CHAPTER VII In a Hollow Log

“This is a discovery!” Madge assured herself as she made successive thrusts into the old log, tumbling out knives, forks and spoons. “Wait until Anne sees what I’ve found!”

Making certain that she had removed everything from the cache, 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 on the door and after a brief wait, Anne 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.”

“Where did you find it?” Anne 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 sort the forks. Anne began on the spoons and while they counted, she learned of the strange hiding place.

“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?”

“I wish you’d 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.”

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

“Then why did he take it?”

“To throw you off the track or to frighten you,” Madge returned impressively. “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. 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 stays around here so long?”

“To collect that money he claims I owe him,” Anne returned with an angry toss of her head. “He rowed over here this 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? Everyone after me for money and I haven’t a cent!”

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

“No, I’ll not borrow from him when I can’t be sure of paying it back,” Anne announced with decision. “I think the best thing to do is to tell Mr. Brownell the truth about the formula. Then I’ll sell my house to Jake Curtis and try to clear up my debts.”

“You’re discouraged tonight,” Madge said kindly, slipping her arm about the other. “I’m not fully convinced the formula can’t be found. What say we have one grand final search tomorrow?”

Anne agreed without enthusiasm. They finished counting the silver and accounted for all pieces save one knife which Madge thought must have been left in the log. Anne put everything away in its place and locked the doors and windows for the night. They went about it in businesslike fashion, 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.

Mounting the spiral stairs to the bedroom they shared, the girls clung tightly to each other. They hurriedly undressed and Anne blew out the oil lamp. She made a running dive into bed, snuggling close to Madge who gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. Save for the moaning of the wind, the house was quiet. Almost too quiet. 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,” Anne returned nervously.

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

“Get up, lazy thing!” Madge ordered, 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. Anne timidly waded out knee depth and stood there shivering.

“Come on, don’t be afraid to get your ears wet!” Madge challenged.

Under her direction, Anne lost some of her timidity but she found it difficult to entirely forget her recent water fright. 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, 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 slightly 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!” Anne 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,” Anne 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. 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. 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,” Anne said miserably. “If Father ever wrote out that formula, it’s 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 what-not much longer, I’ll go crazy. Let’s go to Elf Lake on an all-day picnic.”

Anne 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. Brady with details of the trip. 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. “You know you didn’t need to ask.”

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

“We’ll not need to carry the canoe across the portage,” she informed Anne. “Jack 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 woods, carrying oars and fishing equipment. The portage was a long mile but the girls were accustomed to hiking and took it at a brisk pace.

Soon they came within sight of 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.

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. 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 blazing sun Anne 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. Anne had no time to applaud for a frisky bass had attached himself to her line at the identical moment.

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.

“Anne, 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. 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,” Anne suggested anxiously.

The oars and string of fish encumbered them and they soon were forced to a slow walk. Before they had gone far into the forest, 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.

She tried to remain calm and not communicate her fear to Anne 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. Anne was on the verge of tears.

“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 Loon Lake eventually.”

Anne who was 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 Anne sank nearly to her knees in a muck hole.

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

“Yes, you can,” Madge encouraged. “I think I see an opening through the trees. Yes, I do! It’s the lake!”

Anne 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,” Anne sighed wearily.

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

“It’s fortunate Aunt Maude 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 for 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.

“Anne,” she said in a low tone, “unless I’m dreaming, I saw a light just then. Someone is at the island.”

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

“It must be Jack French 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.

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