to the
newspaper office tonight, and have the request broadcast by radio."

"Great!" exclaimed Louise, jumping up excitedly. "And can we all go
with you tomorrow, on the cruise, I mean, Mr. Carlton?"

"You can do just as you prefer--go with me, or use your own plane to
fly around over the islands."

"I think that would be the better plan for us, Sir," put in Ted. "And
we can keep in touch with you by signals."

The group separated at last, the older men to call their families by
long-distance, the young people to get a good night's sleep after their
strenuous day. In the morning they re-assembled at breakfast, when Mr.
Carlton announced the good news that he had been offered a yacht by a
wealthy man in Jacksonville.

"He even refused to take any rent for it, much as I urged him to," he
added. "And he's lending us the crew besides. It seems too good to be
true."

"All of which goes to show just how popular Linda is--with everybody!"
explained Louise. "Oh, we simply must find her!"

There were no preparations to be made for the cruise, because the owner
of the yacht assured Mr. Carlton that everything was in readiness, so
by ten o'clock on the morning of July third, the little party, composed
of the two fathers and the two boy-friends of the lost girls stepped
aboard the boat. It was a beautiful little yacht, complete in every
detail. Under any other circumstances the men would have been overjoyed
at the prospect of such a pleasant trip. As it was, they were too
worried to think of anything but Linda and Dot.

"What a marvelous time we could be having if the girls were aboard!"
lamented Ralph. "Dance and play bridge all day, every day, with no
other fellows to cut in on us, and take them away! I say, Jim, we might
even come back engaged if we had a chance like that!"

"Much more likely they'd be so sick of us they'd never want to see us
again!" returned the other, shrewdly. "No--cruising's all right. But
I'd rather be in Green Falls if Linda and Dot were with us."

"Maybe this will teach Linda a lesson," grumbled Ralph. Then he
suddenly remembered her job, with the Spraying Company in Atlanta. He
couldn't pretend to be sorry if she lost it.

The speedy little yacht cruised all day along the coast, while the men
played bridge, and smoked, and ate the most excellent meals, cooked
and served by an efficient staff. But underneath all this comfort ran
an under-current of anxiety, especially towards evening, when darkness
came on, and no sign of the girls had been seen.

Several airplanes had flown over their heads during the day, and once
they saw Ted's plane. Dropping low, Louise waved her handkerchief,
which was the pre-arranged signal to tell them that the flyers had
found nothing, and Ralph waved his in return, conveying the same
information. Should they have anything to report, Ted announced that he
would put his plane through a series of stunts, and, in the case of the
yacht's making a discovery, Jim Valier promised to climb up on the rail.

But the airplane and the yacht passed each other with only a dismal
fluttering of handkerchiefs.

"Something's bound to happen tomorrow," said Jim, as he crawled into
his bunk that night. "It'll be the fourth of July!"

"By Jove! It will!" exclaimed Ralph. "We ought to get some bang-up
excitement!"

But the thing that happened was what they had all been silently
dreading--the fate which only Louise had mentioned, that night in the
hotel sitting-room.

About noon--off the coast of Florida--Jim Valier spotted an overturned
old motor-boat, bouncing helplessly about on the ocean!



CHAPTER XVII

_On to Cuba_


When the storm came at dawn on the thirtieth of June, it awakened Linda
first. As the rain descended upon the slickers that covered the girls,
and upon their faces, Dot merely buried her head sleepily under the
raincoat, but Linda sat bolt upright on the bed of leaves.

The wind was howling about the lonely island, and the rain was pouring
down in sheets. The blackness of it all was terrifying, yet she knew
that she must get up.

"Dot!" she whispered, hoarsely. "Wake up!"

Her companion opened her eyes sleepily as she pushed the slicker aside.

"Yes.... Why Linda, it's--pouring!"

"It certainly is." Linda was slipping on her shoes and her knickers
over her pajamas. "We've got to rescue the boat."

"Why?"

"Because water mustn't get into the gasoline. And because the tide
might come up high enough to wash the boat out to sea."

"O.K.," replied Dot, now quite wide awake. "I'm with you, Linda--in
just a second."

Holding on to each other's hands, they made their way with difficulty
down to the beach where the boat had been left, and together they
dragged it back and covered it with one of the slickers.

Panting from the effort, they dropped back on the sand and sat down,
not bothering about the rain that was descending relentlessly upon
them, soaking them to the skin.

"We might as well use the other slicker as a roof for ourselves,"
suggested Dot, as she got to her feet again. "We can hang it over some
bushes, and crawl under it."

"That's an idea!" approved Linda. "I was wondering how one raincoat
could keep us both dry."

"It won't keep us dry--we're wet now. But it will protect us from the
worst force of this cloud-burst."

They went back to their camping site and arranged the slicker as best
they could--carefully putting the bag of money and the box of tools
under it, before they crawled in themselves. The bushes were wet, and
so was the ground, but the girls were saved the discomfort of having
the rain actually pour in their faces.

They watched the storm for some time, hoping that it would soon abate,
and finally, becoming drowsy, they fell asleep again, with their feet
sticking out under the covering.

Cramped by the awkward position, they awakened in a couple of hours.
Daylight had arrived--but not sunlight. It was still raining steadily
and dismally.

"Don't you suppose we can go today?" asked Dot.

"Maybe later on," replied Linda, cheerfully. "There's one thing good
about this, Dot. We can get a drink."

"How heavenly!" exclaimed the other, sitting up. "But how do we manage
it? We won't get much by just opening our mouths!"

"Get up carefully. I'm sure there's a lot of water lodging on the top
of this slicker. Wait--get the thermos bottles out of the tool-box
first. We'll use the cups, and then stand them up to catch the rain as
it falls."

Linda's surmise was correct; there was so much water on the slicker
that it was in danger of collapsing any moment. They dipped their cups
into the pool and drank eagerly. How good it tasted to their parched
throats!

"There must be more down on the boat's cover," suggested Dot. "Let's
get it, and pour it into our thermos bottles."

When they had carried out this idea, they set the bottles firmly in the
sand, and crept back under cover.

"Shall we eat?" asked Dot, after watching the rain for some minutes in
silence.

"Let's wait a while--till noon, if we can. We have only those two
oranges and a half a dozen crackers. It'll be something to look forward
to."

"There's still some tea and sugar--and one can of milk," the other
reminded her. "You know we didn't use them, because we couldn't afford
the water. Now it'll be different."

"I'd forgotten all about that!" exclaimed Linda, smiling. "Let's have
tea and one cracker for lunch, and save the oranges for supper."

"But how can we ever hope to build a fire in this rain? We'd never find
any dry sticks--and if we made one under here, we'd be smoked out."

"I hadn't thought of that. But we can make cold tea. If we leave the
leaves in the water long enough, they'll flavor it--anyway, that's what
I read in an ad one time."

"You think of everything, Linda! It's no wonder you've gotten out of a
dozen disasters that would have killed an ordinary girl!"

"Now Dot!" protested the other girl, modestly. "Just so long as we get
out of this one, I'll be satisfied."

To help pass the tediousness of the long gloomy day, the girls took a
brisk walk encircling the entire island. Soaked as they were before
they started, they decided it would be foolish to stop because of the
rain. The sight of the ocean, wild and angry as it was because of the
storm, aroused their wonder and admiration, and rewarded them for their
wet excursion. In vain they squinted through the spyglasses for a
glimpse of the autogiro, but even the island on which it had been left
by Susie was obliterated from their vision.

It was no wonder, therefore, that they did not see the plane which
brought Sergeant Worth and the two pilots to that other island. All
unaware that Ladybug had flown home that afternoon, the girls finally
settled down after dark to try to sleep under their improvised roof.

When they awakened the following morning, they were disappointed not to
see the sun. It was still raining, but no longer in torrents; the storm
had slackened to a monotonous drizzle.

"We better go," said Linda, as they breakfasted on tea and two crackers
apiece. "I can keep the engine pretty well covered up. And this rain
may keep up for days."

"I shouldn't care to keep up this reducing diet for days," observed
Dot. "If we were only too fat, Linda, how we would welcome such a
chance to starve ourselves!"

"Yes.... If--Oh, Dot, don't you wish we had a thick steak
now--smothered in mushrooms----"

"With creamed potatoes and fresh peas----"

"Fruit salad and cheese wafers----"

"Meringues, salted nuts, and coffee!"

Both girls suddenly laughed out loud.

"Anyway, we can both have our drinks of water," concluded Dot. "And
they say thirst is worse than hunger."

"We'll fill both thermos bottles before we push off," said Linda. "But
I'm counting on reaching the Ladybug before noon, and then we ought to
get to the Georgia coast by two o'clock."

"Where we eat that dinner!" added Dot.

Carrying their belongings, they walked down to the beach in their
rain-soaked clothing, and pushed the boat out towards the water. The
ocean was still so high and so rough that Linda hesitated a moment.

"Do you think we can make it?" asked Dot, noticing the expression of
doubt on her companion's face.

"Yes, I think so. That island didn't look far, yesterday."

"That's true. But I can't see it now, Linda. Suppose the storm had
washed the Ladybug away--or even the whole island?"

Linda shuddered, realizing that there was that possibility. She took
the glasses from her pocket, and peered through them in the direction
she remembered the island to be.

"I can't see a thing but ocean," she stated. "The waves are so high.
But let's go in that direction anyway. It must be there."

She turned to the motor-boat and attempted to start the engine, but for
some minutes she labored in vain, for the engine refused to catch. Was
everything in the world against them, Dot silently wondered, as she
watched Linda repeat her efforts with infinite patience.

At last, however, there was a sputter, and the motor started. The girls
pushed the boat into the water and climbed into it.

It would have been great sport riding the waves, had it not been
for the grave danger attached. This was no sporting contest, with a
life-guard in readiness to rescue them if anything went wrong! It was a
race between life and death.

The wind had died down, however, and the sea was gradually growing
calmer. Up and down the little boat bobbed, now in the trough of a
wave, seemingly under a mountain of water--now rising again to a height
that made the girls think of a scenic-railway at a pleasure park. Dot
screamed with excitement, but Linda's lips were set in a firm line of
determination, her attention riveted on the engine.

By some miracle, it seemed to the girls, the little boat forged
triumphantly ahead, with its motor running smoothly. A feeling of
confidence was gradually taking the place of fear, and Dot strained her
eyes for the island that was their goal. Half an hour later she spotted
it, and almost upset the boat in her joy.

"There it is, Linda!" she cried, excitedly. "Oh, Linda, we're saved!
We're----" She stopped suddenly, hardly able to believe her eyes. The
autogiro was gone!

"What's the matter, Dot?" asked Linda, unable to understand the abrupt
end of her chum's rejoicing. "Anything wrong!"

"Yes.... The Ladybug's gone!"

"What? Oh, it can't be!" Linda's voice was hoarse with terror. "Look
again, Dot--you have the glasses."

Dot squinted her eyes, but was rewarded by no trace of the plane.

"You take a look, Linda," she suggested. "Maybe you can see better."

The other girl eagerly caught the glasses which her companion tossed,
and with trembling fingers held them to her eyes. The island was in
plain sight now, but it was a ghastly fact that the autogiro had
completely disappeared.

Linda continued to gaze at the barren spot, her eyes fixed and staring,
as if she were looking at death itself. Then, dropping the glasses into
her lap, she seemed to be thinking intently.

"It's true, Dot," she said, in an expressionless tone. "Yet that must
be the right island.... Something has happened.... I don't know whether
the wind could have lifted the Ladybug--or whether that gangster came
back for it.... In any case, there's only one thing for us to do."

"Yes?" faltered Dot, biting her lips to keep back the tears. She must
not fail Linda now, in her darkest hour.

"Turn the boat around, and make for the shore. We mustn't waste another
drop of gasoline. It--won't last forever."

"Shall we go back to our island--if we can find it?" asked Dot, as she
turned the wheel.

"No, we'll go straight west.... Or is that the west? Oh, if we only
had a compass, or the sun to guide us.... But that must be the right
direction."

Linda was speaking bravely, trying to keep her voice normal, and her
companion took heart from her manner. The boat went forward in the
opposite direction, presumably towards the coast.

Half an hour passed in silence, each girl intent upon her task. Linda
took out her extra can of gasoline and filled the tank. Once Dot drank
some water from the thermos bottle and reminded Linda of hers. All the
while they continued to keep a sharp look-out for the coast.

Another hour passed, and the girls' hunger began to assault them. The
rain continued to fall, and weariness stole over them both. They were
too weak and too tired to talk.

At last Linda broke the silence by asking Dot to take another good look
for the coast through the glasses. She did not add that it was vital
this time, that the gasoline was running very low. On a rough sea like
this, oars would be out of the question, even if the girls had been as
strong as boys.

"I can't see anything but water," was the reply.

But just at that moment Linda saw something that held her speechless
with terror. The boat was springing a leak! Water appeared to be
pouring in by the bucket-full!

As the significance of this catastrophe dawned upon Linda, her throat
grew dry and parched; the words with which she meant to tell Dot choked
her so that she could not speak. How, oh how could she possibly inform
her brave chum of what was literally their death sentence!

It was Dot, however, who spoke instead. Rather, she cried out
hysterically,

"Linda, I see a boat! A steam-boat! Coming towards us!"

"Where?" gasped the other girl, her heart beating wildly between hope
and fear.

"Right ahead! Look! You can see her without the glasses now!"

Linda shot a swift glance at the approaching boat, then looked again at
the floor, where the water was fast deepening. Would the rescue come in
time? And would the boat stop at their signal of distress?

Wild with excitement, both girls raised their arms and waved
desperately at the approaching craft, until it was only fifty yards
away. Then they both shouted with a power and volume that they would
not have believed they possessed.

The oncoming boat decreased its speed until it was almost beside the
girls' sinking craft. To their overwhelming joy and relief, they saw
that it was stopping. A man appeared on the deck, and called to them in
a pleasant voice.

"In trouble, girls?"

"Our boat's sinking!" shouted Linda to Dot's amazement, for the latter
was still unaware of the immediate tragedy that was threatening them.
"Can you take us aboard?"

"Sure!" he replied. "Wait till I get a rope ladder."

While he was gone, Linda pointed to the water in the boat, which by
this time Dot had seen, and signaled to the other girl to say nothing
of their experiences to this man, until they learned more about him.
Linda's recent association with criminals had made her exceedingly wary.

"Pull up closer," instructed the man, as he returned with the ladder.
"Now, can you climb?"

"Easily!" Dot assured him. "We're in knickers, anyhow."

"May we throw our stuff on board first?" inquired Linda, picking up
the bag which contained, besides their few possessions, all the bank's
money.

"Sure! Anything breakable in it?"

"Only a couple of mirrors," returned Dot, who had regained her
cheerfulness with amazing speed. "And we're not afraid of bad luck,"
she added.

A moment later the girls climbed to safety, and pressed their rescuer's
hand in gratitude. It seemed like a miracle to them both, and the old
seaman was like an angel from heaven.

"How soon will we get to the coast?" asked Linda eagerly.

The man shook his head.

"We can't go to the coast," he replied. "We're headed for Cuba."

"But we must get back as soon as possible," pleaded Linda, beginning to
wonder whether she was about to be kidnapped again.

"You were headed for the open ocean," the seaman informed her, to both
girls' consternation. "And that's where we have to go. I can't stop at
the United States.... I'm awfully sorry...."



CHAPTER XVIII

_Luck for Ted and Louise_


Linda and Dot stood still on the deck of the old boat, grasping the
rail with their hands, and looking intently at their rescuer. He was
a typical old seaman, with tanned, roughened face, a gray beard, and
kindly blue eyes.

"That was a narrow escape," he remarked. "What do you girls mean by
going out on a rough sea like this, in a shell like you had?"

"We couldn't help it," Linda replied. "And we thought the boat was
safe. We didn't know it was going to spring a leak.... Would it take
very long to run us to the coast, Mr.--Captain----?"

"Smallweed," supplied the man. "And everybody calls me 'Cap'n'."

"Well, would it, Captain Smallweed?" repeated Linda, amused at the
name. He ought to be at home on the island they had just come from, she
thought--there were so many "small weeds" growing there!

"Too long fer me to stop," he replied, to the girls' dismay. "I got to
get back to my family, in Havana." His blue eyes twinkled. "Why? What
have you girls got in that bag, that's so important to deliver in a
hurry?"

"You think we're boot-leggers!" laughed Dot. "Don't you, Captain?"

"I wouldn't be surprised at anything," he answered, smiling. "I've seen
just as nice lookin' girls as you----"

"I'm afraid we're not very nice looking," sighed Linda, surveying their
drenched, bedraggled clothing. "But we're really not boot-leggers....
We want to get back so that we can telephone to our families. They
probably think that storm was the end of us."

"Well, I'm sorry, but I can't go off my course. Like to, if I had the
time----"

"Well, if you can't, you can't--that's all there is to it," said Linda,
philosophically. "We're glad to be alive at all, and I don't suppose a
couple of days will make any difference."

"How long do you think it will take you to get to Cuba?" put in Dot
anxiously. There was no use fussing, of course, but she could not
forget that her mother and father would be frantic by this time.

"I'm reckonin' on dockin' at Havana the fourth of July. This is only
the first, but these are stormy seas, and we have to expect delays....
Now come on inside, out o' this drizzle. You girls are drenched--I'll
have to give you the only cabin I got. To get yourselves dry in."

Stooping over, he picked up Linda's tool-box, and finding it heavy,
eyed it suspiciously.

"You girls gangsters?" he asked, unexpectedly. "Got any guns on you?"

Both girls felt themselves growing red at this accusation, yet they
could not deny it wholly.

"That box has the tools in it which I used to fix up the engine of the
motor-boat," Linda finally explained. "And you can take our word that
we're not gangsters."

But they were exceedingly nervous as they followed the Captain to the
cabin where there were two bunks, one on top of the other. Suppose he
should decide to search them--and find not only the two revolvers, but
all that money besides! He would never believe their story!

"When you get dry, I'll take you over the whole boat," he said. "I
carry tobacco up the coast every couple of months. Used to have a
sail-boat--that was the real thing! But this little lady's speedy--and
better in a storm like we just had."

"How can we ever thank you enough, Captain Smallweed?" cried Dot,
suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of gratitude for their safety. "Our
fathers will send you a handsome reward when we get back home."

"Never mind that," smiled the man. "I've got a girl of my own--she's
married now--but she's still a kid to me, and I know how I'd want her
treated.... Now, you can bolt this door if you want to, so there won't
be any danger of either of the two other fellows aboard coming in
accidentally--and you can get yourselves dry."

"There's--there's just one thing, Captain," stammered Linda. "We're
dreadfully hungry. Could we have a piece of bread, or anything to eat?"

"You poor kids!" he exclaimed, in a fatherly tone. "Come on down to the
kitchen, and you can help yourselves."

Though the food he provided was not the steak dinner they had been
dreaming about on the island, it tasted good to those two starved
girls. Captain Smallweed made tea for them, and brought out bread and
smoked sausages, and Linda and Dot ate every crumb of the repast.

"We were marooned on an island during that storm," Linda explained.
"And we have had nothing but a couple of oranges and a few crackers for
two days."

"Well, you'll get a good supper," the Captain promised them. "That's
why I'm not givin' you more now. I'll knock on your door about eight
o'clock, if you ain't awake before then. That's when we usually eat."

When the girls were finally alone in their cabin, they gazed first at
their bag of money, then at each other, and suddenly started to laugh.
It was such a ridiculous situation. During those lonely days of exile
on the island they had pictured their return so differently. It would
be a grand occasion, with exciting telephone calls to their families,
a marvelous dinner at a hotel, perhaps a radio broadcast of their safe
landing! Instead of all that, here they were, stowed away in a shabby
boat, suspected of crime, and feasting on stale bread and hot dogs for
their banquet! Worst of all there would be three weary days of waiting
before informing the world of their safety! Yet they were thankful
indeed that they had been rescued at all, and by a man as kind-hearted
as the old sea captain.

"I don't really think he'll bother any more about that bag," said
Linda, as she took off her wet shoes. "If only we can get it back to
Jacksonville safely, from Cuba! If we only had the Ladybug!"

"It's a mystery where she could have vanished to," observed Dot. "But I
suppose that is a small thing, compared to saving our lives."

"You'll never go anywhere with me again," sighed Linda. "Dot!" she
exclaimed abruptly, "I'd forgotten all about my job!"

"I hadn't forgotten I was to start back North today," remarked the
other girl. "Jim Valier was going to motor over and meet me at the
station when my train came in."

"Poor Jim!" sighed Linda, little thinking that the young man had no
intention of doing that. "He'll have a good wait. But Jim can always
sleep, on any occasion."

"I guess he won't expect me.... We must be reported as missing by
now--in all the newspapers."

"Of course. I'd forgotten...."

The girls wrapped themselves in blankets and slept the rest of the
afternoon, to waken in time to see the sun, which had appeared at
last, just setting over the sea. Their clothing was still damp and
disheveled, but they put it on and went up on deck to hunt their
benefactor.

"We want you to let us cook," announced Dot, as she spied him. "We
insist on making ourselves useful."

The man smiled pleasantly.

"All right," he agreed. "You can--tomorrow. But supper's ready now.
Come on down."

They followed the Captain into the kitchen, where another man was
placing a dish of potatoes on the wooden table, which did not boast of
a cover.

"Meet Steve, ladies," her said--"my friend the pilot."

The girls nodded, and Dot asked, with anxiety, "But who's guiding the
boat now, while Mr. Steve eats his supper?"

Both men laughed at her concern.

"There's another one besides us. He takes his turn, and so do I. We
never all three eat or sleep at the same time."

It was a merry meal, though an exceedingly greasy one of fried potatoes
and underdone bacon. The coffee, too, was none too good--for it was
weak and muddy-looking. Nevertheless, both girls praised the supper
extravagantly, for it tasted good to them, but they inwardly resolved
to show the men the next day how food ought to be cooked.

The next two days passed pleasantly enough, for the girls were able
to busy themselves with the meals, and the men's appreciation was
plenty of reward for their efforts. In their off hours they relaxed
by watching the ocean and scanning the sky for airplanes, the make of
which Linda could often guess. Sometimes they played checkers with
each other, or with Captain Smallweed, to the latter's delight. But
never again was the suspicious-looking tool-box mentioned, until Linda
herself handed it over to Steve, saying that she did not want to bother
to take it to Havana.

By the time July third arrived, their boat was well out of the range of
the yacht that was cruising in search of them, and on July fourth--the
day that Jim Valier spotted the overturned motor-boat early in the
morning--Captain Smallweed docked safely at Cuba.

"Where do you girls want to go now?" asked the Captain, as the party
stepped ashore. "Want to come along home with me, and meet the wife?
She can rig you up in some decent clothes."

"Thank you very much," replied Linda, "but we want to get to a
telephone as soon as possible, so that we can get in touch with our
families. So if you would just get us a taxi, and send us to the best
hotel in Havana----"

"In those rigs?" inquired the other, in amazement. "Everybody will
stare at you! They dress well in Cuba, you know."

"Oh, we're past caring about appearances," laughed Linda. "So stop that
taxi for us, will you please, Captain?... And thank you a thousand
times for all you have done for us."

"You'll hear from our fathers soon," added Dot, as she too shook hands
with the old man.

Cautiously protecting the bag, into which Linda had stuffed the
revolvers under the money, the girls taxied to the best hotel in the
city. The driver eyed them suspiciously, and the clerk at the desk
stared at them as if they were hoboes. But he condescended to assign
them a room when they showed evidence of paying in advance.

"We want a long-distance wire first of all," announced Linda. "We'd
like to telephone from our rooms----"

She stopped abruptly, for two slender arms were suddenly thrust about
her neck, and kisses were being pressed violently upon her lips and
cheeks. Louise Mackay stood behind them! Louise, with her husband, both
in flyers' suits.

Try as she could, the girl could not utter a word. The tears ran down
her cheeks, and she continued to kiss first Linda and then Dot in the
wildest ecstasy.

"I can't believe it!" she said at last. "Is it really, truly you, Linda
darling?"

"What's left of us," replied Linda, laughing. "Did you ever see two
such sights as we are?"

"I never saw anyone or anything in my life that looked half so good to
me!" returned Louise, fervently. She stepped back and laid her hand
on her husband's arm, for so far Ted had not had a chance to say
anything, or be included in the welcome. "Tell me it's true, Ted--that
I'm not dreaming!" she urged. "I simply can't believe it."

"It's the best, the truest thing in the world," the young man assured
her.

"We were positive you were dead," Louise explained. "We had so much
evidence to prove it--the empty island where you were marooned, the
overturned motor-boat that Jim Valier spotted early this morning----"

"Jim Valier!" repeated Dot, in amazement. "Where would Jim see our old
boat?"

"Jim and Ralph and your two fathers are on a yacht, searching for you.
They broadcast by radio any news they get. And Ted and I have flown to
every island anywhere near the coast. We finished searching them all,
so we landed here this morning, just for a rest."

"Then you have a plane!" cried Linda, in delight. "You can take us back
to Florida! I'd so hate to get into another boat--I simply loathe the
sight of them."

"Do tell us what happened to you," urged Ted. "I don't understand how
we missed you everywhere."

"It's a pretty long story," replied Dot. "I think we better phone our
families first. They must be almost crazy."

"They are," agreed Ted. "You go up in your room and phone them while I
go to a radio station and broadcast the news."

"And I'll tell you what I'll do in the meanwhile," offered Louise.
"I'll go out and buy you some decent clothing!"



CHAPTER XIX

_The Return_


Until the second of July, Linda's aunt, Miss Emily Carlton, had
managed, with Mrs. Crowley's help, to keep hoping that the girls were
still alive. Then her brother's long-distance call from Jacksonville,
informing her that he was going to sea in a yacht in search of Linda
and Dot confirmed all the fears she was secretly cherishing. That night
she collapsed and went to bed a nervous wreck.

After once mentioning the fact that Linda was still reported missing
in the newspapers, Miss Carlton's housekeeper learned not to speak of
the girl again. It seemed as if the older woman could not bear to talk
about her niece; in the few days since her disappearance she had aged
rapidly. She lay listlessly on her bed, not seeing anyone, not even her
dear friend Mrs. Crowley.

It was about noon on the fourth of July that the telephone operator
informed the housekeeper that Havana was calling Miss Carlton. The good
woman replied that her mistress was sick in bed, and that she would
take the message for her. Her hands trembled as she awaited what she
believed would be the announcement of Linda's death.

Faint and far off came the astounding words: "Aunt Emily, this is
Linda."

"Wait!" cried the woman, shaking as if she had heard a ghost. "I'll get
your aunt, Miss Linda."

Rushing to the bed-room, she handed Miss Carlton the bed-side telephone.

"It's Miss Linda," she whispered.

Doubting her senses, the patient sat up and took the instrument.

"Hello," she said, doubtfully.

"Darling Aunt Emily! It's Linda!" was the almost unbelievable reply at
the other end of the wire.

Miss Carlton sobbed; she could not say a word.

"Aunt Emily? Are you there?" demanded the girl.

"Yes, yes--dear! Oh, are you all right? Not hurt?"

"Not a bit. Dot and I are both fine--she's talking to her mother now.
We're--in Cuba."

"Cuba!" repeated the startled woman. "I thought it was the Okefenokee
Swamp, or the Atlantic Ocean! Your father and Mr. Crowley are looking
for you."

"Yes, I know. Ted and Louise are here, and Ted's broadcasting the news
of our safe arrival now.... Probably Daddy has heard by this time."

"When will you be home, dear?" inquired Miss Carlton.

"Soon, I hope.... But we have to stop in Jacksonville first.... Aunt
Emily, couldn't you and Mrs. Crowley come to Jacksonville? We're just
dying to see you!"

Miss Carlton considered; she hated to tell Linda that she was sick in
bed. But wait--was she? Wasn't it only nerves after all? Why, this good
news made her feel like a different person!

"All right, dear," she agreed. "If Mrs. Crowley will, I'll try to
arrange it. Shall I send a wire?"

"Yes," replied Linda. "To Captain Magee, at the City Hall,
Jacksonville. I'll be there in a day or so.... Now good-by, dear
Auntie!"

While Linda waited for Dot to come back from her call, which the
latter had put in from another instrument, she opened the bag and took
out their few possessions that were covering the money. They must
be very careful not to let anything happen to all that wealth, she
thought--they must never go out of the room and leave it, if only for a
minute. How dreadful it would be if it were stolen now, after they had
successfully brought it through all their dangerous adventures!

Dot returned in a couple of minutes, and the girls got ready to enjoy
the luxury of a real bath, in a real tub. How good the warm water felt,
how wonderful the big, soft bath towels! They spent an hour bathing and
washing their hair, and trying to make their nails presentable with
Louise's manicure set.

They had scarcely finished when the latter returned, followed by a
porter carrying innumerable boxes and packages in his arms.

"I've bought everything for you from the skin out," she announced
gayly, as she put the load on the floor. "Even hats and shoes, though
I knew I was taking a chance at them. But I remembered that you and I
often wore each other's things at school, Linda, and I judged that Dot
would wear a size smaller. I do hope you can wear them, just till you
get to your trunks at Jacksonville."

"You're an angel, Lou!" cried Linda, excited at the prospect of looking
clean and respectable again.

"See if you like them," urged Louise. "I got a blue dress for you,
Linda, to match your eyes--and a pink one for Dot."

"To match my eyes?" teased the latter.

All three girls began immediately to untie the packages, and drew
out the purchases one after another with exclamations of admiration.
Dot said that she was so used to seeing dirty knickers that she had
positively forgotten what dainty clothing looked like.

"Well, hurry up and dress!" urged Louise. "We want to eat lunch in
about ten minutes. Ted means to take off at two o'clock, if you girls
think you can be ready by then."

"We surely can!" cried Linda, joyfully. She couldn't wait to get back.

"You'll burn your old stuff, won't you?" asked Louise. "This bag's a
sight, too--why not stuff your old clothing into it, and ask the porter
to take it away!"

Linda and Dot let out a wild cry of protest at the same moment, and the
other girl frowned.

"Why not?" she inquired.

"Sh!" whispered Linda. "That bag has thousands of dollars in it.
Belonging to the Jacksonville bank."

"Oh! You really have that money? And kept it all this time?"

"Yes. But don't say a word about it out loud. We'll take it with us
into the dining-room, and wear our new hats, so nobody will think it
queer."

They found Ted in the lobby of the hotel as they got out of the
elevator, and they went into the dining-room to order the meal that
Linda and Dot had been longing for on the island. It tasted good to
them, but not so good, they had to admit, as the sausages and stale
bread and hot tea which Captain Smallweed provided, when they were
almost starved.

It was during the meal that they pieced the story together. Linda
began by telling of the finding of the money in the bags and the
discovery of the last member of the gang on the island.

"But why he ran away without shooting us is a mystery to us," put in
Dot.

"He thought that you had armed policemen with you," explained Louise.
"We learned that later from Susie. She was captured a couple of days
ago--in Panama."

"Where is she now?" demanded Linda, excitedly.

"In jail, of course."

"And the man they called the 'Doc'?"

"No," replied Ted. "Unfortunately he got away--fled the country. Lucky
you girls got hold of the money, or the bank would never have seen it
again.... And by the way, there's a big reward--ten thousand dollars, I
believe."

"Ten thousand dollars!" repeated Dot, in amazement. "What do you think
of that, Linda?"

"Wonderful!" cried the latter, joyously. "Five thousand apiece. Well,
I'm glad you're going to get something out of this dreadful experience,
Dot--that I selfishly dragged you into. And my part will go towards a
new autogiro."

"A new autogiro!" exclaimed Louise, in surprise. "You don't need one,
Linda. The Ladybug's safe and sound--at the Jacksonville airport."

"What? You mean that?" Linda seized the other girl's hand in almost
incredulous rapture. "How did it get there?"

"The police found it that day it stormed so. And a pilot flew it back
to Jacksonville."

Linda and Dot gazed at each other in full realization at last of the
mysterious disappearance of the plane which they had mourned as lost
forever.

If Linda was eager to get back to Jacksonville before, she was doubly
so now. She could hardly contain her excitement during that flight
across the Gulf of Mexico and over the state of Florida to the northern
part. She kept urging Ted to put on more speed, to let the motor out to
its limit, but the young man, realizing the load he was carrying, was
not to be tempted beyond his better judgment.

They arrived at Jacksonville just as it was growing dusk, and flew
over the city, now so familiar to them all, to the airport on its
outskirts. Gracefully the skillful pilot swooped down the field to his
landing.

The usual number of employees came out to greet them, but hardly had
the girls climbed out of the plane when a resounding shout went up over
the field. Linda Carlton and Dorothy Crowley had been recognized!

A crowd collected immediately, a crowd that had been prepared by Ted's
radio message that afternoon, to welcome the two popular girls back to
civilization. It was all that Linda and Dot could do to wave and shout
greetings in return.

"I just want one look at my Ladybug," said Linda. "If you good people
will let me get through----"

At this request, an accommodating official picked her right up on his
shoulder, and carried her, amid the laughter of the crowd, triumphantly
to the hangar where the autogiro was housed.

"Oh, you dear Ladybug!" whispered Linda, not wanting anyone to think
she was silly, but so overcome with joy that she had to say something.
No one but a pilot could understand the genuine affection which she
felt for her autogiro.

"I'll be over to fly you tomorrow," she added, under her breath. Then,
turning to the man who had conducted her across the field, she asked
him whether he could as easily take her to the waiting taxi-cab.

They were off at last, waving and smiling to the enthusiastic crowd.

"Be sure to stay in Jacksonville till Saturday," the people begged
them. "We're going to celebrate for you then!"

The girls nodded, and the taxi driver sped away with orders to go
straight to the City Hall.

Captain Magee, who had received a call from the airport, was ready and
waiting for them. Ted carried the shabby, worn bag into his office, and
Linda put it into the Captain's hands herself.

"The bank's money," she explained. "And the two revolvers. We never had
to use them at all."

"But we'd have died without them," added Dot. "Of fright--if nothing
else."

In vain Captain Magee tried to tell the girls how wonderfully brave he
thought they had been, but he was so overcome by feeling that he groped
for words and stammered--ending by pressing both Linda's and Dot's
hands in silence.

"Two young girls like you--" he finally managed to say--"succeeding
where the police and everybody else failed! Capturing a hundred
thousand dollars by a clever trick----"

"Is there really that much?" inquired Dot. "Of course we never counted
it."

The officer smiled at their unconcern. In spite of all their ability,
they still seemed like children to him.

"By the way, Miss Carlton," he said, "I had a wire from your
aunt this afternoon. She will arrive in Jacksonville Saturday
morning--accompanied by Mrs. Crowley."

This final piece of good news was just what the girls needed to
complete their perfect day. Their eyes lighted up with happiness, and
they squeezed each other's hands in joy.

"And your fathers ought to be back tomorrow. I'll send them straight to
the hotel," he added. "So don't go away."

"Wild horses couldn't drag us!" returned Linda. "We're just dying to
see them.... Now, good-by, Captain Magee.... We must go and get some
dinner."

So, back in the hotel in Jacksonville, Dot Crowley and Linda Carlton
spent their first enjoyable evening for a week--celebrating their safe
return with their dear friends, the Mackays.



CHAPTER XX

_Conclusion_


The girls' first visitor the following day was not, as they had hoped,
the party from the yacht, but a woman.

"Who can it be?" demanded Dot, for the clerk at the desk had not sent
up a name with the message.

"A reporter, probably," yawned Linda. "They'll be hot on our trail now,
Dot. That was one good thing about the island--we didn't have to read
newspapers or give interviews."

"You're not wishing you were back again?"

"Never!" affirmed Linda, surveying the breakfast tray which she and Dot
had been luxuriously enjoying. "I don't care for cold tea and crackers
as a steady diet."

"But what shall we do about this visitor?" persisted her companion.
"The clerk's still waiting for our reply."

"Oh, tell him to send her up, I suppose. After all, the poor girls have
to earn a living."

As Dot gave the message over the telephone, Linda surveyed the room
with a frown of distaste.

"It's not so neat, Dot--to receive a caller," she remarked. "Maybe we
ought to have gone downstairs."

"Think I better try to call him back?"

"No, I guess it's too late now--the girl's probably on the elevator
by this time. Anyhow, it really doesn't matter. Newspaper women are
usually awfully good sports."

To their amazement and chagrin, it was not a reporter to whom, a moment
later, Dot opened the door. A beautifully dressed woman stood before
them, smiling nervously. It was Mrs. Carter--Jackson Carter's mother!

"How do you do, Mrs. Carter!" exclaimed Dot. "Do come in--if you can
pardon the appearance of this room."

The older woman seemed scarcely to notice the unmade beds or the open
trunks. She nodded to Linda as she entered, but she appeared like a
person with something serious on her mind.

"How did you know where to find us?" inquired Dot, after she had
cleared a chair for their visitor.

"It's in all the papers," the latter replied. "Haven't you read about
yourselves? Why, everybody in town thinks you two girls are simply
marvelous! Rescuing that money was a miracle in itself--an act of
courage that Jacksonville will always be grateful to you for."

"It's awfully nice of you to say so," murmured Dot, for Linda remained
silent. Somehow the latter could never feel at home with this woman.

"Our city is planning a parade and celebration in your honor," she
continued. "And the Daughters of the Confederacy would like to invite
you to a dinner and reception afterwards. That is one of the reasons
why I came to see you--to extend the invitation in person."

"It's extremely kind of you," assented Dot. "We'll be delighted to
accept, won't we, Linda?"

"Why, yes--of course--only--" Linda paused, hoping that she was not
appearing rude.

"Except what, my dear!" asked Mrs. Carter.

"Well, it's marvelous of you to do it for us, but you see our fathers
are coming--and Dot's mother--and my Aunt Emily----"

"But they are included, of course! There will be both men and women at
the banquet, and my brother-in-law, the president of the bank that was
robbed, hopes to present you girls with the reward."

"Oh, it's going to be great fun, Linda!" exclaimed Dot, excitedly.
"We've just got to be there!"

"Yes, it will be charming," agreed the other girl. "We'll be delighted
to come--if we may bring our friends."

There seemed nothing more to say, yet Mrs. Carter made no move towards
going. To fill an awkward pause, Dot inquired how Jackson was.

"Jackson has been away since the first of July," replied the older
woman. "I haven't heard anything from him, and I am quite anxious,
though he warned me he couldn't write. He and his chum, Hal Perry, went
into the Okefenokee Swamp to search for you girls."

"The Okefenokee Swamp!" repeated Linda. It seemed ages since she had
been lost in that desolate expanse.

"Yes. And I wondered, Miss Carlton, whether you would be willing to
fly up to the northern end, up towards Camp Cordelia, and look for
them. Oh, I don't mean go into the swamp again--that would be too
dreadful--but just fly around it."

"Yes, of course," agreed Linda, not knowing what else to say. "If you
will let me wait until my Daddy comes, so I can take him with me."

"Naturally!"

Mrs. Carter rose at last, but she still appeared to be embarrassed.

"There is something else I want to say to you, Miss Carlton. An
apology, this time. I know now that you are the same girl my son
rescued in the swamp and brought home to our house. The girl to whom I
was so rude.... I--I want to beg your pardon."

It was a great deal from a woman of Mrs. Carter's dignity and
importance, and Linda was deeply touched.

"This is very sweet of you, Mrs. Carter," she said. "And of course I
understand how you felt at the time. I'm only too glad to forget all
about it.... And," she added, holding out her hand, "I'll go to your
son's rescue, as he has twice gone to mine--as soon as my Daddy comes."

Still the visitor hesitated, even after she had shaken hands with both
the girls, and had reached the doorway.

"Would you girls consider bringing your families out to our home, to
spend the weekend with us?" she asked, more as one seeking than as one
bestowing a favor.

Dot did not answer this time; she looked inquiringly at Linda.

"It would be lovely," replied the latter, with genuine enthusiasm. "But
I am afraid there are too many of us. You see there are two friends
with us now--Mr. and Mrs. Mackay, who picked us up in Havana--and there
are two more with our fathers on the yacht. With my aunt and Dot's
mother, it will make ten in all. And that is too big a crowd for any
place but a hotel!"

"Not at all!" protested Mrs. Carter. "I should love it. We have plenty
of room, and plenty of servants--and we enjoy house-parties. How I
shall look forward to seeing your mother, Dorothy!... You will come,
won't you, girls--as soon as the whole party is together?"

With such a pressing invitation as this, they could not do otherwise
than graciously accept, and, satisfied at last, Mrs. Carter bade them
good-by.

There was no opportunity to discuss this unexpected visit, for no
sooner had this caller departed than others began to arrive. Louise
dashed into the room on her return from breakfasting with Ted in the
dining-room, and before Dot and Linda could repeat the invitation to
her, news came that the yachting party had arrived.

The reunion of the two girls with their fathers was touching to see.
For some minutes they clung to one another in the lobby of the hotel,
regardless of the strangers about. Ralph Clavering and Jim Valier stood
in the background, unnoticed.

About three o'clock that afternoon Linda suddenly remembered her
promise to Mrs. Carter in regard to flying over the Okefenokee Swamp in
search of Jackson, and she suggested to her father that they go to the
airport immediately.

Mr. Carlton shook his head decidedly.

"No, daughter," he said. "You will never have my consent again to fly
within fifty miles of that dismal swamp!"

"But we must be within fifty miles of it now," returned Linda. "Shall
we leave Jacksonville?"

"Now, Linda! You know what I mean."

"But how shall I tell Mrs. Carter? I promised, you know."

"You can leave that to me," he replied. "I'll explain."

But it was not necessary to do this, for the woman telephoned herself
almost immediately to say that the boys had arrived by automobile half
an hour ago. She concluded by reminding Linda that she was expecting
the whole party the following day for luncheon.

Saturday dawned clear and bright, and the parade was scheduled for the
early morning, before the sun's rays became blistering. Linda and Dot
occupied seats of honor on the canopied grandstand, beside the Mayor,
and they bowed and smiled to everyone that passed by.

Miss Carlton and Mrs. Crowley arrived just in time to witness the
demonstration, in honor of their two brave girls.



Transcriber's notes:

- Table of contents inserted at beginning of book.





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