“Let’s stay this once, but next time we’ll be more careful where we lunch,” smiled Eleanor.
“I take back all I said about ‘Fraid Cats,’” laughed Madge. “We’ll hurry through our luncheon and leave here the moment we finish. After all, as long as we are to become seasoned mariners we shall have to learn to accustom ourselves to the vicissitudes of a sailor’s life.”
“But we can’t be ‘seasoned mariners’ until we find our houseboat,” reminded Lillian. “It doesn’t look as though we’d find it to-day, either.”
“We must,” was Madge’s emphatic response. “Here we have been worrying like mad about this restaurant not being a proper place in which to eat our luncheon, while the really important question of where we are to find our boat hasn’t troubled us. We must go out of here saying, ’We shall find it, we shall find it,’ and then I believe we can’t help but run across it.” Madge’s blue eyes were alight with purpose and enthusiasm.
“Good for you, Madge,” laughed Phil. “Come on, girls. Let us finish our tea and renew our search.”
It was half-past three in the afternoon when they left the little restaurant. The four girls were to spend the night in Baltimore with a friend of Miss Tolliver’s, who kept a boarding-place. As they were in the habit of staying with Miss Rice when they came into Baltimore to do their shopping, Miss Tolliver had, for once, after many instructions, permitted the girls to go into town without a chaperon.
“Miss Rice said we did not have to be at her house until half-past five o’clock,” Phil volunteered, “so what shall we do?”
“There is a little park down there near the water,” Lillian pointed ahead. “Suppose we sit down there for a few minutes until we decide where to go next?”
It was a balmy, sunshiny May day. While the girls rested on the park benches they could see, far off, a line of ships sailing up the bay and also the larger freight steamers. They were near one of the quiet canals that formed an inlet from the great Chesapeake Bay. Lining the banks of the canal were numbers of coal barges and canal boats.
On the deck of a canal boat a girl came out with a bundle of clothes in her arms. She was singing in a high, sweet voice as she hung them on a line strung across the deck of the boat.
The girls watched her silently as she flitted back and forth, and she sang on, unconscious of her audience. She was singing a boat song which the men chant as they row home at the close of day. The pathos in the woman’s voice was so exquisite, its notes so true, that Madge’s blue eyes filled with tears. None of the four friends stirred until the song was over, and the girl in her faded calico dress and bare feet had disappeared into the cabin of the boat.
“We call those boats shanty boats down in Virginia,” Eleanor said; “I suppose because the little cabin on the deck of the canal boat looks so like a shanty.”