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The Outdoor Girls at Wild Rose Lodge by Laura Lee Hope

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"Nobody would expect you to think so," Will replied, his eyes twinkling,
then added seriously:

"Of course we all know that Allen was the finest kind even before the war,
but, gosh! I wish you could just see how all the fellows love him and how
even his superior officers consult him and seem to value his judgment. I
tell you, I'm glad to have him call me his friend."

"You bet!" exclaimed Frank, nodding soberly.

"Allen sure has come out strong," Roy agreed; and at this glowing praise
of the only absent one Betty felt her heart swell with pride and she
wanted to hug the boys for being so loyal to her Allen. Also, deep down in
her heart, she began to feel a little trepidation about the homecoming of
this hero. Who was she, Betty Nelson, to call this glorious Lieutenant
Allen Washburn, her Allen?

So engrossed was she in these and other absorbing thoughts that it was
some time before she noticed that the conversation had taken another turn.
Also that the boys and girls were becoming rather excited.

"I didn't say it was a ghost," Mollie was declaring hotly. "In fact I have
always thought of a ghost as wearing a sheet and pillow case sort of garb.
And this thing certainly wore nothing of the sort."

"Tell us all about it," said Frank, leaning forward.

"Yes, it sounds as if it might prove interesting," added Roy.

So the girls told them all about it from that first night when they had
been so badly frightened by the "Thing" that had hidden in the shadows of
the porch. The boys listened with scarcely an interruption till they were

"Gosh, I don't like the sound of that at all," said Will, when they had
finished. "It isn't a pleasant thing to have a lunatic roaming the woods
while you girls are all alone here in this place. Could you possibly put
us up for the night?" he asked, turning abruptly to Mrs. Irving.

"Why, there isn't any room," said the latter slowly, frowning a little as
she tried to think up ways and means. "There aren't any extra beds, but
there is a large settee in the living room and a couple of you can sleep
on that. I found plenty of blankets stowed away."

"Fine!" cried Will enthusiastically. "Just the very thing! One of us can
take turns sleeping on the floor. It won't be the first time we've slept
on harder things."

"Goodness, any one would think they were going to stay a month," said
Mollie in dismay.

"No, we won't stay a month," Will went on. "But we are going to stay until
we find out what it is that has been bothering you girls. Do you suppose
we would leave you unprotected here? I should say not!" Grace noticed that
when he said this his glance was first for Amy, and, afterward, for her.

So it was settled. Mrs. Irving went inside to see about getting lunch.
"Though how the boys can find any room for lunch after eating all those
sandwiches, I don't know," Amy had commented wonderingly.

Mrs. Irving had refused absolutely to let any of the girls even so much as
help with this lunch, saying they must stay outside and visit with the
boys on this momentous occasion.

"Since you are convinced that this thing is not a ghost," Will went on,
while appetizing odors began to waft toward them from the open kitchen
windows, "we will take it for granted that it is a man, and a man who has,
presumably, lost his mind."

"A crazy man," murmured Betty. "Worse and worse--and more of it."

"Girls," cried Amy, jumping suddenly to her feet, "I have an idea."

"Impossible!" drawled Grace.

"Why," went on Amy, unheeding Grace's remark and growing visibly more
excited as she talked, "you know, Professor Dempsey went crazy--or at
least we supposed he did--and ran away into the woods. Now since Will
thinks this man is crazy too, why, they may be one and the same--"

"Amy!" cried Mollie, her eyes beginning to shine as she realized the
possibility of what the girl had said. "You are a wonder, child! Why
didn't any of us think of that before?"

"Because it is rather far-fetched and absurd, I suppose," said Grace, the
suggestion of a sneer in her voice bringing a quick flush to Amy's face.

"I don't see that it is so far-fetched--or absurd either," Betty broke in
quietly. "Remember, we are only a little over fifty miles from the place
where Professor Dempsey had his cottage, and it would be easy for him to
wander this far."

Here Frank broke in on behalf of the very much mystified boys.

"Before you stage the hair-pulling contest," he said, "would you mind
telling us poor benighted males what it is all about?"

So the girls told them all about Professor Dempsey, and while they talked
the boys became more and more excited. Finally Will could keep quiet no

"Say," he asked, leaning forward, "did the two sons of the cracked old
professor happen to bear the names of James and Arnold?"

The girls gaped at him. "Yes," they breathed. "How did you know?"

"Because," said Will, "those very same fellows were in our regiment. In
fact, I was beside Arnold when he was wounded in that last engagement.
Strange thing that James was wounded at the same time."

"Wounded?" repeated Betty, who like all the girls was feeling rather dazed
at this new development. "Then they weren't killed?"

"Not a bit of it," Will replied vehemently. "Why, even their wounds
weren't serious enough to lay them up for long. The last I heard of them
they were coming over on a hospital ship and expected to be here almost as
soon as we were. For all I know, they may have landed by this time."

"Oh," said Amy, still too dazed to take it all in. "Then all this time we
have thought of them as dead, they were alive--"

"Very much so," said Will, with a grin, "and probably kicking too--just
like us!"

Chapter XXI

Out of the Dark

It took the Outdoor Girls a moment or two to digest this rather startling
information. And when it did finally seep into their consciousness, their
first feeling was one of joy for the poor professor whose sons would be
restored to him after all.

But quick on the heels of this thought came another. How could the sons be
restored to their father, if the father were nowhere to be found?

"You say the old chap skipped out, decamped?" Will broke in on their
meditations. "That sort of complicates matters, doesn't it?"

"Rather," agreed Roy, frowning. "It is going to be rather tough on those
fellows, James and Arnold, to come home, expecting to be welcomed by a
rejoicing parent, only to find said parent missing."

"Humph, that's the first time I've thought of the boys' side of it," said
Betty. "We have been too much occupied right along in being sorry for the
poor old professor."

"Well, if you had known the boys, you would have thought of their side of
it all right," said Frank seriously. "They are mighty good scouts, both of
them, and they think a lot of their old dad, too, I can tell you. Why,
many a night"--his voice took on a reminiscent note and the girls felt
once again that they were privileged in having a brief glimpse of the life
"over there"--"when a surprise attack was scheduled for the next morning
or we were waiting for some such manoeuvre from the enemy, Arnold would
talk to me about his dad--that was the time when fellows got chummy, you
know, and got to know each other's souls--and once he gave me a note for
the old chap and asked me to deliver it if I came through and he didn't. I
think I have it about me somewhere." He fumbled about in his pockets while
the girls waited silently.

Presently he drew forth a little slip of paper, muddy and worn and
dust-stained from being carried about for a long, long time in a khaki

"He told me," Frank went on, still holding the slip of paper in his hand
but making no attempt to open it, "that his mother had died when he and
Jimmy were young and that since then his dad had been father and mother
both to them and that he had worked himself nearly to death to give them a
chance for the college education that he had had. He said that the one
thing that had always threatened to floor the old boy was when either he
or Jim got mad and threatened to give up school and go to work so as to
take some of the load from the old pater's shoulders. So they were glad,
actually glad, when the war came along and gave them a chance not only to
serve their country and earn some money--even if it was only a miserable
pittance--so that they could send some home to their dad and feel that
they had stopped being a drag upon him. He used to tell me," Frank went
on, for the spell of those old thrilling times was strong upon him again,
"with tears in his eyes--and I'll tell you there was no braver man in all
the American army than Arnold Dempsey; he was good for two Boches any day
--that it would be the happiest moment of his life when he got back to the
old country and announced to his proud and admiring pater that he had come
home to turn the tables; that Jimmy and he were going to make the old
fellow take a rest and do the work themselves for a change. And he asked
me, in case anything did happen to him and Jimmy, to be kind to his dad
and try to make up to him as much as I could. I gave him my promise that
night." Frank looked about the intent group of faces soberly. "In case the
boys had been killed, I would have regarded it as a sacred trust."

Something swelled in the girls' hearts and for; a moment they could not
speak. Then,

"I guess we all love you for that, Frank," said Betty simply. With a
little nod of her head toward the slip of paper he still held, she added:
"What about that--now?"

Frank looked down at the slip of paper for a moment uncomprehendingly, for
his thoughts had been far away.

"Oh, the note," he said. "Why, that was only to be given to his father in
case anything happened, you know. But now that the boys are coming back to
him themselves, I suppose the thing is worthless." He made a motion as
though to tear the note up, but Grace stopped him with a quick

"Don't!" she cried, adding as they all looked at her in surprise: "Don't
you suppose there might be something in it that would give us a clue to
the professor's whereabouts now, perhaps? Don't you think it would be wise
to look, at least?"

But Frank slowly shook his head.

"Arnold Dempsey's message, written to his dad when he thought he might
never see him again, doesn't belong to us," he said decidedly. "The note
was given in trust to me, and since I can't deliver it--or at least, since
there is now no reason for delivering it--the only thing I can honorably
do is this." And very slowly and very decidedly he tore the note into
little bits and threw the pieces among the wild roses at the side of the

It was the first real glimpse the girls had had of the man who had come
back in the old Frank's place, and with all their hearts they admired him.

Even Grace, who had seemed inclined to pout a little, could not but admit
that the action was splendid in him.

"And now," said Will, "after all that, the boys will come back to find
their dad gone, heaven knows where, dead perhaps--"

"Oh, I wonder if there isn't some way we can follow him and find out at
least what has happened to him?" broke in Amy earnestly. "It seems
dreadful just to sit back and not even try to help."

"I don't see what we can do," said Will judicially, just as Mrs. Irving
appeared in the doorway. "We will postpone the discussion for the present
anyway," he added, in a different tone, rising with alacrity and dusting
off his uniform. "Something tells me that lunch is waiting. Come, let us

So ended all serious discussion for that day, and the girls and boys gave
themselves up to the delight of being together again. Only Betty's
thoughts seemed to wander at times and she had to be brought back by
sundry mischievous and significant remarks from the young folks.

Worn out with fun, the young soldiers slept like tops that night in their
improvised beds and rose the next morning professing to feel like "two
year olds" and ready for whatever new fun and adventure the day might
bring them.

And for the first night since their arrival at Wild Rose Lodge the girls
slept soundly without being bothered by the haunting fear of the "Thing"--
at least, so they said.

That day they wandered through the woods together, searching for some sign
of their strange visitor, but found not a trace of anything unusual and

"I'm really beginning to believe that you girls have let your imaginations
run away from you," Will remarked, when they sat about the living-room
after a satisfying supper, just luxuriating in idleness.

"Or perhaps the gentleman has been frightened away by our coming," Roy
suggested in a superior tone that made the girls want to throw something
at him. "Perhaps he is afraid of the uniform of the U.S.A."

"He may be afraid of the uniform," sniffed Mollie scathingly. "But he
certainly couldn't be afraid of you."

"Now you don't mean that, you know you don't," laughed Roy, drawing her
down beside him on the couch and holding her there with an iron grip of
his brown fingers. "Say you didn't, like a pretty little girl, and I'll
let you go."

"I won't say any such--" Mollie began, then suddenly her gaze stiffened
into such a stare of wonder, and even alarm, that it made the girls fairly
hold their breath.

"Mollie, what is it?" demanded Roy commandingly.

"Over there!" she shrieked. "At the window, Roy! Do you see it?"

Chapter XXII


There, pressed so close to the pane of the window that the nose was
flattened grotesquely, eyes wildly staring, hair disheveled, was a face
that even in that tense moment the girls recognized--the face of Professor

It took the boys perhaps a second to fling out of the room, jump down the
steps of the porch and circle the house to the window.

And yet, in that second, the man was gone, leaving no more trace than if
the earth had opened and swallowed him up. For almost an hour the boys
searched the woods about the lodge, refusing to allow the girls to
accompany them, saying truly that they would hamper them more than they
could help.

"You see, I was right after all," Amy stated for at least the tenth time.
"From the moment the idea came to me, I felt almost sure that poor crazy
Professor Dempsey was this thing that was frightening us."

"But did you ever see such an awful face in all your life?" said Mollie,
shuddering at the recollection.

"And the look in his eyes as he stared at Roy," Grace added in a hushed
voice. "I shouldn't wonder if--if we hadn't been there, he might have
murdered him."

"Oh, Gracie, don't!" Amy clapped her hands to her ears. "We are frightened
enough without having you say things like that"

"Suppose," said Mollie, in a sepulchral voice, "he should come back before
the boys do?"

"That's just what I was thinking," said a quiet voice behind them, and
they jumped and cried out in alarm. The next moment they saw it was Mrs.
Irving and felt ashamed of themselves.

"I think you had all better come into the house till the boys come back,"
their chaperon continued. "I shall feel safer when we are behind locked

The girls shivered, but Mollie protested.

"Suppose anything should happen to the boys?" she asked, but here Mrs.
Irving chose to exercise her authority.

"We will talk about that when we are inside the house," she said very
firmly, and Mollie had nothing else to do but obey.

The girls did breathe a little more freely when the door was locked, but
they found themselves wishing even more ardently that the boys would come

The window against which the horribly distorted face had been pressed
seemed to hold a peculiar fascination for the Outdoor Girls and they found
themselves unable to turn their eyes away from it.

"Oh, I wish the boys would come back," moaned Amy, after a few moments
more had passed in strained silence. "If anything should happen to them
I'm sure I would die."

"Nonsense, Amy," snapped Mollie. "What could one little mad old man do to
three big husky soldier boys?"

The words had hardly been spoken when the sound of voices could be heard
coming toward the house, and a moment later the boys themselves stamped up
on the porch.

"Not a sign of him," said Will in response to the girls' eager questions.
"I don't see how he could have disappeared so completely in such a short

"We all took different directions, too," said Roy, taking a seat on the
couch again and staring fascinatedly at the window. "If all the rest of
you hadn't seen it too, I should certainly think I had been mistaken."

"You weren't mistaken," Mollie assured him grimly. "I can vouch for that."

"Didn't one of you girls call out something about Professor Dempsey?"
asked Frank, abruptly.

"Yes," said Betty, going over to him and putting an excited hand on his
shoulder. "That's the thing that startled us so, Frank. We are sure it was
Professor Dempsey's face. But, still, it was so wild and distorted that we
really wouldn't feel like contradicting any one who told us it wasn't he,"
she added slowly. "Do you understand what I mean?"

Frank nodded, and Will broke in excitedly:

"But the poor old codger's looks would naturally be changed," he argued,
"after he had spent all this time wandering around the woods--out of his
mind at that. I am inclined to think that the girls are right and that it
is really Professor Dempsey."

"If only I could have gotten my hands on him!" mourned Roy. "We wouldn't
have been in any further doubt."

"There is really no doubt, boys. We just want--oh, I don't know what we
want!" exclaimed Mollie, who was excited and unstrung and nervous.

Soon after that they all went to bed, having first decided to make a more
thorough search of the woods in the morning and take the postponed trip to
the head of the falls.

They slept fitfully and were glad when at last they woke to find the sun
shining in their windows. For once Amy and Grace did not have to be coaxed
or wheedled or forced to get out of bed, but dressed quickly and were
ready almost as soon as Mollie and Betty.

"You know I rather hated to leave the boys in that room last night," Betty
confided to Grace, stopping before the mirror for one final little pat of
her hair. "I was afraid that--he--might come back--"

"Oh, Betty, what a horrid idea," said Grace. "Come on, let's see if
everything is all right."

But they found that their fears had been wasted. The boys were in the
kitchen hilariously helping Mrs. Irving get the breakfast to the
accompaniment of continual good-natured scolding from that flushed and
perspiring lady. It was Amy's day to get the breakfast, but, as usual, she
was late in getting down.

"You make a good deal more trouble than you mend," Mrs. Irving was saying
as the girls came to the door, then added relievedly as she caught sight
of them: "For goodness' sake, get these young ruffians out of the kitchen,
my dears, or we'll not have any breakfast until noon."

So amid much fun and nonsense the boys were shooed forth into the bright
sunshine of the out-of-doors, and all the girls fell to to help their
chaperon, not wanting to put the extra work the boys made entirely on
Amy's shoulders.

Breakfast was good, but they ate hurriedly, anxious to get at the business
of the day. They wanted more than they had wanted anything in a very long
time to find Professor Dempsey and tell him the joyful news that his sons
were alive.

"I'm horribly afraid of him at night," Mollie confided, as they started
out at last, "but in the daytime I am only sorry for him."

"Do you think we shall find him, Will?" asked Amy, with a helpless little
look into Will's self-reliant young face. "I do want to so much."

Will looked down at her with an expression that said to any one who would
read it: "I would give you anything in the world you asked for, if I only

But all he really said was: "That remains to be seen. He proved himself a
rather slippery customer last night, and the chase we put up may only
serve to put him on his guard. Crazy people are tricky, you know."

"Goodness," said Grace, looking fearfully over her shoulder. "There is
nothing in the world I am so afraid of as a crazy person."

"That's why she has always been so afraid of me, I suppose," grinned

"Afraid of you," said Grace, her eyebrows raised in mock surprise. "Little
shrimp--who are you?" There followed a characteristic scene that somewhat
lifted the oppression they had all been feeling, and it was not till they
had nearly reached the river at the head of the falls that they became
serious again.

"It was right about here," said Betty soberly, "that we saw him the night
that he started to jump into the river--or I suppose it was the same one,"
she added.

"Let us hope so," said Mollie fervently. "I wouldn't like to think that
there were two lunatics wandering round these woods. One is quite enough."

As they came closer to the river they became more and more conscious that
they were not alone, that some one, hidden in the bushes, was craftily
watching them.

So strong did this feeling finally become that once the boys separated,
thrashing the bushes in all directions. They did not find anything, and
finally continued along the path, a little ashamed of what they thought
was an attack of nerves.

"Phew, this is getting a little hot for me," said Frank, running his hand
through his shock of fair hair. "I don't mind fighting anything in the
open--" He left the sentence unfinished, for at that moment they broke
through the bushes at the river's edge upon a sight that struck them

Not twenty yards down the bank stood a ragged scarecrow of a man, so
unkempt, so wild, so abandoned in its crouching attitude as to appear
hardly human.

Before they had time to utter a word or move a muscle, the man threw up
his arms in a gesture indescribably terrible, and with a hoarse shout
disappeared in the swirling waters.

It all happened so quickly that for the space of a dazed second they
wondered if they had really seen it at all. Then they recovered their
powers of motion and rushed to the spot where the man had disappeared.

Though they leaned far out over the water they could see no sign of
anything human, and with a creeping feeling of horror they began to speak
of what had probably already happened.

"It's certain death down there," Roy muttered, as though to himself,
gazing into the rushing river. "The poor old fellow! He has got his, I

"Look here, fellows, here are some clothes," Will called out suddenly, and
the boys rushed over to where he stood, a tattered old hat and an equally
ragged coat in his hands. "Maybe there will be something in the jacket to
tell us where the poor fellow has been staying and what he has been up

They searched through the coat and finally pulled out a wallet.

"Now if it only has some writing in it," said Mollie breathlessly.

There was a card, and the card bore the words which they expected, yet
dreaded, Arnold Dempsey, Ph. D. But there was nothing else, and suddenly
tears dimmed their eyes and they had to turn away.

"It will be mighty hard on Jimmy and Arnold," muttered Roy, gazing
somberly at the fast-flowing river. "To have their dad go that way!
They'll take it mighty hard--those boys."

Chapter XXIII

A Moonlight Apparition

"Let's look around a little anyway," Betty suggested. "He may possibly
have been swept up on the shore farther down the river."

"If such a thing were possible he would probably be dead anyway," Frank
protested, but the girls paid no attention to him. The mere suggestion
that the professor might still be alive and in need of assistance was
enough for them, and they set about feverishly to scour the woods on both
sides of the river and for a considerable distance down its shores.

After an hour of vain search, however, they were forced to conclude that
the old man was indeed dead, and so reluctantly and with heavy hearts they
turned their steps back toward Wild Rose Lodge.

They talked very little on the way back, for they were too occupied with
their own gloomy thoughts. Only once Betty spoke what was in the minds of
all of them.

"It seems such a terrible waste--such a pity," she said. "Just a mistake
on the part of the Government to have resulted in this tragedy. Arnold and
James Dempsey coming home, safe and well and hopeful to find their father

The boys stayed on for several days at the lodge, and for all the Outdoor
Girls but Betty their stay was unmitigated joy. But in the heart of the
Little Captain, hard as she tried to fight against it, was a little sense
of injury to think that her chums had got their boys back and she had been
denied hers.

To be sure, all the boys made much of her and petted her--for there was
not one of them who had not competed for her favor in the old days before
Allen had shouldered them all out--but no amount of attention from any one
else could make up for one little word from Allen.

At each sunrise she awoke thrilling with the thought that perhaps Allen
would be with her before the sun went down. And as each evening came
without him she sighed and thought, "Perhaps to-morrow."

Since the tragic death of Professor Dempsey they felt that they need no
longer fear the woods, although they never ventured near the river or the
falls without a heartache and the fervent wish that they might have
reached the poor demented man with the glad news of his sons' safety in
time to avert the tragedy.

However, they did enjoy their liberty, and took long tramps with the boys
through the woods and picnicked with them beside little unexpected brooks
and streams, quite in the nature of old days.

Then at last came the day when the boys announced that they would have to
return to town and to the military camp to obtain their formal discharge
from the army.

"We may surprise you by coming back in 'civies' a week or two from now,"
Will laughed, as the girls prepared to spin them to the railroad station
in the cars. "So you had better be prepared for the shock."

"Maybe they won't care for us any more when they see us out of uniform,"
grinned Roy, as he shook hands with Mrs. Irving. "You know the old saying
that a uniform has made many a hero of a bootblack."

"Goodness, I hope you aren't a bootblack," said Mollie from her car, where
she was "doing things" with the engine.

"I'm not," answered Roy, adding with a grin, "Nothing half so honest."

Although the girls knew that they were only saying good-bye to the boys
for a few days, the parting was hard just the same, and half an hour later
they watched the train wind serpent-like down the shining track with a
sinking feeling at their hearts.

"Aren't we a lot of geese?" said Grace impatiently, as they climbed back
into the cars. "We have done without the boys for a couple of years, and
now when they have just gone as far as Deepdale for a couple of weeks, we
are almost crying about it."

"I suppose it is just because we have had so much separation that we can't
bear any more of it--even a little," suggested gentle Amy, feeling as if
she had just awakened from a blissful dream.

"Never mind," said Mollie, putting an arm about Betty's waist and giving
it a little squeeze. "Just think how lovely it will be to see the boys in
regular clothes again, and maybe," with a sly glance at Betty, "by the
time they come back they will have added one to their number."

"Goodness, I hope so!" said Betty, unashamed.

In spite of some regret at not having the boys, the girls managed to enjoy
themselves in the days that followed. They motored and swam and fished and
hiked, and got as becomingly sun-burned and tanned as young Indians. It
was not until two or three days before the boys returned that anything
untoward happened to disturb their peace of mind.

Then one night the moon came out with such dazzling brilliance that Betty
was seized with a strong desire to be out in it.

"Let's go for a moonlight swim," she suggested excitedly, as they all
stood on the porch of the lodge staring up through the trees to where the
moon shone glitteringly down. "We haven't done it since we came, and
surely our vacation wouldn't be complete without one."

"Or more," said Mollie, seconding the plan with enthusiasm. "Come on.
Let's tell Mrs. Irving where we are going. Maybe she will wish to go
along, but I doubt it."

Mollie was right: Mrs. Irving did not wish to go, and the girls rushed
upstairs to don bathing suits in preparation for the lark.

A few minutes later they were racing like slim young ghosts through the
woods, laughing and calling to each other and entirely abandoned to the
joy of the moment.

"Race you to the old swimming hole," Mollie called out, as they neared the
river; and away they all raced in response to the challenge.

Betty won, in spite of the fact that Mollie had had a short head start,
and the girls, wild in their exuberance, would have lifted her to their
shoulders had not Betty herself laughingly fought them off.

"I have another challenge," she cried. "My fresh box of candy to whoever
swims to the other side of the swimming hole first. Are you on?"

"We're on!" yelled Grace enthusiastically, adding: "I'd swim from here to
Jericho for that box of candy, Betty."

As a matter of fact, whether it was really the thought of the candy or
whether it was because the other girls were tired from the last spurt,
Grace really did get to the other side of the swimming pool first, and,
pulling herself up on the other bank, dripping and triumphant, demanded
the prize.

"You surely did win it, and you shall have that box of candy--much as I
hoped to keep it in the family," laughed Betty, shaking the water from her
eyes and drawing herself up beside her chum. "Goodness, isn't that water
delicious to-night?" she added, wriggling her toes luxuriously in the
rippling wavelets. "Just cool enough to be refreshing and not cold enough
to chill you----" She broke off suddenly and sat staring, her eyes
widening and her body tense.

"Girls," she said in a queer voice, for Mollie and Amy had also drawn
themselves up on the bank, "have I gone crazy, or what is the matter with
me? Do you see--what--I see--up there?"

Alarmed, the girls followed the direction of her strained gaze, and
suddenly they seemed to feel themselves congeal with momentary horror.

Far above them on the bank near the falls and on the other side of the
river, stood the crouched-up, animal-like figure of--the "Thing!"

Chapter XXIV


The sight was almost too much for the girls. What they felt was sheer
animal panic and they wanted to run away--anywhere--just so they put
distance enough between them and that figure on the bank.

"Sit still," Betty commanded them, recovering her presence of mind. "That
is Professor Dempsey up there, and if we make any sudden sound we are sure
of frightening him away."

"But he was killed--we saw it," moaned Amy. "That must be his g-ghost."

"Don't be ridiculous," snapped Mollie, her thoughts working along with
Betty's. "You know you don't believe in ghosts."

"But how----" Amy was beginning when Betty interrupted sharply.

"Listen," she said. "I came across an old derelict of a rowboat the other
day when we were exploring the upper river, but I didn't say anything to
you girls about it because I thought it was too much of a wreck to bother
with. For all I know it isn't even water tight--"

"Betty," Mollie broke in excitedly, "I see what you mean! We can row
across the upper river to where Professor Dempsey is--Were there oars in
the boat?" she broke off to ask.

"A couple of old sticks that would serve for oars," Betty answered. "Of
course it's taking a big chance--"

"Say no more," cried Mollie, jumping to her feet and wringing out her
bathing suit. "Big chance is our middle name anyway. Lead on, Betty. Where
do we find this craft?"

"I'm not quite sure that I can find it," said Betty, leading the way into
the woods, "but it was down this way somewhere. Don't make any noise,
girls, and let's hurry, or we won't get there before he disappears again."

Grace and Amy were now entering into the spirit of the thing, and they
followed at Betty's heels eagerly, careful not to step on stick or stone
that might betray their presence.

Luckily Betty managed to stumble directly on the old derelict rowboat
where it lay in ancient helplessness in the concealment of a thick grove
of bushes along the upper reach of the stream.

"Goody! This is almost too much luck," cried Betty exultantly. "You get in
the stern, Amy, and Grace in the bow. Mollie and I will do the rowing."

"I only hope the old thing doesn't take in too much water," said Amy, as
she and Grace got gingerly into the rickety old craft and Betty and Mollie
pushed it off from the shore.

"That remains to be seen," answered the Little Captain as she handed one
of the ancient oars to Mollie. "There is one thing we shall have to
remember, Mollie," she said, as they pushed clear of the bank and glided
out into the swift water of the river, "and that is to keep far enough
this side of the falls to guard against being swept over it. Bear hard on
your right hand, Mollie honey. It wouldn't be much fun if we upset here,
you know."

"Oh!" gasped Grace, holding fast to the side of the boat and noting with
dismay how plainly the roar of the falls came to them. "I wish we had
another oar, I'd help----"

"You can help most, Grade," cut in the Little Captain briskly, "by keeping
your nerve and helping us to keep ours. Mollie," she called in a whisper
that carried the length of the boat, "can you see--It--yet?"

"Yes," Mollie telegraphed back in the same tense whisper. "It's got its
back to us, I think."

"Good," said Betty softly, adding as she threw all her weight against her
oar, "now let's keep still and work."

It was queer how they referred to that presence at the head of the falls
as "It." Some way, in the weird moonlight, under the more than unusual
circumstances, it seemed almost impossible to give the thing a name.

"Was it Professor Dempsey?" they kept asking themselves over and over
again. But he had committed suicide. Or at least they had seen him fall
into the river, and they could have vowed that he did not come out again.
They had searched both sides of the river. How could they have missed him?
And yet, if that motionless figure at the head of the falls was really
Professor Dempsey, he must have been washed ashore that day and evaded
them as he had succeeded in evading them so many times before.

And all the time the roar of the falls was growing louder and louder in
their ears and they knew that theirs was a race with life and death.

Could they succeed in reaching the opposite bank before the deadly current
of the river should suck them over the falls, to almost certain

The answer to the question came a moment: later when, without warning, the
prow of the little boat struck on an unexpected projection of the shore
and they came to a standstill.

"Thank heaven!" said Betty under her breath as Mollie jumped out and
pulled the craft further in to shore. "That was nearly the riskiest thing
you ever did, Betty Nelson."

Once on shore again, the girls' confidence returned and they hurried
silently through the woods toward the spot where they had seen the figure.
Then Betty, who had taken the lead, suddenly motioned to them to stop.

She had caught a glimpse through the trees of the man, who resembled more
than ever a scarecrow in his crazy makeshift garments--and at the sight of
him her heart unaccountably skipped a beat.

Her thoughts had not gone beyond this moment. Strangely enough all her
energy had been concentrated upon reaching the man before he disappeared.
But now that they had succeeded so far she was at a loss what to do next.

But at that moment she inadvertently stepped on a dry twig that snapped
sharply under her foot, and at the sound the man had turned fiercely, like
an animal at bay. Then he wheeled about and made as though to flee for the
shelter of the woods.

In this emergency Betty followed impulse. She ran out into the open,
calling to him wildly that his sons were alive. Not to run away, because
his sons were safe and well. They were coming to him----

The pitiful wreck of a man paused in his flight as the import of the words
seemed to sink into his befuddled brain, but he turned upon the Little
Captain a look of ferocious hatred that would have terrified a less
courageous girl than Betty. But her whole heart was in her mission, and
she had utterly forgotten herself.

"Won't you please believe me?" she said, advancing toward him, hands
outstretched pleadingly. "I know what I'm talking about. Your sons, Arnold
and Jimmy----"

As though the names of his boys had released some cord in his brain, the
man cried out hoarsely:

"Jimmy and Arnold--my sons, my little boys!" Then, turning fiercely to
Betty, he cried: "You're not lying to me, are you? Because I'll throw you
into the river! I'll cut you into little pieces!"

As the man advanced menacingly, Grace screamed and Mollie ran forward with
some wild idea of protecting her chum, but Betty waved them back.

"I'm not lying to you," she told the crazy man, looking straight into his
glaring eyes. "Your boys were wounded, but not seriously, and they sailed
a few days ago for this country on a hospital ship. They want to see you
more than anything else in the world," she added, playing on the sudden
softness that had crept into his wild eyes. "And they sent their love to
their dad."

At sound of the old loving name all the fight went out of the old man and
he sank to his knees on the grass, sobbing horribly.

They let him alone for a moment, then Betty motioned to Mollie, and
together they lifted him to his feet. The sight of his tear-stained,
unkempt old face, creased and lined with suffering, but with the wildness
gone out of the eyes, stirred a profound pity in the girls and they wished
more than anything in the world to make him happy again.

"We are going to take you home, Professor Dempsey," Betty told him
soothingly, as with Mollie's help she half led, half carried, him through
the woods toward the spot where they had left the boat, Amy and Grace
following awed and silent behind them. "And as soon as your boys reach
home we will bring them to you. Be careful of this big rock. Ah, here's
the boat." And talking all the time, softly and soothingly as one would to
a child, Betty at last succeeded in seating the derelict old man in the
equally derelict old boat.

The girls tumbled in after him, and with a prayer in her heart Betty
pushed off from shore.

That ride back across the river was as weird and unreal as any nightmare
the girls had ever lived through. Their queer passenger, seeming the most
unreal of all, was quiet for the most part but occasionally he would sit
up and look about him wildly and could only be soothed back to reason by
Betty's sweet voice telling him of his boys--Jimmy and Arnold.

Somehow they reached the opposite shore, and, after pulling the boat up
among the bushes once more, they started back, the old man with them, to
Wild Rose Lodge.

Chapter XXV

The Old Crowd Again

Mrs. Irving, who had been worried by their prolonged absence, met the
girls at the door as they stumbled with the almost exhausted old man up
the steps of the porch.

At sight of the latter she grew deathly pale, and leaned against the door
for support. She felt that all the world was growing black----

"Oh, please, please don't faint!" she heard Betty's young voice calling to
her desperately as it seemed from a long distance. "We've depended upon
you to help us."

With a great effort she fought off the dizziness and drew herself away
from Betty's supporting arm.

"It's all right," she said dazedly. "The shock, I guess. Betty what--who--
is that----"

"Oh, please don't ask any questions now," Betty begged feverishly. "Just
help us, and we will tell you all about it later. This is Professor
Dempsey," she added, turning to the broken old man who stood staring at
them uncomprehendingly. "He can have Mollie's and my room, can't he, Mrs.
Irving? and we will bunk somewhere else."

Mrs. Irving nodded automatically, still too dazed by the suddenness of the
thing even to think, and they helped the old man into Betty's room and
laid him on the bed. The tired, ragged, unkempt old head had hardly
touched the pillow before its owner had sunk into a heavy sleep.

For a moment the girls were startled, for it almost seemed as though he
were dead, but Betty put her hand on the ragged old shirt above the heart
and found that the action was strong and regular.

"Perhaps it is the very best thing that could happen to him," she said
softly, and, laying a light cover over him, tip-toed from the room,
followed quietly by Mrs. Irving and the other girls.

Once in the other room, with the need for action over, the girls felt weak
and spent, and it was only then that they realized that they had been
through a terrible ordeal.

In broken sentences they told Mrs. Irving all that had happened and as she
listened she more and more appalled at the risk they had run and the
danger they had gone through.

"Girls, girls," she cried when they had finished, "I was half wild about
you as it was. But if I had known the truth I think I should have gone
crazy. Just the same," she added and her eyes shone with pride in them,
"it was a glorious thing for you to do--an unselfish, wonderfully
courageous thing. I'm proud of you!"

In spite of the fact that they were tired out, the girls insisted upon
standing watch and watch that night. They felt that some one should be
with Professor Dempsey all the time in case he should wake in the night
with his old madness upon him. It was the longest night any of them had
ever spent, and the morning dawned upon a hollow-eyed, worn-out set of
Outdoor Girls.

"I never," said Betty, looking around at her white-faced chums wearily,
"spent such a terrible night in my life. How is the patient?" she added,
taking up the subject that had not left their minds for a minute. "Who was
in there last?"

"I," said Grace, brushing out her hair, listlessly. "He is still asleep."

That report continued good all morning, and it was almost noon before the
ragged, unbelievably unkempt old man on the bed opened his eyes.

The girls had been looking forward to, yet dreading, this minute. It had
been decided that only one of them should be in the room with him when he
awoke, but the rest were hovering close to the door ready to give
assistance if it should become necessary.

But they need not have worried. The magic of his long sleep, together with
the glad news he had heard the night before, seemed to have transformed
the man overnight to his old gentle self.

To be sure, he was amazed at his strange surroundings, and looked
uncomprehendingly into Betty's face as she bent compassionately over him.
But all he said was:

"I declare, this is all very strange, young lady--very strange. Would you
mind--er--telling me where I am?"

At the tone, even more than the words, the girls felt a wild desire to
shout aloud their relief. For the tone was the same, gentle, polite one
that they remembered hearing that day when the little man had entertained
them in his cabin in the woods.

Then Betty, as gently as she knew how, told him a little of what had
happened to him, and the girls could see by the surprise on his face that
he had no recollection whatever of the matters of which she was speaking.

"I declare it is most strange--most strange," he declared when she had
finished, adding as he looked down and plucked distastefully at his
tattered shirt: "And this is the result of my--er--temporary aberration,
is it? Ah, but I remember," he sat up suddenly, a gleam of fear in his
eyes. "It was when I read of the death of my boys. Something snapped in my
brain, I think. You say"--he turned to Betty, grasping her hand
imploringly--"you say that my sons are well--that they are coming to me?"

"Yes," said Betty soothingly, pressing him back upon the pillow. "They are
well and safe and will be with you soon--in a few days, perhaps."

"Ah," said the little man, submitting to Betty's touch, a happy smile on
his lips, "that is good. That is very--very--good--" and with a sigh like
a tired child's, he fell asleep again!

"Did you hear what he said?" whispered Betty, her eyes shining as she
tip-toed from the room, closed the door softly behind her and faced her
awed and incredulous chums. "He's well, girls. He's completely sane

"It's a miracle," said Mollie breathlessly.

And so it came to pass that some little time later four good-looking young
fellows, recently in the service of the greatest country on the earth, and
one of them still wearing his regimentals, saw a rather unexpected sight
as they swung down the path toward Wild Rose Lodge.

On the porch sat an elderly, contented looking man, clad in garments that
would easily have accommodated two men of his size--garments belonging to
Mollie's Uncle John, and seated about him in attitudes of lazy comfort
were four young girls.

These young girls--who were, at least from the standpoint of the four
young men, exceedingly good to look upon, were engaged in doing some sort
of fancy work. All but one of them, that is; for the fourth, a girl with
wavy brown hair and bright brown eyes, pink cheeks, and a dream of a
mouth, was reading to the elderly man who sat in the chair of state.

"Gee, Allen," whispered one of the tall youths to the one who still wore
the uniform of his country's service, "I feel as though we were crabbing
your act. Can't we fellows do the disappearing act----"

But just at the moment the girl with the brown eyes and the pink cheeks
looked up, gave one little startled cry, and dropped the book to the

The other girls looked up and then followed a scene that very nearly made
the temporarily forgotten and neglected old man on the porch drop out of
his chair in surprise.

"Allen!" screamed the girls, all except the brown-haired, pink-cheeked
one, who, for some unaccountable reason hung back behind the others. "You
perfect angel!"

"Why didn't you let us know you were coming so that we could have been

"Oh, isn't your uniform lovely!"

"And look at the dressed-up leggings!"

These and various other exclamations like them, coupled to the fact that
all the girls, except the one that he wanted to most, had kissed him,
rather overwhelmed young Lieutenant Washburn and took his breath away.

His three companions, however, finding themselves neglected and out in the
cold, interfered at this point and saved his life.

"Betty, what are you hiding away back there for?" cried Mollie to the
Little Captain, whose cheeks were pinker than ever and whose eyes were
shining very brightly with a sort of mixture of joy and fright. "Don't you
know Allen in his uniform?"

"Aren't you going to kiss him?" chimed in Grace wickedly.

"We all did," added Amy.

But Betty had no intention of kissing Allen, although he begged her to
with his laughing eyes and she continued backing into the doorway, until
Mrs. Irving, coming up behind her, caught her up and pushed her out upon
the porch again.

However, the chaperon monopolized Allen for a few minutes and gave Betty
time to catch her breath. She found Mollie introducing Professor Dempsey
to the astonished boys. These young soldiers wanted to ask a hundred
questions, but, catching a warning look from Betty, decided to wait till
later, when the little man himself was not present.

Frank, who was perhaps more glad than any of them to see the father of his
chums alive and well, settled himself near the man and began to pour into
his starved and eager ears news of his sons and tales of adventures in
which they had figured.

And while Betty was still smiling in sympathy with the look of absolute
happiness on Professor Dempsey's face, Allen dragged himself away from the
group of his admirers and came over to her.

Boldly he pulled her hand through his arm and led her past the laughing
boys and girls, down the steps, and along the path that led into the

"Be back in time for supper," Will called after them. "Something tells me
we are going to have some feed."

"Oh, don't bother them," they heard Mollie's voice in laughing reproof.
"Remember, you were young yourself, once!"

"And now," said Allen, when they had gone just far enough for the trees
and bushes to screen them from the view of the people on the porch, "I
want you to look at me, Betty. You haven't yet, you know."

"I c-can't," said Betty in a muffled voice. "I guess--" she added
whimsically, "I guess I'm a little afraid of you, Lieutenant Allen

With a glad laugh Allen put his strong young arms about her.

"Do you think you can keep on all your life being afraid of me--like
that?" he asked. "Little Betty?"

And Betty, with the radiant joy of all youth in her heart, slowly nodded.

* * * * *

And what glorious days followed! The young folks never tired of their
tramps through the woods and walks in the vicinity of Moonlight Falls.
They gave themselves up to a good time and had it in full measure.

"Gee, what an improvement over the trenches in France!" remarked Will one
day. "No more wars for me!"

"So say we all of us!" sang out Frank.

When they had to return to Deepdale the boys took Professor Dempsey with
them and Frank saw to it that the old man was made comfortable until his
wounded sons returned to him. Both of the hurt soldiers were recovering,
and the reunion of father and sons was most affecting.

"Now for a final swim below the falls!" cried Mollie one day, when the
outing was coming to an end.

"We ought to have a good time--now there is no ghost to disturb us," put
in Amy.

"A chocolate for the first one to enter the water!" exclaimed Grace,
waving her ever-present candy box in the air.

"That settles it--I'm off!" burst out Betty; and then all made a wild dash
for the swimming pool. And here let us say good-bye to the Outdoor Girls.


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