“Look ahead of you, girls, to the left,” called Phyllis Alden, as they glided slowly along.
Miss Jones and the three girls looked. There, in a curve of the land, was a low bank, with great clusters of purple iris growing along it, among the slender, long, green stems of the “cat-tails.” An elm tree stood close to the edge of the water, spreading its branches out over the miniature sea. It was so strong, so big and enduring that it gave the home-seeking girls a sense of protection. The elm’s branches could shelter them from the sun by day, and at night their boat could be tied to its trunk. Farther up the bank the girls could see a comfortable old, gray, shingled farmhouse. The farm meant water, fresh eggs, milk and butter.
Madge looked inquiringly at their chaperon, who nodded with an expression of entire satisfaction. Next, Madge glanced about the semi-circle of eager faces. “Shall we cast our anchor in Pleasure Bay?” she asked, and thus the pleasant little inland sea was named.
Madge signaled to the motor boat ahead, and the engineer stopped. He had several passengers on board his motor boat, but the men had been inside the saloon most of the time, and no one on board the houseboat had noticed them.
Before the houseboat anchored Madge and Phil ran up the hill to ask at the farmhouse for the privilege of making a landing. They had learned a lesson they were not likely to forget.
Too tired to begin work, the girls ate their supper out of the luncheon baskets, then sat about on deck, singing and talking until the stars came out and twinkled down on their little houseboat with a million friendly eyes; then, urged by their chaperon and their own heavy eyes, they crept into their berths.
It was still night when Madge awakened with a start. She thought she heard some one talking. “To whit! to whoo!” It was only the call of a friendly owl. Yet the night seemed curiously lonely. It was strange to be asleep on the water instead of on the land! There was another weird sound, then something stirred outside on the deck of the boat. From her cabin window Madge could see the line of the shore. It was quiet and empty.
This time she heard the sound of a voice. Another voice answered it. Could it be possible that the second voice sounded like that of Miss Jones! What could have happened? Without pausing to put on her shoes Madge slipped into the next room. Eleanor lay breathing quietly in the upper berth and Miss Jones seemed to be asleep in the lower one. But the cover was drawn up almost to where her ears should be and Madge could not see her face.
She crept over to the chaperon’s berth. It was necessary to waken Miss Jones and tell her of the mysterious sounds. She slipped her hand along the pillow in the dark. There was no response. She groped deeper under the covers. Still no movement or sound. Miss Jones was not in her berth. She was out on deck, talking to some one. Madge returned to her room. She did not intend to call the other girls until she knew what was the trouble. Phyllis was always brave and so were Lillian and Eleanor, but in this instance they could do nothing.