Chapter XV. Two Girls on the Isle
 

"He's gone!" Cora murmured, as creeping out from her hiding place, she could see that the rowboat had left the shore. "Well, I am safe again, for I have not the slightest fear of any one who may be on this island--now."

Cora glanced about her in a dazed way. Then she noticed that the bent grass and fern led toward a hill in a deep part of the wood.

"Strange," she was thinking. "I feel so absolutely certain that the young girl is about here, and that she needs help."

The path was so faintly outlined that Cora could scarcely trace it, but she knew if any one was in hiding the place of concealment must be at the end of the path.

Several times she looked back of her to make sure that the man Jones was not following. Then suddenly she thought she heard a faint moan!

She listened. Yes, that was a sob and in a girl's weak voice. Cora quickened her steps, and forgetting now to watch the path she was covering, forgetting all except that a human creature must be in pain, and that she could probably help that person. Cora Kimball almost ran until she reached the hill, where she saw a sort of screen made from the broken branches of trees.

Another moan! It was behind that screen! Quick as a flash Cora jerked down the branches, thrust her head into a cave and there beheld the one who was sobbing and moaning.

It was the canoe girl! She lay on a bed of pine needles her pretty face as pale as death, and her lovely hair tangled in the pine pallet.

As Cora pushed her way into the queer cave, the girl turned, and seeing her, screamed--such a scream as one might expect from the insane. At the same moment the brush was again pushed from the door and there stood the wild man! His white hair and his white beard showed Cora that he was the same person who had so strangely crossed her path in the woods the day she was fern-gathering.

"I want to help you," Cora spoke timidly, while the girl on the ground moaned pitifully.

"Help?" whispered the man, and his voice was as gentle and soft as a woman's. "They have killed my girl," and he knelt down beside the prostrate figure. He kissed her passionately. Then she opened her eyes.

"Father, dear," she murmured, "You must go--quick!"

He kissed her again; then he turned to Cora.

"Young woman," he said gravely, "you must not harm my darling. She is innocent." Then he left the cave.

What could she do? What should she do? This girl was neither deaf nor dumb, and for that Cora was grateful, but if that dangerous man, who had said she was both, should return, and find Cora with her!

"Dear," said Cora gently, "try to trust me. Tell me what I can do for you?"

"Oh, if I could but die!" the girl sobbed, "but there is father!"

Then Cora saw that she was becoming unconscious. Feeling about the half-dark cave place Cora came upon a pail of water. Beside it was a tin cup and this she filled and carried to the sick girl's lips.

"Try to drink," she whispered. "Then if you can stand I will take you to my house in my boat."

The girl did sip some of the water. Again she opened those wonderful eyes and looked at Cora.

"You are kind," she said. "He did not send you?"

"No one sent me, dear, and I promise never to betray you."

"At last," she murmured, "a friend!"

"Yes, a friend," Cora assured her, "and I am going to prove it to you. I saw you one day as we--some girls and myself came to this island. Then I saw you win that splendid race, and since then I have been determined to find you."

"'He made me do it, he made me go in the race," said the girl, "and now he brings this letter."

"What has shocked you so?" Cora asked. "Was it the letter?"

"Yes, he says they are coming for father!"

"Who?" Cora asked, but the girl's face went so white that again she pressed the tin cup to her lips.

"There," Cora went on, "we will talk of nothing now but of what we shall do to make you well again. Could you walk ever so little a distance? To my motor boat?"

"If I could, what then?" asked the girl.

"Then loving hands would bring back the color into your checks, and then the best boys in the world would come to help your father."

"Help father!" she repeated. "But that can never be done. Father is--an outcast!"

"But he has no disease," Cora said, remembering what Kate, had told her was Tony's excuse for going to see a victim of some dreadful disease, who was on Fern Island.

"No, thank God, his body is well, but his soul is sick--so very sick."

"Let me see if you can sit up?" asked Cora. "It will soon be night and we must try to get away."

"It will, be much better to leave him, and return, soon, well and strong enough to comfort him again," Cora said, "than to stay here, and perhaps die."

"You are right," said the stranger getting up on her elbow. "Oh, what it means to speak with a girl again. Heaven must have sent you."

"There, you are up now," spoke Cora quickly, realizing the importance of urging the girl to get up while she felt so inclined. "See, you can stand! There, now you can walk."

"But I must say good-bye to father. Oh! should I leave him?" she sobbed.

"Just for a little while, dear," Cora again assured her. Then the girl put her finger to her mouth and gave a queer whistle.

"I will be outside so he will know that I am better," said the girl. "Father has been so frightened."

The next moment the man appeared again.

"Father," said the girl, "I am going with this friend some place to get well. Should I go?"

"Friend? Yes, she is all of that. Daughter go!" and the man pressed her to his breast.

"And you will be all right? No one will come for you?"

A look of horror swept over his face. "They shall not find me," he faltered, releasing his daughter from the embrace.

"Let me tell you, sir," ventured Cora, "that the man I just saw leave this island is a villain. Don't believe one word he says."

"Villain? Yes! He is that, for he would have carried off my Laurel!"

"Hush father, you showed him that you had more strength than a coward can have. I feel so much better. I am almost cured since this girl has taken my hand."

"My name is Cora Kimball," said our heroine, "and I have a camp at the lower end of the lake. It is there I am taking Laurel."

"And she may come to see me?" almost sobbed the aged man. "My little wild Laurel."

"Yes, indeed, and some day I feel that we may take you, too, away from this island. There, I do not mean anything to harm you. Come, dear, it is growing dark."

"I will leave a branch of laurel to guide you back to me," the man said to his daughter. "When you come, look for it as I shall place it fresh every day."

"Go now, before I go," his daughter urged. "Then I shall feel that you are safe."

He turned, and the girls stood to watch the last of that queer form as it disappeared over the hill. He was going to one of his many woodland haunts.

"Now we may go," said the lonely one. "Poor, dear father!"

"Be brave," urged Cora, as she led her toward the shore. "I am so glad I found you."

"If you had not I feel I should have gone insane. That man was always terrible, but today he wanted to take me away!"

"Once in my little boat and you will almost forget all those terrible things," said Cora. "I left--it--here!"

Then she stopped in dismay, as she saw that the boat was gone!