Chapter XXV. The Missing Saddle
 

"Have you caught Prince?" Grace called this to her brother from the tent where she and the other girls had been aroused by the commotion.

"Yes, I have him. He knew me almost at once," answered Will. "But the saddle is gone!"

"And the papers?" Grace faltered.

"Gone with it, I fancy. Too bad!"

"Maybe he just brushed the saddle off," suggested Allen, who, with Frank, had come out with a rope halter that had been provided in case the "ghost hunt" was a success. "We'll look around. I'll get a lantern."

But a hasty search in the darkness revealed nothing. There was no sign of a saddle.

"We'll have to wait until morning," sighed Will, as he tied Prince to a tree. "Then we can see better, and look all around. Prince, old boy, you knew me; didn't you?" The handsome animal whinnied, and rubbed his nose against Will's arm.

"And so you played the part of a ghost, you rascal! Scaring the girls---- "

"We'll never admit that," called Betty from the tent.

There was nothing more to do that night, after making Prince secure. The boys ate a little mid-night supper, and from the tent of the girls came the odor of chocolate, which Grace insisted on making. Then, after fitful slumbers, morning came.

Will was up early to examine Prince. He found the healed cut, where the auto had struck, and there was evidence that the saddle had been on the animal until recently. The iron stirrups would account for the sound like chains.

"The saddle must be somewhere on this island," declared Will. "I'm going to find it."

"How?" asked Allen, who had made a careful toilet, as Betty had promised to go for a row with him.

"I'll strap a pad on Prince, get on his back, and see where he takes me. The way I figure is this. Prince never liked to be in the open. I'm almost certain he has been staying in some sort of shelter-- either a cave, or an old cabin, or stable on the island. The saddle may have come off there. Now he'll most likely take me right to his stopping place. Of course he may not, but it's worth trying."

"Indeed it is," agreed Prank.

After a hasty breakfast Will put his plan to the test. Prince was fed well, and with Frank and Allen to follow, Will leaped on his pet's back, and gave him free rein-- or, rather, free halter, since there was no bridle. The girls said they would take a walk around the island, looking for the saddle as they went.

Prince, after a little hesitation, started off with Will on his back. The splendid animal headed for the lake shore, and for a moment Will was inclined to think that Prince was going to plunge in and swim to some other island or the mainland. But Prince was only thirsty, and, slaking that desire, he ambled along the shore for a mile or so, the two young men following.

"Where can he be going?" asked Frank.

"Just let him alone," counseled Will. "He knows what he is about."

And so Prince did. He took a path he had evidently traveled many times before, to judge by the hoof-marks, and presently came to a swampy place at which Frank and Allen balked.

"Wait here," advised Will. "I'll soon be back. This is near one end of the island. It must be here that Prince has his stable."

And so it proved. Splashing through the swamp, Prince ascended a little slope, pushed under some low tree branches that nearly brushed Will from his back, and came to a halt before a tumbled-down cabin, that was just about large enough for an improvised stable. Will leaped off, gave a look inside, and uttered a shout of joy, for there, trampled on and torn, broken and water-stained, was the saddle. A second later Will was kneeling before it, exploring the saddle pockets.

"Here they are!" he cried, as he pulled out the missing papers. "I have them, fellows!"

A hasty survey showed him that they were all there-- somewhat stained and torn, to be sure, but as good as ever for the purpose intended.

"This is great luck!" cried Will. He looked about him. Then he saw the reason why Prince had made this place his headquarters. The former occupant of the deserted cabin had left behind a quantity of salt, and as all animals like, and need, this crystal, Prince had been attracted to the place. It was like the old "buffalo licks." Then, too, there was shelter from storms.

"Prince, old man, you're all right!" cried Will, as he put the papers in his pockets. By dint of a little hasty repairing the saddle could be used temporarily. It was evident that Prince had kept it on until lately, and the dangling stirrups had caused the sound like rattling chains. There was no sign of the bridle, however, but the halter would answer. Will saddled his pet, and soon had rejoined Frank and Allen, to whom he had shouted the good news. Then a hasty trip was made back to camp.

"Oh, I'm so glad!" cried Grace. "Now I can really enjoy camping and cruising. You must telephone papa at once."

Which Will did, the whole party going over to Mr. Lagg's store in the motor boat.

"Yes, I have the papers safe," Will told Mr. Ford. "Yes, I'll mail them at once. What's that-- Dodo-- tell Mollie Dodo is over the operation and is going to get well? I will-- that's good news! Hurrah!"

"Oh, thank the dear Lord!" murmured Mollie, and then she sobbed on Betty's shoulder.

"Well, I guess we are ready to start," announced Grace. "I have the chocolates. Who has the olives?"

"Chocolates and olives-- the school girl's delight!" mocked Will,

"Oh, you'll be asking for some," declared his sister.

  "Chocolates and olives are good for the boys,
   And to the girls they also bring joys."

Thus remarked Mr. Lagg. The crowd of young people were in his store, stocking up the Gem for a resumption of her cruise on Rainbow Lake. It was several days after the finding of the missing saddle and the papers. The latter had been sent to Mr. Ford, Prince had been swum across to the mainland and sent home, and the news about little Dodo had been confirmed. The child would fully recover, and not even be lame.

"Oh, what a fine time we've had!" exclaimed Grace, as she waltzed about the store with Amy.

"Well, the summer isn't over yet by any means," spoke Mollie. "And there is the glorious Fall to come. I wonder what we shall do then?"

And what they did do may be ascertained by reading the next volume of this series, to be called "The Outdoor Girls in a Motor Car; Or, The Haunted Mansion of Shadow Valley," in which we will meet all our old friends again, and some new ones.

"All aboard!" called Betty, as she led the way down to the dock where the Gem awaited them. Each one was carrying a bundle of supplies, for they expected to cruise for about a week.

They boarded the motor boat. Betty threw over the lever of the self-starter. The engine responded promptly. As the clutch slipped in, white foam showed at the stern where the industrious propeller whirled about. The Gem slid away from the dock.

"Good-bye! Good-bye!" called the boys and girls to Mr. Lagg.

"Good-bye!" he answered, waving his red handkerchief at them. Then he recited.

  "As you sail o'er the bounding sea,
   Pause now and then and think of me.
   I've many things for man and beast,
   From chocolate drops to compressed yeast."

"Good!" shouted Will, laughing.

And Betty swung around the wheel to avoid the two boys whose canoe Mollie had so strangely found, as the Gem, continued her cruise down Rainbow Lake. And here, for a time, we, too, like Mr. Lagg, will say farewell to our friends.

THE END