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   Chapter 4 MR. BLACKFORD'S CLUE

The Outdoor Girls in a Winter Camp / Or, Glorious Days on Skates and Ice Boats By Laura Lee Hope Characters: 10354

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


"Hope I didn't disturb any family party," apologized Mr. Blackford, when he and Will called at the Stonington home a little later that evening.

"Not at all," greeted Amy. "Come in. We are planning another season of activity."

"I might have guessed," answered the young man who had been so peculiarly involved in the five hundred dollar bill mystery. "You Outdoor Girls are always doing something novel. What is it this time?"

"A winter camp!" they cried in chorus.

"List to the pretty maidens!" sung Will, mockingly, as he assumed a theatrical attitude.

"Behave!" ordered his sister, whereat Will proceeded to contort himself in various ways to the great amusement of the girls.

"That's fine!" exclaimed Mr. Blackford-"fine that you can go camping, I mean-not Will's circus act. But I must apologize for coming in on you this way. I happened to have some business in town, and as I received a curious bit of news I thought you girls might be interested. It's about my missing sister," he added, simply. "I've told you how I have been searching for her.

"Perhaps I shouldn't bother you with my family troubles," he continued, hesitatingly, "but, somehow, ever since you helped me out so in the matter of that five hundred dollars, I have felt as though you did really take an interest in me, as I do in you. And, as I haven't any real folks of my own-so far," and he smiled, "naturally I come to you. Shall I go on?"

The girls nodded. After making the acquaintance of the young man in the manner related in our first volume, they had learned the queer fact of Mr. Blackford having a sister of whom he had lost track. At one time he hoped it might develop that she was the strange girl who fell out of the tree, but it was not so. This girl, Carrie Norton, had, after spending some time in Deepdale, departed to live with a distant relative.

Mr. Blackford had engaged a firm which made a specialty of locating missing persons to look for his sister, but so far there had been no result.

"And it doesn't look as though this were going to be very promising," the young man went on. "You know this searching firm has been delving among my wood-pile relations, as I call them, looking for clues," he went on. "They are getting all the old documents, bits of family history, descriptions, and so on, that they can lay hands on. It all helps, in a way, but we haven't had much luck so far. But you may be interested in something that just came up, and you may be able to help me.

"I've been traveling about, in connection with my business, and as I knew I would 'make' this town to-night, I had all my mail sent here. Imagine my surprise when I got to my hotel, a little while ago, to find the most promising clue yet."

"What is it?" asked Betty, eagerly.

"I thought you might be interested," said the young man, "and that is why I called at your house," and he nodded to Will.

"You had gone out," remarked Will to Grace, "so I asked dad where, as the maid said you'd all been in the library. Then I called up here," and he nodded to Amy.

"Glad you did," she returned. She seemed to have forgotten the trouble of the afternoon.

"Well," went on Mr. Blackford, "I feared it was a sort of imposition to come, and--"

"I told him it wasn't at all," interrupted Will.

"So on I came," proceeded the young business man.

"But what is the clue?" asked Grace, interestedly.

"This," was the reply, as he took some papers from his pocket. "But it's a clue that--"

"Isn't a clue," put in Will.

"Because--"

"It breaks off in the middle."

"Oh, Will, let him tell it; can't you?" demanded Grace, impatiently. "We don't know whom we're listening to."

"Well, to be brief," said Mr. Blackford, "the firm I have engaged, the other day, wrote me that they were on the track of my sister. They felt sure they were going to find her, and I was very hopeful.

"It seems that they had found some old documents in the attic of a house where some distant relatives live. They wrote me they were sending them on, and-here they are!"

He brought out a bundle of time-stained and yellow papers, and spread them on the table.

"Gracious!" cried Will. "Your sister must be quite elderly to have such ancient documents refer to her."

"No," said Mr. Blackford, "she is younger than I am, I believe. But I have no certain knowledge of that. Anyhow, this is part of a letter written about the girl whom I have every reason to believe is my sister. And the part that is most interesting--"

"Is where--" began Will.

"Can't you keep still?" begged his sister.

"Has 'oo dot any tandy?" and he imitated little Dodo.

"Oh, take that!" and Grace passed him a caramel. "Now, let's hear what it is, Mr. Blackford."

"There is a part of the letter which says this," went on Mr. Blackford, and he proceeded to read:

"'You can always identify the girl because she has a most peculiar birth-mark on--'"

He ceased reading.

"Well, go on, please," requested Betty. "This is getting interesting."

"It isn't getting interesting-it's so already," declared Mollie. "Go on, please, Mr. Blackford, tell us what sort of birth-mark your

sister has."

"That's just the trouble," he remarked, ruefully. "I can't do it."

"Why not?" Betty wanted to know.

"Because, just at that point-where the description of the birth-mark, and its location, should appear-the letter is torn. A corner is gone. I have no more idea of what sort of identifying mark my sister has, than have you. It is worse than before, for I saw hope ahead of me, only to see it disappear now.

"I feel sure that the girl referred to in the old letter is my sister; but how can I identify her, in case I meet her, until I know what sort of a mark she has, and where it is?"

"You can't!" declared Will, positively.

"And that makes it all the more tantalizing," went on Mr. Blackford. "They even-that firm I spoke of-they even had located the part of the country where it might be possible my sister was, and now to have it fail this way--"

"Where did they say she might be?" asked Amy.

"Somewhere up in Canada. But it is rather vague. If only that piece was not torn off the edge of the letter!"

"Can't you find it somewhere?" asked Mollie. "Maybe in forwarding it the people you hired tore it by accident."

"I thought of that, so I telephoned as soon as I got this letter, asking where the missing piece was. I got word back that they knew nothing about it."

There was silence for a moment, while they all looked at the mutilated document Mr. Blackford held up. It showed a tear across one corner, a tear that disposed of the most vital piece of information contained on the whole paper.

"That's too bad," spoke Amy, sympathetically.

"Yes," agreed Mollie, as she put back a stray and rebellious lock of hair, "it spoils all your plans, I suppose, Mr. Blackford."

"In a way, yes. But I'm not going to give up. I'm going to find out where they got this document from, and go there. It may have been in some old attic trunk, among some-love letters-and the missing piece may be there."

"Without it you're all at sea," declared Will. "You don't know what sort of a mark to look for, nor where it might be."

"And he can't very well go around asking all the girls he meets if they have peculiar birth-marks," commented Mollie.

"Well, I hardly know why I told you my troubles," said the young man, "but--"

"Why shouldn't you?" asked Betty, pleasantly. "We are interested in you, of course, ever since--"

"That five hundred dollar bill you thought was gone for good," added Amy. "But if we hear of anything--" and she paused suggestively.

"I wish you'd let me know!" exclaimed Mr. Blackford. "I know you girls are very lucky. You've proved it several times. Now if you happen to hear of anyone who would fit what description I have of my sister-and it isn't much, to tell the truth-or if you think you see anyone who resembles me, or who has a peculiar birth-mark, just let me know. You travel around so much, and you meet so many strange people--"

"We do seem to," agreed Grace.

"Well, just let me know," finished Mr. Blackford.

For some little time they talked of the curious happening, and the perversity of fate that should provide for such a vital piece of the letter being missing. Then, after Amy had provided refreshments, the young men and girls prepared to take their leave.

"And you and Mollie won't forget to find out for sure if you can go to the lumber camp; will you, Betty?" asked Grace. "Let me know as soon as you can."

"I'll call you up first thing in the morning," promised Betty. "I'm pretty sure I can go. Oh! what fun we'll have!"

"Any skating there?" asked Mr. Blackford.

"Oceans of it!" said Grace, who had asked her father many questions about the camp they expected to visit.

"How about ice boating?" inquired Will.

"You can have that, too. There isn't an ice boat in camp, father said, but not far away a man has a sort of winter bungalow, and he keeps a number. Maybe he'll lend us one."

"And can you run it?" asked Amy, timidly.

"It runs itself-you just sit in it and the wind blows it along. All you have to do is steer," said Grace.

"You're getting to be quite an authority," declared Mollie. "Oh, but I know we'll have a fine time!"

"And we'll come up too, sometimes," put in Will. "That is, if you girls will let us."

"Of course," murmured Mollie. "Isn't that the telephone ringing, Grace?" for they were all on the front steps.

"Yes. I'll see who it is," said Amy. "Maybe they want one of you girls. Wait!"

"Can't have any of 'em-all taken," declared Will.

"It's you they want, Mollie," reported Amy, coming back. "It's your mother, and she seems to be in trouble."

"Trouble?" Mollie's voice trembled.

"Yes. Oh, dear! I'm sure she was crying!" and Amy's voice faltered, for she was very tender-hearted.

Mollie went to the telephone. The others listened anxiously for an inkling of what the message might be.

"What!" cried Mollie. "Paul missing-he must have gone out right after I did! Oh, dear! And it's beginning to snow!"

"Girls!" she cried, turning to the others, and letting the receiver fall with a bang, "little Paul is missing-mother thinks he went out of doors. Oh, that poor child!"

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