Chapter XIX. A Queer Disturbance
 

"Have we blankets enough?"

"It's sure to be cool before morning."

"We can burn the oil stove turned down love-- that will make the tent warm."

"Oh, but it makes it so close and-- er-- smelly."

They all laughed at that.

Betty and her chums were preparing to spend their first night in camp on Elm Island, in the tent. They had had supper-- eating with fine appetites-- and after a little run about the lake had tied up at the small dock near their tent.

"A lantern would be a good thing to burn," said Aunt Kate. "That will give some warmth, too."

"And we can see better, if-- if anything comes!" exclaimed Amy, evidently with an effort.

"Anything-- what do you mean?" demanded Mollie, as she combed out her long hair, preparatory to braiding it.

"Well, I mean-- er-- anything!" and again Amy faltered.

"Oh, girls she means-- the ghost!" exclaimed Betty, with a laugh. "Why not say it?"

"Don't!" pleaded Grace.

"Now look here," went on practical Betty. "There's no use evading this matter. There's no such thing as a ghost, of that we are certain, and yet if we shy at mentioning it all the while it will only make us more nervous."

"The idea! I'm not nervous a bit," declared Mollie.

"Well, then," resumed Betty, "there's no use in being afraid to use the word, as Amy seemed to be. So talk ghost all you like-- you can't scare me. I'm so tired I know I'll sleep soundly, and I hope the rest of you will. Only, for goodness sakes, don't be talking in weird whispers. That is far worse than all the ghosts in creation."

"That's what I say!" exclaimed Aunt Kate, who was an old-fashioned, motherly soul. "If the ghost comes I'm going to talk to it, and ask how things are-- er-- on the other side. Girls, it's a great privilege to have a ghostly friend. If the man who owns this island knew what was good for him he'd advertise the fact that it was haunted. If Mr. Lagg were here I'd get him to make up a poem about the ghost. That would scare it off, if anything could."

"That's the way to talk!" cried Betty, cheerfully. "And now for a good night's rest. Bur-- r-- r-- r! It is cold!" and she shivered.

"I'm going to get some more blankets from the boat," declared Mollie. "I know we'll be glad of them before morning. Come along with me, Grace," she added, after a moment's pause, as she took up one of the lanterns. "You can help carry them."

"And scare away the----" began Amy.

"Indeed, I wasn't thinking a thing about it!" insisted Mollie, with emphasis. "And I'll thank you to---- "

She began in that impetuous style, that usually presaged a burst of temper, and Betty looked distressed. But Mollie corrected her fault almost before she had committed it.

"Excuse me, Amy," she said, contritely. "I know what you mean. Will you come, Grace?"

"Of course. I'll be glad of some extra coverings myself."

The two girls were back in remarkably short time.

"You didn't stay long," commented Betty, drily. "it's only a step to the dock," answered Mollie, as she and Grace deposited their arm-loads of blankets on the cots.

Then after the talk and laughter had died away, quiet gradually settled down in the camp tent. The Outdoor Girls were trying to go to sleep, but one and all, afterward, even Aunt Kate, complained that it was difficult. Whether it was the change from the boat, or the talk of the ghost, none could say. At any rate there were uneasy turnings from side to side, and as each cot squeaked in a different key, and as one or the other was constantly "singing," the result may be imagined.

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed Grace, impatiently, after a half-hour of comparative quiet, "I know I'll never get to sleep. Do you girls mind if I sit up and read a little? That always makes me drowsy, and I've got a book that needs finishing." Only Aunt Kate was slumbering.

"Got any chocolates that need eating?" asked Mollie, with a laugh, in which they all joined, half-hysterically.

"Yes, I have!" with emphasis. "But, just for that you won't get any."

"I don't want them! You couldn't hire me to eat candy at night," and again Mollie flared up.

"Girls, girls!" besought Betty. "This will never do! We will all be rags in the morning."

"Polishing rags then, I hope," murmured Amy. "My hands are black from the oil stove-- it smoked, and I'll need a cake of sand-soap to get clean again."

"Well, I can't stand this-- I'm too fidgety!" declared Grace. "I'm going to sit up a little while, and read. I'm going to eat a chocolate, too. I'll give you some, Mollie, if you like. I bought a fresh box of Mr. Lagg.

  "Chocolates they are nice and sweet,
   Good for man and beast to eat."

"Give me a young lady-like brand," suggested Amy.

"Why don't we all of us sit up a while, and-- I have it-- we'll make a pot of chocolate," exclaimed Mollie. "That will make us all sleep, and warm us-- it is getting real chilly already."

"Perhaps that will be best," agreed Betty, as she donned her heavy dressing gown and warm slippers, for the tent was cool even in July.

Soon there was the aroma of chocolate in the little cooking shelter, and the girls sat around, in various picturesque and comfortable attitudes, sipping the warm beverage and nibbling the crisp crackers.

Then gradually their nerves quieted down, and even Grace, more aroused than any of the others, began to feel drowsy. One by one they again sought their cots, and finally a series of deep breathings told of much-needed sleep.

It must have been long after midnight when Betty was suddenly aroused by a queer noise. She had slept heavily, and at first she was not fully aware of her surroundings, nor what had awakened her. Then she became conscious of a curious heavy breathing, as of some animal. She sat up in alarm, her heart pounding furiously. Her throat went dry.

"Girls-- girls!" she gasped, hoarsely. "Aunt Kate!"

The latter was the first to reply. Quickly reaching out to the lantern near her, she turned up the wick. Following the sudden illumination in the tent there was a cracking in the underbrush near it.

"Oh!" screamed Grace, sitting up. "What is it?"

"I'm going to look!" said Mollie, resolutely.

"Don't! Don't!" pleaded Amy, but Mollie was already at the flap of the tent, which she quickly loosed. Then she screamed.

"Look! It's white! It's white!"

Betty, forcing herself to action, stood beside her chum. She was just in time to see some-thing big and white run down toward the lake. There was a clash and jingling as of chains, and a splashing of water. Then the white thing disappeared, and the girls stood staring at one another, trembling violently.