Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point/Chapter 19

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



Helen awoke Ruth in the morning with the question that was bound to echo and re-echo through the bungalow for that, and subsequent days:

"Where is Nita?"

Ruth could truthfully answer: "I do not know."

Nor did anybody else know, or suspect, or imagine. What had happened in the night was known only to Ruth and she had determined not to say a word concerning it unless she should be pointedly examined by Miss Kate, or somebody else in authority.

Nobody else had heard or seen Nita leave the bungalow. Indeed, nobody had heard Ruth get up and go out, either. The catboat rocked at its moorings, and there was no trace of how Nita had departed.

As to why she had gone so secretly—well, that was another matter. They were all of the opinion that the runaway was a very strange girl. She had gone without thanking Miss Kate or Heavy for their entertainment. She was evidently an ungrateful girl.

These opinions were expressed by the bulk of the party at the bungalow. But Ruth and Helen and the latter's brother had their own secret about the runaway. Helen had been shown the paper Tom had found. She and Tom were convinced that Nita was really Jane Ann Hicks and that she had been frightened away by Jack Crab. Crab maybe had threatened her.

On this point Ruth could not agree. But she could not explain her reason for doubting it without telling more than she wished to tell; therefore she did not insist upon her own opinion.

In secret she read over again the article in the newspaper about the lost Jane Ann Hicks. Something she had not noticed before now came under her eye. It was at the end of the article—at the bottom of the last column on the page:

"Old Bill certainly means to find Jane Ann if he can. He has told Chief Penhampton, of Bullhide, to spare no expense. The old man says he'll give ten good steers—or five hundred dollars in hard money—for information leading to the apprehension and return of Jane Ann. And he thinks some of starting for the East himself to hunt her up if he doesn't hear soon."

"That poor old man," thought Ruth, "really loves his niece. If I was sure Nita was the girl told of here, I'd be tempted to write to Mr. Hicks myself."

But there was altogether too much to do at Lighthouse Point for the young folks to spend much time worrying about Nita. Phineas said that soft-shell crabs were to be found in abundance at the mouth of the creek at the head of the cove, and that morning the boys made nets for all hands—at least, they found the poles and fastened the hoops to them, while the girls made the bags of strong netting and after dinner the whole party trooped away (Mercy excepted) to heckle the crabs under the stones and snags where Phineas declared they would be plentiful.

The girls were a bit afraid of the creatures at first, when they were shaken out of the scoops; but they soon found that the poor things couldn't bite until the new shells hardened. The boys took off their shoes and stockings and waded in, whereupon Bob suddenly began to dance and bawl and splash the water all over himself and his companions.

"What under the sun's the matter with you, Bobbins?" roared Tom, backing away from his friend to escape a shower-bath.

"Oh! he's got a fit!" squealed Isadore.

"It's cramps!" declared Heavy, from the shore, and in great commiseration.

"For pity's sake, little boy!" cried Bob's sister, "what is the matter with you now? He's the greatest child! always getting into some mess."

Bob continued to dance; but he got into shoal water after a bit and there it was seen that he was doing a sort of Highland fling on one foot. The other had attached to it a big hard-shell crab; and no mortgage was ever clamped upon a poor man's farm any tighter than Mr. Crab was fastened upon Bob's great toe.

"Ooh! Ooh! Ooh!" repeated the big fellow, whacking away at the crab with the handle of his net.

Isadore tried to aid him, and instead of hitting the crab with his stick, barked Bob's ankle bone nicely.

"Ow! Ow! Ow!" yelled the youth in an entirely different key.

The girls were convulsed with laughter; but Tom got the big crab and the big boy apart. Bob wasn't satisfied until he had placed the hardshell between two stones and wrecked it—smashed it flat as a pancake.

"There! I know that fellow will never nip another inoffensive citizen," groaned Bob, and he sat on a stone and nursed his big toe and his bruised ankle until the others were ready to go home.

They got a nice mess of crabs; but Bob refused to eat any. "Never want to see even crabs a la Newburgh again," he grunted. "And I don't believe that even a fried soft-shell crab is dead enough so that it can't bite a fellow!"

There was a splendid smooth bit of beach beyond the dock where they bathed, and even Mercy had taken a dip that morning; but when the girls went to their bedrooms at night each girl found pinned to her nightdress a slip of paper evidently a carbon copy of a typewritten message. It read:

"THE GOBLINS' GAMBOL—You are instructed to put on your bathing suit, take a wrap, and meet for a Goblins' Gambol on the beach at ten sharp. The tide will be just right, and there is a small moon. Do not fail."

The girls giggled a good deal over this. They all declared they had not written the message, or caused it to be written. There was a typewriter downstairs, Heavy admitted; but she had never used it. Anyhow, the suggestion was too tempting to refuse.

At ten the girls, shrouded in their cloaks and water proofs, crept down stairs and out of the house. The door was locked, and they could not imagine who had originated this lark. The boys did not seem to be astir at all.

"If Aunt Kate hears of this I expect she'll say something," chuckled Heavy. "But we've been pretty good so far. Oh, it is just warm and nice. I bet the water will be fine."

They trooped down to the beach, Mercy limping along with the rest. Ruth and Helen gave her aid when she reached the sand, for her crutches hampered her there.

"Come on! the water's fine!' cried Madge, running straight into the smooth sea.

They were soon sporting in it, and having a great time, but keeping near the shore because the boys were not there, when suddenly Helen began to squeal—and then Madge. Those two likewise instantly disappeared beneath the water, their cries ending in articulate gurgles.

"Oh! Oh!" cried Heavy. "There's somebody here! Something's got me!"

She was in shallow water, and she promptly sat down. Whatever had grabbed her vented a mighty grunt, for she pinioned it for half a minute under her weight. When she could scramble up she had to rescue what she had fallen on, and it proved to be Isadore—very limp and "done up."

"It's the boys," squealed Helen, coming to the surface. "Tom swam under water and caught me."

"And this is that horrid Bob!" cried Madge. "What have you got there, Heavy?"

"I really don't know," giggled the stout girl. "What do you think it looks like?"

"My—goodness—me!" panted Busy Izzy. "I thought—it—it was Ruth! Why—why don't you look where you're sitting, Jennie Stone?"

But the laugh was on Isadore and he could not turn the tables. The boys had been out to the diving float watching the girls come in. And in a minute or two Miss Kate joined them, too. It was she who had planned the moonlight dip and for half an hour they ran races on the sand, and swam, and danced, and had all sorts of queer larks.

Miss Kate was about to call them out and 'shoo' the whole brood into the house again when they heard a horse, driven at high speed, coming over the creek bridge.

"Hullo! here comes somebody in a hurry," said Tom.

"That's right. He's driving this way, not toward the railroad station," rejoined Heavy. "It's somebody from Sokennet."

"Who can it be this time of night?" was her aunt's question as they waited before the gateway as the carriage wheeled closer.

"There's a telegraph office, you know, at Sokennet," said Heavy, thoughtfully. "And—yes!—that's Brickman's old horse. Hullo! '

"Whoa! Hullo, Miss!" exclaimed a hoarse voice. "Glad I found you up. Here's a message for you."

"For me?" cried Heavy, and dripping as she was, ran out to the carriage.

"Sign on this place, Miss. Here's a pencil. Thank you, Miss; it's paid for. That's the message," and he put a telegraph envelope into her hand.

On the outside of the envelope was written, "Stone, Lighthouse Point." Under the lamp on the porch Heavy broke the seal and drew out the message, while the whole party stood waiting. She read it once to herself, and was evidently immensely surprised. Then she read it out loud, and her friends were just as surprised as she was:

"Stone, Lighthouse Point, Sokennet.—Hold onto her. I am coming right down.

"W. Hicks."