During the next five days the four friends found plenty to occupy their time. Then Miss Tolliver’s school closed, and Phil Alden hurried home to her family in Hartford, Connecticut; Lillian returned to her home in Philadelphia, while Madge and Eleanor departed to spend a week with Mr. and Mrs. Butler in their old home in Virginia. Miss Jones, however, remained at the school. She made one hurried trip into Baltimore, and on another occasion had a visitor, but the rest of the time she sewed industriously; for on June the eighth a new experience was to be hers—she was to begin her duties as chaperon to four adventurous girls aboard their longed-for “Ship of Dreams.”
Blue waves lapped idly against the sides of a little, white palace that had risen out of the waves of the bay overnight. One side lay close along a quiet shore. Overhead the leaves of a willow tree stirred in the wind, and the birds twittered in its branches. The rosy flush was just fading out of the sky. Dawn had come only a short time before, and the wind, the waves and the birds were the only things stirring so early in the morning. There was not a sound or a movement aboard the odd vessel that was moored to the shore.
Along the shore sped the slender figure of a girl. It was a part of the morning. Her blue frock was the color of the sky and her auburn hair had been touched by the sun, and on her radiant face lay the glory of youth.
Of course, it was Madge! She did not stop when she first spied her houseboat between the branches of the willow tree. She gave a little gasp, and ran on faster than ever. A moment later she came alongside her boat, which was only about three feet from the shore. Madge had not practised running and jumping in the gymnasium at school and on the old farm in Virginia for nothing. She gave one flying leap and landed on the deck of her houseboat. Then she stood perfectly still, a little song of gratitude welling from the depth of her happy heart.
“Perhaps it was not fair in me to have run away from Eleanor,” she mused. “But then Nellie is such a sleepy-head, she never would have wished to get up so early. And I did want to see the boat alone, just for a moment. I am not going to look into the cabin, though. I am going to wait for the other girls——”
A stone went whizzing by Madge’s ear at this moment, causing her soliloquy to come to an abrupt end.
She glanced toward the shore. A small boy stood grinning at her, with his hands tucked into a pair of trousers so much too long for him they had to be turned up from the ankles to the knees.
“Hello,” he remarked cheerfully, eyeing Madge owlishly.
“Hello yourself,” returned Madge. “Do you usually begin the day by throwing stones at peaceful strangers?”
“Yes’m,” the small boy responded calmly. “Where’d you and that come from?”