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   Chapter 4 AT THE SCHOOL AGAIN

Billie Bradley on Lighthouse Island; Or, The Mystery of the Wreck By Janet D. Wheeler Characters: 9090

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"There's only one word worse," said a gloomy voice so close behind them that Vi clapped a hand to her mouth to keep from crying out. "And that," the gloomy voice went on, "is theft!"

The girls never afterward knew what kept them from breaking loose and running away. Probably it was because they were paralyzed with fright.

While they had thought the man was still in the hut he had come softly up behind them and had overheard the last, at any rate, of what they had said. Billie, as usual, was the first to recover herself.

"Will you take us to Three Towers now?" she asked in a voice that she hardly recognized as her own. "Do you know the way?"

"Yes," he answered, adding moodily, as though to himself: "Hugo Billings ought to know the way."

Billie caught at the name quickly, for she had been wondering what this strange person called himself.

"Hugo Billings!" she said eagerly. "Is that your name?"

The man had started on ahead of them through the dark woods, but now he stopped and looked back and Billie could almost feel his eyes boring into her.

"Did I say so?" he asked sharply, then just as quickly turned away and started on again.

"Goodness, I guess he must be a crazy criminal," thought Billie plaintively, as she and her chums followed their leader, stumbling on over rocks and roots that sometimes bruised their ankles painfully. "I suppose there are some people that are both. Anyway, he must be a criminal, or he wouldn't have been so mad about my knowing his name."

The rest of that strange journey seemed interminable. There were times when the girls were sure the man who called himself Hugo Billings was not taking them toward Three Towers Hall at all. It seemed impossible that they could have wandered such a long way into the woods.

Then suddenly their feet struck a hard-beaten path and they almost cried aloud with relief. For they recognized the path and knew that the open road was not far off. Once on the open road, they could find their way alone.

Abruptly the man in front stopped and turned to face them. Once more the girls' hearts misgave them. Was he going to make trouble after all? Why didn't he go on?

And then the man spoke.

"I won't go any farther with you," he said, and there was something in his manner of speaking that made them see again in imagination the tired slump of his shoulders, the wild, haunted look in his eyes. "I don't like the road. But you can find it easily from here. Then turn to your right. Three Towers is hardly half a mile up the road. Good night."

He turned with abruptness and started back the way they had come. But impulsively Billie ran to him, calling to him to stop. Yet when he did stop and turned to look at her she had not the slightest idea in the world what she had intended to say-if indeed she had really intended to say anything.

"I-I just wanted to thank you," she stammered, adding, with a swift little feeling of pity for this man who seemed so lonely: "And if there's anything I can ever do to-to-help you--"

"Who told you I needed help?" cried the man, his voice so harsh and threatening that Billie started back, half falling over a root.

"Why-why," faltered Billie, saying almost the first thing that came into her mind. "You looked so-so-sad--"

"Sad," the man repeated bitterly. "Yes, I have enough to make me sad. But help!" he added fiercely. "I don't need help from you or any one."

And without another word he turned and strode off into the darkness.

After that it did not take the girls long to reach the road. They felt, someway, as if they must have dreamed their adventure, it had all been so strange and unreal. And yet they knew they had never been more awake in their lives.

"Please don't talk about it now," begged Vi when Laura would have discussed it. "Let's wait till we get in our dorm with lights and everything. I'm just shivering all over."

For once the others were willing to do as the most timid of the trio wished, and they hurried along in silence till they saw, with hearts full of thankfulness, the lights of Three Towers Hall shine out on the road before them.

"Look, I see the lights!"

"So do I!"

"Thank goodness we haven't much farther to go."

"It's all of a quarter of a mile, Vi."

"Huh! what's a quarter of a mile after such a tramp as we have had?" came from Billie.

"And after such an experience," added Laura.

"We'll certainly have some story to tell."

"I want something to eat first."

"Yes, and dry clothes, too."

"What

a queer hut and what a queer man!"

"I've heard of people being lost before," said Billie, as they ran up the steps that led to the handsomest door in the world, or at least so they thought it at that moment. "But now I know that what they said about it wasn't half bad enough."

"But not every one finds a hut and a funny man when they get lost," said Vi.

"Well, you needn't be so conceited about it," said Laura, pausing with her hand on the door knob. "The girls probably won't believe us when we tell them."

But Laura was wrong. The girls did really believe the story of Hugo Billings and the hut and became tremendously excited about it. At first they were all for making up an expedition and going to see it-the only drawback being that the chums could not have directed them to it if they would.

And they would not have wished to, anyway. They had rather good reason to believe that Hugo Billings would not want a lot of curious girls spying about his quarters, and, being sorry for him and grateful to him for helping them out of their fix, they absolutely refused to have anything to do with the idea.

They were greeted with open arms on the night of their return. Miss Walters, the much-beloved head of Three Towers Hall, said that she had been just about to send out a searching party for them.

They were late for supper, but that only made their appetites better, and as they were favorites of the cook they were given an extra share of everything and ate ravenously, impatient of the questions flung at them by the curious girls.

"Thank goodness the Dill Pickles aren't here," Laura said to Billie between mouthfuls of pork chop. "Think of coming home with our appetites to the kind of dinners they used to serve us."

"Laura! what a horrible thought," cried Billie, her eyes dancing as she helped herself to two more biscuits. "That's treason."

For the "Dill Pickles" were two elderly spinsters who had been teachers at Three Towers Hall when Billie and her chums had first arrived. Their tartness and strictness and miserliness had made the life of the girls in the school uncomfortable for some time.

And then had come the climax. Miss Walters, having been called away for a week or two, Miss Ada Dill and Miss Cora Dill, disrespectfully dubbed by the girls the twin "Dill Pickles," had things in their own hands and proceeded to make the life of the girls unbearable. They had taken away their liberty, and then had half starved them by cutting down on the meals until finally the girls had rebelled.

With Billie in the lead, they had marched out of Three Towers Hall one day, bag and baggage, to stay in a hotel in the town of Molata until Miss Walters should get back. Miss Walters, coming home unexpectedly, had met the girls in town, accompanied them back to Three Towers and, as one of the girls slangily described it, "had given the Dill Pickles all that was coming to them."

In other words, the Misses Dill had been discharged and the girls had come off victorious. Now there were two new teachers in their place who were as different from the Dill Pickles as night is from day. All the girls loved them, especially a Miss Arbuckle who had succeeded Miss Cora Dill in presiding over the dining hall.

So it was to this that Laura had referred when she said, "Thank goodness the Dill Pickles are gone!"

After they had eaten all they could possibly contain, the girls retired to their dormitories, where they changed their clothes, still damp from their adventure, for comfortable, warm night gowns, and held court, all the girls gathering in their dormitory to hear of their adventures, for nearly an hour.

At the end of that time the bell for "lights-out" rang, and the chums found to their surprise that for once they were not sorry. What with the adventure itself and the number of questions they had answered, they were tired out and longed for the comfort of their beds.

"But do you suppose," said Connie Danvers as she rose to go into her dormitory, which was across the hall, "that the man was really a little out of his head?"

"I think he was more than a little," said Laura decidedly, as she dipped her face into a bowl of cold water. "I think he was just plain crazy."

Connie Danvers was a very good friend of the chums, and one of the most popular girls in Three Towers Hall. Just now she looked a little worried.

"Goodness! first we have the Codfish," she said, "and then you girls go and rake up a crazy man. We'll be having a menagerie next!"

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