Chapter II. The Haunted Isle
 

For some seconds no one seemed to know just what had happened. The steamer was clear, and the motor boat was running safely. Three very wet girls were thanking their good fortune that the water was their only damage--and water in the shape of a shower of spray is not much of a matter to complain of, after you escape a collision.

"What happened?" asked Belle, when she had the courage to uncover her eyes.

"Bess turned wrong," said Cora.

"I couldn't tell which way to go," put in the frightened girl. "I was simply stage-struck. But what saved us?"

"I jerked the wheel just enough to get a little to one side, and then the steamer had a chance to turn away," replied Cora. "I tell you we had a close shave, but that makes our first trip all the more interesting. Bess, can I trust you now to take my place while I look at that wheel? The rope may have slipped?"

"Oh, don't do anything," pleaded Belle. "Call to that boat over there, and let us have help. See, they are coming this way."

"Why, it's the boys--our boys!" exclaimed Cora. "Why have they gone out without telling me, when they knew I wanted to use my boat?"

In a canoe that looked like a big eel as it slipped over the water could be seen Jack, Ed and Walter.

"Well!" called Jack. "I like that! Where did you get the--ocean liner, Cora?"

"Don't say anything about the accident," she had a chance to whisper to the girls before replying to her brother. "I found my boat tied up at the dock," she answered gaily. "Isn't she a beauty?"

"What are you going to call her?" asked Walter.

"The Whirlpool, I guess," replied Cora, "that would go nicely with my Whirlwind, don't you think?"

"Oh, no, don't," objected Belle. "I should always feel that we were going to be--"

"Whirlpooled?" finished Jack. "Better make her the Petrel, Cora, for two reasons. We bought it from Mr. Peters, and she can walk on the water like the old original sea-fowl. Just see how she does saunter along."

"All right. Petrel will do, but it will be Pet for short," said Cora as now she allowed the boat to drift a little way from beside the boys' canoe.

"What was the matter with the steamer folks?" asked Ed. "Thought I heard something as we passed."

"Yes, you might have heard them talking about us if your ears had on their long distance," replied Cora quickly. "The Blakes are aboard."

"I saw their trunks at the station," said Jack "and they were tagged to The Burrow."

"That's the hole in the hill, isn't it?" asked Walter. "Well, I'm glad they have come up--the Benny Blakeses. I like a lot of folks around here. It is apt to have a depressing effect upon me if company is scarce and fishing shy."

"Or weather wet," put in Ed. "But say, Cora, I'd like to try the Pet." He remembered he was in a blue bathing suit, ever the most appropriate costume for a canoe. "But I'll wait until later, though I hate to. We have, as a matter of fact, an engagement at Far Island. Have you heard?"

"No, what?" asked the girls in chorus.

"Just a suspicion yet, but it may be true. We think--shall we give it away boys?"

"No; sell it," suggested Jack. "They sold us on this first trip, why should we give them anything?"

"Oh, Jack! You know I expected you to take me out the first time," said Cora reproachfully.

"Yes, and you know all about a boat, and start out without giving a fellow the slightest warning."

"But why didn't you come up when you knew the boat had arrived?" questioned the sister.

"Because--but that was what Ed was going to give away. It's a mysterious secret, and it is situated on Far Island. So long girls, I suppose you know how to land."

"Oh, yes indeed," said Cora in spite of the protest that was trembling on Belle's lips. "We started out, and we will get back all right. Wish you luck in whatever you are after," and she winked at Bess, who was now beside her at the engine, as Cora had concluded to guide the boat by the auxiliary steering wheel.

The boys veered off.

"I wonder what they are up to?" asked Cora. "As soon as we can do so, without being noticed, I think we will follow them. There must have been something important on, when Jack did not wait to take me out."

"Oh, don't let us go farther out on the lake," begged Belle. "I am nervous yet."

"Then suppose we take you in? Nettie is at the camp, and then Bess and I can go out to the island. There was really nothing the matter with the boat, the mistake was all due to our own nervousness."

"Well, I would feel better not to sail any farther," admitted the, pretty blond Belle, as she tossed back some of her breeze stray curls. "I am subject to sickness on the water, anyhow."

"On still water?" asked Bess archly. "Well, we will take you in, Twiny. And we will then go out. I want to redeem myself."

"Good for you, Bess," said Cora. "There is nothing like courage, unless it be gasoline," and after starting the engine, she turned the boat toward the shore. "There are the boys heading for the other island!" she exclaimed a moment later.

"They are trying to fool us. I wonder why?" asked Bess. "See, Belle. There are Nettie and Mary an shore--two of the best maids on the island. You will be all right with them, won't you, dear?"

"Of course," replied the twin, rather confusedly. "I don't need attention."

"But you are tired," put in Cora, "and those girls have not done a thing since lunch time. Just command them."

"'Very well. But do be careful, you two girls. A bad beginning you know."

"Oh, don't you worry about us," replied Cora confidently. "I feel as if this boat was a top in my hands. It is so much easier to handle than an auto. No gears, differentials or things like that. Good bye, Belle. Have supper ready when we return," and she sounded the small whistle that told of the start again.

"Good bye. Be careful," cautioned Belle. Then the two girls headed the craft for the little island around which they had just seen the boys disappear.

"I thought the boys looked very serious," said Bess, as she put her hand on the wheel Beside Cora's. "I wonder what is wrong?"

"Jack certainly had something very important on when he neglected me," said his sister. "I hope there is nothing really wrong. There are no people on that island, I believe."

"Then perhaps we had better not land?" suggested Bess. "It might be horribly lonely and we might not be able to find the boys."

"Well, when we get there we will be able to judge of all that," replied Cora. "Doesn't the Petrel motor beautifully?"

"And this lake," added Bess. "I never saw anything like it. Why some of those islands are big enough to inhabit."

"Yes, there is one island over there," answered Cora, pointing to the extreme eastern shore of the water, "and since I have seen it I am just dying to explore it. They call it Fern Island, and the store man tells the most wonderful tales about it. But we will have to wait until we all assemble. When did Hazel say she would come?"

"Tomorrow or next day. She has to take some special 'exams.' I am sorry that girl is so ambitious. It always interferes with her vacation."

"Hazel will make her mark some day, if she does not spoil it all by having someone make it for her--on a flat stone. But honestly Bess, I do hope she will come up before the others. Next to you and Belle I count more on Hazel Hastings than on anyone else in our party."

"And not a little on her brother Paul?" and Bess laughed in her teasing way. "Now Cora, Paul Hastings is acknowledged to be the most useful boy in all the Chelton set. He can fix an auto, fix an electric bell, fix an alarm clock--"

"And no doubt could overhaul a motor boat," finished Cora, as she turned the Petrel toward land. "Well, this is Far Island, and I am sure the boys headed this way. Let's shout."

Putting her hands to her mouth, funnel fashion, Cora sent out the shrill yodel known to all of the motor girls and motor boys. Bess took up the refrain; but there was no answer.

"If they were ashore wouldn't their boat be about?" asked Bess. "We can see all this side of the island, but you said it was too rocky to land on the other shore."

Cora looked about. Yes, one edge was all sandy and the other rocks. If the boys had come ashore they must have done so from the north side.

"My, what a lot of boats!" exclaimed Bess. "Cora, just see that flock," and she pointed to a distant flotilla of various craft across the lake.

"Yes, and so many canoes, we could hardly tell the boys in that throng. Do you suppose they are in that parade?"

"Oh, no. They had only bathing suits on, and that really looks like some fleet," replied Bess. "Yes, see there is their club banner. My! I had no idea that Cedar Lake boasted of such style."

"We may expect water picnics every day now," said Cora. "But just see that old man in the rowboat towing that pretty canoe. Do you suppose he has it for hire?"

"Likely. But how would anyone hire it out here? Why not from shore?" questioned Bess.

"Well, perhaps he is taking it to the dock," and Cora allowed her boat to touch the island shore. "At any rate if we are to find the boys we had better be at it, for I want to start back before that throng of boats gets in my way. I feel sure enough, but I like room."

Both girls stepped ashore as Cora caught the boat hook in the strong root of a tree and pulled the craft in. Then she shouted again.

"Jack! Jack!" she called. "Isn't it lonely here," she said suddenly, realizing that while she had expected the boys to be on the island, they might have gone to any of the other bits of land.

"Yes," said Bess. "I never felt so far away from everything before. On an island it is so different from being on real shore!"

"Yes, it is farther out," and Cora laughed at the description. "Bess, I guess I was mistaken. The boys do not seem to be here."

"Then do let's go back," pleaded Bess. "I am actually afraid."

"Of what? Not those 'jug-er-umms.' Just hear them. You would think the frogs were trying to drive us away from their territory."

"I always did hate the noise they make," declared Bess. "It sounds like a dead, dark night. Why do they croak in the daytime?"

"Night is coming," Cora explained, "and besides, it is so quiet here they do not have to wait for nightfall. But listen! Didn't you hear those dry leaves rustle?"

"Oh Cora, come!" and Bess pulled at her friend's skirt. "It may be a great--snake."

Cora stood and listened. "No," she said, "that was no snake. It sounded like something running."

"Come on, Cora dear," begged Bess, so that Cora was obliged to agree. "See, all the boats have gone the other way. And if anything happened we might just as well be on this desert island as on that desert water."

They had not ventured far into the wood, so that it was but a few steps back to the boat. Cora loosened the bow line and presently the engine was chugging away.

"Oh," sighed Bess, "I felt as if something dreadful was going to happen. Ever since those gypsies took you, Cora, I am actually afraid of everything in the country. It did seem safe on the water, but in those woods--"

"Now, Bess dear, you are to forget all about the gypsies. I have almost done so--that is, I have forgotten all the unpleasant part. Of course, I occasionally hear from Helka. Do you want to steer, Bess?"

"I would rather not," confessed Bess, "for I am actually trembling. Where do you suppose the boys could have gone?"

"Haven't the least idea, and we have no more time to speculate. There! Didn't you hear a strange noise on the island? I declare, that store man must be right. Those islands are haunted!"

"Wasn't that a queer noise! Oh! I am so glad we are safe in our boat," and Bess breathed a sigh of relief. "I would have died if that noise happened while we were there."

"But I should like to know what it is, and I will never be satisfied until I find out," declared Cora. "That was neither bird nor beast--it was human."

But the motor boat, girls headed straight for shore--the sun seemed falling into the lake as they reached the camp to be welcomed by Belle. The story of the trip to the island and the disappearance of the boys was quickly told.