Chapter XI. The Races
 

"Of course we will enter," declared Cora. "I know my boat and I think it is as good as any little motor craft on the water."

"But suppose we should get stuck away out in the lake," objected Bess. "Then what would we do?"

The girls and boys were talking together a few days after Cora had helped mysterious Kate to get away, and had entered the water contest.

"There would be plenty of boats to give us a tow," replied Cora, "but I have not the slightest idea of getting stuck. My engine works splendidly."

She found an opportunity to whisper to her brother: "What about Miss Blake?"

"I'll tell you later, sis," he whispered back. "It isn't very important. Don't ask me now," and then he went on fussing over the engine and oil cups.

"If we only had our canoe," wailed Jack.

"That was different from any boat I have seen here. It was built on racing lines. Funny what became of it."

"Funny?" repeated Ed. "Tragic I think!" and he gave his sleeves another upward turn just to be doing something.

"Deplorable," added Walter. "I think I looked just sweet in that canoe. Don't you, Hazel?"

"Well, when I saw you--you did," she admitted, "but three boys in a canoe are not quite as attractive--"

"As one girl and one boy," he put in. "Well, that is my own opinion, but Jack and Ed are so inartistic. I never can get them to see things my way."

"We will race in the Peter Pan," Ed announced. "Of course she cannot be beaten. But it is not half as much fun to depend upon an engine as to rely upon muscle. The canoe for me."

"But the glory!" exclaimed Belle. "That boat is beautiful."

"The boat is! Look at us," and Jack stood almost on his head. "Boats are all right, but in the beauty class we come first."

"What time do they start?" Cora inquired. "I've forgotten."

"Motors at three, smaller craft earlier. I am going over to the Point to see the hand-boats," said Jack. "Of course everybody is interested in them."

"Then girls," advised Cora, "get ready. We will have an early lunch, and go out for the afternoon. Perhaps we will bring the cup back."

"Lucky if you bring your boat back," Jack cautioned. "Don't you want me to look the engine over, Cora?"

"No, indeed. That would be a dangerous thing to do, for I now have every part clear. I have put on a bigger oil cup, have had the water circulation increased so the engine can not heat so, I have had a throttle control put up at the steering wheel so that I can slow down from there, and I tell you, Jackie, I have worked out the secrets of that engine until there are no more."

"I should say you had, sis. I never knew there were so many attachments. Well, I know I can depend upon you to keep up the honor of the Kimball family. Come along fellows. Let's see that the Peter Pan is not done by the 'Peter Petrel.' I noticed she was puffing out a lot of oil this morning as we came over."

"Then," said Cora, "you want to be careful. Your oil will run out and the best engine made will stop short if that happens."

"Whew!" exclaimed Ed. "Suppose we get Cora to look over our boat? She seems to know."

"Better have Paul do it," suggested Cora. "That boat is worth three thousand dollars, and I wonder they ever allowed you boys to rent it."

"They would not if Paul had not vouched for them," Hazel explained. "They have a great regard for Paul's skill."

"And is he not going in the races?" asked Bess.

"I haven't heard him say," replied the sister.

"Bet he'll be a dark horse," suggested Ed. "Well, we can't wish Paul any too much good luck, but I do wish he would not stick so dose to his boats and tools. We scarcely see anything of him."

"Nor do I," agreed Hazel with a sigh. "I miss him dreadfully."

"Poor child," and Walter affected to put his big brown arm around the girl. "Let me make up for Paul. Does he kiss you very often?" and he brushed her cheek.

"Walter Pennington!" gasped the circumspect Hazel, "Do have sense!"

"That's what Cora taught me--to help the needy," he floundered.

"Come now, no more nonsense," ordered Cora. "If we are to race we have to get ready." A few hours later Cedar Lake was alive with craft. The rowboats and canoes were lined up first and our friends from Chelton, the girls in the Petrel and the boys in the Peter Pan, kept a sharp look out for the lost canoe. Of course they knew it would be repainted, but the lines being different from those of other boats they hoped to be able to distinguish it, should it appear for the races.

The judges had taken their places. The platform at the Point was gaily decorated for the occasion, and all sorts of banners were flying. The course was to cover one mile, and it ran clear out into the open lake so that the delightful view was unobstructed.

Of all the canoes a bright red craft with a girl in Indian garb attracted most attention. The girl had her hair flying and was indeed a striking figure in the brilliant bark.

There were many green boats, all having Indian names, and there were those of wood in the natural color. Girls vied with boys in point of numbers, and had it all their own way in point of attractiveness.

"They are all ready," Cora told her friends, as the man on the bench who held the pistol allowed it to glimmer in the sunlight. The next moment a crack rent the air and the boats shot off.

For some moments no one spoke. All attention was riveted on the graceful canoes that so motionlessly covered the deep blue lake. The dip of the paddles was the only sign of movement although the dainty boats were making good time in covering the courses. Suddenly when all others had left and were off a light canoe shot out from some place, and a girl with her hair flying, and dressed most peculiarly, started off after them all.

"She gave them a handicap," said Cora, then something occurred to her. The same thought came to the others for each held her breath.

"The ghost girl!" whispered Belle, finally. "However did she get in?"

"It surely is! See her go! And there--there is that man from Peters'," exclaimed Bess to Cora, "and he, too, is in the race."

"They can beat anything on the lake," declared Hazel. "See her go!"

"See him go!"

In a few seconds those who had so mysteriously entered, the race were far up in the line with those who had first started. The girl was wonderfully graceful, and the man showed marked skill at the paddle. He was trying to keep close to her, that was evident, but at a cheer from the shore and from the outlying boats the girl shot ahead and was soon out of hearing of the man, who evidently was her companion.

"She will beat him--she will beat them all!" declared Cora, and this was the opinion of most of the thousands of spectators.

"But if she does," faltered Belle, "do you suppose she will go to the stand dressed like that to receive the prize?"

"We shall see," said Cora. "At any rate this combination is far more interesting than the real race."

A red canoe was alongside the girl in the light one. For a few moments it seemed she would be outdone. Then, with a clever light dip of her paddle, that scarcely seemed to touch the water, the Fern Island girl was again ahead.

The first course had been covered and the boats were turned back for the final run.

"The man has dropped out," said Belle, "See there he is just floating along."

"He wouldn't be beaten, I suppose," Cora surmised, "Any one could see that the girl would come in first."

"They are coming back and she has not started," said Belle, who had the marine glasses.

"But she will," declared Cora.

"Yes, there she comes! Oh isn't it exciting! To have the queer girl beat all those who pride themselves on their skill. I wonder who or what she can be?" queried Hazel.

"Here come our boys," said Belle, as the beautiful golden Peter Pan motored over to the smaller Petrel.

"What do you think of that?" called Jack. "Look at the Wild Duck!"

"Isn't she a--bird!" confirmed the voice of Ed.

"A Sea Gull," added the more polite Walter. "I say, girls, do you happen to know her?"

"Yes," called back Cora, "We have met her."

Then there was an exchange of words understandable only to those expressing them, and to those for whom they were expressed, but any one might have guessed that the boys in the Peter Pan were asking the girls in the Petrel to let them "meet" the wild bird of the light canoe.

"They are almost in," said Bess, breathlessly. "Oh I hope she does not back out."

"No danger," said Cora. "One can see that she is making for the finish line."

"There are two boys who have been saving themselves," Hazel remarked. "I shouldn't wonder if they could beat our friend."

"Oh, I hope not," exclaimed Belle. "I should be so disappointed."

"And it would be impolite of them," added the innocent Bess, whereat every one laughed.

The boys had been saving their strength. Now they paddled off and their craft, one of brown and one green, seemed equal to any of the others.

"Hello there!" called Jack. "Did you notice?"

"What?" asked Cora.

"The canoe--the Gerkin?"

"He means it has lines like the lost boat," said Cora. "I have not seen it enough to know," she finished, but at the same time she took the glasses to look at the new rival of the wild girl.

"Yes it has, I remember," said Bess. "I had a good look at it the afternoon that they lost it. I was waiting for you to fix up your boat Cora, and I saw the boys' canoe."

"Well, I suppose they could never be certain, as there must be more than one boat built even on those lines," said Cora. "My! See how close they are--the girl and the boys!"

"She's ahead!" exclaimed Belle, clapping her hands. "How I hope she wins!"

"We all do!" declared Hazel.

Then they were silent. The first canoe was almost in, and it was the one called the Gerkin, paddled by the boys.

"Go it girl!" screamed the boys from the Peter Pan.

"Beat them, girlie!" called the girls from the Petrel.

For one brief second the wild-looking girl turned in the direction from which the voices had come. Hats were waved to her, handkerchiefs flaunted and then she paddled--paddled straight ahead and came into the finish first!

"Hurrah! Hurrah!" went up shout after shout.

"I knew it!" cried Cora joyously. "Now let us watch her."

"There's that dark man!" Bess told them. "Oh! I just wish he would keep away from her."

But he did not. The girl in the light canoe turned from the spectators as if she had been deaf and dumb. And it was the dark man--the fellow called Tony Jones--who went up to the judges to get their verdict.