The woman’s expression changed at once to an ugly scowl. Phil and Madge wondered why their request should make her so angry. What harm could come from their calling on the poor, half-crazed girl? Surely it was plain that they meant her no wrong.
“We want to be friends with your daughter,” Madge declared haughtily; “we do not wish to injure her.”
“Moll ain’t here no more,” the woman replied sulkily. “Her father has took her away. She ain’t never coming back.” The woman grinned as the four girls went away.
“O Madge!” Phil exclaimed, with her eyes full of tears, “I do feel so sorry. I am afraid we have come too late. Poor Mollie will think I have broken my promise. What could have happened to her? Do you think her horrible old father has put her in an asylum? She told me that he often threatened her, unless she did whatever he said.”
“Don’t worry, Phil dear,” Madge replied sympathetically. “Perhaps the woman was telling us a story and simply did not wish us to see her daughter. I will come to the island with you again. Maybe we can find her next time.”
The girls hurried on until they were almost at the place where they had left their rowboat. Phil was unusually sorrowful and silent. She still carried her little basket with the gifts for her new friend. The memory of a pair of wonderful blue eyes haunted her. Mollie’s face had looked so longingly into hers; it was filled with a wistful sorrow and was haunted by fear and loneliness. It was not that of one who is mad.
“Girls,” spoke Phil quickly, “will you go on down to the boat and wait for me? I am going to run over to the tent and take another look in there. At any rate, I am going to leave this basket of food. I won’t be gone but a minute.”
Phyllis walked rapidly toward the tent. She half hoped she would find the vanished girl inside it. But the tent was still empty. Phil set down her basket. She was strangely disappointed and grieved. She could do nothing more. There was nothing to do save go back to her friends. As she stepped toward the tent opening her foot caught in a piece of ragged carpet. Like a flash Phyllis remembered. Had she not told Mollie to slip a note under this carpet if she was ever in trouble or in danger and desired their help? Phil slid her hand under the rug and found a torn scrap of yellow wrapping paper. On it was penciled in the handwriting of a child:
“I am in much trouble. Please, please come to help me. You promised.”
THE ATTEMPTED RESCUE
“I will go back to the shanty boat with you now, Phil,” volunteered Madge when Phyllis returned to her chums, carrying the pathetic scrap of paper. “We have the food you brought in the basket, which we can eat for luncheon. Lillian and Nellie can row over to the houseboat to tell Miss Jenny Ann that we mean to spend the day here. Then, perhaps, they will row back for us this afternoon.”