A MIDNIGHT ALARM

When they reached camp and the _Slow Poke_, Dick and Roy were busy
about the fire, while Dr. Emery, in a pair of old gray knicker-bockers
and a blue flannel shirt, was cleaning fish on a stone at the edge of
the water.

“Look here at this one, Chub!” called the doctor, proudly, as he held
one of his trophies up by its tail.

Chub examined it with interest and had to acknowledge that it was
pretty nearly as big as his own famous fish.

“You didn’t get so very many, though, did you?” he asked.

“No,” answered the doctor, “we didn’t. I don’t believe it’s a very good
stream any longer. About fished out, I think. There’s a large summer
boarding-house up there, about a mile in, and then we came across
a good-sized camp of Gypsies. They’re fond of fishing and pretty
skilful, too. But Roy says the map shows another stream to the north
that we might try. That is, if we cared to stay here another day.”

“Oh, I think we’d better stay a day or two longer,” Chub replied. “It’s
such a dandy camping-site, doctor, don’t you think?”

The doctor decapitated a trout deftly and replied with enthusiasm that
he did. Chub smiled as he watched him and remembered when even to
have stood in such close proximity with the doctor would have filled
him with vast uneasiness. The doctor had been a good deal in the sun
to-day, and the end of his nose was scarlet, while other little patches
of the same shade were spread above his eyes and on his cheeks.

“You’ll be needing some cold cream to-night, sir,” Chub said. “You’re
burned.”

The doctor felt of his nose gingerly. “It–it’s quite tender to the
touch,” he said wonderingly. “I had no idea the sun was so hot. There,
that’s the last one. All ready, Dick. Will you bring the pan over here,
or shall I–”

“I’ll get it, sir,” said Chub.

Twenty minutes later they were seated around the table–just a
yard-square piece of white oil-cloth spread over the grass between the
river bank and the tent. It wasn’t the most even table in the world,
and Dick unfortunately set the coffee-pot down on a place where it
managed to topple over when no one was watching it. That necessitated a
new brew. But they were all hungry and happy, as one generally is out
of doors under the trees and the sky, and the fiasco was only a matter
for laughter.

“See that hump, Dick?” asked Chub, gravely.

There was much to talk about. Dr. Emery and Roy and Dick had their
fishing adventures to narrate, and Harry and Chub must tell about Mrs.
Peel and the store, and Bennie, and Mrs. Benson and her awe-inspiring
husband. Dick was especially eloquent on the subject of the Gypsies
whose camp they had passed in returning from the fishing-site.

“There were dozens of them, Chub, and they had the dandiest wagons you
ever saw. Painted up like circus wagons, they were. And there were
about ten horses there. We saw the queen, too, Harry. She was sitting
in the door of her tent, the biggest one of all, it was, and braiding
sweet-grass; making baskets, I guess; there were a lot of them hanging
around camp.”

“I thought the queens never did any work,” Chub objected.

“I don’t know. I never saw but one band of Gypsies before; we don’t
have ’em out West much.”

“There was one young fellow,” said Roy, “that wasn’t any darker than I
am. Dick insists that he is a white person and was stolen when a child.”

“Well, he might have been,” said Dick. “You read about such things.”

“In books,” added Chub–“books like ‘Little Goldie’s Vow,’ you know.”

“What’s that?” asked Roy.

Chub darted a glance at Harry’s disturbed countenance and shook his
head.

“Nothing that you should know about, Roy. It’s a novel. When you’re a
few years older–”

But Roy threatened him with the contents of his tin cup, and Chub
ceased. After supper was over and the things cleaned up they went
back to the boat and climbed to the upper deck. The breeze, which had
mitigated the heat during the day, had died down, and it was cooler
here than on shore. It was dark by the time they settled down, and
Dick brought up a half-dozen Japanese lanterns and strung them along
the awning rods. When the candles were lighted they threw quite a
radiance over the scene.

“It’s just like a party,” said Harry. “Let’s play games!”

“Anything but ‘going to Jerusalem,’” said Chub, drowsily, from where he
was stretched out in his chair. “I don’t feel that I am able to walk
that far to-night.”

“We’ll play ‘fish, flesh, or fowl,’” said Harry, “and I’m ‘it.’”

“You always are ‘it,’” said Chub gallantly.

“Papa, you draw your chair over that way more,” said Harry, ignoring
Chub’s compliment. “We must sit in a circle. Come, Chub.”

“I’ll try,” Chub murmured. “It sounds a bit difficult, though, sitting
in a circle. How’s this, Harry?”

“Oh, Chub, don’t be so silly,” Harry laughed. “Put your feet down and
behave. Now I’ll begin. The first one that doesn’t answer correctly
must take my place.” The deck was soon ringing with laughter, for, of
course, some funny things happened. As when Harry, suddenly poising in
front of Chub, exclaimed:

“Fowl! One, two, three–”

“_What?_” exclaimed Chub, with a jump.

“Four, five, six–”

“Er–er–”

“Seven, eight, nine–”

“Bullfrog!”

“You’re ‘it’!” cried Harry. “A bullfrog isn’t a fowl.”

Chub strove to temporize.

“Did you say fowl? Are you sure?”

“Go ahead, Chub, she caught you,” said Roy “Be game!”

“That isn’t fair,” grumbled Chub. “Of course a bullfrog isn’t exactly
a fowl, but everybody knows that frog legs taste just exactly like
chicken, and so–”

“Get up, get up, you lazy duffer!” cried Dick.

Chub got up and fixed Dick with a malevolent scowl. Then he walked over
to him and remarked conversationally:

“Fish! One, two, three, four, seven, ten!”

“Here! You didn’t count right!” objected Dick.

“Here, now!” said Chub, contemptuously. “That’s right, try to get out
of it!”

But Dick got up and immediately caught the doctor, who gazed blankly
at him while he counted the fateful ten. Harry clapped her hands
delightedly.

“Papa’s ‘it’!” she cried. “Now we’ll have some fun!”

The doctor got up and surveyed the four laughing faces anxiously.

“Let me see, now; what is it I say?” They explained it to him, and he
made for Harry.

“I’m a fish!” he cried. “One, two, three, four, five, six, seven,
eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve thirteen, fourteen–”

He might have been counting yet had not they stopped him, for Harry had
gone off into a gale of laughter and was quite incapable of words.

“You mustn’t say ‘I’m a fish,’” she explained finally. “You just say
‘fish.’ And you must only count to ten, papa.”

“Oh! Then I’ll try again,” answered the doctor, cheerfully. He fixed
Harry with a stern look and said:

“Fish! One, two–”

“Flounder!” cried Harry.

“Three, four, five, six–”

“But I said it!” Harry cried. “You mustn’t count any more.”

“Oh, then what must I do now?”

“You must try again until you catch some one. Try Dick.”

So the doctor tried Dick with no better result, and then Roy and
finally Chub.

“You mustn’t say ‘fish’ every time,” Harry explained. “If you do, we
know what to expect. Try ‘fowl’ or ‘flesh.’” But the doctor shook his
head.

“I guess I’d better stick to fish,” he replied. “I can remember that.
Besides, I’m fond of fish.”




Finally Chub took pity on him and allowed himself to be caught, and the
doctor sank gratefully into his chair, sighing with relief and mopping
his face with his handkerchief. They tried other games after that and
kept up the fun until the clock in the wheel-house warned them that
it was past bedtime. The doctor and Harry slept on the boat, but the
boys sought the tent on shore. The moon came up while they were getting
ready for bed, and with it came a fresh breeze out of the southwest,
which, according to Chub, “just filled the bill.” At all events, it
made the tent a much more comfortable sleeping-place, and it wasn’t
very long before they were all slumbering.

If Chub was first asleep, he was likewise the first of the three to
awake. He sat bolt upright, staring through the gray door of the tent.
The sky had clouded over, and the moonlight no longer made the night
radiant. Chub wondered what had awakened him, and even as he wondered
the answer came to him in a shrill, frightened cry from the house-boat:

“_Papa! Chub! Help!_”

It was Harry’s voice, and Chub was out of the tent in an instant, with
a whoop of reassurance. The world was gray-black, and objects were only
dimly discernible. But he knew the way to the boat well enough, and
went hurrying, stumbling over the grass and through the little bushes.
As he went, a light sprang into view somewhere aboard, Snip barked
loudly, and at the same moment he collided with a figure on the bank.

“Who’s that?” called Chub. “What’s the matter?”

[Illustration: The figure disappeared noiselessly into the night]

There was no response, and the figure disappeared noiselessly into the
night. Then a white-clad figure appeared at the edge of the boat, and
the doctor’s voice said:

“Dick! Chub! Are you there?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Chub, scrambling aboard. “What’s up?”

“Harry had a fright,” replied the doctor, calmly. “I fancy she was only
dreaming, but she says she awoke and saw some one at her window on the
other side of the boat. But I heard no one until you came.”

“I did,” answered Chub, looking regretfully back. “I ran into some one
just before you called. I asked who it was, and got no answer.”

By that time Dick and Roy, who had hastily put on some clothes, though
still half asleep, had joined them, questioning excitedly.

“Let’s get something on and have a look around,” suggested Roy when the
doctor had told his story again. So they hurried back to the tent and
drew on coats and trousers, while the doctor returned to Harry again.

When they returned to the boat, Harry had joined the doctor in the
forward cabin. She had slipped on a blue kimono and was seated on the
window-seat, with her feet tucked under her, still rather pale of face,
but trying to smile.

“I don’t know what waked me up,” she said. “But suddenly I was sitting
up in bed and looking at the little window. At first I didn’t see
anything, and then a man’s head and shoulders appeared. I could see
him against the gray sky; just for a minute, for I let out an awful
screech, and the man disappeared just like that!” And Harry snapped her
small fingers. “Papa says I dreamed it, but I didn’t, really; I was
wide awake!”

The doctor shot a warning glance at the boys, and Chub, who had opened
his mouth, shut it again quickly.

“Well, dreams seem very real sometimes,” said the doctor, soothingly.
“And even if there was any one there, I guess he was just looking
around. I don’t believe he stole anything.”

“We’ll soon see,” said Chub, as he moved toward the door. “Anyhow,
don’t you worry about it now, Harry. He’s gone by this time. I
shouldn’t be surprised if he was as scared as you were when you
screamed! Whew! it brought me up in bed like a shock of electricity!”

Harry laughed nervously.

“I–I think I’ll sleep in here with you, papa,” she said. The doctor
smiled and looked at his watch.

“Well, I think we won’t have to do much more sleeping,” said the
doctor. “It’s after four o’clock. You lie down, Harry, and try to go to
sleep again. The boys and I will look around a little and see if we can
see any hoof-marks from your nightmare.”

“You won’t go far?” asked Harry, anxiously.

“No, no, I won’t leave the boat,” he answered.

“I’m awfully sorry I woke everybody up,” said Harry, apologetically. “I
suppose it was terribly silly of me, but I was so–so startled–”

“Shucks,” said Roy, “we don’t mind. It’s rather a lark.”

“Yes,” said Chub, “it’s what is known as rising with the lark.”

Harry laughed quite naturally at that, and they left her to go over the
boat and see if the early morning marauder had taken anything off with
him. They found signs of his presence as soon as they reached the after
cabin, for burnt matches were scattered about the floor, and three cans
of peaches had been moved from the galley to Dick’s bed.

“Evidently meant to take these with him and got scared off,” said Dick.

“Maybe he meant to take bed and all,” Chub suggested. “Let’s look in
the engine-room and see if he’s left the engine.”

They poked around for a while longer with their lanterns, but found
no further evidences. By that time the sky was brightening in the
east, and Roy suggested that, instead of going back to bed, they have
an early breakfast and go fishing before it got hot. Even the doctor
agreed enthusiastically to the proposition, and, still discussing
and conjecturing, they returned to the tent. They had breakfast at a
quarter to six. Harry was not on hand. She had fallen asleep again, and
they didn’t disturb her. Roy volunteered to stay behind and keep her
company, and at half-past six the others set out merrily to try the new
stream. Roy cleaned up the breakfast things, keeping Harry’s repast
warm at the back of the fire. Then adding fresh fuel, he climbed
to the upper deck of the boat and made himself comfortable with a
magazine. Harry appeared at half-past seven, looking none the worse for
her interrupted slumbers.

“Well, any more nightmares?” asked Roy, cheerfully. Harry shook her
head smilingly.

“No, but I don’t think it was a nightmare, Roy,” she answered. She
seemed, however, less certain about it than before. Perhaps she
wanted to believe in the dream theory as much as any one. Roy served
breakfast to her and stood by attentively with a dish-towel over his
arm, suggesting respectfully, “A little more of the hegg, ma’am?” or
“Another cup of coffee, ma’am?” Then, when Harry had finished, they
washed the rest of the dishes very merrily and tidied up the camp and
the boat. Harry wanted very much to walk over to the store and find
out whether Jennie had arrived, but, as it had been agreed that the
boat was not to be left unguarded, Roy couldn’t accompany her, and she
preferred not to go alone. Roy was all for returning to his chair on
deck and his magazine, but Harry wouldn’t allow it. The flower-boxes,
she declared, were greatly in need of water; and so Roy worked hard
for a time with a pail and a dipper, Harry superintending his labors.
When the last dipperful had been distributed, Roy set down the pail
with a sigh of relief and looked ingratiatingly at Harry. But the
spirit of unrest still possessed that young lady, and after a moment of
thought her brow cleared, and she cried:

“Now we’ll make some doughnuts!”

“Will we?” asked Roy, without enthusiasm.

“Yes; Chub and I got everything yesterday. It’ll be lots of fun, and
the others will be so surprised when they come home and find doughnuts
for dinner. Chub is so fond of them!”

“Yes, and that’s what makes it seem kind of mean of me to help,” said
Roy, earnestly. “He’d love to be here, you know. Suppose we wait until
he can help?”

“Oh, he won’t mind,” answered Harry lightly. “He’d much rather eat them
than make them.”

[Illustration: “A little more of the hegg, ma’am?”]

“So would I,” thought Roy. But he didn’t say so. Instead, he followed
Harry down to the galley with a sigh which this time didn’t suggest
relief. For the next two hours there were great doings. Harry, with
numerous towels pinned about her in lieu of an apron, and Roy, with his
coat off and his sleeves tucked above his elbows, measured and mixed
and beat; at least, Harry did; Roy stood by and did what he was told,
but the tasks which fell to him were menial in the extreme. In spite of
the limitations of space and utensils, the frying was a big success,
and, as Roy was allowed to help himself to the sizzling, hot doughnuts
as soon as they were sugared, he regained some degree of happiness.

“There!” exclaimed Harry, when the last batch was being powdered
with sugar from an improvised shaker which Roy had fashioned from a
baking-powder tin by punching holes in the lid. “That makes eight dozen
and three. And then you ate–how many, Roy?”

“Five,” answered Roy, promptly and unblushingly.

“Roy Porter! You won’t have any appetite for dinner!”

“Don’t worry,” Roy laughed. “As long as you’re around I guess I’ll
manage to work up an appetite. I suppose we’d better dust the river
next or trim the trees.”

“You’re just too lazy for anything,” laughed Harry. “For goodness’ sake
go and sit down.”

“Not for worlds!” he said indignantly. “I can’t bear to be idle. I
shall fish from the tender. Want to come along?”

Harry did, so they scrambled into the little boat with a few worms and
a couple of lines, and rowed a little way into the stream.

“We mustn’t go very far away,” said Harry, “in case–”

“Your nightmare came back,” teased Roy.

“Do you think it was that?” she asked anxiously.

“Don’t you?” he answered evasively.

“I don’t know. Maybe. But it didn’t seem like a dream.”

“Lots of dreams don’t. Hand me the bait-can, please.”

They fished for nearly an hour without having even a nibble, and then
rowed disgustedly back to the boat. Shortly before noon the rest of the
party returned almost empty-handed. The doctor had landed three small
trout, Chub two, and Dick none.

“The stream’s too small,” said the doctor. “To-morrow–” he
hesitated–“if we’re still here, we’ll try the first stream and go
higher up.”

“Did you see our friends the Gypsies?” asked Roy.

“All over the shop,” answered Chub. “We met two fishing and passed a
couple more about ten minutes ago. They had two gunny-sacks on their
backs, and I’ll bet they’d been stealing things. Get busy with dinner,
Dick; I’m almost dead, I’m so hungry. This early breakfast business
won’t do.”

When the meal was ready, Chub let out a howl of delight.

“Doughnuts!” he shouted. “Hooray! Where’d you get ’em?”

“Made them, of course,” replied Roy, loftily. “Harry assisted me. She’s
real handy about the kitchen. I don’t know what I’d have done without
her.”

“Huh!” said Chub. “She could have done without you, Roy. You ate more
than she made.”

“Roy did beautifully,” Harry said. “I couldn’t have got along without
him.”

Roy bowed impressively, and Chub grunted in derision. But the latter
had to acknowledge that the doughnuts couldn’t have been better even
without Roy’s interference.

Dinner over, Harry declared that they must go to the store and make
certain that Jennie had arrived.

“We’ll all go,” said Dick. “I want to see your old store.”

The doctor elected to stay at home and do some work, and they left him
on the upper deck, immersed in his books, with a fountain pen clasped
tightly between his teeth, and his pad of paper on his knee.

“I think,” laughed Roy, “that any one could come along and steal
everything out of the boat without the doctor knowing anything about
it.”

“Sure they could,” Chub agreed. “But no one will come around when they
see him there.”

When they came in sight of the store, Harry gave out a cry of distress.

“There’s nobody there!” she exclaimed. “It’s all closed up! She never
came.”

“Well,” murmured Chub, sorrowfully, “I never did have much faith in
Jennie.”

“I guess we might as well go back, then,” said Dick.

“Nothing of the sort!” returned Harry, determinedly. “We’ll get the key
and open the store. Mrs. Peel left us in charge, and it’s our duty
to do it. Why, just think of all the money we may have missed already
to-day! It’s a perfect shame, Chub.”

“I know; thousands of dollars, likely.” Chub shook his head gloomily.
“Maybe we’ll have to go into bankruptcy. You run over and get the key,
Harry.” But Harry shook her head in distress.

“Oh, I couldn’t, Chub. I never could make her hear me. You go.”

“Well,” answered Chub, “I’ll do my best, but my voice isn’t very strong
to-day.” He crossed the road toward the little cottage.

You may also like