Chapter XIII. Victors and Spoils
 

"Wasn't it exciting!" Belle was saying to the little party that had gathered around Cora as she received their praise and congratulations after it was all over. "I never dreamed that boat races could furnish so many kinds of excitement."

"I don't call it all delightful," objected Bess putting her arms around the still wet form of the girl who had made the rescue, "and I don't want to see Cora jump overboard that way again. I shall never forget it."

"A good way to find out how much folks think of me" replied Cora. "I really didn't mind it a bit, once I knew that I could get the child before she got under a boat. That was all that worried me."

"Your cup is a beauty though, sis," said Jack, who was examining the trophy. "I think it's prettier than the one we lost. Paul is not satisfied that we lost fairly though, and he's up there now disputing it."

"What good can that do now?" asked Belle.

"No telling. Paul knows what he is about," replied Jack. "But say, did you know that the wild girl in the canoe is deaf and dumb?"

"No!" exclaimed all the girls in one voice.

"Yes that's what the dark fellow who was trailing her told the judges, and that is why, I guess, she scampered off so. Too bad! She is pretty too."

"And did the man take her prize?" asked Cora.

"Sure thing," replied the brother. "He said he was her guardian."

Cora thought for a moment. "Seems to me," she said finally, "that she turned towards us when we shouted to her."

"Sometimes deaf people know such things by instinct," Jack offered as an explanation. "I thought too, that she gave us a knowing glance."

"Pure conceit," said Ed. "Wallie claimed the glance, but I saw her hair float in my direction."

"She's a star canoeist," declared Jack, "and I should like to be better acquainted with her."

"Can you talk with your fingers?" asked Belle. "I know a little of the sign language, but I would not be too sure that I could carry on a conversation."

"But you could introduce one," insisted Jack, "and once she knew I wanted to know her--I might depend upon--true love to make known all the rest."

"Here! Here! Jackie!" cautioned Cora, "you are not to talk of love--until mother comes home. You have promised to look after me."

"As if Ed and Walter couldn't do that ten times better than I can. But hello! Here comes Paul--the Paul."

"It's ours," called Paul, before he was dose enough to talk in the regulation tones. "Come on up! The judges want to see the crew of the Peter Pan!"

"Ours!" echoed Jack, Ed and Walter.

"It certainly is ours. Those fellows had the gasoline doped?"

"What's that?" asked Ed.

"They had camphor and some other stuff in their gas," went on Paul, "and the engine nearly kicked out of the boat."

"Did they admit it?" inquired Ed.

"Not until I charged them with it," replied Paul. "I knew there was something up when they got ahead on that jump. Then I asked if I might take a look at that freak engine, and they allowed me to do so. I smelled camphor the minute I stepped aboard. They even had not sense enough to hide the bottle, and it's against the present racing rules on this lake to doctor gas. So I taxed them with it, and they finally admitted it and we went together to the judges. They were pretty decent chaps and did not seem to mind, very much, relinquishing the prize. You know what it is, don't you?"

"Certainly, it's a dandy canoe," said Jack, "And you really mean that it is to be ours?"

"If you don't hurry along some one else may claim it," said Paul. "It isn't mine, it's yours."

"And to think that we and our boys both got prizes!" exclaimed Hazel. "Isn't it too good to be true?"

"And too good to be false," answered Paul. "Now, boys, let's run along. I have something to do before evening."

"And I had better make for camp," said Cora. "These togs are wet."

"Of course," said Belle with sympathy in her voice. "But when do you get your medal, Cora?"

"I believe it comes from Philadelphia. Some wealthy man has it stored there waiting to be claimed."

"It's a wonder the mother of that little girl didn't want to adopt you, Cora," said Jack, as the boys started off with Paul. "I thought from the way she hung on to you she had intentions. Well, so long. We will give you first ride in our new canoe, and let us hope we will have better luck with this one than we had with the other," and then the boys went off for the prize.

"I can't get over that girl being deaf and dumb," said Hazel, as the girls made their way to the camp. "I can scarcely believe it."

"Well, now we have a double interest on Fern Island," Cora answered. "If there is really such an unfortunate creature hid or hiding there she ought to be rescued. I cannot understand, either, how that foreigner can be her guardian."

"That Jones?" asked Bess, as innocently as if she had not seen the girl race and heard about the man claiming her prize.

"Why, yes, of course," replied Cora. "And he says she is deaf and dumb. Who's calling? Didn't you hear some one?"

"Yes, there's Mabel Blake hurrying after us," said Belle. "She looks excited."

The girl who was running along the path did indeed "look excited." The motor girls waited.

"Oh, I thought I would never catch up to you!" Mabel panted. "You do walk at such a pace!"

"Why, how are you, Mabel?" asked Cora graciously. "I heard you had gone back to Chelton."

"We did intend to--but we haven't," she faltered. "Jeannette has been ill."

"Ill!" exclaimed more than one voice.

"Yes, that's what I want to see you about. I don't know what to do," and Mabel's pretty brown eyes filled to the lashes.

"Can we help you?" Cora asked.

"I would like to speak with you alone, Cora," she said. "But I know what you did this afternoon, and I see you have still to change your clothing."

"They are almost dry now," Cora replied. "Yet if you could wait five minutes I could easily change in that time. Here we are. Home again. And there! Nettie has heard all about our victories; haven't you Nettie?"

"Indeed yes, Miss Cora. But I was afraid for you," replied the maid. "The child's father sent a message up here to ask when he might see you?"

"Oh, they make too much fuss over a trifle," replied Cora. "Sit here on the porch with the girls, Mabel. I will be out soon."

Finally Mabel pressed her handkerchief to her eyes and murmuring some sort of unintelligible excuse she rushed indoors.

She was met in the hall by Cora.

"Why, what is it, Mabel?" she asked, putting her arms about the sobbing one.

"Oh, I cannot stand it," wailed Mabel. "The disgrace!"

"What disgrace?"

"The--that--man!" she stammered. "But I must go back to Jeannette. I am afraid she is losing her mind. Of course, you could not go with me, Cora. It would be too much after your hard afternoon. But Jeannette got your letter."

"Yes? I hope she understood it."

Mabel tried to dry her eyes. "I suppose she did if any one could understand such a thing," she replied. "But to think it is in the Chelton paper!"

"When was it in?" Cora asked.

"It will be out to-morrow!" replied the tearful one.

"To-morrow," Cora repeated thoughtfully. "Perhaps Jack could stop it. He is well acquainted with the editor."

"Oh, if he only could," and Mabel brightened up. "That's what makes Jeannette feel so dreadfully."

"It was very unfortunate," Cora said. "He is a dangerous man."

"Dangerous! I think he should he put in jail," declared Mabel hotly.

"But it is so difficult to catch such people," Cora remarked. "You could scarcely name your charge against him?"

"Name it? Never!" exclaimed the girl.

"There you are. One woman who might put him in jail flies off to New York. You could at least accuse him of fraud and you refuse. I myself know of one wrong doing that affected me and I prefer to keep quiet--for the present at least. You see what cowards we all are where our pride is concerned.

"You are not a coward, Cora Kimball," exclaimed Mabel, "and I know perfectly well you would denounce him if you thought that safest."

"At any rate, Mabel, I think it will all come out right," Cora assured her. "Just wait until I have a glass of milk and I will go over and see Jeannette."

"I can never tell how it all happened," sighed Mabel, "I really think he had me hypnotized."

"He is a clever rogue," agreed Cora, and she knew now more about his roguery than she cared to sum up even to herself.