CHAPTER XIII The Missing Book

“Gone,” Anne echoed blankly. “Oh, it must be there.”

“It isn’t,” Madge insisted. “Oh, I knew something would happen to it!”

“Let me look.”

Madge stepped back to permit Anne to take her place at the chimney. Both were trying desperately to remain calm, attempting to make themselves believe the book had only been misplaced.

“You’re right, it’s not here,” Anne murmured, after feeling carefully along the ledge. “You don’t suppose either your aunt or uncle could have put it away?”

Madge shook her head doubtfully. A conviction that the book had been deliberately stolen was growing in her mind.

“We can soon find out,” she replied.

They rushed back to the house. Mrs. Brady had finished her nap and was sewing. The girls found her in the living room and incoherently poured out their story.

“Now, don’t get excited,” she advised kindly. “The book will turn up. Mr. Brady hasn’t been near the cabin, but one can’t be sure about Bill. He’s into everything. Why not question him?”

Frantic with anxiety, they hurried to the old workman’s cabin. He denied taking the key.

“What would I be doin’ with it anyhow?” he demanded crossly. “After buildin’ that fireplace and luggin’ all that heavy stone, I’d be right well pleased if I never saw the place agin.”

“Then who did take the key?” Madge fairly wailed. “Someone used it and put it back in the wrong place.”

Bill shrugged and would have retreated into the cabin had not Madge halted him with an abrupt question.

“Have you seen anyone prowling about the new cabin or acting suspiciously? I know you’re something of a detective. Perhaps you noticed Clyde Wendell or one of the guests acting strangely.”

Bill could not resist this direct appeal to his vanity. He assumed an important pose and his brows came together in a thoughtful pucker.

“I wasn’t aimin’ to mention it,” he informed regally, “’cause Mr. Brady’s warned me mor’n once not to talk about the guests—”

“This is different,” Madge urged impatiently. “Tell us everything. It’s very important and time means everything!”

Bill’s blue eyes opened wider. Here was something which smacked of mystery. He decided to make the most of it.

“I been watchin’ that guy Wendell fer a long time,” he reported. “My suspicions was aroused when he kept trying’ to pump me.”

“What sort of questions did he ask?”

“Most everything. About the fishin’ and the like. He asked about whether Miss Fairaday stayed alone nights and if she’d sold any of her books and things. He’d pester me when I was tryin’ to work on the new fireplace. Come to think of it, he even asked me where the key to the cabin was kept!”

Bill had intended to tell a good story. He was surprised to find that by cudgeling his memory he had no need to call upon imagination to furnish interesting details.

“When did Clyde ask about the key?” Madge questioned.

“Lemme see,” Bill scratched his head thoughtfully. “Las’ night.”

It was all clear to Madge now. The book had been hidden only the previous afternoon. She had sensed then that someone was hiding in the bushes near the cabin. Undoubtedly, Clyde Wendell had witnessed everything.

“Anne, Clyde was after your book from the very first!” she cried. “Probably his own formula is worthless, and he hoped to get possession of your Father’s work and claim it as his own.”

“But if he saw us hide the book, why didn’t he take it last night?”

“I think he did try. I heard someone in the kitchen during the night. When I went down to get the key, he must have heard me coming and ducked into his bedroom which is on the first floor. Oh, if only I’d kept that key instead of returning it to the cupboard!”

“It was all my fault. I chose the hiding place.”

“Clyde won’t get away. We’ll make him give the book back.”

Old Bill had been listening attentively to the conversation which he only partially understood. Now he decided it was time to add his startling contribution.

“Guess you’ll have to ketch him first. He checked out mor’n an hour ago.”

“Checked out?” Madge asked sharply.

“He cleaned out bag and baggage while you was over to the island. I offered to row him across the lake but he said he’d do it himself. Guess he was afraid he’d have to give me a quarter.”

“Which way did he go, Bill?”

“He said a car was to meet him across the lake and take him on to Luxlow. I would have watched only I was snowed under with work.”

“We must go after him! Bill, get over to the lookout as fast as you can and ask one of the rangers to come here. Get Jack if he’s there. Tell him it’s urgent.”

Bill moved away with alacrity and the girls flew to the house to acquaint Mrs. Brady with the startling news. As Madge had guessed, she knew nothing of the chemist’s departure. A survey of his room disclosed that he had taken all his luggage. He had gone without paying his bill.

“If only your uncle were here!” Mrs. Brady expressed indignantly. “And where is Mr. Brownell?”

“You saw him this morning, didn’t you, Anne?” Madge asked.

“Why, no,” the other returned in surprise. “He never came to the island unless it was after I left.”

“Men are always gone when you need them!” Mrs. Brady exclaimed impatiently. “The best we can do is to telephone to Luxlow and try to have someone stop Clyde there.”

She rushed away to the telephone and just then the girls saw a boat rounding the point of the mainland. Mr. Brownell drew up to the wharf. His face brightened as he saw Anne, but realizing that something was amiss, he made no attempt to engage her in conversation.

A few minutes later Bill returned with Jack French in the latter’s canoe. The ranger had gleaned most of the facts from the old workman. He asked Madge and Anne only a few, terse questions. Mr. Brownell listened intently to the excited discussion.

“So Wendell got away with the formula?” he broke in. “I knew there was something queer about the whole deal but I couldn’t figure it out. Ranger, I’ll pay you well if you bring him back.”

“I’ll do what I can,” Jack told him quietly, “and pay doesn’t enter into it. We’re not sure which way he went.”

“Even if he did say he was going to Luxlow, I’d guess he headed for Bryson,” Madge interposed. “If he reached there by afternoon he could get a train out for New York. His Luxlow connections would be very poor.”

“He was askin’ me about the Elf Lake portage only yesterday,” Bill volunteered.

“But if he did go the other way, we’ll lose him,” Anne said anxiously, as the ranger moved toward his canoe.

“I’m striking for Elf Lake,” Jack said crisply. “Mr. Brownell, you go to Luxlow and try to head Clyde off there. Bill can drive you in.”

The plan was instantly adopted. Jack sprang into his canoe but Madge was directly behind.

“Let me go too! You can make faster time with two paddling.”

Jack hesitated briefly, then nodded. Madge slid into the bow and caught up a paddle. Anne gave the canoe a shove, wading far out into the water.

“Oh, I hope you catch him!” she shouted. “Paddle for all you’re worth!”

Jack and Madge cut directly across the lake, taking a course straight as a die. Madge realized that to overtake the chemist they must travel at double his speed. She had a muscular arm and made each stroke count. Several times the ranger warned her to take it easier.

They passed Black Rock, coming at last to the first portage marked by the birches. Abandoning the canoe they started unencumbered through the forest, for Jack knew where a Forest Service canoe had been hidden at Elf Lake. Twice he paused to examine the trail.

“He came this way all right.”

Emerging from among the trees at Elf Lake, they scanned the water. There was no sign of a boat or canoe. Jack frowned. Apparently, the chemist had traveled fast.

A moment later, the frown changed to a distinct scowl as he searched the bushes in vain for the hidden government canoe. Almost at once he noted the long marks on the sand, disclosing where it had been dragged to the water.

“Clyde’s made off with our canoe! Now we are in it!”

Madge’s eye fastened upon an unpainted rowboat abandoned upon the sand.

“It’s a regular tub and probably leaks like a sieve,” she announced, “but it’s our only hope.”

They found the oars and quickly launched the boat. All of Madge’s dire predictions were found true. She bailed steadily to keep the boat afloat.

“We’re losing time,” Jack said gruffly. “Wendell has a fast canoe now.”

“But he’s a dub at paddling,” Madge added hopefully. “We have a chance of overtaking him at the Rice Lake portage.”

“It’s a short one and we’re a good ways behind.”

The prospect of portaging the boat was discouraging. They both knew that unless they overtook the chemist by the time he reached Rice Lake, they likely would lose him. Once he had covered the second portage, a short paddle would take him to Bryson, a city of sufficient population to offer protection.

“Look here,” Jack said as they grounded the boat at the extreme end of Elf Lake. “We’ll never overtake him if we try to tote this old tub. I know a shortcut through the forest but it’s hard going even without dunnage. What do you say?”

Madge hesitated. She realized that if they left the boat behind, they must overtake Clyde at the end of the portage or lose him entirely.

“It’s a long chance,” Jack said, reading her thoughts, “and the trail is too hard for you.”

Madge shook her head stubbornly.

“No,” she returned with firm decision. “I’ll manage to keep up. We’ll leave the boat behind and try the shortcut!”

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