Chapter XX. The Storm
 

Grace "draped" herself over the nearest cot. Amy followed her example, with the added distinction that she covered her head with the blankets. Betty and Mollie stood clinging to each other.

"Though I don't think they were any braver than we," declared Grace afterward. "They simply couldn't fall down, for Betty wanted to go one way and Grace the other. So they just naturally held each other up."

"I couldn't stand," declared Amy. "My, knees shook so."

Aunt Kate was the first to speak after the apparition had passed away, seeming to lose itself in the lake.

"Girls, have you any idea what it was?" she asked.

"The-- the--" began Amy. "Oh, I can't say it!" she wailed from beneath the covers.

"Don't be silly!" commanded Betty, sharply. "If you mean-- ghost-- say so," but she herself hesitated over the word.

"If that was the ghost it was the queerest one I ever saw!" declared Mollie, with resolution. "I don't just mean that, either," she hastened to add, "for I never saw a ghost before. But in all the stories I ever read ghosts were tall and thin, of the willowy type---- "

"Like Grace," put in Betty, with rather a wan smile.

"Don't you dare compare me to a ghost!" commanded the Gibson girl," with energy that brought the blood to her pale cheeks. She ventured to peer out from under the tent flap now. "Is it-- is it gone?" she faltered.

"It's in the lake-- whatever it was," said Mollie. "But wasn't it oddly shaped, Betty?"

"It was indeed. And it made plenty of noise. Real ghosts never do that."

"Oh, some do!" asserted Amy. "I read the 'Ghost of the Stone Castle,' a most fascinating story, and that ghost always rattled chains, and made a terrible noise."

"What did it turn out to be?" asked Aunt Kate.

"The story didn't say. No one ever found out."

"Well, this one is exactly like Mr. Lagg described," spoke Grace, "chains and all. What could it have been?"

"I imagine," said Betty, slowly, "that it may be some wild animal---- "

Grace screamed.

"What is it now?" asked Betty, regarding her.

"Don't say wild animals-- they're worse than ghosts!"

"Nonsense! Don't be silly! I mean it may he some wild animal, like a fox or deer that has been caught in a trap. Traps have chains on them, you know. This animal may have been caught some time ago, have pulled the chain loose, and the poor thing may be going around with the trap still fastened to him. That would account for the rattling."

"Yes," said Mollie, "that may be so, and there may be white foxes, but I never heard of any outside of Arctic regions. But, Betty Nelson, there never was a fox as large as that. Why it was as-- as big as our tent!"

"Yes, and how it sniffed and breathed!" added Betty. "I guess it couldn't be a wild animal. It may have been a cow. I wonder if any campers here keep a white cow?"

"A cow would moo," declared Grace.

"But whatever it was, it was frightened at the light," said Aunt Kate, practically, "so I don't think we need to be afraid of it-- whatever it was. We'll leave a light outside the tent the rest of the night, and it won't come back."

"I'm going to sleep in the boat!" declared Grace.

"Nonsense!" cried Betty. "Don't be a deserter! Have some more chocolate, and we'll all go to sleep," and they finally persuaded Grace to remain. It took some little time to get their nerves quiet, but finally they all fell into a more or less uneasy slumber that lasted until morning. The "ghost" did not return.

Wan, and with rather dark circles under their eyes, the girls got breakfast the next morning. The meal put them in better spirits, and when they bustled around about the camp duties they, forgot their scare of the night before.

They made a partial tour of the island, though some parts were too densely wooded and swampy to penetrate. But such parts as they visited showed the presence of no other campers. They were alone on Elm Island, save for an occasional picnic party, several evidently having been there the day before.

"Then that-- thing-- couldn't have been a cow," said Grace, positively.

"Make up a new theory," suggested Betty, with a laugh. "One thing, though, we're not going to let it drive us away, are we-- not away from our camp?"

The others did not answer for a moment, and then Mollie exclaimed:

"I'm going to stay-- for one."

"So am I!" declared Aunt Kate, vigorously. "A light will keep whatever animal it is away, and I'm sure it was that. Of course we'll stay!"

There was nothing for Grace and Amy to do but give in-- which they did, rather timidly, be it confessed.

"And now let's go for a ride," proposed Betty, after lunch. "There are some things I want to get at Mr. Lagg's store."

"Will you tell him about the-- ghost?" asked Grace.

"Certainly not. It may be," said Betty, "that some one is playing a joke on us. In that case we'll not give him the satisfaction of knowing that we saw anything. We will keep silent, girls." And they did.

  "Matches, soap and oil and butter,
   Business gives me such a flutter."

Mr. Lagg recited this as Betty gave her order.

"Have you seen the ghost?" he asked.

"Oh!" cried Grace, "you have in some fresh chocolates! I must have some."

  "You'll find my chocolates sweet and good,
   To eat on lake or in the wood!"

Mr. Lagg's attention being diverted to a net subject, he did not press his question. Thus the girls escaped committing themselves.

"I think we are going to have a storm," remarked Betty, when they were under way again, cruising down the lake toward Triangle Island, where they expected to call on some friends. "And as Rainbow gets rough very quickly, I think we shall turn back."

"Yes, do," urged Amy. "I detest getting wet."

"The cabin is dry," urged Grace.

"We had better go back," urged Aunt Kate, and the prow of the Gem was swung around. Other boats, too small or not staunch enough to weather the blow that was evidently preparing, had turned about for a run to shore. There passed Betty's craft the two boys whose canoe had been taken.

"Any luck?" asked Betty, interestedly.

"No, we haven't found a trace of it yet," the older one replied.

In the West dark masses of vapor were piling up, and now and then the clouds were split by a jagged chain of lightning, while the ever-in-creasing rumble of thunder told of the onrush of the storm.

"We're going to get caught!" declared Mollie. "I guess I'll close the ports, Betty."

"Do; and bring out my raincoat, please."

Attired in this protective garment over her sailor suit, the Little Captain stood at the wheel.

With a blast that flecked the crests of the waves into foam, with a rattle and roar, and a vicious swish of rain, the storm broke over the Gem while she was yet a mile from the camp on Elm Island. The boat heeled over, for her cabin was high and offered a broad surface to the wind.

"We'll capsize!" screamed Amy.

"We will not!" exclaimed Betty, above the noise. She shifted the wheel to bring the boat head-on to the waves, and this made her ride on a more even keel. Then, with a downpour, accompanied by terrific thunder and vivid lightning, the storm broke. Betty bravely stood to her post, the others offering to relieve her, but she would not give up the wheel, and remained there until the little dock was reached. Then, making snug their craft, they raced for the tent. It had stood up well, for it was protected from the gale by big elm trees. Soon they were in shelter.

And then, almost as suddenly as it had come up, the storm passed. The clouds seemed to melt away, and the sun came out, the shower passing to the East.

Grace, who had gone out on the end of the dock, called to the others.

"Oh, come on and see it!"

"What-- the ghost?" inquired Mollie.

"No, but the most beautiful rainbow I ever saw-- a double one!"

They came beside her, and Grace pointed to where, arching the heavens, were two bows of many colors, one low down, vivid and perfect, the other above it-- a fainter reflection. As the sun came out from behind the clouds the colors grew brighter.

"How lovely!" murmured Amy, clasping her hands.

"Yes, it is the most brilliant bow I have ever seen," added Aunt Kate. "It seems almost like like a painted one." I would be more poetical if I were Mr. Lagg," and she laughed.

"It is very vivid," went on Betty. "In fact I have heard it said that on account of the peculiar situation of this lake, the high mountains around it, and the clouds, there are brighter rainbows here than anywhere else in this country. That is how the lake got its name-- Rainbow. It was the Indians who first gave it that, I was told, though I don't know the Indian name for rainbow."

"We don't need to-- this is beautiful as it is," murmured Grace. "Oh, isn't it wonderful!" and they stood there admiring the beautiful scene, and recalling the old story of the bow-- the promise of the Creator after the flood that never again would the world be submerged.

Then the light gradually died from the colored arches, to be repeated again in the wonderful cloud effects at sunset. The storm had been like the weeping of a little child, who smiles before its tears-- and afterward.