Mollie had begun to lose the vague dread that had haunted her all her life. The peaceful hours of the past ten days seemed more real to her than the dreary, ugly years of her childhood. She began faintly to realize what life could mean when one was not afraid.
Mollie’s hands, a little roughened from hard work, were folded peacefully in her lap. Her beautiful head, with its crown of sun-colored hair, was resting against the cushion of the big steamer chair. She was on the small upper deck, facing the bow of the boat. A strolling breeze had blown the hair back from her forehead, and the ugly scar was visible. But, now that Mollie’s head no longer ached from the hard work she had been forced to endure, the throbbing and the old pain in this scar had almost gone. The girl was slowly finding herself. So far she had accepted her new life without a question, taking what was done for her like a contented child. Now she sat looking up the bay for the return of her friends. They would not be at home for several hours, but time meant very little to Mollie, and she had been lonely since they had gone away.
A skiff came down the bay with a single figure seated in it.
Mollie heard the faint splashing of the oars, but since water sounds had been familiar to her all her life she did not even turn her head to see if any one were coming near to the houseboat.
She knew the girls were due from the other direction.
The boat moved slowly in toward the shore. It made almost no sound, now that it drew nearer the land. With a final dip of the oars and a strong forward movement the small boat glided well within the shadow of the stern of the houseboat. There it stopped.
Mollie did not see nor hear it. For some moments the boat rested quietly in the shallow water, moving only with the faint movement of the evening tide. The solitary boatman sat without stirring. He leaned forward, listening intently for any sounds of life aboard the houseboat. He had espied the deserted figure on the upper deck.
In almost complete silence the man fastened his boat to the houseboat and in his stocking feet clambered up the side of “The Merry Maid” and came aboard. He slipped around the deck, crouching on his hands and knees. He listened at the doors of each room in the cabin. No one was about except the girl in the steamer chair. The man moved like a cat, with almost complete noiselessness. He made no effort to onto the deserted cabin. Nor did he, at first, make any movement that showed the least interest in Mollie.
At the farther end of the deck, outside the kitchen, the prowler made a discovery which caused him great satisfaction. He smiled. He picked it up and shook it furtively. The treasure was a big tin can, nearly full of kerosene.
Still on his hands and knees, the man tilted the can until the oil ran in a little stream down the deck and soaked well into the wood. He then put his hand in his pocket to look for something.