“This is Tom’s party,” smiled Mrs. Curtis, in answer to a look of delighted astonishment from Madge. “It was his idea to say a last good-bye to our houseboat friends, and to see them safely started on their journey toward home. But, Miss Jenny Ann, I have something to say. I wish to tell you a story and I wish you to tell me what you think without any reference to anybody or anything at this table.”
“Of course I will,” answered Miss Jenny Ann lightly, not dreaming what Mrs. Curtis intended to say.
“Suppose, once upon a time you had lost something very precious,” continued Mrs. Curtis. “Say it was a mine of precious stones. Suppose you had hunted for years but could never find it. After a while some friends discover the treasure for you, and give it back to you? Don’t you believe you would like to do something to show your gratitude?”
“Certainly I should,” replied Miss Jenny Ann promptly, falling into the trap.
“Then why not let me have a houseboat party this fall?” proposed Mrs. Curtis. “Madeleine and I will be staying near Old Point Comfort. Tom will be camping with some boy friends near Cape Charles. I am going to count on your bringing the houseboat down the shore to pay us a visit and you are to be my guests from the moment you set foot on the boat.”
The four chums looked at Mrs. Curtis, their eyes shining with delight. Another holiday on their beloved houseboat! But ought they accept so great a gift from Mrs. Curtis. They understood that it was her intention to finance the trip.
Tom looked at his watch. “It’s a pity to break up the party. But as we are to drive to the village we must soon be off. The expressman has already taken the trunks. You’d better accept mother’s invitation.”
“We thank you,” said Madge slowly, “but will you give us a few days in which to decide? Then we will write you at Old Point Comfort.”
“Very well,” replied Mrs. Curtis, “but let us hope that your answer will be ‘yes.’ I wish you would look upon the trip as a love offering from Madeleine.”
Mrs. Curtis looked wistfully at the circle of girlish faces. Her eyes, mute with pleading, met Madge’s. They seemed to say, “Why not decide now, and make us happy?”
Their appeal was too strong for Madge. “Girls, I think we ought to accept Mrs. Curtis’s gift to us. It is right and she wishes us to do so. Of what use is it to wait three days. Let us say ‘yes’ now and then we shall all he happy. All together! Is it ’yes’?”
“‘Yes,’” chorused four voices.
Madge turned to Mrs. Curtis. “We must say good-bye this minute, but we’ll write you, and one of these days you’ll find our ‘Ship of Dreams’ anchored on your beach.”
How Madge kept her promise and what happened during their visit to Old Point Comfort is fully set forth in “Madge Morton’s secret,” a story no wide-awake girl can afford to miss.