Chapter XXVIII. All Ends Well-Conclusion
 

"I remember it all--it's like a book open before me!"

Laurel had insisted upon her father reclining in the hammock, and she was now fussing with his pillows, that he might nestle deeper in their softness. It was he who was speaking. On the porch sat Brendon Breslin, looking into Peter Starr's face like one enchanted. There was Cora moving a big fan so that apparently without her doing it, the breeze reached the man in the hammock. Jack was there and Ed was inside the bungalow teasing Walter who had "discovered" the new nurse. Hazel, Bess and Belle were busy--there was to be "something doing."

A day had passed since the opening of the can of "red paint." In fact it was the evening following that eventful performance. Paul had only to say "Peter Starr"' to Mr. Breslin, and the latter was ready to be at the bungaloafers' camp. So the story was unwinding.

"Do you really feel able to talk?" asked the millionaire banker. "I will insist now--you got, the better of me once, Peter."

"Yes, Mr. Starr," Cora added to the request. "Do be careful."

"And she asks me to be careful!" He actually seized Cora in his trembling arms. "She! Why she risked her life for us. It was she who found my Laurel! She who came to us at night to be sure we would not repel her! She who followed up that--"

"Oh, please, hush!" Cora begged, "or it will be she who causes your relapse," she insisted.

"Indeed no," and the man held in his hands before him the flushed face of Cora. "What you have done cannot be told of in this rude way."

"Father, I'll be jealous," said Laurel, trying to relieve the tension.

Cora slipped away. It was Mr. Breslin who spoke next.

"And you really remember?" he asked of Mr. Starr. "How was it that you ran away?"

"The bank president's name had been forged to a check for ten thousand dollars!"

"Yes, I know that well," said Mr. Breslin.

"And they traced the forgery to me!"

"But you knew you were innocent!"

"I knew it, but I was frightened by the accusation, and they had found trials of the signature in my desk!"

"I have a letter that explains that," Cora imparted, and then she told how Brentano had confessed to the forgery, and to his almost hypnotic influence over Mr. Starr.

"And then?" inquired Mr. Breslin.

"Brentano told me I must go. He fixed everything. I have been on the island ten years," and the hermit sighed heavily.

"How did you live?" asked the banker.

"He fixed that," and there was bitterness in his tone. "He brought me letters regularly. These were alleged to come from those who would prosecute me if I did not keep on paying money!"

At this statement the banker dashed up from his seat. "The scoundrel!" he almost hissed. "He ought to be jailed! If I had him here I'd do it too. I'm mayor of this borough."

"Oh, Mr. Breslin!" exclaimed Laurel. "He must not have been entirely bad. See how he saved the papers--the proofs--and how he kept for me my mother's jewels."

"That's the sentimental mire that foreign criminals wallow in," he replied with irony. "I cannot see that it mitigates the crime."

"And yet," interrupted Mr. Starr, "see how the influence of a mere girl turned him to right? I did like that boy!"

Cora and Laurel had crept away to the far end of the porch. Two men came up the path.

"Hello!" said Mr. Breslin. "Officers!"

There was surprise on the officers' faces when they saw Mr. Breslin, their superior officer, the mayor of Cedar Lake, sitting on the porch. Greetings were exchanged and finally they ventured to make known their mission.

They had heard that someone saw Cora Kimball take the state's evidence--the can of "red paint!"

"But what was a can of paint?" asked the mayor. "As if a girl would want that," and his voice was almost mocking.

"Well, it might have been dynamite," and the man who wore brass buttons shook his head sagely.

"A girl steal a can of dynamite," repeated Mr. Breslin mockingly.

The officers were trying to see who was in the hammock. But the man therein sank back into the cushions, while Jack carelessly slipped his chair directly in front of him.

"Why didn't you take it when you saw it?" asked the town's mayor.

"Well," explained the other man, "we didn't fancy the blow-up. We went for Mulligan who knows about such things, and when we came back it was gone."

"You had better tell that story before the jury," and the sarcasm in Mr. Breslin's tone was unmistakable. "Suppose you tell them that a girl took what you were afraid to touch!"

Seeing that it was useless to argue with the mayor, they turned to leave.

"Wait," he said good naturedly, "I have my boat here. Take a ride with me. It's better than walking the dusty roads. Good evening," he said. "Mr. Fennelly," (to Mr. Starr,) "I hope you will regain your health by the time your son has to return to college!"

"Fennelly," said one officer to the other. "That's not the name, it was Starr! We're on the wrong trail." And they hurried away. Thus had Mr. Breslin saved the hermit from having to testify.

"Laurel," Cora said wearily, "let us go for a little walk. My nerves are all snarled up, and only a walk will unravel them. We will have time to go as far as the hemlocks before those girls and boys make up their minds to disband."

"But it is dark," objected Laurel.

"All the better; the quiet will be more effective. Come on, Laurel. Surely you do not mind a dark evening."

"Oh, no indeed, Cora," she replied, winding her arm, about her friend's waist, "but I was thinking it might shower."

"Oh, we could beat any shower," insisted, Laurel, "Come let us get away before they miss us."

It was getting very dark indeed, but they heeded it not, so interested were they in their chat.

They talked of many things, as girls will, and Laurel told much of her half-wild life, on Fern Island, while Cora related some of her own experiences. Then they returned to the house, where they found the others assembled.

"Let's have some fun," suggested Walter.

"I vote for charades," said Jack. "I'll be a fish."

"All right!" exclaimed the nurse, entering into the spirit of the fun, "here's where you swim!" and she poured a glass of water down Jack's back. He accepted the challenge and made exaggerated motions as if he were struggling in deep water. There was a gale of laughter, and that was the beginning of a gay time. The troubles of the past seemed all forgotten.

The now happy party remained together for several days and in the meanwhile there were many developments.

Through the efforts of Mr. Breslin everything regarding the former hermit was cleared up, and his name was once more restored to its untarnished honor. There was absolutely no charge against him, and on learning this, his health took a big change for the better. As for Laurel, she was happier than she had been in many years.

The injury to Jim Peters did not amount to as much as had been feared at first and he gradually recovered. There was no trace of "Tony," as everyone called Brentano. The search for him was given up, but the officers who had been fooled by the can of "red paint" had a hard time living down the joke against them. Cora destroyed all the correspondence she had received. It was like a bad dream, all but that part about helping Laurel and her father, and she wanted to forget it. Laurel also destroyed the letter Jack had picked up the night of the search. It was one from Brentano, and she, too, wanted no remembrance of him. This epistle had a slight connection with the mystery.

Old Ben proved a good friend and Cora was sorry for the momentary feeling she had had against him. He showed the boys many woodland haunts and took them to secret fishin' "holes" unknown to the general public. The lads voted him a "brick."

It was a bright, beautiful day and every one was happy--happy because of the fine weather and because everything had turned out so well.

"I feel just like doing something!" exclaimed Cora, who, came in from a walk in the woods.

"What, sis?" asked Jack, making a grab for her which she adroitly avoided.

"Oh--almost anything. Since so much of our summer was spoiled in exploring and in solving mysteries, suppose we dispel the gloom with a spell of reckless gaiety."

"Suppose," agreed Hazel. "What shall it be? I vote for water fun. We can have parties and that sort of stuff all winter."

"Fishing! The very thing!" exclaimed Cora, "and give prizes for fish, near fish, and no fish."

"Oh, the boys would be sure to win on the fish number," said Hazel, "but let's try it. We have to have live bait, I suppose."

"And we can haul the bait nets. Did you ever see them cast one of those thirty feet ones?" asked Cora.

"Never," replied Hazel. "But when shall we start, and what do we start? I'll dig for worms."

"To-night we will go for the bait, and you can go out with a lantern in the darkest parts of the woods to dig for worms," Cora said, knowing, that this would put an end to Hazel's offer.

"In the woods? In our own back yard. I know how to turn stones over. I have often helped Paul," Hazel attested.

But it was casting the big thirty foot net that really furnished the best sport. It was dropped from a rowboat by Bess and Cora while Laurel and Belle rowed. Then when it was all spread out they had to row very quickly in a circle to close the bottom and to drag in the unsuspecting little fishes that were to make the live bait.

The first trial resulted in Belle resigning as oarsman. She had lost a gold-rimmed side-comb overboard, besides getting very wet when the boat turned suddenly and "took a wave."

"I can row alone," insisted Laurel. "Cora and Hazel must manage the net."

This time they did bring up some fish--a whole drove of wiggling, frightened little minnies.

"How do we get them out?" asked Bess, more frightened than the fish.

"Pick them out and put them in the bait box," Cora explained, while Bess made a negative face.

"It seems a shame to use them for bait," Laurel said, as on the pier they opened the net carefully and saw the pretty silvery things slip around. "Couldn't we put them some place to grow up?"

"The fish-orphans' home," suggested Cora. "But I must have a few. You know, girls, fish have no brains. That's the reason I suppose they go into the brain business when they get a chance at humans."

The very next afternoon the girl's fishing party rowed out from Center Landing. Walter went along to take the fish off the hooks of Belle and Bess who declared they would never be able to do that. The other boy's composed a rival party.

Ben was at the landing, and he wished them all sorts of luck besides telling them the secret spots where fish dwelt. They went deep into the cove, as Ben said the pickerel loved to lay in the grasses there.

Bess and Belle insisted upon following the directions on the box of a patent "plug" they had purchased and cast near a lily pond, reeling in so slowly that Hazel and Cora had both had "strikes" before the twins saw their white make believe fish come to the surface. This sort of casting was for bass of course.

"I've got one! I've got one!" shouted Cora, as she pulled in a handsome big, black bass.

This won the first and last prize, for it was an exceptionally fine specimen.

"We knew you would have the best luck, Cora," Hazel said without malice, as she dragged up a very small, scared sunny. "We knew it. You always do."

"It isn't luck," added Laurel, "It's skill. She knew that she must pull up as soon as the fish struck. I lost something. It might have been a snake but it got away because I was not quick enough."

There was quite a laugh when Jack, after a hard struggle, during which he protested that he must have the biggest pickerel in the lake, pulled in a large mud turtle. Later, however, he redeemed himself by catching one of the long fish which gave him quite a battle of the line. The other boys did well, and the girls were not far behind them.

"Well," remarked Cora, during a lull in the proceedings when they had gone ashore to eat the lunch they had brought along, "we really haven't had so much fun as this since we came to the lake. There was so much excitement."

"There are other vacations coming," predicted Ed. "There is no telling what may happen since she has learned to adjust a spark plug, and regulate a timer."

Ed was right; there were other adventures in store for the motor girls, and what they consisted of will be related in the next volume of this series to be entitled "The Motor Girls on the Coast or The Waif from the Sea."

The afternoon waned. No one felt like going fishing after lunch. Besides, as Cora said, they, had enough, and they were all cleaned up from the "mess" of baiting hooks.

And now, for a time we will take leave of the girls, as they are sitting on the shady shores of Cedar Lake, talking--talking--and the boys listening, with occasional remarks.

"And I'm so glad it all came out right," Cora murmured. "You are to go to school with me, Laurel--mother has planned about that."

"And it was so good of Mr. Breslin to arrange to have father do clerical work for him," added the woodland maid. "Oh, how lovely everything is!"

And the sun, sinking to rest, cast a rosy glow over the peaceful waters of the lake.

THE END