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Title: The Camp Fire Girls - Or, The Secret of an Old Mill
Author: Garis, Howard Roger
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: “Natalie, in her Camp Fire suit.”]


THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS

Or

The Secret of an Old Mill

by

MARION DAVIDSON



Made in U. S. A.

M · A · Donohue · & · Company
Chicago    New York

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                               DEDICATION

                   TO THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS OF AMERICA

    Who are doing so much to glorify, not only the life of the great
    out-doors, but also the more humble life of the home, this
    volume is gratefully dedicated.

                                                     MARION DAVIDSON

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                CONTENTS

                I The Challenge
               II A Missing Ring
              III The Deserted Encampment
               IV The Call of the Camp
                V Off to the Woods
               VI The Old Man
              VII A Night Alarm
             VIII The Old Mill
               IX An Excited Constable
                X Overboard
               XI Off to the Gipsy Camp
              XII The Girls Will Try
             XIII Lost at Bear Pond
              XIV A Night March
               XV “It’s the Boys!”
              XVI The Bottle of Olives
             XVII A Sharp Attack
            XVIII Another Try
              XIX The Gipsy Camp
               XX The Missing Girl
              XXI Old Hanson Moves
             XXII Unseen Visitors
            XXIII Mystification
             XXIV Natalie is Gone
              XXV On the Trail
             XXVI A Sprained Ankle
            XXVII Awaiting the Ghost
           XXVIII The Boys Are Puzzled
             XXIX The Girls Will Go
              XXX The Weeping Voice
             XXXI The Secret Room
            XXXII Hadee
           XXXIII Restoration

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                          THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS
                                   OR
                       THE SECRET OF AN OLD MILL



                               CHAPTER I

                             THE CHALLENGE


“Oh, girls, isn’t it just splendid?”

“And the rings are too sweet for anything; aren’t they, really?”

“But what are they for—those seven marks, I mean? I heard Mrs. Bonnell
mention it, but there was so much going on that I’ve forgotten.”

“Oh, Alice! Don’t you recall that those seven ‘marks’, as you call them,
are the seven points of the law of the Camp Fire Girls?”

“To which delightful organization we now belong,” added another of the
quartette.

“Oh, Natalie!” exclaimed Alice Lathrop, “you’re a dear, but you always
did have the most remarkable remembrancer,” and, with a laugh she put
her arms around her chum, whose dark, olive-tinted complexion, with that
calm brow, and eyes, in the depths of which woodland pools seemed to
lie, gave her the appearance of an Indian maid, especially when she
plaited her hair in two, long black braids.

“It’s quite symbolic,” went on Mabel Anderson, as she looked at the
silver ring on one of the slim fingers of her pretty hand, a hand of
which she was perhaps a trifle vain—excusably so, in the opinion of some
of her friends.

“And now we are really ‘Wood Gatherers,’” spoke Marie Pendleton. “It’s
the first step. I wonder if we will take the others?”

“I intend to,” declared Alice. “It only takes three months to become a
‘Fire Maker,’ and three more to be a ‘Torch Bearer.’”

“Oh, but there are lots of things to do in that time,” sighed Mabel
Anderson. “Think of the test of getting two meals for—for you girls!”
and she looked with pretended dismay at her three pretty chums. “I—I
don’t even know how to peel potatoes!” and she covered her face with her
hands.

“It’s time you learned,” declared Marie, who, since the death of her
mother kept house, with the assistance of a maid, for her father, and
her brother Jack.

“I can see all sorts of jolly times ahead of us!” exclaimed Alice. “We
will get to know ever so many nice girls—really we four are too much by
ourselves.”

“We always have been,” said Mabel. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t
continue to go together. Just because we have joined the Camp Fire Girls
doesn’t mean that we’re going to separate, I hope. Shall we make new
friends and lose our old ones?”

“Not at all,” went on Alice. “But we are too—too—what was it Professor
Battell said in class to-day—too inscribed—no, that wasn’t it——”

“Circumscribed,” put in Natalie.

“That’s it. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have you for a memo.
pad, Nat!” and once more Alice embraced her chum.

“Why so pensive?” asked Marie, as, to give entrance for her friends she
opened the door of the little cottage, over which she presided as
mistress. “Has anything happened, Natalie? Did you miss in Latin
to-day?” and Marie, dropping her books on a chair in the hall ushered
her chums into the little library. The girls were on their way home from
the Academy and from class had gone to a meeting of the Camp Fire Girls
Association, which had recently been started in their town. They had
been initiated as “Wood Gatherers” of the Dogwood Camp Fire, which name
Mrs. Pierce Bonnell, the Guardian, had chosen for the group.

“No, nothing has happened,” said Natalie slowly. “I was just thinking
what delightful fun we would have this summer if we could really gather
around a camp fire of our own, out in the open.”

“Well, why couldn’t we?” asked Marie. “Let’s think about it, anyhow. I’m
going to ask Nellie to make tea. It’s real chilly, even if the bluebirds
are here and the flowers almost out. Oh, I have it, I’m going to choose
the name Bluebird—I wonder what that is in Indian?”

“Che-no-sag-ak!” exclaimed a guttural voice, as Marie opened the door of
the dining room. “Che-no-sag-ak! Wah! Pale face maiden heap talk much.
Ugh!”

“Oh Jack! How you startled me!” cried Marie, shrinking back, with her
hands to her breast, as she beheld her brother and his two intimate
chums, Phil Anderson and Blake Lathrop, calmly seated at the dining room
table, luxuriously regaling themselves on water crackers and old cheese,
with some ginger ale which they had evidently smuggled in from the
corner grocery.

“What is it?” echoed the voice of Mabel, as she and the other two girls
crowded to the portal. “Phil!” she went on, “and Blake! Have you been
listening to what we were saying?” she demanded as she marched out and
stood half-threateningly over her brother.

“How could we help it—the way you talked?” he inquired, defensively.

“And so Marie is going to be a bluebird; is she?” went on Jack
with a grin. “Fine! That’s the Indian for it that I was
reciting—‘Che-no-sag-ak!’ Little bluebird of the wildwood, come
and let me have thy feathers—have thy feathers for my new hat, for
my new hat made of satin. Little——”

His voice died off into a gurgle for Alice, with the intimacy of a chum
of Jack’s sister, had clapped her hands over his mouth, to the
destruction of a cracker he had been about to munch.

“Look out for that cheese!” warned Phil.

“And the carpet!” added Blake.

“Well, let him stop making fun!” snapped Alice, as she glided away
before Jack could take a fair revenge.

“What’s it all about, anyhow?” asked Blake, when quiet had been somewhat
restored. “Why all this Indian hocus-pocus? Has a medicine show come to
town?”

“It’s the Camp Fire Girls,” declared Jack, trying to get up from the
carpet some of the cracker crumbs before Nellie, the maid came in, for
Jack and his chums were only in the dining room on sufferance. “Sis has
been mooning around the house about it for the last three weeks.”

“I have not, Jack Pendleton!”

“Gibbering about Wood-gatherers, Fire-makers, and what not,” went on the
irrepressible brother. “She’s been looking in the back of the dictionary
for something or other—I thought she had fallen down on her Latin, and
was trying to work off a condition.”

“I was looking for Indian words,” declared Marie, “only I couldn’t find
any. You know we can each choose an Indian name,” she went on to her
girl chums, ignoring the three boys. “It may be anything, only it ought
to mean something in English. But my dictionary doesn’t have any Indian
information in it.”

“I have an Indian book at home,” said Blake Lathrop quietly, speaking to
all, but looking rather more intently at Natalie. “I think it has a lot
of names such as ‘bluebird’ in it. If you girls want to pick out titles
for yourselves I’ll bring it over.”

“Oh, will you, really?” cried Mabel. “I want an Indian name, too, if the
rest are going to have them.”

“Say, what is this Camp Fire Girls’ racket, anyhow?” asked Phil. “I’ve
heard you talking about it, Mabel, but I thought it was one of the
Academy societies.”

“It’s nothing of the sort,” declared Alice, while Natalie went to the
piano and softly played a weird Indian song, in a haunting minor key.

“Well, what is it?” asked Jack, finishing the last of his crackers and
cheese, and gallantly offering Alice what was left of the ginger ale.

“No, thank you,” interposed his sister. “I’m going to ask Nellie to make
us some tea. We’re all shivering.”

“The Camp Fire Girls is an organization something like the Boy Scouts,”
went on Alice.

“I used to belong,” remarked Blake, as he walked over ostensibly to look
at the picture on the wall—the said picture being very close to the
piano at which Natalie was softly playing.

“Well, the Camp Fire Girls are like the Scouts,” continued Alice, “only
different. It isn’t so military. The camp fire is our symbol, and our
seven laws are—‘seek beauty’——”

“None of _you_ have to!” declared Jack gallantly, bowing with his hand
on his heart.

“Thank you!” chorused the trio, Marie being out in the kitchen
interviewing the maid.

“Go on, Alice,” urged Natalie.

“‘Seek beauty,’” resumed the girl, “‘give service—pursue knowledge—be
trustworthy—hold on to health—glorify work—be happy.’ There, I think
I’ve said them right.”

“You have,” murmured Mabel.

“Very nice,” asserted Phil.

“And there are three degrees,” proceeded Alice. “We have just joined, so
we are humble wood-gatherers, may it please your gracious highnesses,”
and she dropped a pretty courtesy to the boys. “After three months’
service as such, we may become fire-makers, and that’s a lot harder. And
then the next is torch-bearer, which is harder still. But we’re not
worrying about that. See our rings—aren’t they dears?” and she held out
her hand which Jack promptly captured, to the discomfiture of Phil, who
had also made an attempt at the slim fingers.

Then from the piano, which had suddenly ceased its melody there came a
voice:

“No, Blake, you mustn’t take off my ring—really. Oh, stop—there, you’ve
dropped it!”

“Shame on you Blake!” mocked Phil, “to treat a poor girl so. Let me see
your ring, Marie,” he went on, as the pretty hostess came into the room
again.

“I’m too busy,” she called to him. “You may help me get out the cups and
saucers if you will, though,” she added.

“Let me be a wood-gatherer,” pleaded Jack.

“Me for the fire-maker!” declared Blake.

“You’ve got enough to do right there,” mocked Jack. “We will call you
the Greek chorus.”

And thus the merry quips and gibes went on until tea was served, the
boys stoically remaining, and, perforce requiring to be fed, though
Marie remarked to Jack sotto-voice that she thought he had had one lunch
since school.

“I am always open for more,” he replied.

“And so you girls are really going to be members of the Camp Fire club,”
spoke Phil, when the rattle of teacups had ceased.

“Of Dogwood Camp,” added Natalie, daintily removing a bit of butter from
the tip of her finger encircled by the new silver ring.

“Well, it may all be very nice and romantic, and that sort of thing,”
began Jack, “but——”

“It isn’t romantic at all,” interrupted Alice. “It’s practical—at least
I think that’s the proper word,” and she looked rather doubtfully at
Natalie.

“Oh, say, we’re forgetting all about our Indian names,” exclaimed Marie.
“I wonder what signified bluebird?”

“Wash-ton-su-goo!” gurgled her brother.

“Jack!” she cried. “If you don’t stop I’ll never let you stay in when we
have tea again. You’re too——”

“All right, sis!” he laughed. “I’ll be good. Only it’s such a joke.”

“We’re really in earnest,” explained Natalie. “You should see our rules,
and learn how we can acquire merit——”

“Like the Hindoo Yogis,” declared Phil. “Natalie, the dreamer, talking
of acquiring merit. Say, if you girls get to have any more merit you’ll
be too good for this earth.”

“Be quiet!” begged Mabel. “Blake, did you say you had an Indian book at
home?”

“I have. Shall I get it?”

“Listen, girls!” called Mabel. “Why can’t you all come over to my house
this evening, and we’ll select our names. Blake only lives around the
corner. He can leave the book, and——”

“Leave it!” exclaimed Blake, with peculiar emphasis. “Perhaps I had
better _mail_ it, or send it parcels post, or call a messenger from the
telegraph office. Only there’s none there after supper. However——”

“Oh, I suppose you can bring it—and _stay_—if you want to,” conceded
Mabel.

“Not a pressing invitation, but—shall we take it, fellows?” and Blake
looked quizzically at his chums.

“We can tell them how to make a camp fire, anyhow,” declared Jack.

“Thank you, we’re going to learn by practical experience, Jack,” spoke
his sister.

“Then all come to my house this evening,” went on Mabel. “And, Blake,
please bring the Indian book. Phil can entertain you and Jack while we
look up some names.”

“And who will entertain you?” inquired Jack.

“Thank you—we don’t need it,” spoke Natalie.

“Well, I’m willing to wager my new hat against a hair ribbon,” declared
Phil, “that with all you girls talking about wood-gathering and camp
fires, not one of your crowd would dare go camping and build a real camp
fire—I mean a party of you. It’s all very well to talk about being like
the boy scouts, but when it comes down to the real thing, you’ll be so
afraid of an ant crawling on a stick of wood that you’ll want an oil
stove to cook on. Camp fire girls may be——”

“Stop!” commanded Mabel. “In the first place, Phil, the Camp Fire Girls’
organization wasn’t formed to go out in the woods, though lots of them
do. We can have just as good a time at home. But, for all that, we do
intend to go camping, and to make our own camp fires, too!”

“Mabel!” gasped Natalie.

“Oh, Mabel!” whispered Marie.

“Who ever said that?” demanded Alice.

There was a momentous pause.

“We seem to have stirred up trouble,” said Blake softly.

“They’ll never go camping!” came from Jack. “Here, I’ll offer a
challenge—we all will. If you girls go to a genuine, bonafide camp, live
by yourselves in tents, make the camp fire, cook your own meals, the
same as we fellows do—why we’ll come up and see you once in a while.
How’s that?”

“And bring you each a two-pound box of the best candy in town,” added
Phil.

“And take back all we’ve said,” went on Blake.

“Boys,” began Mabel, somewhat solemnly, “we never gave this
consideration until now. That is the others didn’t. But it has been in
my mind since we thought of becoming Camp Fire Girls. I don’t see why we
can’t go off in the woods this summer. It would be jolly,—I think.”

“Lovely,” breathed Natalie.

“I’ll go if the others do,” conceded Alice.

“We’d have to have a chaperone,” remarked Marie.

“Mrs. Bonnell, our Guardian, would come, I think,” suggested Mabel.

“Then let’s accept the boys’ challenge!” exclaimed Natalie. “I don’t see
why we can’t make a fire as well as they. As for cooking, there is so
much that comes canned now that it’s really no trouble at all. We always
live on canned things when our girl leaves.”

“Then it’s decided!” echoed Mabel, clapping her hands. “We’ll become
real Camp Fire Girls. Now I must be going. Don’t forget—come over this
evening. And, Phil, bring that Indian book.”

“I will,” he promised.

“Say, do you think they will go camping?” asked Jack, as his two chums
took their leave, while his sister led her girl friends to her room to
show a new dress she had bought.

“Never!” cried Blake. “They’re just bluffing.”

“It wouldn’t be a bad plan for us to go camping ourselves this summer,”
remarked Phil.

“I’ll go you!” cried Jack.

“I’ll think about it,” agreed Blake.

“He means he’ll go if the girls do,” put in Jack. “Well, I’ll see you
this eve.,” and with that he pretended to dig into some of his Academy
studies, for he and his friends, as did the girls, went to the same
institution in the little semi-country town of Middleford.

“Did you really mean what you said, Mabel, about going camping?” asked
Natalie, as the three walked away from Marie’s house, some time later,
having in the interim found many matters about which to chat.

“I didn’t at first—but when I saw how the boys took me up I did. I don’t
see why we can’t do it—and be real Camp Fire Girls.”

“We can,” declared Alice with decision.

“There goes a real Camp Fire Girl now,” added Natalie in a low voice, as
she indicated, walking slowly down the village street ahead of them, a
figure clad in rather a gaudy skirt, a Zouave jacket, and a sash of
oriental hues.

“A Gypsy,” murmured Alice.

“Yes, there is an encampment of them just outside of town,” went on
Natalie. “One came to our house the other day, wanting to tell fortunes.
It’s romantic, in a way, I suppose, but she didn’t tell our girl
anything that I couldn’t have told her myself.”

“It’s the out-door life that appeals to me!” declared Alice. “That’s why
I like the Camp Fire Girls. We can make our organization an excuse for
all sorts of adventures.”

“Well, we certainly may have some if we go camping,” suggested Natalie,
as they separated at a corner. “Good-bye.”

“Until to-night,” suggested Mabel.

“Until to-night,” echoed Alice.

And little did the girls realize what the events of that night were to
bring forth; nor how they were to exert an influence on their lives. For
that Gypsy played a strange part in the experience of the Camp Fire
Girls.



                               CHAPTER II

                             A MISSING RING


“Here come the boys!”

“Oh, I do hope they won’t cut-up too much!”

“They’re sure to make a lot of fun!”

“I hope Blake brings that Indian book he promised.”

Four girls, gathered about a table in the library of the Anderson home,
listened as the tramp of feet was heard on the porch that May evening.
There were whispers, and then a weird whoop echoed.

“Horrid things!” pouted Mabel. “I told Phil if he didn’t behave he
couldn’t come in.”

“Ha-nah-do-see-dah—kam-chat-kah!” called a voice. “Little maidens of the
camp fire!”

“Oh, behave yourselves!” ordered Mabel, going to the door, but she could
not smother the laughter out of her voice, and it broke into a merry
peal as she beheld her brother and his two chums.

They stood on the steps, wrapped in old blankets, their faces outlined
with colored chalk, and parts of a feather duster tied in their hair.

“How!” gutturally mumbled Phil, as he stalked into the hall, followed by
Jack and Blake.

“How! How!” echoed the others.

“We come for heap big peace-talk,” went on Phil.

“Oh, don’t be silly!” admonished his sister, but the boys preserved
their gravity, even if she did not, and her half-hysterical laughter
brought her friends from the library.

“Aren’t they funny!” exclaimed Natalie, who, having no brother of her
own, might be expected to take more than a casual interest in those of
other girls.

“Thank you, pale-faced maiden,” spoke Blake. “You are as the breath of
the pine tree, and——”

“Oh, what a lovely name,” murmured Natalie. “I wish I could have it for
mine. Are there any Indian words for that, Blake?”

“It is written in the book, pale-faced maiden—Chee-ne-Sagoo—breath of
the pine tree.”

“Isn’t it beautiful—the name I mean,” she said, as she accepted the
volume the blanketed Blake held out.

“It is like thyself, pale-faced maiden,” and he bowed.

“Oh, that’s enough of this silliness!” exclaimed Mabel, breaking away
from her brother who had tried to rub off some of the chalk from his
cheeks to hers.

“Wow!” yelled Jack, as he threw off his covering, his almost
too-realistic war-whoop giving the girls starts of fright. “Come on to
the council fire. It is chilly, even if it is May,” and, followed by the
others they filed into the pleasant library.

“First of all, let’s choose names,” suggested Mabel. “Did you look up
any, Blake?”

“There are quite a number in the book,” he explained. “I marked some.
They’re not all in the same Indian language, but that won’t matter I
guess.”

“Not as long as they sound er—what’s that word we had in the lit. class
the other day?” and Alice appealed to her chums.

“Euphonious,” suggested Natalie.

“That’s it! As long as they sound nice, and have some meaning, I don’t
care whether mine is Chocktaw or Sioux.”

“Say my name over again, Blake,” appealed Natalie. “Whisper of the pine
tree—was that it?”

“Very nearly. Chee-ne-Sagoo—breath of the pine tree—and it becomes you,”
he added in a whisper.

“Silly,” she remarked, in the same tone.

“Did you find a word for bluebird?” asked Marie.

“The nearest I could get to it was bluebird of the mountain,” replied
Blake, leafing over the book. “Here it is in Indian—wah-tu-go-mo.”

“Not so bad,” commented Marie. “That will be my name.”

“Here are two more I picked out, though if you don’t like them I dare
say I can find more,” and Blake read from a slip of paper:

“Wep-da-se-nah—maiden of the green corn, and no-moh-te-nah—sweeper of
the tepee. The last isn’t very romantic,” he apologized, “but it sounds
nice—in Indian.”

“I guess that fits me,” laughed Alice. “Father says I’m always sweeping
and dusting. I’ll take it, unless you want it, Mabel.”

“You may have it. I like maiden of the green corn.”

“Even though you can’t boil water without burning it,” mocked Phil. “Go
ahead—the more different the merrier.”

“Is that a riddle?” asked Natalie.

“No, it’s the truth.”

“I think those names are just lovely!” declared Marie. “Let’s see now:
chee-ne-sagoo—breath of the pine tree; that’s Natalie, and it just fits
her,” and she blew a kiss from her finger tips, which salutation Blake
pretended to catch as it fluttered by, saving it from a fall, and, more
or less gracefully conveying it by proxy to its destination—also by
blowing it from his hand. Natalie blushed slightly.

“Then there’s no-moh—no-moh—Oh, I can’t remember it, Blake,” and Marie
appealed to him.

“No-moh-te-nah—sweeper of the tepee.”

“Yes, that’s Alice. Mabel is wep-da-se-nah—maiden of the green corn, and
I’m wah-tu-go-mo—bluebird of the mountain. All of them charming, I
think—much too nice for me, mine is.”

“They all become you,” declared Jack, with an exaggerated bow.

“We’ll have to write them down or we’ll forget them,” suggested Natalie,
as she twirled the silver ring on her finger.

“And now let’s talk about camping,” suggested Alice. “You boys—where can
they go, Mabel?” and she appealed to the young hostess.

“Well, I like that!” cried Phil. “After all our work—togging up like
‘Lo, the poor Indian,’ and bringing you those names—to calmly tell us we
can leave. I guess not. We’re going to stay, and help you arrange about
your camp.”

“Oh, we can do it ourselves,” declared his sister. “We are going to be
very practical Camp Fire Girls.”

“Yes, they’ll throw a whole pound of butter away because an ant happens
to get in it, and they’ll wash dishes through two waters,” commented
Jack.

“Why, don’t you _always_ wash dishes through two waters, when you boys
go camping?” asked Marie in surprise.

“Never! When we finish a meal we put the dishes to soak in the lake, and
when we come back the fish have them clean for us!” declared Phil.

“Oh, you boys are hopeless!” laughed Natalie. “You must promise to
reform, or you can never come to our camp.”

“Then you are really going to try life in the woods?” asked Jack.

“Of course!” exclaimed Marie. “Didn’t you think we meant it?”

The shaking of three heads told the story of doubt.

“Well, we are!” insisted Alice. “Where would be a good place to go?”

“Green Lake!” answered the trio of youths as one.

“That’s because you boys have been there two or three times,” remarked
Marie.

“No, but really it is,” went on Blake, who, having signaled to his chums
by a series of winks, took the leadership in the argument he hoped would
be convincing. “Green Lake is handy to get to, there are fine woods,
there is good water to drink, plenty of camping sites, and the lake
can’t be surpassed. There are boats to hire—motors and others—and
supplies are easy to get. It’s the best place around here to camp. We
boys are going there this summer——”

“Are you?” interrupted Natalie.

“We are!” declared Jack. “And, if you like, when we go up to make
arrangements we’ll hire a place for you.”

“Shall we let them, girls?” and Alice appealed to her chums.

The girls looked at each other. Their eyes were sparkling with the light
of new resolves. They had never gone camping though the three who had
brothers had spent a day in the latters’ tents on the shores of Green
Lake, about fifty miles away, where the boys had, once or twice, enjoyed
their summer vacations. But for some years past, woodland life seemed to
have lost its charms. Now, with the advent of the Camp Fire Girls
organization, it seemed likely to be revived.

“Shall we?” repeated Alice.

There came a tap on the door, and Mabel, going to answer it found the
maid there.

“Excuse me, Miss Mabel,” she said, “but do any of you want your fortunes
told?”

“Our fortunes told?” echoed Mabel. “Why, Jennie, what do you mean?”

“There’s a Gypsy girl at the back door. She’s from that encampment over
near Wilson’s woods, I guess. She asked me to inquire if there was any
one who wanted their fortune told, and as I knew you had visitors, I
thought——”

“Me for the Gypsy maiden!” sang out Blake.

“I’m first!” cried Phil.

“No, I’m going to see what the fateful future holds for me,” asserted
Jack. “I want to see if I’m going to pass my exams.”

“Boys, be quiet!” commanded Mabel. “Girls, shall we do it—just for fun?”
and she appealed to her chums. “Of course I don’t believe anything in
it, but she may make a little diversion for us.”

“Just as if _we_ didn’t try,” complained Blake. “Come on, fellows, we’ll
leave ’em to their own destruction.”

“If they’re going to have a fair Gypsy maiden in I want to hear what she
says,” declared Jack.

“As if we would let you!” exclaimed Natalie.

“Do have her, Mabel,” urged Alice. “That is if your mother won’t
object.”

“I don’t believe she will. I’ll ask her. Tell the Gypsy girl to wait,
Jennie,” and Mabel hurried up to the sitting room where Mrs. Anderson
was reading.

“What a lark!” exclaimed Jack. “I wonder if she’s pretty?”

“All Gypsy girls are,” declared Phil, “some more than others.”

“I admire your taste,” mocked his sister.

“Mother says it’s all right,” announced Mabel, hurrying back. “We’ll
have her in here, and you boys will have to behave.”

“Did we ever do otherwise?” demanded Phil, pretending indignation.

At the sight of the Gypsy, who followed the maid into the library,
Natalie and Mabel exchanged glances. She was the same girl they had seen
on the street that afternoon.

“Do you tell fortunes?” asked Mabel.

“Yes, lady,” and the Nomad made a bow. Then she looked calmly at the
faces of those surrounding her. She seemed clean and neat, and even the
half-admiring, if a little too bold glances of the boys, did not
disconcert her. She was really pretty, a fact which Marie whispered to
Natalie.

“Aren’t you afraid to be out so late?” went on Mabel.

“It is hardly dark yet—and who would harm a Gypsy maiden?” was the
somewhat enigmatical answer.

“What do you charge for fortunes?” asked Mabel.

“Only twenty-five cents when I go from house to house. Though at our
camp Neezar, our Queen, charges fifty and sometimes a dollar, for a very
long fortune.”

“Have you really a Queen?” asked Alice.

“Certainly, lady,” spoke the Gypsy, and though her tones were a trifle
coarse, her language was more correct than that of some school girls.

“I guess we’ll try the twenty-five cent fortunes,” suggested Alice.
“What is your name?”

“I am called Hadee,” was the answer.

“I’ll go a dollar’s worth of fortune, Hadee,” whispered Jack.

“Be quiet,” ordered his sister.

“Will you tell them out here—where we all can listen?” asked Marie.

“No indeed—I don’t want any one to hear mine!” exclaimed Natalie,
quickly.

“It is not done so,” explained the Gypsy. “Each one has her own
fortune—it is for herself alone. I will not tell them in public,” and
she seemed determined.

“I guess that would be better,” agreed Mabel. “We can go, one at a time,
into this little room off the library. Who’ll be first.”

“Let me!” begged each of the boys.

“This is only for us girls,” rebuked Alice, “you may go practice bridge,
whist, or chess.”

“Will you tell us your fortunes afterward?” asked Blake.

“Never—not until they come true!” laughed Natalie.

“I will tell yours first,” spoke the Gypsy, looking at Natalie with what
the others thought a strange glance. “I can see you have much of a
fortune in your hand—and—in your face.”

“Oh, how romantic! Well, I’m ready,” and Natalie went into a small room,
opening off the library, with the Gypsy maiden.

Then, through the closed door, came a murmur of voices, but they were
drowned in the excited comments of the other three girls, while the boys
added their share.

Natalie came out a little later looking rather pale under her olive
skin, but when quizzed about it, she laughingly declared there was no
cause for it, since she had been promised a most glorious future.

“You’re going to cross water, meet a dark stranger, have a light
complexioned enemy and all that, aren’t you?” demanded Jack,
banteringly.

“Something like that,” laughed Natalie.

In turn the other girls went in and came out, making merry over what
they heard in secret.

“Now for us!” exclaimed Blake, when Marie, the last of the quartette,
had been told of the past, present and future.

“I tell no more!” announced the Gypsy, coming from the room. “I am
tired. If they like the gentlemen may come to our camp to-morrow. I
thank you, ladies, but it is late, and I must be getting back.”

“You may go out the front way,” suggested Mabel gently, for, somehow,
they had all taken a liking to the pretty Gypsy stranger.

“Good-night,” she said, and standing on the front steps they all watched
the Gypsy girl hurry down the street.

“Not half bad looking!” commented Jack. “Ahem!”

“She was rather a gentle little creature,” commented his sister.

“I wonder how they can stand such a life—in wagons traveling all over?”
questioned Mabel.

“Well, she made a pretty good thing out of you girls,” declared Phil.
“Now tell us what she said.”

“Never!” came firmly from Natalie, and the others echoed her words.

As they went back into the library they saw Mrs. Anderson standing at
the door. Her face wore rather a worried look.

“What is it, momsey?” asked Phil. “Did you want your fortune told?”

“I just happened to think,” she answered, “that I had left my diamond
ring on the table in the little room off the library. I came down to get
it, but it isn’t there. Have you seen it, Mabel?”

“Mother! your diamond ring?”

“Yes.”

“And it was in that room that the Gypsy girl told our fortunes.”

“With the light turned low,” added Natalie.

Phil brushed past his sister, and, turning up the gas, looked carefully
on the table in the little room.

“No ring here, mother,” he announced. “Are you sure you left it here?”

“Yes, I was putting away some seldom-used books, and I took it off so I
would not knock it against the shelves. Perhaps it is on the floor.”

Then ensued a hurried search. It was unavailing. The girls and boys
looked at one another.

“It—it’s gone!” murmured Mabel.

“And so is that Gypsy girl!” echoed Phil. “I’ll wager she has it! That’s
why she didn’t want to stop to tell us fellows our fortunes. She wanted
to get away! She had every chance in the world to slip that ring in her
pocket when she was in the half-darkness here, telling fortunes.
Fellows, come on to that Gypsy camp, and we’ll make her give it up!”



                              CHAPTER III

                        THE DESERTED ENCAMPMENT


“Hadn’t we better stop and get one of the policemen?” asked Jack, as he
and his two chums sped onward in the now full darkness of the May
evening.

“No, we can do what we have to do ourselves,” declared Phil. “If they’ve
got mother’s ring I’ll take it away myself.”

“And she was such a pretty girl too—for a Gypsy,” murmured Blake.

“They’ll always take a trinket if they get their hands on one,” declared
Phil. “I suppose she saw it glittering there on the table, and while she
was holding the girls’ hands, and telling them all sorts of rubbish, she
just slipped it away when they were thinking about a dark stranger or
crossing unknown water. Bah! It makes me mad!”

“And she was such a pretty girl,” murmured Blake. “I wouldn’t have
believed it!”

“Oh, drop that kind of talk and get a move on!” exclaimed Phil. “It’s
quite a ways out to that Gypsy encampment, and she has a good start of
us.”

“Not so much,” declared Jack. “We came as soon as your mother missed her
ring.”

“Yes, but we wasted five minutes talking about where it might have
strayed to, and another five looking for our hats. That’s ten, and those
Gypsies travel light—they’re always ready to make a forced march. Hurry
up!”

“I still maintain that we’d better take one of our faithful and
efficient cops with us,” declared Jack. “Those dark-skinned horse
traders are ugly customers, I’ve heard.”

“Not when you’ve got ’em where we have these,” declared Phil. “They’ll
wilt when we tell them what we want, and give up.”

“The worst of it is that we haven’t any proof,” suggested Blake.

“No proof! I’d like to know what you call it? Mother left her ring on
the table in that little room. The only one in it, besides our girls,
was the Gypsy. The ring is gone—the Gypsy is gone—what else can you get
from that? Things that are equal to the same thing are equal to each
other.”

“Well, I, myself, think she might have taken it,” went on Blake, “in
spite of the fact that she had a nice face. But that isn’t proof.
Suppose they say they haven’t it—that she hasn’t it—what are you going
to do?”

Phil stopped short in his quick walk toward the outskirts of the town
where the Gypsy wagons had been drawn up for the last week.

“Why—er—why,” he began, “I suppose perhaps maybe we had better take a
policeman with us. He’ll be sort of impressive, you see. Yes, I guess we
will. Wish I’d thought of it at first. That’s more time we’re going to
lose.”

The boys turned back toward the more thickly populated part of the town,
in search of a guardian of the law, of whom there were half a dozen, or
more, in Middleford.

Meanwhile there was plenty of excitement at the Anderson home. Mrs.
Anderson and the girls went carefully over the room in which the
fortunes had been told, but only to confirm the first suspicion—the ring
was gone.

“Couldn’t you have left it on your dresser, mother?” asked Mabel, with
tears in her eyes.

“I’ve looked there. No, I distinctly remember laying it on the table
when I put away some books,” for the little room was used as a sort of
storeroom. “Jennie called me for something or other. I meant to come
back and get my ring. But I never gave it another thought until you
asked me about the fortune telling. Then I happened to recall that you
might go in that room, to be private, and I came down. But the
prophetess had gone,” she finished rather pathetically.

“And also your lovely diamond ring!” sobbed Mabel. “The one papa gave
you for the wedding anniversary. Oh, it’s all my fault!”

“Not at all, Mabel!” exclaimed Mrs. Anderson. “How could you know I had
left my ring there?”

“And how could we know that Gypsy was a—thief?” burst out Marie.

“Oh, I do hope the boys catch her!” murmured Alice.

“Will—will they be in any danger?” asked Natalie timidly.

“What! Three of them to one little Gypsy girl? I guess you don’t know
our brothers!” exclaimed Mabel.

“No, I never had any, you see,” responded Natalie with a smile. “But I
was thinking she might get to where her people are, and those Gypsy men
aren’t the most gentle individuals, I’ve heard.”

“That’s so!” cried Alice. “Oh, I hope——”

“I wish father were home,” put in Mabel.

“I have it!” burst out Marie. “The police! We can telephone to them, and
ask them to go and protect the boys.”

“Perhaps it would be a good idea,” suggested Mrs. Anderson. “I don’t
like the fuss and notoriety, but I do want my ring back, and I wouldn’t
like the boys to run into any danger. You had better telephone, Mabel.”

Soon the wire to the police station was in use, with Mabel on one end
and the somewhat venerable chief on the other.

“Oh!” gasped Mabel. “There’s been a robbery here, Chief. Mother’s
diamond ring, that father gave her for a wedding present. It was a
lovely ring, and——”

“Skip all those details,” urged Alice in a low voice. Alice could be
very practical at times.

“Yes, a robbery,” went on Mabel’s voice. “At our house. A Gypsy came to
tell our fortunes—no it’s nothing about the porch—I said
fortunes—f-o-r-t-u-n-e-s—” and she spelled it out. “A Gypsy
girl—mother’s ring was on a table. Now it is gone—no, not the table—the
ring. Oh, please do hurry and get the boys! What? No, boys didn’t take
the ring. A Gypsy girl took it, and the boys—my brother, and Jack
Pendleton and Blake Lathrop. We’re so afraid the Gypsy men may attack
them. You’ll send at once? Oh, thank you!”

The instrument clicked as Mabel hung up the receiver, and turned her
still tearful eyes on her mother and her chums.

“There, at least the boys will be safe,” she whispered. “But if they can
only get your ring, momsey.”

“Never mind, dear. It might be worse. Don’t distress yourself over it.
We’ll just wait until the boys come back. Perhaps you had better make
some coffee and sandwiches. They’ll be cold, for it’s chilly, even if it
is nearly June.”

“And time to go camping,” added Natalie.

Mrs. Anderson looked at her daughter in some surprise.

“I haven’t told you yet, momsey,” Mabel said, “but we Camp Fire Girls
have been challenged by the boys to go off to the woods at Green Lake,
and be real camp fire maidens. We are thinking of doing it. Do you think
we might?”

“I’ll see. We’ll talk it over later. But now if you’ll light the fire
perhaps being busy will make you forget this little trouble.”

“It isn’t a little trouble,” declared Mabel. “I shall always feel that
it was my fault if mother’s ring is not recovered.”

“But you mustn’t, dear,” said Mrs. Anderson gently, putting her arms
around her daughter. Mabel sobbed a little, and then, remembering her
guests, she regained her composure.

“It won’t be as easy as this—getting a meal in camp,” remarked Alice, as
she put a match to the gas stove.

“But it will be ever so much more fun!” declared Natalie. “Think of
sitting beside the sky-blue water, with the birds singing overhead, and
eating a meal beside a glowing camp fire.”

“Beautiful breath-of-the-pine-tree!” exclaimed Marie. “That is if the
camp fire doesn’t smoke.”

“They almost always do—at least those I’ve seen always did,” declared
Mabel.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Phil, Blake and Jack had no trouble in persuading one of the policemen
to accompany them to the Gypsy encampment. On the way, as they hurried
on, they told of what had occurred.

“It’s about time something was done to them Gypsies,” declared the
officer. “They pretend to tell fortunes—the women folks do—but it’s only
an excuse to get around to places and size ’em up, so the men folks can
come later, and pick up anything that’s lying around loose. As for
horse-trading, they’d stick the wisest white man that ever cinched a
saddle. They can doctor old, worn-out nags so they’ll look like racers,
but the first time you drive ’em the color runs in the rain, and their
manes and tails come unglued. I know Gypsies! I’ll be glad of a chance
to help run these out of town!”

The boys and officer hurried on. They had left the lighted streets of
the town, and were out on a country road leading to the next village.

“It isn’t far now,” remarked Phil.

“They always have lots of curs around,” suggested Jack. “I hope they
don’t nip us in the dark.”

“Just go right on boldly,” advised the officer. “If a dog bites you kick
it. I’ve got my club.”

“It’s too late after a dog bites you,” murmured Blake. “And she was such
a pretty girl,” he added.

“Say, you’ve got her on the brain!” complained Phil.

“Well, she had a pretty face—for a Gypsy,” declared his chum.

“I don’t hear any dogs barking,” said Jack a little later.

“No, and I don’t see any lights of their encampment,” added Blake.
“Fellows, I guess it’s farther than we thought it was.”

“No it isn’t!” cried Phil. “It was right near the bridge we just
crossed. But I can tell you what has happened!” he exclaimed, coming to
a halt in the dark road.

“What?” asked his chums. “What’s happened?”

“Those Gypsies have skipped. See, there are the embers of one of their
camp fires, though they use stoves when they want to do any real
cooking. Boys, they’ve skipped. We’re just too late. That Gypsy girl,
and her tribe, have vanished with mother’s diamond ring!”



                               CHAPTER IV

                          THE CALL OF THE CAMP


“How long the boys are.”

“Yes, it seems an hour since they rushed out, but it isn’t really more
than half that.”

“Oh, I do hope nothing has happened.”

Thus spoke Marie, Alice and Natalie in turn, as they sat with Mabel and
her mother, anxiously waiting.

“I—I suppose you’ll have to tell father,” ventured Mabel, after a pause,
a catch manifesting itself in her voice.

“Yes, dear,” replied Mrs. Anderson. “But don’t distress yourself. It is
no one’s fault. Father would want to know.”

“Perhaps he can do something,” suggested Natalie.

“The police ought to be able to,” asserted Mabel with rather fierce
energy. “Oh, if I were a man I’d get right after those thieving Gypsies,
and make them give up the ring! Why weren’t we boys?”

“It’s so much nicer to be girls,” murmured Natalie.

“I don’t see why, even if we are girls, that we can’t do something,”
declared Alice with conviction. Alice always loved to undertake
strenuous matters, though not always carrying them out. Still, she meant
well.

“What do you mean?” asked Marie.

“I mean why can’t we get on the trail of those Gypsies, providing they
have gone and left a trail. I think trail is the right word,” she added,
doubtfully.

“Very proper,” admitted Natalie. “One always has a ‘trail’ to camp.”

“What is this I hear about you girls going camping?” asked Mrs.
Anderson, probably to furnish a new topic of conversation, and relieve
the strain of waiting.

“Oh, it’s just a notion,” answered Natalie. “The boys laughed at our
Camp Fire Association, and we vowed that we could live in a tent in the
woods as well as they. It sounds nice, but—I don’t know,” and she leaned
dreamily back in her chair.

“Oh, Natalie!” exclaimed Marie. “And you were so anxious to go!”

“Well, I am yet. Only I don’t know whether my people will consent. It’s
delightful to think about, anyhow.”

“It’s this way, mother,” began Mabel, and she briefly explained how the
camping idea had germinated. Then, probably to forget the unpleasant
episode of the ring, they all talked woodland lore.

“Well,” remarked Phil, as he and his chums stood with the officer,
looking at the dying embers of the Gypsy fire on the deserted site of
the encampment, “there’s nothing doing here, as Mr. Shakespeare would
say. What’s to be done?”

“I vote we take after ’em!” exclaimed Jack. “They can’t have gotten far
in this time. They didn’t have the chance.”

“That’s right,” chimed in Blake. “Come on, fellows.”

“Wait a minute, boys,” advised the officer. “It’s a dark night, and
there are several roads branching off this one. The Gypsies could take
either one.”

“But we could inquire,” exclaimed Phil. “A Gypsy caravan of that size
couldn’t go along without attracting attention, even from sleepy
farmers. They could tell if it had passed by, and if we got on some
wrong branch road, we could easily get back on the main one, and pick up
the trail.”

“That sounds good to me!” declared Blake. “I’m ready for a fracas.”

“Same here,” came from Jack. “Say, I’m glad I didn’t let her tell my
fortune. She might have taken my watch while she told me a pretty girl
across the water was waiting for me to write to her.”

“Oh, what do you think you are—a lady-killer?” demanded Phil. “If we’re
going to do anything let’s do it.”

“How one can be deceived,” murmured Blake. “And she such a pretty girl.
She looked something like Natalie.”

“Dry up!” commanded Jack shortly. “You’ve got Natalie on the brain. Come
on!”

“I wouldn’t, boys,” advised the officer. “It’s dark, there are any
number of roads the tribe could have taken, not to say of slipping off
into the woods.”

“That’s right,” agreed Blake. “We didn’t think of that.”

“And making inquiries, and then doubling back in case you’re on the
wrong road, all takes time,” went on the policeman. “You had much better
wait until morning.”

“I guess that’s right,” assented Phil. “Poor momsey will be wild about
her ring, though. Well, back home it is,” and he turned away from the
deserted encampment.

They had not gone far on the backward trail ere they heard the tramp of
approaching feet on the hard highway, for they were not yet in the
district of sidewalks.

“Some one’s coming!” exclaimed Phil.

“It walks like the Chief,” commented Officer Brady.

“Who’s there?” demanded a sharp voice from the darkness.

“It _is_ the Chief!” the policeman asserted. “It’s Brady, sir,” he
added, in answer to a question. “I’ve been out chasin’ after a band of
Gypsies.”

“Ha! I’m after the same tribe I guess. Have you seen anything of young
Anderson—Blake Lathrop or Jack Pendleton, Brady?” asked the head of the
police force.

“They’re here with me, sir.”

“Ah! Their folks just telephoned to me about them. Got worried I guess.”

“That’s some of the girls’ work,” was Jack’s whispered opinion.

“Did you get the ring?” demanded the Chief.

“No, sir. They’d skipped out.”

“I thought so. Well, it’s too late to do anything to-night. Come back to
the station, and we’ll send out a telephone alarm. Anderson!”

“Yes, Chief.”

“Can you describe your mother’s ring?”

“Sure.”

“Then come along with me and I’ll write it down so as to have it when I
send out the alarm.”

“Then we’ll get back to your house, Phil,” suggested Blake. “We’ll tell
your mother and sister about it.”

“All right. I’ll come as soon as I can.”

It needed but a look at the faces of the two lads, as they entered the
house a little later, to tell the four girls, and Mrs. Anderson, that
their errand had been fruitless.

“Oh mother!” cried Mabel. “It’s all my fault!”

“Nonsense!” declared her mother, though there was a dull ache in her
heart at the loss of her beautiful ring.

“We’re going to get on their trail the first thing in the morning!”
declared Jack fiercely. “They can’t get far away—a Gypsy tribe is too
conspicuous to hide away very long.”

The boys told of their chase, and explained Phil’s absence, though
before they had finished he came in. Then it all had to be gone over
with again, so that it was quite late when the five left Mabel’s house.

“Wo-he-lo!” chorused Alice, Natalie and Marie, as they waved good-night
to Mabel and Phil. “Wo-he-lo!”

“What’s that?” demanded Jack, rather surprised at the musical intonation
of his sister and her two chums.

“The call of our camp,” explained Natalie. “It is made up of the first
two letters of the words—work—health—love. Isn’t it pretty?”

“Love?” asked Blake mischievously.

“Silly!” murmured Natalie.

“Say it again,” demanded Jack.

                         “Wo-he-lo!
                         Wo-he-lo!
                         Dogwood! Dogwood Camp!
                         Ho! Ho!”

Thus chanted Marie.

“Bravo!” complimented Jack. “That will do as a war-whoop to scare the
Gypsies—when we find them,” he added more soberly.

“See you at the Academy to-morrow,” called Mabel, as she and her mother
and brother went off the steps.

“Wo-he-lo!” gurgled Natalie deep in her throat. She was half Indian,
some of her friends used to say, and they often called her Pocahontas.
“Wo-he-lo!”

“The call of the camp,” murmured Jack. “I wonder if they really will go
off to the woods?”

“We’d have no end of good times if they did,” replied his chum in a low
voice. “We could camp near them, go on picnics, off rowing, in a
motor——”

“Don’t count too much,” interrupted Jack. “Girls are finicky creatures.
They may change their minds half a dozen times before vacation.”

As Natalie’s home was not much out of their way, Jack and Marie went in
that direction with her, Blake and Alice going part of the distance.

“We’ll get on the trail of the false but beautiful Gypsy girl after
class to-morrow,” called Blake to Jack, as they parted.

“Sure thing. Good-night!”



                               CHAPTER V

                            OFF TO THE WOODS


“Aren’t they just too dear for anything?”

“And such an artistic color!”

“That olive brown is so becoming to you, Natalie.”

“Oh, I think it suits all of you as well!”

“Do let your hair down in those two long braids, Natalie, and be
Pocahontas,” urged Mabel. “It is so becoming to you.”

“But it’s so hard to arrange afterward,” laughed
breath-of-the-pine-tree.

“Oh, it hardly seems possible that we really can go off to the woods!”
sighed Marie.

“And camp—just as the boys do—in a tent and not in a stupid hotel, or
boarding house,” added Alice.

“And do our own cooking,” came from Mabel. “I do hope the oil stove
won’t explode—or do whatever oil stoves ought not to do.”

“Don’t suggest it!” cried Natalie. “We don’t want to think of the
unpleasant features. Think of the birds, and the green trees, and the
land of the sky-blue water and——”

“Natalie doesn’t like to think of unpleasant things,” mocked Marie.

“Why should one, when there is so much that is beautiful and pleasant in
the world?” demanded the olive-tinted one.

“Spoken like a true Camp Fire Girl!” exclaimed Alice. “Say, I do believe
my middy-blouse is too small for me,” and she tried to get a view of her
back in the glass, by twisting her neck around much after the manner of
an ostrich.

“And they’re sure to shrink when they’re washed,” declared Marie.

“Don’t speak of it,” begged Marie. “Mine is tight under the arms, too.”

“Then let’s not wash them!” suggested Natalie with a brilliant thought.
“There won’t be much chance in camp, anyhow.”

The four girls were at Marie’s house, where they seemed to assemble more
often than any other place. The semi-Indian suits, consisting of khaki
skirts and middy-blouses of the same material had just been received
from the headquarters of the Camp Fire Girls, and our friends were
trying them on with varying degrees of satisfaction. Truly the costumes,
simple and serviceable as they were, seemed becoming in the extreme.

“We won’t be afraid of climbing over rocks, stumps and tree trunks with
these boots,” went on Marie, as she inspected the shoes that had come
with the outfits.

“And we can sit down on the grass without a qualm,” added Mabel. “Oh, I
wish we could always dress like this.”

“Even at a dance?” asked Natalie.

“Well, maybe not at a dance,” conceded Mabel, thinking of a “perfect
dream” of a dress she had.

“Isn’t it too bad Cora and Gertrude can’t go with us?” spoke Marie, as
she daintily powdered her nose.

“Yes, and Margaret, Sadie and Edna were wild to be with us when they
heard about it, but they could not manage,” went on Alice referring to
other members of the Camp Fire organization.

It was about two weeks after the loss of Mrs. Anderson’s ring. In the
meanwhile, though a careful search had been made, no trace of it, nor of
the Gypsy band had been found. The tribe seemed to have disappeared,
which was not strange, as that region consisted of many little-explored
patches of woodland, in which many bands might have hidden. The police
of several towns could not trace the nomads.

True a tribe had been located soon after the dramatic episode of the
fortune-telling, but they asserted they had not been near Middleford on
the night in question, and neither the boys nor girls could pick out
from amid the members of the band, Hadee, the pretty girl who had
visited Mabel’s house.

“None of these Gypsy maidens were as pretty as she was,” declared Blake.

“You seem to have lost your heart to her,” commented Natalie.

“Not yet,” he said in a low voice.

And so Mrs. Anderson’s ring was given up—though the boys said the tribe
was sure to return the next spring, since the Gypsies always made the
same rounds year after year.

“And when they do come here we’ll have them pinched!” declared Phil.

“Oh, such slang!” gasped his sister.

“They’ll never come back here if they really have that ring,” was
Blake’s opinion—one that was shared by others.

But the matter of going camping to Green Lake had, in a measure, taken
the edge off the sorrow felt over Mrs. Anderson’s loss—at least on the
part of the four girls.

They had arranged, through the Camp Fire Guardian, Mrs. Bonnell, to get
their suits, and then they seriously began to consider the matter of
going camping. After some consideration the respective parents of the
pretty quartette had consented, especially since Mrs. Bonnell was to be
with them, and she had often gone to the woods with her late husband,
though she frankly admitted that she knew very little about practical
woodlore.

“Oh, but that’s all the better!” exclaimed Natalie. “We can learn for
ourselves, and if we do make mistakes, we won’t repeat them. It will be
jolly fun!”

“And if we get into real difficulties the boys won’t be so very far
away,” added practical Alice, for Jack and his chums had followed up the
idea, casually expressed, and had decided to spend their vacation on the
shores of Green Lake. Perhaps this is one reason why the parents of the
girls had consented to the young ladies roughing it for a time, since
three well-developed brothers might well look after three sisters, and a
brotherless girl into the bargain.

“We’ll each share a third of a brother with you, Nat,” offered Mabel.

“Which is very kind of you, maiden-of-the-green-corn,” replied the
breath-of-the-pine-tree, with a laugh that showed her white, even teeth.

There was much to do. Fortunately the academy where the boys and girls
attended, closed two weeks earlier that term to allow of extensive
repairs to be made to the building, so that it was possible to spend
part of the rare month of June in the woods.

For the boys, who had often gone camping, it was not so difficult, but
to the girls the work of arranging for tents, cots, a camping site, the
necessary cooking utensils, an oil stove, and seeing about other matters
came rather hard.

“A camp fire is all right,” declared Jack, when he had been appealed to,
“and probably you’ll want one every night, to sit about and talk, but
for cooking, unless you have to—nix! The smoke gets into your eyes, no
matter which side of it you get on, and in rainy weather it’s out of the
question.

“I know it can be used, and I’ve gotten up a dinner of six courses on an
open fire, with two stones for the sides and a sheet of iron for the
top, but if you don’t want to spend all your time feeling and smelling
like a smoked ham, take an oil stove. It’s not so romantic, but you’ll
have time for more real romance with it for you’ll have more time for
the woods and water.”

And the girls had followed his advice, in which the other boys
concurred. Then came the matter of arranging for the camping-site, which
they hired from a man who owned considerable property on the shores of
the lake—the same man from whom the boys engaged their location.

The two camps would be about a quarter of a mile apart, and, as the lake
shore curved, and as the boys had a small dock built out on a point of
land, they could view the girls’ tents from that vantage-place—or they
would be able to when the tents were erected.

The task of arranging for tents for the girls, one to cook in and
another as sleeping quarters had been rendered more easy from the fact
that a party of young people who made a practice of going to the lake
did not intend to do so this season. They advertised their outfit for
hire, and, on the advice of the boys, Natalie and her chums took it.

“We know that camp,” declared Jack. “There’s a good board floor for both
tents, and, though you may want a few things, you will find almost
everything you need. It’s a rare chance.”

“And we’ll help you put up the tents,” added Blake. “We’ll go up the
same day you do.”

“Thank you, but please let us do all we can for ourselves,” suggested
Mabel. “We want to be real Camp Fire Girls, and put up our own tents. It
isn’t so hard; is it?”

“Not when you get the knack of it.”

“Then we’ll read about it in some book. I wonder if the encyclopædia has
anything about tents in it,” mused Alice, for, as usual the young people
had gathered at Marie’s house.

“I can show you in two minutes, better than any book,” declared Phil.
“This is how you want to start,” and then, with a napkin, some string
and a couple of knives and forks he proceeded to illustrate the not
always easy task of setting a wall tent.

The girls thought they understood it. Then came other advice about
settling the camp, how to arrange the stores, what to buy, how to put up
the cots, distribute the blankets, put up the fly, to keep out both sun
and rain, and many other details.

In the days that followed—and busy ones they were—the girls completed
their arrangements. They wrote on ahead for a supply of food that could
be kept in stock, and were glad to learn that a not too distant
lake-shore village would supply them when needed, a butcher and grocer
coming around in a boat to take orders, for Green Lake was a favorite
camping-site for many.

“And we start to-morrow!” exclaimed Mabel, as she and her chums had
gathered at her house for a last consultation.

“Yes, isn’t it glorious!” cried Natalie. “I’m just dying to roam through
the woods in that Indian costume.”

“Be careful some modern brave doesn’t run away with you,” cautioned
Alice.

“I’d like to see him,” asserted Natalie.

“You won’t; he’ll probably capture you after dark,” challenged Mabel.

“I wonder where I put it!” suddenly exclaimed Alice, as she began
searching among a miscellaneous collection of articles on the bureau,
where the girls had piled a number of purchases.

“What are you looking for?” asked Mabel.

“I’m obeying the first law of the Camp Fire Girls,” was the answer.

“What’s that?” inquired Natalie.

“Seeking beauty—I bought a tube of cold cream, and now I can’t find it.
I do burn so terribly when first I go out in the summer sun. Where is
that cold cream?”

“Vanity of vanities!” quoted Mabel.

“Didn’t you get some yourself—hypocrite!” declaimed Alice.

“I did,” confessed her accuser.

“So did I,” admitted Marie.

“Natalie doesn’t need it,” went on Alice, as she found her tube, besides
a little vanity box containing a tiny pad of wool and—well they all
carried the same thing. Rice powder they asserted the box contained.

“I suppose the boys will be there waiting for us,” suggested Marie.

“Yes,” assented Alice. “But I do wish they’d let us do all we can for
ourselves. It’s no fun to have everything done for you.”

“Again the true Camp Fire Girl speaketh!” murmured Natalie. “I rather
imagine we’ll find enough to do.”

“Did you ask the man to have all our things at the place where the tent
is to go up?” asked Mabel.

“Yes,” asserted Alice, “and he promised. Also to see that our ‘grub’ as
I believe the camp-term for dinner is, was on hand. He said the tent
platforms would be laid, and all we would have to do would be to put up
the tents and cots. I guess it will be easy.”

“Easy is as easy does,” misquoted Marie. “Oh, we must make sure that
Mrs. Bonnell has everything she wants. Let’s go over and talk with her
now. There is always so much to do at the last minute.”

Behold then, the next morning, four eager Camp Fire Girls with the pink
tint of excitement in their cheeks, assembled at the station of the
railroad that was to take them to Green Lake. They had their suit cases,
trunks having been sent on ahead with bed clothing and other
necessities. They also had a miscellaneous collection of boxes and
bundles—things that they had forgotten until the last minute.

“But isn’t it a glorious day!” cried Natalie, as she waltzed around the
platform with Marie as a partner.

“Most glorious!” agreed Alice. “Oh, here comes our train, and I know
I’ve forgotten to put in my tennis slippers to use in the canoe!”

“Too late now,” decided the Guardian. “You can write for them. Now,
girls, we’ll try to get seats together.”

Then the train steamed in, they hurried aboard, amid many admiring
glances from other passengers, and soon they were on their way to the
camp in the woods.

“Wo-he-lo!” sang Natalie softly, as the train gathered speed.
“Wo-he-lo!”



                               CHAPTER VI

                              THE OLD MAN


“That rope should go the other way!”

“No, I remember Jack saying you should fasten the other rope first.”

“Are you sure the pegs are driven in tightly enough?”

“There! I knew something would be missing. We haven’t a hammer to drive
in the pegs with.”

“But where are the tent pegs?”

Thus the girls questioned and commented as they had gathered about an
indiscriminate collection of canvas, boards, ropes and other things at
the campsite on Green Lake. They had made a quick trip in the train, and
the little lake steamer had landed them at Crystal Springs, as their
camping-ground was called.

“There are the pegs,” said Alice, after a look about, and she indicated
some articles that looked like exaggerated clothes pins, save for the
slot.

“That’s so, we must decide where they are to go, and drive them in, so
we’ll have something to fasten the ropes to,” declared Natalie. “I
remember Blake saying that.”

“But no hammer!” cried Marie.

“Use a stone, girls,” suggested Mrs. Bonnell. “There are plenty
hereabouts. Then we must set up the oil stove and make tea. I’m famished
for some.”

“I hope the man left oil,” murmured Alice.

“Yes, here’s some in a can,” called Mabel, who was looking about. “And
the stove is just like one we have.”

“Girls!” called the Guardian, “just slip your middy-blouses over your
waists, and put on the skirts too. You can work so much better then, and
not be afraid of soiling anything.”

The change was quickly made, the girls having brought in their suit
cases their Camp Fire garments. Then they began once more to try to
solve the problem of the tent. But it was not so easy as they had
supposed, even with the help of a diagram Marie had made from Jack’s
vivid description.

“Oh, dear!” sighed Alice. “I wish the boys were here after all. One
never knows how much one needs them until they are not on hand.”

“Oh, we can do it!” asserted Mabel. “Let’s try the small cooking tent
first. That will be easier.”

“Why didn’t we think of that?” asked Alice. “We can use it as a sort of
model. Come, girls. Wo-he-lo!”

“If you shout like that some will surely hear, and come to help us,”
said Marie. “I wonder where the boys are?” and she looked toward the
point of land, where a waving flag denoted the presence of the camp of
their brothers. But the boys were not in evidence.

“Probably they did not know just when we would arrive,” suggested Mrs.
Bonnell, as she helped Natalie lay out the smaller tent.

“It’s just as well—if we can get the tent up alone,” spoke Mabel. “So
much the more credit for us. But it does look like one of those Chinese
puzzles,” she went on rather hopelessly. By dint of much changing and
shifting, trying first one rope then another, turning the pile of canvas
first this way and that the girls finally, with the help of Mrs.
Bonnell, got it in such a position that, after a sort of council of war
they decided that they could erect it.

“Now, all together!” called the Guardian of the Camp Fire Girls. “Raise
it up, Mabel and Marie, while Natalie and Alice fasten the ropes to the
pegs.”

The three of them raised, while two excited girls, on either side, took
the trailing side ropes and began to catch them around the notched pegs,
that had, with much labor, been driven into the earth with stones.

“Now let go!” ordered Mrs. Bonnell.

The girls stepped back.

The tent came down with a dismal flop.

“Oh, dear!” sighed Natalie.

“Isn’t it a shame! Just when we had it nearly up?” spoke Alice.

“Well, we’ll have to do it all over again,” decided the Guardian. “But
we have the right idea now.”

“I don’t believe Natalie and Alice put the ropes on the pegs quickly
enough,” declared Mabel.

“Oh, we did so!” chorused the two.

“Then why should it come down?” demanded Marie, as if the question was
unanswerable.

“I don’t know,” declared Natalie. “I know I bruised my knuckles on that
one peg. Where is your cold cream, Alice? I left mine in my suit case,
and it’s so hard to open.”

“This is no time for cold cream—nor ice cream, either!” declared Alice.
“Let’s try once more.”

“’Twon’t do you a bit of good ladies!” suddenly exclaimed a voice from
the lake shore. “You can work ’till doomsday tryin’ t’ git a tent up
that way, but lessen you puts th’ ridge pole on top of th’ end poles,
an’ raises them fust, you won’t never git no tent up.”

They looked whence the voice came and saw an old man, in a clumsy
rowboat, regarding them with half-quizzical, half-amused glances.

“The poles!” murmured Natalie.

“That’s why the tent wouldn’t stay up!” added Marie.

“How silly of us!” chorused Alice and Mabel.

“Goin’ t’ camp here?” asked the old man.

“We—we hoped to,” answered Mrs. Bonnell. “But if we don’t know enough to
put up a small tent I don’t see——”

“I’ll help you,” volunteered the visitor. “I often help camping parties
that don’t know much about the game. I’ll help you.”

“We’re Camp Fire Girls!” declared Mabel with dignity.

“Ha! Ha!” chuckled the old man. “I have seen folks what could git up a
good meal over a camp fire, but they was mighty few. I see you’ve
brought an oil stove. That’s what they mostly does up here. There’s some
fellows over on Stony Point that have got their camp going in good
shape.”

“They are our brothers,” said Mabel.

“So! Wa’al, now let’s see about your tent,” and he lumbered up from his
boat which he tied to a stump on shore. “Have you got poles?” he asked.

“They are over there,” replied Mrs. Bonnell, rather put out at her own
inability to recall that her husband had, several times, had her help
him erect their tent.

“That’s good. Now I’ll show you. I guess between us we can manage to
raise the tents.”

As he spoke he came face to face with Natalie who had gone for some cold
cream to apply to her bruised knuckles. At the sight of
breath-of-the-pine-tree the old man started back, and a queer look came
over his face. Staring at Natalie he exclaimed in a whisper:

“Who—who are you? Have—have you come back to me?”



                              CHAPTER VII

                             A NIGHT ALARM


Instinctively the four girls, and Mrs. Bonnell, drew nearer together,
shrinking away from the old man who had come up out of his boat to help
them erect the tents. On his part he remained staring at Natalie, as
though she were some ghost from the past. She paled a little beneath her
clear, olive skin, but she did not seem afraid:

“Who are you?” repeated the man. “Surely you are not _her_ come back to
me after all these years. No, no! It can’t be, and yet you have her
face—Speak—tell me!”

“What do you mean?” demanded Mrs. Bonnell, gathering her wits that had
been a bit scattered by the suddenness of the change of manner in the
man. “Who are you?”

“Everybody about here knows me,” he answered, not taking his eyes off
Natalie, yet advancing no farther toward her. “But she—who is she?”

“One of the Camp Fire Girls, to be sure!” broke in Alice, with an
attempt at gaiety. “What is this all about? It’s like amateur
theatricals.”

“He seems to have taken quite a fancy to Natalie,” remarked Mabel, in a
low voice.

“You can’t blame him,” whispered Marie. “She’s the dearest girl!”

“I am afraid you have made a mistake,” said careful Mrs. Bonnell,
somewhat stiffly. “None of us ever saw you before, as far as we know. We
have never been here before, and, though you may be well known here, we
haven’t the honor of your acquaintance. Please don’t annoy my girls.”

“I beg pardon,” the man mumbled. “I didn’t go for to make any trouble,
that’s sure. I’m Hanson Rossmore—Old Hanson they mostly calls me
hereabouts. I ask your pardon, ladies, but she did look wondrous
like—well, what’s the use of mentioning it now. It’s past and gone years
ago—years ago. Only—with her hair down her back like an Indian maid she
fair did remind me of—Oh, well, will you let me help you put up your
tents?” he finished rather gruffly, and he seemed ashamed of the emotion
he had displayed.

Natalie, whose exertion in trying to help with the tents had brought her
glorious hair, in the two heavy braids, drooping down her back, looked
relieved, and gazed somewhat wonderingly at the old fellow, as, indeed,
did the others.

He, however, seemed to have forgotten his queer words, and, striding to
the jumbled pile of canvas, he began straightening it out, muttering the
while to himself.

“What do you suppose he meant?” whispered Marie to Mrs. Bonnell.

“I think he mistook Natalie for some one he knew, or thought he knew,”
the Guardian replied. “He looks to me as though he were not quite right
mentally.”

“Oh, don’t say that, Mrs. Bonnell!” exclaimed Mabel in a hoarse whisper.

“Hush! He’ll hear you,” cautioned Alice. “Besides I think he looks
harmless, and we do need some one to help us, or we’ll have to sleep
under a tree to-night.”

“Never!” breathed Natalie. “I’ll go back home first.”

“Can’t!” declared Mabel sententiously. “The last train is gone. It’s
Green Lake for ours to-night anyhow.”

“Oh, we’ll be all right as soon as we get up the tent,” declared Alice.
“I never knew a tent could tangle so. I don’t see where the boys are.
They ought to be here to help us.”

“I believe we did mention something about being independent, and wanting
to do things without their help, just to show them that we could,”
murmured Natalie softly.

“I wonder, oh, I wonder if that be sarcasm?” whispered Marie, and they
all joined in the laugh that followed.

Old Hanson looked up with a grin on his weather-wrinkled face.

“That laughter sounds good,” he muttered. “Everybody feels happier when
they come to Green Lake.”

He seemed himself again, a simple countryman, though the others noticed
that he glanced at Natalie furtively from time to time, as he
straightened out the tangle of the tent ropes.

“I’m sure we’ll all feel better when we get our shelter up, and have a
camp fire built,” said Alice.

“Oh, girls, but it’s going to be lovely here when we _do_ get
straightened out!” declared Mabel, as she gazed up into the tangle of
green in the trees overhead.

“Wo-he-lo—Dogwood Camp Fire!” echoed Natalie, with a trill to her deep,
rich contralto voice.

“Is that your college yell?” asked Old Hanson.

“Yes,” replied Mrs. Bonnell, not wishing him to get too familiar with
her pretty charges. “Can we help you raise the tent now?”

“In jest a minute, lady. As soon as I lay out the poles and spread the
canvas over ’em.”

“Oh, those poles!” exclaimed Alice. “Wasn’t it stupid of us not to
remember that a tent had to have poles?”

They watched the old man take the ridge pole and fit the holes in either
end of it, over the pins on the tops of the two end poles. Then he
spread the canvas over the ridge pole, bringing the central seam of it
along the stick. Next he laid out the two side walls of the tent, with
the guy ropes trailing off, the middle one on each side being placed
near stakes that had been temporarily driven in the ground. Old Hanson
then drove a stake in front and one to the rear of the tent, trailing
the ropes from the end poles off toward them.

“Now, ladies,” he said, in rather brisk business-like tones, “if some of
you will manage one end pole, I’ll tackle the other. Then two of you
mind the pole ropes, one to each, and pull them as tight as you can
around the stakes. I’ll tighten ’em more later.”

Mrs. Bonnell, Alice and Marie, stationed themselves at the front pole,
while Old Hanson looked after the other. Natalie took the front rope,
and Mabel the rear.

“All ready!” called the volunteer helper. “Raise!”

Lifting the end poles raised the top or ridge one, and the tent went
with it, hanging down, as Marie said, “like a sheet on a line.”

“Now fasten the end ropes!” called Mr. Rossmore. “Any way so’s they’ll
hold.”

Natalie and Mabel did their best, and soon the tent was partly stayed.
Then, while the end poles were still held from toppling over sideways,
under the direction of Old Hanson they secured the two middle side ropes
to the pegs.

“There!” cried their helper, letting go of the pole. “She’ll hold until
we can peg her down. It will be easy now.”

Rapidly the other side pegs were put in, the ropes tauted on them, and
the tent was up. It only remained to further stretch the front and rear
guy ropes, and fasten the sides of the canvas down to the wooden
platform. It took some time to do this, and longer to put up the other
tent, but finally it was accomplished.

“Now I’ll help you put your trunks in,” offered Mr. Rossmore. “We can
put up the flies on to-morrow.”

“Flies!” exclaimed Natalie. “I guess he means fly paper; doesn’t he?
Though I hoped we wouldn’t be bothered with insects up here.”

“The ‘fly’ of a tent is a piece of extra canvas that goes over the top
like a roof,” explained Mrs. Bonnell. “It keeps out hard rain. The boys
will help us put them on,” she added to the old man. “But we will be
glad to have you help us lift in the trunks,” for the girls’ baggage had
been left at a dock near their camp by an early morning steamer,
previous to their arrival.

“Oh, to get off some of my things!” cried Alice, when they were in the
privacy of the dressing tent, and Old Hanson had been thankfully
dismissed with a dollar, handed him by Mrs. Bonnell, to pay him for his
work. “I’m nearly dead with this Camp Fire outfit on over my other
clothes.”

“So am I!” confessed Natalie. “Oh, isn’t it lovely to be free, and not
to have to primp before a glass.”

“Speaking of glasses, I wonder if we brought one,” asked Mabel.

“I did!” came in a chorus from the other three girls.

“And to a camp!” reproached Mrs. Bonnell with a laugh.

“Rule number one—seek beauty!” quoted Natalie.

“She who needs it least,” murmured Alice.

“No compliments—leave them for the boys—if we ever see them again,”
warned Marie.

“I’m famished!” declared Mabel. “Can’t we have a cup of tea?”

“I’ll light the oil stove and make it,” volunteered the practical Marie.
“But some one ought to look after the cots.”

“We’ll do that—only give us tea!” begged Natalie, and soon five cots,
with the accompanying bedclothes, stood neatly arranged about the walls
of the larger tent, while all around were the trunks and suit cases,
with a more or less indiscriminate collection of garments leading into
and out of them.

“Never mind!” consoled Mrs. Bonnell, as she saw the girls’ looks of
dismay at the upset condition, “we can take all day to-morrow to
straighten out. To-night we must get some supper and rest, and it’s
getting late.”

“Oh, for the glorious camp fire!” cried Alice. “We must have a big one
in honor of our arrival!”

“Not too large,” remarked the cautious Guardian. “We must remember that
we are in the woods, and there isn’t an alarm box on every tree.”

Merrily they sat about the table—some boards over saw horses, the same
that the former campers had used.

“We’ll put oilcloth on to-morrow,” promised Marie, as she “poured” while
the others acted as “floaters”, as Natalie laughingly expressed it.

Fortunately for the girls, who had never gone camping before, there were
no hitches after that one about the tents. All their baggage had
arrived, which is not always the case in summer outings, the camp
paraphernalia was on hand, including the food-stuff they had ordered.
The outfit they had hired was particularly well equipped as to cooking
utensils, and the man who brought them from the place where they had
been stored, seemed to have forgotten nothing. There was even condensed
milk for the tea, and sugar for those who wished it. The oil stove
burned well, and this was a blessing.

“No dish-washing to-night!” exclaimed Marie, when some one proposed it.
“We’re all too dead tired. We’ll have enough for breakfast. After that
we’ll make out a schedule, and get down to a system.”

It was now drawing on toward dusk, but the June evenings were so long,
that even after the sun was out of sight it would be light enough to see
to go about.

“Wood gatherers this way!” called Natalie, when they arose from the
dining table, which had been set under a canvas shelter between the two
tents. “Ho, wood-gatherers! Let us see if we are worthy of the name!”

“Wo-he-lo!” warbled Marie.

“Dogwood Camp Fire!” echoed Mabel.

“Remember, not too big a blaze,” cautioned Mrs. Bonnell, as the four set
about gathering fagots and bits of dry bark for the fire.

“We ought to have a camp kettle boiling on a tripod over the flames, as
the Gypsies do,” suggested Marie, when they had collected a pile of
fuel.

“Don’t say Gypsy to me!” cried Mabel. “Every time I hear the word I
nearly cry, thinking of poor mother’s ring.”

“Perhaps you’ll get it back some day,” suggested Alice.

“Never!” declared Mabel. “But don’t think about it. I wonder where the
boys are?”

“Who’ll light the fire?” asked Natalie, when the pile was ready for the
match.

“Let Mrs. Bonnell have the honor,” suggested Marie, and to the Guardian
it went.

The girls did not speak as the tiny flame caught the wood, and began
mounting upward until the yellow tongues were playing in and out among
the fagots. Silently the Camp Fire Girls sat on the mossy ground about
their vestal flame, thinking of many things.

“Isn’t it beautiful,” whispered Natalie.

“So peaceful,” added Marie.

“And such a sweet odor—like incense,” murmured Mabel.

“It’s just lovely,” came from Alice. “It’s too beautiful to go to bed,
and there’s going to be a moon, too. I can see it—a new moon.”

“Look at it over your left shoulder and wish,” advised Marie.

“For the boys,” added Mabel.

“I don’t see—” began Natalie, when the woods echoed to a weird yell.

“Oh!” screamed all the girls at once, and even Mrs. Bonnell clutched the
arm of Mabel who was next to her.

“The boys are here, O maidens of the camp fire!” came in hollow tones
from the ring of darkness surrounding the blaze. “Answer to your names!”

And some one called:

“Wa-tu-go-mo!”

“Here,” answered Marie, with a sigh of relief.

“Wep-da-se-nah!”

“Present,” murmured Mabel.

“No-moh-te-nah!”

“Dead tired,” laughed Alice.

“Chee-ne-sagoo!”

“The breath of the pine tree calls me to slumber,” answered Natalie.

“Quite poetical,” complimented the voice of Blake Lathrop.

“And, last but not least, ‘Guardian-of-the-pretty-maidens’!” went on the
voice calling the roll.

“Guilty!” answered Mrs. Bonnell, with a laugh. “Come on out, boys, and
explain why you weren’t here when you were most needed. We came near
never getting our tents up, because we forgot to put the poles under,
and couldn’t understand why they toppled down.”

“That’s a good one!” cried Jack, as he and the others emerged from the
shadows into the light of the first camp fire.

“Where were you?” demanded Alice of her brother.

“We went down to meet you,” he replied. “We couldn’t understand why you
didn’t come. We waited until the last boat, and then gave you up.”

“And we here all the while!” cried Marie. “Oh, you boys! Didn’t I tell
you we would come on the first afternoon boat?” she demanded of Jack.

“If you did I guess I lost the letter,” he confessed. “We’ve had a time
getting our own camp in shape. Those fellows forgot half the stuff I
told them to order.”

“We didn’t forget any more than you did,” retorted Phil.

“Let us have peace,” urged Blake. “At last we are here, and the girls
are safe.”

“No thanks to you, though,” remarked Alice a trifle sharply. “We had
help, however.”

“Who?”

“A man?”

“I demand his name!” cried Blake, in mock heroics.

“I think he called himself Mr. Rossmore,” answered Natalie.

“Oh, Old Hanson,” said Jack. “Yes, he’s quite a character around here.”

“What is his secret?” asked Mrs. Bonnell. “He stared at Natalie in the
queerest way, and asked her if she had come back to him after all these
years, and all sorts of nonsense like that.”

“Scared you; did he?” inquired Phil.

“A little, yes,” admitted Alice. “What is the matter with him?”

“Oh, disappointed in love when he was young—same as I’ve been half a
dozen times,” put in Blake. “His sweetheart died, or ran away with some
one else I believe. He lives all alone in a haunted mill not far away,
and——”

“Rats!” cried Jack. “Nothing of the sort.”

“It’s getting shivery,” murmured Alice. “Haunted mills—and hermits——”

“Do tell us about it!” begged Natalie.

“Blake has it all twisted,” declared Phil. “Old Hanson does live in a
deserted mill somewhere back of here, but it was his daughter who ran
away—not his sweetheart. And it was years ago. He’s a little crazy I
guess, and sometimes he imagines strangers do look like her. But he’s
harmless.”

“Perfectly so,” chimed in Jack. “He often helps us around camp, when
we’re too lazy to work. And he’s the best fisherman for miles around.
Knows where all the big bass are.”

“But is the mill really haunted?” demanded Natalie.

“Stop, Nat!” commanded Alice. “Do you want us all to have bad dreams
to-night?”

“It looks old enough, and deserted enough, to be haunted,” went on
Blake, “though of course it isn’t. We’ll go over and see it sometime.”

“In broad daylight,” stipulated Marie, and the boys laughed.

Then the girls told of how they had been helped by the aged man, and how
they had made camp after a fashion. In turn the boys related how they
had gone to the end of the lake, where the trains came in, to meet their
sisters, but had evidently made a mistake in the time.

“But we’re all here now, and ready for glorious fun,” added Mrs.
Bonnell. “We expect you young gentlemen to give whatever aid is needed
in time of trouble.”

“Call on us whenever you need us,” urged Blake. “Give your camp cry, or
fire three shots from a revolver——”

“Oh!” screamed Marie. “Don’t mention those horrid pistols again!”

“What! Haven’t you a gun?” asked Blake, and he seemed in earnest.

“Look!” cried Mrs. Bonnell dramatically, and she held out something on
which the firelight gleamed.

“Put it away! Put it away!” murmured Alice, covering her face with her
hands.

“It’s only an ammonia squirt-gun,” explained the Guardian, with a merry
laugh. “I saw them advertised and bought one. They are good for man or
beast, the paper said. It’s just a rubber bulb on a sort of hollow lead
tube. You press the bulb and the ammonia spurts out.”

“Good!” exclaimed Jack. “I don’t know that you could have anything
better. Still, if you do need us, a loud call will carry to our camp,
and we can get here in three minutes coming by the lake-shore path.”

Then they sat about the fire, talking of many things, until the blaze
died down for lack of fuel. And when Natalie would have replenished it,
the other girls voted against it.

“Let’s go to bed,” proposed Alice. “Boys, we don’t want to be
inhospitable, but really you must go. We are very tired.”

“Will you go for a trip on the lake to-morrow?” asked Blake. “We have
hired a little launch.”

“Will it run?” asked practical Marie.

“Sometimes,” answered truthful Jack, and there was another laugh.

Good-nights were said, and soon, with the flaps of their tent tightly
drawn the girls prepared for their first night in the woods. They had
thoughtfully filled a lantern that had been among their camp-stuff, and
its gleam through the white sides of their tent could be seen amid the
trees even as far as the canvas shelter of the boys.

“Last one under the covers put out the light,” called Alice, as she made
herself comfortable on her cot.

“Let’s burn it all night,” suggested Mabel.

“I can’t sleep with a light,” declared Marie.

“You are just like Cora Janet,” complained Mabel, “she doesn’t like a
light either.”

“Wouldn’t it be nice if Gertrude, Sadie, Margaret, Edna and Cora were
with us?” murmured Alice.

“Fine!” agreed Mabel. “But Cora never would have a light.”

“Nor I,” said Marie.

“I’ll put something before it, so it won’t shine in your eyes,” promised
Mabel. “But really—the first night you know—it’s so dark, and we don’t
know exactly where to find things——”

“What do you want to find things in your sleep for?” demanded Natalie.

“I don’t know as I will, but if I do awaken I like to see a
light—especially in a strange place,” replied Mabel.

“Perhaps it will be a good plan to let it burn low,” suggested Mrs.
Bonnell, and they did.

At first there was so much laughter and talk that even sleepy Alice
declared she felt wide awake. They joked about every happening of the
day, from the young man who had tried to flirt with Natalie on the boat,
to the strange actions of Old Hanson. Then the laughter became less
frequent, and the jokes seemed to lose their point.

The Camp Fire Girls were asleep.

It was Natalie who awakened. There seemed to be some one scratching at
the side of the tent near the head of her cot. She sat up, not knowing,
for a moment or two, where she was. Then as she saw the gleam of the
white walls of their shelter it came back to her. The others were calmly
sleeping, as their deep breathing indicated.

The scratching was repeated. Then came an unmistakable sneeze, and
Natalie saw the wall of the tent shake.

“Oh!” she screamed. “Some one is trying to get in! Oh,
Alice—Mabel—Marie—Mrs. Bonnell! Some one is trying to get in!”



                              CHAPTER VIII

                              THE OLD MILL


Cots creaked as four forms rose to sitting positions on them. There were
gasping intakes of breath. Natalie, cowering amid the coverings pointed
with a shaking finger toward the tent wall near her.

“There—there!” she hoarsely whispered.

“Boys! Boys!” screamed Marie. “Oh, Jack—Blake!”

“Where’s that am—am—ammonia gun?” demanded Mabel, in shivering accents.

“I—oh, where did I put it—under my pillow? No, here it is,” and from an
upturned box near her cot—a box that served as bureau and chiffonier,
Mrs. Bonnell caught up her weapon.

“Where is he?” she demanded of Natalie.

“There—there—he was trying to crawl under the tent! Oh, shoot!”

Something spurted from the muzzle of the odd little revolver, and a
moment later there were other kinds of screams.

“Oh, my eyes!”

“My nose!”

“Oh, what awful stuff!”

“A-ker-choo” some one sneezed.

“Will it explode from the flame of the lantern?”

“Oh, Mrs. Bonnell! You aimed it right at me!”

“Did I, my dear? I guess my hand must have shaken. Oh, but it is
powerful; isn’t it?”

And they all covered their streaming eyes from the fumes of the ammonia,
which, confined by the closed tent, played havoc with them. Choking and
gasping Mrs. Bonnell jumped up to open one of the tent flaps to let in
air.

“Did—did you hit—him?” gasped Mabel.

“I—I didn’t see any one,” confessed the Guardian. “Natalie did, though.”

“I—I didn’t really _see_ him,” murmured breath-of-the-pine-tree. “I—I
heard him. Oh, please some one hand me my cold cream. I can’t see—those
fumes from the ammonia are in my eyes.”

“Didn’t you see him?” demanded Marie, as she tossed a tube of the cream
over on Natalie’s cot.

“No-o-o-o. There was a scratching sound, and I woke up, and—and——”

“I shot!” declared Mrs. Bonnell.

“You needn’t tell us that!” laughed Marie. “We all know it.”

“I couldn’t find the pistol at first,” went on the Guardian, “for I had
it in mind to put it under my pillow, and then I was afraid it might
leak, so I laid it on my ‘bureau,’” and she smilingly indicated the
upturned soap box. “But I found it,” she went on.

“I’m sure whoever it was won’t come back,” spoke Alice. “Suppose we take
a look.”

“Never!” cried Marie.

“Hark! What’s that?” demanded Natalie, as there sounded from without a
trampling in the bushes.

“He’s coming back!” murmured Mabel. “Shoot again, Mrs. Bonnell.”

“Cover your heads, girls!” advised Marie.

“What’s the matter in there?” demanded a voice they all recognized as
Jack’s. “What has happened?”

“Shall we come in?” asked Blake.

“Don’t you dare!” cried Natalie. “Wait a minute!”

Taking warning the Camp Fire Girls draped themselves more or less
picturesquely in their robes.

“Look around outside, and see if you can find any one mortally wounded,
Jack,” begged Marie of her brother. “Then you may just peek in, and tell
us about it.”

There was a flash of a lantern outside the tent, and the voices of the
three lads as they walked about the shelter.

“There he is!” Blake was heard to cry.

“Oh—oh, is he—is he—dead?” faltered Mrs. Bonnell.

“He seems just to be having a fit,” answered Phil with a chuckle.

The girls heard a commotion amid the dead leaves.

“That ammonia was very strong,” murmured Alice.

“Behold your victim!” cried Jack, parting the tent flaps, that had been
allowed to fall back after the fumes had been somewhat blown away.
“Behold your victim!” and by the tail, he held up to view a small fox,
the hapless animal appearing to be in a sort of fit or stupor.

“Take him away! Take him away!” screamed Alice. “He’ll bite!”

“Not for some time,” replied Jack grimly. “You did for him good and
proper. Some of that liquid ammonia must have gotten on him, Mrs.
Bonnell.”

“Oh!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t mean to.”

“It will be a good lesson,” went on Phil, while Jack tossed the fox into
the bushes, the skin not being in good condition, and also too small to
use. “He’ll be all right in a little while, and probably he won’t come
prowling about the tent after dark again.”

“There used to be lots of ’em, and—er—other animals of the forest about
our tent in other years,” went on Phil, “until we found that leaving
scraps of food brought them. After that we buried all our refuse and
they didn’t come.”

“Girls, we’ll dig a deep hole the first thing in the morning!” declared
the Guardian.

“We’ll do it for you,” offered Blake. “Can we do anything more?”

“No, thank you,” murmured Natalie. “It was good of you to come.”

“Why wouldn’t we; with all that yelling?” asked Jack.

“We thought the ghost of the old mill was carrying you off,” explained
Blake.

“Ugh! Don’t speak of it—we’ll never get another wink of sleep,” declared
Mabel.

The boys departed, laughing and joking, and the girls tried to compose
themselves to slumber, but it was not easy. However even a little rest
in that glorious balsam-laden air was enough, and they awoke in the
morning much refreshed.

Water had been brought from the spring the night before, and after
simple toilets, simple perforce, they arranged for breakfast. The boys
had brought them eggs from their supply, pending arrangements the girls
would make with a near-by farmer, and with crisp bacon and coffee there
was a meal that even a jaded epicure might have partaken of with
delight.

All about was a freshness; the trees with their green leaves, the
sparkling lake within a stone’s throw of their dining canopy and the
birds flitting about overhead.

“Glorious—glorious—most glorious!” murmured Natalie. “I feel like
writing a poem.”

“Compose it while you wash the dishes,” advised Marie with a laugh.

“Oh, see the flowers, growing right back of our tent!” exclaimed Mabel,
as she arose from the table to gather a clump of fern and some blue
blossoms, which she arranged in a cracked pitcher. “Isn’t that
artistic?” she demanded.

“There’s condensed milk in that vase—pronounced vaase,” murmured Alice
with a chuckle, and then a piece of bacon went down her “wrong throat,”
and Mabel declared that it served her right.

“Now to get our camp in order,” called Mrs. Bonnell after the simple
meal. “We must decide who will be the hewers of wood and the drawers of
water,” she went on. “We will take turns in doing the dishes, and
cooking—in fact all the camp duties ought to run in a sort of rotation,
for the work must be done.”

“Law of the Camp Fire number two,” murmured Marie. “Give service.”

“Exactly,” laughed the Guardian.

The girls had donned their comfortable bloomer suits, for there was to
be much activity.

Then began a busy time, which was hardly ended when from the path along
the lake shore came a hail:

“Wo-he-lo ahoy!”

“It’s the boys!” exclaimed Mabel.

“Dogwood camp!” answered Marie.

“‘Come into my garden, Maude!’” invited Blake.

“He means come for a ride,” added Phil.

“We’re too busy,” declared Mrs. Bonnell.

“We’ll help you,” offered Jack. “Come! It’s too fine a day to stay
around camp. We’ll take you to the haunted mill.”

“It doesn’t sound so scary in daylight,” spoke Natalie, as the three
lads came up the path from the water.

“Any more foxes?” asked Blake.

“Thank goodness no.”

“Come on, boys. Wood and water; and help fill the lanterns and oil
stove!” suggested Jack. “Then they’ll come with us,” and soon they had
completed the harder tasks of the camp. Then they helped the girls
arrange their cots and trunks differently so as to give more room, put
up some boxes to serve as cupboards and storage places, and did other
small services that were much appreciated.

“Will you trust yourselves in the launch?” asked Jack, when they were
ready to set out.

“Will it blow up?” asked Marie.

“No, but it may stop in the middle of the lake. But we can paddle back.”

“I’ll go,” offered Natalie. “I want to see the ancient mill and the
hermit thereof.”

“Old Hanson may not be in,” suggested Phil. “He’s always tramping off
around the country. But we can look over his shack.”

Soon the merry party was in the launch, which, though it was a bit
wheezy, like some old man with the asthma, still went along at good
speed. They talked, laughed and sang, and finally reached a small dock,
near which, according to the boys, was located the old mill.

“It used to grind the grist for the country round about here,” explained
Phil, as they took a woodland path, so narrow that they had to walk
Indian file. “Then it was on a stream that used to run into the lake.
But the stream seems to have dried up to a mere ditch, and the old mill
is in ruins.”

“Why didn’t I bring my camera!” exclaimed Natalie. “I love to snap old
ruins.”

“You’ll have plenty of chances,” said Blake. “We’ll be here all summer,
as we hope you will.”

“We may, if the foxes leave us alone,” answered Mrs. Bonnell. “Though I
have plenty more of ammonia.”

“Put some talcum powder in next time,” urged Marie with a laugh.

They tramped on for some little time longer, gradually ascending from
the level of the lake, until they turned from a dense patch of woodland
into a little glade. Then the ruined mill confronted them.

“Oh, isn’t it lovely!” exclaimed Marie.

“A perfect dream,” declared Mabel.

“So romantic,” was Natalie’s opinion. “Oh, why did I leave my camera in
the tent? I must have a picture of that!”

Truly it was a picturesque scene—a tumbled-down, old mill, the ancient
wheel mossy-green with the growth of many years. The roof, in many
places, had fallen into decay, and the flapping shutters, half-hanging
on rusty hinges seemed like the closing eyelids of a very old man. The
doors creaked dismally to and fro in the gentle wind, and the crumbling
steps which had been worn by many tramping feet, were tumbling stone
from stone.

“And this is the haunted mill?” asked Natalie.

“It is,” said Blake, simply. “A dark tragedy is hidden behind its
crumbling walls.”

“What is it?” asked Marie eagerly.

“It is a fearsome tale, gentle ladies, a tale for the flickering camp
fire rather than for the garish light of day, but such as it is it shall
e’en be told unto you.”

“Cut out the romantic slush, and give ’em the facts,” broke in Jack.
“It’s a mill that was built somewhere around the Revolutionary time,” he
went on, “and the story goes that some women and children who took
refuge here during an Indian attack were killed by the savages.”

“Oh!” murmured the girls.

“Really, Jack?” asked his sister, who knew him well.

“That’s a fact,” declared Blake, “only he puts it so crudely. He might
add that on the anniversary of the massacre the moans of the—er—of those
who were cut down in the flower of their youth—echo through the old
mill.”

“Stop it!” demanded Natalie. “Even in daylight that’s bad enough. If you
try to tell that after dark we—we’ll——”

“Use the ammonia gun on him!” threatened Mrs. Bonnell.

“Well, I’m only telling you the story,” declared Blake. “You don’t have
to believe it.”

“And does that old man who helped us live here?” asked Alice.

“In a little shack around in the back,” said Phil. “Come on, we’ll look
at it, and then we’ll go in the mill.”

“And does he live in there?” came a chorus from the girls, as they
viewed the little shack which the boys pointed out to them. It was a
mere hut, consisting of but a single room, into which they looked
through not too clean a window.

“There is where he lives, moves and has his being,” declaimed Blake. “I
guess he isn’t in,” he went on, as he rattled at the rickety door.

“Blake!” remonstrated his sister. “He may not like it.”

“Oh, we stand in good with Hanson,” declared Jack. “We keep him in
tobacco money.”

“Horrid!” murmured Natalie.

“Let’s go in the mill,” suggested Jack. “There is some curious
old-fashioned machinery there that’s worth seeing. This is an historical
place.”

“I love old places,” murmured Natalie. “But, oh! My camera!”

A musty, old, and damp odor greeted them as they crossed the rotting
threshold of the ancient mill.

“Mind the holes in the floor,” cautioned Jack. “It’s no fun to step into
one!”

They advanced into the old structure and for a moment stood in the
middle of the sagging floor. Overhead were cobwebbed beams and rafters,
and from somewhere below came the faint gurgle of the former mill stream
that had been wont, in years past, to turn the big wheel.

“It gives me the shivers!” confessed Mabel. “Let’s go——”

She did not finish the sentence. Through the hollow stillness that
seemed to weigh down her words sounded a mournful groan.



                               CHAPTER IX

                          AN EXCITED CONSTABLE


“What was that?” whispered Marie.

“Some one is hurt!” murmured Natalie.

Mrs. Bonnell began a search for her useful little ammonia gun, but found
she had left it in camp.

“Where was that noise, fellows?” demanded practical Jack. Before any of
them could answer him the groan sounded again, louder than before. With
a bound Marie was out of the door narrowly missing a fall on the rickety
steps. Mabel followed, but Natalie and Alice stood their ground, perhaps
because Mrs. Bonnell had grasped each of them by an arm.

“Don’t be silly,” exclaimed Phil. “Probably it’s only a tramp who’s
talking in his sleep.”

“A tramp!” gasped Natalie.

“Come out of here!” demanded Alice, getting, ready for a retreat.

“It was upstairs,” said Blake, indicating a flight of rotting steps.
“Some one is up there.”

Again the groan sounded, and there was no mistaking it. It did come from
above their heads. Then a voice called:

“Is any one there? Help me! I’ve had a fall!”

“It’s old man Hanson!” exclaimed Jack. “He’s up there. Come on, boys!”

He sprang forward. Blake called after him:

“Be careful of those stairs. They look as if they’d come down if you
blew on ’em.”

“If they held him to go up, they’ll stand for me,” declared Jack. “Come
on!”

“Let’s go outside,” suggested Mrs. Bonnell. “If you need us, boys, you
can call us,” she added. “If he is hurt, I know something about
first-aid work.”

“We’ll call you if we need you,” replied Blake. “Now let’s have a look.”

Cautiously they went up the shaky stairs, one at a time so as not to put
too much of a strain on them. At first it was so dark in the second
story that they could see nothing. Then Jack called:

“What’s the matter? Who is it? Are you hurt?”

“It’s me—Hanson Rossmore,” was the halting answer. “I tripped in a hole
and sprained my ankle I guess. Can you help me down?”

“I guess so,” answered Jack. “Let’s get a little light on the subject
though,” and he opened one of the old solid-wood shutters, that covered
the glassless window.

They saw the old hermit, for such he was, lying in the corner of what
had evidently been a storeroom of the old mill. He seemed in pain, and
one leg was doubled under him.

“How did it happen?” asked Jack, as the boys raised him up.

“Ouch! Oh, my!” he cried, as the weight came on the injured foot. “I
can’t step on it.”

“Wait, I’ll get you a stick,” volunteered Blake, hurrying outside.

“Is he—is he dead?” asked Mabel.

“Dead! And him groaning the way he did? Not much!” cried the lad. “It’s
only a sprained ankle or something like that. We’ll get him to his shack
and he’ll be all right.”

“Poor old man,” murmured Natalie.

With the help of the improvised cane, and with a lad on either side of
him, they managed to get Old Hanson down the stairs, though they were in
fear lest every step would bring the whole flight down about them, so
rickety was it.

“What were you doing up there?” asked Blake, as they led him out of the
door, and toward his own little shack.

“Oh, just looking around—looking around,” he murmured. “I used to work
in this mill when I was a boy, and it has memories for me—memories—yes
memories. Some happy and some sad. I’m an old man!”

They got him to his hut, and then took off his shoe. His left ankle was
much swollen, though it appeared to be more of a cut than a sprain that
had caused the injury. Under the direction of Mrs. Bonnell they bandaged
it with rags they found, wringing them out of hot water, for Blake made
a fire in the old stove.

“It’s kind of you—right kind—to bother with an old hulk like me,” went
on Old Hanson. “That feels a lot better. I had a daughter once,” he
said, looking fixedly at Natalie. “She was like you, in a way. That’s
why I was so startled by your face the first time I saw you. But she’s
gone—gone.”

“Where?” asked Jack.

“How should I know?” came the rather angry retort. “I don’t know. I only
go up in the old mill when I want to think about her. I was there
to-day. I stepped in a hole—the old mill is falling apart, just as I
am—it’s getting old like me, only I’ll never be as old as that.

“It’s older than the Indians. The Indians were here once. They killed
some settlers in the mill. Sometimes in the night I hear cries—cries
of——”

“That’ll do!” interrupted Blake a bit sternly, seeing that the old chap
was getting on the nerves of the girls who stood outside the shack.
“You’ll work into a fever if you’re not careful. Never mind about the
past.”

“It’s all I live in,” said the hermit simply. “But I won’t say anything
more. I wonder how I’m to get about?”

“It will be all right in a day or so,” said Mrs. Bonnell who had looked
at it. “It isn’t a bad cut. Just keep your weight off it. We’ll bring
you some food so you won’t have to go out.”

“Thanks,” he murmured, as he lay back in an old chair.

The boys did what they could for him, and then left with the girls in
the launch, promising to come back later with food enough to last for
several days.

This they did, the Camp Fire Girls insisting on providing their share,
for they felt kindly toward the old man, and, as Mabel said, they were
pledged to give service, and here was a chance to do it.

With the boys, they also paid him another visit, finding him much
improved. He could hobble about, and inside of a week he was able to
resume his odd tasks about the lake, for he was hired by a number of the
cottagers and campers to look after their places.

Green Lake was beginning to assume life. Many new camps were opened, as
well as a number of summer residences. The Camp Fire Girls were
delighted with their new life. They got into the swing of living in the
open, sleeping in a tent, and dining as they pleased.

“It’s the ideal of the simple life,” declared Marie. “I wonder we never
thought of it before.”

“And we all feel so much better,” added Mabel.

They had established a sort of routine, for Mrs. Bonnell realized the
necessity of this, and the work, well divided, was not a task at all.
Breakfast over they made the camp “slick,” as the boys expressed it,
though the lads did not always follow that injunction themselves. Then
came a row or a paddle on the lake, for they had hired a canoe, and a
row boat. Or perhaps they went out with the boys.

There was the trip to the nearest post-office for mail, or to drop
letters home and to friends. Then there was the buying of supplies,
though the butcher and grocer, now that the lake shores were better
populated, came every day.

Followed next the mid-day meal. Then more pleasures of the woods or
water, receiving visitors, or making calls on new acquaintances.

They did not lack for enjoyment in the evenings. Either they went to
their brothers’ camp, or the boys, their forces augmented by such of
their friends as they condescended to ask, called. Then there were
dances over to the “Point”, the place where a cluster of stores were
located. Then to bed, with the assurance of a sound sleep in that
healthful air. It was an ideal sort of existence.

On occasions they held the regular Council Camp Fires, with all the
prescribed ceremonies. There was the lighting of the fire, the singing
of the songs and the Indian music;—the song of the “Sky-blue Water.”

Sometimes it rained, and they could only sit in the tent, though when it
did not pour too hard they put on their bathing costumes, and went out
in the canoe.

“Who’s turn to get dinner to-day?” asked Marie one morning, as they came
back from a launch ride, bringing some dainties to supplement the
regular camp-fare.

“Mine, I think,” spoke Natalie. “What would you like?”

There were four different kinds of meals ordered, and each one insisted
on something different until breath-of-the-pine-tree exclaimed:

“Now I shall have to make up my own bill of fare. All of you go off in
the woods, and when it’s ready I’ll give our call.”

“All right, Natalie,” they assented and off they trooped.

Natalie, in her Camp Fire suit, which wonderfully became her, with her
dark braids down her back, and with a golden bandeau confining the locks
over her broad forehead set about her task.

She was setting the table, giving attention the while to the oil stove,
which evinced a propensity to smoke, when she heard the crunch of gravel
at the lake shore.

Looking up, expecting to see one of the boys, she beheld a grizzled,
stoop-shouldered little man approaching. On the breast of his coat was a
shiny nickel star, and as he saw Natalie, looking more than ever like an
Indian maid with her coat of tan, he exclaimed:

“I want you!”

“Wh—what?” she gasped, looking about in dismay for a sight of her
friends.

“I want you. No foolin’ now. I know you! You’re dressed jest as they
said you was. Now you come along with me or it’ll be th’ wuss fer ye!
I’m Constable Jackson, I be, an’ I know my duty. I’ve got th’ law with
me!” he added, excitedly tapping the star on his coat. “This is th’ law,
an’ I want you.”

Natalie shrank back frightened as the man advanced. She thought she had
to do with some over-bold tramp, and was about to call for help. Before
she could flee, the man sprang to her side. He was about to grasp her by
the arm, when he was suddenly whirled to one side, and the welcome voice
of Blake Lathrop exclaimed:

“That’ll do you! What do you want, anyhow?” and he stepped in front of
Natalie.



                               CHAPTER X

                               OVERBOARD


For a moment Constable Jackson, as he had called himself, staggered to
retain his footing, for Blake had used no gentleness in thrusting him to
one side.

“Ah—ha!” the man finally managed to gasp, as he steadied himself by
seizing a slender sapling. “What do you mean, young man? How dare you
lay hands on me? I represent the law, I do!”

“Then I’m sorry for the law,” was Blake’s cool response. “What are you
doing here, anyhow? Don’t you know that this is private property? These
young ladies rent this camping-ground, and you’re as much a trespasser
as if they owned it. What are you doing here, anyhow?” and Blake’s voice
was stern.

“I’m not going to answer your questions, young man, unless I want to,”
the constable fired back. “And you’re doing a mighty risky thing in
interfering with the majesty of the law. I am it!”

“Glad you told me,” murmured the lad, “otherwise I might not have known
it,” and he laughed.

“Be careful!” warned the constable. “I can arrest you too, if I like!”

“Arrest!” gasped Natalie, who had somewhat recovered her composure at
the advent of Blake. The other boys and girls were not in sight.

“Yes, arrest! I thought I’d make you take back-water.”

“I’m not taking back-water, as you call it, at all,” said Blake sharply,
“I am merely curious. What do you mean? Once more I ask why you are
here? And if you don’t give an account of yourself, I’ll run you off the
place,” and Blake looked very much able to do it, a fact, which even
gentle Natalie was gladly aware of at that moment.

“Be careful,” needlessly warned Constable Jackson. “I’m here on account
of this—it’s my authority,” and again he tapped the nickel star on his
coat.

“Authority for what?” snapped Blake.

“For taking her. I’ve got a warrant!” and he pointed a stubby finger at
Natalie. “It calls for the arrest of one Hadee, a Gypsy girl for the
‘feloniously taking, carrying away and converting the same to her own
use of one pocket-book, said to contain the sum of fourteen dollars and
thirteen cents, the property of Mrs. Josiah Applebaum, with force and
arms, contrary to the statutes in such cases made and provided,’” and he
drew from his pocket a paper, from which he appeared to have quoted the
last few words with great satisfaction. “That’s why I’m here,” the
constable went on, “and when I go away I’m going to take her with me!”
and he took a step toward Natalie.

“No! No!” she gasped. “There’s some mistake. Oh, Blake!” and she stepped
toward the youth.

“There now,” he soothed her. “Don’t you be a bit alarmed. Of course
there’s a mistake. You sha’n’t stir a step!”

“Oh, she won’t; eh?” jeered the representative of the law.

“No!” declared Blake. “As she says there has been a mistake, and it’s
you who are making it. So you take her for some Gypsy girl; eh?”

“I sure do. The description fits perfect. Dressed like some Indian
girl—hair down her back, ribbon around it and all. Of course she’s the
one I want!”

“And you say she is Hadee?” asked Blake curiously, making a sign to
Natalie not to show that she recognized the name.

“Yes; but that don’t matter. Names is easy made up. Now will you come
along peaceable, or not?” and he glared at Natalie.

“I—I—” she began.

“Wait,” spoke Blake, “I’ll answer him. In the first place,” he went on,
“this is Miss Natalie Fuller, a friend of mine. With two boy friends, I
am camping over at Stony Point. Miss Fuller and four chums are camping
here. I can give you their names. I can also refer you to Mr. Henderson,
the storekeeper, who knows us all. We might know this Gypsy Hadee you
speak of, for some of the girls have had their fortunes told, but I’m
positive Miss Fuller has taken no pocket-book. Her costume is that of
the Camp Fire Girls’ Association, as we can show you in the official
book. Now what do you say?”

“Well, all I’ve got to say that I’ve got a warrant for Hadee,” declared
the constable sullenly.

“But not for Miss Fuller,” insisted Blake. “If you’ll use your eyes
you’ll see that she isn’t at all like a Gypsy girl, though she does wear
her hair that way,” and at this Natalie smiled a little.

“Well, maybe they did make a mistake,” admitted Constable Jackson.
Evidently the array of facts that Blake shot at him rather staggered the
representative of the law.

“They!” exclaimed Blake. “I think _you_ did.”

“I didn’t mean to,” the man went on. “After I got the warrant I made
some inquiries. Some one told me there was Gypsy girls camping over
here, and I come.”

“So they take us for Gypsies!” exclaimed Natalie. “Oh, what will the
Camp Fire Girls say to this?”

“What about this pocket-book?” asked Blake. “Did a Gypsy really take
it?”

“Here’s all I know,” said the constable. “Josiah Applebaum, he lives
over on the Woodport road, come to town yist’day and complained to
Squire Grover that a Gypsy had visited his wife, told her fortune, and,
when she left, the pocket-book that was on the table went too!”

“Oh!” exclaimed Natalie.

“What’d you say?” demanded the constable.

“Nothing,” answered Blake for her, giving his friend a warning look. “Go
on.”

“That’s all there is to it. The squire made out the warrant for the
girl, who give the name Hadee, though whether it’s her right one or not
I don’t know—it’s a heathen name, anyhow.”

“And you came here after her?” questioned Blake.

“Yes, havin’ heard there was Gypsies here.”

“And now you see you’re wrong?”

“Well, you say so. And it don’t exactly look like a Gypsy camp, either,”
Mr. Jackson admitted. “Do you know where I can find ’em?”

“Not in the least,” Blake replied. “You’ll have to use your detective
abilities. But I advise you to be a little more sure next time, before
you make accusations. If I had not come along you might have frightened
Miss Fuller.”

“I didn’t mean to,” murmured the man. “Well, I’ll go looking for this
Hadee, though I don’t believe there’ll be much money left in th’
pocket-book when I git it,” and he started off, looking rather
suspiciously at Natalie.

The voices of the other girls, and Mrs. Bonnell approaching through the
woods, were heard now, and as they saw Natalie and Blake and the
retreating constable Marie cried:

“Oh, what has happened? Is anything wrong?”

“This man is the only one in wrong,” said Blake grimly. “He came to
arrest Natalie as a Gypsy pocket-book embezzler.”

“Oh, Natalie!” came in a chorus.

If there had been any doubt in the mind of the constable, it vanished at
the sight of the others. Putting his warrant back in his pocket, and
murmuring some indistinguishable words he slowly rowed away in his boat,
as Jack and Phil came along the lake-shore path to the girls’ camp.

“What’s the row?” demanded Jack. “What did old Jackson want? Has some
one been cutting down trees again?”

Blake explained, and his two chums were waxing very indignant until
Natalie informed them that, after all it was a very natural mistake, and
that no harm had been done.

“If you will look so much like a charming Indian maid, I suppose you
must put up with the consequences, breath-of-the-pine-tree,” said Mabel.
“It is the penalty of—well, notoriety.”

“Yes, your fame must have spread,” remarked Alice.

“Well, I wish some bread was spread,” declared Marie. “I’m as hungry
as—well, as the hungriest animal in the woods. Is dinner ready, Nat?”

“I was getting it when I came near going to prison,” laughed Natalie.
“If you’ll all help it will soon be on the table.”

“We’ll help!” exclaimed Jack eagerly. “We haven’t anything much in the
grub line at our camp. Ask us, won’t you?”

“Shall we, girls?” inquired Mabel.

“In view of Blake’s rescue, I think we might,” suggested Mrs. Bonnell,
and soon a merry little party was gathered under the dining canvas.

“And, Oh, girls!” cried Natalie. “Do you know what I was thinking of
when that constable was telling why he thought he wanted me?”

“Probably wondering how you’d like to live on bread and water,”
suggested Alice. “I believe that is what prisoners receive.”

“Nothing of the sort!” exclaimed Natalie. “But when he told how this
Hadee—which may be Gypsy for Hattie—when he said how she told the
farmer’s wife fortune, and then left with the pocket-book, I was
thinking of Mabel’s mother’s ring. That girl gave the same name, you
know.”

“That’s so!” exclaimed Mabel. “The two cases are just alike. This Hadee
may be a professional larcerner, to speak in polite language. Oh, boys!
Can’t you locate her camp, and make her give back mother’s ring?”

“I never thought of that,” spoke Blake. “There may be something in it.
Fellows, shall we have a try?”

“Where is the camp?” asked Jack.

“I don’t know, but if Jackson can get on the trail, I should think we
could,” went on Natalie’s champion. “Let’s think about it, anyhow.”

“And if you boys don’t find it, maybe we can,” put in Alice.

“You girls! You’d never dare go off in the woods alone, looking for a
Gypsy camp; you’d get lost!” declared Phil.

“That shows how little he knows about the Camp Fire Girls!” exclaimed
Marie. “Know then, rash youth, that we are instructed in the following
of trails—Gypsy as well as Indian—that we know how to ‘blaze’ our way as
well as do your boy scouts, and that, while we may not be adepts, still
we can read some signs of woodlore. Can’t we, girls?”

“We can!” came in a chorus.

“I know that moss grows on the South—no, the East side of a tree!” said
Alice. “At least I think it does. And the East star——”

“North star—moss on the North side, too!” broke in Mabel. “How forgetful
you are, Alice.”

“I know I am. Anyhow, do you think we could find this Gypsy camp?”

“We’ll find it for you,” promised Jack. “What do you say to a trip on
the water this afternoon?”

“In the launch?” asked Mrs. Bonnell.

“Unfortunately the launch is out of commission,” explained Blake. “Jack
was trying to fix the carburettor and he got it out of adjustment.”

“I did not. It was broke before I touched it!” declared Jack
indignantly.

“Anyhow the boat’s gasolene circulation seems to be wrong,” went on
Blake. “It runs backwards like a crab, instead of forward. So I guess we
shall have to take to the oars. We have sent for a boat-doctor.”

“I’d like to row,” ventured Natalie.

“My canoe holds two very nicely,” put in Blake, quickly.

“And it’s as wabbley as a fellow just learning to skate,” declared Jack.
“Come with me, Nat, in my good old tub.”

“After the gallant manner in which I saved her from the clutches of the
law? I guess not,” exclaimed Blake. “You’ll come canoeing, won’t you,
Natalie?”

“I think so—for a little while,” she promised.

The others paired off somehow, and soon a little flotilla of boats was
slowly moving along the shady side of the lake. The occupants talked of
many things, chiefly of the visit of the constable.

“Where do you suppose the Gypsy camp could be?” asked Mabel, calling to
Blake, near whose canoe she and Jack were, in a rowboat.

“It might be almost anywhere,” he answered. “We’ll see Jackson
to-morrow, and ask if he has learned anything.”

“Do you think this Hadee could possibly be the same one?” went on the
girl whose mother’s ring had been taken.

“From—er—from the method of operation I should think it very likely,”
said Blake. “Look out!” he called suddenly to Phil who was rowing with
Marie. “Pull over!”

But he was too late. Phil’s boat struck the frail canoe, tilted it
sharply, and the next moment Blake and Natalie were in the waters of the
lake.

“Overboard!” yelled Jack. “Steady! We’ll get you!”

The other girls screamed, until a stern command from Mrs. Bonnell
quieted them. Jack and Phil, keeping their wits about them rowed toward
the overturned canoe. An instant later Blake came up, gasping. With a
shake of his head he cleared his eyes of water, and then looked around
for Natalie. She had sunk out of sight.



                               CHAPTER XI

                         OFF TO THE GYPSY CAMP


“Let—let me get her!” gasped Blake, as he whirled about in the water,
seeking the tell-tale train of bubbles that might indicate the presence
of the girl.

“No!” cried Jack. “You get in the boat. Your wet clothes are too heavy.
I’ll dive for her. I saw where she went down!”

There was wisdom in this, as Blake well knew, and, though he would have
dared anything to make the rescue, he realized that Jack’s plan was
best. The latter had already thrown off his coat, and kicked loose his
rubber-soled low shoes. Clad in a pair of light-weight trousers, and a
sleeveless shirt, he poised for a moment on the bow of the boat, and
then dived.

He cut the water cleanly, and Blake, swimming to Phil’s boat, managed to
get in over the stem, Phil with an agonized look on his face holding it
steady. Mrs. Bonnell, who with Mabel and Alice was in Jack’s boat,
looked to see the result of his dive.

“It wasn’t your fault, Phil,” said the Guardian gently. “It wasn’t a
very hard bump. The canoe is a very tippy one.”

“That’s right!” gasped Blake.

It seemed an age ere Jack came shooting up out of the water. With a
shake of his head he cleared his eyes and mouth, and cried:

“I saw her—on the—bottom!” he gasped. “But—she was too far over. I’ll
dive again. I can get her—stay here!” he called to Phil, and Blake, who
seemed about to leap overboard.

Filling his lungs with air, Jack again dived. They could watch him by
the commotion in the water, and when he presently appeared, bearing the
unconscious form of Natalie to the surface, Phil gave a spasmodic yell,
the others joining in.

“Get her into your boat, Phil—it’s larger,” commanded Mrs. Bonnell.
“Then row to shore as fast as you can. We’ll have to practice first aid
work, just as we did in class, girls,” she added, for the Camp Fire
rules called for a girl knowing how to resuscitate an apparently drowned
person.

It did not take long to get Natalie into the boat, and then with
feverishly rapid strokes Phil rowed to shore, the others following.

“Make a little pillow of your coats, boys,” commanded Mrs. Bonnell.
“We’ll place that under her, as she lies face down. That will help to
drain the water out of her lungs.”

The inert form of Natalie was rolled over, until some water did come
from her lips. Then, directing the efforts of Jack and Phil, Mrs.
Bonnell had them raise the girl’s arms above her head, while she pressed
on the diaphragm to facilitate the getting of air into the lungs.

Natalie had only been a short time in the water, and, as it developed
later, her head had struck on the gunwale of the canoe, rendering her
unconscious, so that she had swallowed only a little water. The blow, in
a measure, was lucky for her, since it made her rescue easier. She had
not struggled in Jack’s grip.

“There!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell, as a tremor of the white eyelids, and a
gentle sigh, told that consciousness was returning. “She’s coming to!”

“Ah!” breathed Phil in relief. He had been under a great strain.

Natalie opened her eyes.

“What happened? Did I— Oh, I remember,” she gasped. “I fell out of the
boat. How silly!”

“Not at all!” exclaimed Marie. “How do you feel?”

“Rather—rather weak,” was the answer.

“She ought to have a warm drink,” exclaimed Mabel. “Oh, if we could only
make a fire, and heat some coffee!”

“We can make a fire,” said Phil, “but the coffee is out of the question.
We’d better get back to camp. It was all my fault. I should have looked
where I rowed.”

“No, I got in the way,” declared Blake. “I should have told Nat to sit
down on the bottom of the canoe, instead of on the seat, but she wanted
to improve her paddle stroke.”

Natalie shivered as she sat up. A little color was beginning to show in
her cheeks.

“I have it!” cried Jack. “We’re not far from the old mill. I’ll run over
there, and get Old Hanson to make some coffee!”

“I’ll go!” volunteered Phil, anxious to be of service.

“No, let me,” insisted Jack. “I want to get dry and the run will do the
trick,” and he was off on a path that led to the mysterious mill.

He was lucky in finding Old Hanson in his shack. The solitary man was
just starting a fire for supper. The kettle was boiling and, quickly
explaining the need, Jack helped make coffee. Then, with a pailful of
the steaming beverage, while Hanson came after him with a blanket, the
lad hurried back to where the others were.

The coffee was just what Natalie needed and it sent the warm blood into
her now rather more pale than olive cheeks. She insisted on Jack and
Blake taking some of the beverage, which they consented to do. For,
though, the day was warm, their damp, clinging clothes were none too
comfortable.

“Here, wrap her in this blanket,” urged Old Hanson as he came up. “It’s
clean,” he added quickly, “I only use it as a spread for the couch. It
will keep her from getting a cold.”

Natalie gladly wound it about her, and then, looking more than ever like
an Indian maiden she was helped down to the smaller boat. Jack offered
to row her to camp, and no one disputed him the honor. Mrs. Bonnell went
with them to assist Natalie on reaching the tent. The others came on
more leisurely, the overturned canoe having been righted.

Jack never rowed so fast in his life and he was in a warm, rosy glow
when Crystal Springs was reached. Natalie, too, was much improved, and
soon, clad in warm, dry garments she was herself again. The others came
on, and then the whole affair was gone over in detail, each one telling
his or her feelings during the crucial moments.

Phil was contrition itself, but no one blamed him, though they all
agreed that they must all use more care in the future. The next day saw
no ill effects of the accident, though Natalie remained rather quietly
about camp, stretched in a barrel stave hammock the boys had made in
honor of her “convalescence,” as they called it.

“Where are you boys going?” asked Marie, a few days later, as the three
chums stopped in their repaired motor craft at the small dock of Dogwood
Camp.

“We’re going to see if we can find that Gypsy outfit,” explained Jack.
“We’re going to ask Old Hanson if he knows anything about it, and,
incidentally, we’ll take him back his blanket. He may need it. Want to
come, girls?”

“I think not,” said Mrs. Bonnell for them. “We have some work to do
about camp, and, really, if you do locate those Gypsies I think you boys
had better deal with them.”

“We’ll deal all right!” exclaimed Phil grimly. “Maybe we had better size
up their place, though, before we take the girls over. Come on,
fellows,” and after a brief stay at the camp of their friends they went
across the lake in the motor boat, which seemed to be running well.

There were many little details to be looked after about the tents, and,
as the Camp Fire Girls were working for their “degrees,” as they called
them, they divided up the tasks.

“For we will want to become Fire Makers, after our probation as Wood
Gatherers is up,” said Natalie. “Some of you can qualify under some of
the rules about knowing what to do when a person is nearly drowned,” she
added, looking fondly at her friends. “Though I can’t understand what
happened to me. I know how to swim.”

“It was that blow on the head,” declared the Guardian, “And yet maybe it
was a good thing for you, for with your water-soaked clothing you might
have tried to swim and have failed. I shall take into consideration what
you girls did in the emergency, though,” she went on, “and it will count
when you come up for the next step in the Camp Fire ritual. But you must
not forget the twenty elective honors.

“You can choose from health, home, nature, camp or hand craft, business
or patriotism,” she went on. “I suggest camp-craft nature-lore or
hand-craft while you are here in the woods. You will have time enough
for the others when we go back to Middleford.

“Oh, I don’t ever want to go back—not in such lovely weather as this,”
exclaimed Alice. “It is perfect here.”

“And so restful,” added Mabel, who was darning some stockings, with a
green apple to bring the holes up into rounded relief.

“I know what I’m going to do!” exclaimed Natalie, as she went in the
main tent, to come out presently with a big apron over her brown suit.

“Wash the dishes?” asked Mabel, for they had only eaten a light lunch
that day, and the utensils had been left until after the night meal.

“No, I’m going to see if that red clay can be modeled into anything like
a vase,” said Natalie, for near the drinking spring they had found a bed
of sticky clay a day or so before, and Natalie had brought a sample to
camp. Soon she was busily engaged in mixing it with water, and then the
others watched her curiously as she moulded it into a rudely-formed but
not inartistic vase of the Navajo style.

“Fine!” cried Mrs. Bonnell, when it was finished. “Now if you can bake
it in the fire, you’ll have something really pretty.”

“I’m going to try,” said Natalie. “But I think I’ll make a pit first,
build a fire in that, and then, when the embers are hot, I’ll cover the
vase with them. It will have to dry a bit in the sun first, anyhow,” and
she set her creation down in a warm spot while she looked for something
with which to dig the fire hole.

“There was a shovel around somewhere,” suggested Mabel. “I saw Marie
have it last.”

“I used it to dig some ferns with,” the latter admitted, “but I put it
back under the tent platform.”

“It isn’t there,” said Natalie, after a search. “But I can use the
hatchet,” and with that she began to dig. When she had her pit-fire
made, however, she found that her vase was still to soft to bake, so she
decided to let it stand until the next day.

“Let’s all make something,” suggested Marie, and soon the four were well
daubed with the red clay, that lent itself so readily to moulding.

The boys came back just before supper, tired and hungry and they quickly
accepted an invitation of the Camp Fire Girls to take “pot-luck” with
them.

“Did you find the Gypsy camp?” asked Mabel eagerly.

“Not a trace of it,” replied Blake. “Old Hanson thought he knew where it
was, but we tramped miles and miles, and never saw the smoke of their
fires.”

“We’ll ask that constable the first time we see him,” added Jack. “He’ll
probably know.”

“If he doesn’t we’ll find it ourselves,” declared Alice. “I’m not
afraid—if we all go together—I mean we girls!” she quickly added.

The doings of the day were talked over, and plans made for both parties
to go next day to the nearest store for some needed camp supplies. Then
followed a delightful hour around the fire for which the faithful Wood
Gatherers had provided plenty of fuel. There was the singing of some
simple choruses, which they all knew, or in lieu, hummed. Stories were
told and then came the farewells.

In the middle of the night Mrs. Bonnell was awakened by a queer,
thumping sound that seemed to come from the space between the cooking
and sleeping tents—where a canvas shaded a wooden platform, on which the
table was placed.

“I wonder if that can be my ammonia-fox?” she murmured as she reached
for her trusty little weapon.

“I think I’ll take a look before I fire,” she thought. None of the girls
was awakened.

Cautiously peering out through the tent flaps, the Guardian saw a
curious sight. She could not restrain a laugh, at the sound of which
Natalie suddenly sat up on her cot.

“What is it?” she demanded in a whisper.

“Come and see!” answered Mrs. Bonnell. “It’s too odd—the poor creature!”

Natalie glided to her side, while the queer thumping sound continued.



                              CHAPTER XII

                           THE GIRLS WILL TRY


“My vase!” gasped Natalie. “He’ll break it!”

“I guess that’s the only way to get it off his head,” answered Mrs.
Bonnell, still laughing. “Poor little fellow! He must have thought it
contained something good to eat.”

This is what the two saw.

A little raccoon was backing about the platform under the eating table,
his head thrust into the now dried neck of the clay vase which Natalie
had moulded. She had brought it up on the boards, under the canvas, to
keep the dew from moistening it.

The raccoon, either through curiosity or hunger, had thrust his slender
snout into the opening, and now could not withdraw it. It went just far
enough over his eyes so that he could not see, and the creature was
rushing aimlessly about, doubtless wondering what queer trap he had
blundered into. The banging of the clay vase against the legs of the
sawhorses which held the table boards, and the thumping on the wooden
floor had aroused the sleepers.

“I’m going to get my vase!” exclaimed Natalie determinedly as she thrust
her feet into a pair of bathing shoes and glided from the tent.

“Come back!” cried Mrs. Bonnell! “He’ll bite you!”

“He can’t,” answered Natalie coolly. “His mouth is inside the vase.”

“Then’ll he scratch you!”

“I don’t believe so. He’s too busy trying to paw that vase off. Anyhow
I’ll grab him by the tail and pull. It won’t hurt him, and I don’t want
my vase smashed, after all my work.”

“What’s the matter?” gasped Mabel, now awake.

“Is—is it the Gypsies?” demanded Marie.

“Where’s your ammonia gun?” cried Alice. “Shoot!”

“Hush! Or you’ll have the boys over here!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell. “It’s
nothing but a raccoon who stuck his head into Natalie’s vase. She’s gone
to free it.”

As she spoke the thumping noise outside increased.

“Oh!” cried Mabel.

“Quiet!” urged the Guardian.

“There, there!” Natalie’s voice could be heard to murmur soothingly. “I
won’t hurt you. Wait a minute now, and I’ll have it off you.”

“She talks as if it were a pussy cat,” whispered Alice.

There was a little squeal, a sort of grunt and then a hurried scurrying
of feet over the boards.

“I fixed him!” exclaimed Natalie in triumph, as she came into the tent
carrying her vase.

“However did you dare to it?” demanded Alice.

“Why, the raccoon couldn’t see me, so I just grabbed him by the tail in
one hand, and took the vase in the other. Then I—well, I just pulled
them apart.”

“Oh, dear!” laughed Marie. “Oh, dear! Oh, dear!” and she fell back on
her cot in a paroxysm of laughter. “Oh, dear, girls! Hold me, some one!”

“What’s the matter now?” demanded Mabel.

“Oh, I just thought of the funniest thing!” and Marie redoubled her
mirth.

“Be quiet!” commanded Mrs. Bonnell, and then she joined in the gale of
laughter that now swept through the tent. “What is it, anyhow? Tell us
and we’ll laugh with you.”

“Oh, dear!” sighed Marie, as the first spasm passed. “I just happened to
think how dreadful it would be, if, when Nat was pulling on the
raccoon’s tail, it had come loose instead of his head coming out of the
vase. Oh, dear!”

“Silly!” exclaimed Natalie. “It couldn’t happen. Anyhow if it had the
tail would have made a lovely dusting brush!”

And then there was more laughter.

“We’d better bring in all the clay vases,” suggested Natalie, when quiet
had been somewhat restored. “Some other night prowler may come along and
get caught in the same way.”

“I don’t believe that raccoon will,” was Marie’s opinion as she went off
in another fit of laughter. “The idea of pulling him out by the tail!”

“It’s the only way I could grab him,” explained Natalie. “I didn’t want
to get scratched. Bur-r-r-r! It’s chilly!” and she crept back into bed,
while the other girls made hurried trips out to bring in their
handiwork.

There were no more disturbances that night, though Marie kept them all
awake for some time, with her fits of laughter and her murmurings of:

“Suppose his tail had come off!”

“Suppose you go to sleep,” directed Mrs. Bonnell, trying not to laugh.

The clay ornaments were found hard enough by morning to harden in the
fire, and while the girls were making a larger pit than the one Natalie
had originally dug, the boys strolled over.

“Going to have a feast?” asked Blake.

“A feast? no,” replied Alice, who was scooping out the dirt. “Why do you
ask?”

“Because you’re digging a hole, and you have a lot of clay around. I
thought maybe you were going to clay a chicken.”

“Clay a chicken?” repeated Mrs. Bonnell. “Is that a new way of serving
it?”

“It’s the camp version of a casserole,” explained Jack. “You take a
chicken, wrap a cloth around it, and then plaster it all over with clay.
Then you make a fire in a hole, put the clayed chicken in, cover it with
embers, and go fishing.”

“What has fishing got to do with it?” asked Mabel.

“You don’t have to think any more about your dinner,” said Jack. “It’s
like a fireless cooker, with the fire still in it. The clay bakes hard
you see, and the heat cooks the chicken through and through. When you
come back you take out the clay ball with the chicken for a center,
crack it open, and you dine sumptuously. That’s a clayed-chicken.”

“It sounds good,” said Natalie.

“It is good,” declared Blake. “If you can get a chicken over at the
store, we’ll fix it for you.”

The girls voted to do so, and after putting the clay vases in the firing
pit, and having told the boys of the scare of the night, they prepared
for the trip after supplies.

“You can cook an elephant’s foot the same way,” said Blake, seemingly
appropros of nothing in particular, as the boys and girls were walking
up from the lake shore to the grocery at the Point.

“Kindly elucidate,” suggested Natalie.

“I was thinking about the clayed chicken,” Blake explained. “I read
somewhere that they do elephant’s feet the same way.”

“I should think it would hurt the elephants,” remarked Marie innocently.

“They don’t do it until the beasts have passed beyond all pain and
suffering,” went on Blake. “Really, it’s said to be a delicious dish.”

“We’ll have it for breakfast,” declared Jack. “Phil, kindly get an
elephant for our camp-cook.”

“At once, your majesty,” replied Phil, with a mock bow.

The girls spent some time buying needful supplies, as did the boys, for
their stocks had run low. There were some chickens to be had, a farmer
having brought in some fresh ones, and the girls decided to let the boys
experiment with the clay method of cooking one.

“But I’ll fricassee the other to make sure of having a meal,” declared
Mrs. Bonnell with a laugh.

It was just as the girls were getting ready to go back in their two
boats, and the boys were yet lingering in the store, that Natalie
uttered an exclamation.

“What is it?” asked Marie.

“That man—the constable who nearly arrested me. There he is over by the
rifle range. I’m going to ask him if he has located that Gypsy girl
yet.”

“Oh, don’t, Nat!” exclaimed Mabel.

“Yes, I shall. I want to help get your mother’s ring. The boys don’t
seem able to find the encampment. Perhaps we can,” and, before any one
could stop her, Natalie hurried along the dock to where the constable
was standing near a rifle range that served to while away time for some
of the campers.

“Mr. Jackson!” she exclaimed, “have you found Hadee, the Gypsy, yet?”

“Hadee!” he exclaimed, startled. “Oh, I know you now. You’re the girl I
mistook for her. Well, say, do you know I haven’t found them Gypsies
yet! I’ve been hunting all over for ’em, but—guess they’ve skipped out.
I’m on the track though. I’ll let you know if I do locate ’em. Why, do
you want your fortune told?”

“Oh, no!” Natalie exclaimed quickly. “We’ve had all the fortune we want.
We—we just want to see their camp.”

“I guess you wouldn’t mind hearin’ your fortunes,” murmured the
constable. “Well, if I find ’em I’ll let you know,” and he nodded in a
friendly fashion.

Rather disappointed, Natalie was going back to the others who awaited
her in the boat, when she heard the captain of one of the lake steamers
saying to his engineer:

“Say, where does that Italian chap want to get off?” for all the
steamers stopped at the Point as a sort of half-way station, and
continued on from there.

“He isn’t an Italian, he’s a Gypsy,” said the mate. “I’ve seen him
before. His tribe is stopping somewhere in the woods near Bear Pond. He
wants to get off at Madison’s dock. All right. I’ve got a box for there,
too. All aboard!” and he hurried off.

Natalie looked into the steamer, and saw a tall, swarthy man sitting in
the cabin. There were one or two other passengers.

“At Bear Pond!” she murmured. “There are Gypsies at Bear Pond! Perhaps
Hadee is there. We must have a look, and we won’t tell the boys, or Mr.
Jackson.”

Quickly she told her companions what she had overheard.

“Shall we try to find the camp?” she concluded.

“Yes!” agreed Mabel eagerly. “Only I should think that constable would
know enough to inquire of the boat captains about the Gypsies.”

“Probably it was so simple that it didn’t occur to him,” said Mrs.
Bonnell. “But I must consider about letting you girls go off on this
wild-goose chase alone.”

“Oh, you’d come with us; of course!” exclaimed Marie. “I think it will
be fun!”

“So do I!” agreed Alice. “And we can take along the ammonia gun, in case
the dogs bark at us. There are always a lot of dogs about a Gypsy camp.”

“Wait a minute!” called Blake to the girls, as they were rowing away.
“We’ll go with you. We’ve got some news for you!”

Quickly he and his chums sent their craft up to the boats containing the
girls.

“What’s the secret?” demanded Natalie.

“We’re on the track of the Gypsies!” exclaimed Jack. “They’re over on
Mt. Harry, and we’re going to trail them to-morrow. Isn’t that great?”

“But Natalie—” began Marie, when her chum stopped her with a warning
looking.

“We’ll find out all we can for you,” went on Phil, as none of the boys
noticed Marie’s startled exclamation. “And if it’s safe we’ll take you
to the camp later on. Mt. Harry is a nice place to go to anyhow,” and he
nodded in its direction—in a direction directly opposite from Bear Pond.

“We’ll go to the pond,” decided Natalie when the boys had veered out of
hearing. “And we’ll see whether the Gypsies are there. Maybe we can get
ahead of the boys. Shall we go, girls?”

“Yes!” they chorused.



                              CHAPTER XIII

                           LOST AT BEAR POND


“Are you sure this is the road, Marie?”

“The man said it was.”

“That doesn’t make it so,” retorted Alice. “I never knew such poor
directions as those given by persons who have lived in a place nearly
all their lives. You scarcely ever can depend on them.”

“That is so,” agreed Natalie. “I remember we were at Atlantic Highlands
one summer, and I went for a walk. I got a little confused, and asked an
old gentleman how to get on the right road. He was an old settler—he
told me so—and yet he directed me a mile out of my way, and it was twice
as far from where I was to our cottage as he said it was. Oh, I was so
provoked!”

“I do hope nothing like that occurs this time,” ventured Mrs. Bonnell.
“Whom did you ask about the road, Marie?”

“The boy who brings our milk.”

“Not that stupid chap?” remonstrated Mabel.

“He isn’t stupid,” declared Marie. “It’s only bashfulness. He’s
eighteen, and he ought to know——”

“Yes, he ought to know enough to be bashful with this crowd,” laughed
Alice. “Oh, Marie, couldn’t you get any better guide?”

“There you go!” exclaimed Jack’s sister. “You left it all to me, and
when I do get directions you’re all finding fault. It isn’t fair!” and
she swung ahead on the narrow path as though she wanted to have done
with the argument.

It was two days after Natalie had overheard what she believed was a clue
to the location of the Gypsy camp, and the girls had determined, after a
somewhat lengthy consultation, to at least go near enough to spy upon
it, and decide later what to do—perhaps with the help of the boys.

Behold them now on their way to Bear Pond, a rather lonesome bit of
water about five miles back in the woods from Green Lake. They had gone
in two boats to a certain cove whence ran a path, more or less well
defined, to the pond, and the talk now ran on the chances of reaching
their destination.

“Though we may get there all right,” Natalie asserted. “The question
is—can we get back again?”

“I don’t see why not!” exclaimed Marie, who had assumed the post of
leader. “If you get to a place you can always get back.”

“This path seems to twist and turn so,” said Alice, as they went single
file along the winding trail, that circled in and out among the trees,
now descending into a little glade, and again ascending a slope. “If it
will only stay crooked, and not straighten out when we come back, maybe
we can remember it. Don’t you think we ought to make some kind of
landmarks as we go along, girls?”

“We could blaze a trail,” suggested Natalie, “only I don’t believe any
one brought a hatchet.”

“Well, here’s one way not to forget,” said Mrs. Bonnell. “There,
breath-of-the-pine-tree, we’ll know this white birch when we meet it
again,” and with a hairpin the Guardian began making a series of zig-zag
scratches on the white silver-like bark of a sapling that stood along
the path.

“Oh, don’t ever tell the boys you did that!” gasped Marie.

“Why not?” Mrs. Bonnell wanted to know. “Is it against the law to
scratch a tree I’d like to ask? That isn’t any worse that chipping it
with a hatchet.”

“Oh, but blazing a trail with hairpins!” gasped Marie, laughing
heartily. “What would the boy scouts say? We might as well scatter side
combs along the trail, or take a skein of baby ribbon with us, tying the
loose end to our tent pole, and unreeling it as we go along. Don’t tell
the boys—Camp Fire Girls blazing a trail with hairpins! Oh, dear!”

“I don’t see but what it is just as good as when done with a hatchet,”
said Mrs. Bonnell, imperturbed. “And you are far less likely to cut
yourself. I shall blaze our trail with hairpins, girls, the accepted boy
scout method to the contrary notwithstanding.”

And she did, not heeding the laughter of the girls. At every tree with a
light-hued enough bark to permit of it, she made her mystic scratches
with the hairpin points, sometimes drawing a fantastic figure, Indian
fashion, which further increased the mirth of the girls.

“How far did your bashful youth say it was?” asked Mabel, after a pause,
during which they climbed a little rise, passing under great pine trees,
the needles of which made a slippery, brown, woodland carpet beneath
their feet.

“Oh, you’re coming to think that he wasn’t such a bad guide after all
then?” demanded Marie, a trifle mollified.

“I just want to see how nearly he can estimate the distance,” was the
answer.

“He said it was five miles—five short ones,” and Marie hastily corrected
herself.

“And the path a straight one?”

“No, indeed. We have to turn to the right after we pass the spring which
is near the ruins of an old house. Oh, I’ve got it all written down,”
and Marie began searching for the pocket of the short brown skirt that
with the middy-blouse, and low shoes, formed the Camp Fire Girls’
outfit. A blank look came over her face.

“What’s the matter?” asked Natalie.

“That paper—my directions. I wrote them down on a slip of paper. I was
sure I put it in my pocket—I know I did—but now——”

She turned the pocket inside out, but a handkerchief, and a few other
personal belongings, was all that came to view.

“Maybe it’s in with the lunch,” suggested Alice.

They had brought along some sandwiches, and a large bottle of olives,
stuffed with Pimento peppers, for they did not expect to get back to
camp for dinner. But an inspection of the several packets into which the
“eats”, as Alice called them, were divided, disclosed no chart, map or
other sailing directions for locating the Gypsy camp.

“Never mind!” exclaimed Marie. “I’m sure I can find it without that.
Reuben went over it very carefully with me.”

“Reuben being the aforesaid bashful boy?” asked Mabel.

“Yes. And you needn’t make so much fun of him, either. He’s real nice
when you get to know him, though he does say ‘yes, ma’am,’ and ‘no,
ma’am,’ to me, and he’s older than I am.”

“How much?” inquired Natalie promptly.

“I sha’n’t tell! But come on if we’re going to get to Bear Pond before
noon,” and she quickened her pace.

“I wonder if the boys suspected where we were going?” ventured Alice.

“I don’t believe so,” replied Mrs. Bonnell. “I told them they mustn’t
feel obliged to look after us, or to accompany us everywhere we went. It
was very nice of them, I said, but we had come to the woods to be real
Camp Fire members, and didn’t want to trouble them.”

“I don’t believe they call it _trouble_,” said Marie.

“Not as long as Natalie is along,” added Mabel. “And we’re not a bit
jealous, dear,” she added quickly, as breath-of-the-pine-tree blushed.
“You may share all our brothers. Sometimes I wish some one would take
all of Phil. He’s such a tease when he sets out to be!”

“I guess in this case they were glad not to be asked to go anywhere with
us to-day,” went on the Guardian. “I didn’t so much as hint where we
were going—merely saying we might go for a row—which we did. I rather
think they had some plan of their own they wanted to carry out. They
took their fish poles, but I didn’t hear them talking about bait, which
seems is hard to get here. So I wouldn’t be surprised but what they were
going to Mt. Harry to look for the Gypsy camp that is really at Bear
Pond. They want to surprise us.”

“And we’re going to turn the tables!” exclaimed Marie. “Won’t it be a
joke!”

“If we find the camp,” added Mabel.

“Of course we will,” asserted the leader. “I have all the directions
down in my head.”

“There’s another good tree to hairpin!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell, as, with
her useful little implement, she again made her mystic scratches. “We
can’t help seeing that. Is it much farther, Marie?”

“We haven’t come to the spring yet, and it’s a mile past that. But
you’re not getting tired, are you?”

“Oh, no; only I wanted to know the worst. Lead on—we will follow!” and
she looked for more trees to “blaze.”

As the girls walked along, now taking little runs, and experimental
dashes on side paths, they broke into song now and then, chanting,
“Wo-he-lo for Aye,” and other Camp Fire melodies; the “Walking song,”
and the gladsome rhyme of work.

The way was a pleasant one. Since leaving the little cove, where they
had tied their boats, having hidden the oars on shore, the path had been
in a most delightful glade, with occasional stretches of meadow. Once
they had encountered some cows, and though at first debating the
advisability of making a detour, they had boldly crossed the field, the
bovines merely looking calmly at them, as if wondering why humans did
not lie down and chew cuds when they had the chance.

“What was that?” exclaimed Mabel, as a whirr of wings, and the passage
of some body through the underbrush, startled her.

“A quail,” answered Natalie. “I just got a glimpse of it. Oh, see the
lovely flowers!” and she rushed over to a patch of ox-eyed daisies, or
black-eyed-Susans, and, pulling a bunch thrust them into her belt,
creating a decidedly picturesque effect.

Marie pulled some maiden-hair ferns, and weaving a chaplet as she walked
along, dropped it on Natalie’s head, for none of the girls wore hats.

“Oh, isn’t that sweet!” exclaimed Mabel. “Wait, I must snap that!” and
she posed Natalie for her picture. Then they all had to be crowned with
ferns and “snapped”, after which a group picture was taken, with them
all sitting on a fallen tree, Marie taking the group without herself in
it and then Natalie performing a like service for her chum.

“The spring and the ruins of the farmhouse at last!” cried Marie, when
another mile had been covered. “We are almost there now.”

“Then let’s eat here,” suggested Alice. “We can get a drink, and olives
always make me so deliciously thirsty.”

“That’s what I say,” chimed in Marie, and then, finding a little grassy
spot they sat down tailor fashion and ate.

“It’s the best meal I’ve had in a week,” declared Alice.

“Are there any sandwiches left?” asked Mabel. “That’s my best
indorsement.”

“One or two,” said Mrs. Bonnell. “Perhaps we had better save them.” And
to this the girls agreed.

Then came a delicious period of rest under the greenwood trees, while
Natalie softly sang a song of the sky-blue water, the others joining in
the chorus.

“Forward, march!” cried Marie, a little later.

“One moment!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell. “Another tree to hairpin!” and she
did her duty.

“Which path?” asked Mabel, as they came to a divergence of the ways.
“Left or right, Marie?”

“Er—the—left!” hesitatingly pronounced the leader.

“Are you sure?”

“Positive.” And to the left they went.

The way became more rocky and rugged—wilder—and there were rather timid
glances cast from left to right as they passed through deep, dark and
silent glades, dark even with the bright sun shining overhead.

“I wouldn’t want to be lost here,” spoke Mabel in a low voice.

“Hush!” exclaimed Natalie. “Remember we may get back your mother’s
ring.”

“Oh, I do hope so. But supposing these weren’t the right Gypsies after
all?”

“Don’t you dare suggest such a thing!” threatened Marie. “After all our
work, running away from the boys and all that. It simply _must_ be the
right camp!”

“Well, I wish we’d come to Bear Pond,” sighed Mrs. Bonnell. “Oughtn’t it
to be near here, Marie.”

“I think so,” and she seemed trying to recall the directions.

“Why is it called Bear Pond?” Natalie wanted to know.

“Because there used to be bears there,” answered Alice. “Why else?”

“Bur-r-r-r! I hope there are none about now,” exclaimed Marie with a
little shiver.

“Nonsense!” came from Mrs. Bonnell.

They scrambled up a rocky hill, saw before them a little path leading
off to the right, followed it and came out on a sort of granite
promontory. And there, almost at their feet, lay Bear Pond.

It was more desolate than they had imagined. Not a house was to be seen,
and only a leaky and battered boat drawn up on shore near the rock told
that occasionally some one rowed on the water. Blackened and decaying
stumps could be seen here and there, and across the tops of distant and
dead trees circled a few hoarse-voiced crows.

“Talk of the Dead Sea!” murmured Natalie. “This is it.”

“It does remind one of that,” spoke Alice.

“No wonder the Gypsies came here,” remarked Mabel. “It is the most
lonesome spot I ever saw.”

They stood looking at the black and uninviting water. Occasionally a
fish moved in it, or leaped for a fly that ventured too close to the
surface. The hoarse cawing of the crows added to the desolateness of the
scene. There was no sound save that of the voices of the Camp Fire
Girls.

“Reuben said,” spoke Marie, “that few people come here. There is good
fishing at times—catfish are plentiful, and there are lots of pond
lilies. But I’d never venture out on that water,” and she could not
repress a shudder.

“Neither would I,” said Mabel. “I’d keep fearing that a long, bony hand
was about to reach up from the depths and pull me down.”

“Oh!” screamed Natalie.

“What is it?” demanded Mrs. Bonnell with a little start.

“Something—something moved.”

“A bird in the bushes, likely. Silly! This place is getting on the
nerves of all of us, I guess. Marie, can’t you locate the Gypsy camp,
and then we’ll go?”

“I don’t know. Let’s follow this path. If we don’t see their tents or
wagons soon, we’ll go back.”

They turned into a path that led down from the rock around the desolate
patch of water. It appeared to have neither inlet nor outlet, and was
doubtless fed by springs from below, though it was hard to imagine a
pure spring bubbling up into those black and murky depths.

“I don’t believe it’s here,” said Marie when they had gone on for some
distance. “Let’s go back!”

No one opposed her, and there were sighs of relief from all as they got
back to the rock. Then, with a look over the calm and dead surface of
the pond, they turned into the path again, while the rasping voice of a
crow, perched in a lightning-blasted pine tree, seemed to laugh at their
defeat.

“Horrid creature!” murmured Natalie, and they hurried on in silence.

“Are you sure we came this way?”

“Where are some of those hairpin-blazed trees?”

“I don’t remember this road.”

“And I’m sure we never passed this pile of rocks!”

The Camp Fire Girls came to a halt and looked at one another. It was
growing dusk, and they had been walking away from Bear Pond for perhaps
half an hour. They thought they would soon be at the cove where they had
left their boats, but when Mabel propounded that question, it raised
doubts in all their minds.

“I think this is the way,” said Mabel.

“Can’t you be sure?” asked Mrs. Bonnell, a bit testily.

“Well, it looks just like it, but why don’t we see some of the trees you
scratched?”

“That’s what I want to know,” put in Natalie. “Let’s sit down and rest.
Then we can think better.”

She fairly “slumped” down on the grass.

“It’s damp there,” warned Mrs. Bonnell.

“I can’t help it—I’m dead tired!”

Marie walked off a little way. She went forward on the path, and then
retraced her steps. When she rejoined her now silent chums there was the
flush of anxiety on her cheeks.

“I—I don’t seem to remember this place,” she began. “I guess we must
have taken the wrong turn some time ago. Let’s go back until we come to
two paths, and then take the other.”

They retraced their steps, no one speaking much. But they came to no
divergence of the path. It seemed to lead endlessly on through the
woods, as though generations of patient cows had plodded their way along
it. Marie who was in the advance, halted.

“Girls,” she said in a broken voice, “I—I don’t see any use in keeping
on. We’re only getting more and more tangled.”

“Are we—lost?” asked Natalie in hesitating tones.

“I—I’m afraid so,” answered Marie.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                             A NIGHT MARCH


“We must keep on!”

“Yes, we can’t stay here in this lonesome place!”

“Oh, if we could only see some house—and ask our way.”

“I believe it’s going to rain—I felt a drop on my nose.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t a tear, Natalie?”

Thus talked the Camp Fire Girls as they gathered in a group after Marie
had admitted the dismal failure to lead the way back from Bear Pond.

“No, though I do feel badly enough to cry,” answered
breath-of-the-pine-tree. “It’s really raining!”

“It can’t melt us,” declared Alice. “I only hope it doesn’t thunder and
lightning.”

“It won’t be that kind of a storm at all,” was Mrs. Bonnell’s opinion.
“It’s going to turn into a miserable drizzle.”

“My hair always curls in the wet,” cried Marie. “That’s one consolation,
anyhow.”

“You poor girl!” came from Alice. “Really it’s no one’s fault that we
got lost,” for Marie appeared to think that she bore the responsibility
of leading her forces thus into _terra incognita_.

“Of course not,” added Mrs. Bonnell. “It couldn’t be helped. Now I want
you all to be real Camp Fire Girls!” she went on. “We must be brave and
loyal. This is only a little trouble. We may be tired and wet but we’ve
got to get back to our tents sometime, and then we can thaw out, and
take enough hot lemonade to ward off colds. Now I’m going to assume
charge, and I’m going to give orders. Wood-Gatherers, attention!”

The girls stood up.

“Get all the dry fuel you can,” ordered the Guardian. “We are going
to make a little fire, and devour the remainder of our sandwiches.
We’ll get good and warm, rest, eat and then we’ll consider our case.
This is a good place for a fire, under the pine tree. Come,
No-moh-te-nah—Sweeper-of-the-tepee,” she went on, addressing Alice,
“you arrange some seats for us. I’ll get out the lunch. The others
gather wood, and get some dried leaves to start the fire.”

Soon they were all busy, forgetting their troubles in the gospel of
work—the best secular gospel in the world. A little later a cheerful
blaze was crackling under the wide-spreading branches of a giant pine
tree. For Mrs. Bonnell had a dependable match box.

“Isn’t this jolly,” exclaimed Natalie.

“It’s really fun!” declared Marie.

“If the boys could only see us now!” came from Alice.

“And hear about the hairpin-blazed trees that we couldn’t locate after
we scratched them,” added Mabel.

“Girls, if you ever tell on me I’ll never forgive you!” insisted Mrs.
Bonnell. “After this I’m going to carry one of those boy-scout axes that
fold up into a sort of leather card case, and which can be carried as a
watch charm. Then I can chip off the bark so we can see it at midnight.
Only my sense of proportion as one of the members of the society for the
conservation of forests prompted me to use a hairpin.”

“Are there any more olives left?” asked Natalie.

“Yes—a few, but they’ll make you dreadfully thirsty, and we have only a
little water,” answered Mabel, for they had brought a little water in a
bottle from a spring they passed on their homeward wanderings.

They had been unable to find the path back to the cove, after coming to
the conclusion that they were lost, and had come to a halt in a little
glade, where they had made the fire.

The cheerful blaze did more than warm them, for the summer rain was
chilling. It put new hearts into them, and made them more hopeful. Then
too, the little food they had remaining aided in the work of
regeneration.

What though it be dusk, and they far from camp—what though it rained?
They had a fire, they were warm and had been fed after a fashion.

“‘Fate cannot harm me—I have dined to-day!’” quoted Natalie. “Which is
not saying that I could not eat more,” she added, as she shook her long
braids to free them from the moisture that had gathered as she collected
the wood for the fire.

“But we mustn’t stay here,” went on Mrs. Bonnell after they had
devoured—and I use the word advisedly—the last crumbs of the sandwiches.
“We must keep on! We will simply have to find a place to stay
to-night—if we can’t get back to camp. There must be farmhouses around
here. This isn’t a desert, and that boat at Bear Pond showed that some
one used it—even if it did leak.”

“Don’t speak of Bear Pond!” pleaded Marie.

“Now, dearie, don’t you worry!” exclaimed Alice, putting her arms around
her chum. “It isn’t any more your fault than ours. We should be more
like the boy scouts and ‘be prepared.’ That’s their motto, you know.”

“But I lost the directions!” exclaimed Marie.

“You couldn’t help it. Probably you pulled them out of your pocket with
your handkerchief, dear. Don’t worry. We’ll get back to Dogwood
Camp—someday.”

“I’m glad we brought stuffed olives instead of those with pits in,”
remarked Natalie.

“Why?” her chums chorused. Natalie was always saying odd things, they
thought.

“Because there’s so much more meat to them. The seeds are wasteful.”

They laughed, and it seemed to make them feel better. Then, with a
warming of hands at the blaze, they prepared to set out again.

“This path must lead _somewhere_!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell, as she and
the girls carefully scattered the embers of the fire, and kicked damp
earth on them to extinguish the brands. For they had adopted some of the
tenets of the boy scouts, one of which is never to leave a burning camp
fire to work damage.

“And if we keep on it long enough we must come to some place!” declared
Alice. “Even if it’s only a cow-shed.”

“This does seem like a cow-path,” declared Natalie, “though it’s hard to
tell what it is in the dusk.”

“What—what are we going to do after dark?” whispered Mabel.

“March along with this!” cried Mrs. Bonnell, flashing a small pocket
electric lamp, operated by a dry battery. It contained a tungsten
filament, and gave a glaring light, if it was limited as to area.

“Oh, you dear—to think of bringing that!” cried Natalie. “I won’t be
afraid now.”

“Afraid—what is there to be afraid of?” insisted the Guardian, though it
might be noted that she looked rather fearsomely back of her as she
spoke.

No one answered her.

Once more they took up the march, as night slowly settled down. There
would be an hour or more of rather dim daylight yet, for the days were
long, but the clouds made it more gloomy than otherwise would have been
the case.

“There is a house!” suddenly called Marie.

“Where?” they all demanded at once.

“Right ahead of us. Oh, we’re all right now!”

But it was not such a haven of refuge as they had supposed. For the
ram-shackle old building was inhabited by an uncouth German, his wife
and several very much soiled children. He could speak a little
English—hardly enough to make himself understood, and the German essayed
by the Camp Fire Girls was evidently beyond his comprehension, for he
shook his head in a puzzled fashion.

“Where were they?”

He knew not.

“Which was the road to Green Lake?”

He knew not.

“Was there any one who did?”

The same result.

“Was there any one who could put them on the right road?”

No one. And the rain came down harder, while it grew darker—seemingly
more so in contrast to the light that Mrs. Bonnell flashed to the no
small fear of the German _kinder_.

“I suppose we might stay here until he could go and get some one who
could speak English, and who could either show us where we have left our
boats, or take word to the boys to come after us,” ventured Marie.

“Ugh! Stay here? Never!” cried Natalie. “It’s so—so— Oh, it wouldn’t do
at all!” she finished with a real shudder. The others reluctantly agreed
with her.

The man muttered something in his own language. His wife replied,
gesticulating and pointing in several directions. Evidently she meant to
be of service but was unable to accomplish it. Then the children cried
for their suppers, and the girls, feeling very lonesome and deserted,
continued their night march along the little path, the electric light
flashing like some modern firefly.



                               CHAPTER XV

                            “IT’S THE BOYS”


“How much farther?”

“I can’t walk another step!”

“You must! You can’t stay here—none of us can! We must keep on!”

The Camp Fire Girls were trudging through the woods, whither the path
led them—wet, miserable and unhappy, yet not utterly discouraged. The
little pocket lamp of the Guardian was their salvation, in a way, for
the brilliant pencil of fire that streamed out of the lens showed them
the trail—such as it was.

They had hurried on from the rather inhospitable farmhouse of the
German—inhospitable not so much from intention as misunderstanding.

“Oh, if we ever get to our dear, old camp again!” murmured Marie, as she
clung to Natalie’s arm.

“We’ll never go Gypsy-hunting again; will we?” spoke Alice from the rear
guard.

“Never! I wonder if the boys had any better luck?” asked Mabel.

“At any rate they don’t mind being lost, and getting wet,” said Marie.

“Oh, we’re not so wet,” voiced Natalie. “These khaki suits are just
dandy for shedding rain. They’re like a duck’s back. Really, I’m not at
all damp—except outside.”

“But don’t you think we might have stayed at that German place?” asked
Mrs. Bonnell. “Really, the farther on we go the more I worry about you
girls. Where _are_ we going to come out?”

“Somewhere on the shores of Green Lake,” declared Mabel. “And if once we
get there we can surely find some one to help us. There are cottages all
around the lake, and it isn’t so late, though it is dark. We can give
our camp cry, when we get a little nearer and some one will come out to
see what’s the trouble.”

“When we get a little nearer what?” asked Alice.

“Green Lake,” replied Mabel. “If you’ll notice we’ve been going down
hill for the last ten minutes. Green Lake lies lower than Bear Pond, and
we must be getting down to the lake level. Sooner or later we’ll get to
the shore, and then we won’t be lost.”

“Fine!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell, as she clutched at the arm of Mabel to
save herself from falling, having stepped on a stone that gave her ankle
a turn. “You are certainly pursuing knowledge, Mabel—and that is one of
our degrees. So you really noticed that?”

“Yes. Going to Bear Pond we kept climbing up—though of course there were
times when we had to go down in little glades. Now we are going the
other way, which shows that we are coming down. Of course we may come
out miles from where we left our boats, but what matter—as long as we
are at the lake?”

“The dear, old lake!” murmured Marie. “I shall be _so_ glad to see it
again.”

They trudged on in the rain and darkness. The drops were falling heavier
now, for the drizzle had given place to a regulation downpour with all
the accompaniments of wind and chilling atmosphere. Fortunately the Camp
Fire Girls had on heavy garments, and their practical suits did really
shed the water-drops as does the proverbial duck’s back.

The electric lamp served well to show them the path, Mrs. Bonnell
walking on ahead and flashing the light at intervals, to keep herself
from wandering off the hard and beaten surface that seemed well-traveled
in spite of the lonesomeness of the surroundings.

“It can’t be _much_ farther!” murmured Natalie. “I’m sure I’ve walked
ten miles since we had the last of the sandwiches!”

“Don’t you dare mention eating!” cried Alice.

“Are you tired?” asked Mrs. Bonnell, turning back toward Natalie.

“Not so very. But I do wish we were in camp. Do you suppose the boys——”

“No such good luck!” interrupted Mabel, guessing Natalie’s thought.

“But if they come over to our camp, as they do every evening,” went on
breath-of-the-pine-tree, “they’ll see that we aren’t there, and they may
start out——”

“Yes, but how would they know where to begin?” asked Marie. “We didn’t
tell any one where we were going!”

“Unless Reuben did.”

“That’s so!”

Hope seemed to spring up anew.

“Oh, dear! oh!” suddenly called Alice.

“What is it?” demanded Mrs. Bonnell, turning and flashing her lamp.

“Don’t say it’s a snake!” begged Natalie.

“I don’t know what it was,” went on Alice. “But something sharp pricked
me on the ankle—right through my shoe, too!”

Mrs. Bonnell hurried back along the halted line.

“Silly!” she cried. “Nothing but a piece of a blackberry bush that
slipped down inside your shoe. Your lace is loosened.”

“Oh!” gasped Alice contritely. “I—I didn’t mean to scare you.”

Once more they trudged on in the rain and darkness. But to the eternal
credit of the Camp Fire Girls be it said that no one murmured. They all
recognized it as something that could not be helped or bettered by
complaining, and they were Spartan-like in their sufferings, of which
nerves played no small part.

“Let me carry the light for a while,” suggested Marie to the Guardian.

“All right, if you’d like to. Come up front,” invited Mrs. Bonnell, who
realized the need of letting the girls do things for themselves.

“Oh—Oh! Oh, dear!” gasped Marie as she darted forward.

“What is it now?” some one asked.

“I stepped in a puddle—over my shoe! Oh, isn’t it wet!”

“Water generally is,” said Natalie dryly.

But Marie took the lead, and increased the pace, which Mrs. Bonnell had
been thinking of doing, but from which she had refrained from suggesting
as she thought the girls were tired. But they responded well to the
quick-step that Marie led them.

“Hark! What’s that?” suddenly exclaimed Mabel, who was directly behind
Marie.

“What’s what?”

“That noise. Didn’t you hear some one calling?”

They halted—hearts beating so hard that it seemed as if they might be
heard by others than the owners.

From the blackness around them came a shout.

“Haloooooo!”

“An owl!” murmured Natalie.

“Maybe a bat,” ventured Alice.

“Oh, you horrid thing! Don’t mention bats!” begged Mabel.

Again came the long-drawn out cry:

“Hallo-o-o-o-o!”

The girls drew closer together, Mrs. Bonnell extending the lamp as some
sort of weapon.

“That German,” murmured Alice.

“We’re miles away from his place,” whispered Marie.

From the woods in front of them came a crashing as of some heavy body
breaking through the underbrush.

“Oh, dear!” sighed Natalie.

“Maybe,” began Alice, “maybe it’s——”

She was interrupted by another hail. Then came the challenge:

“Stony Point! Camp Fire Girls! Crystal Springs!”

“Wo-he-lo! Wo-he-lo!” shouted Natalie with all the strength of her
splendid lungs.

“Wo-he-lo!” came in answer.

“It’s the boys!” screamed Alice. “Oh, it’s the boys! Now we are all
right!”



                              CHAPTER XVI

                          THE BOTTLE OF OLIVES


“Did you come to look for us?”

“How did you know where we were?”

“Oh, but we’re _so_ glad to see you!”

“How far is it to camp? We’re almost dead!”

“Girls! Girls! Do restrain yourselves a little! We are not half so badly
off as that!”

It was Mrs. Bonnell who uttered the last, and Natalie, Marie, Alice and
Mabel who, in turn, gave voice to the other expressions, following the
gladsome cry of Alice that she had heard the boys. And she really had.

“Camp Fire Girls ahoy!” yelled Jack, as he and his chums came a little
nearer.

“However did you find us?” demanded Natalie, as the three came running
along the path through the halo of misty light caused by the refraction
of the Guardian’s electric torch on the raindrops.

“By the process of deduction!” said Phil, as he gave his sister’s hand a
quick pressure, and then—pressed that of some one else. No, there’s no
use in asking whose it was. Besides Phil often changed—as did Jack and
Blake, for all the girls had hands that were temptations to hold.

“I don’t see how you knew we were here,” went on Mabel, as, after some
hysterical laughter they resumed their way.

“Old Hanson told us he saw you coming over this direction in boats,”
explained Blake, “and we put two and three together and got six. Then,
by subtracting one we knew you five were over here and we came.”

“Oh, how glad we are!” exclaimed Natalie.

“And is it far to the lake?” inquired Alice. “It seems as if we must
have walked ten miles.”

“The cove where you left your boats is about a quarter of a mile away,”
explained Jack. “You’d have been there in about five minutes if you had
kept on.”

“We were about to give up,” declared Natalie.

“We can never row back,” added Mabel.

“You won’t have to,” declared her brother. “We have the motor-boat, and
we can leave your boats here until to-morrow.”

“It would be hard to find where we hid the oars, anyhow,” suggested
Marie, fearing lest the boys would insist on towing the craft. “You
haven’t, by any chance, anything to eat; have you?”

“Nary an eat!” confessed Blake. “We came off in such a hurry.”

“Where did you go?” asked Mabel, as if she did not know.

“To Mt. Harry,” explained Jack. “You see we heard that the Gypsy camp
was over there, and we thought we could get on the track of that girl!”

“Did you?” asked Mrs. Bonnell innocently, nudging Marie under cover of
the darkness.

“No. There wasn’t the sign of a camp. But what did you go to Bear Pond
for?”

“How did you know we were at Bear Pond?” challenged Natalie.

“Because that’s the only place to go to on this road, or from this part
of the lake. Every one goes to Bear Pond who comes over this way. So,
when we got back, and went over to your camp, and found you weren’t home
by supper time,” explained Jack, “we knew where you’d gone.”

“And we knew you were lost,” added Phil.

“How?” Mabel wanted to know.

“Because every one who goes to Bear Pond the first time gets lost,”
declared Blake. “Don’t they, fellows?”

“Sure,” came the chorus.

“Why did you go without telling us?” asked Jack. “We could have shown
you the road, and—”

“Oh-o-o-o-o!” suddenly screamed Mabel. “Look!”

“What is it? A snake?” asked Jack, springing to her side.

“No, but I saw two green eyes— Oh! how they glittered! On the path right
in front of us!”

“A skunk, maybe!” volunteered Blake.

“Oh, you horrid thing!” came in five different intonations of feminine
voices.

“Well, maybe it was only a ’coon, or ’possum,” admitted Blake. “He was
probably attracted by Mrs. Bonnell’s light.”

“Then I’ll put it out!” declared the Guardian, who had kept the spring
switch of her pocket electric torch pressed down, thus making a
continuous light.

“No, don’t,” begged Blake. “We came off in such a hurry that we didn’t
bring a lantern, and the path isn’t any too plain. They won’t hurt you.”

“I know—but—skunks——” hesitated Mrs. Bonnell.

“They’re as harmless as cats. Come on!” and resolutely Blake pressed
forward. The two green spots had disappeared, and by the time the
excitement had calmed down Jack’s question had been forgotten, to the
relief of the girls, who did not want to answer unless they had to.

“Next time don’t try to find Bear Pond unless one of _us_ goes along,”
suggested Jack in patronizing tones.

“Oh, but we did find it,” declared Mabel. “It was after we found it, and
on our way home, that we got lost. The hairpin blazing didn’t work.”

“The what?” cried Blake in curiosity.

“Mabel, if you mention that I’ll never forgive you!” threatened Mrs.
Bonnell.

“Go on; tell!” urged Phil. “Hairpin blazing? What is that; a new kind of
Camp Fire Girls’ stunt?”

“Don’t you tell!” warned the Guardian, and with laughter the girls
refused.

“Oh, we’ll find out!” the boys threatened.

“We’ll go over the same trail to-morrow,” added Jack.

“Then it will be time enough to tell you,” remarked Mrs. Bonnell calmly.

A little later they were at the cove, and safely in the motor-boat,
puffing across the lake, the red and green lights making shimmering
jewels in the water. It was raining quite hard now, but the boys had
some pieces of tarpaulin, with which the engine was covered nights,
since there was no boat house. These stiff canvases the girls used to
put over their shoulders, though they were pretty well wet through as it
was.

“Oh, be it ever so cheerless there’s no place like camp!” cried Mabel,
as they reached the place of the tents. “I’m nearly starved.”

“Well, you girls just get some dry things on,” directed her brother,
“and we’ll make a ripping old fire, and have tea for you in a jiffy.
Where do you keep the grub, anyhow?”

“I’ll show you,” said Mrs. Bonnell, and soon the boys, with occasional
laughter and gibes at the girls, were making a simple meal ready, while
the camp fire, built from some wood stored under a strip of canvas to
keep it dry, sent out its cheerful blaze.

“Oh, and to think how miserable we were an hour ago!” sighed Natalie as
she sipped the tea and ate some cakes, which, in lieu of sandwiches, the
boys had served.

“It was lovely of you to come for us,” said Marie. “And you didn’t find
the Gypsies after all?”

“No; I don’t believe they’re even in this neighborhood,” declared Blake.
“If they were they skipped out since the pocket-book was taken. Have
some more tea, Mrs. Bonnell?”

“A half cup, if you please. It’s really delicious.”

“Oh, we can make tea, even though we seldom drink it,” declared Jack.
“Coffee is our main standby.”

The girls, in dry garments, soon forgot the discomforts of the trip to
Bear Pond, and a little later, after a session of sitting under a
heavy-foliaged pine tree, that kept off the rain, while a fire blazed
cheerfully beneath it, the boys went to their own tents, and the girls
prepared for the night.

“Let’s go fishing!” proposed Marie to her chums the next day, and as
they knew something of the art so delightfully described by Mr. Izaak
Walton, and were not afraid to bait hooks, the Camp Fire Girls were soon
out on the lake in their two rowboats, heading for a quiet cove, where
the boys had said some fine pickerel and perch abounded.

A “clay chicken” had been decided on for dinner that day the girls
having found that this method of preparing the fowl was most excellent.
It had been put in the hole in the ground, and covered with embers
before the fishing party had started off.

“It will be done when we get back,” decided Marie, who was cook that
day, “and there will be enough left over for supper.”

“What will we do with our fish?” asked Mabel. “We haven’t much ice, and
they won’t keep,” for the ice boat left a supply occasionally at the
camps and cottages of the lake.

“We can give them to the boys, or to Mr. Rossmore,” said Natalie.

“Let’s wait and see if we catch any,” suggested Mrs. Bonnell with a
laugh.

The girls did have fairly good luck, though Natalie lost what she
declared was the biggest perch in the lake, it not being well-hooked,
and getting off just as she raised it from the water. Indeed they did
have so many fish, that, what with the “clay chicken” they did not need
them all for food. And after the boys had cleaned the catch, some were
given to themselves, and the rest to Reuben, whose directions had
enabled the girls to get lost coming from Bear Pond. He said he would
give some to the old hermit of the mill.

“But indeed it wasn’t his fault that we took the wrong path,” said
Natalie.

“No, I guess every one who goes to Bear Pond the first time has the same
experience,” added Marie. “I know I heard a number of campers say the
same thing. There are too many cow-paths.”

They had nearly finished dinner, some time later, the “clay chicken”
being done to a turn, when Natalie remarked:

“I’m going to get some olives. I set out a bottle to put on the table,
but I forgot them. Have some, girls?”

“Surely!” exclaimed the others.

Natalie disappeared into the cooking tent where some of the supplies
were kept, and came back quickly, exclaiming:

“Who took them?”

“What?” asked Mrs. Bonnell.

“That bottle of olives. I left them, all ready to serve, on the box of
canned things that we haven’t opened yet. Now they’re gone.”

“The boys——” began Alice.

“Haven’t been here,” declared Natalie. “They have gone to Mt. Harry
again, or somewhere else, trying to locate the Gypsy camp.”

“Perhaps you didn’t put the olives there,” suggested Mabel.

“I’m sure——” began Natalie, and then as the others came to the tent to
help her look, she added:

“And the corkscrew is gone, too, and a can of sardines! I left them all
together here on the box, intending to open the olives, and now they’re
gone.”

“Were you going to open the sardines, too?” asked Mrs. Bonnell.

“No, Jack asked me for them; he said he’d call this afternoon. They
haven’t any in camp. Girls, some one has been here taking our things!”
and Natalie looked tragically at her companions.



                              CHAPTER XVII

                             A SHARP ATTACK


“Natalie Fuller! Don’t you dare say such things!”

“The idea of any one being at our camp!”

“I sha’n’t sleep a wink to-night!”

“I don’t believe you left the olives and other things out at all—you’ve
made a mistake.”

Thus did the chums of breath-of-the-pine-tree try to refute her
statement.

“Are you sure, Natalie?” asked Mrs. Bonnell.

“Positive,” was her answer.

“She wouldn’t be likely to forget if Jack asked her to do anything,”
declared Marie with a laugh.

“I thought it was Blake,” said Mabel.

“Stop it!” demanded Natalie with a stamp of her small foot, encased in a
boating shoe, while the red surged up under her olive coat of tan. “Some
one _has_ been here!” she added.

“Yes, and a can of peaches is gone!” declared Mrs. Bonnell, looking
along an improvised shelf, where some canned goods had been set. “I
remember noticing that there was one on the very end of the row,” she
continued, “and now it is missing. Some one has been taking liberties
with our camp.”

“Tramps,” suggested Mabel.

“Gypsies,” declared Natalie. “Oh, dear! I hope they won’t come around
after dark.”

“How can you suggest such things?” demanded Mrs. Bonnell. “Stop!”

“We must tell the boys,” remarked Marie, and a little later, the meal
being finished a flag was run up on a pole near the lake shore. It was
easily observable from the point where the boys camped, and was an
adopted signal requesting the presence of the three chums at Crystal
Springs.

“Well, what is it this time?” asked Jack as he and his companions
arrived a little later. “Has old Jackson been trying to arrest you again
for scaring some one’s cows?”

“Nonsense,” declared his sister. “This is more serious. Boys, we’ve
been——”

“Nothing is more serious than scaring cows,” insisted Jack. “If you make
them run they’ll give milk instead of butter.”

“Then I should think it would save the farmers the bother of churning,”
was Mabel’s opinion, at which they all laughed.

“What is up?” asked Blake, seeing that the girls looked worried.

“Some one has been taking our things,” said Mrs. Bonnell. “A bottle of
olives, some sardines——”

“The ones you asked me for, Jack,” put in Natalie.

“Look here!” cried Marie, as she detected a grin on the faces of Blake
and Phil, “you boys have been taking stuff; haven’t you? Own up now, if
you have. We’ll forgive you, for we don’t want to have to worry; and,
really, it’s enough to make any one nervous.”

“Not guilty,” answered Phil.

“We have committed many sins,” replied Blake, with mock-heroics, “but
far be it from us to rob the helpless. So, Master Jack, you have been
soliciting alms in the shape of sardines; hast thou?”

“Yes, for you duffers don’t like ’em, and wouldn’t buy any. I offered to
pay Nat for a can, only——”

“Oh, you’re welcome to them, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Bonnell. “We were only
thinking that perhaps you came over here while we were away and——”

“No, we didn’t,” said Blake, and he spoke so seriously that there was
nothing for it but to believe him. “Just what happened?”

“You tell him, Nat,” urged the other Camp Fire Girls and Natalie did.

“Doesn’t it look as though some one was here?” she finished, twisting
the silver ring on her finger—the ring with the symbol of the seven
fagots.

“It certainly does,” agreed Blake. “We’ll take a look around,” and he
started down to the shore of the lake.

“What good will that do?” asked Phil. “Do you think you can spot their
feetsteps?”

“I might,” answered Blake coolly. “All the girls wear rubber-soled
shoes, as we do, and if some stranger came to camp he might have on
other kind of coverings. They would show in the soft ground. You take a
look back where the road comes in,” he advised.

“There might be something in that,” admitted Jack. “Come on, Phil,” and
the three were soon scanning the ground about the camp while the girls,
rather disturbed by the information that had come to them, finished
clearing away the lunch dishes.

“It won’t be safe to go away after this,” said Mabel.

“Not unless we lock up our best things,” added Alice.

“You can’t lock a tent,” declared Marie.

“No, but we can our trunks. Oh, the boys have found something!” she
suddenly cried, as excited voices came from some little distance away
from the tents where the three chums had gone.

“Don’t you hit that!” Jack could be heard to yell.

“No, leave it alone!” insisted Blake.

There was the crash of a stone through the treetops.

“Oh, they’re having a fight!” screamed Mabel. “Some one has attacked
them!”

“Your ammonia gun—quick!” begged Natalie. “Oh, Mrs. Bonnell!”

The Guardian made a rush for the sleeping tent. There came a chorus of
yells from the boys and then a series of crashing sounds that told of
hasty flight through underbrush.

“Not that way! Not that way!” yelled Blake. “Do you want to lead ’em to
the girls!”

“I don’t care where I lead ’em, as long as they let me alone!” answered
Phil. “Wow! One got me that time!”

“Hurry! Hurry with that ammonia pistol!” besought Natalie, looking to
where the boys were running about, wildly waving their hands over their
heads.

“What did you want to hit it for?” shouted Jack. “I told you what it
was!”

“But I didn’t think it was,” answered Phil, as he dodged here and there.

“What is the matter? Oh, what is the matter?” screamed Mabel. “Are they
after you?”

“They sure are,” declared her brother. “We’ve stirred up a hornets’
nest! Get in the tent and stay there until they calm down. Wow!” he
yelled. “One bit me then!”

The boys were wildly rushing about, while there was a curious humming
sound in the air. The girls gave one look, saw a number of insects
flying everywhere, and then hurried into the main tent, pulling the
flaps after them.

“Get in the water!” yelled a new voice. “Run for the lake and duck!
That’s the only way to get rid of ’em!”



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                              ANOTHER TRY


The boys did not stop to see who gave the advice. It seemed good to
follow, and they did. Regardless of their clothes, which were of light
weight, easily dried, they ran toward the lake, wading in until it was
deep enough to duck under.

As for Blake, he did not wait for that, but, wildly brushing his hands
about his head, in he plunged, face foremost as soon as the water was up
to his knees. And his head went well under.

“That’s the only way to get rid of hornets when they once take after
you,” went on the voice of one who had given the good advice. “They
can’t sting under water.”

The girls peered from the tent to see approaching one Reuben—his other
name they had never asked. He worked for a near-by farmer, and had often
brought butter, eggs and occasionally chickens, when the campers did not
get them from the regular storekeepers.

“Oh, look how Reuben is dressed up!” exclaimed Mabel.

“He must be going to the circus, or somewhere,” added Alice.

“Probably he’s going to the ‘city’, wherever that is up here,” declared
Marie. “Oh, but look at Jack!”

The three chums, after floundering about in the water, had now ventured
to raise their heads, but Jack appeared not to have quite freed himself
of the pestiferous insects so rudely disturbed, and after getting a
needful breath of air he had to duck under the water again.

Blake had reached a deep place and was swimming down the lake, making
rather slow progress because of his clothes. He came presently to a
little point, swam in until his feet could touch bottom, and then,
cautiously waiting to see if any of the hornets were about, and hearing
none, ventured to go ashore.

Phil, too, had managed to get rid of his guard of honor, and was
approaching the little gravelly beach. But Jack seemed to have more than
his share.

“I’ll fix you for this, Phil, when I——” he began, and then he had to get
beneath the water again.

“Swim up the shore a bit, duck down and I guess they’ll leave you,”
called Blake, and Jack, catching at least the drift of the advice, if
not all the words, did so. Soon three dripping figures stood on shore,
cautiously listening for the hum of the hornets’ wings.

“I—I guess they’re gone,” said Phil slowly, as he looked at a rapidly
swelling wrist.

“They ought to,” said Blake. “The next time you throw a stone at a
hornets’ nest we’ll make you stay and apologize. I’m stung in half a
dozen places!”

“So am I,” declared Jack. “What’s good for the bites?”

“They don’t bite, they sting,” Reuben informed them as he tied the boat
in which he had arrived, and walked up to the tents. “If they’ve left
their stinger in it’s worse, too.”

“How do you tell that?” Jack wanted to know.

“You rub your finger over the place, and if it hurts more than when you
don’t rub it, and if it feels like there was a sliver in it, that’s the
sting. Or you can see it with a magnifying glass. I worked for a feller
once that kept bees, and I got stung regular. They say it’s good for
rheumatism,” he added cheerfully.

“Give me the rheumatism,” said Blake as he tenderly felt of a swelling
on his cheek. “Say, maybe they didn’t come for us!”

“Are they gone?” demanded Natalie, peering from between the tightly-held
tent-flaps.

“Pretty much,” replied Jack. “Cæsar’s pineapples! How they hurt though!”

“Be careful, girls,” cautioned Mrs. Bonnell. But a little observation
told them that the hornets had gone back to repair the damage done by
Phil’s stone thoughtlessly tossed into their nest.

“What do you do for the stings?” asked Blake of the farm lad.

“I always puts mud on ’em.”

“Ammonia is better,” volunteered Mrs. Bonnell. “Wait and I’ll get you
boys some. I have a bottle of the strongest kind for my little pistol.”

“I wish we’d had that when they came at us,” murmured Phil, clasping a
wrist that was rapidly getting to be twice its natural size.

The ammonia made the stings feel a little less painful, and then the
boys went back to their camp to don dry clothes.

“I wonder if they found any evidence of those who have been helping
themselves to things in our camp?” observed Natalie, as she and her
companions left the large tent.

“We’ll ask them later,” said Marie.

“Have you folks been missing things?” asked Reuben, as he overheard the
talk.

“Yes,” answered Alice, “Whom do you think could have taken the stuff?”

“It’s them Gypsies!” declared Reuben. “Lots of folks around here are
complainin’ of missing things. Not only the farmers but some cottagers
and campers. Them Gypsies ought to be driven away. They’re a regular
nuisance comin’ here every year.”

“But where are they?” asked Mabel.

“Over at Bear Pond, some one told me. Did you girls find it that day all
right?”

“Oh, yes—we _found_ it,” answered Marie, for they had agreed that they
would not needlessly admit their failure to select the right road home.

“And did you see ’em?”

“No,” answered Mrs. Bonnell. And then, wishing to change the
conversation she asked:

“Where are you going, Reuben, with your good clothes on?”

“Nowheres,” and he blushed painfully.

“Oh, you must be going somewhere,” she insisted, for he seemed but a
little boy.

“Oh, I jest took half a day off and come over to see you folks,” he went
on, and this time his ears were included in the general red color scheme
of his face.

“That was nice of you,” went on the Guardian, while the girls tried hard
not to giggle. “Won’t you sit down?”

“No, ma’am. I thought maybe some of you girls would like to come for a
row,” and he motioned to a small, and not altogether water-tight boat
that he had moored near the little dock.

“We can’t all get in that boat, Reuben,” said Marie.

“No ma’am, I—er—I only thought of taking _one_!”

Reuben fussed with his straw hat, while the girls, after a first gasp of
surprise, looked at each other.

“Which—_one_—Reuben?” asked Mrs. Bonnell softly.

“Oh, I ain’t particular!” he answered with cheerful indifference. “You
could draw lots for it if you was a-minded to. Or you can take turns if
you want. I kin git half a day off onct a week I guess.”

“That’s very kind of you,” said Mrs. Bonnell, while Natalie had to stuff
her handkerchief in her mouth, and Marie and Mabel suddenly discovered
that they had something vitally important in the tent that must be
fetched immediately.

“I—I’m afraid we can’t come now, Reuben,” said Mrs. Bonnell gently. “You
see we have to do our after-lunch work, and then we have other things to
do. Some other time——”

“I’ll come any time you want me,” he said eagerly. “Jest let me know a
day ahead so’s I kin git off, and I’ll come. I’ll take anybody out,” he
added cheerfully. Then, bringing one hand from behind his back where he
had kept it during the talk, he held out some wild flowers and ferns.

“I brought these,” he said. “You kin have ’em,” and he thrust them
toward Natalie, who had returned from the tent where she had mastered
her near-hysterics.

“Oh, thank you!” she exclaimed, as she slipped them in her belt. “They
are very pretty.”

“Oh, I kin git heaps more,” he said with proper indifference. “I guess
I’ll go over and see how the boys’ stings is comin’ on,” he added. “And
I’ll take you rowin’ any time you like—one at a time. Maybe you’d want
to go to Bear Pond agin,” he added. “I’ll row you as far as we kin go,
and we’ll walk the rest of the way.”

“Not now, thank you,” said Mrs. Bonnell. “We’ll think about it,” and
Reuben walked off toward the boys’ camp.

“Oh, oh, Natalie!” laughed Marie, when he was out of hearing.

“It was you he favored last time!” declared breath-of-the-pine-tree, as
she re-arranged her flowers. “And really he meant to be kind.”

“Of course!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell. “But, girls, he has given me an
idea. Now you know we are going to stay here for some time longer,” and
she looked around at them.

“What about it?” asked Marie, as the Guardian paused.

“Well, it isn’t very pleasant to feel that every time you leave the camp
some one is likely to come in and take things. It spoils all the fun.”

“Indeed it does,” agreed Mabel. “But what can we do?”

“If the Gypsies are really to blame,” went on Mrs. Bonnell, “then they
should be warned to keep away from here. Why can’t we send word to that
constable who so nearly arrested Nat?”

“We can,” said Alice. “But he couldn’t seem to find the Gypsies himself,
and neither the boys nor ourselves have had any better luck.”

“I was going to say we might make another try at Bear Pond,” resumed the
Guardian. “We know the road now, and we won’t get lost. Suppose we have
a second try. We don’t need to tell the boys, except that we are going
off for a row and walk. I would like to know that our camp was safe when
we leave it.”

“What about leaving it to look for the Gypsies?” asked Marie.

“Well, we would have to take one chance of course.”

They talked it over, and ere the boys had come back with their dry
clothing the Camp Fire Girls had decided that they would make another
try to locate the suspected Gypsies.

“We might take Reuben for an escort,” suggested Natalie.

“Oh-o-o-o!” came in a long-drawn-out chorus. “Oh-o-o-o Nat!”

“Well, then, our boys!”

“No, let’s see if we can’t do this all ourselves,” suggested Marie.
“Remember that we are—Camp Fire Girls!”



                              CHAPTER XIX

                             THE GYPSY CAMP


“Have we everything we need?” asked Natalie.

“No, and we wouldn’t even if we had brought the whole camp outfit with
us,” replied Marie. “We’d still find that we wanted something we didn’t
have.”

“But we have enough!” declared Mrs. Bonnell, looking at what she
carried, and then at the burdens borne by the girls. It was two days
after the episode of the hornets, and the members of Dogwood Camp had
sallied forth to make another effort to locate the Gypsies. And, to
prevent a repetition of their unfortunate experience the previous time,
they were well equipped, as will presently be set forth.

They had managed to conceal from the boys their real destination, by a
harmless little subterfuge that it is needless to recite. Sufficient to
say that it was rendered all the more easy because the boys had a ball
game in prospect—two nines made up of cottagers and campers—and they
were to play at a certain distant and fashionable hotel.

“Which means that they will be away late enough so that they won’t have
to come to rescue us,” said Mabel.

“There will be no need this time,” asserted Mrs. Bonnell. “I have the
little axe with which to blaze the trees.”

“It sounds like a French lesson, doesn’t it?” asked Alice, with a laugh.

“The hairpins did very well,” said Natalie with another laugh, at the
remembrance of their pretty Guardian-chaperone diligently scratching the
bark of the white birch trees with her wire coiffeur retainers.

The day after the boys had “played tag with the hornets,” as Alice put
it, there had been rain, but the Camp Fire Girls had put in the enforced
idle time to good advantage by getting ready for the trip to Bear Pond.

Marie had artfully interviewed Reuben when he came with some eggs, and
had carefully jotted down the directions to be followed. He told them of
a shorter route to the place, necessitating a little longer row, but
less of a walk.

Then they had carefully packed some baskets of provisions, and had even
arranged to take along some coffee, and an old pot in which to boil it
over an open fire.

“Well, I guess we’re ready to start,” announced Mrs. Bonnell, after an
early breakfast.

“Did you bring the compass?”

“How many bottles of olives did you put in?”

“I hope there are enough sandwiches.”

“And a drinking cup.”

“What about matches?”

“Did you lock my trunk, Natalie?”

“What shall we do with the keys?”

The above are only samples. Three or more pages of similar import might
be set down, but to no purpose. They were about to leave their camp,
and, against the visits of an intruder they had locked most of their
valuables such as they did not take with them—in their trunks. Then the
tent-flaps had been carefully tied shut, a weird array of knots being
used, having been copied from a boy-scout book that the Guardian had
with her.

“If a burglar can untie those,” said Mrs. Bonnell as she finished the
last one, “he’ll be so short tempered that he won’t bother to take the
few little things we have left here.”

“But how can we untie them?” asked Marie.

“Oh, I can easily pick them out with a hairpin,” answered the
resourceful Mrs. Bonnell. “Hairpins to a woman are what a screw-driver
is to a man. I never could get along without them. From buttoning shoes
to opening bottles of olives, they run the gamut of utility.”

The day was fair, with no promise of rain, but, even if it should come,
the serviceable suits, of which each girl had two, would neither be
damaged, nor would they readily permit of the wearers being drenched.

And so they started off.

“I do hope that Reuben doesn’t tag after us, or want to come with us,”
said Alice, when they were in the boats.

“Why, did he say he would?” asked Mabel.

“No, but he was rather hinting when we questioned him about Bear Pond. I
wouldn’t be surprised but what he got one of his ‘half days off,’ and
became our escort.”

“He means all right,” murmured Natalie. “Poor fellow!”

“You may well say that, if you accept any more flowers from him,” warned
Alice.

“I don’t see why. They are only wild blossoms, and I’d pick them myself
if he didn’t.”

“That’s Nat!” exclaimed Mabel with a laugh.

They rowed leisurely to another cove about which Reuben had told them,
and then, once more concealing the oars, they struck off into a path
that, they had been assured led directly to Bear Pond, and to that
portion most likely to be the camping-place of the Gypsies, since it was
near a main-traveled road.

“Be sure we have everything!” exclaimed Alice, as they disembarked. “For
it may be a long time before we get back.”

“Don’t look for trouble,” warned Mrs. Bonnell.

Laden with their parcels and bundles containing mostly food, for they
intended to have a substantial lunch in the woods, they trudged on. Mrs.
Bonnell industriously blazed the trail as they proceeded, though it was
scarcely necessary, for the path seemed often used.

“But we may be able to see the white blaze of the wood in the dark,” she
insisted.

“Oh, if we could only bribe a few lightning bugs to stay on each
chipped-off place,” suggested Marie, “we could easily pick out the path
then.”

They laughed at her quaint conceit, and proceeded. The way was easier
than the first one they had essayed, and they made better time. In the
distance they had occasional glimpses of farmhouses set down in some
hollow. Farmhouses of an ancient régime, it seemed, since the land about
them was little tilled now. There were only small gardens, not prolific
ones at that.

They came from the path out upon a country road, with many and deep ruts
in its dirt surface.

“We are to keep along this for half a mile, and then take the path to
the right,” read Marie from the written directions that had not been
forgotten this time.

“Oh, there’s an old well sweep, and I’m sure there must be an old oaken
bucket going with it!” cried Mabel. “I must have a drink,” and she
started toward the gate of a farmhouse they were approaching.

“The germ-covered bucket!” murmured Alice. “I’d rather have a tin pail.”

As they reached the gate a yellow cur rushed out at them, barked
vociferously and interspersing his disapproval with snarls of anger.

“Oh, mercy!” cried Natalie, shrinking back.

“Good doggie! Good old fellow!” called Mrs. Bonnell, coming to a
standstill, while the girls huddled behind her. “Nice old chap!”

“He isn’t at all nice!” declared Alice. “How can you say such things?”

“That’s always the way to talk to barking dogs,” insisted the Guardian.
“Don’t let them see that you fear them.”

“No—don’t!” laughed Natalie, as she saw the fear-huddled group. “We are
a living monument to—bravery!”

“Maybe his bark is worse than his bite,” whispered Mabel.

The dog did not seem disposed to retreat. He had run out into the road,
and disputed their progress, in spite of the many soothing
“good-doggie!” and “Nice old fellow!” verbal sops that Mrs. Bonnell
threw to him.

“Maybe he’s hungry!” suggested Marie. “Wait a minute!”

She began exploring the lunch basket she carried and presently threw
something to the cur. He made a spring for it, and then bolted into the
yard.

“Why, Natalie Fuller!” cried Alice aghast. “That was one of our best
chicken sandwiches!”

“You didn’t think I’d give him anything but the best; did you?” inquired
Natalie, as she tossed back her long braids. “I was going to offer him
some olives, but he didn’t stay for dessert. Come on, girls. Now he’s
gone we can advance.”

“I don’t believe I want a drink—at least not here,” said Alice. “But we
can get past the house, and maybe there’s a spring farther on.”

The dog evidently accepted the chicken sandwich as a peace offering for
he barked no more. There was no sign of life about the house as the
girls passed it. They soon came to a roadside watering-trough, cut out
of one solid log, into which, from a wooden spout, there flowed a stream
of clear, cold water.

The drink was refreshing, and they filled some milk bottles they had
brought with them for this purpose, since at Bear Pond the water was not
fit to use.

Again they struck into the cool, green woods, glad of the change from
the hot highway. Birds flitted around them in the trees, calling in
sweet notes, and now and then some startled creature of the forest
darted away from beneath their very feet. They heard the distant call of
crows, and the lowing of cows hidden in the fastness of the wood.

“We are almost there,” declared Marie consulting her elaborate
directions. “It’s about half a mile from this spring,” and she pointed
at the one where they had halted for another drink—a spring stone-lined,
in the center of a grassy plot, and shaded by a great, gnarled oak. A
spring so clear that the sand bottom seemed but a few inches below the
surface. Yet when they replenished their water bottles they realized
that it was nearly three feet deep. Cold and refreshing was the water.

And then, a little later, they emerged from the forest and stood on the
shore of Bear Pond. They could look down its lonesome length and see the
rock where they had first stood. The place did not seem to have changed.

“It’s as dreary and Dead Sea-like as before,” said Natalie in a whisper.
Somehow it seemed natural to whisper at Bear Pond.

“Well, now to see if we can locate the Gypsy camp,” suggested Mrs.
Bonnell. “It is early yet. We don’t want lunch for an hour. Let’s
explore a bit first.”

They walked on, keeping as near to the shore of the lake as possible.
Suddenly Natalie, who was in the lead, held up a hand for silence.

“Hark!” she called in a whisper.

From somewhere in the woods ahead of them came the sounds of barking.

“Dogs,” said Marie.

“And Gypsies always have lots of dogs,” added Mabel.

They pushed on. The barking became plainer. They saw a gleam of white
amid the trees.

“The Gypsy camp!” exclaimed Natalie. “We’ve found it!”



                               CHAPTER XX

                            THE MISSING GIRL


They hesitated for a moment in the shrubbery, before going forward. They
had come upon the camp before they had quite expected to, and, truth to
tell, they had formed no definite plan of action. Their chief desire had
been to find the place where the wanderers had set up their tents and
gaudy wagons, and, now that it lay almost at their feet, they were
unprepared.

“What are we going to do?” asked Mabel.

“Let’s go up, and pretend we want our fortunes told,” suggested Alice.
“Then we can look about, and see if there is a girl there, like the one
who was at Mabel’s house.”

“And if there is?” asked Natalie. “If Hadee is there?”

“Then we can go back and tell the constable,” put in Marie. “It does
seem a shame to have her—or any one arrested, but then they mustn’t go
about taking pocket-books—and—rings!”

“Suppose it isn’t the same one?” suggested Mabel.

“Well, that’s what we have to learn,” answered Alice. “I say let’s walk
right in, as though we had come here by accident and wanted to have our
palms read.”

“I never can act that way,” declared Natalie. “I’ll be sure to laugh—or
something.”

“And then there are—the dogs!” faltered Marie. “They may bite us.”

“They’re barking loudly enough, anyhow,” declared Mrs. Bonnell. “Perhaps
if we each carry part of a sandwich they’ll accept that as a peace
offering and let us alone.”

“I have it!” exclaimed Natalie. “We’ll have our dinner here in the
woods, first. Then maybe we’ll think of a different plan. Anyhow, if we
go in and have our fortunes told now, it will be so late that we’ll be
starved before we can eat. Besides it looks as though they were cooking
their dinner.”

She pointed toward the camp, over which a little haze of smoke hung.

“I believe Natalie is right,” declared Mrs. Bonnell. “It will be better
to eat now. We can go back a way in the woods and have our lunch. They
haven’t discovered us. The wind is blowing away from the camp, and the
dogs haven’t detected us.”

“It’s just like some of Jack’s books!” exclaimed Marie. “The enemy
hasn’t winded us yet.”

“Well, there’s no reason why Camp Fire Girls can’t have as many
adventures as boys have,” insisted Alice.

Screened by the bushes they peered down on the Gypsy camp that lay a
little below them in a small, grassy glade. It looked picturesque enough
in the sunlight, and, as Mrs. Bonnell had said, their presence was not
yet discovered. The dogs appeared to be at the far side of the camp,
barking among themselves or perhaps at some wild animal they had treed.
Until the beasts scented them they were not likely to come that way.

“And, anyhow,” observed Mabel, “there must be lots of people who go to
the camp to have their fortunes told. The dogs must be used to them. I
don’t believe they’ll harm us.”

“After all, though, it will be safer to save a part of a sandwich each,
for the dogs,” insisted Mrs. Bonnell. “That will take their attention if
they come out at us by mistake.”

They laughed at her, but decided to do as she had suggested. Then they
cautiously made their way back into a thicker part of the forest, and,
sitting about a little spring, that bubbled from the side of a hill,
they ate part of their lunch, saving some for late afternoon, in case
they lost their way again, which did not seem likely, however.

Then came a little period of rest, and Marie proposed:

“Let’s go down now, and have it over with.”

“You’d think she was going to the dentist,” suggested Alice.

“Oh, my dear! Don’t mention dentist to me!” cried Mrs. Bonnell. “I have
one that needs filling, and I’ve been putting it off as long as
possible. But I really must go—some day.”

Again they approached the camp. This time they did not halt, but went
boldly on, seeing a path that led into the midst of the circle of wagons
and tents.

The wind must have changed, or else the noses of the dogs had become
keener, for there arose a canine chorus of howls and barks of protest as
the party of Camp Fire Girls came into view.

A black-haired and copper-visaged man, sprawling under a tree, sat up
suddenly at the sound made by the brutes, and, quickly surveying the
approaching party he called out in harsh tones:

“Quiet there, or I’ll stone you out of camp! Lie down!”

With muttered growls the dogs obeyed, slinking off to shady spots where
flies would not so much trouble them.

“Shall we go on?” whispered Natalie, as they came to a halt.

“Of course,” declared Mrs. Bonnell. “That’s what we are here for. Keep
your eyes open now, girls.”

Again they went on. The man under the tree had again stretched out on
the grass, his slouch hat over his eyes. Several other men peered out
from the interior of the wagons, or looked from between the flaps of
tents. Some few, surrounding a squad of horses, did not even turn to
look at the girls.

A woman with a dark, wrinkled face, and straggly gray hair, dressed in a
red and yellow spotted dress, yet, withal clean as to person and
raiment, came from a tent near the edge of the encampment—the tent
nearest the path where the girls were walking.

“Tell your fortunes, ladies,” she began with a smirk. “Anything you want
to know—with cards, tea leaves, by the palm, or by the eyes. We use all
ways. Tell your fortunes. Queen Neezar never fails—past, present and
future!”

She rattled it off—a string of patter and jargon doubtless learned by
heart. Yet she spoke English very well, not so much grammatically, as
without a trace of accent.

“Perhaps we may have our fortunes told,” said Mrs. Bonnell. “Does more
than one person tell the fortunes? There are five of us, and——”

“I see—you are in a hurry. Oh, yes, all Gypsy women can tell fortunes.
We are the only ones who can. We tell in many ways. A look at the face
is enough. I can see, lady, that you have much fortune. You are a
leader—you like to help others.”

“Say, that’s just the way Mrs. Bonnell is!” exclaimed Alice, in a
whisper. “Isn’t it uncanny! I’m afraid to have her tell mine!”

“Nonsense! She just guessed at it,” declared Natalie. “Any one would
know Mrs. Bonnell was a leader when they saw her bring us down like a
general, and then beginning the talk. It was just a shrewd guess.”

“Maybe so,” agreed Alice. “I wonder if we’ll all have our fortunes told?
Or will we look for that girl——”

“Hush!” exclaimed Natalie. “Mrs. Bonnell is speaking.”

“We would like to see all who tell fortunes,” said the Guardian
shrewdly, as she hoped. “We too, in a way, can tell fortunes, and we
would like to pick out the one who will reveal the future to us.”

“That is but fair,” said Queen Neezar. “You shall see all who tell
fortunes in this camp. I am the Queen of this tribe.”

“Are you, really?” asked Mabel.

“I am. We still keep up our old customs. We are real Gypsies from
Romany. I will tell them all to come out and you may select whom you
will.”

She passed rapidly from tent to wagon, and soon a number of young women,
and old, down to girls of fifteen and sixteen, appeared. Some were old
women, one a veritable hag, but most of them were middle-aged, their
faces dark and wrinkled, yet with the healthy color of out-of-doors, and
their skin was beautifully clear. They seemed quite clean, too, and the
glimpses the girls had into the tents and wagons showed them much neater
than one would have imagined on hearing the word Gypsies.

“Are—are these all fortune-tellers?” asked Mrs. Bonnell, after a look
about the camp, as her eyes swept over the assembled group. The men did
not seem to concern themselves with what was going on, and the dogs had
quieted down.

“All—yes, lady.”

“And have you no more—no young girls?”

“No, lady.”

“We saw one girl—once—named Hadee—is she not with your tribe?”

For an instant the Guardian was sure there passed a look between the two
older Gypsy women, and then the Queen answered:

“Hadee is no longer here.”

“Where is she?”

“We do not know, lady. Will you have your fortunes told?” and the voice
was somewhat cold. Mrs. Bonnell changed her tactics at once.

“We will have our fortunes told,” she said decidedly. “A different
teller for each one, and it will not take so long.”

“So, Hadee is missing,” whispered Natalie, as they followed the Queen
toward the collection of tents. “I wonder where she can be?”

“Maybe she has been arrested,” suggested Mabel, in a whisper.

“We would have heard about it,” declared Alice. “More likely she has run
off or been spirited away so she won’t be caught. Oh, dear! We seem
doomed to failure!”

“Hush!” exclaimed Marie. “We mustn’t let them know we suspect anything.”



                              CHAPTER XXI

                            OLD HANSON MOVES


Mrs. Bonnell was sure something was wrong in the Gypsy camp. So were the
girls. So much so that none of them listened with much attention to the
jargon poured fourth by the various fortune tellers.

There was the usual talk about how each one had had trouble—which was
true enough—and that each one was to have more which, perhaps, in the
nature of events, was still more true. But “all would come out well in
the end;” and then, too, was talk of dark-haired strangers—and
light-haired ones—of the male variety—who would play more or less havoc
with hearts and minds.

But through it all the girls felt sure there was an undercurrent of
worriment in the camp. At times some of the men would get up and move
off, accompanied by a dog or two.

Some took horses with them, sitting lazily on the bare backs of the
nags, cross-fashion, too slovenly, it seemed to ride astraddle, or even
to throw on a sack for a saddle. Whether they rode out to do some
trading, or on another errand was not disclosed.

Then, too, when Mrs. Bonnell had finished with her fortune, in which,
truth to tell, she was not much interested, a young man, handsome enough
in his Gypsy fashion, hurried into the camp. He strode into the tent of
Neezar, the Queen, before Mrs. Bonnell had fished the change out of her
net purse, and began an excited utterance in some unknown
tongue—probably the Gypsy argot—which sounded like Bohemian.

“Cha!” was the only word the old Gypsy uttered, but it was enough and
sent the abashed young man out of the tent in a hurry, his flow of talk
ceasing.

“Their everlasting quarrels—what have I to do with them? They are ever
at me to settle their disputes!” exclaimed Neezar. “I will have none of
it,” and she looked at Mrs. Bonnell shrewdly. “It was about a horse,”
she needlessly explained. “The young men are much trouble.”

“And you rule over them also,” asked the Guardian.

“Yes, over all.”

“And did Hadee dispute your authority?”

It was a shrewd guess Mrs. Bonnell thought, for the aged Gypsy looked at
her suspiciously.

“What do you know of Hadee?” came the quick question.

“Very little. She told the fortune of a friend of mine, and I thought I
should like to have her tell my own.”

“Perhaps she will—when she comes back,” replied the Queen, and Mrs.
Bonnell thought there was a twinkle in the deep-set eyes. “Hadee told
fortunes very well.”

“Would hers be any different from the one you have told me?”

“How could it—your fortune is your fortune—always the same. No one can
change it, though one person might reveal more than another—perhaps
reveal more than would be good for you. You have suffered—I can see it.
You have had a loss.”

That was evident, for Mrs. Bonnell, in spite of the fact that she had
laid aside black for the attire of the Camp Fire Girls, while in the
woods, still kept her jet earrings and the simple little black pin at
her throat. It needed no prophetess to tell that she had suffered.

“When do you think Hadee will come back?” asked the Guardian.

“How can we tell? We Gypsies are not like you white folks, lady. We do
strange things. We were born to wander and we wander. Doubtless Hadee
will come back—when she chooses.”

“Are her parents here?”

“They are dead. Now I beg your pardon, but I must see to my camp. There
is much to do, though we lead a simple life. Ah! the others have had
their fortunes told,” and she opened the tent for her visitor who saw
Natalie and the other girls emerging from the other little canvas
houses, gaudily decorated, and painted with the various names of the
“Princesses” who deigned, for a small piece of silver, to tear aside the
curtain of the future.

Mrs. Bonnell saw Neezar hurry over to the young man who had shown such
excitement, and then the Guardian went up to Natalie, about whom the
other girls clustered.

“Tell us what she said, Nat,” urged Mabel.

“It wasn’t anything—really.”

“Did she tell you how soon you were going to get married?”

“I never am!”

“Oh!” came in a chorus of protest, and Natalie blushed.

Then they told each other snatches of what had been revealed to them.
They all agreed it was not at all like the fortunes Hadee had told them
the time the diamond ring was missed. Then, as they walked through the
camp, on the way to where they had left their lunch-baskets, they became
aware that the excitement was increasing, though the Gypsies did their
best to make it seem of little moment.

Several men leaped on horses and rode off down the road, and one of the
young “Princesses” started off on foot at a rapid pace in the opposite
direction.

“What could have happened?” asked Marie.

“Maybe they’ve got word that they are going to be arrested,” suggested
Mabel.

“No, I think it can’t be that,” said Mrs. Bonnell.

“They’d all be leaving if they were going to be raided,” said Natalie.

“Well, we’ll tell that constable, who nearly arrested you, Nat, where to
find the camp,” suggested Alice. “He may be able to get back Mrs.
Anderson’s ring.”

“Oh, I hope so!” exclaimed Mabel, “but I’m not very sanguine.”

“Won’t the boys be surprised when we tell them that we located the
Gypsies?” asked Marie.

“And vexed, too,” added Alice. “They were so sure they would find the
camp themselves.”

They passed from the bounds of the encampment, and were soon on their
way to where they had left their boats, stopping when they reached the
deep spring to partake of the rest of their lunch, for it was certain,
now, that they would not get lost, and the shadows had not much
lengthened.

“We’ll get back to camp long before supper,” said Mabel.

“I wonder what could be going on back there?” mused Marie.

“And what has happened to poor Hadee?” spoke Natalie. “She was a pretty
little thing. I hope she isn’t in trouble.”

“She looked able to take care of herself,” said Alice.

“Well, certainly there is something wrong,” declared Mrs. Bonnell. “That
one who called herself a queen was really anxious to get rid of me, and
Gypsies seldom do that if you have money.”

They discussed the matter from various standpoints, but could come to no
decision. They rowed back leisurely, well satisfied, in a measure, with
their day’s outing.

“Let’s stop off and see how Old Hanson is getting on at the mysterious
mill,” suggested Natalie. “Poor old man—to think he took me for some one
he knew.”

“Natalie is keeping quite in the lime-light since we came to camp,”
laughed Marie. “Well, let’s go, it’s early yet.”

They turned their boats toward the shore of the lake where the old mill
was, and, in due time, were walking toward the ancient structure.

As they neared it they heard a confusion of voices, and the rattle of
goods being loaded into a wagon. Also admonitions to horses to “stand
still, can’t yer?”

“What can be going on?” asked Mabel.

They soon saw. In front of the mill was a farm wagon, and old Hanson and
another man were carrying the hermit’s goods from the shack, and putting
them in the vehicle.

“Why, Mr. Rossmore!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell, as she and the girls came
up, “are you moving?”

“Yes, ma’am, and I can’t git away any too soon.”

“Where are you going?” asked Mabel.

“Over on Mr. Applebaum’s farm. It was his wife that the Gypsies robbed
of a pocket-book,” he added. “I’m going to live with him. He’s a sort of
second cousin of mine.”

“Then you’re going to desert the dear old mill.”

“Yes, ma’am. I wouldn’t stay here another night—not if you was to give
me fifty dollars—yes or seventy-five dollars. No, sir!”

“Why, what is the trouble?” asked Natalie, yet by instinct she seemed to
anticipate the answer.

“The hant; that’s what the matter. It’s gittin’ wuss. I wouldn’t stay
here another night. I’m done!”

“The hant,” repeated Marie, not quite understanding.

“He means the haunt,” exclaimed Mabel in a whisper.

“Oh!”

“Yes, ma’am—the ghost,” went on Old Hanson. “Th’ hant. It’s drove me
out, and I never thought it would. I thought I could stand most
anything, but it’s got terrible bad lately.”

“How—what does er—it—do?” faltered Mrs. Bonnell. Somehow, it seemed
rather uncanny to talk about the matter.

“Oh, it goes on something terrible!” exclaimed the old hermit. “Groans
and cryin’ in the middle of the night, an’ movin’ about—takin’ things——”

“Taking things?”

“Yep—lots of my things has disappeared—my blankets and some of my grub—I
ain’t goin’ t’ stand it; I’m movin’!”

“Does—it—really groan?” asked Mabel, and she could not repress a shiver.

“Yes, ma’am, it do. An’ cries, too. I heard it all last night, an’ I
couldn’t sleep. And when I go in the old mill day-times, something like
a cold wind brushes past me.”

“Maybe it _is_ a cold wind,” suggested Alice. “I’m sure the old place
must be draughty enough.”

“It wa’n’t no wind,” affirmed the old man, as he piled a chair on top of
his scanty belongings in the wagon. The other—evidently a hired man—did
not talk, except to the horses.

“So I’m goin’ t’ pull out,” went on Old Hanson. “Th’ mill’s mine—sech as
’tis—but the hant can have it if it wants it. I’ve got no use fer it. I
want t’ sleep in peace nights. Sech groans—sech cries—you never heard
th’ like.”

Something like a cold chill seemed to pass over the girls as they looked
up at the old mill. And then Natalie set their nerves more in a flutter
by suddenly exclaiming:

“There! Look there! At the upper window. I’m sure I saw a face!”



                              CHAPTER XXII

                            UNSEEN VISITORS


The girls clung to one another, after their first few frightened screams
of dismay, and then Mrs. Bonnell exclaimed:

“Oh, Natalie! How could you? To frighten us so!”

“I didn’t mean to. But really I did see something at the window.”

“Probably a rag fluttering in the wind,” spoke Alice.

“Maybe,” assented Natalie, with a nervous glance at the broken casement.
“And yet do fluttering rags have dark eyes, that look hopelessly at
you?”

“Did you see that?” demanded Mabel.

“I—I think I did.”

“I guess Nat’s been reading too many novels,” was Marie’s opinion.

“I have not! There isn’t a thing up here to read anyhow, if I wanted to.
I was thinking of sending for a few. But I _did_ see a face at that
window,” and Natalie shook her pretty head vigorously to emphasize her
words. “It was just as you spoke,” she went on, addressing Old Hanson.

“I wouldn’t be at all s’prised,” he admitted. “I’m sure there’s a hant
here, and that’s why I’m movin’. I wouldn’t stay here another night.”

“Tell us more about it,” urged Mrs. Bonnell. “Maybe it can all be
explained by natural causes. I never heard of a ghost yet, that
couldn’t.”

“This ’un can’t!” declared the old hermit. “Sech groans an’ cries, an’
goin’s on! An’ cold winds sweeping over you ’fore you know what’s up.”

“Maybe you left a door open?” suggested Marie.

“No’m, I never do that. It’s the ghost—that’s what ’tis. Th’ mill is
haunted. I’ve allers heard ’twas, but I never believed it until lately.
Now, I’m goin’ to quit!”

The girls and the Guardian gathered closer together and watched the
preparations to move on the part of Old Hanson. He had most of his
household goods out of the shack next to the mill now. As he went back
for something one of the horses started slightly.

“There it is! There it is!” suddenly cried the old hermit from within
the shack. “It jest brushed past me! I felt a cold hand on the back of
my neck! Oh, I’m a goner! I’m doomed. It’s the call of fate!”

“Whoa there!” called the farm hand to the restless steeds, that had
jumped nervously at the sound of the old man’s weird scream.

“Come on!” cried Natalie. “I’ve had enough of this. I won’t sleep a wink
to-night. Come on, girls!”

“Yes, it’s—getting late,” added Marie. “We must get back to camp.”

“Not to mention staying here after dark,” added Mabel. “Oh! Perhaps it’s
silly, but I don’t like it. Are you sure you saw something, Nat?”

“Of course I did. I don’t know what it was, but it looked like a face—
Oh, don’t let’s talk about it,” she begged.

Mr. Rossmore had rushed from the shack with the last few of his
household goods. He threw them into the wagon.

“Go on!” he cried to the farm hand. “Drive away from here as fast as you
can. I don’t ever want to see the place again. It near had me that
time.”

“What was it?” demanded Mrs. Bonnell.

“The hant, sure. Oh, what a place!” and leaping up on the wagon seat he
called to the horses which seemed glad enough to leave the eerie place.

“Come on, girls!” cried Natalie, as the wagon rattled off down the road.
“We must get back to camp.”

“Before dark,” added Mabel.

“My! but we’ve had a full day!” declared Alice. “But we found the Gypsy
camp.”

“And a lot of good it did us,” said Marie. “We didn’t locate the girl we
wanted.”

“Oh, the police can do that,” said Mrs. Bonnell. “We’ll tell them where
the camp is, and the constables can look after the suspects.”

With a last glance at the old mill, which seemed silent and deserted
enough now, and a parting look at the disappearing wagon, the Camp Fire
Girls made their way to where they had left their boats. Soon they were
rowing over the peaceful lake, which the setting sun was painting in
hues of vermillion, olive and yellow.

“Isn’t it beautiful,” said Natalie softly, as she hummed a few strains
of “The Land of the Sky-blue Water.” “Beautiful!”

“And to think of the old mill and—” began Marie.

“Don’t,” suggested Alice. “Let’s enjoy the sunset.”

Silently they rowed onward, their faces to the glorious colors in the
west.

“Wo-he-lo! Wo-he-lo!” suddenly called Marie, as they neared the shore.
“Wo-he-lo!”

“What is it? Who is it?” asked Mabel.

“The boys. There they are on shore, waiting for us,” and she waved her
hand.

Over the water came floating the echo of the call of the Camp Fire
Girls:

“Wo-he-lo!”

“Work—health—love!” murmured Natalie. “What a wonderful combination
for—girls.”

“And the greatest of these is—love,” softly quoted Alice.

“I’m thinking of that poor Gypsy girl,” murmured Natalie. “She perhaps
had plenty of work—but I wonder how much of—love? Did she have any?”

“She had health, at any rate,” observed Mabel, as she pulled on her left
oar to change the course of the craft.

“Of course—if she was anything like the other girls in the camp,”
admitted Natalie. “But perhaps she has been driven away—maybe the rest
of the tribe found she had been—been taking things, and drove her away.
She may have taken her health with her, but very little of love, I’m
afraid.”

“Oh, no doubt some of those Gypsy lads, with their beautifully white
teeth, are in love with her,” suggested Mabel.

“That isn’t the only kind of love there is,” said Natalie softly.

“Oh, my! How romantic we’re getting!” cried Alice. “I declare, that
haunted mill must have affected all of us.”

“Let’s forget it,” suggested Mrs. Bonnell. “I wonder what the boys want?
They seem a bit excited.”

The three chums were hurrying down to the water’s edge and, as the boats
approached, Blake hailed the girls.

“Where have you been?” he demanded.

“Out for a row,” evaded Marie.

“Were you over to our camp?” asked Jack.

“Your camp? No,” answered his sister. “What do you mean?”

“Why some one has been there and about cleaned us out of grub. We
thought maybe you girls had borrowed some.”

“Indeed not,” answered Marie. “We are just getting back. We’ve been to
Bear Pond again. But, girls!” she exclaimed, “if the boys have had
unseen visitors, perhaps we have too. Let’s look,” and, springing from
the boat she hurried up to the tents.



                             CHAPTER XXIII

                             MYSTIFICATION


“Anything missing?” gasped Mrs. Bonnell, as she came up the slope from
the lake, whither Natalie had sped in advance.

“Don’t you dare tell us there is!” cried Marie.

“There doesn’t seem to be,” went on the Guardian, whose rather short
breath bore to her the unwelcome intelligence that she was getting
stout. “I really must exercise more,” she told herself. “I am positively
getting indolent, and in camp—of all things!”

“Everything seems to be as we left it,” declared Natalie after a hurried
glance around, while Mrs. Bonnell sat down on a board nailed between two
trees making a rustic seat.

“They could easily have opened our tent, gone in and tied the flaps back
again,” suggested Alice. “Do hurry and look in, Nat!” for
breath-of-the-pine-tree was fumbling with the knots of the cords.

“We must learn to tie some of the queer knots the boy scouts have in
their manual book,” suggested Mabel.

By this time Natalie had succeeded in loosening the tent-flaps. With the
boys gathered in a circle back of them the girls peered into their
sleeping and living quarters.

“Everything seems all right,” murmured Natalie.

“Unlock the trunks and make sure,” suggested Alice. “If they have taken
my best dress I——”

“You won’t go over to the dance at the Point to-morrow night; will you?”
asked Jack.

“Indeed, I’ll not. But don’t suggest such a thing!”

The girls crowded into the tent, and a hurried search disclosed that, so
far as they could tell, nothing was missing.

“Though they may have taken all our things to eat,” said Marie. “If they
have, we’ll have to depend on you boys.”

“Huh! We’re cleaned out,” exclaimed Phil. “We came to get enough of your
stuff for supper.”

“You poor boys!” murmured Mabel.

“This is the first they’ve thought of us,” declared Blake. “They’re so
anxious about their own stuff that they didn’t care what had happened to
ours.”

“Oh, we did so!” declared Alice. “Only you frightened us, meeting us the
way you did.”

“Tell us all about it,” urged Natalie.

“There isn’t anything to tell,” replied Jack. “We had been off fishing,
and when we came back we found our pantry pretty well cleaned out. Lucky
we didn’t have an awful lot. We had to stock up again to-morrow,
anyhow.”

“Let’s go over and take a look, girls,” proposed Marie. “We won’t need
to get much for supper. There are some cold beans and——”

“What about us?” came from Jack. “Don’t you s’pose we want to eat?”

“Well, you can come to supper with us,” suggested Mrs. Bonnell. “After
that we’ll all go over to the Point in the motor-boat—that is if it
runs—and we’ll stock up.”

“Good!” cried Blake. “And we’ll have a dance after it.”

“Then come on!” proposed Alice. “We’ll look for clues, and decide who it
is took their things.”

“Ha! Ha! That’s a good one!” jeered Jack. “Look for clues! Why you
couldn’t even find your way home from Bear Pond!”

“But we did to-day,” said his sister quietly.

“You did? Were you over there again?”

“We were,” replied Marie.

“You must be fond of the place,” suggested Jack. “What did you find this
time—a snake?”

“We located the Gypsy Camp,” said Natalie gently.

“You did?” chorused the boys, all excitement.

“We did,” went on Natalie. “And we’re going to tell the constable about
it, and see if he can get back Mabel’s mother’s ring—it was the same
band of Gypsies we think.”

“The same band!” cried Jack.

“Yes,” continued Mabel. “There was a Hadee in it, only she was missing.
And we had our fortunes told, and there seemed to be some excitement in
the camp, and——”

“Don’t tell it all!” exclaimed Mabel. “Leave some for the rest of us.
Old Hanson is moving, boys because——”

“He saw a ghost!” broke in Alice.

“He heard it, you mean,” corrected Marie. “Nat was the only one who saw
it.”

“I’m not so sure,” said Natalie, doubtfully.

“Say, kindly translate,” begged Blake in a weak voice as he pretended to
support himself against Jack. “What does all this mean, anyhow?”

“It’s got me going,” admitted Phil.

“Let me sit down—then please tell it all over again,” pleaded Jack. “Now
proceed,” and he took a seat beside Mrs. Bonnell.

Gradually the girls gave a connected story of their trip that afternoon,
including their meeting with the man of the old mill.

“And to cap the climax,” finished Natalie, “you boys meet us and say
your camp has been looted—is that the proper word?”

“We’ll permit you to use it semi-occasionally,” said Blake, “though I
think it is taboo in Camp Fire Girls’ rules.”

“Well, anyhow, let’s go over and see what we can find in the boys’
camp,” suggested Marie.

“After what you have gone through with to-day you can accomplish
anything,” declared Blake. “To think of you finding the Gypsy camp at
Bear Pond, when, all the while, we had a notion that it was at Mt.
Harry.”

“And we’ve been trying to locate it there,” added Phil.

“We know it,” laughed Marie. “That’s why we didn’t tell you where we
were going. We wanted to surprise you.”

“And you succeeded beautifully,” put in her brother. “Come on over to
our desolate abode. Maybe you can look at the place where the dog
biscuits were kept and tell what kind of an ostrich ate them.”

“I have it!” suddenly cried Natalie, while they all prepared to walk to
the other camp.

“What—the dog biscuits?” demanded Jack.

“No, but I know who has been at your camp. It’s some of the
Gypsies—that’s why they were so excited to-day when we had our fortunes
told. They knew we girls were friends of yours, and they thought we had
come to spy on them.”

“Well, we hope you _are_ friends of ours,” spoke Jack, “but as for the
Gypsies suspecting that you had come to spy on them, because our camp
had been looted, as Nat puts it, why it couldn’t be. They must have
known you made an early start, and they didn’t come to our camp—if it
was they who did it—until after you had left here. No, you’ve got to
think up a better reason than that.”

“Well, I’m sure the Gypsies were at your camp,” insisted Mabel.

“A woman’s reason—because,” laughed Jack.

They were soon at the boys’ camp, and in the gathering dusk the girls
were shown where a box containing the provisions had been broken open,
and a considerable quantity of supplies taken.

“Did they only take victuals?” asked Mrs. Bonnell.

“I guess so,” answered Phil. “We didn’t look after we found that our
grub—I beg your pardon, ladies, I should say our choice viands—were
taken,” and he bowed low.

Blake who had gone into the sleeping tent came out with a woeful face.

“It’s gone!” he cried. “It’s gone!”

“What?” demanded Natalie.

“My best silk handkerchief!” cried Blake. “I paid two dollars for it—all
the colors of the rainbow, too! Oh, woe is me!”

“Well, if I’m glad of one thing, I’m glad that’s missing!” fairly yelled
Jack. “Of all the gaudy Italian opera effects that was the limit! You
could hear it halfway across the lake. I couldn’t sleep with it in the
same tent. Now, we’ll have some peace!”

“Is it really gone, Blake?” asked Alice.

“It sure is.”

“And I was hoping I’d fall heir to that to make a sash of,” his sister
went on. “But it proves one thing.”

“Oh, yes!” Blake exclaimed sarcastically. “As long as we get some proof
out of it, no matter whether or not our whole camp is looted—notice that
word looted. Well, sis, what is it that’s proved?”

“The Gypsies were here.”

“Huh! We knew that before.”

“But this makes it certain. Gypsies, as you know, are very fond of
bright-colored articles—especially to wear. They could not resist your
handkerchief.”

“Encyclopædia Britannica—volume Gyp to Jap!” exclaimed Blake. “With
marginal notes on colored handkerchiefs and silk weaving in particular.
Sis, you’re a wonder! Fellows; bustle around and see what you’ve missed.
Maybe she can build up a theory to prove that a fish climbed out of the
water and took my handkerchief to make a hammock for the little ones. Is
it not mar-vee-li-ous!”

“Horrid thing!” pouted Alice. “I was trying to help you.”

“I think she’s right,” announced Natalie, and, as she was no one’s
sister, the boys at once changed their viewpoint.

“Well, there may be something in it,” admitted Blake. “Gypsies sure do
like bright-colored things. But why did they stop at my handkerchief?
Why didn’t they take some of those rainbow neckties that Phil insists on
tearing the atmosphere with; or some of Jack’s——”

“That’ll do old man!” came from the latter quickly. “There are some
objects too sacred to mention. Let us have peace.”

“I say let’s have supper,” broke in Marie. “We’re nearly starved. If you
boys are coming over with us, come on. We can theorize later.”

“Good idea,” declared Phil. “Lead on—we’ll all follow.”

“Perhaps the ladies have a few more deductions to make,” suggested Jack,
politely.

“I think we have discovered enough for one day,” spoke Natalie. “We have
been doing all the discovering. Why don’t you boys do some?”

“The action has been entirely too rapid for us,” confessed Blake. “We
are willing to let you have a try at the mystificating problem. All we
know is that we are hungry, and we have not the wherewithal to eat.”

“Then come on over to our camp,” proposed the Guardian. “Girls—show that
you are real members of the Camp Fire tribe. We must feed these hungry
warriors.”

“Where are their fish?” asked Alice.

“We didn’t get any,” confessed her brother.

“Feed us this time, and we’ll get up a party for you next week.”

“Wait until I see if we’ve got gasoline enough to run the motor-boat
over to the Point and back,” suggested Jack, as he hurried down to the
little dock. “Then we’ll dine with you, fair ladies.”

He was seen to come to a halt near the edge of the water.

“What’s the matter?” called Blake.

“More mysteries,” answered Jack. “Our little canoe is gone!”



                              CHAPTER XXIV

                            NATALIE IS GONE


Camp Fire Girls and camping boys gathered in a little group on the edge
of the lake, standing about Jack, who was mutely pointing to a stake in
the water.

“There’s where she was tied,” he said. “And now she’s gone!”

“Maybe she floated away,” suggested Blake.

“Not much!” cried Jack. “I haven’t learned to tie all sorts of sailor
knots now to slip up and make a grannie-hitch at this day. That canoe
couldn’t come untied unless some one did it.”

“And it’s out of sight now,” remarked Phil, as he swept his eyes over
the surface of the lake. “Hadn’t we better get after it in the
motor-boat? Have we any gas?”

“I forgot to look. When I saw the canoe gone I got all worked up.”

“Did it belong to you boys?” asked Natalie.

“No, and that’s the worst of it. We hired it over at Glen’s dock,” said
Jack, “and he’s sure to charge us double what it was worth if we don’t
return it at the end of the season.”

“When did you notice it was gone?” asked Mrs. Bonnell.

“Just now. Of course it was gone when we came back here from our trip,
but we didn’t notice it, I guess. But it’s sure gone all right,” and
Jack added his searching gaze to that of his two chums. But on the
darkening surface of the lake there was no such craft to be seen as the
small green canoe the boys had hired.

“Let’s get right out in the motor,” proposed Jack, who had taken the
screw-plug from the gasoline tank in the bow, and ascertained, by
dipping in a stick, that there was fuel enough to run to the Point and
back.

“Better wait until after supper,” advised Marie. “Come over to our camp,
boys, and we’ll give you the best meal we can get up in a hurry. Then
we’ll go over to the Point with you.”

“But we want to look for our canoe,” insisted Phil.

“I know,” replied his sister, “but we’ve got to go to the Point anyhow.
You need some supplies, and the canoe is just as likely to be in that
direction as any other.”

“Not much!” insisted Jack. “The Gypsies wouldn’t take it over that
way—too many chances of being seen.”

“What makes you think the Gypsies took it?” asked Mabel.

“Of course they took it!” cried Jack. “Who else? We come back to find
our camp looted, to quote Natalie, and——”

“Oh, Jack! You’re making fun of me?” she exclaimed.

“I am not, Nat! Looted is a dandy word. Anyhow, our camp is cleaned out,
Blake’s best handkerchief is gone, and good riddance to that Italian
opera, I claim——”

“You wait!” threatened the loser. “I’ll get even with you all right!”

“And then our canoe is gone,” went on Jack, ignoring the protest. “The
Gypsies must have been going about the lake in some kind of boat. They
saw our camp deserted, and helped themselves. Then they towed off our
canoe.”

“But how do you account for them not taking anything from our camp?”
asked Mabel.

“Oh, they were too polite,” said Blake. “Besides, they may not have had
time. Well, if we’re going to get a move on, let’s do it!”

“Come over in about fifteen minutes,” suggested Mrs. Bonnell. “We’ll be
ready for you then. Come on, girls,” and she led the way back to Dogwood
camp, leaving the boys to discuss among themselves the queer happenings,
while the girls were no less exercised over what had occurred.

“Oh, dear!” exclaimed Natalie. “I don’t like these Gypsies so near at
hand. It makes me nervous.”

“They’re not near,” said Mabel. “Why, are you afraid of being
kidnapped?”

“Hardly,” replied Natalie. “But who knows? They may take all our clothes
some day when we’re not at camp, and we’d have to go home in these
suits.”

“If they all became us as well as yours does you, Nat,” said the
Guardian, “I’m sure we wouldn’t object. I’m sure mine makes me look ever
so much stouter. I really must exercise more and eat less.”

“If the Gypsies make off with our larder we’ll all of us eat less,”
suggested Alice with a laugh. “Well, we must see what we can give the
boys. I know they must be nearly famished.”

And from the manner in which the campers of Stony Point did justice to
the hasty meal that the Camp Fire Girls prepared, it was evident that
Alice’s conjecture was right.

“And now for the Point!” cried Blake. “Shall we help you lock up,
girls?”

“Such locking as we can do,” spoke Marie. “I wish there was some way of
making a tent more secure. The next time we go camping we must have a
log cabin. We can lock that.”

“Leave a lantern burning,” suggested Phil. “That will make any unwelcome
visitors think some one is at home. That’s what we always do.”

The girls agreed that this might be a good plan, and a light was left
within the tent, securely fastened against the possibility of an upset,
should a squirrel or other prowler enter in search of food. Another
lantern was lighted and hung outside, and the boys, having done likewise
at their camp, the motor-boat was gotten in readiness for the trip to
the Point after supplies.

“And we’ll keep a lookout for our canoe on the way,” suggested Phil.

“Not much chance of spotting it after dark,” replied Blake.

“But if we see a rowboat, or one canoe towing another we’ll sort of
sneak up and take a look,” remarked Jack.

“Oh, boys!” cried Natalie, “please don’t have any—unpleasantness.”

“Unpleasantness is—good!” affirmed Phil. “We’ll just throw them
overboard, Nat, if we find any of them have our canoe, and then all the
unpleasantness will be on their side.”

“Oh, boys! You couldn’t!” and she seemed really alarmed.

“Of course they won’t,” said Alice witheringly. “Don’t let them scare
you.”

“Well, we’re going to get our canoe,” declared Phil doggedly.

But though the boys kept a sharp lookout on their way to the Point they
saw no signs of their missing craft. Once at the Point, which was a sort
of gathering place for the campers and cottagers from all the coves and
inlets of the lake, the boys gave their orders for groceries, and then
danced with the girls, for the nightly hops were a feature there.

“‘A good time was had by all,’ as the Weekly Clarion of Hensfoot Corners
will say next week,” remarked Blake, as the little party prepared to go
back to camp.

“It _was_ enjoyable,” declared Natalie who was very fond of dancing. “I
hated to come away.”

“I’ll go back with you,” offered Blake. “We can get a boat to bring us
over.”

“You’ll do nothing of the kind!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell, with a laugh.
“It’s time my Camp Fire Girls were home and in bed.”

“Oh, very well, Nat,” sighed Blake. “Some other time.”

They found their camps undisturbed, the lighted lanterns seemingly
serving them well in their absence. But, as on the going trip, there was
no sign of the missing canoe. Nor did a casual search the boys made the
next day bring it to light.

They reported their loss to the local authorities, and one of the
constables said he would do what he could to find the craft.

“Though it isn’t very hopeful,” he told them. “It’s so easy to paint a
canoe over, and they all look alike.”

The officer seemed more interested in hearing about the location of the
Gypsy wagons and tents at Bear Pond, and made a trip to the girls’ camp
to learn about them. He was given the directions to find it, and said he
would make an investigation at once.

“And, if you can,” urged Mabel, “see if you can get back my mother’s
ring.”

“I will,” he promised, but the girls well knew that there was but a
small chance of success.

“Maybe we should have told him about the haunted mill,” suggested
Natalie.

“No!” declared Mrs. Bonnell. “That was only some foolish fancy of that
hermit. The mill isn’t haunted.”

“Of course not,” Natalie agreed, “but I’m sure I saw a face at the
window that day.”

But nothing was said to the constable about it.

Several days passed, and nothing new developed. The boys did not find
their canoe, and nothing was heard about the visit of the constable to
the Gypsy camp.

The Camp Fire Girls and their brothers and friend, went on excursions
together, and had a general good time. The summer had been an ideal one,
so far, they all agreed. The girls did some more clay work, and Mrs.
Bonnell sent to the Camp Fire Headquarters for a hand loom on which to
make bead work.

“For you girls will soon be Fire Makers,” she said, “and will want to
wear some of the bead head-bands. You can begin weaving your particular
designs now. Natalie can make a pine tree for her symbol, Marie a bird,
Mabel an ear of corn, and Alice an Indian tepee.”

“I think Natalie will look perfectly stunning with a bead head-band over
her black hair,” whispered Marie.

“She’s stunning as she is now—a regular Pocahontas,” answered Mabel.

The girls were delighted with the bead work, and kept at it so steadily
that the boys complained they would not “come out and play.”

It was late one afternoon when Mrs. Bonnell, who had been walking
through the woods with Marie, who wanted to look for a certain flower,
came back. She had left Natalie and Mabel together, at their bead work.

“Where’s Natalie?” asked the Guardian. “I have a lovely idea for her
bead head-band.”

“She went out to meet you,” said Mabel. “Some time ago. Didn’t you see
her?”

“No!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell, as she looked at the lengthening shadows
over the lake. “I—wish—she would come back.”

In spite of themselves the girls and their Guardian felt a chill of fear
strike to their hearts.

“Let’s call!” suggested Marie.

They united their voices in Natalie’s name, varying the summons with
“Wo-he-lo!” and “Dogwood camp!”

“What’s the matter?” asked Blake, who came running over a little later.

“Natalie is missing!” exclaimed Mabel. “Oh, Blake, what could have
happened to her?”



                              CHAPTER XXV

                              ON THE TRAIL


“Now, the first thing you want to do is to keep cool,” advised Blake.
“Take it easy—nothing could have happened to her.”

“Oh, but you don’t know—there might,” gasped Alice.

“What is it?” asked Jack, as he and Phil came up on the run, having
followed Blake when they heard the girls calling.

“Natalie is missing!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell. “Marie and I went for a
walk in the woods, leaving Mabel and Natalie here. When did she leave
you, Mabel?”

“Soon after you started out.”

“That’s nearly two hours ago. And she’s been gone all this time,”
commented the Guardian. “Did she say which way she was going?”

“No,” answered Mabel. “I didn’t pay much attention. I was looking after
that beef stew, and I didn’t want it to burn, so I kept going in the
tent ever so often.”

“I heard Natalie say, when I was over the stove at one time, that she
was going into the woods, and I took it for granted that she would
follow you.”

“We didn’t see anything of her,” said Marie. “We walked slowly at first,
so she could easily have caught up to us.”

“And it’s getting darker,” murmured Alice, who had been over to the
boys’ camp, doing a bit of sewing for her brother. She had followed them
as they ran to Dogwood in response to the calls.

“Oh, isn’t it too bad!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell.

“She’ll turn up all right!” asserted Blake. “Then you didn’t see which
way she went, Mabel?”

“No, I was in the cooking tent. But she wouldn’t go off the main path;
would she?”

“It doesn’t seem so,” spoke Marie. “Oh, we must find her! She can’t stay
in the woods,” and there was a catch in her voice.

“Now, take it easy, sis,” advised her brother. “We’ll find her all
right. All we’ll have to do is to begin a search. She probably went
farther than she meant to and it takes longer to come back. Come on,
boys, we’ll start on the trail.”

“You must have lanterns!” insisted the Guardian. “It will soon be too
dark to see. We have a number of ’em. Girls, light ’em up!”

“Are we going to stay here—alone?” asked Alice.

“You always have,” said her brother.

“But Natalie——”

“Let ’em come along, if they want to,” suggested Jack. “It’s no fun
waiting around for news. But we’ll soon find her,” he added. “We’ll each
take a different trail—there are three main ones into the woods—Nat must
be on one of those. Each fellow can take a girl, and Mrs. Bonnell can be
a sort of director of operations.”

The girls paired off with their brothers, and soon the woods bore the
appearance of a forest wherein flickered big fireflies, for the lanterns
bobbed here and there amid the trees, as do the insects on a June
evening.

As the boys and Camp Fire Girls went slowly along they called from time
to time, their voices echoing through the fast-darkening woods. But
there came no answering cry.

The three main trails into the woods did not diverge greatly, and it was
possible for the three searching parties to keep in communication with
one another. From time to time one or the other called, asking for any
news. But none was forthcoming.

“Oh, we _must_ find her!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell. “Something must have
happened to her!”

“I think that must be it,” agreed Jack; Mrs. Bonnell having accompanied
him and his sister. “Maybe she has fallen and——”

“Oh, Jack!” begged Marie. “Don’t say such horrid things!”

“Why not—if they’re true? We might as well recognize that something is
likely to have happened. We’ve got to face the music.”

“Poor Natalie!” breathed Marie. “Oh!” she screamed a moment later.

“What is it?” demanded Mrs. Bonnell.

“Something went right over my foot.”

“A snake—I mean hoptoad,” and Jack quickly corrected himself.

“Don’t mention it!” cried Marie with a shudder.

She clung to her brother, who flashed the lantern back and forth. Again
and again was Natalie’s name called, but the echoes from the dark woods
were the only replies.

“Oh, what can have become of her?” whispered Mabel to Phil. “Do you
suppose——?”

“What’s the use of supposing anything?” he answered a bit shortly.
“We’ll know when we find her, and not before.”

Then they tramped on, and, a little later, a call from their left gave
them hope. Blake and Alice were over there.

“What is it?” called Phil. “Have you found her?”

“No,” answered Blake in disappointed tones. “Alice thought she heard
her, but it turned out to be a stray cow. Any luck?”

“Not a bit!”

“Where are the others?”

“Not far off. I can see their light. I guess they haven’t struck any
clues.”

“We’ll have to wait until morning.”

“I think so, but we’ll look a little farther.”

So they kept on. But it was evident that Natalie was not in that part of
the woods. After some difficulty the three bands of searchers got
together again, Jack, his sister and Mrs. Bonnell having wandered into a
sort of swamp, where the water oozed over their shoes. They were wet,
tired and miserable.

“We—we can’t find her!” faltered Marie.

“Oh, where can she be?” murmured Mabel.

“Now, there’s no use worrying,” insisted Blake.

“But, we can’t help it,” said his sister.

“We just must, girls,” declared Mrs. Bonnell in firm tones. “We must not
worry!”

“But, poor Natalie!” cried Alice.

“Be sensible,” ordered the Guardian. “She is well and strong, and able
to take care of herself. Something may have unavoidably detained her,
and——”

“But, where did she go? Where could she stay after dark?” Marie wanted
to know.

“We can’t tell. Certainly we will have to find her. Perhaps we had
better go back to camp and summon help,” suggested Mrs. Bonnell.

“Oh, let’s!” chorused the girls, and this was voted the best plan.

“There’s a camp of young fellows not far from ours,” said Jack when they
were all back at Dogwood—a disconsolate enough party. “We’ll get them
and beat the woods. You girls had better stay here now. We’ll find her.
I’ll row down in one of your boats, and get them.”

He hurried to the little dock, and at once called out:

“Where’s your small rowboat?”

“Isn’t it there?” asked Mrs. Bonnell in surprised tones.

“Not a sign of it.”

In the flickering light of the lanterns those near the tents looked at
each other. Then Marie cried:

“I see it now! Natalie went out in a boat and is drowned! Oh, Natalie!”
and she fell to sobbing on Mrs. Bonnell’s shoulder.



                              CHAPTER XXVI

                            A SPRAINED ANKLE


“Now look here, sis!” exclaimed Jack, purposely cross. “This is all
nonsense! Natalie isn’t drowned any more than you are! Don’t be silly!”

“I’m not!” she retorted, brought somewhat to herself by his manner of
speaking. “But isn’t the boat gone?”

“Of course it is,” he admitted, “and it may be that Nat is in it. But
that’s a long way from saying she is drowned. Nat knows how to manage a
boat.”

“Then why doesn’t she come home?” asked Alice.

“There _you_ go!” cried her brother. “You girls are all alike—bound to
look on the dark side.”

“Well,” tearfully protested Alice, “can you show us a bright side?”

“Of course!” exclaimed Blake. “She may have met some friends, and gone
to supper with them. They may have picked her up in their launch.”

“But Natalie wouldn’t go without sending some word to us,” objected Mrs.
Bonnell.

“Maybe she did send word, and the person forgot to bring it,” said Jack.
“I’ve had that happen to me lots of times. She’ll be found all right,
you see.”

“Oh, of course I don’t believe anything serious could happen to her,”
said Mrs. Bonnell, “only—well, it is getting late,” and she looked
across the dark lake, and a little shiver of nervous fear made her
tremble.

“Besides, Natalie doesn’t know any one up here who has a launch, and
with whom she would go to supper,” went on Mabel.

“Now, it’s your turn to throw cold water,” objected her brother. “How do
you know whom Nat might have met since she’s been up here? You girls
aren’t always together, and she may have met some young fellow, and not
wanted to tell you about him,” and he looked over at Blake, and nudged
Phil.

“That’s right,” chimed in the latter.

“Oh, nonsense!” exclaimed his sister. “Natalie wouldn’t do such a thing
as that. Oh, but what can we do?”

“Hadn’t we better notify some one—some of the constables—and have him
get up a searching party?”

“Say, those constables aren’t worth their salt,” declared Jack. “They
couldn’t find a lost cow, let alone a pretty girl. Why, they couldn’t
even find the Gypsy camp, and that was plain enough after you girls got
on the trail. The constables are no good!”

“Then what can we do?” asked Mabel. “We must do something to find her.
It’s awful to stand around this way and do nothing!” and she stamped her
foot in troubled vexation.

“I’ll get those young fellows at the other camp,” said Phil. “Then we’ll
start some of them out in the boat, and the rest of us will search
through the woods again.”

“I guess that plan is as good as any,” agreed Mrs. Bonnell. “Poor
Natalie! I wonder what possessed her to go off by herself?”

“Maybe she got some clue to the lost Gypsy girl?” suggested Jack.

“Oh, you boys!” exclaimed the Guardian. “You are always thinking of
clues and trails! Be reasonable.”

“Well, Nat had some good cause for going off, I’ll say that much,”
declared Phil, and Blake nodded in assent.

“Go get those other fellows,” suggested Jack. “I’ll bail out a boat, one
of ours has sprung a leak.”

“Why not take the launch?” asked Blake.

“Something’s the matter with the carburetor again,” replied Jack. “They
might get stuck out in the middle of the lake.”

“That’s a peach of a boat!” murmured Blake. “If we come up here again
next year we’ll have our own. This one is out of order half the time.
The fellow who hired it to us ought to give us a rebate.”

“If we don’t find that missing canoe of his he’ll take so much of our
money that we’ll have to walk home,” added Phil.

“Well, we’ll have a good search in the morning,” said Jack. “Now then,
let’s get busy after Natalie.”

While the girls stood about, well-nigh distracted, and not knowing what
to do, save to talk in shivery whispers, and to speculate on what might
have happened to their Camp Fire chum, Phil hurried off to where the
other boys had their tent. He was soon heard returning with them.

They readily agreed to join in the search, and some of them prepared to
set off in one of the larger rowboats, with Phil, while the others got
more lanterns and prepared for another tramp through the woods.

The boat was just about to be pushed off from the little improvised
dock, when the sound of oars out on the lake was heard, the echo coming
distinctly over the water, and through the still darkness.

“Hark!” exclaimed Mabel.

“Some one is coming,” added Marie.

“Maybe with—news,” faltered Alice.

Then came a hail.

“Wo-he-lo! Dogwood!”

“It’s Natalie!” chorused her chums, while Blake raised his voice in a
gladsome shout:

“Natalie! Where have you been? Are you all right?”

“All right, yes, of course. Reuben is bringing me home.”

“Reuben?” Blake questioned quickly.

“That’s the milk-and-farm boy,” said Alice in a low voice.

“Oh, yes.”

“Hurry, Natalie!” called Mrs. Bonnell. “What happened to you? What kept
you? Where were you? We were just going in search of you.”

“I’m all right,” answered the voice from out in the darkness, and then
the rescuers could see a faint glimmer of light in a moving boat. “I
sprained my ankle, and I couldn’t walk. Reuben came along and found me,
and brought me home in his boat. We’ll be there in a minute.”

“Busted part of the blade off one of my oars,” explained the country
lad. “That’s why it took us so long. The boat wouldn’t go straight.”

The boys and girls crowded down to the edge of the water and waited
anxiously. Now they could discern the approaching boat more clearly. In
a little while it grated on the pebbles of the beach, and by the light
of the lanterns with which the second searching party had been about to
start out, they could see the missing girl resting on some blankets in
the bottom of the craft.

“Oh, Natalie!” cried Mrs. Bonnell. “We’ve been so worried about you!”

“I know it, dear Guardie, but I couldn’t help it. I fell and sprained my
ankle.”

“Where?”

“In the haunted mill.”

“The haunted mill!” cried Alice. “Were you there, Natalie Fuller?”

“I was. Oh, Blake, my dear, don’t try to lift me out until I straighten
my foot! Oh!” and she shrank back with pain, for Blake had gotten into
the boat and was endeavoring to lift her out.

“Give me a hand here, you fellows,” he ordered somewhat roughly, but
they knew how he felt.

“No, no, Blake, really!” begged Natalie after a moment. “If you wait I
can get up by myself, and then, if you let me lean on your shoulder I
can manage to hobble to the tent, I think. It isn’t so bad, really.”

He watched her carefully as she got in position. Then as she bore a
slight weight on the sprained ankle he saw her sway. The next moment he
had caught her in his arms.

“She’s fainted!” he exclaimed. “I’ll carry her up to the tent,” and he
took her out on shore and hurried toward the canvas shelter.



                             CHAPTER XXVII

                           AWAITING THE GHOST


“Wasn’t it silly of me to go off that way?”

“Do you feel all right now?”

“Let her smell of the ammonia again.”

“No, thank you, Marie. It’s too strong. The salts are better,” spoke
Natalie protestingly. She was sitting up on a cot in the tent, while the
boys clustered at the flap outside, and the girls and Mrs. Bonnell
gathered around her. The first aid work had ended successfully when
Natalie opened her eyes after her swoon.

“I don’t understand how I fainted,” she said feebly. “I never did such a
thing before.”

“It was the pain,” said Mabel. “Blake carried you in splendidly,
though.”

“Oh, did he _carry_ me?” and a dull red suffused the olive-like tint of
Natalie’s cheeks.

“Of course!” exclaimed Mrs. Bonnell. “Why not? It was the most sensible
thing to do under the circumstances. How is the ankle?”

“It pains considerably.”

“We must try hot and cold compresses. Marie, put the kettle on the oil
stove at once. Boys, you clear out of here. We can look after her
now—much obliged to you though. You might bring a couple of pails of
water, if you don’t mind, before you go.”

“Here’s your hat—what’s your hurry,” murmured Phil half sarcastically.

“After all we did—to be thrown out this way!” wailed Jack.

“And we haven’t heard what happened!” added Blake. “Let Nat tell us the
story of her life, and then we’ll go.”

“There isn’t really much to tell,” she answered. “I got a sudden notion
in my head that I wanted to go to the old mill. I thought I would have
time to row over and back before supper. So I just slipped away in the
small canoe, and got to the place all right.”

“Weren’t you afraid?” asked Mabel.

“What of?”

“The ghost!”

“There wasn’t any when I was there,” went on pretty
breath-of-the-pine-tree, as she leaned back on some pillows Mabel had
put on the cot for her.

“I just thought I’d look around and see if I could discover what it was
that looked like a face at the window that day I saw it. I started up
the rickety old stairs, and I turned on my ankle and slipped down.

“Oh, dear! but it hurt. I tried to get up and I couldn’t and I didn’t
know how long I’d have to stay there. I called for help, but the place
was deserted since the old hermit moved out. Oh, I didn’t know what to
do.”

“And weren’t you afraid—horribly afraid?” asked Marie.

“Not first along, I wasn’t. I didn’t imagine what could harm me. But I
was afraid lest I should have to stay there all night. I knew I could
never stand that.”

“Did you hear any—ghostly noises?” asked Mabel, and involuntarily she
looked over her shoulder.

“Not at first,” answered Natalie, and there was an obvious reluctance in
her manner.

“Then you _did_ hear something!” exclaimed Jack, who was watching her
closely.

“Well, it sounded like some one crying, or moaning, I couldn’t tell
which. Then I heard what seemed like some one tramping around in the
room overhead.”

“Rats!” exclaimed Jack with such suddenness that all the girls jumped,
and Marie screamed.

“I think they were pigeons,” went on Natalie, “and what sounded like
moaning was the cooing. When I had reasoned that out I felt better. Then
I called for help again, and no one answered for ever so long.”

“You poor child,” murmured Mrs. Bonnell. “Did some one finally come?”

“Yes; Reuben did.”

“Good boy for you, Reuben!” exclaimed Blake, who stood near the farm
lad. “I’ll make it all right with you.”

“Huh! I didn’t do it for pay!” he protested.

“Of course not. You didn’t know that you were entertaining an angel
unawares; did you?”

Natalie was continuing her story.

“Reuben answered me, after a bit,” she said. “I was never so glad to see
any one in all my whole life as I was to see Reuben. I’ll never forget
his kindness.”

“’Twasn’t nothin’!” he protested.

“Yes, it was!” insisted Natalie. “He came in, helped me to get up, and
then, by leaning on his shoulder, I managed to get down to the lake. He
had his boat there, and I got in that, as I thought I could rest better
than in the canoe.”

“We towed that back,” put in Reuben. “I tied it down on shore.”

“And so here I am,” resumed Natalie. “Oh, I do hope I’m not going to be
laid up.”

“If those boys will leave I’ll attend to your sprain,” said Mrs. Bonnell
significantly, and the young men took the hint and left. With the
application of cloths alternately wrung out of hot and cold water,
Natalie’s ankle was soon much easier. It was not a bad sprain, as
sprains go, and the Guardian assured her she would be out again in a
couple of days.

Then Natalie had to tell the story all over again, with repetitions of
certain parts, while, on their own behalf, the Camp Fire Girls related
how they had instituted one search, and were about to start another when
the missing one came back.

As for the boys they could be heard discussing the affair in loud voices
as the two parties went to their several camps.

“I wonder what’s in that old mill, anyhow?” ventured Jack.

“It must be something,” declared Blake. “I dare you fellows to come over
with me and ‘lay the ghost,’ as they call it.”

“I’ll go!” offered Phil. “It’s a long row, though, and it’s late.”

“The lateness is so much the better,” declared Blake. “Ghosts never
perambulate until near midnight, anyhow. How is it—will you fellows go?”

“Not for ours,” declared Charlie Taylor, one of the crowd from the lower
camp. “Maybe in the morning we might consider it. Anyhow, this is the
closed season for ghosts.”

“You’re afraid!” jeered Blake.

“Now, don’t let’s think of tackling it to-night,” suggested Jack. “I’ll
go there to-morrow with any one—or two.”

“You can’t see ghosts in the day-time!” declared Blake, as if he were an
authority on spirits.

“Who said we would look for them in daylight,” returned Jack. “We can go
to the mill to-morrow afternoon, and wait until it gets dark. We can
take our lunch with us.”

“That sounds good,” declared Phil. “I’m in on that.”

“Well, if you want to do it that way, I’m willing,” assented Blake.
“Probably all we’ll find, though, is some tramp sleeping in the shack.
Very well, we’ll lay the ghost to-morrow.”

“And we won’t tell the girls about it until we solve the mystery,” added
Phil.

“That’s what,” added Jack.

But the next day it rained, so they postponed their ghost-hunting
expedition. There was nothing much to do, though, so in the afternoon
the boys donned old garments, and went over to the Point, through the
drizzle, for some supplies, shopping for the girls at the same time.

Natalie’s ankle was better, it was reported, and the following day she
could hobble about a bit.

“But I’m going to sit still and do bead work for a while,” she said when
the boys came to call, and she showed where, on a hand loom, she was
working a Camp Fire device for a bead head-band—her emblem of a pine
tree being made in a conventional design. The other girls were also
busy.

“Then you’re not going to the mill again?” asked Jack.

“No, indeed!”

Late that afternoon, giving out some excuse to the girls not to see them
that evening, the three chums, having packed a basket of lunch, with
some candles for light, some bags to use for cushions, set off for the
old mill. They intended to pass the night there to prove or disprove
that any one—whether of this earth or some other—was in the ancient
structure.



                             CHAPTER XXVIII

                          THE BOYS ARE PUZZLED


“It’s a spooky old sort of a place all right,” remarked Blake.

“It sure is,” agreed Phil.

“And it’s going to be uncommon uncomfortable before morning,” declared
Jack.

“Want to back out?” asked Phil, pausing in the act of arranging some
bags which they had brought to stretch out on.

“Back out? Not on your life!” cried Jack. “We’d never hear the last of
it if the girls found it out.”

“They needn’t know,” suggested Blake. “Not that I’m anxious to quit, but
I thought perhaps——”

“Say, if those girls were smart enough to find Bear Pond and the Gypsy
camp they’d find out about us coming here and then backing out,”
declared Jack. “No, we’ve got to stick now, whether we want to or not.
Let’s make the best of it.”

The boys had brought their things into the old mill, the reputed mystery
of which they intended to solve. Though what that mystery was, beyond
Old Hanson having declared he had listened to strange noises of late,
was more than the boys could tell. The face Natalie thought she saw did
not particularly interest them, for, on talking it over, they had
decided that it might have been a pigeon, or a bat, flying about in the
old loft of the mill. And the creature might have passed close to the
broken window as Natalie looked up.

“But it will be something to say we’ve done,” remarked Jack, arranging
the supply of victuals they had brought, and setting down the lantern.
“We’ll dare the girls to spend a night here—after we get through.”

“Maybe they will,” suggested Blake.

“Never! Not after we put on the loud pedal about the rattling of chains
that we heard, and the groans and sighs, invisible hands on the back of
your neck and all the stock-ghost stuff!” exclaimed Phil. “Bur-r-r-r! I
can hear ’em scream now.”

“Well, let’s get busy and talk afterward,” suggested Jack. “I don’t
believe anything will happen. Old Hanson imagined it all. There may be a
stray tramp or so sleeping in here once in a while, or perhaps some of
the Gypsy men.”

“Then it wouldn’t be safe for the girls to come,” said Blake.

“Don’t worry—they won’t come within a mile of the place!” exclaimed
Phil. “But what are we going to do all night?”

“Play checkers and dominoes, taking turns at it,” came from Jack. “I
brought both games along. Then we’ll divide the watches, and each one
stand his share. That, with eating and talking, will make morning come
fast enough.”

Now, that they were fully committed to the matter, the boys felt that it
was not such a foolish piece of business after all.

“Old Hanson will be glad to know there isn’t a ghost here,” said Jack.
“He’ll want to come back here in the winter I guess. We’ll lay the haunt
for him if there is one.”

Night was coming on, so the boys lighted one of the two lanterns they
had brought. They had taken up their quarters in what had evidently been
one of the living rooms of the old structure in its Colonial days, for
there was a big stone fireplace in the apartment.

“We’ll make believe we belong to the Camp Fire Girls, and have a blaze
there,” said Phil, as he brought in some wood. “There, I’m a Wood
Gatherer,” he added with a laugh, “you can be a Fire Starter, Blake and
Jack will be Chief Cook and Bottle-washer.”

“Do you think it’s safe to start a fire in that crazy old chimney?”
asked Jack, as Blake piled the wood up on two bricks to make a draft
under it. Then he set a match to the fagots.

“Oh, I guess it’s safe enough,” was the answer. “I remember Old Hanson
had a fire here years ago.”

“Yes, but if a spark sets fire to the old shebang it’ll go like tinder,”
declared Jack.

“That’ll be the last of the ghost, at all events,” was Blake’s reply.
“Now stop being fussy, and let’s enjoy ourselves. Where are the rest of
the sandwiches?”

“If we eat ’em all up now there won’t be any for the middle of the
night,” warned Phil.

“Who cares. You’ve got to eat when you’re hungry. Pass ’em over!”

The boys had dressed warmly, and in old clothes, so they did not mind
sitting around on the broken boxes that did duty for chairs. Another box
made a table for the checker-board and the dominoes, and they took turns
playing.

It was chilly and draughty in the old structure, but the fire made it
more cheerful than otherwise it would have been, and the boys really
began rather to enjoy their odd adventure.

“But if only the ghost would walk!” exclaimed Phil about nine o’clock.

“Hark! What’s that?” exclaimed Blake in a whisper.

“The wind rattling some of the old windows,” answered Jack. “Go on—it’s
your move.”

“I’m going to move to bed,” yawned Phil. “You fellows can wake me up
when it’s my turn to watch.”

“Go ahead,” assented Jack, for he and Blake had to finish the deciding
game of checkers, and it was at an interesting stage just then.

It was harder to awaken Phil than they thought, when the two decided to
stretch out on the old bags about twelve o’clock. Nothing had disturbed
them, and as Phil, stretching and yawning, got up he remarked:

“Say, this isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be. What will one of
you fellows take to stand watch for me?”

“Go on! Do your duty!” exclaimed Blake.

He and Jack made themselves as comfortable as they could on the floor,
with the bags for mattresses; and they got close to the fire, for the
night seemed to get colder. There was plenty of wood, however.

Probably Phil tried not to go to sleep—he said afterward that it
couldn’t have been more than a minute that he dozed off, but the fact
was that it was getting daylight when he awoke again.

He sat up, rubbing his eyes in surprise, and, for a moment, hardly able
to remember where he was. Then he saw Jack stretching and yawning, and
Blake turning over.

“Oh, what a hard bed!” complained Jack. Then something seemed to recall
a matter to him, and he cried out: “Why didn’t you call me Phil, to
stand my second trick; eh?”

“Because—er—I,” stammered Phil.

“Say, you slept the rest of the night through after we woke you that
time!” cried Blake.

“Well—er—I guess I did. But so did you fellows!”

“But, you didn’t call us,” objected Jack. “How could we? Say, we’re hot
ghost-hunters, we are!”

“I don’t believe there is any such animal,” declared Blake. “Come on,
let’s finish up the sandwiches and get back to camp. The girls may have
been looking for us, and be worried when they find we’re not home.”

Jack was looking about with a puzzled expression.

“Say, fellows,” he began, “didn’t we have two lanterns with us?”

“We sure did,” answered Phil.

“Well, there’s only one here now, and all those sandwiches are gone.”

“Rats!” exclaimed Blake.

“Well, they are, I’m not joking,” protested Jack.

“Oh, I used the word rats in its real meaning—not as slang,” explained
Blake. “I meant that rats had carried off the sandwiches.”

“Well, they didn’t carry off a lantern,” declared Phil. “That’s sure.
And my knife is gone. I left it on the checker-board.”

“And my match-box!” cried Blake. “The one——”

“Never mind her name—we know who gave it to you!” mocked Jack. “But,
fellows, this is queer.”

The three chums looked at each other. Then Blake said:

“The ghost was here while we all slept last night. Fellows, as
ghost-layers we’re miserable failures, but I know one thing.”

“What?” demanded Phil.

“That it’s a pretty healthy ghost who can eat sandwiches, and who wants
a lantern, matches and a knife. Let’s have a look around.”



                              CHAPTER XXIX

                           THE GIRLS WILL GO


“Where in the world were you boys?”

“We’ve been worried to death about you!”

“Why didn’t you tell us you were going to be out all night?”

“My! They look as though they’d slept in a barn!”

Thus the girls greeted the return of—shall I say our three heroes—a
little later that morning. They certainly did not feel like heroes,
however, as they rowed up to the little dock, and saw the Camp Fire
Girls waiting for them on shore.

“Oh, we’ve been off on a little trip,” said Blake.

“You don’t look as though you enjoyed it much, or as if it did you any
good,” said Mrs. Bonnell dryly. “Come on now, ’fess up and we’ll forgive
you. But we were worried.”

“Why so?” asked Jack, thinking to postpone the explanation.

“Why, Alice had a letter from home on the last mail, and there was some
news in it she wanted to tell Blake. We walked over to your camp, and
found it deserted. Then some of the boys whom you got to help us search
for Natalie, that time, came along and invited us out in their launch.”

“Did you go?” asked Phil.

“Certainly,” said his sister. “And we had a fine dance at the Point. All
but poor Natalie—she couldn’t on account of her ankle, and I just know
that Harry Morton got up the whole thing on her account.”

“He did not!” protested the blushing Natalie, while Blake looked at her
sharply.

“Then, on our way back, we stopped at your camp again,” went on the
Guardian, “and you weren’t there. Naturally we were worried. Now—where
were you?”

“Oh, just off on a sleuthing expedition,” said Jack airily. “Say, don’t
you want to invite us to breakfast?”

“We will if you tell us where you were,” challenged Mabel.

“I think I can guess,” said Natalie.

“Where?”

“In the old mill.”

“How did you—er—_guess_?” asked Blake.

“He was going to say _know_—he was going to ask how you knew!” laughed
Marie. “Oh, Nat, you hit it!”

“Supposing we were there?” challenged Phil.

“Did you find the ghost?” asked Mrs. Bonnell.

“Phil fell asleep and didn’t keep watch,” said Jack accusingly.

“I didn’t sleep any more than you fellows did. We were all in the same
boat,” came from the aggrieved one.

The girls were laughing.

“Better make a clean breast of it,” suggested Marie. “We won’t tell any
one else.”

“Do you promise?” asked Blake.

“Sure!” came in a chorus.

“Then, I’ll tell, to get square with Phil for sleeping while that ghost
came down, took what remained of our sandwiches, our best lantern, and
my knife and match-box.”

“Did it do that?” cried Mabel.

“It sure did!” cried Jack.

“What—what did _it_ look like?” whispered Natalie. “That face I saw——”

“We didn’t see a thing,” declared Blake, “nor hear a thing. I tell you
we slept through it all like innocent little babes. The ghost might have
carried us off to its den—that is if ghosts have dens—anyhow it could
have carried us all off for all of Phil.”

“Say, you quit!” begged the badgered one. “I’m no worse than either of
you two. I’ll tell you something, girls.”

And he proceeded to relate how, taking the first watch, he had slumbered
through it, but how his chums were equally responsible.

“It’s too bad,” said Marie. “All your work gone for nothing!”

“Oh, we had a good time,” said Blake. “But we’re dead tired now. It was
harder work than going fishing.”

“Come on in and we’ll give you some coffee,” invited Natalie and the
boys eagerly availed themselves of the chance.

At breakfast they talked over again their experiences of the night. The
girls were very nice about it, and didn’t laugh any more than they
really felt obliged to.

“But it is certainly killing!” cried Alice, “to think of you three big
fellows going after one poor, innocent little ghost and then letting
yourselves be robbed in that fashion.”

“That’s right,” said Blake, grinning sheepishly. “And it was my best
knife, too. Talk about taking candy from a baby!”

“What was the matter with you, Phil?” asked his sister. “Why didn’t you
carry an alarm clock? I’ll lend you my little square one if you want to
make another try.”

“Say, look here!” burst out Phil. “If you girls think it so easy to stay
up all night, why don’t you try a watch meeting in the old mill? Why
don’t you try to solve this mystery if you’re so smart?” and he fairly
glared at his sister.

“Maybe we will,” she said coolly. “Have some more coffee, Philly; and
don’t let your temper get the best of you.”

“Well,” he grumbled. “I guess anybody would.”

“Well, it was a joke on us all right,” assented Blake. “We might as well
take our medicine, fellows.”

The boys were in better humor after breakfast, and left for their camp,
promising to try and get their launch in running order and take the
girls out for a ride that afternoon.

“And we want to have another try for our canoe,” said Jack. “It won’t do
to let that get away from us.”

“Girls! Will you do it?” cried Natalie with eager, shining eyes when the
boys had gone.

“Do what?” asked Mabel.

“Try to find the ghost of the old mill—or whoever is hiding there.”

“Do you think some one is hiding there?” inquired Marie.

“There must be—to take the boys’ things. And they said they made a good
search all over the mill this morning, after they discovered their loss.
They couldn’t find a trace, though.”

“Then how can _we_?” asked Alice.

“_We_ have better luck,” went on Natalie. “Look how we found the Gypsy
camp. Besides, I have a theory.”

“What about?” Mrs. Bonnell wanted to know.

“About the hiding-place of the ghost. I think there must be a secret
room in the old mill. There almost always was, in old colonial houses,
you know.”

“And what makes you think some one is hiding there?” asked Mabel.

“Because of the way the boys’ things disappeared. Why, listen! Maybe
some criminal is hiding in the old mill, and only dares come out at
night.”

“A criminal-ghost or a ghost-criminal?” asked Marie with a laugh.

“Either or both.”

“And you want us to spend a night there? Ugh! Excuse me—never!” declared
Alice.

“I don’t mean stay there all night,” explained Natalie. “We could get
the other camping boys—the ones who took us over to the Point last
night—to run us to the mill in their launch. Then they could go off and
leave us—or stay within call, maybe, and we could search all over the
place for the secret room. I’m almost sure we can find it—I’m always
lucky that way.”

“I wish you’d find mother’s diamond ring then,” said Mabel with a sigh.

“Will you come, girls?” persisted Natalie.

“We’ll come home before dark; won’t we?” asked Alice.

“If you like; but it’s going to be a lovely moonlight night, and it will
be grand on the water.”

“Why not ask our own boys to take us over?” suggested Mrs. Bonnell.

“They wouldn’t,” said Mabel. “I think Nat’s plan is good—but I won’t
stay in that spooky place after dark.”

“Then we’ll go!” cried Natalie.

“Yes,” came in rather indifferent and hesitating accents from the
others.



                              CHAPTER XXX

                           THE WEEPING VOICE


“Where are you girls going?”

It was Jack who demanded this of his sister and the other Camp Fire
devotees as they filed past Stony Point a day or so after the fiasco in
the old mill.

“Evidently they’re going to make a day of it,” observed Blake. “They’ve
got their lunch,” and he glanced significantly at several baskets the
girls carried.

“And their knitting, too,” added Phil.

“Thank you. This isn’t knitting,” responded Natalie, as she waved a
string of colored beads, woven into a broad band. “These are going to be
our—is it totem poles, girls?” and she appealed to the others.

“Totem poles!” cried Blake. “Say, you’re not Alaska Indians! Totem poles
are those telegraph spiles carved with beasts and birds, and colored
like a Chinese rainbow, that you see in the museums! Totem Poles! Oh
my!” and he doubled up with mirth.

“Well, it’s something on that order, anyhow,” went on Natalie. “These
are our head-bands. Mine is almost finished,” and she showed her pretty
conventionalized design of a dark-green pine tree on a turquoise-blue
background.

“Are you going to weave some of those to-day?” asked Phil. “That’s the
way with girls. They go off in the woods for a day’s outing, and trot
along a book, or some of that filmy lace stuff, and that’s how they
enjoy themselves.”

“Well, it’s just as much fun for us, as it is for you boys to lie around
doing nothing, or cutting fish poles or—or—whatever you do,” said Alice,
rather at a loss for comparisons.

“But where are you bound for?” persisted Blake.

“Oh, off for a day in the woods,” said Mrs. Bonnell, noncommittally.

“Aren’t we coming?” inquired Phil.

“Not this time, little boy. Run along and finish doing your breakfast
dishes,” mocked Marie. “We’re going out riding with some better-looking
chaps than you.”

“Meaning those fellows from We-Too camp?” demanded Jack.

“They happen to be going to take us,” said Natalie. “And we’ll be sure
of getting there and getting back.”

“Meaning a knock at our faithful old gasoline craft,” put in Blake. “All
right, young ladies, if you do get stuck you needn’t signal us for a
tow. You can walk home. Come on, fellows, we’re insulted,” and he
stalked back into the tent.

“Come on, girls, or we’ll be late,” urged Mabel. “Have we got
everything?”

“If we haven’t we can’t carry any more,” declared Natalie. “I wonder if
I’ll do any work on my bead head-band now that I’ve toted it along with
me, and the loom, too,” and she regarded it rather regretfully.

“Oh, we’ll have lots of time to make bead work,” said Alice. “It won’t
take us long to explore the old mill, and then we can pic-nic and do as
we please.”

“Then you don’t believe we’ll find anything?” asked Natalie.

“Not a blessed thing, my dear,” answered Alice, “except cobwebs, with
big, fat spiders in them——”

“Oh, you horrid thing!” cried Mabel. “I’ll not set foot in the old
place!” and she hung back.

“We’ll get a broom and brush them all down,” said Mrs. Bonnell. “There
are the boys beckoning to us. Hurry, my dears!”

They had passed along the lake shore beyond the camp of Jack and his
chums, and were now approaching the We-Too aggregation of tents, this
being the name adopted by the young men who had assisted in the search
for Natalie that night. They had been friends with the girls and their
brothers since.

“My! you’re equipped for a long stay,” remarked Ford Armstrong, one of
the campers, as he saw the well-laden girls and their guardian. “Let me
take some of your bundles.”

“And whatever you do, don’t drop that basket!” cautioned Alice. “It’s
got eggs in it, and some of them may not be hard-boiled.”

“There are olives in here, so don’t you dare drop this,” added Mabel,
surrendering her bundle to Harry Watson.

“And you really want to stay around that old mill all day?” questioned
Ford, as he helped them into the waiting launch.

“Hush! Not so loud!” cautioned Mrs. Bonnell. “We don’t want our boys to
know about it, but we’re going to bait the ghost there you see.”

“And here is some of the bait,” laughed Mabel, pointing to the baskets
of food.

“All right, we’ll keep your secret,” promised Wentworth Jones. “What
time shall we come back for you?”

“Before dark; or we’ll never speak to you again,” threatened Alice.

“Oh, but I thought, with the moonlight—” began Natalie.

“Natalie Fuller! if you want to stay around that spooky old mill after
dark you may!” exclaimed Marie, “but I’m not going to. It’s all right in
daylight, but when the shades of night begin falling fast, I want to be
in my own little tent. So don’t you boys fail to come before dark.”

The gallant escort promised and then, observed by the envious eyes of
Jack and his chums, the Camp Fire Girls, and their new friends, puffed
away in the launch across the lake toward the old mill.

They reached it without incident, disembarked and were soon at the
ancient structure, their friends carrying up the lunch and other
impedimenta.

“And now we shall leave you to your fates,” said Ford Armstrong, with
mock heroics.

“And don’t forget about coming after us,” warned Mabel, shaking a finger
at him.

Laughingly the boys promised once more, and then departed in their
launch, rather wishing the girls had asked them to stay.

“Now we must begin our search!” declared Natalie. “We will work a while
and then rest, eat and string beads, and do some more searching. I’m
going to find that secret room!”

“Natalie will insist on that,” remarked Mabel. “Oh, what a scary place!”
she added, as she looked around the gloomy old mill.

“Hark!” called Marie softly.

“Oh, what is it?” demanded Alice, grasping the arm of Natalie.

“Don’t!” begged the other. “That’s my sore place—where the briars
scratched me.”

“Sillies! It isn’t anything but the wind rattling,” said Mrs. Bonnell.
“If you’re going to scream at every sound we might as well stop now.”

“Oh, let’s begin!” cried Natalie. “I do so want to beat the boys at
their own game. Come on, I’ll lead the way,” and she darted toward the
stairs.

“Be careful,” warned the guardian, “you don’t want to sprain your ankle
again.”

“And those stairs aren’t any too safe,” added Marie.

But they managed to get up them in safety, and found themselves in an
upper story of the mill. There were remains of old machinery, now rusted
and broken, and big bins for the storage of grain.

The mill was a rambling structure, that seemed to have been built on and
added to from time to time. It had also served as a home for the
families of the various millers. There were passage-ways leading from
room to room, sometimes little flights of steps necessitated because the
floors were on different levels. But, as far as the girls could see,
there was no place for any substantial creature to hide.

“Though of course ghosts could stow themselves away in a rat hole,”
observed Mabel.

“Don’t say ghosts and rats up here,” begged Marie.

“Let’s go down stairs and look around,” suggested Natalie. “We’ll make a
fire, if we can find anything, and be cosy as we sit about it. Then we
can eat when we’re ready. Did you bring that box of candy, Mabel?”

“I did—what’s left of it.”

“Oh! nearly five pounds gone since the first of the week!” exclaimed
Mrs. Bonnell. “Girls, your indigestions will be ruined!”

“Good!” laughed Alice.

Their search down stairs was no more fruitful. They passed through room
after room, where the grinding of various grist had been done years ago.
Here was more machinery, all in ruins. They peered out at the
moss-covered mill-wheel, broken and shattered, below which was trickling
a little stream of water.

But of ghosts, real or fancied, there was not a trace. There were even
no unusual noises, though Mabel remarked that night was the time for
them.

“Well, let’s make a fire,” suggested Natalie. “It’s damp and chilly in
here. The boys have left us enough wood,” she said, as they all got back
to the room where the fireplace was.

They kindled a little blaze, and were sitting about it, talking and
laughing. Mabel was getting out the box of candy when Natalie, who was
sitting nearest the chimney, raised her hand for silence.

They all listened.

“What is it?” whispered Mabel.

“Hush!” cautioned Natalie.

Then they all became aware of a faint, moaning cry. It was like some one
sobbing at a distance.

The girls, with wide-opened eyes, looked at one another. Natalie softly
arose and leaned nearer the opening of the fireplace.

“Come here!” she whispered to her companions.

On tiptoes they stole to her side. They could now hear more plainly the
sobbing voice.

“It’s the ghost—crying!” whispered Natalie. “We have found it!”



                              CHAPTER XXXI

                            THE SECRET ROOM


“What shall we do?”

“Let’s run!”

“Oh, if—the boys were only here!”

Thus three voices whispered. Natalie was so busy listening at the
chimney, turning her head this way and that, to better catch the sound
that came down the flue, that she did not speak.

“Girls, be sensible!” commanded Mrs. Bonnell in a low voice. “It isn’t
anything but the wind in the chimney.”

“It is not the wind,” said Natalie, softly. “Listen!”

Overcoming their natural eerie fears the Camp Fire Girls did listen. The
sobbing was fainter now.

“Girls!” exclaimed Natalie firmly, seeming to become imbued with a new
courage, “that’s some poor creature in trouble. We’ve got to help!”

“But—but suppose it’s one of those _criminals_,” suggested Alice, giving
a glance over her shoulder.

“Criminals don’t cry—that way,” declared Natalie. “They aren’t sorry
enough to cry—until after they’re arrested.”

“But how can we help this—this person when he is up the chimney?” asked
Mabel.

“How do you know it’s a ‘he’?” asked Marie.

“Well, call it the ghost, then,” admitted Mabel. “How are we going to
rescue the ghost from the chimney.”

“It isn’t in the chimney,” went on Natalie, who seemed to have assumed
charge of matters. “Only the sound comes down that way. I understand it
all now. The secret room is near the chimney. The ghost is in the secret
room.”

“She _will_ have that secret room!” murmured Marie.

“There is some poor person in trouble,” went on Natalie. “Maybe he fell
and sprained its ankle and she can’t walk, just as I did.”

“Oh, what a beautiful mixture of personal pronouns!” laughed Alice, and
the laugh seemed to relieve the strain on the nerves of all of them.
“Well, Nat, what are your plans?”

“We must find that secret room.”

“Yes; but how?”

“Listen, girls. It must be near the chimney. Probably some stovepipe
hole leads into this flue, and the draught carried the sound downward.
All we have to do is to make another search upstairs near where the
chimney passes through.”

“Simple as a problem in geometry,” murmured Alice, who detested the
study. “Lead on, Nat!”

“Will you come?” asked breath-of-the-pine-tree, looking at her
companions.

“Well, I suppose it might be some one in trouble,” agreed Mrs. Bonnell.
“But— Oh, well, I guess there are enough of us,” and she picked up from
the floor a stout cudgel. “We had better arm ourselves,” she added.
“There may be——”

“Rats!” broke in Marie.

“She is fined a pound of candy for saying that!” exclaimed Natalie.
“Come on,” and she led the way.

Now that they had some definite plan of searching they felt more assured
of success. There were two upper stories to the old mill, but the girls
had given only a casual glance around the third one, as it was so dark
and gloomy that they did not fancy remaining in it. Now it became
practically certain that, if there was a secret room, it would be on the
third floor, for a look around the place where the big chimney passed
through the second floor, showed that there was no room for a hidden
recess.

“We’ve got to go up there,” said Natalie firmly, as they came to a pause
at the foot of the second flight of stairs.

“Hark!” cautioned Marie.

As they listened they heard again the sound of the crying voice.

“Who is there?” called Mrs. Bonnell sharply.

There was no answer.

Natalie said afterward that she did not know how she got the courage to
do it, but she started up the stairs, and the others, after a moment of
hesitation, followed. Natalie hurried on. She saw a small window,
through which the light streamed, filtering in between cracks in the
ancient shutter.

With the stick she carried, she shoved this back, letting in a beam of
sunlight. There was a flutter of wings, and something flew around the
heads of the Camp Fire Girls.

“Oh!” screamed Mabel and Alice.

“They are only bats!” called Mrs. Bonnell.

“Oh, but if they get in our hair!” murmured Mabel, crouching down.

“It’s gone out of the window,” the Guardian assured them.

Natalie was busily scanning the wall near the chimney. The girls stole
to her side.

“Listen!” commanded Natalie in a whisper.

Faintly they heard a moan. It seemed to come from inside the big
chimney. Natalie took a step toward it. Her eyes roved over the ancient
paneling. One section seemed to be darker colored than the rest.

Natalie pressed on this, hardly knowing why, for it bore no semblance to
a door. But she nearly stumbled and fell as the panel unexpectedly gave
way, and there was disclosed the secret room they had been looking for.



                             CHAPTER XXXII

                                 HADEE


Natalie grasped the edges of the doorway so unexpectedly opened before
her, and clung there. The light shot into the secret room, revealing a
figure huddled up in one corner—a timid, shrinking form, from which
faint moans came.

“It’s a girl!” gasped Mrs. Bonnell. “The poor creature!”

The figure in the corner raised itself up, and stared at the intruders.

“Water—water,” moaned the girl. “I am so sick!”

As the eyes of the Camp Fire Girls became more accustomed to the
semi-gloom of the room, they caught a glimpse of the gay colors in the
dress of the figure in the corner.

“It’s Hadee! The Gypsy!” gasped Natalie.

“Yes, I am Hadee,” murmured the girl. “You have found me. Oh, I am so
glad! I feared no one ever would. I thought I would die here, and—my leg
is broken!”

“Oh, you poor creature!” cried Mrs. Bonnell. “Girls, we must have a
doctor right away. Marie, run down to the shore and see if you can find
a boat anywhere about. Signal to them—wave your handkerchief—scream!

“Mabel, see if you can get me some water—bring it in anything—in some of
the dishes—in our baskets. Natalie, get me some sticks I can use for
splints to bind up her leg until the doctor can get here. Alice, you
help me with—her,” and she motioned toward the Gypsy girl.

Thus did the Guardian effectually assume charge of matters. It was the
best thing she could have done to take the minds of her charges off the
startling events that had happened in the last few minutes.

“Which leg is it, dear?” asked Mrs. Bonnell, as she went over to the
figure in the corner. “I’ll try not to hurt you, but—I must look at it.”

“The right one. I fell night before last as I was coming up the stairs,
but I managed to drag myself in here.”

“And you’ve been here alone ever since?” asked Natalie.

“Yes, and I thought I would die.”

Mrs. Bonnell was examining the broken leg. It was a simple fracture, but
considerable inflammation had set in from the neglect, and when the
injured leg was touched ever so gently there came a moan of pain from
the stricken girl.

Hadee had raised herself up on her elbow, while Mrs. Bonnell was pouring
cold water on the fracture and binding it up.

“Oh!” moaned the Gypsy girl, and then she fell back senseless.

“She’s dead!” gasped Mabel.

“Nonsense, it’s only a faint. Sprinkle some water on her face while I
finish binding up this leg,” said Mrs. Bonnell. “She’ll come to all
right. Loosen her dress at the neck.”

As Mabel did this something rolled out of the upper part of the
insensible girl’s garment. It was something that gleamed and sparkled in
the light.

“My mother’s diamond ring!” cried Mabel seizing it.

Hadee opened her eyes.

“I—was going to—give it back,” she murmured. “That is why—I ran away
from the—from the camp—so they wouldn’t take it.”

“There now, don’t talk,” soothed Mrs. Bonnell. “You can tell us all
about it when you feel better. We’ll make you as comfortable as we can
until the doctor comes. I hope Marie can manage to find some one to
send.”

There was a tramping of feet on the floor below.

“Some one is coming!” cried Natalie.

“It’s the boys—our boys!” exclaimed Mabel. “Oh, how good!”

“They mustn’t come in here!” decided Mrs. Bonnell. “There has been
enough excitement for Hadee. I must keep her quiet. Natalie, you and
Mabel slip down and tell them what has happened. Then one of you bring
back some more water, and a little of the food. She must be nearly
famished.”

“I am—hungry,” admitted Hadee. “But I feel much better now, I am so glad
you—found me.”

“Don’t come up—we’re coming down, boys,” called Natalie, as she and
Mabel started for the stairs.

“What have you found?” demanded Jack, for it was he and his chums who
had come to the old mill.

“The ghost!” said Natalie. “It’s poor little Hadee—the girl who told our
fortunes that time—the girl who ran away from the Gypsy camp. She’s
hurt. Marie has gone for a doctor. How did you happen to come here?”

“Oh, we got lonesome over in camp,” said Blake, “so we thought we’d just
take a run over here to say how—do.”

“I’m so glad you did!” exclaimed Natalie, with a grateful look at him.

“I’ll take up some food and water,” spoke Mabel. “Then I’ll come back.
You might see if Marie has been able to signal any one, Phil,” she said
to her brother.

“Here’s Marie now,” spoke Jack, as the girl came flying into the mill.

“Did you send for a doctor?” asked Natalie.

“I have mother’s diamond ring back!” cried Mabel, holding up the
sparkling gem.

“Say, these girls beat anything for finding things!” declared Jack.

“Hadee had it,” explained Mabel. “I’m so glad.”

“What about the doctor?” asked Natalie.

“I met Old Hanson,” Marie said. “He said he’d go right back and get one.
Dr. Morse is at some house down the road now most fortunately, and Old
Hanson said he’d have him come here. I met the hermit on the road as I
was running to the lake shore.”

“Everything seems to be coming out for the best,” said Jack. “Now let’s
have some details.”

Natalie and Marie gave such as they knew to the boys, while Mabel took
up the food and water to Alice and Mrs. Bonnell, who had remained with
the Gypsy girl.

“But what is she doing in this old mill?” asked Blake. “And what makes
you think she is the ghost?”

“I don’t know why she is here,” said Natalie, “except that she ran away
from the Gypsy camp for some reason or other, and this was the best
place to hide.

“As for her being the ghost—here is your knife and match-box, Blake. I
found them in her room,” and she extended the articles to him.

“Stung!” gasped Jack.

“And by a girl,” added Phil.

“So it was Hadee who stole down and took our things while we were
asleep,” murmured Blake.

There was the sound of wheels outside.

“Here’s the doctor!” exclaimed Natalie.



                             CHAPTER XXXIII

                              RESTORATION


“Well, it isn’t as bad as it might be,” said Dr. Morse after he had
examined Hadee. “Of course it would have been better to have had the
bone set sooner, but there’s no great harm done. But I must get her to
some other place than this to work over her. I haven’t room here.”

“Take her to our camp,” proposed Natalie.

“No, she wouldn’t ride well in a boat. I’ll just send Old Hanson back
for a farm wagon, and have him put a mattress in it. She can ride on
that as well as in an ambulance. I guess the Richardson’s will take her
in. They have plenty of room. I was just there on a call when Hanson
found me. Mr. Richardson has a little bilious attack. This girl will be
very comfortable there. His wife is a fine cook, and they have hired
help.”

Dr. Morse explained to Old Hanson what was wanted, and the hermit
started off after the wagon. Hadee was gotten downstairs, and made as
comfortable as possible.

The Camp Fire Girls were anxious to hear her story but Dr. Morse would
not let her talk.

“It will do later,” he said. “She has a slight fever, and I don’t want
any more inflammation in that leg than I can help.”

There was the sound of wheels down the road. A farm wagon hove in sight,
Old Hanson sitting on the seat beside the driver.

As Hadee was carried out the old hermit, who had been hovering about
caught a glimpse of her face. He started, took a few steps forward,
clutched at his heart and cried:

“Girl—girl! Who was your mother?”

“Hush! We mustn’t have any excitement,” warned the doctor, thinking the
old man’s mind, never considered strong, was leading him astray.

“Her mother! Her mother!” cried Hanson. “I can see her mother’s face!
She is my daughter’s child—I know it. She has been restored to me! Oh,
child, where is your mother?”

“Now—now!” protested Dr. Morse. “You can’t——”

But Hanson had pushed his way forward, and was now beside the wagon, in
which Hadee lay on the mattress. There was a flush on her pale face.

“What does he mean?” she asked slowly.

“I don’t know,” answered Dr. Morse testily.

“I’ll explain!” said Hanson eagerly. “I’m not crazy—let me talk.
Everybody doesn’t know my story—some around here do—you do, Dr. Morse. I
tell you that girl is my daughter’s child. Tell me,” he appealed to
Hadee, “do you know who your mother and father were?”

“They are both dead,” she said softly, “but I have been told that my
mother was not a Gypsy.”

“Of course she was not!” cried Hanson. “She was my daughter, and she ran
away and married a Gypsy—a handsome chap he was, too. It broke my
heart—it made me lose all hope in life. But now my granddaughter is
restored to me. And so you were the ghost of the mill?”

“I hid there after I ran away,” said Hadee. “I wouldn’t do as they
wanted me to——”

“You had better not talk, dear,” said Mrs. Bonnell gently placing her
hand on the girl’s hot forehead.

“Oh, well, maybe she’ll feel better to have it over with,” said Dr.
Morse resignedly. “Are you sure about this, Hanson?”

“Positive. She is the image of my lost daughter. She must have a
birth-mark on her neck—all the Rossmore’s had it.”

“There is a mark there,” said Natalie. “I saw it.”

“And are you really my grandfather?” murmured Hadee.

“I sure am, girl.”

“Then I’m not a Gypsy.”

“Only half; and you won’t be that much any more. You’re coming to live
with me. I’ve got a little money put away, and we’ll live for each other
now. I couldn’t keep my daughter—maybe I was too harsh with her—but I
won’t be with you, Hadee,” and he gazed lovingly at her.

“Now, this will just have to stop!” declared Dr. Morse firmly. “I insist
on the patient being kept quiet. She may be your daughter’s child,
Hanson, but if you want to keep her with you don’t set her into more of
a fever than she has already. Drive on, Pete. I’ll follow in my
carriage. See you later,” he called to the Camp Fire Girls and their boy
friends.

“Well, what do you know about this?” gasped Jack, as the carriage of the
doctor and the other wagon disappeared down the road. “You girls have
certainly beaten us all to pieces! You discover the ghost, get back the
diamond ring and restore a long-lost child to her grandfather. Wow!”

“Tell us all about it,” demanded Blake.

“We can’t until we hear Hadee’s story,” said Natalie.

And they heard that the next day. The broken leg had been set, and put
in a plaster cast. Then, with the permission of Dr. Morse, Hadee,
sitting up in bed in the Richardson home, told her story.

She had been with the Gypsy band all her life, traveling about the
country. When she became old enough her mother had told her something of
the tragedy of her own story. Hanson Rossmore’s daughter had met a
handsome Gypsy lad, and fallen in love with him. Her father opposed her,
but she ran away and was legally married to him. Then, feeling unable to
return to her father, the girl took up a life with the nomads. Hadee was
the only child, and when her parents died she remained with the tribe.
She became one of the best fortune tellers.

It was Hadee who called at the Anderson home that night the ring
disappeared.

“But I did not take it,” she said. “It fell down from the table into the
folds of my sash. I discovered it when I got back to camp, but Neezar,
who calls herself our queen, would not let me take it back. Then the
camp was quickly moved away, and I did not have a chance to return—the
diamond.

“I kept it with me, however, refusing to give it up, though they tried
to make me. Life was very hard. Then came the taking of the farmer’s
wife’s pocket-book. I did not do that, it was another of our band who
used my name. When I heard of the trouble I tried to run away, but they
watched me too close.

“Finally I got the chance, and, I came to this old mill. I stayed here
nights and went out by day, as I could, to get food. I guess I took
something from my grandfather here, and from your camp,” she said, with
a shy smile at the boys. “I needed things. There was a handkerchief——”

“Mine—but you may keep it,” said Blake.

“And the canoe,” went on Hadee. “The boat I came in drifted away.”

“Jove! It’s good to get that canoe back,” said Jack.

“It’s hidden back of the mill,” went on the Gypsy girl. “I have stayed
here ever since.”

“And was it your face I saw at the window?” asked Natalie.

“Yes,” assented Hadee. “I was afraid you would come and find me that
time. Then I found the secret room, and stayed there. I stole softly
down in the night when the boys were here, and took some of their things
when they were asleep,” she said shyly. “I needed them.”

“Oh, we were easy marks,” admitted Phil with a laugh.

“I needed the knife and matches,” the Gypsy girl went on, “but I’ll give
them back. The food I ate.”

“You’re welcome to it,” said Blake kindly.

“I also took a few things from your camp,” she said to the girls.

“The olives and sardines?” asked Marie.

Hadee nodded.

“I was sorry when—when my grandfather moved out. I didn’t know he was
any relative,” she resumed. “I didn’t mean to scare him, but I suppose I
did. I cried because I was lonesome and afraid.”

“That’s all right!” exclaimed Hanson Rossmore. “As long as I’ve got some
kin now, I don’t mind. I’m going to sell the old mill—I’ve got an offer
for the property, and we’ll live together where nothing will remind us
of it—Ethel Rose.”

“Ethel!” exclaimed Natalie. They could all see how much Natalie
resembled the Gypsy girl.

“Yes, I’m going to call her that,” said the old man. “I don’t want any
more Gypsy names.”

“Well, I guess that explains everything,” said Jack. “So there was no
ghost after all.”

“No. And Natalie proved it!” declared Marie. “Oh, you dear girl!” and
she put her arms around her chum.

“Let’s get back to camp and have a celebration,” proposed Jack. “We’ll
have enough to talk about for a month.”

Hadee, or Ethel Rose Rossmore, to give her the name she was thenceforth
to bear, rapidly recovered from her accident, and she and her
grandfather made arrangements to board in the village until he could
dispose of his property. The Gypsy camp was broken up, its members going
whither no one knew. There were many complaints about them for small
thefts, and arrests had been planned but too late.

After all the excitement quiet days followed. There were Council
meetings and camp-fires, walks in the woods and cruises on the lake,
when many songs were sung. Cora, Gertrude, Edna, Sadie and Margaret also
paid a visit to the woods.

Mabel telegraphed the good news of the finding of the diamond ring to
her mother, and the boys found their missing canoe and lantern where the
Gypsy girl had left them.

“And so the mystery of the old mill is settled,” remarked Blake, as he
and Natalie walked along the lake shore one day.

“Yes. It was like most ghosts—easily accounted for when you go at it
right.”

“But if it hadn’t been for you it might never have been solved.”

“Oh, some one would have found poor little Hadee if I hadn’t.”

“Will you come over to the Point and dance to-night?” asked Blake, after
a pause.

“Yes, if the others go. We won’t have many more chances. We are going to
break camp next week.”

“So are we. Hasn’t it been a glorious summer?”

“Indeed, yes. All the girls are delighted with the Camp Fire idea. They
are talking now of a winter in the woods.”

“Why not?” asked Blake. “A log cabin is the best place ever, in the
snow.”

“Perhaps we may,” assented Natalie, and as she and Blake strolled on
through the spicy woods, some one called:

“Wo-he-lo! Dogwood camp! Natalie!”

“They want me to come back,” said Natalie, softly.

“Don’t go yet,” begged Blake, and Natalie stayed.

                                THE END.

                  *       *       *       *       *

The next volume of this series will be entitled: “Camp Fire Girls on The
Ice; Or, the Mystery of a Winter Cabin.”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

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The author knows these subjects from a practical standpoint. Each book
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