Chapter VII. Stowaways
 

"Then he isn't your horse, Will?" It was Mr. Randall, the livery stable keeper who asked this question as Grace's brother critically inspected an animal that was led out for view in the stable.

"No, that isn't Prince," was the answer. "He looks enough like him, though, to be his brother. I'm much obliged for calling me up."

Will had hastened down after the receipt of the message Grace had taken over the telephone, for Randall's, as had all livery stables in the vicinity, had been notified to be on the lookout for the strangely missing animal, who might be wandering about the country carrying valuable documents in the saddle pocket.

"Two young fellows drove in here with this horse, and asked if they could put him up for a while," went on the livery man. "I didn't like the way they acted, but I didn't see how they could do me any harm, so I said they could. Then I got to thinking about your horse, and I called up. I'm sorry to disappoint you."

"I'm sorry myself, Mr. Randall. I can't imagine where Prince can be."

"Oh, some one has him, you may be sure of that. A valuable horse like that wouldn't go long without an owner. Maybe some one has changed his color-- dyed him, you know. That has been done. Of course the dye doesn't last forever, but in this case it might hold long enough for the excitement to subside."

"Well, if they'll send back the papers, they can keep the horse, as much as I like Prince," Spoke Will, as he started home to tell his sister and the girls the details of the unsuccessful trip. He had already briefly telephoned to them of his disappointment.

"Oh, isn't it too bad!" cried Horace, as Will came back. "Do you really think, Will, that some one has Prince and the papers?"

"It looks so, Sis. Has dad said anything lately?"

"No, I believe the other side hasn't done anything, either, which might go to show that they haven't the papers. But it's all so uncertain. Well, girls," and she turned to her guests, "I guess we can finish talking about what we will wear."

"Which, means that I must become like a tree in Spring," sighed Will.

"How is that?" asked Amy. "Is it a riddle?"

"He means he must leave-- that's an old one," mocked Mollie. "Any candy left, Grace?" and Mollie, who had been artistically posing on a divan, crossed the room to where Grace sat near a table strewn with books and papers, a box of chocolates occupying the place of honor.

"Of course there are some left," answered Grace.

"Which is a wonder!" exclaimed Will, as he hurried out of the room before his sister could properly punish him.

"Will we wear our sailor costumes all the while?" asked Betty, for the girls, as soon as the cruise in the Gem had been decided on, had had suits made on the sailor pattern, with some distinctive changes according to their own ideas. Betty had been informally named "Captain," a title with which she was already more or less familiar.

"Well, of course we'll wear our sailors-- middy blouses and all-- while we're aboard-- ahem!" exclaimed Betty, with exaggerated emphasis. "Notice my sea terms," she directed.

"Oh, you are getting to be a regular sailor," said Mollie. "I've got a book home with a lot of sea words in. I'm going to learn them, and also how to tie sailor knots."

"Then maybe your shoe laces won't come undone so easily," challenged Grace, and she thrust out her own dainty shoe, and tapped the patent leather tip of Mollie's tie.

"It is not!" came indignantly from Billy.

"It is loose, and it may trip you," advised Amy, and Mollie, relinquishing a candy she had selected with care, bent over. The moment she did so Grace appropriated the Sweetmeat.

"As I said," went on Betty, "we can wear our sailor suits when aboard. When we go ashore we can wear our other dresses."

"I'm not going to take a lot of clothes," declared Grace, getting ready to defend herself against Mollie when the latter should have discovered the loss of the tidbit. "One reason we had such a good time on our 'hike,' was that we didn't have to bother with a lot of clothes. We shall enjoy ourselves much more, I think."

"And I agree with you, my dear," said Betty. "Besides, we haven't room for many things on the Gem. Not that I want to deprive you of anything," she added, quickly, for she realized her position as hostess. "But really, to be comfortable, we don't want to be crowded, and if we each take our smallest steamer trunk I think that will hold everything, and then we'll have so much more room. The trunks will go under the bunks very nicely."

"Then we'll agree to that," said Mollie. "Two sailor suits, so we can change; one nice shore dress, if we are asked anywhere, and one rough-and-ready suit for work-- or play."

"Good!" cried Amy. "As for shoes---- "

"Who took my candy?" cried Mollie, discovering the loss of the one she had put down to tie her lace. "It was the only one in the box and---- "

Grace laughed, and thus acknowledged her guilt.

"I've got another box up stairs," she said. "I'll get it," which she proceeded to do.

"Grace, you'll ruin your digestion with so much sweet stuff," declared Betty, seriously. "Really you will."

"I suppose so, my dear; but really I can't seem to help it."

"As captain of the Gem I'm going to put you on short rations, as soon as our cruise begins," said Betty. "It will do you good."

"Perhaps it will," Grace admitted, with a sigh. "I'll be glad to have you do it. Now, is everything arranged for?"

"Well," answered Betty, "This is how it stands: We are to start on Tuesday, and motor down the river, taking our time. Aunt Kate will go with us for the first few days, and, as you know, we have arranged for other chaperones on the rest of the cruise. We will eat aboard, when we wish to, or go ashore for meals if it's more convenient. Of course we will sleep aboard, tying up wherever we can find the best place.

"I plan to get to Rainbow Lake about the second day, and we will spend a week or so on that, visiting the different points of interest-- I'm talking like a guide book, I'm afraid," she apologized with a smile.

"That's all right-- go on, Little Captain," said Amy.

"Well, then, I thought we might do a little camping on Triangle, or one of the other islands, say, for three or four days."

"Don't camp on Triangle," suggested Grace. "There are too many people there, and we can't be free. There'd always be a lot of curious ones about, looking at our boat, and our things, and all that."

"Very well, we can pick out some other island," agreed Betty. "You know there is to be a regatta, and water sports, on Rainbow Lake just about the time we get there, and we can take part, if we like."

"Do! And if we can get in a race we will!" cried Mollie, with sparkling eyes.

"Uncle Amos has promised to be with us some of the time," went on Betty. "And I suppose we will have to invite the boys occasionally, just for the day, you know."

"Oh, don't make too much of an effort," exclaimed Mollie. "Allen Washburn said he might be going abroad this summer, anyhow."

"Who said anything about him?" demanded Betty, with a blush.

"No one; but I can read-- thoughts!" answered Mollie, helping herself to another candy.

"I meant Will and Frank," went on Betty. "They would like to come."

"I'm sure of it," murmured Grace-- literally murmured-- for she had a marshmallow chocolate between her white teeth.

"How about Percy Falconer?" asked Amy, mischievously. "I am sure he would wear a perfectly stunning-- to use his own word-- sailor suit."

"Don't you dare mention his name!" cried Betty. "I detest him."

"Let us have peace!" quoted Mollie. "Then it's all settled-- we'll cruise and camp and---- "

"Cruise again," finished Betty. "For we have two months, nearly, ahead of us; and we won't want to camp more than a week, perhaps. We can go into the lower river, below Rainbow Lake, too, I think. It is sometimes rough there, but the Gem is built for rough weather, Uncle Amos says."

The girls discussed further the coming trip and then, as each one had considerable to do still to get ready, they went gaily to their several homes.

Will came in later, looked moodily into an empty candy box, and exclaimed:

"You might have left a few, Sis."

"What! With four girls? Will, you expect too much."

"I wonder if I'll be disappointed in expecting a ride in Betty's boat?"

"No, we are going to be very kind and forgiving, and ask you and Frank. I believe Betty is planning it."

"Good for her. She's a brick! I wish, though, that we could clear up this business about the papers."

"So do I. Wasn't it unfortunate?"

"Yes. How is little Dodo coming on?"

"Not very well, I'm afraid," and Grace sighed. The injury to the child hung like a black shadow, over her. "The specialist is going to see her soon again. He has some hopes."

"That's good; cheer up, Sis! Come on down town and I'll blow you to a soda."

"'Blow'-- such slang!"

"It's no worse than 'hike.'"

"I suppose not. Wait until I fix my hair."

"Good night!" gasped Will. "I don't want to wait an hour. I'm thirsty!"

"I won't be a minute."

"That's what they all say." But Grace was really not very long.

In answer to a telephone message next day the three chums assembled at Betty's house.

"I think we will go for a little trip all by ourselves on the river this afternoon," she said. "Every time so far Uncle Amos, or one of the boys, has been with us. We must learn to depend on ourselves."

"That is so," agreed Mollie. "It will be lovely, it is such a nice day."

"Just a little trip," went on Betty, "to see if we have forgotten anything of our instructions."

Just then a clock chimed out eight strokes, in four sections of two strokes each.

"Eight o'clock!" exclaimed Amy. "Your timepiece must be wrong, Betty. It's nearer noon than eight."

"That's eight bells-- twelve o'clock," said the pretty hostess, with a laugh. "That's a new marine clock Uncle Amos gave me for the Gem. It keeps time just as it is done on shipboard."

"And when it's eight o'clock it's twelve," murmured Grace. "Do you have to do subtraction and addition every time the clock strikes?"

"No, you see, eight bells is the highest number. It is eight bells at eight o'clock, at four o'clock and at twelve-- either at night, or in the daytime."

"Oh, I'm sure I'll never learn that," sighed Amy.

"It is very simple," explained Betty, "Now it is eight bells-- twelve o'clock noon. At half-past twelve it will be one bell. Then half an hour later, it will be two bells-- one o'clock. You see, every half hour is rung."

"Worse and worse!" protested Mollie. "What time is it at two o'clock?"

"Four bells," answered Betty, promptly. "Why, I thought four bells was four o'clock," spoke Grace.

"No, eight bells is four o'clock in the after-noon, and also four o'clock in the morning. Then it starts over again with one bell, which would be half-past four; two bells, five; three hells, half-past five, and---- "

"Oh, stop! stop! you make my head ache!" cried Grace, "Has anyone a chocolate cream?"

They all laughed.

"You'll soon understand it," said Betty.

"It's worse than remembering to turn the steering wheel the opposite way you want to go," objected Mollie. "But we are young-- we may learn in time."

The Gem was all ready to start, and the girls, reaching Mollie's house, in the rear of which, at a river dock, the boat was tied, went aboard.

"Have you enough gasoline?" asked Amy, as she helped Betty loosen the mooring ropes.

"Yes, I telephoned for the man to fill the tank this morning. Look at the automatic gauge and see if it isn't registered," for there was a device on the boat that did away with the necessity of taking the top off the tank and putting a dry stick down, to ascertain how much of the fluid was on hand.

"Yes, it's full," replied Amy.

"Then here we go!" cried Betty, as the other girls shoved off from the dock, and the Little Captain pushed the automatic starter. With a throb and a roar the motor took up its staccato song of progress. When sufficiently away from the dock Betty let in the clutch, and the craft shot swiftly down the stream.

"Oh, this is glorious!" cried Mollie, as she stood beside Betty, the wind fanning her cheeks and blowing her hair in a halo about her face.

"Perfect!" echoed Amy. "And even Grace has forgotten to eat a chocolate for ten minutes."

"Oh, let me alone-- I just want to enjoy this!" exclaimed the candy-loving maiden. They had been going along for some time, taking turns steering, saluting other craft by their whistle, and being saluted in turn.

"Let's go sit down on the stern lockers," proposed Grace after a while, the lockers being convertible into bunks on occasion. As the girls went aft, there came from the forward cabin a series of groans.

"What's that?" cried Mollie.

"Some one is in there!" added Grace, clinging to Amy.

Again a groan, and some suppressed laughter.

"There are stowaways aboard!" cried Betty. "Girls, we must put ashore at once and get an officer!" and she shifted the wheel.