Chapter V. The Gem
 

Grace and Mollie were riding home in the carriage that had been sent to bring Mrs. Billette to the home of her relative, for the anxious mother, on hearing that Dodo could not be moved, had come to look after the injured child. Paul went home with his sister. He was munching contentedly on some candy, and all thought of the recent accident and scare had vanished in the present small and sweet happiness.

"Oh, it must have been perfectly dreadful, Grace," said Mollie, sympathetically. "Perfectly terrible!"

"It was! And are you sure you don't feel resentful toward me?"

"The idea! Certainly not. It was poor Dodo's fault, in a way; but I blame those motorists more than anyone else. They should be found."

"They certainly made a lot of trouble," admitted Grace. "But I would rather find Prince than them. I wonder where he could have run to?"

"Oh, probably not far, after he got over being frightened. Doubtless you'll hear of his being found, and then you can send for him, and recover the papers."

"If only the saddle doesn't come off, and get lost," said Grace. "That would be dreadful, for there would be no telling where to look for it."

"Most likely it would be along some road. Prince would probably keep to the highways, and if the girth should break and the saddle come off it would be seen. Then, by the papers in the pockets, persons could tell to whom it belonged."

"That is just it. Papa doesn't want anyone to see those papers. Some of them have to be kept secret. Oh, I know he will feel dreadful about the loss, and so will Grandma! It was partly her property that was involved in the transaction."

"But they can't blame you."

"I hope not. I'll never be forgiven by Will for letting Prince throw me and run away, though. He'll never let me take him again."

"It was partly Will's fault for not doing the errand himself," declared Mollie, with energy. "Then this might not have happened. Of course I don't mean," she added hastily, "that I blame him in the least for what happened to Dodo. But I mean the papers might not have been lost, for he would likely have carried them in his coat pocket, and not in the saddle."

"That is what I should have done, I suppose," spoke Grace with a sigh. "But my riding habit had no pocket large enough. Oh, dear! I'm afraid it will be spoiled by the mud and rain," for she had left it at Mrs. Carr's and had borrowed a dress to wear home in the carriage, a dress that was rather incongruous in conjunction with her riding boots and derby hat.

"It can be cleaned," consoled Mollie. "No, Paul, not another bit of candy. Don't give him any, Grace. He'll be ill, and as I'll have to look after him when mamma is away I don't want to have it any harder than necessary."

"Me ikes tandy," remarked Paul. "Dodo ikes tandy too. Why not Dodo come wif us?" His big eyes looked appealing at his sister, and her own filled with tears, while those of Grace were not dry.

"Poor little Dodo," said Mollie. Then with a smile, and brushing away her tears, she spoke more brightly, "but we must not be gloomy. I just know she will be all right."

"I shall never cease praying that she will," spoke Grace, softly.

They were splashing home through the mud. The rain was still coming down, but not so hard. The long, dry spell had broken, and it seemed that a continued wet one had set in.

Grace was left at her house, where she found Amy and Betty ready to sympathize with her. Her father was there also, and Will. Both looked grave.

Seeing that family matters awaited discussion, Amy and Betty soon took their leave, after being assured that Grace was all right, except for a stiffness and a few cuts caused by the fall. A carriage took the two girls to their homes. Mollie had gone on with Paul.

"What will happen if we can't find the papers?" asked Grace of her father, when she had explained everything.

"Well, there will be a lot of trouble," he said, "and of course the whole matter will have to be held up. In the meanwhile, even if the other interests do not get the documents, they may make it unpleasant for us. I wish, Will, that you had done this errand yourself-- not that I blame you Grace," he said quickly, "but Will knew how very important it was."

"I'm very sorry, Dad. I'll never cut business for a ball game again, and I'll do all I can to help out. I'm sure Prince will soon come home, though, and it will be all right. I'll go out to the stable now, and if he isn't there I'll saddle Toto and go hunting. I'll start from where the accident happened, and trace Prince. Lucky he's pure white, he'll show up well, even in the dark."

"No, I don't want you to do that," objected Mr. Ford. "You may go to the stable, if you like, but don't start any search until morning. In the meanwhile we may hear something, or he may come back. It's too bad a night to go out. But let this be a lesson to you, Will."

"I will; yes, sir. Poor little Sis, I can't tell you how sorry I am. Are you much hurt?" and Will laid his hand tenderly on her head. She winced, for he had touched a bruised place.

"Don't worry," she said, as brightly as she could. "I am all right, and the papers may be found. It is poor little Dodo I feel so badly about. She-- she may be a cripple, the doctor says."

"No!" exclaimed Will, aghast.

"It seems terrible, but that is his opinion."

"Oh, they can do such wonderful things in surgery now a-days," said Mrs. Ford, "that I'm sure, in such a young child, there are many chances in her favor. Don't worry, daughter dear. Now you must go to bed, or you will be ill over this. Those motorists ought to be punished, if any one is."

"Yes," agreed Mr. Ford. "Now I must see what I can do to offset this loss. You don't suppose, do you Grace, that those men could have had any object in getting those papers away from you?"

"What do you mean?" asked Grace, in wonderment.

"I mean, did they seem to follow you-- as if they had knowledge that the papers would be transferred to-day, and were determined to get them?"

"I don't think so, Daddy. I'm sure they didn't follow me. They just seemed to come out of the storm-- trying to get away from it-- as I was doing. I'm sure it was all an accident-- just carelessness.

"Very likely. I was foolish to suggest it, but so much depends on those papers that I don't know just what to think. But there, Grace," as he kissed her, "you must rest yourself. I will think of a way out, I'm sure. Will, come with me. I may need you to make some memoranda while I telephone," and he and his son went to the library.

Morning did not see Prince in the stable, and all that day Will searched without result. Many had seen the white horse flying wildly past, but that was all. Some said the saddle was still on, others that it had come off. Mr. Ford was much exercised over the loss of the papers.

He did what he could to hold back the business, but there was a prospect of loss and considerable trouble if the documents were not eventually found. The opposing interests learned of the halt, and tried to take advantage of it. They were, however, only partly successful.

In the meanwhile, after several days had passed, Dodo grew well enough to be brought home. The chief injury was to her leg, and there was grave danger of it being permanently lame. As soon as she was in better condition it was decided to have a noted specialist treat her.

Prince remained missing, nor was there any report of the saddle being located, though Mr. Ford offered a liberal reward for that, or the return of the horse.

Betty had telephoned for her three friends. Her voice held in it the hint of pleasure and mystery both, but to all inquiries of what was wanted she returned only the answer:

"Come and see. I want you to meet some one."

It was two weeks after the accident, and, in a great measure, the bitter memories of it had passed. Dodo was doing as well as could be expected, and, save for a slight limp, Grace had fully recovered.

The three chums-- "graces" Will called them-- arrived at Betty's house at the same time. With sparkling eyes she led them into the parlor.

"But what is it?" whispered Amy.

"If it's a strange young man, I'm not going to go and meet him," said Mollie, with quick decision.

"It's a man, but not young, and I think you'll be glad to meet him," answered Betty.

Grace instinctively looked at her dress.

"Oh, you're all right!" cried Betty. Then she threw open the parlor door. "Here they are, Uncle Amos!" she cried, gaily, and the girls beheld a rather grizzled, elderly man, with tanned face and hands, and wrinkled cheeks, like an apple that has kept all winter, with the merriest blue eyes imaginable, and when he spoke there sounded the heartiest voice that could well fit into the rather small parlor.

"Avast there!" he cried, as he saw the girls. "So these are your consorts; eh, Bet? They do you proud! May I be keel-hauled if I've seen a prettier set of sails on a craft in a long while. It's good rigging-- good rigging," and he glanced particularly at the dresses.

Betty presented her friends in turn, and Mr. Martin had something odd to say to each as he shook hands heartily.

"Uncle Amos has brought the-- surprise," said Betty. "But even yet he won't tell me what it is."

"If I did it wouldn't be a surprise!" he protested. "But I'm all prepared to pilot you down to where she is. She's in the offing, all fitted for a cruise. All she needs is a captain and crew, and I think Bet here will be the one, and you girls the other. I may ship as cook or cabin boy, if you'll have me, but that is as may be. Now, if you're ready we'll go down to the dock and see how the tide is."

"But we have no tide here, Uncle Amos," spoke Betty.

"What! No tide! What sort of a place is it without a tide? I'm disappointed, lass, disappointed!"

"We'll try and have one made for you," said Mollie, with a laugh.

"That's it! That's the way to talk. Salt water and a tide would make any place, even a desert-- er-- er-- what is it I want to say, Bet?"

"I don't know, Uncle, unless that it would make the desert blossom like the rose."

"That's it-- a rose. You luffed just at the right time. Well, ladies, all hands have been piped to quarters, so we'll start. It's nearly four bells, and I told the mate I'd be there by then. Let's start."

And start they did. On the way toward the river, whither Mr. Marlin insisted on leading the girls, Betty explained how her uncle had arrived unexpectedly that day, and had talked mysteriously about the surprise.

"It's a boat-- I'm sure it is," said Mollie.

"Oh, he'd talk that same way about an automobile or an airship," said Betty. "He calls everything, 'she,' and if it was an auto he'd 'anchor' it near the river just to be close to the water he loves so much."

"What if it's an airship?" asked Amy.

"I shall-- learn to run it!" declared Betty.

"Never!"

"Yes I shall."

"Let us hope it is but a rowboat then," sighed Amy.

They went out on the public dock in the Argono River. At the string piece was tied what the girls saw was one of the neatest motor boats that, as Will said afterward, "ever ate a gasoline sandwich."

There was a trunk cabin, an ample cockpit at the stern, a little cooking galley, a powerful motor, complete fittings and everything that the most exacting motor boat enthusiast could desire.

"There she is!" cried Mr. Marlin. "There's the surprise, Bet. I got her for you! I named her the Gem-- for she is a gem. Aside from an ocean steamer there's no better boat built. I saw to it myself. I've been planning that for you for years. And there you are. The Gem is yours. I want you girls to take a cruise in her, and if you don't have a good time it will be your own fault. There's the Gem for you, Betty. Let's go aboard and see if that rascally mate has grub ready. There's the Gem!" and he led the way toward the beautiful boat. The girls simply gasped with delight, and Betty turned pale-- at least Grace said so.