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"It didn't seem right to take all this milk," remarked Hal, as the three boys made their way in the dark, along the ocean road.
"But we would have offended the lady had we refused," said Harry. "Besides, we may be able to get her good customers by giving out the samples," he went on. "I'm sure it is good milk, for the place was clean, and that cow we found, or that found us, was a real Jersey."
The other boys did not attempt to question Harry's right to give expert views where cows and milk were concerned; so they made their way along without further comment.
"I suppose our folks will think we are lost," ventured Hal.
"Then they will think right," admitted Bert, "for that was just what we were, lost."
Crossing the bridge, the boys could hear voices.
"That's father," declared Hal. Then they listened.
"And that's Uncle William," said Bert, as another voice reached them.
"Gracious! I'm sorry this happened the first day I came," spoke up Harry, realizing that the other boys would not have gone into the deep woods if he had not acted as leader.
"Here we are!" called Hal.
"Hello there! That you, Hal?" came a call.
"Yes; we're coming," Hal answered, and the lost boys quickened their steps, as much as the pails of milk allowed.
Presently Uncle William and Mr. Bingham came up, and were so glad to find that Hal, Harry, and Bert were safe, they scarcely required any explanation for the delay in getting home. Of course, both men had been boys themselves, and well remembered how easy it was to get lost, and be late reaching home.
The milk pails, too, bore out the boys' story, had there been any doubt about it, but beyond a word of caution about dangerous places in deep woodlands there was not a harsh word spoken.
A little farther on the road home, Dorothy, Nan, and Nellie met the wanderers, and then the woodland escapade seemed a wild tale about bears, Indians, and even witches, for each girl added, to the boys' story, so much of her own imagination that the dark night and the roaring of the ocean, finished up a very wild picture, indeed.
"Now, you are real heroes," answered Dorothy, "and you are the bravest boys I know. I wish I had been along. Just think of sitting by a campfire in a dark woods, and having no one to bring you home but a poor little cow!" and Dorothy insisted on carrying Bert's milk pail to show her respect for a real hero.
Even Dinah and Susan did not complain about serving a late dinner to the boys, and both maids said they had never before seen such perfectly splendid milk as came from the farmhouse.
"We really might take some extra milk from that farm," said Aunt Emily, "for what we get is nothing like as rich in cream as this is."
So, as Harry said, the sample brought good results, for on the following morning, when the man called for the empty pail, Susan ordered two quarts a day, besides some fresh eggs and new butter to be delivered twice a week.
"Do you know," said Uncle William to Mrs. Bobbsey next morning at breakfast, when the children had left the table, "Mr. Bingham was telling me last night that his brother is at sea, on just such a voyage as little Nellie's father went on. And a man named McLaughlin went with him, too. Now, that's Nellie's name, and I believe George Bingham is the very man he went with."
"You don't tell me!" exclaimed Mrs. Bobbsey. "And have they heard any news from Mr. Bingham's brother?"
"Nothing very definite, but a vessel sighted the schooner ten days ago. Mr. Bingham has no idea his brother is lost, as he is an experienced seaman, and the Binghams are positive it is only a matter of the schooner being disabled, and the crew having a hard time to reach port," replied Mr. Minturn.
"If Nellie's mother only knew that," said Mrs. Bobbsey.
"Tell you what I'll do," said the brother-in-law; "just give me Mrs. McLaughlin's address, and I'll go to see her to-day while I'm in town. Then I can find out whether we have the right man in mind or not."
Of course, nothing was said to Nellie about the clew to her father's whereabouts, but Mrs. Bobbsey and Aunt Emily were quite excited over it, for they were very fond of Nellie, and besides, had visited her mother and knew of the poor woman's distress.
"If it only could be true that the vessel is trying to get into port," reflected Mrs. Bobbsey. "Surely, there would be enough help along the coast to save the crew."
While this very serious matter was occupying the attention of the grown-up folks, the children were all enthusiasm over the water carnival, coming off that afternoon.
Hal and Bert were dressed like real Indians, and were to paddle in Hal's canoe, while Harry was fixed up like a student, a French explorer, and he was to row alone in Hal's father's boat, to represent Father Marquette, the discoverer of the upper Mississippi River.
It was quite simple to make Harry look like the famous discoverer, for he was tall and dark, and the robes were easily arranged with Susan's black shawl, a rough cord binding it about his waist. Uncle William's traveling cap answered perfectly for the French skullcap.
"Then I'm going to be Pocahontas," insisted Dorothy, as the boys' costumes brought her mind back to Colonial days.
"Oh, no," objected Hal, "you girls better take another period of history. We can't all be Indians."
"Well, I'll never be a Puritan, not even for fun," declared Dorothy, whose spirit of frolic was certainly quite opposite that of a Priscilla.
"Who was some famous girl or woman in American history?" asked Harry, glad to get a chance to "stick" Dorothy.
"Oh, there are lots of them," answered the girl, promptly. "Don't think that men were the only people in America who did anything worth while."
"Then be one that you particularly admire," teased Harry, knowing very well Dorothy could not, at that minute, name a single character she would care to impersonate.
"Oh, let us be real," suggested Nellie. "Everybody will be all make-believe. I saw lots of people getting ready, and I'm sure they will all look like Christmas-tree things, tinsel and paper and colored stuffs."
"What would be real?', questioned Dorothy.
"Well, the Fisherman's Daughters," Nellie said, very slowly. "We have a picture at home of two little girls waiting--for their--father."
The boys noticed Nellie's manner, and knew why she hesitated. Surely it would be real for her to be a fisherman's daughter, waiting for her father!
"Oh, good!" said Dorothy. "I've got that picture in a book, and we can copy it exactly. You and I can be in a boat alone. I can row."
"You had better have a line to my boat," suggested Harry. "It would be safer in the crowd."
It had already been decided that Flossie, Freddie, and Nan should go in the Minturn launch, that was made up to look like a Venetian gondola. Mrs. Bobbsey and Aunt Emily and Aunt Sarah were to be Italian ladies, not that they cared to be in the boat parade, but because Aunt Emily, being one of the cottagers, felt obliged to encourage the social features of the little colony.
It was quite extraordinary how quickly and how well Dorothy managed to get up her costume and Nellie's. Of course, the boys were wonderful Indians, and Harry a splendid Frenchman; Mrs. Bobbsey, Aunt Sarah, and Aunt Emily only had to add lace headpieces to their brightest dinner gowns to be like the showy Italians, while Freddie looked like a little prince in his black velvet suit, with Flossie's red sash tied from shoulder to waist, in gay court fashion. Flossie wore the pink slip that belonged under her lace dress, and on her head was a silk handkerchief pinned up at the ends, in that square quaint fashion of little ladies of Venice.
There were to be prizes, of course, for the best costumes and prettiest boats, and the judges' stand was a very showy affair, built at the bridge end of the lake.
There was plenty of excitement getting ready, but finally all hands were dressed, and the music from the lake told our friends the procession was already lining up.
Mrs. Minturn's launch was given second place, just back of the Mayor's, and Mrs. Bingham's launch, fixed up to represent an automobile, came next. Then, there were all kinds of boats, some made to represent impossible things, like big swans, eagles, and one even had a lot of colored ropes flying about it, while an automobile lamp, fixed up in a great paper head, was intended to look like a monster sea-serpent, the ropes being its fangs. By cutting out a queer face in the paper over the lighted lamp the eyes blazed, of course, while the mouth was red, and wide open, and there were horns, too, made of twisted pieces of tin, so that altogether the sea-serpent looked very fierce, indeed.
The larger boats were expected to be very fine, so that as the procession passed along the little lake the steam launches did not bring out much cheering from the crowd. But now the single boats were coming.
"Father Marquette!" cried the people, instantly recognizing the historic figure Harry represented.
So slowly his boat came along, and so solemn he looked!
Then, as he reached the judges' stand, he stood up, put his hand over his eyes, looking off in the distance, exactly like the picture of the famous French explorer.
This brought out long and loud cheering, and really Harry deserved it, for he not only looked like, but really acted, the character.
There were a few more small boats next. In one the summer girl was all lace and parasol, in another there was a rude fisherman, then; some boys were dressed to look like dandies, and they seemed to enjoy themselves more than did the people looking at them. There was also a craft fixed up to look like a small gunboat.
Hal and Bert then paddled along.
They were perfect Indians, even having their faces browned with dark powder. Susan's feather duster had been dissected to make up the boys' headgear, and two overall suits, with jumpers, had been slashed to pieces to make the Indian suits. The canoe, of course, made a great stir.
"Who are they?" everybody wanted to know. But no one could guess.
"Oh, look at this!" called the people, as an old boat with two little girls drifted along.
The Fisherman's Daughters!
Perhaps it was because there was so much gayety around that these little girls looked so real. From the side of their weather-beaten boat dragged an old fishnet. Each girl had on her head a queer half-hood, black, and from under this Nellie's brown hair fell in tangles on her bare shoulders, and Dorothy's beautiful yellow ringlets framed in her own pretty face. The children wore queer bodices, like those seen in pictures of Dutch girls, and full skirts of dark stuff finished out their costumes.
As they sat in the boat and looked out to sea, "watching for the fisherman's return," their attitude and pose were perfect.
The people did not even cheer. They seemed spellbound.
"That child is an actress," they said, noting the "real" look on Nellie's face. But Nellie was not acting. She was waiting for the lost father at sea.
When would he come back to her?
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