Chapter XVII. On Elm Island
 

"Have you a long rope aboard, Miss Nelson?" asked Mr. Stone, when they had drawn near to the burning load of hay.

"Yes, you will find it in one of the after lockers," answered Betty, as she skillfully directed the course of her boat so as to get on the windward side of the barge.

"And have you a boathook? I want to fasten it to the rope, and see if I can cast it aboard the barge."

"There is something better than that," went on the Little Captain. "I have a small anchor-- a kedge, I think my Uncle Amos called it."

"Fine, that will be just the thing to cast! Where is it?"

"In the same locker with the rope. Uncle insisted that I carry it, though we've never used it."

"Well, it will come in mighty handy now," declared Mr. Kennedy, as he prepared to assist his chum. "You girls had better get in the cabin," he added, "for there is no telling when the wind may shift, and blow sparks on your dresses. They're too nice to have holes burned in them," and he gazed, not without proper admiration, at Betty and her chums. Even in this hour of stress and no little danger he could do that.

"We'll put on our raincoats," suggested Mollie. "The little sparks from the hay won't burn them. Or, if they do, we can have a pail of water ready."

"That's a good idea," commented Mr. Stone, who was making the kedge anchor fast to the long rope. "Have several pails ready if you can. No telling when the sparks may come aboard too fast for us."

"And we have fire extinguishers, too," said Betty. "Grace, you know where they are in the cabin. Get them out."

"And I'll draw the water," said Mr. Kennedy.

"I can help at that," added Aunt Kate, bravely. "I know where the scrubbing pail is." She had insisted on making it one of her duties to scrub the deck every day, and for this purpose she kept in readiness a pail to which a rope was attached, that it might be dropped overboard into the lake and hauled up full. This was soon in use. Aunt Kate insisted on having several large pots and pans also filled.

"You can't have too much water at a fire," she said, practically.

The burning hay barge was rapidly being blown down toward the boathouse. At the latter structure quite a throng of club members, and others, had gathered in readiness to act when the time came.

In the moonlight they could be seen getting pails and tubs of water in readiness, and one small line of hose, used to water the lawn, was laid. But it would be of small service against such a blaze as now enveloped the barge. Many boats were hastening to the scene, whistling frantically-- as though that helped.

"Have you got a pump aboard?" some one hailed those on the Gem.

"No, we're going to haul the barge away," answered Betty.

"Good idea, but don't go too close!" came the warning.

"It is going to be pretty warm," remarked Mr. Stone. He had the anchor made fast, and with the rope coiled so that it would not foul as he made the cast, he took his place on one of the after lockers. Betty's plan was to go as close to the burning craft as she could, to allow the cast to be made, As soon as the prongs of the anchor caught, she would head her motor and out toward the middle of the lake, towing the barge where it could be anchored and allowed to burn to the water's edge.

"But what are you going to anchor it with?" asked Mr. Kennedy, when this last feature had been discussed.

"That's so," spoke his chum, reflectively.

"There's a heavy piece of iron under the middle board of the cabin," said Betty. "Uncle Amos said it was there for ballast in case we wanted to use a sail, but I don't see that we need it."

"We'll use it temporarily, anyhow, for an anchor," decided Mr. Stone. He and his companion soon had it out, and made fast to the other end of the rope.

"Get ready now!" warned Betty, when this had been done. "I'm going as close as I can."

She steered her boat toward the burning barge. There came whistles of encouragement from the surrounding craft. The heat was intense, and on the suggestion of Mr. Kennedy the motor boat's decks were kept wet from the water in the pails. The girls felt their hands and faces grow warm. Those on the boathouse float and pier were all anxiety. The flames, blown by the wind, seemed to leap across the intervening space as if to reach the boat shelter.

"Here she goes!" cried Mr. Stone, as he cast the anchor. It was skillfully done, and the prongs caught on some part of the barge, low enough down so that the hempen strands would not burn. Mr. Stone pulled on the rope to see if it would hold. It did, and he called:

"Let her go, Miss Nelson! Gradually though; don't put too much strain on the rope at first! After you get the barge started the other way, it will be all right."

Betty sent the Gem ahead. The rope paid out over the stern-- taunted-- became tight. There was a heavy strain on it. Would it hold? It did, and slowly the hay barge began to move out into the lake.

"Hurray!" cried Mr. Kennedy. "That solved the problem."

"You girls certainly know how to do things," said Mr. Stone, admiringly.

Cheers from those in surrounding boats seemed to emphasize this sentiment. There was now no danger to the Yacht Club boathouse.

A little later, when the flames in the hay were at their height, the piece of iron was dropped overboard from the Gem. This, with the rope and the kedge anchor, served to hold the barge in place. There it could burn without doing any harm.

Soon the fire began to die down, and a little later it was but a smouldering mass, not even interesting as a spectacle. Betty Nelson's plan had worked well, and later she received the thanks of the Yacht Club, she and her chums being elected honorary life members in recognition of the service they had rendered.

Summer days passed-- delicious, lazy summer days-- during which the girls motored, canoed or rowed as they fancied, went on picnics in the woods, or on some of the islands of Rainbow Lake, or took long walks. Mr. Stone and Mr. Kennedy, sometimes one, often both, went with the girls. Occasionally Will and his friends ran out for a day or two, taking cruises with Betty, and her chums.

Aunt Kate remained as chaperone, others who had been invited finding it impossible to come. The girls' mothers made up a party and paid them a visit one day, being royally entertained at the time.

"Yes, you girls certainly know how to do things," said Mr. Stone one day; after Betty had skillfully avoided a collision, due to the carelessness of another skipper.

"I wish we could do something to get those papers for father," thought Grace. Not a trace had been found of Prince or the missing documents. It was very strange. Mr. Ford and his lawyer friends could not understand it. The interests opposed to him were preparing to take action, it was rumored, and if the papers were found this would be stopped. Even a detective agency that made a specialty of tracing lost articles had no success. Prince and the papers seemed to have vanished into thin air.

One day as Betty and her chums were motoring about the lake, having gone to the store for some supplies, they saw the two boys who had been searching for their canoe.

"Did you find it?" asked Grace.

"No, not a trace of it, Too, bad, too, for we saved up our money-- four dollars, now," said the taller of the two lads. "If you find her we'll give you that money; won't we?" and he appealed to his companion.

"We sure will!"

"Well, if we see, or hear, anything of it we'll let you know," promised Betty. "Poor fellows," she murmured, as they rowed away. They had made a circuit of the lake, going in many coves, but without success.

"It's about time to be thinking of camp, if we're going in for that sort of thing," announced Betty one day. "Shall we try it, girl?"

"I'd like it," said Mollie. "We can use the boat, too; can't we?"

"Of course," replied Betty.

"And sleep aboard?" asked Grace.

"No, let's sleep in a tent," proposed Amy. "It will be lots of fun."

"But the bugs, and mosquitoes-- not to mention frogs and snakes," came protestingly from Grace.

"Oh, we've done it before, and we can use our mosquito nets," said Betty. "I heard of a nice tent, and a well-fitted up camp over on Elm Island we can hire for a week or so."

"But the ghost-- the one Mr. Lagg told about?" asked Mollie.

"We'll 'lay' the ghost!" laughed Betty. "Seriously, I don't believe there is anything more than a fisherman's story to account for it. Still, if you girls are afraid---- "

"Afraid!" they protested in chorus.

"Then we'll go to Elm Island," decided Betty, and they did. The camp, near a little dock where the Gem could be tied, was well suited to their needs.

"Oh, we'll have a good time here!" declared Betty as they took possession. "But we must get in plenty of supplies. Let's go over and call on Mr. Lagg," and they headed for the mainland in the motor boat.