Chapter XV. The Race
 

Like the scene from some simulated fairyland, or a stage picture, was the water pageant on Rainbow Lake. In double lines the motor boats moved slowly along from the starting point toward the float where the judges were stationed to decide which craft was entitled to the prize in its own class.

"Oh, I'm so glad we entered!" cried Betty, as she stood at the wheel. Because of the cloth side of the "gondola" it appeared that she was merely reclining at her ease, as did the Venetian ladies of old, for a seat with cushions had been arranged near the steering wheel.

"Oh, see that boat-- just like an airship!" exclaimed Mollie, as they saw just ahead of them a craft so decorated.

"And here's one that looks just like a floating island, with trees and bushes," added Amy. "That ought to take a prize."

"We ought to take one ourselves!" exclaimed Mollie. "We worked hard enough. My hands are a mass of blisters."

"And my back aches!" declared Grace. "But it was worth while. I don't see any boat just like ours," and she glanced along the line of craft ahead of them, and to those in the rear, as they were making a turn just then.

"Oh, there's one of the lanterns gone out!" cried Mollie. "I'll light it," and she proceeded to do so, taking it into the cabin because of the little breeze that blew over the lake.

There was a band on one of the larger boats, and this played at intervals.

"Let's sing!" proposed Grace, and, with guitar accompaniment, the girls mingled their voices in one of the many part songs they had practiced at school. Applause followed their rendition, for they had chosen a time when there was comparative quiet.

Around the course went the flotilla of boats, past the judges' float, and back to the starting point. Then the parade was over, but a number of affairs had been arranged-- dances, suppers and the like-- by different cottagers. The girls had been invited to the dance at the headquarters of the Rainbow Lake Yacht Club, and they had accepted. They had dressed for the affair, and tying their boat to the club dock they went into the pretty little ballroom with Aunt Kate.

"Congratulations!" exclaimed Mr. Kennedy, stepping up to Betty as she entered with her chums.

"For what?"

"Your boat won first prize for those of most original design. It is a beautiful silver cup."

"Oh, I'm so glad! Girls, do you hear? We won first prize in our class!"

"Fine!" cried Mollie.

"Oh, isn't it nice?" said Amy.

"Did we really?" asked Grace, somewhat incredulously,

"You really did. I just heard the decision of the judges. Harry and I are out of it, though. We tried in the 'wreck' class, but the Rabbit, which was rigged out like the Flying Dutchman, beat us."

"That's too bad," said Mollie, sympathetically.

"Never mind, we've had our fun," said Mr. Stone, coming up at this point. "You girls certainly deserved the prize, if anyone did. And now I hope your dance cards aren't filled."

They were not-- but they soon were, and the evening passed most delightfully.

"Who said breakfast?" yawned Grace the next morning, as she looked from her bunk down on Betty.

"I ate so much lobster salad last night I don't want anything but a glass of water on toast," murmured Mollie. "Oh, but we had a lovely time!" and she sighed in regret at its departure.

"And those young men were lovely dancers," said Betty.

"And wasn't it nice of Will, Frank, and Allen to come?" spoke Amy, for Grace's brother, and his two friends, had arrived most unexpectedly at the Yacht Club ball. Will had come to tell his sister certain things in regard to the missing papers, and had met a friend who belonged to the club.

Naturally there was an invitation to the dance, which was quite informal in a way, and so the three boys from Deepdale had also had a good time. They were put up at the club over night.

It developed that Mr. Ford had investigated certain matters in regard to Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Stone, and had learned that by no possibility could they have secured the missing papers. There would have been absolutely no interest in the documents for them. It was merely a coincidence that they had been on the scene. And this news made their explanation about the auto accident most plausible.

Will had come to Rainbow Lake to tell his sister this, to relieve her mind. When he mentioned coming he had told Frank and Allen, asking them to go with him. All the boys expected to do was to spend the evening on board the Gem with the girls, but when they arrived, and learned of the pageant, and Will met his club friend, the plans were changed.

"Too bad Percy Falconer didn't come," remarked Grace, as she slipped into her dressing gown.

"Don't spoil everything," begged Betty. "You know I detest him!"

Gradually the girls got breakfast, talking of the events of the night before.

"I wonder when we will get our prize?" said Betty. "I am wild to see it. I hope it's that oddly shaped cup we so admired when we looked at the prizes."

It proved to be that one, the trophy being sent over to the dock where the Gem was tied, by a special messenger. It was given the place of honor in the cabin.

Will and his two chums went home rather late that day.

"Is father much worried about the missing papers?" asked Grace, as she parted from her brother.

"He sure is. He's afraid the other side may spring something on him any minute."

"You mean-- take some action to get the property?"

"Yes."

"It's too bad. But I don't see what we can do."

"Neither do I. I wish I could find Prince. I think that's the queerest thing about him."

"It certainly is. Say, Will, how is poor little Dodo getting on?"

"Oh, as well as you can expect. They're going to operate soon, I heard. How is Mollie standing it, Grace?"

"Fairly well. Isn't it strange that we should meet the two autoists?"

"Yes. Have you put them wise yet?"

"Wise? What do you mean? Such slang!"

"I mean told 'em who you are?"

"No, and we're not going to for a while yet. We don't want to make them feel bad."

"All right, suit yourselves. We're coming up and see you when you get in camp."

"Yes, do. We'll write when we're settled."

Preparations for the race were going on, and the Gem, as were the other boats, was being groomed for the contest. She had been converted into her own self again, and Betty had engaged a man to look over the motor, and make a few adjustments of which she was not quite capable.

Uncle Amos came to Rainbow Lake to see the girls and the boat. He was not much impressed with the sheet of water, large as it was, but he did take considerable interest in the coming race, and insisted on personally doing a lot of work to the boat to get her "ship-shape."

So that when the Gem was ready to go to the starting line she was prepared to make the "try of her life," as Betty expressed it.

There were six boats in the class that included the Gem. Some were about the same size, one was larger and one was smaller. In horse power they rated about the same, but some handicapping had been done by the judges. The Gem was to start four minutes after the first boat got away, and of course she would have to make up this time to win.

"But we can do it!" declared Betty, confidently.

As they were on their way to the starting line the girls noticed two boys rowing along the shore, looking intently as they proceeded.

"Say, you haven't seen a big green canoe, with an Indian's head painted in red on each end; have you?" asked one of the lads.

"No; why?" asked Grace.

"Someone took ours last night," spoke the other boy. "We were going in the races with it, too. It was a dandy canoe!" and he seemed much depressed.

"That's too bad," spoke Betty sympathetically. "If we see anything of your canoe we'll let you know."

"Just send word to Tom Cardiff, over at Shaffer's dock!" cried the elder boy eagerly. "There's a reward of two dollars for anyone who finds it."

"Poor fellows!" said Betty as they rowed off. "I'd give two dollars of my own now if we could find their canoe for them. They must be dreadfully disappointed. Well, shall we start?"

"Yes, let's get it over with," replied Grace, nervously.

Grace and Amy were selected to look after the motor, they having been "coached" by Uncle Amos for several days. They were to see that it did not lack for oil, and if anything got out of adjustment they could fix it. They would be stationed well forward in the cabin, and the bulkhead being removed, they could easily get at the machinery.

Betty and Mollie would be at the wheel. Aunt Kate declined to take part in the race, and Uncle Amos was not eligible under the rules, this being strictly a race for girls and women.

Several events were run off before the Class B race was called. Then the boats, including the Gem, moved up, and were formally inspected to make sure that all the rules and regulations had been complied with. No fault was found.

"Are you all ready?" asked the starter.

"Ready," was the answer, and the first boat shot away. It was nervous waiting for Betty and her chums-- those four minutes-- but they finally passed.

"Ready?" asked the starter again.

"Ready," answered Betty, her voice trembling in spite of herself. There was a sharp crack of the pistol, and the Gem shot ahead, as Betty let the clutch slip into place. The race was on!