Chapter IX. Jack and Cora
 

"Cora, where is your ring?"

The sister looked at her finger. "Oh Jack," she replied, "I will get it--but not just now. Why?"

"I thought you always wore that ring when you put on your frills, and I haven't seen you so dressed up since you came to camp. Somehow, Cora, I feared you might have lost it."

"I did," she said simply.

"Your new diamond!"

"Yes, but I feel sure of finding it. Now, Jackie dear, please don't cross question me. I shouldn't have taken it off, but I did, so and that is how I came to lose it. But I want to tell you something while we are alone. I saw the ghost of Fern Island to-day."

"Nonsense! A ghost?" sneered Jack. "Why, Cora, if the other girls said that I should laugh at them."

"Well I want to tell you. We were on the island-the girls and I-- and I got a little away from them when suddenly the wildest looking man rushed across the path. He had a beard like Rip Van Winkle and looked a lot like him too."

"Rip might be summering out this way, though I rather thought he had taken a trip in an airship," said Jack. "But honestly, Cora, what was the man like? Paul had a story of that sort. He declares he, too, saw this famous ghost."

"Do you suppose he might have taken the canoe? The wild man I mean. We saw a strange looking girl in a canoe and somehow she vanished. We could see her boat and then we couldn't, although we could not make out where she went to. It was the queerest thing. There must be some strange curves on those islands."

"Oh there are, lots of them. They are as curvy as a ball-twirler's best pitch. But the ghost. That is what interests me, since--ahem--since he has a daughter. Was she pretty?"

"I should say she was rather pretty," replied Cora, quite seriously, "but she did have a wild look too. I do believe she is a daughter to the wild man, whoever he may be."

"Well, everyone around here declares that is land is haunted, but fisher-folk are always so superstitious. Yet we must hunt it up. I will go out with you the next time you go. Did the other girls see him?" went on the brother.

"No, and I decided not to tell them. You know how timid Bess and Belle are, and if they thought there was such a creature about the island I would never get them to put foot on shore there again, and I do so want to investigate that matter. I believe Jim Peters has something to do with it for I saw him coming away from there with a letter. Now what would he be doing with a letter out on a barren island?"

"Oh Jim is a foxy one. I wouldn't trust him as far as the end of my nose. But here come the others. Will you go over to the Casino this evening."

"Yes, we had planned to go. That is why I am dressed up. Hazel may have to go to town to-morrow, and I want her to see something before she goes," replied Cora, just as the girls, and Walter, Ed and Paul strode up to the bungalow.

"Oh! we have had the greatest time," blurted out Bess. "Cora, you should have been with us. Ben got angry with Jim Peters, and he and Dan threatened to throw Jim overboard, and--"

"Jim seems to have a hankering after fights," put in Ed. "I haven't settled with him yet."

"Ed, you promised me you would call that off," Cora reminded him. "You know it was all about me, and you have given me your promise not to take it up again. That Jim Peters is an ugly man."

"All the same we heard that you were not afraid of him," said Walter with a tug at Cora's elbow. "Didn't you beard the lion in his den?"

"Who said I did?" asked Cora flushing.

"I promised--crossed my heart not to tell," said Walter. "But all the same the folks at the landing are talking about the pretty girl who went all the way up the cove, and stopped at the place where Peters and his pal land. I would advise you to be careful. They say that tribe is not of the best social standing," went on Walter quite seriously.

"I won't go there again," put in Bess.

"What! Were you along?" demanded Jack. "Then you must have been the pretty girl referred to at the landing."

"I was a pretty scared girl," declared Bess. "I tell you, I don't want to meet any more Peters or Joneses or Kates," she finished.

"But what was the trouble between Jim and Ben?" asked Cora.

"Let me tell it," Belle exclaimed. "We were just standing by the boathouse, watching some men fish, when Jim Peters, came along. He stopped and took a paper out of his pocket. The wind suddenly blew up--"

"And took the paper out of his hand," interrupted Hazel. "It blew across to where Dan was standing, and what was more natural than that Dan should pick it up?"

"And did Jim get angry at that?" inquired Cora.

"Angry! He fairly fell upon poor Dan," put in Walter, "and when Ben saw him--I tell you Ben may stand a lot of trouble on his own account, but, when it comes to anyone trying to do Dan, Ben is right there to fight for him. Didn't he almost put Jim over the rail?"

"There must have been quite a lively time," said Jack. "Sorry I missed it. There is so little excitement around here that we need all we can get. And what was the answer?"

"Jim took his old letter and slunk off," finished Belle. "And Dan said he couldn't have read even the name on the out side if he had tried. He said it must have been written in Greek," and Belle laughed at the idea of the classics getting mixed up in any such small affair.

"Seems to me," said Cora thoughtfully, "that Jim had some very important reason for fearing that one might see that letter."

"Yes," declared Hazel, "that struck me right away. I shouldn't be surprised if it had been addressed to--the ghost!"

"Well, if you young ladies intend to see what is going on at the Casino this evening," Ed reminded them, "we had better make a start. This is amateur night, I believe."

"And the Blake girls are going to sing," announced Jack. "Then I shall have a chance to clap my hands at pretty Mabel," and he went, through one of those inimitable boys' pranks, neither funny nor tragic, but just descriptive.

"I think it is awfully nice of the Blake girls to take part," said Cora, "for in this little summer colony everyone ought to be agreeable."

"But I notice you are not taking part," Ed said with a laugh. "Just fancy Cora Kimball on the Casino platform."

"Don't fancy anything of the kind," objected Bess. "We are willing to be sociable but we have no ambition to shine."

"Come along," called Jack, who was on ahead with Hazel, "and mind, if anything brushes up against you, it is apt to be a coon, not a cat, as Belle thought the other night."

They started off for the path that led to the public pavilion on the lake shore. Cora was with Ed, Walter had Belle on one side and Bess on the other, because he declared that the twins should always go together to "balance" him. Jack and Hazel led the way.

At the pavilion the seats were almost all occupied, for campers from all sides of the lake flocked there on the entertainment evenings. A band was dreaming over some tune, each musician evidently being his own leader.

The elder Miss Blake, Jeannette, who sat on an end seat, arose as they entered and made room for the Chelton folks to sit beside her, meanwhile gushing over the prospect of the evening's good time, and the good luck of "meeting girls from home."

Walter allowed Bess and Belle to pass to the chairs beyond Miss Blake and thus placed himself beside the not any too desirable spinster.

He made a wry face aside to Jack. He liked girls but the elder Miss Blake!

"Mabel is going to sing 'Dreams,'" she said sweetly. "I do love Mabel's voice in 'Dreams.'"

"Yes, I think I should too," said Walter, but the joke was lost on Jeannette. "Who is that dark man over there?" he asked.

"Oh that's a foreigner. They call him Jones, but that's because his name is so unpronounceable. Isn't he handsome?" asked the lady.

"Rather odd looking I should say," returned Walter, "but it seems to me he is attracted in this direction. Why should he stare over this way so?"

"He knows me," replied Miss Blake, bowing vigorously to "Jones" who was almost turned around in his chair in his determination to see the Chelton party.

"He's mighty rude, I think," Walter complained again, leaning over to speak to Cora who was just beyond Bess. "Do you feel the draft from that window, Cora?" he asked.

"Oh I--" then she stopped. Something in Walter's voice told her that it was not the window draft he was referring to. She glanced across the room, and her eyes fell upon the man she had met at Jim Peter's landing place.

"I think those seats over there--up near the stage are much pleasanter," said Jack, who also saw that something was wrong. "Suppose we change?"

"All right" assented Cora, taking the cue. "There are just four."

"I will stay here with Hazel, while you and Wallie go over there with the girls," suggested Jack. "And say Wallie," he whispered, "if I catch you fanning that young lady in the row ahead I'll--duck you on the way home."

Walter apologized profusely for leaving Miss Blake. She evidently was sorry that the window had been open for she was "so enjoying talking of dear old Chelton." The place had only been thus mentioned by herself.

"Who is that dark man?" Hazel inquired of Jack, for, as if his eyes were magnets, every girl in the group felt they were riveted upon her.

"I don't know," replied Jack, "but he seems to be very much interested in someone here. There, he is watching Cora. I wonder who the fellow is?"

The curtain rising interrupted the speculation. A man cushioned like a cozy corner laughed at himself while waiting for his audience to do so. Then he gave a yell and started to sing a ridiculous song about the milkmaid and the summer boarder. When he had finished one verse he took another "fit" of laughter, but somehow the audience did not see it his way, and when he tried it again, he broke off with an explanation. He felt sure that the people did not quite understand the joke, and he tried to tell them how very funny it was. To relieve the situation another person came on. One side of the figure was draped in the evening garb of a lady, while the other wore the full dress suit of a gentleman. The illusion was not at all bad, especially when the "person" waltzed with himself, with his arms around the other side of the evening dress the effect was really funny.

"That's Spencer," declared Jack to Hazel. "He did that at college. Isn't it great?"

"Very funny," admitted Hazel, while the man made in halves bowed on one side first, then on the other, to his applause.

"Mabel is going to sing now," announced Miss Blake getting a firmer hold on her chair. "I just love to hear Mabel sing."

Jack said he did also, then outside the dropped curtain stepped Mabel.

She was pretty, a little thing with brown eyes and brown hair. She wore the most babyish dress made in empire, and it was evident she knew something about making up for good effect on the stage.

Applause instantly greeted Mabel, and Jack was not the one who first tired of clapping his hands. This pleased Miss Jeannette immensely, and she did not fail to express her pleasure to those about her.

The dark man in the seat across the aisle glanced first at the stage and then at the seat where the elderly lady sat. Jack was watching him, and noted his peculiar glances. Presently Mabel started to sing. Her voice was sweet, and her stage manners attractive.

"Isn't she lovely!" exclaimed Bess to Ed. "I do believe she is studying for the stage."

"Shouldn't wonder," replied the young man under his breath. Then the girl finished the song and bowed with such pretty piquancy that everybody demanded more of her talent.

Jack was still watching the dark man. As the girl left the platform the latter left his seat and went outside of the pavilion.

Presently a messenger tapped Miss Blake on the shoulder, "Your niece wishes to speak to you," the boy said, and at that Jeanette Blake also left her seat and the room.

"Something mysterious about that," said Jack to Hazel, "and I propose seeing it out if I can. I will take you over to the others, and run outside."

Just as he said that, a boy appeared on the platform and announced that owing to an important message Miss Blake was obliged to leave the hall and could not accommodate with her second number, but that some one else would try to fill her place.

A murmur of dissent arose from the audience.

"How could she get an important message here," Cora asked Ed. "Where in the world could it come from?"

Jack pushed a chair for Hazel in line with the others.

"I am going outside for a moment," he said. "Take care of the girls until I come back."

"All right," agreed the other young men.

"But don't run after Mabel," put in Walter with a laugh.

But that was exactly what Jack Kimball did.