CHAPTER XII The Awaited Message

For the first time in many nights Madge slept at home. Although she would not have admitted it, “Kim” was responsible for her reluctance to return with Anne to Stewart Island. She did not retire until after the guests had gone to their rooms, and then tossed restlessly. Finally she dozed off, only to be awakened by an unusual sound.

She sat up in bed. The house was quiet but she was sure she had heard someone stumble over a chair in the kitchen. Ordinarily, she would have gone back to sleep. Instead, she thought of the key in the cupboard. What if it were stolen?

Slipping into a dressing gown, she stole quietly downstairs. On the bottom step she paused and listened. She heard someone moving about. Then distinctly, but very softly, a door closed.

Now thoroughly alarmed, Madge hurried to the kitchen. Groping about, she found a lamp and lighted it. To her relief, the key still hung on its hook in the cupboard.

“My imagination is getting the best of me!” she chuckled. “I’d have sworn someone was down here. I more than half expected the key to be gone.”

She returned to her bedroom, taking the key with her. Placing it carefully under her pillow she jumped into bed and soon was fast asleep.

In the morning her fears seemed ridiculous, so when she made her bed, she returned the key to its old place in the kitchen.

Directly after breakfast, Mr. Brady left the lodge, saying that he must examine some timber land and would not return until nightfall. Mrs. Brady was confined to her room with a headache and Mr. Brownell had taken one of the boats and rowed away toward Stewart Island. That left only Clyde who loitered about the kitchen while Madge fried doughnuts.

“You’re not a bad cook,” he complimented, helping himself to a crisp, brown fried cake. “This one tastes a little soggy though.”

“I’d think it would after you’ve eaten six,” Madge observed.

She was glad when he finally left the kitchen. Dipping the last doughnut in sugar, she too slipped outside and was just in time to sight Jack French paddling toward the beach in his canoe.

“Hello, Jack,” she greeted, “I haven’t seen you in days.”

“Well, the government didn’t plant us in the forest for ornaments, you know,” he replied cheerfully. “I just returned from Luxlow where they gave me a message for Anne. Since you two stick together like burrs I thought I might find her here.”

“I haven’t seen her today,” Madge returned, an eager note creeping into her voice. “It isn’t a wire from Washington?”

“I can’t say, but it is a telegram. It may be important so I’ll be paddling along.”

“I’m going over to the island before long. If you like, I can take the message.”

“I know you want to find out what it’s all about,” he teased, handing over the yellow envelope. “Oh, well, I’ll be glad to be saved the trip. On your way.”

Madge lost no time in going to the island. She marched into the kitchen where Anne was working, waving the telegram triumphantly.

“It’s not an answer to our wire?” Anne demanded hopefully.

“It must be. Open it quick before my nervous system explodes!”

Anne’s hand shook so that it was difficult for her to rip open the envelope. Her face was a study as she scanned the message. Then she fairly glowed with pleasure.

“Oh, it is from that Washington man!”

“What does he say?”

“Listen to this! He thinks the formula may have been written on the blank pages of the book with just ordinary water.”

Madge stared incredulously. “Water?” she echoed.

“Yes, I recall now that Father once mentioned the same. Strange it slipped my mind.”

“I never heard of writing with water. It doesn’t seem possible.”

“I believe the method was discovered during the late war,” Anne explained. “Anyway, a secret message can be written on certain types of paper merely by using a clean pen and water. The water disturbs the fibers of the paper—it isn’t visible to the eye, of course.”

“Then how could the writing be brought out?”

“It’s all explained here,” Anne said, offering the telegram. “You insert the paper in a glass case and shoot in a thin iodine vapor which settles into all tissues disturbed by the pen. He’s sending complete instructions by mail.”

“It sounds dreadfully complicated.”

“Not to me. I’ve helped Father with other experiments and I know how to go about this. Let’s get the book now and see if we can bring out the secret writing.”

“Shouldn’t we wait for complete instructions?”

“Oh, I can’t wait! So much depends on getting the formula within the next few hours. We’ll not ruin the book. I’m sure I know just how to go about it.”

Madge gave in and they made a quick trip to the Brady lodge which seemed strangely quiet and deserted.

“Aunt Maude must be sleeping,” Madge observed. “Clyde was here when I left but he appears to have taken himself off.”

They let themselves into the kitchen. Madge went directly to the cupboard for the key to the new cabin. It was not on its usual peg.

“Don’t tell me it’s lost,” Anne said nervously.

Madge did not answer immediately. Then her face relaxed.

“No, it dropped into this cup. Gave me a scare for a minute.”

In relief, they hurried to the newly built cabin. Madge unlocked the door and they entered. Everything appeared exactly as they had last seen it.

Madge went confidently to the fireplace and ran her hand up to the hidden ledge. A startled expression passed over her face. She groped about the ledge a second time, more carefully than before.

“What’s the matter?” Anne asked, though she read the answer in her friend’s tense face.

“It’s gone!” Madge answered. “Someone has stolen our book!”

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