Chapter VIII. A Hint of Ghosts
 

"Who can they be?"

"It sounds like more than one!"

"Anyhow, they can't get out!" It was Betty who said this last, Grace and Mollie having made the foregoing remarks. And Betty had no sooner detected the presence on the Gem of stowaways than she had pulled shut the sliding door leading into the trunk cabin, and had slid the hatch cover forward, fastening both with the hasps.

"They'll stay there until we get an officer," she explained. "Probably they are tramps!"

"Oh, Betty!" It was a startled trio who cried thus.

"Well, maybe only boys," admitted the Little Captain, as a concession. "They may have come aboard, intending to go off for a ride in my boat, and we came just in time. They hid themselves in there. That's what I think about it."

"And you are exactly right, Betty!" unexpectedly exclaimed a voice from behind the closed door. "That's exactly how it happened. We're sorry-- we'll be good!"

"Dot any tandy?" came in childish accents from another of the stowaways.

The girls looked at one another in surprise. Then a light dawned on them.

"Don't have us arrested!" pleaded another voice, with laughter in it.

"That's Will!" cried Grace.

"And Frank Haley!" added Amy.

"And Paul!" spoke Mollie. "Little brother, are you in there?"

They listened for the answer.

"Ess, I'se here. Oo dot any tandy?"

"The boys put him up to that," whispered Grace.

Betty slid open the door, and there stood Will and Frank, with Paul between them. The boys looked sheepish-- the child expectant.

"I ought to put you two in irons," spoke Betty, but with a smile. "I believe that is what is done with stowaways."

"Couldn't you ship us before the mast?" asked Will, with a chuckle. "That is the very latest manner of dealing with gentlemen who are unexpectedly carried off on a cruise."

"Unexpectedly?" asked Grace, with meaning.

"Certainly," went on her brother. "We just happened to come aboard to look over the boat, Frank and I. Then Paul wandered down here, and before we knew it we heard you coming. For a joke we hid under the bunks, and thought to give you a little scare. We didn't think you were going for a spin, but when you started we just made up our minds to remain hidden until you got far enough out so you wouldn't want to turn back. That's what stowaways always do," he concluded.

"I'm glad you do things as they ought to be done," remarked Betty, swinging the wheel over. She had changed her mind about going ashore after an officer.

"Dot any tandy?" asked Paul again.

"Do give him some, if you have any," begged Will. "We bribed him with the promise of some to keep quiet. Surely he has earned it."

"Here," said Grace, impulsively, as she extended some to the tot, who at once proceeded to get as much outside his face as into his mouth. Then she added rather sternly: "I don't think this was very nice of you, Will. Betty didn't invite you aboard."

"Oh, that's all right!" said Betty, good-naturedly. "I'm glad they're here now-- let them stay. I'm so relieved to find they aren't horrid tramps. Besides, the motor may not-- mote-- and we'd need help-- We will make them work their passage."

"Aye, aye, sir!" exclaimed Frank, pulling his front hair, sailor-fashion. "Shall we holystone the decks, or scrub the lee scuppers? You have but to command us!" and he bowed exaggeratedly.

"You may steer if you like," said Betty, graciously, and Frank and Will were both so eager for the coveted privilege that they had to draw lots to settle who should stand the first "trick."

For Betty's boat was a beauty, and the envy not only of Will and Frank, but of every other boy in Deepdale. So it is no wonder these two stowed themselves away for the chance of getting a ride in the fine craft.

"Let's go down as far as one of the lake islands," suggested Will, who was now at the wheel, his turn having come.

"Can we get back in time?" asked Betty. "The river is high now, after the rains, and there's quite a current."

"Oh, the Gem has speed and power enough to do it in style," declared Frank. "We'll guarantee to get you back in time for supper."

"All right," agreed the captain, who had gone into the cabin with the other girls.

"And perhaps we can pick out a good place to go camping," added Grace.

The boys directed the course of the boat, while the girls looked after Paul.

"We must stop at some place where there is a telephone," said Mollie, "and I'll send word to mamma that Paul is with me. She may be worried."

"Yes, do," suggested Betty. A little later the girls saw that the boys were approaching a dock, the main one of a small town just below Deepdale.

"Where are you going?" asked Grace of her brother.

"Going to tie up for a minute. Frank and I want to make amends for sneaking aboard, so we thought you'd like some soda. There's a grocery store here that keeps pretty good stuff."

"Oh, yes, I know Mr. Lagg!" exclaimed Mollie. "Barry Lagg is his name. He's real quaint and jolly."

"Then let's go ashore for the soda ourselves, and meet him," suggested Grace. "I am very thirsty. What is Mr. Lagg's special line of jollity?" she asked Mollie.

"Oh, he makes up little verses as he waits on you. You'll see," was Mollie's answer. I often stop in for a little something to eat when I am out rowing. He is a nice old gentleman, very polite, and he has lots of queer stories to tell."

"Has he dot any tandy?" inquired Paul, eagerly.

"Oh, you dear, of course he has!" cried his sister. "You are getting as bad as Grace," and she looked at her chum meaningly.

Will skillfully laid the Gem alongside the dock and soon the little party of young people were trooping up to the store, which was near the river front.

"Ah, good day to you all-- good day, ladies and gentlemen, every one, and the little shaver too!" cried Mr. Lagg, with a bow as they entered his shop.

  "What will you please to buy to-day?
   If it's coffee or tea, just walk this way,"

And, with this charming couplet Mr. Lagg started toward the rear of his store, where the aromatic odor of ground coffee indicated that he had spoken truly.

"We'd like some of your good soda," spoke Will.

"Ha, soda. I don't know that I have anything in the line of soda."

"No soda?" exclaimed Frank.

"I mean I haven't made up any poetry about that. I have about almost everything else in my store. Let me see-- soda-- soda---- "

He seemed searching for a rhyme.

"Pagoda! Pagoda!" laughed Betty.

"That is it!" exclaimed Mr Lagg. "Thank you for the suggestion. Let me see, now. How would this do?

  "If you wish to drink of Lagg's fine soda,
   Just take your seat in a Chinese pagoda!"

"Very good," complimented Will. "We'll dispense with the pagoda if you will dispense the soda."

"Ha! Good again! You are a punster, I see!"

Mr. Lagg laughed genially, and soon provided the party with bottles of deliciously cool soda, and straws through which to partake of it, glasses being voted too prosaic.

There came a protest from Paul, who was sharing the treat.

"I tan't dit no sody!" he cried. "It all bubbles up!"

"No wonder! You are blowing down your straw. Pull up on it, just as if you were whistling backwards," said Mollie.

"Whistling backwards is a distinctly new way of expressing it," commented Frank.

"I dot it!" cried the tot, as the level of his glass began to fall under his efforts-- successful this time.

Then, having finished that, he fixed his big eyes on Mr. Lagg, and demanded:

"Oo dot any tandy?"

"Candy!" cried the eccentric store keeper. "Ha, I have a couplet about that.

  "If you would feel both fine and dandy,
   Just buy a pound of Lagg's best candy!"

"That is irresistible!" exclaimed Will. "Trot out a pound of the most select."

"With pleasure," said Mr. Lagg.

Merrily the young people wandered about the store, the girls buying some notions and trinkets they thought they would need on the trip, for Mr. Lagg did a general business.

"What are all you folks doing around here?" asked the storekeeper, when he had waited on some other customers.

"Getting in practice for a cruise," answered Mollie. "Betty, here, is the proud possessor of a lovely motor boat, and we are going to Rainbow Lake soon."

"And camp on an island, too," added Amy. "I know I shall love that."

"Any particular island?" asked Mr. Lagg.

"Elm is a nice one," remarked Will "Why don't you girls try that? It isn't as far as Triangle, and it's nearly as large. It's wilder and prettier, too."

"Know anything about Elm Island, Mr. Lagg?" asked Frank, as he inspected some fishing tackle.

"Well, yes, I might say I do," and Mr. Lagg pursed up his lips.

"Is it a good place?"

"Oh, it's good all right, but----" and he hesitated.

"What is the matter?" demanded Betty quickly. She thought she detected something strange in Mr. Lagg's manner.

"Why, the only thing about it is that it's haunted-- there's a ghost there," and as he spoke the storekeeper slipped a generous slice of cheese on a cracker and munched it.