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Betty grasped the situation, and acted quickly, as she always did in an emergency.
"Are you sure, Grace?" she asked. She could speak without fear of the men in the racing boat overhearing her, for they had thrown out their clutch, a moment later letting it slip into reverse, and the churning propeller, and the throb of the motor, made it impossible for them to hear what was said aboard the Gem. "Are you sure, Grace?" repeated Betty.
"Well, almost. Of course I only had a glimpse of them, but I have good cause to remember them."
"Don't say anything now, then," suggested Betty. "We will wait and see what they say. Later we may be able to make sure."
"All right," Grace agreed, looking intently at the two young men. They seemed nice enough, and were smiling in a pleasant, frank manner at the outdoor girls and Aunt Kate. The two boats were now slowly drifting side by side on Rainbow Lake, the motors of both stilled.
"I beg your pardon," said the darker complexioned of the two men, "my name is Stone, and this is my friend, Mr. Kennedy. We are on the regatta committee and we'd like to get as many entries for the water pageant as we can. Is your boat entered yet?"
He gazed from one girl to another, as though to ascertain who was in command of the newly arrived craft, which seemed to have attracted considerable attention, for a number of other boats were centering about her.
"We have just arrived," spoke Betty in her capacity as captain. "We are cruising about, and we haven't heard of any regatta or pageant, except a rumor that one was to be held some time this summer."
"Well, it's only been in process of arrangement for about a week," explained Mr. Stone. "It will be the first of its kind to be held on the lake, and we want it to be a success. Nearly all of the campers and summer cottagers, who have motor boats, have agreed to enter the parade, and also in the races. We'd like to enter you in both. We have different classes, handicapped according to speed, and your craft looks as though it could go some."
"It can," Betty admitted, while Grace was intently studying the faces of the two young men. The more she looked at them, the more convinced she was that they were the ones who had been in the auto.
"We saw you arrive," said Mr. Kennedy, who, Mollie said afterward, had a pleasant voice, "and we hurried over to get you down on the list the first thing."
"Don't disappoint us-- say you'll enter!" urged Mr. Stone. "You don't know us, of course, but I have taken the liberty of introducing myself, If you are acquainted with any of the cottagers on the lake shore, or on Triangle Island, you can ask them about us."
"Oh, we are very glad you invited us," replied Betty, quickly. She did not want the young men to think that she resented anything. Besides, if what Grace thought about them was so, they would want a chance to inquire about the young men more closely, perhaps, than the young men themselves would care to be looked after. For Betty recalled what Grace had said-- that her father had a faint idea that perhaps the motorists might have acted as they did purposely, to get possession of the papers.
"Then you'll enter?" asked Mr. Kennedy.
"We can't be sure," spoke Betty, who seemed to be doing all the talking. "Our plans are uncertain, we have no very definite ones, though. We intended merely to cruise about, and perhaps camp on one of the islands for a few days. But if we find we can, we will at least take part in the water pageant-- that is, in the parade with the other boats."
"And we'd like you to be in the races," suggested Mr. Kennedy. "Your boat has very fine lines. What horse power have you?"
"It is rated twenty," answered Betty, promptly, proud that she had the knowledge at her tongue's end, "but it develops nearer twenty-five."
"Then you'd go in Class B." said Mr. Stone. "I will enter you, tentatively at least, for that race, and if you find you can't compete, no harm will be done. There are some very handsome prizes."
"Oh, do enter, Bet!" exclaimed Mollie in a whisper, for she was fond of sports of all kinds. "It will he such jolly fun!"
Betty looked at her aunt. Racing had not entered into their plans when they talked them over with the folks at home.
"I think you might; they seem very nice, and we can easily find out if other girls are to race," said Aunt Kate, in a low voice.
"You may enter my boat, then," said Betty, graciously.
"Thank you!" exclaimed Mr. Stone. "The Gem goes in, and her captain's name-- ?"
"Of-- ?" again he paused suggestively, pencil poised.
"Oh, yes, I have been there. I am sure you will not regret having decided to enter the regatta. Now if you would like to tie up for the night there are several good public docks near here. That one over there," and he pointed, "is used by very few other boats, and perhaps you would like it. Plenty of room, you know."
"Thank you," said Betty. "We shall go over there."
"I will send you a formal entry blank to-morrow," said Mr. Stone, as his companion started the motor, and a moment later they were rushing off in a smother of foam thrown up by the powerful racing craft.
"Well, what do you think of that?" gasped Mollie, when they had gone. "No sooner do we arrive than we are plunged into the midst of-- er-- the midst of-- what is it I want to say?" She laughed and looked about for assistance.
"Better give it up," said Amy. "But what Grace said surprises me-- about those two young men."
"Well, of course I can't be sure of it," said Grace, as all eyes were turned in her direction, "but the more I look at those two the more I really think they are the ones. I wonder if there isn't some way I could make sure?"
"Yes," said practical Betty, "there is. That is why I decided to enter the Gem in the regatta. It will give us a chance to do a little quiet investigating."
"But how?" inquired Grace, puzzled.
"Well, if we make some inquiries, and find out that they are all right to talk to-- and they may be in spite of the mean way they acted toward you-- why, then, we can question them, and gradually lead the talk around to autos, and racing, and storms, and all that. They'll probably let out something about having been caught in a storm once, and seeing a horse run away. Then we will be sure they are the same ones, and-- well, I don't know what would be the best thing to do then, Grace."
"Grace had better notify her father or brother if she finds out these are the men," suggested Aunt Kate. "They would be the best ones to act after that."
"Surely," agreed Grace. "That's what I'll do. And now let's go over to the dock, and see about supper. I'm as hungry as a starved kitten."
"And with all the candy she's eaten since lunch!" exclaimed Mollie.
"I didn't eat much at all!" came promptly from Grace. "Did I, Amy?"
"I wasn't watching. Anyhow, I am hungry, too."
"I fancy we all are," spoke Betty. "Well, we will soon be there," and she started the motor, and swung the prow of the Gem over toward the dock.
There were one or two small open motor boats tied there, but they were not manned. The girls made sure of their cable fastenings, and soon the appetizing odor of cooking came from the small galley. The girls donned long aprons over their sailor costumes, and ate out on the open deck, for it was rather close in the cabin.
"It is as sultry as though there were going to be a storm," remarked Betty, looking up at the sky, which was taking on the tints of evening. "I am glad we're not going to be out on the lake to-night."
"Aren't we ever going to do any night cruising?" asked Mollie, who was a bit venturesome at times.
"Oh, of course. Why, the main water pageant takes place at night, one of those young men said, and we'll be in that. Only I'm just as glad we're tied up to-night," spoke Betty.
Near where they had docked was a little colony of summer cottages, and not far off was an amusement resort, including a moving picture show.
"Let's go, girls!" proposed Grace after supper, "We don't want to sit around all evening doing nothing. The boat will be safe; won't it, Betty?"
"Don't say 'it'-- my boat is a lady-- speak of her as such," laughed the Little Captain. "Yes, I think she will be safe. But I will see if there is a dock watchman, and if there is I'll engage him."
There proved to be one, who, for a small fee, would see that no unauthorized persons entered the Gem. Then the girls, attiring themselves in their "shore togs," as Betty expressed it, went to see the moving pictures.
"What will we do to-morrow?" asked Grace, as they came out, having had two hours of enjoyment.
"I was thinking of a little picnic ashore," answered Betty. "There are some lovely places on the banks of the lake, to say nothing of the several small islands. We can cruise about a bit, and then go ashore with our lunch. Or, if any of you have any other plan, don't hesitate to mention it. I want you girls to have a good time."
"As if we weren't having it, Little Captain!" cried Mollie with an impulsive embrace. "The picnic by all means, and please let's take plenty of crackers and olives."
"Talk about me eating candy," mocked Grace, "you are as bad on olives."
"Well, they're not so bad for one as candy."
"I don't know about that."
"Oh, don't argue!" begged quiet little Amy. "Let's talk about the picnic."
It was arranged that they should have an informal one, and the next morning, after an uneventful night-- save that Grace awakened them all by declaring someone was coming aboard, when it proved to be only a frightened dog-- the next morning they started off again, leaving word with the dock watchman, who did boat repairing, that they would be back late that afternoon.
They had made some inquiries, and decided to go ashore on Eel Island, so named from its long, narrow shape. There was a small dock there, which made it easy for the Gem to land her passengers, since she drew a little too much water to get right up to shore.
The girls cruised about Rainbow Lake, being saluted many times by other craft, the occupants of which seemed to admire Betty's fine boat. In turn she answered with the regulation three blasts of the air whistle. At several private docks, the property of wealthy cottagers, could be seen signs of preparation for the coming water carnival. The boat houses were being decorated, and in some cases elaborate schemes of ornamentation were under way for the boats themselves.
"It looks as though it would be nice," remarked Mollie.
"Yes, I think we shall enjoy it," agreed Betty.
They stopped at one cottage, occupied by a Mrs. Ralston, whom Betty knew slightly. Mrs. Ralston wanted the girls and Aunt Kate to stay to lunch, but they told of their picnic plans. They wanted to inquire about Mr. Stone and Mr. Kennedy, and they were all glad to learn that the two young men were held in the highest esteem, and were given a great deal of credit for their hard work in connection with the lake pageant.
"And to think they could be so unfeeling as to make Prince run away and cause all that trouble," observed Mollie, as they were again aboard the boat.
"Perhaps it was not they, or there may be some explanation of their conduct," suggested Betty. "We must not judge too hastily."
"That's Betty Nelson-- all over," said Amy.
Eel Island proved to be an ideal picnic place, and there were one or two other parties on it when the girls arrived. They made the Gem secure, and struck off into the woods with their lunch baskets, Betty having removed a certain patented spark plug, without which the motor could not be started. It was not likely that anyone would be able to duplicate it and make off with the craft in their absence, so they felt it safe to leave the boat unguarded.
"Pass the olives, Grace my dear," requested Mollie, when they were seated on a grassy knoll under a big oak tree. "I have the crackers beside me. Now I am happy," and she munched the appetizing combination.
"Crackers and olives!" murmured Betty. "Our old schoolday feast. I haven't gotten over my love for them, either. Let them circulate, Mollie."
The girls were making merry with quip and jest when Grace, hearing a crackling of under brush, looked back along the path they had come. She started and exclaimed:
"Here come those two young men-- Mr. Stone and Mr. Kennedy."
"Don't notice them," begged Amy, who was not much given to making new acquaintances.
"Too late! They see us-- they're coming right toward us!" cried Grace, in some confusion.
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