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   Chapter 2 THE HUT IN THE WOODS

Billie Bradley on Lighthouse Island; Or, The Mystery of the Wreck By Janet D. Wheeler Characters: 9154

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"What is it?" Laura cried.

For answer Billie pointed through the gloom.

"There! See it?" she cried excitedly. "It's some sort of little house, I guess-a hut or something."

"A house!" cried Laura joyfully. "Glory be, let's go! What's the matter?" she asked, as the other girls hung back.

"Better not be in too much of a hurry," Billie cautioned her. "The place looks as if it were empty; but you never can tell."

"Well, there's something I can tell," Laura retorted impatiently. "And that is, that I'm getting soaking wet." She started on again, but Billie called to her to stop.

"Don't be crazy, Laura," she whispered. "We're all alone in the woods, and it's almost night. How do we know who may be in that shack?"

"Oh, Billie, suppose it were the Codfish!" whispered Vi, and Laura looked disgusted.

"It isn't apt to be the Codfish," returned Billie. "But whoever it is, I think we'd better be careful. We'll go up to it softly and look about a bit. Please don't any one speak until we're sure it's all right."

The girls were used to obeying Billie, even impulsive Laura, so now they followed softly at her heels, stepping over twigs so as to make no noise.

"Goodness! anybody would think we were thieves ourselves," Laura giggled hysterically, and Billie looked back at her warningly.

It was a strange thing and strangely made, this remote little shelter in the woods. It probably had some sort of framework of wood inside, but all the girls could see from the outside was a rude structure entirely covered by moss and interwoven twigs. In fact, unless one looked closely, one might think that the little hut was no hut at all, but part of the foliage itself.

The girls could find no windows, but as they moved cautiously around the hut Billie came upon a small door. The latter was hardly more than four feet high, and the girls would have to stoop considerably to get through it.

"For goodness sake, open it, Billie," Laura whispered close in her ear. "It's beginning to pour pitchforks and I'm getting soaking wet. I don't care if a hyena lives in there, I'm going in too."

Billie wanted to laugh, but she was too wet and nervous. So she opened the little door cautiously and peered inside.

For a minute she could not tell whether the hut was empty or not, for it was very very dark. But as her eyes became accustomed to the darkness she felt sure that the place was empty.

"Come on," she called over her shoulder to the girls, her voice still cautiously lowered. "I can't see very well, but I guess there's nobody at home."

The girls had to stoop almost double to enter the tiny door, but once inside they were surprised to find that they could stand upright.

They were in almost entire darkness, the only patch of light coming from the little door that Vi had left open. Suddenly they began to feel panicky again.

"If we could only get a light," whispered Vi.

"Goodness, listen to the child," said Laura scornfully. "She wants all the comforts of home-ouch!" Her toe had come in contact with something hard.

"What's the matter?" cried Billie startled.

"Matter enough," moaned Laura. "I've broken my toe!"

"Oh well, if that's all," said Billie, but Laura began to laugh hysterically.

"Oh yes, that's all," she cried. "I only wish it had happened to you, Billie Bradley!"

If all wishes could be fulfilled as quickly as that of Laura's there would be few unsatisfied people in the world, for before it was out of her mouth Billie uttered a sharp cry of pain, and, lifting a smarting ankle in her hand, began to rub it gently.

"Did you do it, too?" cried Laura joyfully, adding with a good imitation of Billie: "Oh well, if that's all-"

"Oh for goodness sake, keep still," cried Billie, from which it will be seen that Billie was not in the best of tempers. "This place must be full of stuff. Goodness, why didn't we think to bring matches with us!"

"Because we went out to get ferns, not to burn up the woods," said Laura, with a chuckle.

"Goodness!" cried Vi suddenly out of the darkness. "It is-no it isn't-yes it is--"

"For goodness sake, what's the matter with her?" asked Laura, getting hysterical again. "Has trouble turned her head?"

"No. But something's turned yours," Vi's voice came indignantly back at her. "I've found something, I have. But I've a good mind not to tell you what it is."

"Violet, my darling," cried Laura, fondly. "Don't you see me on my knees?"

"Yes," said Vi, and suddenly there was a flare of light in the room that illuminated the faces of the

girls and made Billie and Laura jump.

"I see you," said Vi calmly, and stood laughing at them while the flickering match in her hand died down to a little glimmer and went out.

"So that's what you found-matches," cried Billie joyfully, while Laura just kept on gaping. "Oh, Vi, you're a darling, and I forgive you for scaring us almost to death. Come on, light another one so we can see where we are."

Vi obediently lighted another match, a box of which she had found quite by accident, and the girls looked about them curiously. And as they looked their curiosity and wonder grew. Billie was wild with impatience when the match in Vi's hand flickered and went out again.

"Here, give them to me," she cried. "I thought I saw something. Look out, don't spill them, Vi!"

"I should say not-they're all we have," chimed in Laura.

The match flared up in Billie's hand, and this time it was her turn to make a discovery. The discovery was a pair of thick white candles, each set in a white china dish and pushed to one end of a rudely-made table.

Quick as a flash, Billie put the match to the wick of one candle, and then, with a sigh of excitement, blew out the match that was almost burning her fingers.

"Girls," she cried, looking about her eagerly, "isn't this the queerest, funniest little place you ever saw? And it's so complete."

Excitedly she crossed the little hut, whose floor was nothing but solid, trampled-down earth, and began to examine a rude-looking cot that ran along all one side of the queer little place.

"And here's a pantry!" exclaimed Vi excitedly. "Look, girls, shelves and cans of things and-and-everything!"

The interior of the place was made of rough boards, rudely thrown together as if by an amateur. Why the person who had made the little cabin had not laid boards for his floor, nobody could tell. Perhaps he had run short of lumber or perhaps he preferred the hard earth floor.

As Vi had said, in one corner some boards had been nailed up to form shelves, and there were several tins of canned goods upon the shelves. Quite evidently this must be the queer owner's pantry.

Besides this, the cot, the table, and an oddly-shaped chair, which had evidently been made from an old soap box, made the only furnishings of the place.

"I wonder," said Billie, looking about her while a sort of awe crept into her voice, "what the person is like that lives here. He must be very queer, to say the least."

"Oh," cried Vi, all her old fears coming back again. "Girls, I'd almost forgotten the Codfish. Do you suppose-"

"No, we don't," said Laura shortly, wishing that the very mention of the Codfish would not send the cold chills all over her. "Goodness, just listen to that rain," she added, shivering. "I guess we're in for a night of it."

"But we can't stay here all night," said Billie anxiously.

"Suppose the owner should come back," added Vi, her teeth beginning to chatter.

"Well, he could only kill us if he did," said Laura gloomily.

"Besides, there are three of us to his one," said Billie, trying to speak lightly. But Laura spoiled the attempt by adding more gloomily than ever:

"How do we know there's only one of him?"

"Well it doesn't look as if a whole family resided here."

"That's so too-but there may be two, at least."

Again the girls looked around the queer place. They saw a few tools as if somebody had spent time in woodworking. There were shavings and parts of cut tree branches and strips of bark.

"I'll wager he's a queer stick-whoever he is," was Billie's comment.

"And what will he say if he finds us here, prying into his private affairs?" came from Laura, with something of a shiver. "Oh!"

All uttered a little cry as a crash of thunder reached them. Then the rain seemed to come down harder than ever.

"Just listen to that!"

"It's good we are under cover. If we weren't we'd be drowned!"

The rain came in at one corner of the shelter, forming a pool on the hard floor. But it did not reach the girls, for which they were thankful.

"I wonder how long it will last," sighed Vi presently.

"Maybe all night," returned Billie.

"Oh, do you really think it will last that long?" came pleadingly.

"You know as much about it as I do."

"What will they think of our absence at the Hall?" broke in Laura.

"They may send out a searching party--" began Billie.

"Hush," cried Vi suddenly, and her tone sent the gooseflesh all over them again. "I hear something. Don't you think we'd better put something against the door?"

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