The Lake,The Storm,The Secret,Mildred Wirt, Mildred Wirt Benson, Carolyn Keene, Nancy Drew author, free read by Carolyn Keene,The Missing Formula,Young and Smart series 7,Scott Dickerson,Tom Swift Lives!,free EPUB,free Mobi,free Kindle,free download

 

While working on my TOM SWIFT LIVES! series, it occurred to me that a great many interesting stories from a simpler and more innocent age were out there somewhere. Before the world of Harry and zombies and interstellar warfare, before our age of cynicism and distrust, authors had worked to provide adventure, mystery, romance, and humor in tales that reflected their eras. We can't live in their times. But perhaps we can visit them.

And that is the idea behind my YOUNG & SMART series. Stories of an older style, a kind of quaint charm, worlds as alien as other planets: there for the taking, reimagined in ways that make them accessible while respecting their inner glow.

This story, THE LAKE, THE STORM, THE SECRET, exhibits the talents of Mildred Wirt Benson. She is better known by her pen-name, "Carolyn Keene," and the long and popular Nancy Drew series she authored. I don't mind trading upon her talents, because most of this story is, still, THE MISSING FORMULA. Some changes in names and detail, some rethinking; but it's a Carolyn Keene mystery-adventure all through, one few Nancy fans have heard of.

So here it is, free. Download, enjoy, read it on your device; Kindle and EPUB options. No charge to you, no info kept by me. Take it as a gift. And if you think you might like to look over the other titles in this series, head for Amazon.

Scott Dickerson
   

 



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WORDS TO WORLDS: 1932

 THE LAKE, THE STORM, THE SECRET

 

By Scott Dickerson

Based upon The Missing Formula by Mildred Wirt Benson

The cover and twelve original illustrations are by Scott Dickerson.

 Young & sMART series . 7 .

 

 

COPYRIGHT AND ISBN INFORMATION

 

Copyright © 2018 by Scott Dickerson

 

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review or scholarly journal.

 

First Printing: 2018

ISBN 978-0-359-16029-7

 

NOTE TO THE READER

Mildred Wirt Benson, creator of the Nancy Drew stories under the name “Carolyn Keene,” wrote many other stories of mystery and adventure. Suggested by characters and settings in one from long ago called The Missing Formula, this is a new and reimagined mystery story. I have taken the tale in another direction, having to do with the choices required by growing up—and something beyond the norm with reference to the titular lake. The MWB story is out there. Give it a read!

And enjoy this reimagining of mine.

 

Titles in this series

Scott Dickerson

SERIES EDITOR

 

SWIFT KID’S TURBO SPEED CYCLE

THE ELECTRIC CAPTAIN OF  THE SECRET TEAM

LOVEDAY, NOT TOO MUCH A LADY

AROUND THE WORLD OVER THE CLOUDS

THE CASTAWAY RUNAWAY TOMBOY

BY ROCKET-SHIP TO MARS

THE LAKE, THE STORM, THE SECRET *

THE ORACULAR MISS MARBURG

CALL SIGN : TOMORROW

 

*NOT AVAILABLE ON AMAZON. Here it is!

 


CHAPTER I

Caught in the Storm

 

 The girl was of an age when people start saying she is of an age. The age she was of was the one wherein one was supposed to make tracks in the direction of one’s future. The future could not be left alone, she was told. The future stood there insistent and clucking, rather like an aunt; rather, in fact, like Aunt Floressa. “Margaret-Madge, dearest, you don’t know how concerned I am,” said Aunt.

“I believe I have a good idea of it,” replied Madge Lindstrom.

“You have enjoyed life.”

“Yes. I did lose my parents.”

“But you found us, darling. Surely that was a good compensation?”

“You and Uncle have always been wonderful, Aunt, and I know you want me to go in a good direction.”

“You must make The Choice. It is true that 1932 is a very modern age. A young lady is allowed to do many things that decent women in my era would not dream of.”

“I am trying to avoid the really indecent ones, Aunt.”

Aunt Floressa detected irony and frowned for an instant. “Do not misunderstand me. The choice is between persisting in your schooling with the aim of seeking a job, even a career, that will pay well and make you independent (if unfulfilled); and making yourself available to the life of wife and family. I would not wish to influence your choice. You are old enough to do as you think best. My only wish, dear, is to help you select what you think best. We trust you; you are an intelligent girl. I do not suggest you might end up walking the proverbial street in some disreputable harbor city.”

“Proverbial street? Have they printed a book of these proverbs?”

Madge knew well it was time to make at least some kind of choice. The Fall was no longer merely lying in wait; it was coming at her full bore. She faced a panoply of educative choices: Miss Fuller’s School of Secretarial Science, the Newark Academy for Young Ladies, and the very prestigious Rhode Island State College at Providence. All wanted her. Even the magazine ads wanted her:

 

IT’S THE AGE OF TALKIES!

YOU TOO HAVE A CAREER WAITING AS AN ACTRESS IN MOTION PICTURES!

 

And as if this were not enough, there was a homey alternative ready and willing—

“Royton Cathmer is so awfully nice, Margaret-Madge. His father has real estate. Royton is set for Princeton, dear. He is most respectful of young ladies; he pays them no heed whatever. Your uncle and I are in a state of complete relief when he pays a call to take you—”

“Aunt Floressa, please. I don’t care to talk of heedless Royton Cathmer and—real estate. Do let’s change the subject.” Madge looked, mildly, as if she were about to scream. “Well. Other things...

“You couldn’t hire me to spend a night alone at Stewart Island! Imagine how lonely and terrifying it must be for Anna Daneley!”

Madge Lindstrom did not give the impression of a girl easily daunted. Gazing out toward the pine-covered isle which drowsed like a huge green sea turtle in the heat of a midsummer sun, rising from the carpet of ruffled water, the girl made a striking picture. Her auburn hair had a life of its own, whipped carelessly back from her face by the wind. She was tanned mellow bronze, retaining enough pink tint to not look like shoe polish, and the blue of her sweater reflected the blue of her eyes—eyes which at the moment were troubled and serious. They were looking inward as well as outward. “It doesn’t seem safe for Anna to stay there without a companion,” she continued, addressing the elderly woman who stood beside her at the boat landing.

Mrs. Brollie nodded soberly. She had learnt to be good-natured when the verbal train switched to a new track. “We really should do something about it. I had no idea she was staying alone until Jack Franck told us this morning. Of course, the Daneleys always have kept to themselves. This girl may not care to have us interfere in her private affairs.”

“Everything is changed now, Aunt Floressa,” Madge protested quickly. “I’m sure Anna would have mixed more with folks if her father hadn’t kept her so close at home. Now that he is dead she needs friends more than ever.”

“When she has come here—well, it seems to me she has a rather desperate look. A young lady ought not be strained.”

“Yes, young ladies should fall from Heaven on the just and unjust. Like gentle rain.”

“Indeed. Well, dear, if you are worried why not go over there this afternoon and find out how matters stand?” Mrs. Brollie suggested quietly. “The least we can do is to invite her to stay here at the lodge until she has had time to plan her future.”

There was that Future business again. Nevertheless, Madge’s face brightened and she gave her aunt an affectionate squeeze.

“I knew you’d say that! I’ll start this very minute!”

She promptly untied a canoe moored at the landing but before she could launch it two men with axes swung over their shoulders came down the shore trail. Recognizing Mr. Brollie and Old Bill Ramey, the man-of-all-work about the lodge, Madge was in the act of stepping into the tipsy boat when her uncle hailed her.

She answered with a smile and stepped back and waited until he drew nearer the landing. He came at a brisk pace, carrying his fifty-two years with a jaunty vigor that was the envy of many a younger man, the kind of younger man who didn’t care about the visage of experience—wrinkles. His ruddy cheeks were framed in a healthy tan acquired by a life-long devotion to the out-of-doors and his alert, blue eyes snapped with the joy of being alive.

“Where ya away, Chick-a-dee?” he inquired with interest.

“I thought I’d paddle over to Stewart Island,” Madge informed. “Do you want the canoe, Uncle George?”

“No, you’re welcome to it, only I wonder if you’ve looked up lately.” Mr. Brollie turned to survey the horizon. “It looks to me as though a storm may blow up. It probably won’t amount to much but I believe you’ll be safer in the skiff.”

“Oh, gosh!” Madge grumbled, casting an aggrieved glance at the boat. “It would take me all day to get over to the island in that cumbersome thing!”

But after a brief study of the sky she thought better of it and reluctantly launched the skiff. She bent to the oars and with practiced skill sent the craft skimming over the water. Rounding the point, she lost sight of her aunt and uncle who had turned back toward the Brollie Lodge.

Madge had come back to Lake Forlorn only three days before, but already she found herself slipping naturally into the easy, carefree ways of a wilderness environment, a carefreedom she especially needed this particular Summer. She sniffed the fragrant balsam air contentedly and allowed the boat to drift while she watched a long-necked crane sail majestically over the water.

“Oh, goodness, I wish the summers were years and years long,” she thought wistfully. “I could live here forever and never tire of it.” But it seemed that option wasn’t offered by The Choice. “Oh, I suppose I’d get bored with it, anyway. How is one to know what one will want in a year or ten or twenty?”

Madge always looked forward to the vacations spent at the Brollies’ Canadian fishing lodge, located on secluded Lake Forlorn, in a timber berth twenty miles from the nearest town of Luxlow. During the remaining nine months of the year, she lived with her aunt and uncle at Claymore, Michigan, but since Mr. Brollie was an enthusiastic fisherman, each summer saw the trio headed northward while the city house was tended by some cousins.

Madge regarded Mr. and Mrs. Brollie as father and mother. Her true mother had died when she was a baby and a short time later, her father, Grantham Lindstrom, had gone west on a prospecting expedition, never to be heard from again; nor was the gold and silver heard from. Although the Brollies had built their lodge for private use, back when they had some modest wealth (now still modest but absent the wealth), they had been induced to open it to a small number of select guests who appreciated good food and excellent fishing for a very reasonable price. Madge did not mind the extra work which fell to her lot since she always had time for the things she enjoyed. Not usual for a girl, she liked all outdoor sports. She swam like a fish and was an expert with a canoe. Then too, she had a special talent for making friends and knew everyone in the vicinity of Lake Forlorn, including the guides, the tourists and the forest rangers.

And as to forest rangers, Jack Franck, a handsome young ranger at Lookout 48, had not been slow in meeting Madge. He had taught her how to handle a canoe, in which the passengers must sit close; where to look for bass and how to make a fire without matches; from him she had learned the names of trees and strange shrubs. He teased her too and laughed when she accused him of treating her as a child.

“Just you wait!” she had stormed. “I’ll grow up one of these days—and when I do—”

“And when you do,” he had picked up, but with an undercurrent of seriousness, “well, then I guess it will be time for Jack Franck to watch out.” At 25 he was now getting rather long in the tooth, as horse people say, but he worked hard not to be a “father figure” to Madge. And now, this Summer, Madge was . . . Of An Age.

Skiffing along, Madge caught herself gazing intently toward the lookout station visible on a distant hillside. Jack had called at the lodge only that morning yet somehow he had seemed changed, more reserved. He had tried to tease her in the old manner, but his kidding had lacked its usual carelessness. “Oh well, one can’t help growing old,” she thought. Actually, in his case it was rather all right.

During her first three summers spent at Lake Forlorn, Madge scarcely had spoken a dozen words either to Anna Daneley, who was about her age, or her father. They had been reclusive. Often she had gazed speculatively at the fine home they had built upon Stewart Island, wondering why the two were so aloof. It was generally known that Mr. Daneley was a noted chemist who had come north for his health—or was it to work in secret?—and the belief was that Anna remained close at home to care for him. It was only the previous Summer, when her ailing father had often had hospital stays, that the two had become friends, though still of the casual sort.

“Now that he’s gone I hope she’ll agree to stay at the lodge,” Madge thought as she sent the skiff smoothly through the water. “I believe we’d become good friends if we could ever really spend a day together.” Of course, sometimes people became worse friends when they spent more time together; the risk had to be taken.

It was pleasant on the lake with the sun half-hidden under a cloud. More often than she realized, Madge rested on her oars to watch queer insects swimming in the water or birds winging low in search for fish.

She had covered little more than half the distance to Stewart Island, when abruptly, she ceased rowing. Toward the south shore of the lake, a red canoe could be seen cutting through the water at a lively rate.

“Why, there’s Anna Daneley now!” she exclaimed. “Where’s she going, I wonder?”

A moment later she saw the girl head directly for the main landing, apparently to fetch mail and supplies which were left there for her by the forest rangers, or by old Bill Ramey, who made weekly trips to town and did all manner of odd jobs to keep busy.

“She’s too far away to hail,” Madge decided. “Unless I catch her as she returns to the island, I’ll have made my trip for nothing.”

After a brief mental debate, she again bent to the oars, rowing steadily toward a rocky point on the south shore. It had occurred to her that while she awaited Anna’s return she could busy herself resetting her uncle’s minnow trap.

Madge found herself contemplating Lake Forlorn. Since first they made acquaintance, she had thought the lake had something odd about itself. It seemed to demand her attention. It was not a passive thing that lay about; no, Madge felt a sort of restless, longing personality under those waves. It protected its own, even cherished them; but also the girl thought it felt hurt when the Summer visitors left it alone and forlorn. “What a silly thing to be thinking about,” she chastised herself, shaking those thoughts away.

She crossed the lake and located the wire trap which had floated a short distance from its usual place. After baiting it with some bread which her uncle kept in a box under the boat seat, and was hard as brick, she anchored the trap in shallow water near the rocks.

Glancing up from her work, she was startled to see how dark it had grown. Black clouds, stark against the strips of blue, were rolling up fast.

“We’re in for a real storm,” she told herself uneasily. “I didn’t think it would come up so quickly. Guess I’d better not wait for Anna after all. Unless I strike for home, I’ll be caught in it.”

A low, ominous roll of thunder warned her that she must act quickly if she wished to reach the mainland ahead of the rain. She turned the boat, and began rowing with all her strength. The breeze had quickened noticeably, making her squint. As she passed beyond the lee of the point, waves struck the bow of the skiff with great force.

“Uncle George was wise to make me take the boat,” she told herself grimly. “I’d hate to be out in a canoe in these waves.” The protective wisdom of a Man put another tally mark on one side of The Choice.

She thought of Anna and glanced anxiously toward the far landing. The red canoe had turned back toward Stewart Island. Apparently, Anna realized the danger and she too was trying to outrace the storm. Her paddle slashed into the water with vicious force, but she made slow progress.

It was only a matter of minutes now until the storm would break. Madge cringed as a vivid flash of lightning zigzagged across the sky to illuminate an ugly mass of dark clouds. She was more afraid for Anna than for herself. She knew that the skiff would carry her safely ashore but she knew the Daneley girl, who sometimes came across as coddled and delicate, was far from expert in handling her canoe and when the wind strengthened, she could easily be thrown crosswise to a wave and upset.

   

Each pull of the oars carried Madge nearer the girl. Already she could see that Anna was in grave danger. The waves were buffeting the canoe about like a log in a whirlpool.

Looking ahead toward the shoreline, Madge saw a sheet of white mist drop like a ghostly curtain upon the water. The rain was coming!

The murmur of the wind in the trees along the far shore had increased to an angry wolf-snarl and branches began to bend and thrash wildly about. Madge braced herself for what she knew must come.

Another flash of lightning brightened the sky and at the same instant a deluge of rain descended, blotting out the shore.

It was one of the abrupt, extraordinary storms that came and went like banshees in the region of Lake Forlorn. Madge worked desperately to keep the skiff from being swamped by the huge waves which were churned up. The wind howled in her ears, the rain slashed at her face. For several minutes she lost sight of the red canoe.

Then the first onslaught of the storm seemed to have spent itself. The wind dropped and the rain fell in a steady downpour. Madge peered anxiously ahead, searching fearfully for Anna.

She sighted the canoe less than twenty yards away. Relief gave way to fear as she realized that Anna was struggling frantically to hold her own against the elements. Each time the canoe fell into a trough of a wave, Madge expected to see it dive for the bottom of the lake.

“Hold on! I’m coming!” she shouted encouragingly although she knew her voice could not carry half the distance; but it encouraged herself.

Anna turned her head and at that very moment a huge wave swept down upon her like a vulture, catching her unawares. She made a valiant effort to maintain control, but failed. The warlike wave lifted the canoe high, then tumbled it over on its side!

Madge heard a shrill cry of terror which was abruptly smothered out. The canoe floated free but Anna was not clinging to its side. She had disappeared into Lake Forlorn!

 

 


CHAPTER II

A Rescue

 

 The moment of dread struck Madge like lightning. The brave girl worked grimly at the oars as she endeavored to evade the maw of her mysterious lake and reach the overturned canoe. What had become of Anna? With a fast beating heart, she watched the water for a glimpse of the girl.

She had nearly given up hope when she caught sight of a struggling form not far from the floating canoe. A hand emerged, only to sink again beneath the surface.

Anna could not swim!

The realization drove Madge to even greater exertion. The next powerful sweep of her oars bounced her near the struggling girl. She thrust out an oar, but Anna, failing to see it or lacking strength to grasp it, fluttered her hands weakly and went under again.

Without an instant’s hesitation, Madge kicked off her shoes and plunged like a javelin over the side of the skiff. Three long crawl strokes carried her to the spot of water where Anna had submerged. Bending sharply at the waist she shot down in a surface dive, kicking. Groping about under water, she searched frantically for the body and could not find it. She was forced to the top for air but she went bravely down again and this time her hand touched Anna’s hair. She grasped it firmly, twisting her body and lifting the girl to the surface with the yank of a crane.

Anna was only semi-conscious but as she gulped air it gave her strength to renew her struggles. Madge hooked her firmly under the jaw, as it a lifeguard rescue, and did not relax her hold; she had been trained at this by Jack Franck, with many repititions of the lesson. The waves thudded down mercilessly upon the girls and each time the avalanche of water poured over their heads. Anna, as if in a nightmare, fought like a wild thing. Madge, encumbered by clothing made heavy, found the battle exhausting.

“Anna! Hold your breath when you see a wave coming,” she advised. “Don’t struggle or we’ll both drown!”

Understanding, Anna relaxed slightly and Madge managed to shift her into position for a safe carry. Using a powerful scissors kick and a one arm pull, she towed Anna slowly toward the skiff, which had been railroaded some distance away.

Madge was nearly spent when they finally reached the boat. It discouraged her to know that the most difficult part of the rescue lay ahead. They must board the skiff, and unless they balanced it perfectly it would upset. The only alternative was to cling to the side, half engulfed, until help came.

Madge glanced hopefully toward shore but she could not even see the Brollie Lodge and the rain likewise hid the ranger lookout from view. Even should the storm abate, it might be fifteen minutes or an hour before Uncle George or Old Bill started out to search. She doubted that they could hold out many minutes in the cold water.

“Listen! You must do exactly as I say,” she ordered Anna. “I’ll swim to the other side of the boat. When I give the word we must both swing in at the same time. If we don’t work together, the boat will upset—then we’ll be in a real pickle!”

“Oh, I can’t, I can’t,” Anna half sobbed. “I’m too weak!”

“Yes, you can. You will! Do exactly as I say and we’ll make it.” Madge’s independent spirit had planted in her the skill to command.

Anna nodded, pitifully, that she understood what was expected, but Madge wondered if she really had the strength to obey. Madge swam to the other side of the skiff and at her signal both girls slowly raised themselves up from the water. The boat wobbled threateningly but Anna appreciated the need for caution. Working deliberately, they kept the skiff upright until, at a shout, both were safely over the edge. Exhausted by the effort, Anna sank down in a little heap on the bottom, shivering from nervous excitement and cold. Madge resisted the temptation to drop down beside her to comfort the pitiful figure and snatched up the oars.

“Let’s make for the island!” she cried hoarsely, above the roar of the wind. “If we can reach the cove, the waves won’t be so high.”

The main fury of the storm appeared to have passed over, yet gigantic breakers continued to lash against the boat. Lake Forlorn was slapping those who dared defy it! The steadily falling rain made it difficult for Madge to see where she was going and she depended largely upon her instinct for direction.

“L-Let me h-help,” Anna presently offered, her voice rough and weak, realizing that she was not doing her share for her rescuer.

“We’re almost there,” Madge returned, without giving up the oars.

One glance at her companion assured her that Anna was in no condition to assist. The frail girl was in her way rather pretty in spite of her present bedraggled appearance. Her hair was dark and straight, not lushly wavy like Madge’s, and her features were as regular as those of a statue. Madge judged her to be sixteen or seventeen but it was difficult to guess accurately; Anna’s sober expression undoubtedly made her look older than she actually was. Her face was drawn and strained and she appeared to be still suffering from the shock of her mishap.

A few minutes later they reached the sheltered side of Stewart Island and a flash of lightning disclosed the black curving shore line. As the oars struck bottom, the girls scrambled out into the water which came only to their knees, dragging the skiff out upon shore where the waves could not reach it. They made a quick dash through dark brush for the house.

In the semi-darkness the isolated house looked gloomy and depressing. It was a large, rambling affair, more like a hotel than a house, and not at all in keeping with the type of shack or cabin usually erected in the north. Branches of a tall birch tree brushed against the pointed roof and the wind whined most distressingly around the many corners of the building, which loomed ominously.

 

 

 

“I’d not enjoy coming here alone at night,” Madge thought. She couldn’t help noticing the ramshackle condition of the big structure. Had it ever been new?

Her companion opened the kitchen door and they stomped in out of the rain with shuddering gasps.

“There’s a fire in the library grate,” Anna chattered, leading the way to an adjoining room. “Oh thank goodness I made it before I left.”

They huddled before the glowing embers of the fireplace and Anna tossed on a fresh log which quickly blazed up.

“We can’t just sit around in wet clothing,” she observed, looking appraisingly at Madge. “You’re about my size. I, I guess I’m catching up to you, Madge. I’ll see what I can find for you.”

Waiting for her to return, Madge gazed curiously about the library, lined to the ceiling with books, some of them cheerful, most uninviting. The fireplace gave the room a gentle appearance but she could not fail to notice the threadbare rug, the scanty furniture.

“Strange,” she thought, “I always understood the Daneleys were well-to-do. Then again—I guess a lot of people these days are formerly well-to-do.”

She listened, almost hynotized, to the slow and monotonous clacking of a grandfather clock somewhere. Her reflection was cut short by Anna’s return. She had found a change of clothing for Madge, who accepted it gratefully. After hanging up their garments to dry, the girls made coffee, sipping it luxuriously before the fire. As they chatted, still rather breathless and very shaken, Anna brought up the subject of the rescue and in halting phrases tried to thank Madge.

“No Anna, please don’t thank me,” the latter protested. “It was nothing. Only—if I were you, I’d certainly learn to swim.”

“Yes, I should,” Anna acknowledged ruefully. “I’ve always wanted to but never had the chance. Until he passed on, Father took so much care.”

Madge nodded sympathetically and, explaining that she had only that morning learned of Mr. Daneley’s death, invited Anna to stay at the Brollie Lodge. “You’ve never been alone, have you?”

“Not really, never. It’s good of you to ask me,” the Daneley girl murmured, “and truly, I would like to accept. Just now I’m afraid I can’t. You see, there’s a special reason why I must stay here—for a while at least. It’s—important.”

She hesitated and did not explain. Madge looked troubled with concern.

“I’ve written to an aunt in New York and as soon as things are settled here, all tken care of, I expect to live with her,” Anna went on hurriedly. “Oh Madge—I do appreciate your kindness, only I know I’ll be safe here. This poor house has always protected me. It’s lonely but I’m used to that. The one thing that worries me is what I shall live on after the estate is settled. Father left only this house and a few hundred dollars. That is—” Anna stopped there.

Madge was startled by this frank disclosure. The shabby appearance of the interior of the house had warned her that the Daneleys were not as wealthy as rumor would have it, but it was difficult to believe that Anna faced real poverty, the sudden poverty that had swept the United States and much of the world.

“I loved Dad so much, but he was never practical about money matters. He built this expensive house years and years ago, and installed a laboratory on the second floor that would do credit to a scientific institution. He spent so much on experimentation, too.”

“You must be proud of the name your father made for himself,” Madge said politely.

“Yes, I am, and he was a dear, too. But if only he hadn’t been so awfully careless about details! Several times he made important discoveries, only to let others reap the commercial reward, signing his rights away to get money for whatever he wanted to do next. Before his death he worked out some preparation which when applied to iron and steel prevented rust in a new extensive way—several large companies were interested in it too. He promised me faithfully he would register the formula in the patent office.”

“He never did?”

“Oh, Madge!—No, not Dad; he kept putting it off. He always said the formula wasn’t perfected. He always assured me no one could steal it, for he kept the experiments to himself and hid all his findings and key papers where they would never be found.” Anna laughed shortly and sorrowfully. “Well, he did a good job of it! I’ve searched this house high and low and can’t find a trace of it.”

“He never told you.”

“That’s the way Father was. He never expected—anything. He never expected to die!—even when he got so sick.”

“You’re certain the formula is perfected enough to be valuable?”

“I’m sure of it. And some others thought so too.” Anna arose and moved to the desk, returning with a letter which she dropped into Madge’s lap. “Last week this came from the Alton Chemical Company—one of the firms Father negotiated with. You see the letter is signed by the president of the firm—G. H. Brownell—and he says he is coming here soon to see me about the formula; I don’t suppose he knows just how young I am. If only I had it! I’m sure he would pay me a good figure for it. What became of the thing?” She sounded on the verge of tears.

“What became of it? Ask me something easy! You searched the laboratory I suppose?”

“Well of course I did, a dozen times. I haven’t given up, though, not a bit. I know I’ll find it somewhere and I intend to stay here until I do.”

“I wish I could help, Anna,” Madge returned. “Aunt Floressa says I have a talent for finding lost things. She always calls on me when anything is missing. Really, I think she sometimes hides things to see what I can do.”

“Then consider me your aunt!—I’m calling on you now. We might start turning the house upside down this minute!” Anna had lost most of what the storm and the lake-water had done to her. She had found strength.

As they sprang up and passed into the next room, Madge’s eye had fallen upon the great clock and she halted with an exclamation of dismay.

“The search must wait until another day. Goodness! That clock must have skipped an hour or so! Aunt Floressa will think I drowned in the lake. I must run. Mind if I wear your dress?”

“Of course not. It’s only an old rag.”

“Yes, well, I can’t really expect better. Of course I did save your life... no, it’s fine.” At the door, Madge hesitated. “See here,” she said bluntly, “my aunt will be put out because you feel you can’t stay at the lodge. If anything should go wrong here—”

“Nothing will.”

“You can’t be certain, Anna. If you need help at any time or want to talk with me, fly a white flag from the boat landing. I’ll keep an eye out with binoculars, and will see it from the lodge if the day is clear; and I’ll come as fast as I can.”

“All right,” Anna agreed, “I have an old white skirt I can use.”

“Helpful that you’re well-stocked with rags. I should really work to build up my supply at the lodge.”

Anna accompanied Madge to the beach, helping her launch the skiff. The rain had ceased falling and the sky was slowly clearing. Before saying goodbye, Madge promised Anna that she would have Old Bill search for the overturned canoe. Anna thanked her again for her kindness, urging her to return soon.

“Don’t forget,” she called, as her friend floated slowly away from the beach.

“As if I’d be likely to forget!” Madge chuckled softly to herself. “Even if I didn’t like Anna, that missing formula would be sufficient bait! This has been an exciting day and unless I miss my guess the fun is only starting—I’m in real Nancy Drew territory!” For Madge liked to read.

 


CHAPTER III

A Puzzling Letter

 

 Although the sky had cleared, evening shadows were creeping over the lake. Madge rowed steadily, knowing that soon it would be dark. She wondered if her long absence from home had caused worry and was not greatly surprised when she sighted another boat, a distant speck on the lake.

“It’s Uncle George and Old Bill,” she decided. “They’re out looking for me.”

She waved her hand to assure the two men she was quite safe and in a few minutes, Old Bill, with a skillful sweep of the oars, brought the boat alongside the skiff.

“It’s time you’re getting back, young lady!” Mr. Brollie called out with kindly gruffness. “Another ten minutes and we’d have been dragging the lake.”

“I don’t think the lake would like that! Sorry,” Madge laughed. “I thought you had more confidence in my ability to handle a boat.”

“If you give me another scare like this, Madgie, I’ll wish I’d never brought you up here.”

Madge did not take Mr. Brollie’s brusque manner seriously for she knew that it masked a kindly heart. He really had worried about her and blamed himself for permitting her to start out ahead of the storm.

“I told Mr. Brollie you know’t how to look after yourself,” Old Bill broke in, his leathery face wrinkling into a multitude of tiny folds. “Aa, who ever listens? I know’t this storm would pass over quick—seen a lot of ’em in my day, I have. I kin remember when I was workin’ on the Great Lakes—”

“Never mind,” Mr. Brollie interrupted. “Tell us another time! I’ll tell you when.”

“Yes, sir.” The old boatman subsided into injured silence. It wouldn’t last long.

Old Bill loved to spin yarns—that was his particular failing. He was an inaccurate encyclopaedia of everything that went on the world over, but only Madge, who thought him amusing, ever cared to listen.

He could relate the most fantastic tales of his adventures at Hudson Bay and various lumber camps. He had served as sailor on the Great Lakes and as guide to aspiring amateur fishermen who invaded Ontario, yet his real experiences were as nothing compared to those of his fertile imagination. His shack back of the Brollie Lodge was cluttered with melodramatic magazines which he read by the hour. He did as little work as possible about the lodge, yet if a task struck his fancy, glorified it until it became a task of gigantic importance.

“Your Aunt has been worrying,” Mr. Brollie told Madge. “I suppose you reached the island. What kept you so long?”

Madge explained that among other things she had jumped into the lake and wound up the tale of her adventure by mentioning the overturned canoe which had not been recovered.

“I wondered why you changed into that dress. You go on home,” Mr. Brollie directed. “Bill and I will see if we can pick it up.”

Before continuing toward the lodge, Madge pointed out the general locality where she thought the canoe might be found. When she pulled up to the boat landing a few minutes later, Mrs. Brollie, who had been anxiously watching from the veranda, rushed down to meet her.

“Oh, my dear! I’m glad you’re safe!” Aunt Floressa exclaimed in relief. “I was so worried when the storm came up so quickly. Why, you’ve changed your dress! It doesn’t really suit you, darling. What happened and where is Anna? Didn’t you plan to bring her?”

Madge repeated the story of her adventure, explaining that Anna did not wish to leave the island. After a slight hesitation, she related all that she had learned concerning the strange formula of Mr. Daneley’s. Mrs. Brollie was astonished to hear that his fortunes had dwindled, but to Madge’s disappointment she did not appear greatly impressed with the story of the formula.

“It sounds like one of Bill’s yarns to me,” she laughed. “Whoever heard of a chemical preparation to keep things from rusting? If you find the formula, Madge, I want you to fix me up a solution for the proverbial kitchen pump! And for that rake your uncle left out in the rain!”

“It does sound fantastic, I admit, but somehow, I think there’s something to the story. I do know that scientists have been trying for years to find a coating that will prevent rust with real effectiveness. Why, it would mean a fortune to the person who discovered the secret.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Mrs. Brollie returned mildly. “I had no intention of trying to discourage you. I hope you’ll feel inspired by other people’s fortunes. By all means help Anna look for the missing bottle or whatever it is, but don’t build your hopes too high. It’s very likely the formula never existed save in old Mr. Daneley’s mind. I’ve heard it said that he was a queer man. Margaret-Madge, I hope you have learned to stay clear of such men.”

“If I’m to meet one I’ll wear this dress, Aunt.”

 

 

 

Madge dropped the subject but that was not the last of it. When Mr. Brollie and Old Bill returned a half hour later with Anna’s canoe writhing in tow, Mrs. Brollie repeated the story for their benefit and at the supper table Madge was subjected to a great deal of good-natured teasing.

“Just wait!” she retorted with a smile. “Anna and I may show you a thing or two about formulas! If we find it, the laugh will be on you!”

“Oh, I think the laugh will be on Mr. Rust,” chuckled Uncle George.

She fully intended to return to Stewart Island the following day, but when she awoke the next morning it was to find that a drizzling rain had set in, coming along on the shirt-tails of the great storm. Everyone stayed close-in except Old Bill, who was forced to drive to town for supplies and mail; it was the long way around. The roads were muddy and he did not get back until after dark.

“Any letters?” Madge asked eagerly as Aunt Floressa looked up.

“Not for you,” he told her crossly, pitching a heavy sack of flour from his shoulder to the kitchen floor with such violence that it sent up a white cloud of dust.

“Oh, now, Bill. There’s some pie in the oven,” Madge said sweetly. “I know you must be hungry and tired.” Her eye had fastened upon a slim, white envelope protruding from his hip pocket. “You do have a letter!”

“Naw, t’ain’t fer you, I said.” Bill spoke more pleasantly for the mention of pie had softened his ill temper; ill temper sometimes goes with being a “colorful character.” He took the letter from his pocket and holding it to the light, squinted curiously at the postmark. “It’s for that gal, Anna Daneley. The postmaster told me to give it to her. Looks important too, comin’ from New York.”

“Bill Ramey!” Mrs. Brollie interposed. “You’re worse than a rural mail carrier when it comes to curiosity! Put that letter on the shelf where we can all spy it through at leisure. Madge can take it over to the island tomorrow.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Bill’s reply was sufficiently meek but his face showed plainly that he did not like the order. He had always carried supplies and mail in person to Stewart Island or had left it in a covered box at the main landing across the lake from the Brollie Lodge. In previous summers, the Daneleys had tipped him well for the service. And now half of them were dead!

After eating the supper Madge and her aunt prepared for him, he shuffled out, permitting the kitchen door to slam behind him.

“He’s peeved,” Madge chuckled, not without sympathy. “Poor Bill! His feelings are always being hurt.”

The next morning dawned bright. Shortly after breakfast, Madge set out for Stewart Island, towing Anna’s canoe behind the skiff. She had laundered the dress which had been loaned her and carried it neatly done up in paper. It looked a good deal better that way. She would have forgotten the letter had Mrs. Brollie not hurried down to the beach with it just as she was starting off.

The lake was smooth now, friendly and accommodating, and Madge made good time over to the island—at least she began to. But about midway she dragged oar and came to a stop. Something urged her to listen. What did she hear? There were the loons, of course; loons congregated there. The morning, the lake—there was something strange, almost sad. “It’s as if I’m starting to say goodbye,” she thought. “Lake Forlorn knows it. We’ve meant so much to each other, haven’t we? But I’m compelled to make The Choice, and after that even if I come back again I won’t really be back. Oh, Lake, I don’t want to change, I can’t bear to leave you behind.” Lake Forlorn sat flat and watched her in silence.

Anna had sighted her from afar and was at the water’s edge to meet her.

“Oh, you found my canoe!” she cried. “What luck! But you shouldn’t have bother with that dress. It was only an old one.”

“You could use it as another distress flag. Here’s something more for you,” Madge declared, producing the letter. “Bill brought it from town last night.”

“Oh, thanks. Mind if I read it now?”

“Of course not. You want to know what’s in it as much as anyone.” It was an open question; it had been difficult to make out through its envelope.

Madge busied herself with the skiff while her friend eagerly ripped open the long white envelope. Scarcely had her eyes swept the page when she uttered an exclamation of surprise. “Madge, do you remember that young man who worked here on the island about a year ago? I mean Father’s laboratory assistant.”

“That queer fellow with the stoop shoulders?”

“I don’t suppose he thinks of himself in quite those terms, but—I think he got that way from spending so much time bending over test tubes,” Anna smiled. “Maybe I’m unfair, but I never liked him very well and was glad when Father discharged him. He drooled, you know.”

“I never saw him except at a distance, though it was easy enough to see those shoulders,” Madge said, “and I’ve even forgotten his name. What about him anyway?”

“His name is Clyde Wendell,” Anna supplied. “Isn’t that a creepy name? This letter is from him. He says he’s coming here to see me on important business. Now what can that mean?”

“Doesn’t he give a hint as to what the business is about?”

“Not the slightest. Here, read the letter for yourself.”

Madge accepted the typewritten sheet and after scanning as briefly as politeness permitted and innocence required, returned it without comment.

“Clyde Wendell knew more about Father’s work than any other person,” Anna declared eagerly. “Perhaps he can tell me what became of the formula.”

“But wasn’t it hidden after he left?”

“I’m not sure. Father worked on it when Clyde was here. Then they disagreed. Father thought Clyde wasn’t honest and finally discharged him.”

“Why do you think Clyde would know where it is, then?”

“He was always interested in the formula, Madge. I’m not saying that’s why he drooled—usually people can’t help it—but he surely brought the subject up often enough. The formula, not the drooling. And he knew Father’s habits even better than I did. He could always recall what became of Dad’s misplaced things.”

“Strange he’d be coming back just at this time,” Madge mused. “Especially since he was canned.”

“Yes, Clyde was bitter toward Father at the time although he was paid several month’s extra wages and given a set of fine tableware and a cheese log. He seemed friendly toward me, though, and he’s likely forgotten all the unpleasantness by this time.”

“I’m not sure people so easily forget being fired. He probably broods on it while drooling on the tableware.” Madge did not wish to discourage her friend yet she found it difficult to believe Clyde Wendell would go far out of his way to be of service. “Better not pin too much hope on him,” she cautioned. “If we get busy we may be able to find that formula ourselves.”

“I’ve given the house a general overhauling, but we can search again. Shall we do it today?”

“Let’s!” Madge agreed eagerly. “If only you had a hint as to what became of the thing! I suppose you’ve exhausted every possibility.”

“I’m afraid so,” Anna admitted. She hesitated and then added: “But there’s one clue I’ve neglected and it may be important.”

“What’s that?”

Anna smiled mysteriously, and linking arms with Madge, drew her toward the house.

 

 


CHAPTER IV

A Fruitless Search

 

 “I’m afraid it really isn’t much of a clue,” Anna confessed, escorting her friend into the living room. “Just before Father died he tried, after all, to tell me where he had hidden the formula but it was hard for him to speak. The nurse handed him paper and pencil and he managed to write a few words. He wasn’t able to finish the message. In moments he was gone. The paper was under his hand. I don’t know what became of the pencil.”

Anna moved over to the desk and took a scrap of paper from a pigeon hole. She handed it to Madge, watching her face closely as she scrutinized the cramped writing.

“Why, this doesn’t make sense!” Madge protested. “It just says, ‘written in secret—’ Is this all of it?”

Anna nodded and said with some sarcasm, “I’m sure he would have serialized it in a magazine if he had lived longer. He stopped only three words in. Oh, I’ve puzzled over it until my head whirls. I’ve finally figured out that he was trying to tell me the formula had been written in some secret code.”

“Why would he have done that? To protect it?”

“Yes, Father was obsessed with the idea that someone wanted to steal the formula, particularly after his trouble with Clyde. At the very last—” Anna’s voice broke. “—he wasn’t quite himself. In bed he kept calling for someone. ‘Kim’ he would say, ‘Kim’ and looked at me so strangely.”

“He knew some one by that name? It could be either a man or a woman.”

“Not to my knowledge. He probably was delirious.”

It occurred to Madge that the entire idea of the formula might have been a delusion, as her Aunt Floressa had hinted. Tactfully, she broached the subject.

“Oh, no,” Anna protested. “At one time the formula actually existed and it was an excellent piece of research—I know that. He showed me the results, before and after; that’s why those companies were after it. I’m confident it is here in the house somewhere. Probably in the most out of the way place. Since Father took pains to write it out in code, I’m sure he secreted it where one would never think of searching.”

“Then our work is cut out for us,” Madge laughed. “If we ever do find the formula we’ll still have the code to unravel.”

“And it will be a real one too! Father made a hobby of codes. Years ago, during the world war, he did work along that line for the government.”

Madge’s interest in the missing formula had somewhat cheered Anna and the girls began their search of the house with high hope. They spent the better part of an hour browsing about Mr. Daneley’s laboratory on the second floor, hunting through old ledgers and desk drawers. Satisfied that the lost paper was not to be found there they made a similar inspection of the old chemist’s bedroom, examining discarded letters and even searching behind pictures which hung on the walls.

“We might try the library,” Anna suggested at length. “I’ve looked there of course, but I’ve never gone carefully through the books on the shelves.”

They returned to the first floor and undaunted by the vast array of volumes lining the walls, attacked the stacks, working on opposite sides of the room. They went about the task methodically, removing each book from the shelf and shaking it carefully to see that nothing had been hidden between the pages.

Madge experienced a genuine thrill when an envelope, yellow with age, dropped from a volume of Keats’ poems. The girls seized upon it only to be bitterly disappointed when it turned out to be of no value; it had been used as a bookmark.

“How provoking!” Anna cried impatiently. “I guess you’ve wasted your morning, Madge.”

“Oh, I don’t consider it wasted,” the other corrected without glancing up from the volume she was examining. “Keats was a great poet. Say, this book looks interesting.”

“What is it? Kipling? That particular volume was Father’s favorite. It’s a real good story too. Take it home if you like.”

“I don’t think I should since it was your father’s—”

“Please do. I know you’ll take good care of it.”

“All right, but I’ll bring it back in a few days.”

“Keep it as long as you like.”

Presently, Madge said that she must return to the lodge and Anna accompanied her to the boat landing. Both were discouraged but tried not to disclose it to the other.

“Well, if we never find the formula, there’s one thing I can always do—sell this house. Jake Curtis has been after me to sell it to him ever since Father died.”

“Jake Curtis!” Madge exclaimed sharply. “Don’t you ever do it. He wouldn’t give you half what it’s worth. That boorish has the reputation of being the shrewdest real estate shark in these parts. Aunt and Uncle have dealt with him.”

“I know. He wants to turn the house into a summer hotel.”

“And ruin Lake Forlorn. Imagine this place swarming with the sort of folks Jake Curtis would attract. The fishing would be ruined in two seasons!”

“He practically wants me to give him the place,” Anna informed. “You see, he holds a first mortgage on it—not a very large one but sufficient to embarrass me. If the bank will loan me enough money to pay it off, I’ll tell him to jump in the lake!—Lake Geneva, in Switzerland! I’d rather sell to anyone but him.”

“When does the mortgage come due?”

“Next month.”

Madge had heard her uncle remark that the local bankers were very reluctant to make loans at the present time and Anna’s prospects appeared especially slim.

“Well, I wish you luck,” she said turning to leave. “Things may straighten themselves out before the mortgage falls due.”

The next few days found Madge too busy to paddle over to the island, for three guests arrived from the city to try their fishing luck. They asked endless questions, demanded constant service and had enormous appetites evidently much stimulated by the country air. In spite of the extra housework, Madge had time to consider Anna’s problem but she could think of no way out. Often too, her eyes turned toward Lookout 48; but while she frequently saw Jack Franck glide by in his canoe he never stopped at the lodge. Once she saw him carry a large box of groceries to Stewart Island.

“He has other things to do besides come to see me,” she told herself. “Why should I care?” Yet she knew she did care a great deal. It was an annoying fact. “I mustn’t allow myself to be slanted in assessing The Choice! It must be made entirely without prejudice.”

One afternoon toward the end of the week, Madge was snatching a few minutes rest on the veranda when the telephone rang. Mrs. Brollie answered, and soon stepped outside to speak to her niece.

“I’m sorry to disturb you, Madge, but a stranger just telephoned from the White farmhouse, near the train stop. Jack Franck is bringing him out from town. He wants us to put him up for a few days.”

“Friend of Jack’s?”

“No, he merely brought him out as an accommodation. I don’t know the stranger’s name. He wants someone to meet him across the lake.”

“Just my luck Uncle George is gone. Isn’t Bill around?”

“He is always missing when there’s work to be done,” Mrs. Brollie smiled. “I think his intuition warns him. I’m sorry to call on you.”

“Oh, I don’t really mind, providing there’s not more than one suitcase to ferry across,” Madge assured her quickly. “And if our guest is a gentleman he may offer to row back.”

She took her time crossing the lake for there was no sign of a car at the landing. Beaching the skiff she sat down on an old log. After a short wait she heard an automobile pounding down the private road which joined Lake Forlorn with the main highway. Madge arose expectantly.

A battered car swung into view and halted with a jerk. Jack Franck stepped lightly to the ground. He was a tall, handsome man, built like an All-American half-back, strong and straight, his every movement graceful. His young face was richly tanned and his brown eyes were always a-twinkle, as though the world amused their owner. One knew at a glance that he would be restless under a man-made roof. He loved the canopy of the blue sky, and a wood or a stream or some rare tree gave him a keener enjoyment than any artificial diversion could have done.

He grinned cheerfully at Madge, greeting her flippantly.

“Hello, child. Here’s your new boarder—guess you’ve seen him before. I packed him out from Luxlow along with the grub.”

Jack’s gaze lingered half-quizzically as he spoke, but Madge looked beyond him to the man who was slowly climbing from the car. It was Clyde Wendell. The ranger had never liked him; he had said as much.

“I don’t believe we ever really met,” Madge stammered, slightly embarrassed at the unexpected meeting. “Of course, I’ve seen you from a distance.”

 

 

The chemist turned, surveying her rather sharply. His eyes were penetrating and hostile. He wiped his lips and said, “You’re Miss Lindstrom, I suppose? I telephoned from the Whites’ for a room at Mrs. Brollie’s lodge. If you’re here to take me across the lake, let’s get started. I’ve had a hard trip and I’m tired.”

In spite of his desire for haste, the chemist made no move to lift his suitcases from the rear of the car. He waited impatiently for the ranger to stow them in the skiff. Jack was provokingly slow.

“Aiming to do a little fishing?” he asked casually.

“I may.”

“Then I’ll give you a permit. This is a timber berth, you know, and we have to be careful about fires.”

“Do I look like I’d set one?”

“I didn’t mean that,” Jack returned amiably. “I don’t have in my mind exactly what fire-setters look like. In your case the permit is only a matter of form.”

“Then why issue it? I lived here several months.”

Jack did not respond but wrote out the necessary form and gave it to him. Clyde took it without a word of thanks and climbed into the skiff. Madge looked surprised and then went to the vacant seat beside the oars. She had expected that the chemist would at least offer to row across the lake.

“See here, Madge,” Jack protested quickly. “You can’t tote those heavy suitcases. I’ll bring them over later tonight.”

She would have accepted gratefully had not the chemist broke in irritably:

“The bags must go with us. I’ll need them before evening.”

“Really, I don’t mind,” Madge assured Jack. “Shove us off, will you, please?”

He complied, bestowing a look upon Clyde’s back which was far from complimentary. At first the skiff moved steadily through the water but before Madge had covered half the distance her arms began to tire. Clyde Wendell did not seem to notice. He stared moodily across the lake. Frequently, his dark, piercing eyes roved in the direction of Stewart Island.

The strangely tense expression of his face was not lost upon Madge. What thoughts could be running through his mind, she wondered? Why had he returned to Lake Forlorn?

“It’s for no good purpose,” she decided. “My guess is that he intends to make trouble for Anna Daneley!”

 

 


CHAPTER V

Clyde Wendell’s Mission

 

Madge was washing breakfast dishes—her arms aching—the next morning when Clyde Wendell entered the kitchen. He appeared in a better mood than upon his arrival and greeted her pleasantly.

“Good morning. I’d like to go for a little row on the lake. Can you let me have a boat?”

“I’ll see what we have,” she returned, wiping soap suds from her hands.

She walked down to the landing with him although she knew without looking that all of the boats save one were gone. The skiff had been rented out earlier that morning to another guest and Bill had taken one of the boats across the lake to gather stone for a new fireplace Mr. Brollie was building. That left only a heavy, cumbersome craft which leaked rather badly.

“Perhaps you would prefer to wait until the skiff comes in,” she suggested doubtfully. “We seldom rent out this boat. It’s rather heavy and—”

“You keep it in reserve for yourself, eh?” the chemist interrupted with a knowing laugh. “Well, it looks like a good boat to me and I’ll take it.”

Madge started to protest then changed her mind. Without a word, she went to the woodshed and brought back a pair of oars which she fitted into the locks. Carelessly, she dropped a tin bucket into the bottom of the boat.

“What’s that for?” Clyde demanded suspiciously.

“Oh, just in case of a leak.”

The chemist should have been forewarned but the bottom of the boat was dry and he had implicit faith in his own judgment. Stepping into the craft he rowed away. Madge smiled as she watched him strike out across the lake. She returned to her dishes, but a few minutes later, hanging dish towels on the back porch, she observed that the boat had taken a direct course for Stewart Island.

“I wonder what he’s up to?” she mused. “I don’t believe he wanted me to know he was going over there to see Anna. I’d like to follow him over but of course that wouldn’t do.”

Though somewhat ashamed of her curiosity, as she often was, Madge kept close watch of Stewart Island all morning. Toward noon the chemist’s boat was sighted returning slowly across the lake. She was amused to see that he frequently dropped his oars to bail water.

Presently, the boat eased to a landing.

“Say, what do you mean by giving me an old leaky tub?” the chemist called out angrily as he caught sight of Madge on the veranda. “I darn near drowned!”

“I guess the boat does leak a trifle,” she admitted readily. “I tried to tell you but you were so determined not to wait for the skiff.”

“You didn’t hurt yourself trying to tell me! Look at my clothes—wet to the skin. If I hadn’t bailed like all get-out I’d have gone to the bottom.”

“The boat never entirely fills,” Madge corrected sweetly.

Clyde stalked angrily into the house to change his wet shoes and garments. Madge tied up the boat, sweetly chuckling at his discomfiture.

“Something must have gone wrong for him over at Stewart Island,” she thought shrewdly. “I’ll find out when I see Anna again.”

The opportunity was to present itself that very afternoon. Soon after luncheon, Clyde Wendell went for a walk in the forest and a short time later, Madge sighted Anna’s familiar red canoe on the lake. As the girl came toward the lodge, she raced down to the water’s edge to meet her.

Anna looked cautiously about before she beached her canoe.

“Clyde Wendell isn’t anywhere near, is he?” she asked in a low tone. “If he is, I can’t stay.”

“He left a half hour ago. What’s wrong, Anna? You look worried.”

“I am. Oh, Madge, everything has gone wrong. You were right about Clyde. He didn’t come here to help at all. He’s the meanest man in the world!”

“What has he done now?”

“He claims I owe him five hundred dollars. Or rather, that Father did. He insists that several months back wages were due him at the time he left here. It’s too ridiculous for words! Actually, Father paid him extra money to be rid of him. And then there’s the dinnerware!”

“And the cheese log. Haven’t you a cancelled check or a receipt to prove it?”

“Not a thing. Father wouldn’t bother about a receipt. Clyde knows that he was more than paid for his services. I’m afraid he thinks I’m inexperienced about business matters and that he can bluff me into giving him the money.”

“I’d never do it. That is, I don’t think you ought to.”

Anna laughed shortly.

“No danger of that. I couldn’t find five hundred dollars if my life depended upon it. The only way I can raise money is to borrow from the bank or sell my island. And in this country islands are as common as pine trees and about as cheap!”

“Not such islands as yours,” Madge corrected. “Uncle George says you have an ideal location and the place should bring a tidy sum if sold to the right party.”

“Well, Jake Curtis isn’t the right party. I’m sure of that. He knows it will be hard for me to pay the debt I owe him and I think he means to take advantage of me if he can. I’m to see the president of the First National bank today and ask him for a loan. Jack said he would take me to town in his car. Won’t you come with us?”

Madge replied that she should not leave but Anna coaxed her until she gave in. In truth, the coaxing was hardly difficult. They crossed the lake and found Jack waiting with his car. He seemed well pleased that Madge was to go along. Madge was irritated by her own pleasure at the fact.

At Luxlow he dropped the girls at the bank, promising to call for them in an hour. They entered the building and Anna was admitted to the private office of the president. Madge waited outside.

Fifteen minutes elapsed before Anna emerged. The expression of her face disclosed instantly that the interview had not been successful.

“It’s... no use,” she reported when they were outside again. “He listened politely enough to my story but he wasn’t really interested. When I finished he said he was sorry he could do nothing for me. It seems the bank must have sound collateral and I’ve nothing to pledge. These are pretty hard times. And it’s the truth that I’m awfully young.”

Madge tried to cheer her companion, and since over a half hour remained before Jack would return, suggested that they go to a nearby drug store for ice cream. They walked slowly down the street, gazing at the window displays.

Suddenly Anna clutched her friend’s arm, gripping it with a hard pressure. With a quick jerk of her head she indicated a man on the opposite side of the street.

“There’s Jake Curtis!” she said tensely. “I hope he doesn’t see me!”

No sooner had the words been spoken than the man turned toward the girls; people one wishes not to meet have psychic powers. He was a short, stout individual with ill-fitting, somewhat soiled clothing and a hard, shrewd face. Before Anna and Madge could dodge into a store he crossed the street and confronted them.

“Trying to avoid me, eh?”

“Why should I wish to avoid you, Mr. Curtis?” Anna countered.

“Well, there’s a little matter of a note between us, y’know.” He smiled unpleasantly. “Aiming to pay it off by the first, are you?”

“Why,—I—that is, I expect to,” Anna stammered.

“Better think over that proposition I made you. You’ll not find any other person in these parts who will take the house off your hands. I must warn you though, I’ll expect payment of one kind or another on the day my note falls due.”

“I’ll bear it in mind,” Anna returned coldly.

The girls turned their backs and walked hurriedly on. Anna was so agitated by the meeting that she did not care to stop at the drug store so they returned to the bank there to await Jack.

“Jake Curtis surely deserves his reputation!” Madge declared in disgust. “Oh, Anna, don’t ever sell him your island!”

“I don’t know what else I can do.”

“Perhaps Uncle George can find a buyer for you. I’ll speak to him tonight about it. And then too, we may locate the formula. That would solve everything.”

Jack soon returned and the three started for Lake Forlorn. Anna who was reticent by nature, made no mention of her discouraging bank interview, and although Madge would have liked to acquaint the ranger with the situation, she felt it was not her place to bring up the subject.

The sun was low over the lake when the car finally reached the end of the road. The girls thanked Jack for the ride and took leave of him. They crossed over to the lodge in Anna’s canoe.

“I mustn’t stop, Madge. It’s getting late.”

“Do come in for just a minute,” her friend pleaded. “I baked a chocolate cake this morning and I want you to have half of it.”

“Oh, that’s sweet, but I could never take half a cake.”

“Please don’t worry, Anna. I can easily make half a cake any time I want.”

Anna permitted herself to be led toward the house. Madge quickly wrapped up the cake but scarcely had she finished than they heard a shout from the beach. The next instant Old Bill came hurrying toward the house.

“Come quick, folks! An airplane’s a-landin’ on the lake! You’ll miss it if you don’t hurry!”

Madge laughed indulgently.

“Don’t pay any attention, Anna. That’s an old trick of his. He thinks every day is April Fool’s. Airplane! Think up something better, Bill.”

“Honest, I’m not foolin’ this time,” Bill maintained with a seriousness which left no room for doubt. “Hear it?”

By this time the girls had caught the unmistakable drone of an airplane motor. They rushed from the house, following Bill to the beach, and were in time to see an amphibian spiral down and land smoothly on the water.

 

 

“Didn’t I tell you!” Bill chortled proudly. “It was three years last month that a mail plane landed on Lake Forlorn. Engine must be out of whack.”

Madge did not respond though she saw clearly that the plane was not of the regular mail service. Nor was it one of the “Fire Eagles” occasionally sent out by the Forest Service to scout for fires. As far as she could tell the plane was disabled in no way. The steady throb of its motors carried plainly over the water.

“Well, of all things!” Madge exclaimed. “What do you think of that!”

The amphibian was taxiing slowly through the water, its nose pointed directly toward the beach!

 


CHAPTER VI

Startling Developments

 

 The amphibian coasted slowly in toward the beach, throttled down its motors and finally came to a halt.

“Say, ladies, can you tell me if a Miss Daneley lives anywhere on this lake?” the pilot called out.

Anna and Madge exchanged startled glances. The former stepped forward.

“I am she.”

To her further astonishment, the pilot said a few words to his passenger, a well-dressed, elderly gentleman, who immediately climbed from the open front cockpit. He presented his card to Anna.

“I’m Gib Brownell from the Alton Chemical Company. I happened to be this way on a business trip and thought I’d drop in to discuss that matter which I wrote you about some time ago. By the way, we didn’t hear from you.”

Anna looked embarrassed and said hesitantly:

“I hadn’t had time to write. You see, the formula—” she trailed off as Madge gave her a warning look. It would never do to tell Mr. Brownell that the paper was missing—not unless she wanted to throw away her chance of ever selling it to him if it were found.

“If the formula is all your Father claimed it to be, we may be willing to enter into an agreement with you,” Mr Brownell declared. “Now if you’ll just let me see the formula—”

“I’m afraid I can’t now,” Anna returned. “You see I don’t live here. My home is at Stewart Island.”

Mr Brownell brushed away her objections with a careless wave of his hand.

“Oh, I don’t mind going there. In fact, if you’re not afraid to ride in a plane, my pilot can take us both to the island. It’s just a short hop for it.”

“Well,—you see—that is, the formula was put away for safe keeping,” Anna stammered.

“You mean you haven’t it at hand? How soon can you get it?”

“I’m not sure. Perhaps I could write you later—”

“No, miss, I’ve traveled a good many miles to see it. Fact is, our company is anxious to get just such a formula as your father described to us. If you can get it in a day or so I’m of a mind to stay over. I can send my plane back to the city and make return by train.”

Anna was at a loss to know what to say. She looked doubtfully at Madge who was unable to help her.

“I can’t make any promise about the formula,” she said after a slight hesitation.

“You’re not dealing with another company, I hope,” Mr. Brownell said quickly.

“Oh, no. Father wrote to several firms, I believe, but I’ve not entered into any correspondence.”

Mr. Brownell did not seem entirely convinced. He debated a minute, studying the lake meditatively.

“Any fish here?” he questioned abruptly.

“It’s the best fishing lake in this part of the country,” Madge informed quickly. “Only this morning my uncle caught a seven pound bass. And it put up a magnificent fight.”

“I’d enjoy meeting a bass like that.”

“I’d be pleased to introduce you.”

“If I can find accommodations I’ll stay a day or so.”

Not sure whether to be encouraging or not, Madge suggested that her aunt might take him in, and arrangements were soon made. As the amphibian taxied away without its passenger, Clyde Wendell came down the trail. Anna did not wish to speak to him and hurriedly took her departure.

“What shall I do about the formula?” she whispered to Madge as they said goodbye at the water’s edge. “Shall I tell him it’s lost?”

“Not for a day or so,” Madge advised. “If we can get him interested in the fishing it will give us a little time to search. We may find the thing yet.”

Mr. Brownell had followed Mrs. Brollie into the lodge but Clyde Wendell lingered near the beach. As Madge turned toward the house he stopped her.

“Who is that fellow?”

“His name is Mr. Brownell.”

“What was he saying to Anna Daneley just a minute ago?”

“Really, I think you should ask her,” Madge returned coldly.

She had no intention of telling him Mr. Brownell’s real mission. Before he could ask another question, she walked away. However, the chemist was not so easily discouraged and that night at the supper table, he skillfully drew from Mr. Brownell the purpose of his visit to Lake Forlorn.

“If you’re looking for a formula to prevent metals rusting, you may be interested in an idea of mine,” Clyde suggested. “I’ve been working on it for years. If you have the time, I’d like to go into the matter in complete detail.”

Mr. Brownell expressed a keen interest and the two retired to the veranda, there to talk more privately. They were still engrossed in deep conversation when Madge finished the supper dishes.

“If that isn’t just what you’d expect of Clyde Wendell!” she thought in disgust. “He wouldn’t care if he took the bread out of Anna’s mouth. I do hope his idea is a flop.” Or could it be that his idea—wasn’t his idea?

After a time the two men went to their rooms. Madge was closing the doors for the night when she heard the faint put-put of a motor boat, far out on the lake.

“I wonder who can be out so late?” she thought. “It might be one of the rangers only it doesn’t sound like their boat.” Every boat had its own voice.

She shut the door and thought no more of it. It was her intention to paddle over to Stewart Island early the next morning to aid Anna in the search for the formula. Upon arising and training her binoculars toward the island, she was startled to observe a white flag flying from a high pole on the beach!

Madge did not wait for breakfast, fearing that something had gone wrong during the night and that her friend might be in trouble. She beached her canoe at Stewart Island, and came running to Anna, who stood on the beach with her flag pole.

 

 

“Anything wrong?” Madge called out anxiously.

“I’ll show you,” Anna called back disconsolately. “I don’t know what to think any more, Madge.”

She led her companion to the house and they entered the dining room. Anna went directly to a huge walnut buffet and jerked open the drawers. They were all empty.

“That’s what happened last night. All the silverware taken!”

“My word!” Madge scarcely could believe her eyes. “Why, I never heard of such a thing before at Lake Forlorn. Was the silverware very valuable?”

“I couldn’t afford to lose it. Still, it wasn’t such a costly grade of silver. I can’t see why a thief would go to so much risk to steal it unless he thought he would find other valuables.”

“What else was taken?”

“Nothing so far as I can tell. The library was ransacked but everything seems to be there.”

“The library! How very odd!”

“Yes, I can’t imagine what the thief thought he might find.”

Madge started to say something, then closed her lips firmly. She had a theory of her own but decided not to mention it yet. She followed Anna to the library. Books had been pulled from their shelves and tumbled out upon the floor. Papers were scattered about and the desk appeared to have been opened.

“I haven’t checked over all the books yet,” Anna said, “though to my knowledge Father had only a few of any real value. They’re all here.”

“What time of night do you imagine the house was entered?”

“Oh, Madge, I have no idea. I must have slept so well that I didn’t hear a sound. Strange that I didn’t, for I’m sure the thief came upstairs. The laboratory appears to have been entered. It’s spooky.”

Madge expressed a desire to see Mr. Daneley’s workroom and was conducted upstairs. The laboratory was in disarray. Boxes had been removed from the shelves, containers misplaced and files disturbed.

“It looks as if the thief were after something besides silverware,” Madge commented. “I suppose . . . was your father’s bedroom entered too?”

“No, apparently not. My room adjoins and I am sure I would have awakened if anyone had tried to open the door. Perhaps the intruder knew where I slept and avoided that part of the house.”

Madge moved thoughtfully about the laboratory examining articles which had been displaced. In spite of the disorder, the thief had left behind no clue to his identity, not even a polite calling card.

“Anna, you haven’t mentioned the formula to anyone save Mr. Brownell, have you?” she asked suddenly.

“Why, no. That is, except to Clyde Wendell. When he was here I asked him if he had any idea what could have become of it and he said he knew nothing about it. You don’t think the person who came here last night was after the formula?”

“Perhaps not. It merely occurred to me.” Madge lapsed into thoughtful silence, as detectives are supposed to do. “I can’t think of anyone save Mr. Brownell who would want to lay hands on that missing paper,” she added, after a moment, “and I’m sure he never left the house last night. But just as I was going to bed, I do recall hearing a motor boat out on the lake and it sounded as though it might be heading toward Stewart Island.”

“Jake Curtis has one, Madge!”

“I thought of that right away; but what reason would he have for coming here?”

“It’s beyond me. All I know is that my silverware is gone. You don’t suppose someone—Jake for instance, is trying to frighten me away from here?”

“That’s a possibility,” Madge conceded. “Jake is bent on getting this property by one means or another. Still, your theory doesn’t entirely satisfy me. I know it happens in books, usually by means of rumored curses and phony ghosts, but in real life people don’t trouble themselves to do such things.”

From the laboratory the girls went to Mr. Daneley’s bedroom. After a brief search which revealed no clues, they examined the other upstairs rooms and then returned to the first floor. The identity of the prowler remained a mystery.

“Listen, Anna, you can’t stay here alone another night,” Madge protested. “If you don’t care to come to the lodge, then I think I should remain here.”

“I wish you would!”

“No ghosts, I hope.”

“None to speak of.”

Madge did not look forward to a night at Stewart Island. She preferred her own comfortable room at the lodge to the gloomy, barn-like Daneley home. However, for the sake of her friend, she was glad to undergo a little inconvenience. After promising to return before nightfall, she took her leave.

Half way across the lake, she swung her canoe toward the lookout tower. Before she could climb the long flight of iron stairs to the platform, Jack Franck came down the trail, whistling a cheerful tune. He broke off as he saw Madge and greeted her with a broad smile.

“Hello, there, li’l girl. Why the serious expression so early in the morning?”

“I’ve had no breakfast for one thing. And for another, exciting events have taken place during the night.”

“If this apple will help stave off the pangs of hunger, you’re welcome to it,” he said, taking a polished red Winesap from his jacket pocket. “Perhaps it will give you strength to tell me all about the excitement.”

Madge accepted the apple gratefully.

“I’m afraid you’d give away the shirt off your back, Jack,” she smiled.

“I would to you,” he returned quietly. She glanced up, surprised at the tone of his voice. Before she could divine his meaning, he laughed. “What’s an apple, Madge? No sense getting sentimental about one when I’ve a case at home.”

Madge felt slightly rebuffed, and also embarrassed that she had made a remark to him about shirts and backs, and off; and that she had liked what her mind’s eye had provided as accompaniment. She immediately changed the subject to the one foremost in her mind—second-foremost. Jack listened attentively as she told him all that had befallen the previous night at Stewart Island.

“I’ll drop around there this morning and look things over,” he promised. “Tracking down a thief isn’t my line exactly, but I’ll be glad to do anything I can to help you and little Anna. She’s sweet but awfully vulnerable; she doesn’t have real country-sense. This is the first real theft that’s been reported since I came to Lake Forlorn.”

At the lodge, Madge repeated the story for her aunt’s benefit but she took care that neither Clyde Wendell nor Mr. Brownell were within hearing distance. The latter had gone fishing with Old Bill as his guide, and their boat could be seen trolling slowly along the far shore. As to the chemist, he had stationed himself in a comfortable chair on the porch. He appeared to be drowsing, yet whenever Madge glanced in his direction she noticed that he was watching the fishing boat intently.

“He seems afraid he’ll miss something,” she thought. “I wonder how long he intends to remain here?”

The man made no announcement of his future plans. He seemed content to sit and dream and think. In contrast, Mr. Brownell was a bundle of energy. He arose at dawn to fish and did not return until late in the evening. Several times Madge heard him remark that he must get over to Stewart Island to see Anna Daneley, but each day saw him fishing instead.

Madge and Anna welcomed the delay for although they had searched the house many times, the formula could not be found. Mrs. Brollie had been reluctant to have her niece spend the nights at Stewart Island, but after several had passed with nothing amiss, she had grown more accustomed to the idea.

One evening, four days after Mr. Brownell’s arrival at the lodge, Madge was particularly anxious to get supper over with so that she might start for the island. It was nearly seven o’clock before Mr. Brownell and Bill came in with their string of fish. The president was proud of four large trout he had caught and after they were weighed, requested that they be prepared for supper. It was well after eight before the dishes were cleared away.

“I’ll do them,” Mrs. Brollie offered. “You must hurry along, Madge.”

It was dark by the time she pulled up on the beach at Stewart Island. There was no moon and the stars were half-hidden by black clouds. Lake Forlorn seemed to be a pool of ink. Madge could not see the house. If a lamp had been lighted, it did not shine out through the trees.

“This is a spooky place after dark,” she thought uncomfortably. “Wish I had my flash.”

It was difficult to find the path leading to the house. Groping about, she stepped into a mud hole which let her in to her shoetops. The trees along the shore were dense and overgrown with vegetation. At length she found a trail but before she had followed it very far she discovered it was leading her deeper into the brush instead of toward the house.

She turned back, and impatient at the delay, walked hurriedly, paying slight attention to the ground underfoot. Unexpectedly, she stumbled over a vine. She tried to save herself but went down, striking her body against a hollow log which lay directly ahead.

Madge cried out but it was more from surprise than pain. In striking the log she distinctly had heard from within a strange metallic sound!

She gave the log an exploratory kick with her foot. Again she heard the sound.

“Something is hidden in there,” she thought. Stooping down, she groped about the opening at one end of the log. It was clogged with leaves and loose moss which she pulled away. She boldly plunged her arm into the opening.

“Hope I don’t get it chewed off!” she chuckled.

Her hand grasped something hard.

“What in the world?” she gasped.

Then she knew. It was Anna’s missing silverware!

 


CHAPTER VII

In a Hollow Log

 

 “I’ve found it by accident! Thank you, Lake Forlorn!” Madge exulted as she made successive thrusts into the moldy interior of the old log, tumbling out knives, forks and spoons. “Wait until Anna sees what I’ve found!”

Making certain that she had removed everything from the trove, she gathered up the silverware and hurried back to the beach. This time she made no mistake in selecting the path and a few minutes later saw the welcoming gleam of a light through the trees. She rapped vigorously on the door and after a brief wait, Anna flung it open.

“Oh, here you are! I was afraid you weren’t coming. Why, what do you have?”

“Your silver!” Madge laughed and thumped it down on the table. “See if it’s all here.”

“What! Where did you find it?” Anna was fairly dancing with excitement. “Oh, I’m so glad to get it back. Tell me, did the rangers capture the thief?”

“One question at a time,” Madge protested. “I’ll tell you everything while we check over the pieces. How many were there?”

“Twelve of everything.”

Already Madge had started to line up the forks. Anna began on the spoons and while they counted, she learned of the strange hiding place.

“I know which log you mean. I’ve gone by that log a dozen times,” she declared, “but it never occurred to me to look inside. Who could have hidden the silver there?”

“You tell me. Why was it hidden there at all? If the thief broke into the house to steal it why didn’t he take it away with him?”

“Perhaps he was afraid of being caught.”

“Maybe. Or—Anna, I believe that the person who entered this house wasn’t after the silver at all.”

“No? Then why did he take it?”

“To throw you off the track or to frighten you,” Madge returned impressively. “Don’t you see? Either someone is after the formula or else trying to make you give up this house.”

“It looks that way. I’d suspect Jake Curtis; only it appears that if he were trying to frighten me, he would have taken a more effective means. He’s a better conniver than that, I’d think! We haven’t been disturbed since you began sleeping here nights.”

“I know,” Madge agreed. “It may not be Jake at all. It could be someone who is after the formula.”

“Mr. Brownell is the only one who wants it and you say he is so interested in fishing he can’t think of anything else.”

“Well, it seems that way. Of course, there’s Clyde. Why do you suppose he has stayed around Lake Forlorn so long?”

“To collect that money he claims I owe him,” Anna returned with an angry toss of her head. “He rowed over here this very afternoon to tell me that unless I paid him in a week’s time he intended to sue! Oh, I wonder if any girl was ever in such a situation? Father dying, and everyone after me for money—what am I to do? You know I haven’t a cent to give away!”

“Dear, Uncle George might be able to loan you some,” Madge said doubtfully. “I don’t know—”

“No, you’ve all been kind to me; I’ll not borrow from him when I can’t be sure of paying it back,” Anna pronounced with decision. “More and more I think the best thing to do is to tell Mr. Brownell the truth about the formula. Then I’ll sell the house to Jake Curtis and try to clear up my debts. How I hate to; but what can I do?”

“You’re discouraged tonight,” Madge said kindly, slipping her arm about the other. “I’m not fully convinced the formula can’t be found. Your Dad didn’t want to fully deprive you of it, Anna. What say we have one grand final search tomorrow?”

Anna agreed without much hope or enthusiasm. They finished counting the silver and accounted for all pieces save one knife which Madge thought must have been left in the log. Anna put everything away in its place, and locked the doors and windows for the night. They went about it in businesslike fashion, very thoroughly, trying not to show that they felt the slightest uneasiness. Nevertheless, both experienced a certain dread of spending the night alone in the house, an insecurity which they could not express in words. The feeling had steadily grown upon them since the discovery of the theft. It rose slowly and steadily like the line on a summer thermometer.

Mounting the spiral stairs to the bedroom they shared, the girls clung tightly to each other for at least a feeling of protection. They hurriedly undressed and Anna blew out the oil lamp. She made a running dive into bed, snuggling close to Madge who gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. They were like two little children cowering in the dark! Save for the moaning of the wind, the big house was quiet. Almost too quiet! The loons proclaimed themselves across the lake—that was all. In the dark the girls could easily imagine that someone was creeping up the stairs.

Suddenly a door slammed.

 

 

“What was that?” Madge whispered.

“It must have been a screen door,” Anna returned nervously. “They—the wind—oh, you know!”

They listened intently for a minute or two but the only sound was the brushing of a tree-branch against the window—that and their pounding hearts. Gradually they relaxed and dropped off to sleep. And the next thing they knew it was morning.

“Get up, lazy thing!” Madge ordered, much heartened by the passing of another night, springing from bed and taking all the covers with her. “I feel like a swim this morning.”

They slipped into bathing suits and dashed down to the beach. Madge plunged boldly into the cold water and swam away with powerful crawl strokes. Anna timidly waded out knee depth and stood there shivering.

“Come on, don’t be afraid to get your ears wet!” Madge challenged. “You mustn’t insult my friend the lake!”

“But I can’t swim!”

“You’ve started to learn. Lake Forlorn will hold you up, Anna.” It occurred to Madge what a strange thing that was to say—where had that come from? But under her direction, Anna lost some of her timidity. Still, she found it difficult to entirely forget her recent water fright, the peril of the storm. She called up some determination, and before the swim ended she was able to float on her back and splash about with some resemblance to a stroke.

The water was too cold to encourage a long swim but it did stimulate two healthy appetites. After a brisk rub down, the girls did justice to a breakfast of fried eggs, bacon, toast and wild strawberries in thick cream.

“And now, my good woman, let’s have a look at that old log,” Madge proposed.

She led the way to the place where she had found the silverware. The ground in the vicinity of the log was fairly damp and Madge noticed footprints. She bent down to examine them. Nearly all had been made from her own small shoe, but there were a few indistinct ones, left in the soft earth by a man’s tread.

“Here’s the missing knife!” Anna cried jubilantly. “You must have dropped it on the trail.”

Next the girls carefully investigated the inside of the log but it was empty. They tried to follow the footsteps leading away from the vicinity, only to lose the trail before they had gone a quarter of the way to the beach.

“I’d give plenty to know who took my silver,” Anna remarked as they returned to the house. “And I’d give even more to know if the thief really got away with anything valuable—the formula, for instance.”

“I doubt it. It’s so well hidden he would have to have already known where it was; and if so, he would have gone to it directly, not rummaged around. My own opinion is that it will take a master mind to unearth it.”

After the breakfast dishes had been disposed of, the girls set about searching once more for the missing paper, perhaps for the last time. They looked in every out-of-the-way cranny in the house and even poked into the attic; they emptied old trunks and boxes of rubbish. At last, weary and discouraged, they gave up.

“It’s no use,” Anna said miserably. “If Dad ever wrote out that formula, it’s gone, just gone. The next time I see Mr. Brownell I’ll tell him he is only wasting his time to remain here.”

“Let’s go fishing and forget it,” Madge proposed suddenly. “If I think about formulas and silverware and drooling and whatnot much longer, I’ll go crazy. Let’s go out to Elf Lake on an all-day picnic.”

Anna fell in with the plan, for she too was tired of trying to solve problems which appeared to have no solution. They agreed to meet at Black Rock at one o’clock since Madge must return home to acquaint Mrs. Brollie with details of the trip; Anna’s house lacked a working telephone. On her way back to the lodge she stopped at the lookout to inquire of Jack if they might use his boat which was kept at Elf Lake.

“Of course,” he assured her heartily. He added less heartily, “You know you didn’t need to ask.”

Madge thought: “Honestly, the man is just impossible!” She tried to fix her mind upon the value of a good education. Then again—she had put mental work into finding a reason to see him.

Promptly at one o’clock Madge arrived at Black Rock to find Anna already waiting.

“We’ll not need to carry the canoe across the portage,” she informed Anna. “Jack said he left a boat there last week when he was doing ranger work. We’ll only have our oars to carry.”

The girls paddled until they came to a tiny cove which was distinguished by two large white birch trees, marking the portage trail. There they pulled their canoe out upon the beach and set off through the stretch of woods, carrying oars and fishing equipment. The portage was a long mile but the girls were accustomed to hiking—even Anna—and took it at a brisk pace.

Soon they came within sight of little Elf Lake which glimmered brightly in the afternoon sun. At first they could find no sign of Jack’s boat, but when they were about to despair Madge located it under a pile of brush near the water. They quickly launched it and rowed to the far side of the lake, anchoring near a stretch of lily pads.

“Now, old Mr. Bass, just sample my bait!” Madge coaxed.

Anna suddenly smiled. “Do you say that to that nice Jack Franck too?”

“Oh, don’t rub it in.”

Time and time again the girls cast into the weeds and lily pads, using all manner of appetizing worms, pork rind and artificial bait. But for some reason, their efforts went unrewarded; these may have been bass of a more refined sort. They changed locations with no better luck.

“The fish in this lake must all have post graduate degrees,” Madge complained. “At least, they’re too foxy for me.”

After several hours under the bright blazing sun Anna was thoroughly discouraged, but Madge would not give up. And then as the sun was sinking low, she was rewarded with a strike. She played her fish deftly and landed him. Anna had no time to applaud for a frisky bass had attached himself to her line at the identical moment. It seemed an omen.

After that, the fishing was good. The girls became so enthusiastic that they failed to notice how rapidly the sun was sinking. Madge was the first to observe that it was growing dark.

“Anna, we must start back this minute!” she exclaimed. “The sun has set and it will be pitch dark before we get through the portage.”

They rowed hurriedly to shore and left the boat where they had found it. Almost at a run they started down the trail. It was far darker in the forest than upon the lake, as it was thick with shadow. The path was not distinct. Though Madge had been over it any number of times, she knew it would be difficult to follow.

“Let’s run,” Anna suggested anxiously.

“Are you afraid?”

“No, but let’s.”

The oars and string of fish encumbered them and they soon were forced back to a slow walk. Before they had gone far into the forest, the real darkness closed in. Madge took the lead, and more from instinct than sight, kept to the trail. Presently, she noticed that the going was more difficult. Vines and old stumps were always in the way; there seemed no distinct opening through the trees.

“We’re lost!” she thought in panic. “A fine kettle of fish, and they aren’t even gutted yet!”

She tried to remain calm and not communicate her fear to Anna, who was blindly following her lead. She went on for a time but presently encountered such a tangle of bushes and vines that to turn back was the only course. They tried to retrace their steps. Anna was on the verge of tears.

“I trusted you knew what you were doing. We’ll be here all night,” she murmured apprehensively.

“No, we won’t,” Madge insisted stubbornly. “We’ll get out, only I think we’re wasting time trying to find the trail. If we cut straight through the woods in the direction we’re going we should strike Lake Forlorn eventually. The thing won’t go running from us like a deer.”

Anna, hopelessly confused in her directions, was ready to follow wherever her chum led. Madge tried not to disclose that she too was uncertain. They kept close together, walking as swiftly as possible. Frequently, they tripped over vines or stumps and once Anna sank nearly to her knees in a muck hole.

“I can’t go much farther,” she half sobbed.

“Yes, you can,” Madge encouraged. “Don’t force me to make my ‘heroic’ speech again, please. I think I see an opening through the trees. Yes, I do! And look! It’s the lake!”

Anna found the strength to continue and soon they emerged at the shore. They looked about and saw that they were less than two hundred yards from the portage trail.

“Well, of all the stupidity!” Madge exclaimed and laughed. “We were only a few steps from the trail most of the time.”

“I thought we were in an African jungle,” Anna sighed wearily.

They followed the shore until they came to their canoe. Madge insisted upon paddling, for Anna was even more tired than she.

“It’s fortunate Aunt Floressa doesn’t expect me back home,” she remarked as they pushed off. “Otherwise, she would have a searching party out looking for us.”

Both were relieved when they came within sight of Stewart Island. Their only desire was to tumble into bed and sleep the clock around. They were still several hundred yards from the landing when Madge stopped paddling and peered intently ahead.

“Anna,” she said in a low tone, “unless I’m dreaming, I saw a light just then. Someone is loose on your island.”

Anna turned to look. She too caught the flash of a lantern moving slowly along the shore.

“It, it must be Jack Franck or Bill Ramey,” she said with an attempt at carelessness. “I’ll call.”

Her voice carried clearly out over the water but no answering call greeted the “hallo.” The light stopped moving, as though its owner had turned to survey the lake. Then the lantern went out.

 


CHAPTER VIII

A Night Caller

 

 It was too dark for the girls to distinguish objects either on the water or along the shore, but a moment after the light went out they distinctly heard the sound of oars squeaking away in their locks. Apparently, someone was trying to get away from the island before their arrival.

“Let’s find out who it is,” Madge said in a low tone.

She snatched up the paddle again and sent the canoe skimming through the water. Presently she paused to listen.

“I can’t hear a thing now, Anna. Can you?”

“No, the boat must have pulled up along the mainland somewhere. I’m afraid we’ve lost him.”

Anna paddled slowly along the shore, peering toward the dense fringe of trees and underbrush. There was no sign of a boat.

“We’ve probably passed it by this time,” Madge said at last. “If the boat has been drawn up into the brush we could hunt all night and never find it.”

They cruised about for some minutes but finally turned back toward Stewart Island, convinced that they were only wasting time. Even after they had landed there, they hunkered down for nearly fifteen minutes on the beach, watching for the mysterious boat to reappear upon the lake.

“He means to lie low,” Anna declared wearily. “Let’s get something to eat. I’m starved.”

“I wonder if the house has been entered again?” Madge considered, as they started up the path carrying their string of fish.

“Well, I hope it isn’t turned topsy-turvy. I’m too tired to lift a hand tonight.”

They let themselves into the house and were relieved to find it in its usual order. Nothing appeared to have been disturbed.

“Perhaps it was only old Bill Ramey, after all,” Anna suggested. “He acts queerly sometimes, you know.”

“It wasn’t Bill,” Madge insisted. “I’m sure of that. It may have been that thief returning for the silver he hid in the log.”

“That doesn’t fit in with our theory about the formula,” Anna pointed out. “We decided that the silverware was only taken to throw us off the track. Why then, would the thief risk coming back for it?”

“Sure, now you’re logical. I guess he wouldn’t. Oh, I give it up. Let’s eat!”

She cleaned several of the bass, which soon were sizzling in a pan of butter. The girls ate heartily. They were too tired to wash the dishes, so stacked them neatly in the sink. When they dropped into bed a few minutes later, they were too weary to even consider that with a stranger prowling about, their situation might not be too secure. Scarcely had their heads touched the pillow than they were asleep.

The girls were awake early the next morning. Insisting that she could not remain for breakfast, Madge started across the dawn-pinkish lake for home. Rounding the point of the mainland not far from the lodge, her attention was attracted to an empty boat which was drifting close to shore.

“Why, that looks like one of ours,” she thought.

Drawing nearer, she saw that it was her uncle’s skiff. The waves were pounding it mercilessly upon the rocks.

“I’m afraid it’s already damaged,” she told herself as she fastened the rope to her own boat. “It must not have been securely tied to the dock. I wonder who used it last?”

She decided that it must have been either Clyde Wendell or Mr. Brownell, for her aunt seldom went out on the water and Mr. Brollie was always careful. Old Bill had been warned repeatedly to see that the boats were firmly tied, but he was careless, his mind on many other things to be careless about.

Mr. Brollie was working along the shore when Madge came in with the boat in tow. He met the girl at the dock, asking where she had found it.

“I noticed the boat was missing this morning,” he added. “I told Bill to go out and look for it, but he’s been killing time at something or other.”

Mr. Brollie pulled the boat out upon the sand and turned it bottom side up. Madge watched him as he examined the covering for stone cuts.

“Who used it last?” she asked curiously.

“I’d like to know myself,” her uncle returned grimly. “I didn’t rent it to any of the guests. Either someone sneaked it out after dark last night, or Bill used it. Dog-gone! If I thought he was responsible, I’d fire him. This boat is practically ruined.”

“You’ve discharged poor old Bill three times already,” Madge reminded him impishly. “When he tells you his hard luck story, you always take him back.”

 

 

At this very moment the veteran workman slouched leisurely into view and Mr. Brollie promptly hailed him. Old Bill approached warily, knowing from the tone of the voice, that something unpleasant was in store. Confronted with the evidence, he staunchly denied having used the boat the previous night.

“You think I’d go out on the lake after toting stone all day? Not me! I tell ye, a man’s dog-tired arfter workin’ hard from mornin’ till night. An’ if I had a taken out the boat, you’d heve found it tied up ship-shape. No, sir, arfter I had me supper last night, I went straight to bed.”

He would have continued with a more elaborate denial but Mr. Brollie cut him short. Bill went off looking affronted; the rest of the denial speech would have been a good one.

To question the guests was a delicate matter, but Mr. Brollie was bent upon getting at the bottom of the occurrence. He politely brought up the subject at the dinner table, and both the chemist and Mr. Brownell insisted that they had not used the boat.

“Someone is telling a whopper,” Madge thought. “It wouldn’t surprise me if the person who took that boat used it to visit Stewart Island.”

Although the question had been put to him in a casual way, Clyde adopted the attitude that he was under an insulting suspicion. He sulked about the house the early part of the afternoon, scarcely addressing a pleasant word to anyone, just frowning and drooling. Then, evidently upon sudden impulse, he rented the canoe and set out for Stewart Island.

Mr. Brownell who had been loafing about the lodge the better part of the morning, did not see him leave, but a few minutes later, he too expressed a desire to go out upon the lake. Madge explained that with the skiff damaged, the canoe in use, and Bill hauling stone in the boat, it would be impossible.

“But I must get over to Stewart Island,” he protested. “I’ve put it off too long now.”

“Unless you care to swim I’m afraid you must wait until Bill or Clyde return,” Madge returned.

She did not wish to help Mr. Brownell reach Stewart Island, knowing that Anna was not ready for his visit, but she had been truthful in saying that there was no way for him to make the trip. “Anna will have trouble enough with Clyde,” she thought. “I imagine he’s bothering her about money again.”

Mr. Brownell wandered restlessly up and down the beach, watching the lake for a glimpse of the canoe or Old Bill. After a time he sat down on the veranda to read and Madge who had finished her work, brought out the books Anna had loaned her. Until now she had not had an opportunity to look them over. Propping herself in the porch swing, she settled down for an hour of pleasant reading.

She picked up the first volume and her face underwent a distinct change as she read the title of the Kipling book.

‘Kim,’ ” she repeated to herself. “Strange I never thought of the connection before this! I’m sure Anna said ‘Kim’ was the last word her father spoke before his death.”

She continued to stare at the little volume in her hand. The word seemed to burn deeply into her mind. It must have significance. She recalled Anna had told her the Kipling book was her father’s favorite. Could there be a connection between the hidden formula and the book?

“Anna probably never dreamed of such a thing or she wouldn’t have loaned the volume to me,” Madge reasoned. “It may be only another wild idea of mine and yet it’s barely possible I’ve stumbled upon a clue.”

She held the book up and shook it but nothing fell to the ground. Slightly disappointed, she began a systematic search, turning the pages one by one. She failed to find a paper of any description and there was not the slightest trace of writing on the margins or fly leaves. “Maybe he meant to say Great Expectations!”

Madge decided that she had made a mistake and tossed the book impatiently aside. Her interest in reading had vanished. She gazed meditatively out across the lake. Then her face brightened and she snatched up the Kipling book again.

Why hadn’t she thought of it before? When Mr. Daneley had attempted to tell Anna where the formula was hidden he had broken off with the words: “Written in secret—” and kept repeating “Kim.” Perhaps he had tried to say: “Written in secret ink.” Wasn’t it possible that he had endeavored to convey the idea that the important message was written on one of the fly leaves or the page margins of “Kim”?

Overcome with enthusiasm for what she considered a most brilliant deduction, Madge broke forth in a little war whoop. She stopped short as she heard someone laugh. She had entirely forgotten Mr. Brownell.

 

 

“Well, well,” he remarked dryly, “that book must be interesting to affect you like that!”

Before Madge could prevent it, he moved over to the swing and curiously picked up the book she had been reading. Her face was the hue of a ripe tomato.

“If it’s that much fun, why I guess I’ll just take this along with me,” he said teasingly.

“Oh, no!” Madge exclaimed and then added hastily: “You see, it’s a borrowed book. I—I’m not through with it myself.”

Mr. Brownell laughed but he continued to study the book.

“When you’re through with it, I’d like to have it,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to read Kim.”

With that he dropped the book into Madge’s lap and vanished into the lodge. Scarcely had the door closed behind him than she snatched up the little volume and bore it triumphantly to her bedroom.

“Sorry, Mr. Brownell,” she chuckled, “but you’ll never get this book. Tonight I mean to take it with me to the island. And here’s hoping that when the pages are heated, the secret will be revealed!”

 

 


CHAPTER IX

A Significant Title

 

 Madge was impatient to tell Anna her new theory regarding the missing formula but it was not easy to get away early that evening. Bill did not return with his load of stone until nearly dark, and Clyde Wendell, who had a habit of being late for meals, though unnervingly early at finishing them, failed to appear until supper was nearly finished. Then he lingered over his coffee long after the others had gone outside. When he finally joined them on the veranda, Madge snatched the dishes from the table and had them in and out of the pan in a twinkling.

It was growing dark as she flew to her room for the things she meant to take with her to the island. She wrapped up a small bundle and tucked Kim under her arm.

Mr. Brownell and the chemist were arguing about something but they broke off as she crossed the veranda.

“That book must have a fascination,” the former remarked jokingly. “Do you sleep with it under your pillow, Miss Lindstrom?”

“What book?” Clyde asked.

She pretended not to hear but Mr. Brownell supplied the title.

“Kim,” the chemist repeated. “Did I understand you correctly?”

Madge did not care to be drawn into the conversation nor did she wish to answer questions about the book. Without waiting for Mr. Brownell’s reply, she hastily made her way down to the lake.

Anna was waiting for her when she reached the island and immediately plunged into an account of Clyde’s afternoon visit.

“He made a dreadful scene, Madge. He said he’d give me just two days and if I don’t turn over five hundred dollars by that time, he’ll bring court action. I’m so worried I don’t know what to do.”

“Honestly, you must learn to stay calm! Do nothing,” Madge advised. “He knows he can’t get anywhere if it comes to a legal fight. He’s only trying to bluff you, Anna. Sometimes, I think it wasn’t the money that brought him here at all.”

“So do I. All the time he was talking with me this afternoon, he kept looking around and sort of studying things.”

“Did he seem particularly interested in the library?”

“Why, he asked me if I had considered selling my books as a means of raising money. I told him I didn’t think they would bring much.”

“He didn’t ask you about that Kipling book you loaned me, did he?”

Anna shook her head. “Why?”

Madge lost no time in explaining her theory of the connection between the title and the words Mr. Daneley had spoken at the time of his death. She half expected Anna to laugh at the idea, but instead, she became excited.

“Madge, you’re nothing less than a genius! Why didn’t I think of that myself?”

“It’s only a hunch. I may be wrong.”

“Everything fits in beautifully. Kim was Father’s favorite book. And another thing, he was always interested in codes, secret inks and the like. During the war he worked for the government, deciphering messages which were thought to have been composed by spies. He was especially interested in secret inks.”

“Then we may be on the right track,” Madge declared enthusiastically. “The only way we can tell is to try to bring out the secret writing, if there is any.”

“That’s easy to do. Let’s go to the laboratory right now and see what we can do.”

With high spirits they raced up the stairs to Mr. Daneley’s workroom. Anna brought out an alcohol lamp which she lighted.

“I don’t know the first thing about heating the pages,” Madge confessed. “Aren’t you afraid we’ll burn them?”

Anna shook her head. She had aided her father with any number of minor experiments and knew how to handle laboratory apparatus. However, she was so excited and hopeful that her hand trembled as she held the first fly leaf above the flame, a diffuser screen between them. She moved the fly leaf slowly back and forth.

“Nothing seems to be coming up,” Madge observed in disappointment.

“We’re only starting.”

Anna worked patiently, heating the blank pages and the front and back of the book. When the final sheet did not reveal the secret, her confidence fell. Madge suggested that they try the margins and they took turns warming the printed pages. At length Anna passed the last sheet over the lamp. They watched with bated breath. Nothing came up.

“Oh, Madge, I’m so disappointed I could cry,” Anna wailed, sinking down into a chair. “I was so sure we were right.”

“So was I.”

“This book was absolutely our last hope. If Mr. Brownell comes here tomorrow I must tell him the truth. I’ve kept him waiting so long he’ll be justified in feeling I’ve tricked him. Oh, dear! Why did I get into such a position?”

“It wasn’t your fault.” Madge relapsed into thoughtful silence. At length she said: “I think Clyde is trying to sell Mr. Brownell a formula of his own. It’s probably an offshoot elaboration of your father’s.”

“I suppose he’ll succeed where I have failed. His formula may not be half as good as Father’s, yet if Mr. Brownell learns there is no hope of getting it he may deal with Clyde.”

Madge acknowledged the truth of this. She had hoped matters might work out to Anna’s advantage but luck had never been with her. To admit defeat seemed the only course.

It was nearly midnight and the girls were tired as well as discouraged. They put aside the apparatus and went to their bedroom, leaving the book lying on the laboratory table. Few words were spoken as they prepared for bed. Anna blew out the light and soon was asleep.

Madge rolled and tossed and remained wide awake. Try as she would, she could not take her mind from the perplexing problem of the formula. She had no real hope of working out a solution yet she kept turning the matter over and over in her mind. Then like a flash, the answer came!

“Anna! Anna!” she cried jubilantly, shaking her chum rudely by the shoulder. “I’ve thought of it at last!”

 

 


CHAPTER X

An Unsatisfactory Test

 

 Anna rolled over in bed and groaned.

“What did you say?” she murmured drowsily.

“Wake up, sleepy head,” Madge said, shaking her again. “I’ve had another inspiration about the formula.”

At the word “formula” which was magic to her ears, Anna sat upright, ready to listen.

“We’ve been hopeless duds trying to bring out the secret writing by heating the pages of the book!” Madge declared.

“And you awakened me to tell me that? Of all the—”

“I’m not through. Remember, you said your Father knew a great deal about secret inks and the like.”

“He was a government specialist,” Anna corrected; “He probably knew as much about secret inks as any man in Washington.”

Madge nodded eagerly.

“Exactly. And here we’ve been working on the theory that he would use the most simple means of hidden writing. Why, you can write with milk and bring it out by heating the paper. Any school child knows that.”

“Father always had an aversion to the obvious thing too,” Anna declared, catching her friend’s trend of thought. “He probably used the very latest method of secret writing.”

“That’s the conclusion I reached,” Madge announced eagerly. “I’m willing to wager that the formula is written in Kim if only we can find the right method of bringing it out!”

“I’m sure I don’t know the way,” Anna returned. “You can’t find that sort of information in books either—that is, not the latest processes.”

“You don’t know anyone who might help us?”

“Clyde Wendell, if he would.”

“Let’s count him out. He wouldn’t help a blind man.”

“Then I fear—oh, wait! I just thought of a man who worked with Father in the Washington bureau. He knows everything about codes and ciphers and secret inks.”

“Can you reach him?”

“Why, I could write to Washington. I believe he’s still with the government.”

“That would take ages,” Madge protested. “We must have quick action or Mr. Brownell will leave. Why not telegraph? That’s quick—the message gets delivered by hand, and you don’t have to try to find out the phone number.”

“I can do it,” Anna agreed instantly. “Why, where are you going?” she demanded as Madge slid out of bed.

“I’m going back to the laboratory after Kim. It would be just our luck to have it stolen during the night. No use taking chances.”

Anna would not permit her to go alone so together they stole down the dark hallway. The floor creaked beneath their feet and the light from the lamp made weird shadows dance on the plaster walls.

To their relief they found the book where they had left it. For the remainder of the night they slept with it under Anna’s pillow.

At the first sign of dawn they arose and dressed. They planned to go to Luxlow as soon after breakfast as they could find means of transportation, and the question arose as to what should be done with the book.

“I don’t like to leave it here while we’re gone,” Anna said. “The house has been entered once and we saw a prowler around at night. Why don’t you take it back to the lodge?”

“I’d prefer not to have the responsibility.”

“Do keep it, Madge. I’ll not have a comfortable moment if we leave it here.”

Unwillingly, Madge allowed herself to be persuaded. Shortly after eight o’clock, they locked the house and crossed the lake to the Brollie Lodge. Neither Mr. Brownell nor Clyde Wendell were abroad for they were late risers. The girls went to Madge’s room for her coat and hat and while there decided that for the time being Kim would be safe in the lower bureau drawer. They covered the book with a layer of clothing.

“No one ever comes in here save Aunt Floressa and she wouldn’t think of disturbing anything,” Madge said.

How to get to Luxlow was the next problem, for Mr. Brollie had taken the car away early that morning. However, learning that one of the rangers was driving in, they received permission to ride with him. Madge rather wished that Jack might have been the one to take them; but he was busy surveying a new road which the government intended to put through the forest.

En route to town the girls busied themselves with the telegram they intended to dispatch to the man in Washington. Anna had found his address on an old envelope in her father’s files. It was not easy to explain what they wanted to know in a few words without sounding utterly ridiculous. After several trials, the message finally suited them. Arriving at Luxlow, they sent it off and purchased supplies which Mrs. Brollie had requested. The last item on the list she had given Madge, read: “magazines for Bill.”

“He always wants the cheapest kind,” she told Anna. “I have a notion to take him a few high-brow ones for a change.”

“He’ll never forgive you if you do.”

They sought a street stand which displayed magazines of all type. With considerable embarrassment they selected a half dozen of the melodramatic sort and Madge actually blushed as she paid the salesgirl.

“The next time, Bill buys his own trash or he goes without!” she fumed. “Did you see the pitying look that girl gave us? She thought we wanted them for ourselves.”

“As if respectable young ladies would touch such things! They’re deplorable! Last month’s story in Racy Adventure was awful. And that ending—too predictable.”

They walked slowly down the street, Madge carrying the magazines so that the jackets would not be noticed by the passersby. They were within sight of the ranger’s parked automobile when Anna heard her name called. She turned and saw Jake Curtis.

“Ohhh no.” It was too late to retreat. They could only wait and face the music.

“I went out to Stewart Island last week to see you, Miss Daneley,” the man began in an unpleasant tone. “You were gone.”

“I must have been at the Brollie Lodge,” Anna replied uneasily. “Or perhaps it was the day we went fishing. If I had known you were coming—”

“You’d have been away just the same!” the man finished harshly. “Well, I warn you it will do you no good to try to avoid me. I mean business. The mortgage must be paid by the first.”

“This isn’t the first,” Anna reminded him. “I have several days yet.”

“Not to sell the house, you haven’t. I’ll give you just twenty-four hours to decide what you want to do. I’ll wipe off the mortgage and give you five hundred dollars for the house and island. But the offer only holds until tomorrow noon.”

“It’s robbery!” Anna protested.

“Call it what you will. Take it or leave it,” he retorted, and turning, walked away.

 


CHAPTER XI

The Secret Hiding Place

 

 “My! My! Is Jake Curtis important!” Madge mocked. “Take it or leave it! I wish you had told him to jump in the lake!”

“I fear I’m at his mercy,” Anna returned in a disheartened tone. “What can I do in twenty-four hours? I can’t borrow enough money to pay off the mortgage. And if I sold the house and island at public auction it probably wouldn’t bring enough to get me out of debt.”

“Jake would see to that,” Madge said feelingly. “He has underhanded ways of managing things. But don’t take it so hard, Anna. We’ll find some way to best him.”

“The formula was my only chance of raising money and we couldn’t possibly unearth it in twenty-four hours.”

“That man in Washington may wire right back.”

“And again, he may never answer,” Anna added gloomily. “Oh, well, it does no good to moan. Let’s go back to the car.”

The girls reached the Brollie Lodge in time for a late luncheon. Learning that Mr. Brownell had gone fishing again and that Clyde Wendell had not been seen since breakfast, Madge persuaded Anna to remain for a few hours.

They had lunch and then sat on the veranda. As usual the conversation turned to the missing formula and to the book which they hoped would disclose the secret. Madge brought it from the house and they looked at it again. While they were pouring over the pages, Mrs. Brollie came outside to suggest that Madge take the newly purchased magazines to Bill’s cabin.

“He’s laid up with rheumatism again today,” she explained, “and I know he’ll appreciate something to read.”

“Rheumatism, like fun!” Madge laughed as she arose to do her aunt’s bidding. “I notice his attacks always come on the days when Uncle George has planned a hard day’s work. You’re both too easy on him.”

She accepted the magazines, and with Anna, who still had the book in her hand, walked a short distance through the woods to Bill’s cabin. From afar they glimpsed the old workman smoking his pipe on the porch but he quickly vanished inside as he saw them coming. When they knocked, a muffled voice bade them enter.

They entered the room to see Bill stretched on his bunk, his face twisted with pain.

“Thet you, Miss Madge?” he mumbled, making an exaggerated effort to lift himself to a sitting position. “If Mr. Brollie sent you to find out how I be, you kin tell him I ain’t no better. My back’s nigh to killin’ me. I didn’t git a wink o’ sleep last night and this mornin’ seems like me poor old body—”

“Never mind,” Madge interrupted. “Uncle George didn’t send me. I brought these magazines for you.”

Bill’s face brightened. He swung his feet to the floor with alacrity, then remembering his ailment, groaned and told Madge to leave the magazines on the table.

“I won’t be doin’ much readin’ fer several days yet,” he mumbled. “I’ll jes’ lie here quiet like and try to git me strength back.”

“I’d suggest looking over the covers.”

The girls soon left, but mischievously hid themselves behind a tree only a short ways from the cabin. Before long, Old Bill’s tousled head was thrust cautiously out the door. Seeing that the coast was clear he took up his seat in the sun and soon was lost in the depth of a bloodcurdling detective story. The girls stole quietly away.

“It’s always that way,” Madge declared. “For every honest day of labor he does, Bill rests six! It’s like the Bible in reverse. But I guess at that we couldn’t get along without him.”

Taking a different trail through the woods, the girls presently came to a newly constructed two-room log cabin.

“Uncle George plans to rent it out later in the summer,” Madge explained. “It’s all finished now.”

“Is it nice inside?”

“Lovely. I’ll open it up and show you.”

Madge dashed off through the woods, returned in a few minutes with the key, which after a few unsuccessful turns, unlocked the cabin door. The rooms had been furnished with rustic furniture that Mr. Brollie had made himself. The unpainted log walls gave off a pleasant, fresh aroma. Madge pointed out the huge stone fireplace.

“Bill will be proud of this until his dying day. He can tell you the number of stones in it too.”

“How did you ever keep him at it long enough to get it done?”

“It was a problem. Uncle George supervised the work, of course. Even then, Bill made several mistakes in placing the stones. See—” she indicated a deep ledge, well-hidden up the chimney. “No one knows why he did that. The chimney may not draw right now.”

“Madge, how long before this cabin will be used?” Anna asked suddenly.

“Probably not for a month or so. Why?”

“I was thinking—this ledge is made to order!” Anna glanced at the book she still carried in her hand. “We must hide Kim somewhere. Why wouldn’t this shelf be an ideal place?”

“Perhaps it would. No one ever comes here now the cabin is finished. The key is kept in the kitchen cupboard at the Lodge, and the windows are always locked from the inside. The only danger might be that someone would start a fire to test the chimney. And if Uncle George should decide to do that, I could rescue the book.”

“Let’s hide it here then, Madge. Somehow, I don’t feel that it is very safe in your bureau drawer.”

“Neither do I, with so many guests around. But I’m not convinced this is such a safe place either. I’d feel better if you took the book back home with you.”

“No, I’d much rather you kept it. And we can’t ask for a better place than this shelf. Who would think of looking here? It’s well hidden and the book just fits the space.”

Anna thrust an exploratory hand up the chimney. As she observed, the ledge seemed to have been built for Kim.

“I suppose we may as well leave it there,” Madge said, a trifle reluctantly. “At any rate, the book will be safer than in my bureau drawer.”

They left the cabin, locking the door behind them. Madge cast an uneasy glance about the clearing. “You—you didn’t hear anything?” she asked.

“Hear anything? Why, no. What do you mean?”

Madge did not reply immediately for her sharp eyes were searching the line of trees which circled about the little cabin. Gradually, the tense lines of her face relaxed.

“Just as we came out, I thought I saw someone—right close to the cabin. For a minute, I was sure I heard a stick crackle.” Madge thought again of her eerie feeling about Lake Forlorn. As if the Lake were watching, doing something, determined that she not leave! But after all, it was just a crackle in the brush, not a sound from the lake.

“Imagination!” Anna laughed. “The responsibility of keeping the book is making you nervous.”

“I guess so. Still, this hiding place doesn’t entirely suit me. Let’s go back and get it!”

“Nonsense!” Anna protested. “The place is all right. No use treating that book as though it were a bag of gold. Come along. I must be getting on home.”

Reluctantly, Madge permitted herself to be led away.

“All right,” she gave in, “but if anything happens, don’t blame me!”

 

 


CHAPTER XII

The Awaited Message

 

 For the first time in many nights Madge slept at home, back at the Lodge. Although she would not have admitted it, Kim was responsible for her reluctance to return with Anna to Stewart Island. She did not retire until after the guests had gone to their rooms, and then tossed restlessly. Finally she dozed off, only to be awakened by an unusual sound.

She sat up in bed. The house was quiet but she was sure she had heard someone stumble over a chair in the kitchen. “Well, I can’t hold Lake Forlorn responsible for that!” Ordinarily, she would have gone back to sleep. Instead, she thought of the cabin key in the cupboard. What if it were to be stolen?

Slipping into a dressing gown, she stole quietly downstairs. On the bottom step she paused and listened. She heard someone moving about. Then distinctly, but very softly, a door closed.

Now thoroughly alarmed, Madge hurried to the kitchen. Groping about, she found a lamp and lighted it. To her relief, the key still hung on its hook in the cupboard.

“My imagination is getting the best of me!” she chuckled. “I’d have sworn someone was down here. I more than half expected the key to be gone.”

She returned to her bedroom, taking the key with her. Placing it carefully under her pillow she jumped into bed and soon was fast asleep.

In the morning her fears seemed ridiculous, so when she made her bed, she returned the key to its old place in the kitchen.

Directly after breakfast, Mr. Brollie left the lodge, saying that he must examine some timber land and would not return until nightfall. Mrs. Brollie was confined to her room with a headache and Mr. Brownell had taken one of the boats and rowed away toward Stewart Island. That left only Clyde who loitered about the kitchen while Madge fried doughnuts.

“You’re not a bad cook, Margie-Mags,” he complimented, helping himself to a crisp, brown fried cake. “This one tastes a little soggy though.”

“I’d think it would after you’ve eaten six,” Madge observed.

“Was it that many? Too much enjoyin’ them t’ count ’em.” He took another bite. “Yep, jest a bit soggy. Say, where were girls like you back when I was a ready youngster, anyway?”

“Waiting to be born.”

She was glad when he finally left the kitchen. Dipping the last doughnut in sugar, she too slipped outside and was just in time to sight Jack Franck paddling toward the beach in his canoe.

“Hello, Jack,” she greeted him, trying not to sound of sugar. “I haven’t seen you in days.”

“Well, the government didn’t plant us in the forest for tree ornaments, you know,” he replied cheerfully. “I just returned from Luxlow where they gave me a message for Anna Daneley. Since you two stick together like burrs on socks I thought I might find her here.”

“I haven’t seen her today,” Madge returned, an eager note creeping into her voice. “It isn’t a wire from Washington?”

“I can’t say, but it is a telegram. It may be important so I’ll be paddling along.”

“I’m going over to the island before long. If you like, I can take the message.”

“I know you want to find out what it’s all about,” he teased, handing over the yellow envelope. “Oh, well, I’ll be glad to be saved the trip. On your way.”

Madge lost no time in going to the island. She marched into the kitchen where Anna was working, waving the telegram triumphantly.

“It’s not an answer to our wire?” Anna demanded hopefully.

“It must be. Open it quick before my nervous system explodes!”

Anna’s hand shook so that it was difficult for her to rip open the envelope. Her face was a study as she scanned the message. Then she fairly glowed full-wattage with pleasure.

“Oh, it is from that Washington man!”

“What does he say?”

“Listen to this! He thinks the formula may have been written on the blank pages of the book with just ordinary water.”

Madge stared incredulously. “Water?” she echoed.

“Yes, I recall now that Father once mentioned the same. Strange it slipped my mind.”

“I never heard of writing with water. It doesn’t seem possible.”

“I believe the method was discovered during the late war,” Anna explained. “Anyway, a secret message can be written on certain types of paper merely by using a clean pen and water. The water disturbs the fibers of the paper—it isn’t visible to the eye, of course.”

“Then how could the writing be brought out?”

“It’s all explained here,” Anna said, offering the telegram. “You insert the paper in a glass case and shoot in a thin iodine vapor which settles into all tissues disturbed by the pen. He’s sending complete instructions by mail.”

“It sounds dreadfully complicated.”

“Not to me. I’ve helped Father with other experiments and I know how to go about this. Let’s get the book now and see if we can bring out the secret writing.”

“Shouldn’t we wait for complete instructions?”

“Oh, I can’t wait! So much depends on getting the formula within the next few hours. We’ll not ruin the book. I’m sure I know just how to go about it.”

Madge gave in and they made a quick trip to the Brollie Lodge which seemed strangely quiet and deserted. In truth, a strange quiet had settled over everything, including Lake Forlorn. Even the sunlight seemed—odd.

“Aunt Floressa must be sleeping,” Madge observed. “Ole Clyde was here when I left but he appears to have taken himself off.”

They let themselves into the kitchen. Madge went directly to the cupboard for the key to the new cabin. It was not on its usual peg.

“Don’t tell me it’s lost,” Anna said nervously.

Madge did not answer immediately. Then her face relaxed.

“No, it dropped into this cup. Gave me a scare for a minute.”

In relief, they hurried to the newly built cabin. Madge unlocked the door and they entered. Everything appeared exactly as they had last seen it.

Madge went confidently to the fireplace and ran her hand up to the hidden ledge. A startled expression passed over her face. She groped about the ledge a second time, more carefully than before.

“What’s the matter?” Anna asked, though she read the answer in her friend’s tense face.

“It’s gone!” Madge answered. “Someone has stolen our book!”


CHAPTER XIII

The Missing Book

 

 “Gone,” Anna echoed blankly. “Oh, it must be there.”

“It isn’t,” Madge insisted. “Oh, I knew something would happen to it!” Hadn’t she felt a warning? As if the lake—but it was a silly notion.

“Let me look.”

Madge stepped back to permit Anna to take her place at the chimney. Both were trying desperately to remain calm, attempting to make themselves believe the book had only been misplaced.

“You’re right, it’s not here,” Anna murmured, after feeling carefully along the ledge. “You don’t suppose either your aunt or uncle could have put it away?”

Madge shook her head doubtfully. A conviction that the book had been deliberately stolen was growing in her mind.

“We can soon find out,” she replied.

They rushed back to the house. Mrs. Brollie had finished her nap and was sewing. The girls found her in the living room and incoherently poured out their story.

“Now, don’t get excited,” she advised kindly. “The book will turn up. Mr. Brollie hasn’t been near the cabin, but one can’t be sure about Bill. He’s into everything. Why not question him?”

Frantic with anxiety, they hurried to the old workman’s cabin. He denied taking the key.

“What would I be doin’ with it anyhow?” he demanded crossly. “After buildin’ that fireplace and luggin’ all that heavy stone, I’d be right well pleased if I never saw the place agin.”

“Then who did take the key?” Madge fairly wailed. “Someone used it and put it back in the wrong place.”

Bill shrugged and would have retreated into the cabin had not Madge halted him with an abrupt question.

“Have you seen anyone prowling about the new cabin or acting suspiciously? I know you’re something of a detective.”

“Well, sure, I been readin’ up on it.”

“Perhaps you noticed Clyde Wendell or one of the guests acting strangely.”

Bill could not resist this direct appeal to his vanity. He assumed an important pose and his brows came together in a thoughtful pucker.

“I wasn’t aimin’ to mention it,” he informed regally, “’cause Mr. Brollie’s warned me more’n once not to talk about the guests—”

“This is different,” Madge urged impatiently. “Tell us everything. It’s very important and time means everything!”

Bill’s blue eyes opened wider. Here was something which smacked of mystery. He decided to make the most of it.

“Madgie, I been watchin’ that guy Wendell fer a long time,” he reported. “My suspicions was aroused when he kept trying’ to pump me.”

“What sort of questions did he ask?”

“Most ever’thing. About the fishin’ and the like. He asked about whether Miss Daneley stayed alone nights and if she’d sold any of her books and things. He’d pester me when I was tryin’ to work on the new fireplace. Come to think of it, he even asked me where the key to the cabin was kept!”

Bill had intended to tell a good story. He was surprised to find that by cudgeling his memory he had no need to call upon imagination to furnish interesting details.

“When did Clyde ask about the key?” Madge questioned.

“Didn’t know you was on a firs’ name basis.”

“Never mind that.”

“Lemme see,” Bill scratched his head thoughtfully. “Las’ night.”

It was all clear to Madge now. The book had been hidden only the previous afternoon. She had sensed then that someone was hiding in the bushes near the cabin. Undoubtedly, Clyde Wendell had witnessed everything.

“Anna, Clyde was after your book from the very first!” she cried. “Probably his own formula is worthless, and he hoped to get possession of your Father’s work and claim it as his own.”

“But if he saw us hide the book, why didn’t he take it last night?”

“I think he did try. I heard someone in the kitchen during the night. When I went down to get the key, he must have heard me coming and ducked into his bedroom which is on the first floor. Oh, if only I’d kept that key instead of returning it to the cupboard!”

“It was all my fault. I chose the hiding place.”

“Clyde won’t get away. We’ll make him give the book back!”

Old Bill had been listening attentively to the conversation which he only partially understood. Now he decided it was time to add his startling contribution.

“Guess you’ll have to ketch him first. He checked out mor’n an hour ago.”

“What! Checked out?” Madge asked sharply.

“He cleaned out bag and baggage while you was over to the island. I offered to row him across the lake but he said he’d do it himself. Guess he was afraid he’d have to give me a quarter.”

“Which way did he go, Bill?”

“He said a car was to meet him across the lake and take him on to Luxlow. I would have watched only I was snowed under with work. Mebbe a tad heavy with doughnuts.”

“We must go after him! Bill, get over to the lookout as fast as you can and ask one of the rangers to come here. Get Jack if he’s there. Tell him it’s urgent.”

Bill moved away with alacrity and the girls flew to the house to acquaint Mrs. Brollie with the startling news. As Madge had guessed, she knew nothing of the chemist’s departure. A survey of his room disclosed that he had taken all his luggage. He had gone without paying his bill.

“Why this is a proverbial outrage! If only your uncle were here!” Mrs. Brollie expressed indignantly. “And where is Mr. Brownell?”

“You saw him this morning, didn’t you, Anna?” Madge asked.

“Why, no,” the other returned in surprise. “He never came to the island unless it was after I left.”

“Men are always gone when you need them!” Mrs. Brollie exclaimed impatiently. “But don’t take me seriously on that matter, dear—men surely do have their uses in the long run. Now—to think—I say the best we can do is to telephone to Luxlow and try to have someone stop that Mr. Wendell there.”

She rushed away to the telephone, and just then the girls saw a boat rounding the point of the mainland. Mr. Brownell drew up to the wharf. His face brightened as he saw Anna, but realizing that something was amiss, he made no attempt to engage her in conversation.

A few minutes later Bill returned with Jack Franck in the latter’s canoe. The ranger had gleaned most of the facts from the old workman. He asked Madge and Anna only a few, terse questions. Mr. Brownell listened intently to the excited discussion.

“So Wendell got away with the formula?” he broke in. “I knew there was something queer about the whole deal but I couldn’t figure it out. Ranger, I’ll pay you well if you bring him back.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Jack told him quietly, “and pay doesn’t enter into it. We’re not sure which way he went.”

“Even if he did say he was going to Luxlow, I’d guess he headed for Bryson,” Madge interposed. “If he reached there by afternoon he could get a train out for New York. His Luxlow connections would be very poor.”

“He was askin’ me about the Elf Lake portage only yesterday,” Bill volunteered.

“But if he did go the other way, we’ll lose him,” Anna said anxiously, as the ranger moved toward his canoe.

“I’m striking for Elf Lake,” Jack said crisply. “Mr. Brownell, you go to Luxlow and try to head Clyde off there. Bill can drive you in.”

The plan was instantly adopted. Jack sprang into his canoe but Madge was directly behind.

“Let me go too! You can make faster time with two paddling.”

 

 

Jack hesitated briefly, then nodded. Madge slid into the bow and caught up a paddle. Anna gave the canoe a shove, wading far out into the water.

“Oh, I hope you catch him!” she shouted. “Paddle for all you’re worth!”

Jack and Madge cut directly across the lake, taking a course straight as a die. Madge realized that to overtake the chemist they must travel at double his speed. She had a muscular arm and made each stroke count. Several times the ranger warned her to take it easier. “Now that’s strange,” he said presently. “You must really be hauling the team, Madge. That’s Black Rock just ahead! How could we have gotten here so soon?”

Madge said nothing. But somewhere inside, a peculiar sort of answer arose—Lake Forlorn. Somehow the lake itself was speeding their way!

They passed Black Rock, coming at last to the first portage marked by the birches. Abandoning the canoe they started unencumbered through the forest, for Jack knew where a Forest Service canoe had been secured at Elf Lake. Twice he paused to examine the trail.

“He came this way all right.”

Emerging from among the trees at Elf Lake, they scanned the water. There was no sign of a boat or canoe. Jack frowned. Apparently the chemist had traveled fast.

A moment later, the frown changed to a distinct scowl as he searched the bushes in vain for the hidden government canoe. Almost at once he noted the long marks on the sand, disclosing where it had been dragged to the water.

“Clyde’s made off with our canoe! Now we are in it!”

Madge’s eye fastened upon an unpainted rowboat abandoned upon the sand.

“It’s a regular tub and probably leaks like a sieve,” she announced, “but it’s our only hope.”

They found the oars and quickly launched the boat. All of Madge’s dire predictions were found true. It seemed this lake regarded Madge without any special emotion. She bailed steadily to keep the boat afloat.

“We’re losing time,” Jack said gruffly. “Wendell has a fast canoe now.”

“But he’s a dub at paddling,” Madge added hopefully. “We have a chance of overtaking him at the Rice Lake portage.”

“It’s a short one and we’re a good ways behind.”

The prospect of portaging the boat was discouraging. They both knew that unless they overtook the chemist by the time he reached Rice Lake, they likely would lose him. Once he had covered the second portage, a short paddle would take him to Bryson, a city of sufficient population to offer protection.

“Look here,” Jack said as they grounded the boat at the extreme end of Elf Lake. “We’ll never overtake him if we try to tote this old tub. I know a shortcut through the forest but it’s hard going even without dunnage. What do you say?”

Madge hesitated. She realized that if they left the boat behind, they must overtake Clyde at the end of the portage or lose him entirely.

“It’s a long chance,” Jack said, reading her thoughts, “and the trail is too hard for you.”

Madge shook her head stubbornly.

“No,” she returned with firm decision. “I’ll manage to keep up. We’ll leave the boat behind and try the shortcut!”

“Are you sure... Madge?”

“I’ve made my choice!”

 

 


CHAPTER XIV

The Shortcut

 

 Jack led Madge a short distance down the shore. After surveying the locality intently to be certain of his bearings, the ranger parted the thick growth of bush which fringed the water, and they plunged into the forest. At first they followed a thinly worn path, but presently thorny vines and underbrush impeded their progress. It was unpleasantly warm; mosquitoes and insects were a torment.

Once Jack slackened his pace and looked back at his companion but Madge urged him on. She knew that everything depended upon speed. Rather than hold Jack back she would drop by the wayside.

She managed to keep up with him, never uttering a word of complaint and feeling noble about it, but when at last they came within sight of Rice Lake she felt that she could not have continued a hundred yards farther. Emerging from the forest they paused to survey the lake. There was no sign of a canoe or a boat.

“Do you think we’re too late?” Madge asked, gasping.

“Hard to tell,” Jack returned briefly.

They hurriedly made their way along the muddy shore toward the point which marked the end of the portage Clyde Wendell must have taken. Jack studied the soft ground along the shore but the only footsteps visible had been made many days before. They walked a few steps down the portage and paused to listen. Only the wild cry of a bird greeted their ears. No broken twigs or bushes disclosed that anyone had passed along the trail that day.

“Either we’re here ahead of him, or he didn’t come this way,” the ranger said in a low tone.

Madge sank down on an old log to rest. The ranger stood beside her staring meditatively down the trail. Suddenly he straightened, and Madge, hearing the same sound, looked quickly up. She stifled the exclamation upon her lips.

She could plainly hear the crackle of twigs underfoot. Someone was coming down the trail! Madge quietly arose and looked questioningly at the ranger. His expression had not changed.

Then through the trees they glimpsed Clyde Wendell. He was staggering under the burden of his canoe, and with head bent low could not see the two who awaited him in the clearing.

“Hello,” Jack said challengingly. “We’ve been waiting for you.”

With an exclamation of startled dismay, the chemist straightened and allowed the canoe to slide to the ground. He faced the two defiantly.

“Well, what do you want? I’m on my way to Bryson.”

“So I observe,” Jack commented dryly. “What are you doing with the canoe?”

“I only borrowed it. I’d have sent it back when I got to Bryson.”

“It isn’t considered wise or legal to borrow government canoes. But we’ll let that pass for the time being. So tell me something, Mr. Wendell.”

“What?”

“Do you happen to like Kipling?”

“I’ve never kippled.”

“Hand over the book!”

“What book?” Wendell countered.

“The one I see sticking out of your hip pocket.”

The chemist’s hand went involuntarily to his pocket but he faced Jack with blazing eyes.

“I’ll not hand over what belongs to me.”

“It’s Anna’s book!” Madge cried for she had seen the cover. “Clyde Wendell, you did steal it!”

The chemist half turned as though to make a dash back over the trail he had just come, but the ranger caught him firmly by the shoulder and wheeled him about.

“Oh, no you don’t! Hand it over or I’ll take it by force.”

Wendell looked searchingly at the ranger. “See here,” he said in a conciliatory tone. “I’ll pay for the book and the canoe too. I meant no harm. I only want to catch my train at Bryson. You see, I picked up the book by accident—”

“In a chimney?” scoffed Madge.

“You’ll catch no train today,” Jack interrupted bluntly. “You’re going back to Lake Forlorn. Incidentally, there’s a matter of a board bill to settle. Now hand over the book!”

Reluctantly, snarlingly, the chemist relinquished it. Jack passed it on to Madge who hastily examined it to see that no pages were missing.

“You knew it contained the formula,” she accused.

“That’s the wildest accusation yet!” the chemist laughed derisively. “You and that Daneley girl have built up a pretty story which you’ve kidded yourselves into believing is true. Daneley never owned a formula. It was an obsession.”

“Move along!” Jack ordered. “Walk ahead of me and don’t try any tricks.”

Madge followed close behind. She was highly elated at having regained possession of Kim and felt a great rush of admiration for Mr. Rudyard Kipling. Yet what if Anna should fail to bring out the secret writing? Clyde Wendell seemed so confident they would not succeed.

“We’ll find some way to reveal the writing!” she resolved. “At any rate, I’ll not worry until after we’ve made another laboratory test.”

 


CHAPTER XV

What The Book Revealed

 

 Midnight lights burned brightly in the Daneley laboratory. A group of tense watchers, Madge and Mr. Brownell, Jack, and Mr. and Mrs. Brollie, stood watching Anna who was busy at the work table. Clyde Wendell, guarded by a forest ranger, sat propped carelessly back in his chair, a look of amused contempt on his face.

“Well, I’m afraid it’s a failure,” Anna said in a subdued tone. She smiled bravely but her face was wan. “We’ve tested each page except the back cover.”

Jack looked accusingly at Wendell.

“You could tell us how to bring out that formula if you would!”

“Perhaps, if there were a formula,” the chemist retorted. “Now that this nonsense is over, am I free to go?”

“You are not.”

All eyes focused upon Anna as she gave the final sheet the chemical test which had been applied to the other pages. As she removed it from the iodine bath a few minutes later, Madge, who was close at her friend’s side, bent closer. Scattered lines, at first indistinct and unconnected, gradually as if by magic, lengthened and conformed into written characters.

“It’s the formula!” she cried exultingly.

Mr. Brownell moved nearer. His face, passive until now, became animated. He studied the page which Anna held up for his inspection and then said quietly: “It’s the genuine thing. Miss Daneley, I congratulate you.”

“The last page?” exclaimed Wendell bitterly. “Great Caesar! If I wanted suspense I’d move to Cleveland.”

For a few minutes Clyde Wendell was forgotten. When Madge looked at him she saw that he had lost his arrogant assurance. He arose and with a gesture of submission faced Jack.

“You win. I didn’t think Miss Daneley could bring out the writing. I suppose this means prison for me. I’m ready to leave whenever you say.”

“Why did you do it?” Madge asked. “Can’t you explain?”

For the first time, the chemist appeared slightly ashamed.

“It’s a long story,” he said slowly. “Mr. Daneley and I never clicked very well. He didn’t trust me and I resented it. He kept making little digs about my—my slight physical problem. At first I helped him with his counter-oxidation—rust prevention—experiments, then he began to work in secret. How dare he keep me in the dark! I guessed that he had made an important discovery. I watched him and learned that he had written the formula in that book.”

He indicated the dismantled Kim, smiling wryly.

“Before I had a chance to read the formula, Mr. Daneley discharged me. I found another job. Then three months ago I lost it. People can be very unfair; even droolers must eat now and then. I thought I’d develop a rust prevention formula of my own because I was hard up for money. I found I couldn’t do it. Then I read of Mr. Daneley’s death and knowing that he had never done anything with his formula in a commercial way, I decided to come here and see if I could get it. You know the rest.”

“Then you were the one who entered the house that night?” Anna demanded. “You were searching for the book.”

“Yes, I wasn’t after the silver. I took that merely to throw you off the track. I’m not a common thief. I don’t know what made me try to steal the formula. When a fellow’s down and out—broke—well, I guess things look different.”

Anna, Madge and Jack held a private conference. Presently, Anna turned again to Clyde.

“I’ve decided not to testify against you,” she said. “I’m sure Father wouldn’t want me to. I have the formula and that’s all that really matters. I believe you’re sorry for what you did.”

“I am sorry,” the chemist mumbled, avoiding her eyes. “You’re more decent than I deserve.”

Anna smiled. “And you’re less decent than I deserve.”

“As far as the canoe is concerned, the boys will be willing to drop the charge,” Jack added.

“And Aunt Madge just said she wouldn’t press the board and room bill,” Madge interposed. “You can pay it later.”

“Kindliness is flooding this room to the point of suffocation. You’re free to go,” Jack told him. “Clear out and be glad you got off so easily.”

After the chemist had left, the atmosphere became more friendly. Anna refused to talk business that night but the following day she conferred with Mr. Brownell and to the delight of her friends sold the formula for a sum which guaranteed her a modest income for life. Her first act was to pay off the mortgage on her house and island, and then, to Jake Curtis’ bitter anger, she refused to even discuss a sale with him. Mr. Brownell had taken a great liking to Lake Forlorn and upon learning that Anna intended to live with an aunt in the city, he offered her a price for her property which left her quite dazed. Madge urged her to sell, and after brief negotiations, she arranged all details of the transaction to her satisfaction.

With business matters cleared away, Anna spent a few weeks at the lodge before leaving for the east. The days were crammed with good times and it was difficult for the girls to say goodbye.

“I owe everything to you,” Anna said for perhaps the hundredth time, as they stood at the railway station awaiting the train. “In the past, I was stand-offish. I so regret it! I’ll never forget this summer and all you’ve done for me, Madge. You’ve become like a sister to me. I’ll come back and see you often too.”

The train that carried Anna to New York brought Madge a letter—an invitation to spend two weeks at Cheltham Bay, cruising aboard the luxurious Burnett yacht. As she dispatched an enthusiastic acceptance. It is to be noted that the cruise would prevent her enrollment in school for the Fall quarter. Had she made her great Choice, somehow?

For it is a strange fact that some choices make themselves.

Jack Franck did not accept the news of Madge’s intended departure very cheerfully.

“Why, I’ve scarcely had a chance to see you this summer,” he protested as they walked alone one evening. “Here you’re leaving in a week and I’d made all sorts of plans.”

“You know you’ll be too busy to even miss me,” Madge teased.

She was surprised at the look which came into Jack’s eyes.

“I’ll miss you like everything, and you know it too, imp! Since the day you came to Lake Forlorn, just an undersized, freckled kid, you’ve been the only girl for me. You’re the sweetest—” he broke off.

“Go on!” Madge urged, laughing.

Jack shook his head and smiled.

“No, until you grow a few years you must take it for granted. It’s not right for me to say it, not when you’re trying to decide your course through life.”

“Perhaps I’ve made my decision,” Madge replied. “Perhaps my friend Lake Forlorn has helped me along!”

“And just what is your decision, missy?”

“Oh, that’s not your business quite yet, Mr. Franck. Perhaps if we go and sit and listen to the lake, the waves will whisper it to you.”

He took her hand and together they went down to the lake to watch the moon rise over the spruce ridges.

Jack said—after a nice little passage of time, pleasingly occupied—“I’m afraid your friend the lake is keeping quiet. Won’t you tell me, Madge? Just what do you want to do with your life?”

“What I want to do—is more of what I did.”

“Solving mysteries, you mean? Or... what you just did?”

“Let the Lake answer.”

 

                       The End