Chapter V. A Man in the Shadow
 

When the engine had been carefully covered, on arrival at the camp dock, and the boat securely tied up for the night, the party were all literally shaking hands in gratitude for the rescue. It was only a short distance along the shore path to where the lads "bunked," but the young men shivered during the trip. The girls thought of their own coats and promptly offered them, for Walter, Ed and Jack were really suffering in their bathing suits.

"But we have heavy dresses on," insisted Cora, "and really Jack it is cool. Please take our coats," for her brother had objected.

"Well, if you insist," replied Jack, "but it seems to me we have had more than our share of bad luck for one day. First our boat is stolen, then our clothes are locked up. Who would think that that old boathouse man would go to bed so early."

"I am sure you are perfectly welcome to our coats," insisted Belle, as she and her sister divested themselves of their long automobile garments, "and they will look--"

"Lovely on us," put in Walter. "Let me have the blue one, please. It is so becoming."

Jack took Cora's heavy linen, Ed accepted the brown that Bess had worn, while Walter got the blue.

"Not so bad," said Jack, thrusting his hands deep into the patch pockets. "Don't know but what I'll get one like this, Cora."

"And I rather like the empire effect," said Ed turning around so that all, might admire the short-waisted coat he wore. "This is the Roman empire I believe, Bess; is it not?"

"No, the first Empire," corrected the girl. "My but you do look nice! You have a wonderful--outline."

"Yes, my nurse always complimented me on my outline. But do behold Wallie! Isn't he a peach?"

"He's a picture girl," declared Cora laughing. "Well, it is a good thing that we girls all wore coats when we went on the rescuing expedition. But say boys, what do you think was the trouble at the wharf? Ben seemed quite excited."

"I didn't like the looks of the fellow who offered us the boat ride," commented Ed. "And the queer part of it was, how did he know we were on the island?"

"And then his boat leaked and stopped. I'll bet his game was to make us fear drowning, and then save us at so much more per save. Like the philosopher and the ferryman, don't you know?"

"What philosopher?" asked Bess innocently.

"Oh, that old friend of mine who went to sea with his knowledge. Don't you remember?"

"I never heard of him," declared Bess falling into the trap.

"Then let me tell you," and Ed slipped his arm within hers as they walked along toward Cora's camp. "There was once a boatman and at the same time there was a philosopher. The former took the latter to sea, or to cross a small body of water, it doesn't really matter. All the way as they sailed the philosopher would say: 'Did you ever study astronomy?' The ferryman had not. 'Then half your life is gone,' said the philosopher. 'Did you ever study philosophy? No? Then another quarter of your life is gone.' And so on he went, Belle dear," continued Ed, "until suddenly the boatman interrupted him with: 'Say, did you ever study swimming?' And the philosopher admitted that he had not. 'Then,' said the boatman, 'the whole of your life is gone for this boat is sinking!' So you see, Belle, our boatman might have given us that little fairy story and charged accordingly."

"Yes, indeed!" put in Jack. "I think it was the luckiest thing that you girls came along. And Ben! We must give Ben a banquet or something fit."

"Ben is a great friend of mine," declared Cora. "I feel we would all have gone astray but for him. We girls would never have known enough--"

Then she stopped. She had no idea of telling the boys that they had followed Jim Peters with the hope of finding the missing ones whither he would lead them. Bess and Belle also had taken pains not to betray their story to the boys, for, as Cora said, Jim Peters was not a man to quarrel with, and the stolen boat was not a matter to joke about.

"Here comes Nettie!" exclaimed Belle. "I wonder what's her hurry."

"You've got company, miss," the maid said as she came up to the party walking toward the camp. "Miss Hasting and her brother have been waiting all evening."

"Hazel and Paul!" exclaimed Cora, almost running to the bungalow. "Oh, isn't that splendid!"

"And us in these!" wailed Walter. "Do you think Hazel will like me in baby blue?"

The boys really did look funny in the girls' long coats, but it all added to the merry-making. Paul Hastings was waiting outside the bungalow. He stood where the porch light fell upon him, and the girls all secretly agreed that he had grown handsomer since they had last seen him. Hazel, too, looked very attractive in her plain blue dress, with its turn-over collar and Windsor tie.

"What a pleasant surprise! We were afraid you would not come for some days Hazel!" said Cora in greeting.

"Oh, Paul had to come up here. Of course he has taken a position."

"What did I tell you!" cried Jack, folding the cloak about him in dramatic style. "Paul Hastings for the enterprise. Cedar Lake is the field; eh, Paul?"

"Well, I had a fine offer," said Paul modestly. "And I have been wanting to get out this way. They say there are all sorts of things to do in this locality."

"Looking for work! What do you think of that! Why, Paul dear, we are looking for a camp cook. Wallie nearly poisoned us on pancakes today," said Ed, "and if you would accept--"

"Come in doors," interrupted Cora. "We have had rather a strenuous afternoon, and I am almost tired. How did you get up from the train? Or did you come by boat?" she asked the new arrivals.

"A fellow rowed us up--"

"Yes and charged us fifty cents each," interrupted Hazel. "Wasn't that outrageous!"

"Some one like Jim Peters, I'll bet," said Ed. "But as Cora advised, let's go in doors. We really haven't dined!"

"Oh! you poor boys," cried Belle. "We almost forgot that you were stranded. Let me help Nettie fix up something."

"Yes, do. Fix up a lot of something," urged Jack. "That's the way I feel about it. But do we dine in these?"

By this time Hazel and Paul saw the queer attire of the three young men. Then a part of the situation was explained. The bungalow was one of those roomy affairs, built with a clear idea of affording every summer comfort. Cora was to be the hostess, and with her was the trusted maid, Nettie. There the girls were to visit as they chose, while the boys had taken a camp for themselves near the fishing grounds of the big lake.

"Now, make that coffee strong, girls," called Jack as the odor of the beverage came from the kitchen. "We are almost, if not quite, frozen."

He cuddled up on a big couch and threatened to do damage to Cora's pretty cloak.

"There's someone on the porch," suddenly whispered Bess, for a step sounded, so soft and stealthy, that she imagined someone was trying to look in the window.

"Yes, I heard it," said Ed, getting up and going to the door. A man stood in the shadow, stepping out quickly at the sight of the youth.

"I came for my money," he muttered. "You fellers ain't got no right to try to do me that way."

"Who tried to do you?" answered Ed, in no pleasant tones. "See here, Peters! This is not our camp, and we don't carry money in our bathing suits as we told you before. If you can't wait until to-morrow for the seventy-five cents you know what you can do."

"Oh I'll give it to you, Ed," said Cora, fearful that the man might become abusive. "I have plenty of small change."

She went into her room and got her purse. It was a pretty little affair, too frail to have been brought to camp, and too good to have left in the locked-up Chelton house. As she went back to Ed she held out the purse. "Here," she said, "take it and help yourself. My coffee will boil over."

Ed and Peters were standing near the edge of the porch. As Ed put his hand out to take Cora's purse it fell over the rail.

"Well," he exclaimed, "that's too bad. I must get a match."

At this Ed stepped to the door to ask for a box, while Peters hurried down the steps to look for the missing trinket. When Ed came back with a light Peters was looking industriously for the purse, but declared he had not seen it.

"Now see here, Peters," cried Ed angrily. "You have picked up that purse, and I want you to hand it right over here," and Ed dropped the cloak from his shoulders. "If you don't I'll teach you a lesson."

"Oh, you will, eh?" sneered the man. "Well you'd better get at it, kid," and with that he struck Ed a tantalizing blow on the cheek.

Ed clutched the man by the arm. By this time the confusion had been heard within doors, and the other boys hurried out.

"What's up?" asked Jack, just as Ed, with all his strength, almost bent the older man over backward.

Jim Peters was fairly roaring now. He was strong, but this young giant was a surprise to him, and after the way of the cowardly class, as soon as he found out he would be bested he "quit," and begged off.

"Hand me back that purse," demanded Ed. "I know you've got it as well as if I had seen you take it."

"What's that over there?" snarled Peters, pointing to something bright in the grass.

Ed picked it up. It was the purse, but it was empty. Ed's exclamation told them that.

"My ring," cried Cora. "I had my ring--oh no. I forgot--that was not the purse," and Cora went in doors, presently returning with some small coins. "Here, Ed," she said, her voice trembling. "Do pay that man, and let him go. I--I am so frightened!"

"Cora," whispered Bess, "was your ring in that purse?"

"Hush," cautioned the other girl. "Let us try to make things brighter. Since that man sailed down the lake to-day with our boys' canoe we have had nothing but mishaps. Now let him go. I'll manage to reckon with him without endangering the life of anyone. He's too desperate a character to deal with in the ordinary way. Remember what Ben told us."