Chapter XIV. Talking it Over
 

The interview with Miss Jeannette Blake was not altogether satisfactory, but Cora was too careful of the sick one's feelings to ask deliberate questions. She could not really find out how far the Blakes had gone with Tony Jones in the matter of paying him for the alleged placement of Mabel with a theatrical company, but she guessed they had either actually paid a large sum, or had given a note that might be equally compelling.

Also the notices that had been prepared for the press announcing her coming "debut" were very embarrassing.

It was the day after the races, and Cora sat with her brother on the porch of their bungalow. She had told him of Mabel's plight and was asking him to help her clear up some of the shades and shadows.

"Tell me, Jack," she asked, "what happened the night you followed Mabel out of the pavilion--the night that man gave her the false message?" Jack thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and looked very serious--for him. "To tell the truth, Cora," he began, "I had to make love to Mabel to get her out of his clutches."

"Make love to her, Jack!"

"Nothing smaller would do but you know, sis, the love was only a sort of sample, the kind a fellow might safely give away to any girl."

Cora laughed. "You funny boy," she said, "to flatter a girl to save her from--flattery."

"But didn't you ask me to? Didn't you say to watch Mabel that time you whispered as I was leaving? You are the funny one. It was you that put the wicked plot in my fair young head," and he sighed in mock sincerity.

"But honestly, did you see that man give her the telegram? It seems to me you might be a witness should there be trouble."

Jack jumped up. "Oh, no, you don't, sis!" he declared. "You don't get me in any further mischief. Mabel is too fond of me now."

"Jack, don't be silly! I want you to wire the editor of the Chelton paper that, owing to the sudden illness of Miss Jeannette Blake, her niece, Miss Mabel Blake, has been compelled to stop her musical studies, and postpone her debut as a singer. That is all true and if the other notice does appear you can arrange to have this given as the latest."

"Foxy!" declared jack. "'Not a word of fib and not a grain of truth. Well, you would beat Jones if you went at his game, but I do think it a good idea to wire Nat Phillips. I'll go and do so at once," he added, feeling in his pocket to make sure he had with him change enough to pay for the message.

"And Jack," Cora went on, "since you have been so good, don't you think it would be lovely for you to sort of keep track of Mabel for a day or two? That man, I am afraid, has her under some sort of influence, and there is no telling what he might not try to do to get some Blake money."

"Make more love to her? Suppose she takes me up?"

"I really cannot explain it all, Jack," said Cora gravely, "but the man has frightened more than Mabel. The woman who kept house for him and Peters was so afraid that he would find out she was leaving, that I could scarcely persuade her to wait while I changed the batteries in my boat. She kept saying she wanted to get out of his power. And now Mabel declares he had her hypnotized. Then that sort of queer girl who won the canoe race--surely he has her somehow in his power, as they express it."

"Powerful man," answered Jack, "but how is it, Cora, that you talked with him and he did not hoodoo you?"

"Oh I'm immune I suppose," and she smiled with her handsome face turning up in becoming hauteur.

"Guess Ed thinks that, too," said the brother mischievously. "He has been growling to me about it."

"Ed is a dear, nice boy," she said simply.

"That's the sort of compliment a girl always pays the fellow she is going to turn down," Jack declared.

"I think, brother, making love to Mabel has gone to your head. But hurry along to the station and send off the message."

Cora sat there silent for a few moments. There was no one about the camp but herself, and she would soon go down to the lake for a run in her boat. She was thinking that of all the peculiar cases of other people's troubles in which she felt she had a right to interfere that of the girl who was said to be deaf and dumb and who was probably hidden somewhere on Fern Island was the case most urgent. If only she could really find her, and find that poor demented old man who had so strangely crossed her path. Cora had not the least fear of either of them and suddenly she resolved to go alone to Fern Island and try to find them.

Ten minutes later, when she had left a note dangling from the hanging lamp in the dining room, saying to the girls that she would be back by supper time, Cora was gliding up Cedar Lake in the Petrel.

She was glad that she did not meet any of her friends who would, of course, ask where she was going. And now she was too far away to meet any boats of summer fisher folks or pleasure seekers.

"I am beginning to believe in the psychic," she mused, "for I have a feeling that a cry for help comes from that perfectly silent island."

Her heart beat quickly as she throttled down her engine, stopped it, and finally stepped ashore. Her landing was made on a different side of the island than before and she saw instantly that feet had been treading down the ferns from shore to inland. This path served to guide her along. Then she noticed particles of food.

"Hardly picnic folks along here," she thought. "Perhaps the canoe girl is somewhere about--"

But what was her terror when she faced the shore at a dear spot in the woods and against it saw the boat of the man Peters.

"Oh!" she gasped. "He must be on the island!"

Then she listened. Yes, there was a step! She sank down behind a clump of thick bushes and while hiding there she saw, not Peters, but Jones saunter down to the water's edge!

How she trembled! A half-fainting sensation overcame her. From a crouching attitude she sank flat on the ground and felt too weak to attempt to raise herself.

Meanwhile the man had reached his rowboat and pushed off. He glanced along and saw the motor boat.

"That girl!" he muttered. "She is interfering with my plans again. This would be an ideal place for a--" Then he stopped. "Bah! I'll just give her a chance to think over her courage."

Cora was still under the bush, and did not hear the gentle purr of her engine as the man started down Cedar Lake in her own precious motor boat, dragging his rowboat behind.