Chapter VI. Nearly Wrecked
 

The girls did not scream. Perhaps they were too frightened or perhaps it was just natural pluck.

They did jump to their feet though as if with some wild thought of leaping overboard. But there they remained, staring with fascinated eyes at the fate that was bearing down upon them.

As for Betty, after one breath-taking minute when all the blood in her body seemed to rush to her head, she simply sat there and tried in the second that was given her to think what to do.

Almost automatically, she wrenched the wheel around, nearly capsizing the boat with the sudden turn. At almost the same second, as though the thing had been prearranged, the boys in the racing craft swung around in the opposite direction.

A slight scraping as the side of the Gem slid along the side of the nearer of the racing craft, and they were safe, with no harm done with the exception of a little paint scraped from the side of the boat.

It was a moment before the girls could realize what had happened to them. Then a voice hailed them from the boat alongside. In a glance the girls perceived that the voice belonged to no other than Percy Falconer himself.

"Hello," called Percy, adding boisterously as he recognized the girls: "Well, by all that's holy, if it isn't the Outdoor Girls! Thought you never came over to this side of the river."

"We don't," Betty answered, the hand that still gripped the wheel shaking nervously now that the danger was over. "And I don't believe we ever will again, either!"

"I say, your teeth are chattering," cried Percy, looking at Betty in open admiration. In the old days, Percy had tried hard to win favor in Betty's eyes, but the latter had always treated him with a good-natured indifference not unmixed with contempt that had been very hard for the young dude to bear. During the years he had still admired Betty from afar and hated Allen Washburn for being the "lucky one." So now he hastened to make the most of what he thought was an opportunity.

"Come on over to the Point with me and Derby here," indicating the young fellow in the other racing craft who had drawn his boat up close to them and was looking on with interest. "We will get you something to steady your nerves a bit. We had a pretty narrow squeak that time, and it's no wonder it upset you a little."

He was supposedly addressing all the girls, but his eyes were only for Betty. As for her, she suddenly had a startlingly clear mental picture of what her father would think were some one to tell him that his daughter and her chums had been seen at the "Point" with Percy Falconer and a friend of his.

In days gone by Percy had been very insipid, his mind entirely on his clothes; now he had become a sport, and the report was that he caroused around not a little.

Betty turned to the youth with a decided little shake of her head, though her eyes were smiling.

"I think we shall have to go right back," she said. "It looks as though it were going to rain. Thank you just as much," and she began to ease her motor boat gently away from the other craft,

"Oh, I say," Percy cried, disappointedly and a little angrily, for out of the corner of his eye he could see that his friend was laughing at him, "we would only keep you for a moment or two. You needn't be afraid of us. We won't bite, you know."

"We don't know you well enough to be sure even of that," said Mollie, coming suddenly and flippantly into the conversation.

But Percy took not the slightest notice of her and, as Betty was slowly but surely widening the distance between the Gem and his boat, he leaned forward eagerly.

"Betty, let me see you some time. How about to-morrow night?"

And because Betty was always kind to every one and was sorry for Mollie's flippant speech, she said, quite unexpectedly, even to herself, "All right."

Then she turned the Gem around and started for home, conscious that her chums were gazing at her in speechless amazement.

"Betty!" cried Grace, horrified. "You are never going to let Percy Falconer come to see you, are you?"

But Betty turned on her irritably. She was tired and nervous and angry at herself for having anything to do with that conceited dude, Percy Falconer.

"You heard me say he could come, didn't you?" she said in response to Grace's incredulous question, Amy's wide-eyed stare, and Mollie's grin. "And if you are going to ask me why I said so," she added desperately, "I'm not going to tell you. And if anybody speaks to me before I get back to the dock, I'll-- wreck 'em, that's all."

The girls exchanged glances and wisely decided to change the subject, for the present at least. For the time they had plenty to do anyway, just watching out that somebody else did not run into them!

By the time they reached comparatively clear water they were all tired and they were glad for once when the Gem scraped against the home dock and the "cruise" was over.

"Well," said Mollie as they climbed on to the dock, "we surely did have some excitement, but we didn't get what we started out for after all."

"What's that?" asked Grace, as she tied the ribbon round her candy box and adjusted her hat at a more becoming angle.

"Ice-cream and a drink of ice water," said Mollie ruefully. "I've just remembered that I am dying of thirst."

"Come on around to my house," Betty invited. Her wrist was lame from gripping the wheel so hard and she felt it gingerly. "Mother said she would make a big pitcher of lemonade for us and leave it in the refrigerator."

"Whew," whistled Mollie, taking Betty's arm and hurrying her forward. "By any chance did you girls hear what I heard? Me for it, Betty Nelson."

The girls talked little an their way to Betty's house, but they thought a good deal. They were tired and disgruntled, and it seemed to them in their pessimistic mood that everything they had tried to do that day had gone wrong. And the climax of it all was their meeting-- if it could be called a meeting-- with Percy Falconer. Worst of all, Betty was going to allow him to call!

With something of this in her mind, Mollie glanced sideways at her chum and, curiosity getting the better of her discretion, ventured to remark upon it.

"I wonder what Allen will say," she said, "when he learns about Percy."

It was an unfortunate remark, as Betty very soon showed by turning upon her chum angrily.

"I don't know that Allen has a right to say anything at all about what I do," she said. "And as I don't intend ever to see Percy Falconer after to-morrow, I think we had better forget about him. But there," she added, bringing herself up short and giving Mollie's hand a little conciliatory squeeze, "I didn't mean to be cross. I'm just kind of mad about the whole thing-- and tired, and hot----"

"I know," said Mollie generously. "I guess we all are-- tired and hot, I mean. We will feel better after we have had something cold to drink."

Betty's mother had left not only the lemonade but some sandwiches of chopped nuts and cream cheese. Jubilantly the girls carried these delicacies out on the front porch and proceeded to devour them without further delay.

As they ate and drank, their ill-humor vanished and they began to feel once more like their cheerful, optimistic selves. They even began to laugh a little about the close shave they had had with Percy and his friend.

"It was mighty clever work of yours, Betty, swerving around like that," Mollie said reminiscently, as she patted the Little Captain's hand approvingly. "I'm sure I would have been so scared I'd have gone right ahead and then there would have been a nasty smash."

"I do hope the folks don't hear about it," worried Grace. "It would only make them nervous and they might even refuse to let us go out in the Gem any more."

"I don't see how the folks are going to know anything about it," said Amy calmly.

"Unless our dear friend Percy blabs it all over town," added Grace.

"I think we ought to tell the folks," Betty spoke up suddenly. "I know they would rather hear about it from us than from any one else. Hello," she broke off, as her eye lighted on a newspaper lying on the table, "this looks like the evening edition. Maybe it has some news of Allen's division."

"My, just listen to her," yawned Grace. "Allen's division, indeed. As though he were the only one we were interested in----"

But her words were cut short by a startled exclamation from Betty.

"Oh, girls, look here!" she cried. "Look at these names. Oh, I hope it isn't true! I hope it isn't!"