Chapter IX. Off on the Trip
 

The girls stared blankly at one another. The boys frankly winked at each other, clearly unbelieving.

"Haunted?" Betty finally gasped.

"A ghost?" echoed Amy, falteringly.

"What-- what kind?" Grace stammered.

"Why, the usual kind, of course," declared Will. "A ghosty ghost, to be sure. White, with long waving arms, and clanking chains, and all the accessories."

"Stop it!" commanded his sister. "You'll scare Paul," for the child was looking at Will strangely.

"Oh, it's white all right," put in Mr. Lagg, "and some of the fishermen around here did say they heard clanking chains, but I don't take much stock in them. Tell me," he demanded, helping himself to another slice of cheese, "tell me why would anything as light as a ghost-- for they're always supposed to float like an airship, you know-- tell me why should they want to burden themselves with a lot of clanking chains-- especially when a ghost is so thin that the chains would fall right through 'em, anyhow. I don't take no stock in that!"

"But what is this story?" asked Betty. "If we are thinking of camping on Elm Island, we do not want to be annoyed by some one playing pranks; do we, girls?"

"I should say not!" chorused the three.

"Well, of course I didn't see it myself," spoke Mr. Lagg, "but Hi Sneddecker, who stopped there to eat his supper one night when he went out to set his eel pots-- Hi told me he seen something tall and white rushing around, and making a terrible noise in the bushes."

"I thought ghosts never made a noise," remarked Grace, languidly. She was beginning to believe now that it was only a poor attempt at a joke.

"Hi said this one did," went on Mr. Lagg, being too interested to quote verses now. "It was him as told me about the clanking chains," he went on, "but, as I said, I don't take no stock in that part."

"I guess Hi was telling one of his fish stories," commented Frank.

"Oh, Josh Whiteby seen it, too," said Mr. Lagg. He was enjoying the sensation he had created.

"Is he reliable?" asked Will.

"Well, he don't owe me as much as some," was the judicious answer. "Josh says he seen the white thing, but he didn't mention no chains. It was more like a 'swishing' sound he heard.

"Dot any more tandy?" asked Paul, and the laugh that followed in a measure relieved the nerves of the girls, for in spite of their almost entire disbelief in what they had heard, the talk bothered them a little.

"There are no such things as ghosts!" declared Betty, with excellent sense. "We are silly to even talk about them. Oh, there is something I want for my boat," and she pointed to a little brass lantern. "It will be just fine for going up on deck with," she proceeded. "Of course the electric lights, run by the storage battery, are all right, but we need a lantern like that. How much is it, Mr. Lagg?."

  "That lantern to you
   Will cost-- just two!"

"I'll take it," said Betty, promptly.

"Dollars-- not cents," said the storekeeper, quickly. "I couldn't make a dollar rhyme in there, somehow or other," he added.

"You might say," spoke Will, "''Twill cost you two dollar, but don't make a holler.'"

"That isn't my style. My poetry is always correct," said Mr. Lagg, somewhat stiffly.

The lantern was wrapped up and the young people got ready to go down to the boat.

"Say, Mr. Lagg," asked Will, lingering a bit behind the others, "just how much is there in this ghost story, anyhow?"

"Just what I told you," was the answer. "There is something queer on that island."

"Then the girls will find out what it is!" declared Will, with conviction. "If they could find the man who lost the five hundred dollar bill, they're equal to laying the ghost of Elm Island. I'm not going to worry about them."

"Let's go down a little way farther and have a look at the haunted island," proposed Grace, when they were again on board the Gem.

"Have we time?" asked Betty.

"Lots," declared Will.

The motor boat was headed for the place. The island was of good size, well wooded, and the shore was lined with bushes. There were a few bungalows on it, but the season was not very good this year, and none of them had been rented. The girls half-planned to hire one to use as headquarters in case they camped on the island.

"It doesn't look very-- ghostly," said Betty, as she surveyed it from the cockpit of her craft.

"No, it looks lovely," said Grace.

"Is the ghost going to keep us away?" asked Mollie.

"Never!" cried the Little Captain, vigorously.

"Hurray!" shouted Will, waving the boat's flag that he took from the after-socket.

They made a turn of the island, and started back up the river for Deepdale, reaching Mollie's dock without incident.

Busy days followed, for they were getting ready for the cruise. Uncle Amos went out with Betty and the girls several times to offer advice, and he declared that they were fast becoming good sailors.

"Of course not good enough for deep water," he made haste to qualify, "but all right for a river and a lake."

The girls were learning to tell time seaman fashion. Betty fairly lived aboard her new boat, her mother complained, but the Little Captain was not selfish-- she invited many of her friends and acquaintances to take short trips with her. Among the girls she asked were Alice Jallow and Kittie Rossmore, the two who had acted rather meanly toward our friends just prior to the walking trip. But Alice was sincerely sorry for the anonymous letter she had written, giving a hint of the mystery surrounding Amy Stonington, and the girls had forgiven her.

Betty's Aunt Kate arrived. She was a middle-aged lady, but as fond of the great out-doors as the girls themselves. She was to chaperone them for a time.

The final preparations were made, the sailor suits were pronounced quite "chicken" by Will-- he meant "chic," of course. Trunks had been packed, some provisions put aboard, and all was in readiness. Uncle Amos planned to meet the girls later, and see that all was going well. The boys were to be given a treat some time after Rainbow Lake was reached, word to be sent to them of this event.

"All aboard!" cried Betty on the morning of the start. It was a glorious, sunshiny day, quite warm, but there was a cool breeze on the river. "All aboard!"

"Oh, I just know I've forgotten something!" declared Grace,

"Your candy?" questioned Mollie.

"No, indeed. Don't be horrid!"

"I'm not. Only I thought---- "

"I'm just tired of thinking!" returned Betty.

"Shall I cast off?" asked Will, who, with Frank, had come down to the dock to see the girls start.

"Don't you dare!" cried Mollie. "I'm sure I forgot to bring my---- " She made a hurried search among her belongings. "No, I have it!" and she sighed in relief. She did not say what it was.

"All aboard!" cried Betty, giving three blasts on the compressed air whistle.

"Don't forget to send us word," begged Frank. "We want to join you on the lake."

"We'll remember," promised Betty, with a smile that showed her white, even teeth.

All was in readiness. Good-byes had been said to relatives and friends, and Mrs. Billette, holding Paul by the hand, had come down to the dock to bid farewell to her daughter and chums.

"Have a good time!" she wished them.

A maid hurried up to her, and said something in French.

"Oh, the doctor has come!" exclaimed Mollie's mother. "The doctor who is to look at Dodo-- the specialist. Oh, I am so glad!"

"Shall I stay, mother?" cried Mollie, making a move as though to come ashore.

"No, dear; no! Go with your friends. I can send you word. You may call me by the telephone. Good-bye-- good-bye!"

The Gem slowly dropped down the stream under the influence of the current and her own power, Betty having throttled down the motor that the farewell calls might be better heard. Mrs. Billette, waving her hand, hastened toward the house, the maid taking care of little Paul, whose last request was:

"Brin' me some tandy!"