Chapter VIII. Closing Days.
 

"Oh, Will, do hurry! My dress will be ruined!"

Thus called Grace, as she frantically waved to her brother to hasten his stroke.

"Huh!" he panted. "Dress! A nice time to think--of dresses--when they're--almost sinking!"

"Are they--do you think they'll sink--and be drowned?" faltered Percy.

"They may sink--they're not very likely to be drowned, though," grunted Will, as he glanced over his shoulder to get his course straight. "They can all swim. Pull on your left more. We'll pass 'em if you don't!"

"Sink! I can't--I can't swim. Oh, dear!" cried Percy.

"I know it. That's why I wanted you to come back and get me. You'd look nice rescuing four girls all alone," said Will. "And you not able to swim a stroke!"

"I could do it," protested Percy, in self-defense.

"Maybe," agreed Will. "Anyhow, it's lucky I happened to come along."

"And it's a good thing I heard them hollering, and got the boat ready," said the well-dressed lad, whose attire was now rather disheveled from the haste of rowing.

"That's right, Percy. I'll give you credit for that."

"Oh, do hurry, boys!" cried Mollie. "We'll be under in another minute."

"Coming!" cried Will. "Pull harder, Percy!"

"I can't!"

"You've got to!" That seemed to be all there was to it. Percy pulled harder.

Only just in time did Will and his companion reach the boat that was on the verge of sinking. And only the skill and good sense of the girls, and the knowledge that they could swim if they happened to fall into the water, enabled the rescue to be made. For it was no easy task to disembark from one craft to the other, especially with one nearly submerged. But, while Will and Percy held the gunwale of their boat close to that of the half-sunken one, the girls carefully crawled out and soon, rather wet, considerably dismayed, but, withal, calmer than might have been expected, the quartette was safe in the larger craft.

"Oh, what a relief!" exclaimed Mollie, wringing some water from the bottom of her skirt.

"But look at my dress--and this is only the second time I've worn it!" cried Grace, in distress. "It will be ruined."

"All it needs is pressing," said Will, disdainfully.

"What do you think this is--a pair of your trousers?" demanded his sister, indignantly. "Pressing! It is ruined!"

"We're all drenched," spoke Amy. "But it doesn't matter as long as we're safe."

"That's the way to look at it!" exclaimed Will. "How did it happen, anyhow?"

"Plug out of the bottom," explained Mollie, sententiously. "The twins!"

"I see! Say, she's going down all right!" This Will remarked as the boat from which the girls had climbed settled lower and lower in the water.

"Oh, can't we save it?" cried Mollie. "My poor boat!"

"I'll use one of the oars as a buoy," said Will. "I'll fasten it to the painter. It will probably drift, but it will run into the eddy at the Point, and we can get it to-morrow."

Quickly he knotted the end of the painter about one of the oars. Then taking the others into the craft that Percy had commandeered for the occasion, the two boys rowed the girls back to the dock at the foot of the slope that led to Mollie's house.

"Come in, girls," she invited. "We can get dry, and Will can go for some decent things for you three."

"I'll go, too!" exclaimed Percy, eagerly. And for once the girls were glad of his services.

Up the walk went the four bedraggled ones. The twins saw them coming, and, grave-eyed and solemn, came down to meet them.

"Oo's wet," remarked Dodo.

"Drefful wet," echoed Paul.

"Yes, you naughty children!" scolded Mollie. "Why did you take the plug--the wooden peg--out of sister's boat? Why did you do it?"

"Dodo do it," remarked Paul, with the ancient privilege of the accusing man. "Dodo want to make a doll."

"Oo helped me," came from the little girl. "Oo helped!"

"But us put it back," asserted Paul.

"Yes, but it came out, and sister and her friends were nearly drowned. You were naughty children--very naughty!"

"Oo dot any tandy?" demanded Dodo, fixing her big eyes on Grace.

"Candy! Good land sakes, no! Candy? The idea!"

"We 'ikes tandy," added Paul.

Then out came Mrs. Billette, startled at the sight of the dripping figures.

"Oh, did you fall in?" she asked, with a tragic gesture.

"No, we fell out," said her daughter, laughing. "It's all right, momsey, but we must get dry. Girls, give Will and Percy your orders."

"Perhaps we had better telephone," suggested Betty.

"Oh, yes!" chorused the others.

Soon the desired garments had been specified, and the boys promised to bring them in suitcases as soon as might be. Then the drenched ones made themselves comfortable in Mollie's home, and, while waiting, talked over the accident.

That it had not resulted more seriously was due to a combination of circumstances.

"For once Percy was really useful," commented Amy, kindly.

"Yes, but we'll never hear the last of it," declared Grace. "He'll think we are his eternal debtors from now on. Oh, here comes Will! I'm so glad."

Soon clothed, and if not exactly in their right minds, at least on the verge of getting there, the four came out to thank the boys, and there was more talk of the occurrence.

"I hope nothing like this happens when we set off on our tour," said Amy. "It won't be so comfortable then to be drenched."

"Don't speak of it, my dear," begged Betty. The little happening--not so little, either, when one considers the possibility--had one good effect. It had raised Amy out of the slough of despond into which she had unwittingly strayed, or been thrust.

I shall pass rapidly over the next few days, for nothing of moment happened. I say nothing of moment, and yet there was, for the story of the mystery concerning Amy's parentage became generally known, as might have been expected.

There were curious glances cast at Amy, and more than one indiscreet girl tried to draw her out about the matter. This made it hard for Amy, and she was so upset about it that Mrs. Stonington kept her home from school for two days.

Then, chiefly by reason of the sensible attitude of Betty, Grace and Mollie, there came a more rational feeling, and it was agreed that the affair was not so uncommon after all.

The chums of Amy said nothing about the letter Alice had written. That she had was very evident from her actions, for she was at first defiant, and then contrite, and several times it was seen that she had been crying. But she said nothing, perhaps being too proud to admit her fault.

"We'll just treat her as if nothing had happened," said Betty, and this advice was followed. Alice was not generally liked, but the three chums were so pleasant to her, in contrast with the conduct of the other girls, that it must have been as coals of fire on her head.

Mollie's boat was easily recovered, and the handkerchiefs that had been stuffed in the hole were of some service afterward, though rather stained by river water. The missing plug was found fast under a seat brace, which accounted for it not floating.

As for the five-hundred-dollar bill, nothing was heard of the owner, and it, with the attached paper, remained in Mr. Nelson's safe. The advertisement about it was published again, and though there were several inquiries from persons who had lost money, they could lay no claim to this particular bankbill.

"We'll just have to wait to solve that mystery," said Grace. "Maybe until after we come back from our tour."

Arrangements to start on the journey had rapidly been completed. Betty had made out the schedule.

"We'll leave Deepdale early in the morning," she said, "and go on to Rockford. There we're due to stop with my aunt. We can take lunch wherever we find it most convenient, but we'll make Rockford at dusk, I hope."

"I certainly trust so," said Mollie. "A night on a country road--never, my dear!"

"The next night we'll stop in Middleville," went on Betty, "at Amy's cousin's house. From there to Broxton, where Grace's married sister will put us up, and then, in turn to Simpson's Corners--that's my uncle, you know--to Flatbush, where Grace's mother's niece has kindly consented to receive us; on to Hightown, that's Mollie's aunt's place; to Cameron--that's where we'll go to the camp that Mr. Ford's half-brother runs."

She paused to make a note and to glance over the schedule to make sure of some points.

"Then we'll go to Judgville, where my cousin lives, and that will be our last stopping place. Then for home," she finished.

"It sounds good," said Mollie.

"It will be lovely," declared Betty. "Are you sure your--your aunt and uncle won't have any further objections to you going, Amy?"

"Oh, sure! It was only because they thought that I might be upset on hearing of the mystery that they didn't want me to go. But I'm over that now."

"Bravely over it," murmured Betty, as she put her arms about her chum's shoulders.

The examinations were on, and boys and girls were working hard, for, because of the need of some repairs to the school, it had been decided to cut the summer term short.

Then came the closing days, with the flowers, the simple exercises, and the farewell to the graduating class, of which our girls were not members.

"Two days more and we'll be off on our wonderful tour!" exclaimed Mollie, as she and the others came out of school on the final day. "Oh, I can hardly wait!"