“Thank you,” replied Madge sedately. “I’ll be on the lookout for the wretch, too. Now we must hurry back to our chaperon, Miss Jones. I won’t ask you to come with us this morning, but we shall be very glad to have you come aboard our boat to-morrow. We haven’t named her yet, but she is so white and clean and new looking that you can’t possibly mistake her. She is lying on an arm of the bay just south of these woods.”
“I’ll surely avail myself of the invitation,” smiled Tom Curtis as they paused for a moment at the edge of the woods. Below them the blue waters of the bay gleamed in the sunshine. And yes, there was their beloved “Ship of Dreams.”
“Oh, you can see her from here!” exclaimed Madge, her eyes dancing with the pride of possession. “See, Mr. Curtis, it is our very own ’Ship of Dreams’ until we give her a real name.”
“She’s a beauty,” said Tom Curtis warmly, “and I really must have a closer look at her.”
“Then come to see us soon,” invited Phil audaciously.
“I will, you may be certain of it. Good-bye. I hope you won’t suffer any bad effects from your strenuous night.” The young man raised his cap and, whistling to his dog, strode off down the hill.
“What a nice boy,” commented Lillian.
Madge, however, was not thinking of Tom Curtis; her mind dwelt upon their chaperon, and the long, anxious night she had spent alone on the houseboat.
Poor Miss Jones! Her vigil had indeed been a patient one. From the time the hands of the little cabin clock had pointed to the hour of six she had anxiously awaited the girls. She had cooked the dinner, then set it in the oven to warm. At seven o’clock she trudged up the hill to the farmhouse to make inquiries. No one had seen the young women since they passed through the fields early that afternoon. At nine o’clock a party of farmers scoured the country side, but the extreme darkness of the night had caused the young men to discontinue their search until daylight.
At dawn Miss Jones flung herself down on her berth, utterly exhausted. She would rest until the search party started out again, then she would hurry to the nearest town and inform the authorities of the strange disappearance of the girls. As she lay with half-closed eyes trying to imagine just what could possibly have happened to her charges, a familiar call broke upon her ears that caused her to spring up from her berth in wonder.
“We’ve come to see Miss Jennie Ann Jones,” caroled a voice, and in the next instant the bewildered teacher was surrounded by four tired but smiling girls.
“We were locked up all night in a log cabin in the woods,” began Madge. “Do say you are glad to see us and give us some breakfast, Miss Jennie Ann Jones, for we were never so hungry in all our lives before, and as soon as we have something to eat, we’ll tell you the strangest story you ever heard.”