Chapter XVIII. Relieved.
 

That Betty's suggestion was the most sensible one which could have been made they were all willing to admit when they had thought of it for a little while.

"Of course it is possible for us to go out in this storm, and tramp on to Broxton," said Betty. "But would it be wise?"

"Indeed not!" exclaimed Grace, as she glanced down at her trim suit, which the little wetting received in the dash to the house had not spoiled. "If we were boys we might do it, but, as it is--"

"I won't admit that we can't do it because we are not boys," said Betty. "Only just--"

"Only we're just not going out in this storm!" said Mollie, decidedly. "We'll stay here, and if the people come back, and make a fuss, we'll pay, just as we would at a hotel. They won't be mean enough to turn us out, I think."

"We'll stay--and get supper," cried Betty. "Come on, I'm getting hungrier every minute!"

"If the people do come," remarked Amy, "they ought to allow us something for taking care of their house--I mean if they attempt to charge us as a hotel would, we can tell them how we shut the windows--"

"At so much per window," laughed Mollie. "Oh, you are the queerest girl!" and she hugged her.

"Well, let's get supper," proposed Betty again. "It will soon be dark, and it isn't easy going about a strange house in the dark."

"There are lamps," said Mollie, pointing to several on a shelf in the kitchen.

"Oh, I didn't exactly mean that," went on Betty, rolling up her sleeves. "Now to see what's in the ice box--at least, I suppose there is an ice box. There's a fire in the stove, and we can cook. Oh, girls! It's going to be real jolly after all!"

"And how it does rain!" exclaimed Amy. "We never could have gone on in this drenching downpour."

It was an exceedingly well-ordered house, and the girls, who had been wisely trained at home, had no difficulty in locating an ample supply of food. They invaded the cellar, and found plenty of canned fruit, tomatoes and other things. There were hams, shoulders of bacon, eggs, and some fresh meat. Great loaves of evidently home-made bread were in the pantry.

"We shall dine like kings!" cried Grace.

"Better than some kings," said Betty. "Only I don't see any chocolates, Grace," and she laughed.

"Smarty!" was the other's retort, but she laughed also.

Such a jolly meal as it was! The girls, once they had decided in their minds to make the best of a queer situation, felt more at home. They laughed and joked, and when supper was over, the dishes washed, and the lamps lighted, they gathered in the old-fashioned parlor, and Betty played on a melodeon that gave forth rather doleful sounds.

However, she managed to extract some music from its yellowed keys, and the girls sang some simple little part-songs.

"Too bad we haven't an audience," murmured Grace, as they ended up with "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean."

"The rain is audience enough," spoke Mollie. "As for someone's Bonnie lying over the ocean--the yard is a perfect lake!" she went on, looking from the window.

"It would have been foolish to go on," said Betty. "I am glad we have such a comfortable place."

And comfortable it certainly was. The house, while a typical country residence, was very convenient and well ordered. Careful people lived in it--that was easy to see. And as the rain pelted down, the girls sat about, the cat purring contentedly near them, and a cheerful fire burning on the hearth in the parlor.

"I hope they won't make a fuss about the liberties we are taking," said Mollie, putting some extra sticks on the blaze. "Some persons never open their parlors in the country."

"These people don't seem of that sort," said Amy. "At least, the parlor was open enough when we closed the windows."

"And how it rains!" murmured Grace, with a little nervous shiver.

"Suppose the people come back in the middle of the night?" asked Mollie. "They'll think we are burglars."

"We must leave a light burning," decided Betty, "and a note near it explaining why we came in and that we are asleep upstairs. Then they will know."

That was decided on as the best plan, and it was carried out. The girls went to bed, but it was some time before they got to sleep, though finally the steady fall of rain wooed them to slumber. No one entered during the night, and the morning came, still retaining the rain.

"Will it ever clear?" asked Mollie, hopelessly.

"The wind is changing," spoke Betty. "I think we can soon start."

"But can we go away and leave the house alone?" asked Amy. "Ought we not to stay until the owners come back?"

"How can we tell when they will come back?" demanded Grace. "Besides, I must let my sister know why we were detained."

"I suppose we will have to go on," said Betty. "If the persons living here didn't care about deserting their place we ought not to."

"But what will they think when they come in and see that someone has been here?" asked Mollie.

"We must leave a note explaining, and also some money for the food we took," decided Betty. "Or we can stop at the next house and tell how it was."

They debated these two plans for some time, finally deciding on part of both. That is, they would leave a note and a sum of money that they figured would pay for what they had eaten. They made no deduction for closing the windows against the rain. They would also stop at the nearest house and explain matters to the residents there, asking them to communicate with the occupants of the deserted house.

When this point had been reached, and when the note had been written, and wrapped around the money, being placed in a conspicuous place in the front hall, the girls were ready to leave.

The rain had slackened, and there was a promise of fair weather. Breakfast had been partaken of, and the dishes washed. The house was as nearly like it had been as was possible to leave it.

"Well, let's start," proposed Grace.

They went towards the front door, and as they opened it they saw advancing up the walk a lady with a large umbrella, a large carpet bag, wearing a large bonnet and enveloped in the folds of a large shawl. She walked with determined steps and as she came on she glanced toward the house. As she saw the four girls on the porch she quickened her pace.

"Girls, we're relieved," said Betty, in a low voice. "Here comes the owner, or I'm much mistaken!"