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“I don’t know much about your Aunt Emma, Burd, but I am quite certain I shall adore her.”
Burd Alling, pudgy and good-natured, looked at Amy Drew and slowly grinned.
“Good for you, Amy,” he said, returning to his plate of ice cream with renewed vigor. “People either hate Aunt Emma or love her. I am glad you have decided on the latter.”
“She must be a strange sort of person, your Aunt Emma,” said Jessie Norwood, the third of the little party seated around the table at the Dainties Shop. “I like people who have positive characters.”
“Oh, Aunt Em is positive enough, if that is what you like,” chuckled Burd. “The worst thing about her is that she doesn’t seem to approve of that characteristic in others.”
“You say this Aunt Emma of yours owns this place called Forest Lodge?” Jessie interrupted eagerly. “Where is it, Burd?”
“In a forest, I suppose,” murmured Amy Drew.
“How bright you are,” scoffed Burd. “Forest Lodge is on Lake Towako, about forty miles from New Melford,” he added to Jessie. “Aunt Em wants to spend a week or two up in the woods, and she was bemoaning the fact, by letter, that she had no one to go with her. I mean, no ladies. Of course, I’m already booked to go.”
“How about us?” interposed Amy, smiling her sweetest. “Wouldn’t we do?”
“Would you like to?” cried Burd, his face lighting up over the idea.
“Amy, how could you propose such a thing!” interposed Jessie, demurely. “Don’t you know you practically asked for an invitation?”
“Leave out the practically and you will have it,” returned Amy, unabashed. “Besides, didn’t you hear Burd say his poor dear aunt would be lonely away up there in the woods by herself? Be charitable, Jessie! Be charitable.”
“But, say, if you girls really think you would like to go, I know Aunt Em will be more than glad to have you,” said Burd. “She will greet you as gifts from heaven.”
“Well, Jess may look like an angel, but I am sure I don’t,” remarked Amy, paying fond attention to the remaining portion of her George Washington sundae. “Never mind the compliments, Burd. Tell us more about your aunt.”
“Do you think Nell Stanley could go too?” broke in Jessie, eagerly. The prospect of a two weeks’ added vacation at Forest Lodge was becoming alluring.
“Sure thing! The more the merrier,” Burd answered, heartily. He finished his ice cream and motioned to Nick, the clerk, to bring more George Washington sundaes. “She is a jolly old soul and never is happy unless completely surrounded by young folks.”
“Oh, is she so very old?” asked Amy.
“We-ell, not so old as to be exactly decrepit,” said Burd, judicially, though his eyes were merry. “She can still hop around pretty lively when occasion requires. But I will not tell you another word,” he added, his round face as severe as so habitually merry a countenance could ever become. “Whatever else you learn about the lady, you will have to learn from her personally. I refuse to give away a blood relative.”
“But, Burd, all this is so very wonderful!” cried Jessie. “I never dared hope we would have another chance for fun this summer before school opens.”
“Oh, Jess, remind me not,” commanded Amy, with a groan. “As Miss Seymour would say, ‘Why intrude so gloomy a thought upon this joyous hour?’”
The Miss Seymour of whom Amy spoke was a teacher of English in the high school which Jessie and Amy and their friend, Nell Stanley, attended.
The Radio Girls had returned from a wonderful vacation on Station Island only a few days before this story opens. And now had come this possibility of spending the short remainder of their school vacation at a typical hunting lodge in the heart of a forest. Small wonder that with this alluring prospect before them they could not bear the mention just then of school and studies, for to their eager minds the possibility of the visit looked like certainty.
“Have you told Darry yet?” Jessie asked, and Burd favored her with a look that was almost pitying. Darry, or Darrington Drew, to give him the benefit of his full name, was Amy’s brother and Burd Alling’s closest chum. The two boys, though utterly unlike in looks and disposition, were inseparable.
“Sure, I’ve told Darry,” he said, in reply to Jessie’s question. “His enthusiasm over the project knows no bounds. Says it has been his lifelong ambition to get in close contact with the forest rangers and study their methods of fighting forest fires.”
“Oh, do they have fires up there, too?” queried Amy.
“Wherever there is a forest, there are bound to be fires once in a while,” Burd informed her, from the heights of his superior wisdom. Darry and Burd, being in college, were several years older than the high school girls, and it was seldom that they missed an opportunity to impress that fact upon Jessie and Amy. “That’s where the forest rangers come in. And, believe me, sometimes they have their work cut out for them, too.”
“Oh, Burd, please tell me more about it,” begged Jessie.
“I can’t tell you much,” replied Burd, modestly, “because I don’t know a great deal about the work of the forest rangers—nothing, in fact, except what I have read. But I know there is one thing that will interest you girls mightily.”
“Bet you another George Washington sundae I know what it is,” said Amy, quickly, and when Burd laughingly took her up she pronounced the one word “Radio!” with proud emphasis.
“Oh, I know,” broke in Jessie, before Burd could speak. “I heard Daddy Norwood talking about it one night to Momsey, and it was awfully interesting, even though at that time I was not particularly interested in radio. They use it—radio, I mean—fighting fires and things, don’t they?”
“Especially things,” agreed Burd, with a grin. Then, becoming suddenly conscious of the check at his elbow, he looked up and found Nick’s worried gaze upon him. The Dainties Shop was filling up and their table was needed.
The girls took in the situation at a glance and rose laughingly while Burd went over to settle with Nick, much to the relief of the latter.
Burd seemed to be having some trouble getting his change, and while they waited for him outside the door of the Dainties Shop the girls gayly discussed this new prospect.
“I am dreadfully anxious to meet Aunt Emma,” Amy was saying when she felt a slight touch on her arm and turned sharply about.
A tall, slender girl was standing there, and on her face was a dead white pallor that amazed and shocked the robust girls.
She was holding toward them a five-dollar bill and Amy, the irrepressible, laughed suddenly as her gaze fell upon it.
“Thanks, so much,” she murmured; “but I don’t happen to need it just now.”
“Oh, Amy, hush!” cried Jessie, as she saw the mouth of the strange girl set in a thin straight line and her eyes grow hostile.
“I wanted to ask you if you would change this for me,” said the stranger in a colorless voice that matched the pallor of her face. “But if you don’t care to——”
She turned away, but Jessie caught her quickly by the sleeve.
“Oh, wait a minute, please,” she said. “I am sure I can change the bill for you.”
She fumbled in her bag, but Amy, instantly regretting her flippant speech, found the money first in her own small bag and handed it with an apologetic smile to the girl.
“I’m sorry I was rude,” she said. “I didn’t understand.”
This apology meant a great deal, coming, as it did, from Amy, but the tall, pale girl seemed scarcely to notice. She accepted the five one-dollar bills, giving her own five-dollar note in exchange. Amy stuffed the bill in her pocket, and with a muttered word of thanks the stranger turned and walked off swiftly. She did not turn back, and in another moment a street corner hid her from view.
“I must say she isn’t very polite,” grumbled Amy, as Burd joined them. “After humbling my perfectly good pride in the dust and everything. Imagine me apologizing!”
“If I had not seen it I certainly would not have believed it,” agreed Jessie, cheerfully, and Amy shot her an injured look.
“You mean heard it,” she corrected frigidly. “If I cared to be unkind, my dear, I might remind you that an apology can never be seen!”
Burd went with them as far as the Norwood place in Roselawn. There he left them, intimating that he and Darry had important business in town and would not see them till later.
“Make it as much later as you like,” Amy told him cheerfully. “We shan’t pine away and die in your absence.”
As a matter of fact, the girls were far too busy for the remainder of that afternoon to give the boys more than a passing thought. They chattered like magpies of the possible trip to Forest Lodge while, with skilful fingers, they overhauled the radio set which Jessie and Amy themselves had set up in the pretty and spacious living room of Jessie’s own suite of rooms in the Norwood house. Jessie had brought a new detector from town and was bent upon trying the effect of it upon her set without delay.
“We must be ready for the special radio concert to-night,” Jessie reminded her, when Amy protested against the “hard labor” her friend imposed. “It wouldn’t do to miss it, and you know this detector is working badly.”
Mrs. Norwood, known fondly to her daughter, and to most of her daughter’s intimate friends as well, as “Momsey,” was away from home that afternoon—a matter of great regret to Jessie, who had hoped to talk over with her at once the invitation for Forest Lodge and ask her consent to the project.
It was late before she returned, and by that time the girls had “jacked up” the radio set until it was working perfectly. They fell upon Mrs. Norwood simultaneously, bombarding her with facts and questions until Mrs. Norwood laughed in helpless bewilderment and begged them to begin all over again from the beginning and “go slowly.” This they did, and had hardly finished when the telephone bell rang.
“Miss Alling would like to speak to you, Mrs. Norwood,” announced the maid, coming into the room.
The girls could hardly wait for the telephone conversation to come to an end, and, in their eagerness, did no more than stutter their questions when Mrs. Norwood returned, a smile on her face.
They were overjoyed to find Mrs. Norwood pleasantly willing to give her consent to the Forest Lodge project, especially now that Emma Alling had given them her personal invitation to accompany her. It seemed that at some former time Mrs. Norwood and Miss Alling had worked together in some benefit scheme, and Mrs. Norwood had been strongly attracted to the rather eccentric but good-hearted woman.
“All of which is very lucky for us,” remarked the irrepressible Amy.
“Though I must say,” Mrs. Norwood added, with a smile, “I don’t particularly envy Emma Alling her present undertaking!”
Jessie’s eyes twinkled as she said reproachfully: “Don’t you think that is rather hard on us, Momsey?”
Amy hastened home to gain permission to make the visit at Forest Lodge, but was persuaded without much difficulty to return for dinner, and as soon as the meal was over, the girls ran up to Jessie’s room to “listen in” on the special concert that was scheduled for that evening.
They tuned the set to the wave length of the broadcasting station of the Stratford Electric Company and almost immediately heard a man’s voice speaking. The first words were sufficiently unusual to catch and hold their attention.
“Before proceeding with the program, we wish to make a special announcement,” said the voice. “There is positive evidence that a counterfeit five-dollar bill is in circulation in this locality. The bill has a small v-shaped notch in one corner of it and the marking on the under side is indistinct. We wish all who hear this announcement to-night to be on the lookout for the counterfeit money, so that any one finding it in his possession may report it to the authorities.” That was all.
The girls removed their head phones and stared at each other intently for a moment. It was evident that they were both thinking of the same thing. That five-dollar bill which the strange girl had asked Amy to change that afternoon!
Amy reached for her purse and opened it.
“If that girl wished a counterfeit five-dollar bill on me,” she declared, “I will pursue her to the ends of the earth and get it back.”
“Quick! Let me see that bill,” urged Jessie.
Together, heads almost touching, they examined the greenback which had come so strangely into their possession. To their inexperienced eyes there was nothing wrong with the marking. Then Jessie suddenly uttered an exclamation. She pointed to a tiny, v-shaped notch in one corner of it.
“Amy, it is, it must be, one of the counterfeits!” she breathed.