MoboReader > Literature > Billie Bradley on Lighthouse Island; Or, The Mystery of the Wreck

   Chapter 7 STRANGE ACTIONS

Billie Bradley on Lighthouse Island; Or, The Mystery of the Wreck By Janet D. Wheeler Characters: 8971

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Instead of seeming excited, Laura and Vi stared. Vi had not even heard that Miss Arbuckle had lost an album, and Laura just dimly remembered Billie's having said something about it.

But Billie's eyes were shining, and she was all eagerness as she picked the old-fashioned volume up and began turning over the pages. She was thinking of poor Miss Arbuckle's red nose and eyes of that morning and of how different the teacher's face would look when she, Billie, returned the album.

"Oh, I'm so glad," she said. "I felt awfully sorry for Miss Arbuckle this morning."

"Well, I wish I knew what you were talking about," said Vi plaintively, and Billie briefly told of her meeting with Miss Arbuckle in the morning and of the teacher's grief at losing her precious album.

"Humph! I don't see anything very precious about it," sniffed Laura. "Look-the corners are all worn through."

"Silly, it doesn't make any difference how old it is," said Vi as they started back along the path, Billie holding on tight to the book. "It may have pictures in it she wants to save. It may be-what is it they call 'em?-an heirloom or something. And Mother says heirlooms are precious."

"Well, I know one that isn't," said Laura, with a little grimace. "Mother has a wreath made out of hair of different members of the family. She says it's precious, too; but I notice she keeps it in the darkest corner of the attic."

"Well, this isn't a hair wreath, it's an album," Billie pointed out. "And I don't blame Miss Arbuckle for not wanting to lose an album with family pictures in it."

"But how did she come to lose it there?" asked Laura, as the road could be seen dimly through the trees. "The woods seem a funny place. Girls," and Laura's eyes began to shine excitedly, "it's a mystery!"

"Oh, dear," sighed Vi plaintively, "there she goes again. Everything has to be a mystery, whether it is or not."

"But it is, isn't it?" insisted Laura, turning to Billie for support. "A lady says she has lost an album. In a little while we find that same album--"

"I suppose it's the same," put in Billie, looking at the album as if it had not occurred to her before that this might not be Miss Arbuckle's album, after all.

"Of course it is, silly," Laura went on impatiently. "It isn't likely that two people would be foolish enough to lose albums on the same day. If it had been a stick pin now, or a purse--"

"Yes, yes, go on," Billie interrupted. "You were talking about mysteries."

"Well, it is, isn't it?" demanded Laura, becoming so excited she could not talk straight. "What was Miss Arbuckle doing in the woods with her album, in the first place?"

"She might have been looking at it," suggested Vi mildly.

Billie giggled at the look Laura gave Vi.

"Yes. But may I ask," said Laura, trying to appear very dignified, "why, if she only wanted to look at the pictures, she couldn't do it some place else-in her room, for instance?"

"Goodness, I'm not a detective," said poor Vi. "If you want to ask any questions go and ask Miss Arbuckle. I didn't lose the old album."

Laura gave a sigh of exasperation.

"A person might as well try to talk to a pair of wooden Indians," she cried, then turned appealingly to Billie. "Don't you think there's something mysterious about it, Billie?"

"Why, it does seem kind of queer," Billie admitted, adding quickly as Laura was about to turn upon Vi with a whoop of triumph. "But I don't think it's very mysterious. Probably Miss Arbuckle just wanted to be alone or something, and so she brought the album out into the woods to look it over by herself. I like to do it sometimes myself-with a book I mean. Just sneak off where nobody can find me and read and read until I get so tired I fall asleep."

"Well, but you can't look at pictures in a shabby old album until you feel so tired you fall asleep," grumbled Laura, feeling like a cat that has just had a saucer of rich cream snatched from under its nose. "You girls wouldn't know a mystery if you fell over it."

"Maybe not," admitted Billie good-naturedly, her face brightening as she added, contentedly: "But I do know one thing, and that is that Miss Arbuckle is going to be very glad when she sees this old album again!"

And she was right. When they reached Three Towers Hall Laura and Vi went upstairs to the dormitory to wash up and get ready for supper while Billie stopped at Miss Arbuckle's door, eager to tell her the good news at once.

She rappe

d gently, and, receiving no reply, softly pushed the door open. Miss Arbuckle was standing by the window looking out, and somehow Billie knew, even before the teacher turned around, that she had been crying again.

The tired droop of the shoulders, the air of discouragement-suddenly there flashed across Billie's mind a different picture, the picture of a tall lank man with stooped shoulders and dark, deep-set eyes, looking at her strangely.

A puzzled little line formed itself across her forehead. Why, she thought, had Miss Arbuckle made her think of the man who called himself Hugo Billings and who lived in a hut in the woods?

Perhaps because they both seemed so very sad. Yes, that must be it. Then her face brightened as she felt the bulky album under her arm. Here was something that would make Miss Arbuckle smile, at least.

Billie spoke softly and was taken aback at the suddenness with which Miss Arbuckle turned upon her, regarding her with startled eyes.

For a moment teacher and pupil regarded each other. Then slowly a pitiful, crooked smile twitched Miss Arbuckle's lips and her hand reached out gropingly for the back of a chair.

"Oh, it's-it's you," she stammered, adding with an apologetic smile that made her look more natural: "I'm a little nervous to-day-a little upset. What is it, Billie? Why didn't you knock?" The last words were said in Miss Arbuckle's calm, slightly dry voice, and Billie began to feel more natural herself. She had been frightened when Miss Arbuckle swung around upon her.

"I did," she answered. "Knock, I mean. But you didn't hear me. I found something of yours, Miss Arbuckle." Her eyes fell to the volume she still carried under her arm, and Miss Arbuckle, following the direction of her gaze, recognized her album.

She gave a little choked cry, and her face grew so white that Billie ran to her, fearing she hardly knew what. But she had no need to worry, for although fear sometimes kills, joy never does, and in a minute Miss Arbuckle's eager hands were clutching the volume, her fingers trembling as they rapidly turned over the leaves.

"Yes, here they are, here they are," she cried suddenly, and Billie, peeping over her shoulder, looked down at the pictured faces of three of the most beautiful children she had ever seen. "My darlings, my darlings," Miss Arbuckle was saying over and over again. Then suddenly her head dropped to the open page and her shoulders shook with the sobs that tore themselves from her.

Billie turned away and tiptoed across the room, her own eyes wet, but she stopped with her hand on the door.

"My little children!" Miss Arbuckle cried out sobbingly. "My precious little babies! I couldn't lose your pictures after losing you. They were all I had left of you, and I couldn't lose them, I couldn't-I couldn't--"

Billie opened the door, and, stepping out into the hall, closed it softly after her. She brushed her hand across her eyes, for there were tears in them, and her feet felt shaky as she started up the stairs.

"Well, I-I never!" she told herself unsteadily. "First she nearly scares me to death. And then she cries and talks about her children, and says she's lost them. Goodness, I shouldn't wonder but that Laura is right after all. There certainly is something mighty strange about it."

And when, a few minutes later, she told the story to her chums they agreed with her, even Vi.

"Why, I never heard of such a thing," said the latter, looking interested. "You say she seemed frightened when you went in, Billie?"

"Terribly," answered Billie. "It seemed as if she might faint or something."

"And the children," Laura mused delightedly aloud. "I'm going to find out who those children are and why they are lost if I die doing it."

"Now look who she thinks she is," jeered Vi.

"Who?" asked Laura with interest.

"The Great Lady Detective," said Vi, and Laura's chest, if one takes Billie's word for it, swelled to about three times its natural size.

"That's all right," said Laura, in response to the girls' gibes. "I'll get in some clever work, with nothing but a silly old photograph album as a clue, or a motive-oh, well, I don't know just what the album is yet, but an album is worse than commonplace, it is plumb foolish as a center around which to work. Oh, ho! Great Lady Detective! Solves most marvelous and intricate mystery with only the slightest of clues, an old photograph album, to point the way! Oh, ho!"

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