Chapter II. After the Papers
 

"Hello, is this you, Will?"

"Yes, this is Grace. What did you do with my chocolates? The girls are here, and-- Never mind about the chocolates? The idea! I like---- . What's that? You want to go to the ball game? Will I do your errand for you? Yes, I'm listening. Go on!"

"It's this way, Sis," explained Will over the wire from a down-town drug store. "This morning dad told me to go over to grandmother's and get those papers. You know; the ones in that big property deal which has been hanging fire so long. Grandmother has the papers in her safe. The deal is to be closed to-day. I promised dad I'd go, but I forgot all about it, and now the fellows want me to go to the ball game with them.

"If you'll go over to grandmother's and get the papers I'll buy you a two-pound box of the best chocolates-- honest, I will. And you can get the papers as well as I can. Grandmother expects one of the family over after them to-day, and she has them all ready.

"You can go just as well as I can-- better, in fact, and dad won't care as long as he gets the papers. You're to take them to his office. Will you do it for me, Sis? Come on, now, be a sport, and say yes."

"But it's so hot, and Betty, Amy, and Mollie are here with me. I don't want to go all the way over to grandmother's after some tiresome old papers. Besides, it was your errand, anyhow."

"I know it, Sis, but I don't want to miss that game. It's going to be a dandy! Come on, go for me, that's a good fellow. I'll make it three pounds."

"No, I'm not going. Besides, it looks like a thunder storm."

"Say, Sis, will you go if I let you ride Prince?"

"Your new horse?" asked Grace, eagerly.

"Yes, you may ride Prince," came over the wire. Will was a good horseman, but for some time had to be content with rather an ordinary steed. Lately he had prevailed on his father to get him a new one, and Prince, a pure white animal, of great beauty, had been secured. It was gentle, but spirited, and had great speed. Grace rode well, but her mount did not suit her, and Mr. Ford did not want to get another just then. Will never allowed his sister to more than try Prince around the yard, but she was eager to go for a long canter with the noble animal. Now was the chance she had waited for so long.

"You must want to see that ball game awfully bad, to lend me Prince," said Grace.

"I do," answered Will. "But be careful of him. Don't let him have his head too much or he'll bolt. But there's not a mean streak in him."

"Oh, I know that-- I can manage."

"Then you'll get those papers from grandmother for me, and take them to dad?"

"Yes, I guess so, though I don't like leaving the girls."

"Oh, you can explain it to them. And you can 'phone down for the chocolates and have them sent up. Charge them to me. The girls can chew on them until you come back. It won't take you long on Prince. And say, listen, Sis!"

"Yes, go on."

"Those papers are pretty valuable, dad said. There are other parties interested in this deal, and if they got hold of the documents it might make a lot of trouble."

"Trouble?"

"Yes. But there's not much chance of that. They don't even know where the papers are."

"All right, I'll get them. Have a good time at the game, Billy boy."

"I will, and look out for Prince. So long!" and Will hung up the receiver, while Grace over the private wire, telephoned to the groom to saddle Prince. Then she went out to tell her friends of her little trip.

And while she is doing this, I will interject a few words of explanation so that those who did not read the first volume of this series may have a better understanding of the characters and location of this story.

The first book was called "The Outdoor Girls of Deepdale; Or, Camping and Tramping for Fun and Health." In that is given an account of how the four chums set off to walk about two hundred miles in two weeks, stopping nights at the homes of various friends and relatives on the route. At the very outset they stumbled on the mystery of a five hundred dollar bill, and it was not until the end that the strange affair was cleared up most unexpectedly.

The four girls were Betty Nelson, a born leader, bright, vigorous and with more than her share of common sense. She was the daughter of Charles Nelson, a wealthy carpet manufacturer. Grace Ford, tall, willowly, and exceedingly pretty, was blessed with well-to-do parents. Mr. Ford being a lawyer of note, who handled many big cases. Mollie Billette, was just the opposite type from Grace. Mollie was almost always in action, Grace in repose. Mollie was dark, Grace fair. Mollie was quick-tempered-- Grace very slow to arouse. Perhaps it was the French blood in Mollie-- blood that showed even more plainly in her mother, a wealthy widow-- that accounted for this. Or perhaps it was the mischievous twins-- Dodo and Paul-- whose antics so often annoyed their older sister, that caused Mollie to "flare up" at times.

Amy Stonington was concerned in a mystery that she hoped would some day be unraveled. For years she had believed that John and Sarah Stonington were her father and mother, but in the first book I related how she was given to understand differently.

It appears that, when she was a baby, Amy lived in a Western city. There came a flood, and she was picked up on some wreckage. There was a note pinned to her baby dress-- or, rather an envelope that had contained a note, and this was addressed to Mrs. Stonington. Amy's mother was Mrs. Stonington's aunt, though the two had not seen each other in many years.

Whether Amy's parents perished in the flood, as seemed likely, or what became of them, was never known, nor was it known whether there were any other children. But Mr. Stonington, after the flood, was telegraphed for, and came to get Amy. He and his wife had kept her ever since, and shortly before this story opens they had told her of the mystery surrounding her. Of course it was a great shock to poor Amy, but she bore it bravely. She called Mr. and Mrs. Stonington "uncle" and "aunt" after that.

I described Deepdale and its surroundings in the previous book, so I will make no more than a passing reference to it here. Sufficient to say that the town nestled in a bend of the Argono River, a few miles above where that stream widened out into beautiful and picturesque Rainbow Lake. Then the river continued on its way again, increasing into quite a large body of water. On the river and lake plied many pleasure craft, and some built for trade, in which they competed with a railroad that connected with the main line to New York. In Rainbow Lake were a number of islands, the largest-- Triangle-- obviously so called, being quite a summer resort.

Our four girls lived near each other in fine residences, that of Mollie's mother being on the bank of the river. Deepdale was a thriving community, in the midst of a fertile farming section.

The summer sun glinted in alternate shadows and brilliant patches on Grace Ford as she hurried out to her friends on the lawn, after receiving the message from her brother Will.

"What happened?" asked Mollie, for it was evident from the expression on the face of the approaching girl that something out of the ordinary had been the import of the message.

"Oh, it was Will. He---- "

"Did he 'fess up' about the chocolates?" inquired Mollie.

"No, but he's going to treat us to a three-pound box. I 'phoned down for them. They'll be here soon, and you girls can enjoy them while I'm gone."

"Gone!" echoed Betty, blankly. "Where are you going, pray tell?"

"Oh, Will forgot to do something father told him to, and he wants me to do it for him. Get some rather important papers from Grandmother Ford. I'm going to ride Prince. I wish you all could come. Will you be angry if I run away for a little while? I shan't be more than an hour."

"Angry? Of course not," said Amy, gently. "Besides, it's important; isn't it?"

"I imagine so, from what Will said. But he has the baseball fever, and there's no cure for it. So if you don't mind I'll just slip into my habit, and canter over. Oh, I just love Prince! He's the finest horse!"

"I'm afraid of horses," confessed Amy.

"I'm not!" declared Betty, who was fond of all sports, and who had fully earned her title of "Little Captain," which she was often called. "Some day I'm going to prevail on daddy to get me one."

"I should think you'd rather have an auto," spoke Mollie.

"I may, some day," murmured Betty. "But hurry along, Grace. It looks as though it might storm. We'll save some of the candy for you."

"You'd better!"

The chocolates came before Grace was ready to start after the papers, for she discovered a rent in her skirt and it had to be mended. Then, too, Prince proved a little more restive than had been anticipated, from not having been out in two days, and the groom suggested that he take the animal up and down the road on a sharp gallop to give the excess spirit a chance to be worked off. So Grace saw to it that she had at least part of her share of chocolates before she left.

"And I have just time to hear the rest about the grand surprise," she said to Betty, who had been turning and creasing in her hand the letter her uncle had written.

"I'm afraid I can't go as much into detail as I thought I could," confessed Betty. "But I'll read you the letter my old sea-captain uncle sent me. It begins: 'In port; longitude whatever you like, and latitude an ice cream soda.' Then he goes on:

"'Dear messmate. Years ago, when you first signed papers to voyage through life, when you weren't rated as an A. B., you used to have me spill sea-yarns for you. And you always said you were going to be a sailor, shiver my timbers, or something like that,-- real sailor-like, so it sounded.

"'I never forgot this, and I always counted on taking you on a voyage with me. But your captain-- that is to say your father-- never would let me, and often the barometer went away down between him and me.

"'Howsomever, I haven't forgotten how you liked the water, nor how much you wanted a big ship of your own. You used to make me promise that if ever I could tow the Flying Dutchman into port that you could have it for a toy. And I promised.

"'Well, now I have the chance to get the Flying Dutchman for you, and I'm bringing it home, with sails furled so it won't get away. I'm going to give you a grand surprise soon, and you can pass it on to your friends. So if you let me luff along for a few more cable lengths I think I'll make port soon, and then we'll see what sort of a sailor you'll make. You may expect the surprise shortly.'

"That's all there is to it," concluded Betty, "and I've been puzzling my brains as to just what the surprise may be."

"He's going to take you on a voyage," said Amy.

"He's bought you some toy ship," was the opinion of Mollie.

"Oh, if he'd only bring a real boat that we could make real a trip in!" sighed Grace. "That would be-- lovely!"

"Betty Nelson! Write to your uncle right away!" commanded Mollie, "and find out exactly what he means."

"I can't," sighed Betty. "He's traveling, and one never knows where he is. We'll just have to wait. Besides, he is so peculiar that he'd just as likely as not only puzzle me the more. We'll just have to wait; that's all."

"Well, if it should be some sort of a boat, even a big rowboat, we could have some fun," asserted Grace.

"Yes, for mine isn't much account," remarked Mollie, who owned a small skiff on the river.

"I was so excited and amused when I got uncle's letter," said Betty, "that I didn't know what to do. Mamma puzzled over it, but she couldn't make any more out of it than I could. So I decided to come over here."

"I'm glad you did," spoke Grace, holding up her long habit in one hand and delicately eating a chocolate from the other "There comes James with Prince. Oh, he's run him too hard!" she exclaimed as she noted the hard-breathing animal.

"Oh, no, Miss," said the groom, who heard her. "That was only a romp for him. He'll be much easier to handle now."

He gave Grace a hand to help her mount to the saddle, and adjusted the stirrups for her.

"Good-bye!" she called, as she cantered off. "Save some of the chocolates for me," and the others laughingly promised, as they went back to the shade, to rest in the hammock or lawn chairs.