BETTY GORDON AT MOUNTAIN CAMP
Or, The Mystery of Ida Bellethorne
ALICE B. EMERSON
Author of Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm, Betty Gordon at Boarding School, "Ruth Fielding Series," etc.
New York Cupples & Leon Company Publishers
Books for Girls By ALICE B. EMERSON 12mo. Cloth. Illustrated
BETTY GORDON SERIES
BETTY GORDON AT BRAMBLE FARM BETTY GORDON IN WASHINGTON BETTY GORDON IN THE LAND OF OIL BETTY GORDON AT BOARDING SCHOOL BETTY GORDON AT MOUNTAIN CAMP
RUTH FIELDING SERIES
RUTH FIELDING OF THE RED MILL RUTH FIELDING AT BRIARWOOD HALL RUTH FIELDING AT SNOW CAMP RUTH FIELDING AT LIGHTHOUSE POINT RUTH FIELDING AT SILVER RANCH RUTH FIELDING ON CLIFF ISLAND RUTH FIELDING AT SUNRISE FARM RUTH FIELDING AND THE GYPSIES RUTH FIELDING IN MOVING PICTURES RUTH FIELDING DOWN IN DIXIE RUTH FIELDING AT COLLEGE RUTH FIELDING IN THE SADDLE RUTH FIELDING IN THE RED CROSS RUTH FIELDING AT THE WAR FRONT RUTH FIELDING HOMEWARD BOUND RUTH FIELDING DOWN EAST RUTH FIELDING IN THE GREAT NORTH-WEST RUTH FIELDING ON THE ST. LAWRENCE
Cupples & Leon Co., Publishers, New York 1922
I THE ORANGE SILK OVER-BLOUSE
II THE FRUITS OF TANTALUS
III OFF FOR A GALLOP
IV A SECOND IDA BELLETHORNE
VI A DISAPPEARANCE
VII ALL MRS. STAPLES COULD SAY
VIII UNCLE DICK MUST BE TOLD
IX THE LIVE WIRE OCTETTE
X BEAUTIFUL SNOW
XI STALLED, AND WITHOUT A DOCTOR
XII THE TUNNEL
XIII AN ALARM
XIV THE MOUNTAIN HUT
XV THE LOST GIRL
XVI THE CAMP ON THE OVERLOOK
XVII OFF ON SNOWSHOES
XVIII GREAT EXCITEMENT
XIX THE EMERGENCY
XX BETTY'S RIDE
XXI BETTY COMES THROUGH
XXII ON THE BRINK OF DISCOVERY
XXIII CAN IT BE DONE?
XXIV TWENTY MILES OF GRADE
XXV ON THE DECK OF THE SAN SALVADOR
THE ORANGE SILK OVER-BLOUSE
"This doesn't look like the street I came up through!" exclaimed Betty Gordon. "These funny streets, with their dear old-fashioned houses, all seem, so much alike! And if there are any names stuck up at the corners they must hide around behind the post when I come by like squirrels in the woods.
"I declare, there is a queer little shop stuck right in there between two of those refined-looking, if poverty-stricken, boarding-houses. Dear me! how many come-down-in-the-world families have to take 'paying guests' to help out. Not like the Peabodys, but really needy people. What is it Bobby calls 'em? 'P.G.s'—'paying guests.'
"I was a paying guest at Bramble Farm," ruminated Betty, still staring at the little shop and the houses that flanked it on either side. "And I certainly had a hard time there. Bobby says that these people in Georgetown are the remains of Southern aristocracy that were cast up on this beach as long ago as the Civil War. Unlike the castaways on cannibal islands that we read about, Bobby says these castaways live off the 'P.G.s'—and that's what Joseph Peabody tried to do! He tried to live off me. There! I knew he was a cannibal.
"Oh! Isn't that sweet?"
Her sudden cry had no reference to the army of boarding-house keepers in the neighborhood, nor to any signpost that pointed the way back to the little square where the soldiers' monument stood and where Betty was to meet Carter, the Littells' chauffeur, and the big limousine. For she was still staring at the window of the little shop.
"What a lovely orange color! And that starburst pattern on the front! It's lovely! What a surprising thing to see in a little neighborhood store like this. I'm going to buy it if it fits me and I've money enough left in my purse."
Impetuous as usual, Betty Gordon marched at once to the door of the little side-street shop. The most famous of such neighborhood shops, as described by Hawthorne, Betty knew all about. She had studied it in her English readings at Shadyside only the previous term. But there was no Gingerbread Man in this shop window!
In the middle of the display window, which was divided into four not very large panes, was arranged on a cross of bright metal a knitted over-blouse of the very newest burnt orange shade. The work was exquisitely done, as Betty could see even from outside the shop, and she did hope it would fit her.
On pushing open the door a silvery bell—not an annoying, jangling bell—played a very lively tune to attract the attention of a girl who sat at the back of the shop, her head bent close above the work on which she was engaged. Although the bell stopped quivering when Betty closed the door, the girl did not look up from her work.
Sharp-eyed Betty saw that the stranger was knitting, and she seemed to be engaged upon another over-blouse like that in the window, save that the silk in her lap was of a pretty dark blue shade. Betty saw her full, red lips move placidly. The girl was counting over her work and she actually was so deeply immersed in the knitting that she had not heard the bell or realized that a possible customer had entered.
"Ahem!" coughed Betty.
"And that's twenty-four, and—cross—and two—and four——" The girl was counting aloud.
"Why," murmured Betty Gordon, her eyes dancing, "she's like Libbie Littell when she is somnambulating—I guess that is the right word. Anyway, when Libbie walks in her sleep she talks just like that——
This time Betty almost shouted the announcement of her presence in the shop and finally startled the other girl out of her abstraction. The latter looked up, winked her eyes very fast, and began to roll up her work in a clean towel. Betty noticed that her eyes were very blue and were shaded by dark lashes.
"I beg your pardon," said the shopgirl. "Have you been waiting long?" She came forward quickly and with an air of assurance. Her look was not a happy one, however, and Betty wondered at her sadness. "What can I show you?" asked the shopgirl.
She was not much older than Betty herself, but she was more self-possessed and seemed much more experienced than even Betty, much as the latter had traveled and varied as her adventures had been during the previous year and a half. But now the stranger's questions brought Betty to a renewed comprehension of what she had actually entered the shop for.
"I'm just crazy about that blouse in the window—the orange one," she cried. "I know you must have made it yourself, for you are knitting another, I see, and that is going to be pretty, too. But I want this orange one—if it doesn't cost too much."
"The price is twelve dollars. I hope it is not too much," said the shopgirl timidly. "I sold one for all of that before I left Liverpool."
Betty was as much interested now in the other girl as she was in the orange silk over-blouse.
"Why!" she exclaimed, "you are English, aren't you? And you and your family can't long have been over here."
"I have been here only two months," said the girl quietly.
There was a certain dignity in her manner that impressed Betty. She had very dark, smoothly arranged hair and a beautiful complexion. She was plump and strongly made, and she walked gracefully. Betty had noted that fact when she came forward from the back of the shop.
"But you didn't come over from England all alone?" asked the curious young customer, neglecting the blouse for her interest in the girl who spread out its gossamer body for approval.
"It took only seven days from Liverpool to New York," said the other girl, looking at Betty steadily, still with that lack of animation in her face. "I might have come alone; but it was better for me to travel with somebody, owing to the emigration laws of your country. I traveled as nursemaid to a family of Americans. But I separated from them in New York and came here."
"Oh!" Betty exclaimed, not meaning to be impertinent. "You had friends here in Georgetown?"
"I thought I had a relative in Washington. I had heard so. I failed to find her so—so I found this shop, kept by a woman who came from my county, and she gave me a chance to wait shop," said the English girl wearily.
"Mrs. Staples lets me knit these blouses to help out, for she cannot pay large wages. The trade isn't much, you see. This one, I am sure, will look lovely on you. I hope the price is not too much?"
"Not a bit, if it will fit me and I have that much money in my purse," replied Betty, who for a girl of her age had a good deal of money to spend quite as she pleased.
She opened her bag hastily and took out her purse. The purse was made of cut steel beads and, as Betty often said, "everything stuck to it!" Something clung to it now as she drew it forth, but neither Betty nor the shopgirl saw the dangling twist of tissue paper.
"And I'll buy that other one you are knitting," Betty hurried to say as she shook the purse and dug into it for the silver as well as the bills she had left after her morning's shopping. "I know that pretty blue will just look dear on a friend of mine."
She was busy with her money, and the English girl looked on hopefully. So neither saw the twist of tissue paper fly off the dangling fringe of beads and land with a soft little "plump" on the floor by the counter.
"Dear me!" breathed the shopgirl, in reply to Betty's promise, "I shall like that. It will help a good bit—and everything so high in this country. A dollar, as you say, goes hardly anywhere! And this one will fit you beautifully. You can see yourself."
"Of course it will. Do it up at once," cried the excited Betty. "Here is the money. Twelve dollars. I was afraid I didn't have enough. And be sure and keep that blue one for my friend. Maybe she will come for it herself, so give me a card or something so she can find the place. Shall she ask for you?"
"If you please," and the English girl ran to write a card. She brought it back with the neatly made parcel of the over-blouse and slipped it into Betty Gordon's hand. The latter thanked her and looked swiftly at the name the other had written.
"Good-bye, Ida Bellethorne," she said, smiling. "What a fine name! I hope I can sell some more blouses for you. I'll try."
The shopgirl made a little bow and the silvery bell jangled again as Betty opened the door. Betty looked back at the English girl, and the latter looked after Betty. They were both interested, much interested, the one in the other, and for reasons that neither suspected. Ida Bellethorne was not much like the girls Betty knew. She seemed even more sedate than the seniors at Shadyside where Betty had attended school with the Littell girls since the term had opened in September.
Ida Bellethorne was not, however, in any such happy condition as the girls Betty Gordon knew. She might have told the warm-hearted customer who had bought the over-blouse a story that would indeed have spurred Betty's interest to an even greater degree. But the English girl was naturally of a secretive disposition, and she was among strangers.
She turned back into the store when Betty had gone and the door, swinging shut, set the bell above it jingling again. A door opened at the end of the room and a tall, aggressive woman in a long, straight, gingham frock strode into the room. She had very black, heavy brows that met over her nose and this, with the thick spectacles she wore, gave her a very stern expression.
"What's the matter with that bell, Ida?" she demanded, in a sharp voice. "It seems to ring enough, but it doesn't ring any money into my cash-drawer as I can see."
"I sold my over-blouse out of the window, Mrs. Staples," said the girl.
"Humph! What else?"
"Er—what else? Why—why, she said she might come back for the one I am making."
"Humph!" ejaculated Mrs. Staples a second time. "I don't see as that will fill my cellar with coal. Couldn't you sell her anything else out of the shop?"
"She didn't say she wanted anything else," said Ida timidly.
"Oh! She didn't? You'll never make a sales-woman till you learn to sell 'em things they don't want but that the shop wants to sell. And I was foolish enough to tell you that you could have all you could make out of those blouses. Oh, well! I'm always being foolishly generous. Come! What's that on the floor? Pick it up."
Mrs. Staples was very near-sighted, yet nothing seemed to escape her observation. She pointed to the twist of white tissue paper on the floor which had been twitched out of Betty Gordon's bag. Ida stooped as she was commanded and got the paper. She was about to toss it into the waste-basket behind the counter when she realized that there was some hard object wrapped in the paper.
"What is it?" asked Mrs. Staples, in her quick, stern way, as she saw Ida open the twist of paper.
"Why, I—Oh, Mrs. Staples! look what this is, will you?"
She held out in the palm of her hand a little, heart-shaped platinum locket with a tiny but very beautiful diamond set in the center of its face, and when she turned it over on the back was engraved the intertwined letters "E.G."
"For the land's sake!" ejaculated Mrs. Staples, coming nearer and grabbing the locket out of Ida's hand. "Where did you get this?"
"Why, Mrs. Staples, you saw me pick it up."
"But how did it come there?"
"Oh, I know!" Ida Bellethorne cried, with sudden animation. "That girl stood right there. She opened her bag to get out her purse and she must have flirted it out to the floor."
"Humph!" said the storekeeper doubtfully.
"Give it to me, Mrs. Staples, and I'll run after her," cried the English girl anxiously.
"Humph!" This was Mrs. Staples' stock ejaculation and expressed a variety of emotions. Just now it expressed doubt. "And then you'd come back and tell me how thankful she was to get it, while maybe it doesn't belong to her at all. No," said Mrs. Staples, "let her come looking for it if she lost it."
"Oh!" murmured Ida Bellethorne doubtfully.
"Perhaps she will never guess she dropped it here."
"That's no skin off your nose," declared the vulgar shopwoman. "You've no rights in this thing, anyway. What's found on the floor of my shop is just as much mine as what's on the counter or in the trays behind the counter. I know my rights. Until whoever lost this thing comes in and proves property, it's mine."
"Oh, Mrs. Staples!" cried her employee. "Is that the law in this country? It doesn't seem honest."
"Humph! It's honest enough for me. And who are you, I'd like to know, a greenhorn fresh from the old country, trying to tell me what's honest and what ain't? If that girl comes back——"
"Yes, Mrs. Staples?"
"You sell her that other blouse if you want to, or anything else out of the shop. But you keep your mouth shut about this locket unless she asks for it. Understand? I won't have no tattle-tales about me; and if you don't learn when to keep your mouth open and when to keep it shut, I'll have no use at all for you in my shop. Remember that now!"
THE FRUITS OF TANTALUS
Betty Gordon had glanced hastily at her wrist watch as she went out of the little store. It was very near the minute appointed for her to meet Carter at the square. And she had forgotten to ask that girl, Ida Bellethorne (such an Englishy name!), how to find her rendezvous with the Littells' chauffeur.
She hesitated, tempted to run back. Had she done so she would have been in time to see Ida pick up the little locket that Uncle Dick had given Betty that very Christmas and which she carried in her bag because it seemed the safest place to treasure it while she was visiting. Her trunk was at Shadyside.
So it is that the very strangest threads of romance are woven in this world. And Betty Gordon had found before this that her life, at least, was patterned in a very wonderful way. Since she had been left an orphan and had found her only living relative, Mr. Richard Gordon, her father's brother, such a really delightful guardian the girl had been to so many places and her adventures had been so exciting that her head was sometimes quite in a whirl when she tried to think of all the happenings.
Uncle Dick's contracts with certain oil promotion companies made it impossible as yet for him to have what Betty thought of as "a real, sure-enough home." He traveled here, there and everywhere. Betty loved to travel too; but Uncle Dick was forced to go to such rough and wild places that at first he could not see how Betty, a twelve year old, gently bred girl, could go with him.
Therefore he had to find a home for his little ward for a few months, and remembering that an old school friend of his was married to the owner of a big and beautiful farm, he arranged for Betty to stay with the Peabodys at Bramble Farm. Her adventures as a "paying guest" in the Peabody household are fully related in the first book of the series, entitled "Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm," and a very exciting experience it was.
In spite, however, of the disagreeable and miserly Joseph Peabody, Betty would not have missed her adventures at the farm for anything. In the first place, she met Bob Henderson there, and a better boy-chum a girl never had than Bob. Although Bob had been born and brought up in a poorhouse, and at first knew very little about himself and his relatives, even a girl like Betty could see that this "poorhouse rat" as he was slurringly called by Joseph Peabody, possessed natural refinement and a very bright mind.
Betty and Bob became loyal friends, and when Betty, in the second volume, called "Betty Gordon in Washington," had fairly to run away from Bramble Farm to meet her Uncle Dick in the national capital, badly treated Bob ran away likewise, on the track of somebody who knew about his mother's relatives. Betty's adventures in Washington began with a most astonishing confusion of identities through which she met the Littells—a charming family consisting of a Mr. Littell, who was likewise an "Uncle Dick"; a motherly Mrs. Littell, who never found young people—either boys or girls—troublesome; three delightful sisters named Louise, Roberta, and Esther Littell; and a Cousin Elizabeth Littell, who good-naturedly becomes "Libbie" instead of "Betty" so as not to conflict in anybody's mind with "Betty" Gordon.
The fun they all had in Washington while Betty waited for the appearance of her real Uncle Dick, especially after Bob Henderson turned up and was likewise adopted for the time being by the Littell family, is detailed to the full in that second story. And at last both Betty and Bob got news from Oklahoma, where Mr. Richard Gordon was engaged, which set them traveling westward in a great hurry—Betty to meet Uncle Dick at Flame City and her boy chum hard on the trace of two elusive aunts of his, his mother's sisters, who appeared to be the only relatives he had in the world.
Betty and Bob discovered the aunts just in time to save them from selling their valuable but unsuspected oil holdings to sharpers, and in "Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil" one of the most satisfactory results that Betty saw accomplished was the selling of the old farm for Bob and his aunts for ninety thousand dollars.
Uncle Dick decided that Betty must go to a good school in the fall, and they chose Shadyside because the Littells and their friends were going there. Bob, now on a satisfactory financial plane, arranged to attend the Salsette Military Academy which was right across the lake from the girls' boarding school, Uncle Dick, who was now Bob's guardian, having advised this.
Hastening back from Oklahoma, while Uncle Dick was called to Canada to examine a promising oil field there, Betty and Bob met the girls and boys they previously got acquainted with in Washington and some other friends, and Betty at least began her boarding school experience with considerable confidence as well as delight.
It was not all plain sailing as subsequent events prove; yet in "Betty Gordon at Boarding School," the fourth volume of the series, Betty had many; pleasant adventures as well as school trials. She was particularly interested in the fortunes of Norma and Alice Guerin, who had been Betty's friends when she was living at Bramble Farm; and it was through Betty's good offices that great happiness came to the Guerin girls and their parents.
The hospitable Littells had invited their daughters' school friends (and, to quote Bob, there was a raft of them!) to come to Fairfields for the Christmas holidays, and at the close of the first term they bade good-bye to Shadyside and Salsette and took the train for Washington.
Fairfields, which was over the river in Virginia, was one of the most delightful homes Betty Gordon had ever seen. It was closer to Georgetown than to the nation's capital, and that is why Betty on this brisk morning was shopping in the old-fashioned town and had come across the orange silk over-blouse in the window of the neighborhood shop.
It was really too bad that Betty did not run back to the shop to ask for directions to the soldiers' monument square. She would have been just in season to interrupt the scene between Ida Bellethorne and Mrs. Staples and before the latter had threatened Ida with dismissal if she told Betty about the tiny locket. When she came to find it out, this loss of Uncle Dick's present, was going to trouble Betty Gordon very much.
"Where in the world can that soldiers' monument be?" murmured Betty to herself as, after hurrying on for a distance and having turned two corners, she found herself in a neighborhood that looked stranger than ever to her.
Not a soul was in sight at that moment, but presently she saw a small negro boy shuffling along, drawing a piece of chalk on the various houses and stoops as he passed.
"Boy, come here!" called Betty to the little fellow.
At once the colored boy stopped the use of his piece of chalk and stared at her with wide-open eyes.
"I ain't done nuffin, lady, 'deed I ain't," he mumbled, and then began to back away.
"I only want to know where the soldiers' monument is," she returned. "Do you know?"
"Soldiers' monument am over that way," and the boy waved his hand to one side, where there was a hilly street, and then hurried out of sight.
"Oh, dear! that's not very definite," sighed Betty.
But now she ran down the hilly street at a chance, turned a crooked corner and came plump upon the square and the soldiers' monument. There was the Littells' big, closed car just turning into the square from another street.
"What luck! Fancy!" gasped Betty, running swiftly to the place where the big car stopped.
"You're better than prompt, Miss Betty," said the driver of the car. "I am glad I hadn't to wait for you, for Mister Bob told me particular to get you home for luncheon. You'll be wanted."
"What for? Do tell me what for, Carter!" Betty cried. "I thought Bob Henderson was awfully mysterious this morning at breakfast. Do you know what is in the wind, Carter?"
"Not me, Miss Betty," said the chauffeur, and having tucked the robes about her he shut the door and got into his own place. But before he started the car he said through the open window: "I have to delay a little, Miss. Must drive around by the bank and pick up Mr. Gordon. But I will hurry home after that."
"Oh! Uncle Dick did go to the bank here," murmured Betty, nestling back into the cushions and robes. "I wonder if he is going to stop off at Mountain Camp on his way back to Canada. Oh!" and she sighed more deeply, "if we could only go up there with him——"
The car stopped before the gray stone bank building. Uncle Dick seemed to have been on the watch for them, he came out so promptly. Although his hair was graying, especially about the temples, Mr. Richard Gordon was by no means an old looking man. He lived much out of doors and spent such physical energy only as his out-of-door life yielded, instead of living on his reserve strength as so many office-confined men do. Betty had learned all about that in physics. She was thoroughly an out-of-door girl herself!
"Oh, Uncle Dick!" she cried when he stepped into the car, "are you really and truly getting ready to go north again?"
"Must, my dear. Have still some work to do in spite of the ice and snow in Canada. And, as I told you, I mean to stop and see Jonathan Canary."
"That is what I mean, Uncle Dick," she cried. "Will you go to that lovely Mountain Camp all alo-o-one?"
"Mercy me, child, you never saw it—and in winter! You do not know whether it is lovely or not."
"It must be," said Betty warmly, "You have explained it all so beautifully to us. The lovely lake surrounded by hills, and the long toboggan slide, and the skating, and fishing for pickerel through the ice, and—Oh, dear me! if we can't go——"
"If who can't go?" demanded her uncle in considerable amazement.
"Why, me. And Bob. And Bobby Littell and Louise, and the Tucker twins, and all the rest. We were talking about it last night. It—would—be—won—der—ful!"
"Well, of all the—Why, Betty!" exclaimed Mr. Gordon, "you know you must go right back to school."
"Yes, I know," sighed Betty. "It is like the fruits of Tantalus, isn't it? We read about him in Greek mythology—poor fellow! He stood up to his chin in water and over his head hung the loveliest fruits. But when he stooped to get a drink the water receded, and when he stood on tiptoe to reach the fruit, they receded too. It was dreadful! And Mountain Camp, where your friend Mr. Canary lives, is just like that. Uncle Dick. For us it is the fruits of Tantalus."
Uncle Dick stared at her for a moment, then he burst out laughing. But Betty Gordon remained perfectly serious until they arrived at Fairfields.
OFF FOR A GALLOP
The crowd at the Littell lunch table (and it was literally a "crowd" although the Guerin girls and some of the other over Christmas visitors had already gone home) hailed Betty's arrival vociferously.
"How do you stand it?" asked Uncle Dick, smiling at Mrs. Littell who presided at one end of the table. "I should think they would drive you distracted."
Mrs. Littell laughed jovially and beamed at her young company. "I am only distracted when Mr. Littell and I are here alone," she rejoined. "This is what keeps us young."
"You've only a shake to eat in, Betty," exclaimed Bobby Littell, who was very dark and very gay and very much alive all of the time. "Do hurry. We're 'most through."
"Dear me! what can I eat in a shake?" murmured Betty, as the soup was placed before her. "And I am hungry."
"A milk-shake should be absorbed in a shake," observed Bob Henderson, grinning at her from across the table.
"I need more than that, Bob, after what I have been through this morning. Such a job as shopping is! And oh, Bobby! I've got the loveliest thing to show you. You'll just squeal!"
"What is it?" cried Bobby, eager and big-eyed at once. "Do hurry your luncheon, Betty. We've all got to change, and it's almost time."
"Time for what?" demanded Betty, trying to eat daintily but hurriedly.
But Mrs. Littell called them to order here. "Give Betty time to eat properly. Whatever it is, Betty, it can't begin until you are ready."
"I'm through, Mother," said Bobby. "May I be excused? I'll have to help Esther, you know. You'd better forget your appetite, Betty," she whispered as she passed the latter on her way out of the room. "Time and tide wait for no man—or girl either."
"What does she mean?" wondered Betty, and became a little anxious as the others began to rise, too, and were excused. "Have we got to change? What is it—the movies? Or a party? Of course, it isn't skating? Even if there was a little scale of ice last night, it would never in this world bear us," added Betty, utterly puzzled.
Bob Henderson had slipped around to her side of the table and leaned over her chair back to whisper in Betty's ear:
"You've got to be ready in twenty minutes. The horses won't stand this cold weather—not under saddle."
"Saddle! Horses!" gasped Betty Gordon, rising right up from the table with the soup spoon in her hand. "I—I don't believe I want any more luncheon, Mrs. Littell. Really, I don't need any more. Will you please excuse me?"
"Not if you run away with my spoon, Betty," laughed her hostess. "It was the dish that ran away with the spoon, and you are not a dish, dear."
"She'll be dished if she doesn't hurry," called Bob from the door, and then he disappeared.
"Sit down and finish your luncheon, Betty," advised Mrs. Littell. "I assure you that they will not go without you. The men can walk the horses about a little if it is necessary."
"I haven't been in a saddle since I left the land of oil and my own dear Clover-pony!" cried Betty later, as she ran upstairs. "I know just where my riding habit is. Oh, dear! I hope I have as spirited a horse as dear Clover was. Are you all ready, Bobby? And you, too, Louise—and Esther? Goodness me! suppose Carter had broken down on the road and hadn't brought me back in time——
"Libbie! For goodness' sake don't sit down in that chair. That package has got the loveliest orange silk over-blouse in it. Wait till you see it, Bobby."
She fairly dragged the plump girl, Libbie, away from the proximity of the chair in question and then began to scramble into her riding dress. The clatter of hoofs was audible on the drive as she fixed the plain gold pin in her smart stock.
"Of course," Betty said with a sigh, "one can't wear a locket, with or without a chain, when one is riding. That dear locket Uncle Dick gave me! I suppose it is safe enough in my bag. Well, I'm ready."
They all ran down to the veranda to see the mounts. Betty's was a beautiful gray horse named Jim that she had seen before in the Fairfields stables.
"He's sort of hard-bitted, Miss," said the smiling negro who held the bridle and that of Bobby's own pony, a beautiful bay. "But he ain't got a bad trick and is as kind as a lamb, Miss."
"Oh, I'm not afraid of him," declared Betty. "You ought to see my Clover. All right, Uncle Dick, I'm up!"
They were all mounted and cantering down the drive in a very few minutes. Even plump little Libbie sat her steed well, for she had often ridden over her own Vermont hills.
"I don't know where we're going, but I'm on my way!" cried Betty, who was delighted to be once more in the saddle.
"We're going right across country to Bolter's stock farm," Louise told her. "Here's where we turn off. There will be some fences. Can you jump a fence, Betty?"
"I can go anywhere this gray horse goes," declared Betty proudly.
But Bob rode up beside her before they came to the first jump. "Look out for the icy places, Betsey," he warned her. "None of these horses are sharpened. They never have ice enough down here in Virginia to worry about, so they say."
Which was true enough on ordinary occasions. But the frost the night before had been a hard one and the air was still tingling with it. In the shady places the pools remained skimmed over. A gallop over the fields and through the woodland paths put both the horses and riders in a glow of excitement.
Perhaps Betty was a little careless—at least too confident. Her gray got the lead and sped away across some rough ground which bordered a ravine. Bob shouted again for her to be careful, and Betty turned and waved her hand reassuringly to him.
It was just then that Jim slipped on the edge of the bank. Both of his front feet slid on an icy patch and he almost came to his knees. Betty saved herself from going over his head by a skillful lunge backward, pulling sharply on the reins.
But the horse did not so easily regain his foot-hold. The edge of the bank crumbled. Betty did not utter a sound, but the girls behind her screamed in unison.
"Stop! Wait! She'll be killed!"
Betty knew that Bob was coming at a thundering pace on his brown mount; but the gray horse was on its haunches, sliding down the slope of the ravine, snorting as it went. Betty could not stop her horse, but she clung manfully to the reins and sat back in her saddle as though glued to it.
Just what would happen when they reached the bottom of the slope was a very serious question.
A SECOND IDA BELLETHORNE
The ravine was forty feet deep, and although the path, down which the gray horse slid with Betty Gordon on his back, was of sand and gravel only, there were some boulders and thick brush at the bottom that threatened disaster to both victims of the accident.
Swiftly and more swiftly the frightened horse slid, and the girl had no idea what she should do when they came, bumpy-ti-bump to the bottom.
She heard Bob shouting something to her, but she did not immediately comprehend what he said. Something, she thought it was, about her stirrups. But this was no time or place to look to see if her stirrup leathers were the proper length or if her feet were firmly fixed in the irons, which both Bob and Uncle Dick had warned her about when first she had begun to ride.
Although she dared not look back, Betty knew that Bob had galloped to the very edge of the ravine and had now flung himself from his saddle. She heard his boots slam into the sliding gravel of the hill. He shouted again—that cheery hail that somehow helped Betty to hold on to her fast vanishing courage.
"Kick your feet out of the stirrups, Betty!"
What he meant finally seeped into Betty's clouded brain. She realized that Bob Henderson, her chum, the boy she had learned to have such confidence in, was coming down that bank in mighty strides, prepared to save her if it was possible.
The gray horse was struggling and snorting; he was likely to tumble sideways at any moment. If he did, and Betty was caught under him——
But she was not caught in any such crushing pressure. It was Bob's arm around her waist that squeezed her. She had kicked her feet loose of the stirrups, and now Bob, throwing himself backward, tore her out of the saddle. He fell upon his back, and Betty, struggling and laughing and almost crying, fell on top of him.
"All right, Betty! All right!" gasped Bob. "No need to squeal now."
"Who's squealing?" she demanded. "Let me up, do! Are you hurt, Bob?"
"Only the wind knocked out of me. Woof! You all right?"
"Oh, my dear!" shrieked Bobby at the top of the bank. "Are you killed, Betty?"
"Only half killed," gasped Betty. "Don't worry. Spread the news. Elizabeth Gordon, Miss Sharpe's prize Latin scholar, will yet return to Shadyside to make glad the heart of——"
"She's all right," broke in Tommy Tucker, having dismounted and looking over the brink of the bank. "She's trying to be funny. Her neck isn't broken."
"I declare, Tommy!" cried Louise Littell admonishingly, "you sound as though you rather thought her poor little neck ought to be dislocated."
"Cheese!" gasped Teddy, Tommy's twin. "You got that word out of a book, Louise—you know you did."
"So I did; out of the dictionary. There are a lot more of them there, if you want to know," and Louise laughed.
"Oh!" at this point rose a yearning cry. "Oh!" I just think he is too dear for anything!"
"Cracky! What's broke loose now?" demanded Tommy Tucker, jerking back his head to stare all around at the group on the brink of the high bank.
"Who is too expensive, Libbie?" asked Bobby, glancing at her cousin with a look of annoyance displayed in her features.
"Robert Henderson. He is a hero!" gasped the plump girl.
"I know that hero has torn his coat," Louise said, still gazing down into the ravine.
Of course Bob had played a heroic part; but the rest of those present would have considered it almost indecent to speak of it as Libbie did. She continued to clasp her hands and gaze soulfully into the ravine. Bob, having made sure that Betty was all right, had gone down to the bottom of the slope and helped the gray horse to its feet. The animal was more frightened than hurt, although its legs were scratched some and it favored one fore foot when Bob walked it about.
"Dear me!" cried Betty, coming closer. "Poor old Jim! Is he hurt much, Bob?"
"I don't believe so," her friend replied.
"Can we get him up the bank?"
"I won't try that if there is any outlet to this ravine—and there must be, of course. Say! do you hear that silly girl?"
"Who? Libbie?" Betty began to giggle. "She is going to make a hero of you, Bob, whether you want to be or not. And you are——"
"Now, don't you begin," growled Bob.
"I never saw such a modest fellow," laughed Betty, giving his free hand a little squeeze.
"Huh! Libbie will want to put a laurel wreath on my brow if I climb up there. See! There is a bunch of laurels right over there—those glossy-leaved, runty sort of trees. Not for me! I am going to lead Jim out ahead, and you climb up, if you want to, and come along with the rest of the bunch. Ride my horse, if you will, Betty."
"So you'd run away from a girl!" scoffed Betty, but laughing. "You are no hero, Bob Henderson."
"Sure I'm not," he agreed cheerfully. "And I'd run away from a girl like Libbie any day. I wonder how Timothy Derby stands for her. But he's almost as mushy as a soft pumpkin!"
With this disrespectful observation Bob started off with the gray horse and Betty scrambled up the bank down which she had plunged so heedlessly.
Bobby was one of those who had dismounted at the brink of the ravine, and she held out a brown hand to Betty as the latter scrambled up the last yard or two of the steep bank and helped her to a secure footing.
"Are you all right, Betty dear?" she cried.
"No. One side of me is left," laughed Betty. "Wasn't that some slide?"
"Now, don't try to make out that you did it on purpose!" exclaimed Esther, the youngest Littell sister.
"It was too lovely for anything," sighed Libbie.
"I'm glad you think so," said Betty. "Oh! you mean what Bob did. I see. Of course he is lovely—always has been. But don't tell him so, for it utterly spoils boys if you praise them—doesn't it Bobby?"
"Of course it does," agreed Betty's particular chum, whose real name, Roberta, was seldom used even by her parents.
"I like that!" chorused the Tucker twins. "Wait till we tell Bob, Betty," added Tommy Tucker, shaking his head.
"If you try to slide downhill on horseback again, we'll all just let you slide to the very bottom," said Teddy.
"Don't fret," returned Betty gaily. "I don't intend to take another such slide——"
"Not even if your Uncle Dick takes you up to Mountain Camp?" asked Bobby. "There's fine tobogganing up there, he says. Mmmm!"
"Don't talk about it!" wailed Betty. "You know we can't go, for school begins next week and Uncle Dick won't hear to anything breaking in on my schooling."
"Not even measles?" suggested Tommy Tucker solemnly. "Two of the fellows were quarantined with it when we left Salsette," he added.
"Oh! don't speak of such a horrid thing," gasped Libbie, who did not consider measles in the least romantic. "You get all speckled like—like a zebra if you have 'em."
The twins uttered a concerted shout and almost rolled out of their saddles into which they had again mounted after assisting the girls, Betty being astride Bob's horse.
"Speckled like a zebra is good!" Bobby Littell said laughingly to her plump cousin. "I suppose you think a barber's pole is speckled, Libbie?"
These observations attracted the deluded Libbie sufficiently from her hero-worship, so that when Bob Henderson came up out of the ravine to join them a mile beyond the scene of the accident, he was perfectly safe from Libbie's romantic consideration.
The boy and girl friends were then in a deep discussion of the chances, pro and con, of Betty's Uncle Dick taking her with him to Mountain Camp despite the imminent opening of the term at Shadyside.
"Of course there is scarcely a possibility of his doing so," Betty said finally with hopeless mien. "Mr. Canary—Uncle Dick's friend is named Jonathan Canary, isn't that a funny name?" she interrupted herself to ask.
"He's a bird," declared Teddy Tucker solemnly.
"Nothing romantic sounding about that name," his brother said, with a look at Libbie. "'Jonathan Canary'—no poetry in that."
"He, he!" chuckled Ted wickedly. "Talking about poetry——"
"But we weren't!" said Bobby Littell. "We were talking about going to Mountain Camp in the Adirondacks. Think of it—in the dead of winter!"
"Talking about poetry," steadily pursued Teddy Tucker. "You know Timothy Derby is always gushing."
"A 'gusher,'" interposed Betty primly, "is an oil well that comes in with a bang."
"Don't you mean it comes out with a bang?" teased Louise.
"In or out, Betty and I have seen 'em gush all right," cried Bob, as they cantered on together along a well-defined bridle-path.
"Say! I'm telling you something," exploded Teddy Tucker, who did not purpose to have his tale lost sight of. "Something about Timothy Derby."
"Oh, dear me, yes!" exclaimed Bobby. "Do tell it and get it over, Ted."
The twins both began to chuckle and Teddy had some difficulty in going on with his story. But it seemed they had been at the Derby place the evening before and Timothy had been "boring everybody to distraction," Ted said, reading "Excelsior" to the family.
"And believe me!" interjected Tommy Tucker, "that kid can elocute."
"And he's always been at it," hurried on his twin, giggling. "Here's what Mr. Derby says Timothy recited the first time he ever spoke a piece at a Sunday School concert. You know; the stuff the little mites cackle."
"How elegant are your expressions, Teddy!" remarked Louise, sighing.
But she was amused as well as the others when Ted produced a paper on which he had written down the verse Mr. Derby said his son had recited, and just as Timothy had said it!
"Listen, all of you," begged Teddy. "Now, don't laugh and spoil it all, Tom. Listen:
"'Lettuce denby uppan doing Widow Hartford N E fate, Still H E ving, still pursuing, Learn to label Aunty Waite.'"
Libbie's voice rose above the general laughter, and she was quite warm. For Libbie's was a loyal soul.
"I don't care! I don't believe it. His father is always making fun of Timothy. He—he is cruel, I think. And, anyway, Timothy was only a little boy then."
"What did he want to label his Aunty Waite for?" demanded Bob.
"You all be pretty good," called Betty, seeing that Libbie was really getting angry. "If you aren't I'll ask Timothy and Libbie to my party at Mountain Camp and none of the rest of you shall go."
"Easy enough said, that, Betty," Bob rejoined. "You haven't very much chance of going there. But, crimpy! wouldn't it be great if Uncle Dick did take us?"
"Remember our school duties, children," drawled Louise. "'Still H E ving, still pursuing.' We must not cry for the moon."
Thus, with a great deal of laughter and good-natured chatter, the cavalcade trotted on and came finally to what Louise and Bobby said was the entrance to Bolter's Farm.
"All our horses were raised on this farm," explained Louise. "Daddy says that Lewis Bolter has the finest stock of any horseman in Virginia. Much of it is racing stock. He sells to the great stables up north. One of his men will know what to do for your gray's scratched legs, Betty."
For Betty had changed with Bob again and rode Jim, the horse that had slid down into the ravine. Betty was really sorry about the scratches and felt somehow as though she were a little to blame for the accident. She should have been more careful in guiding the gray.
Once at the great stables and paddocks, however, Betty's mind was relieved on this point. Louise had an errand from her father to Mr. Bolter and went away with Esther to interview the horse owner. Mr. Littell was a builder and constructor and he bought many work horses of Mr. Bolter's raising, as well as saddle stock.
If there was anything on four feet that Betty and Bob loved, it was a horse. In the west they had ridden almost continually; their mounts out at Flame City had been their dearest possessions and they would have been glad to bring them east, both Betty's Clover-pony and Bob's big white horse, had it been wise to do so.
At Shadyside and Salsette, however, there had been no opportunity for horseback riding. They had found pleasure in other forms of outdoor exercise. Now, enabled to view so many beautiful and sleek horses, Betty, as well as Bob and the others, dismounted with delight and entered the long stables.
While her gray was being examined by one of the stablemen, Betty went along a whole row of box stalls by herself, in each of which a horse was standing quietly or moving about. More than one came to thrust a soft muzzle over the door of the stall and with pointed ears and intelligent gaze seemed to ask if the pretty, brown-eyed girl had something nice in her pocket.
"Hi, Miss!" croaked a hoarse voice behind her. "If you want to see a bang-hup 'orse—a real topper—come down 'ere."
Betty turned to see a little crooked man, with one shoulder much higher than the other, who walked a good deal like a crab, sideways. He grinned at her cheerfully in spite of his ugly body and twisted features. He really was a dreadfully homely man, and he was not much taller than Betty herself. He wore a grimy jockey cap, a blue blouse and stained white trousers, and it was quite evident that he was one of the stable helpers.
"This 'ere is the lydy for you to see, Miss," continued the little man eagerly. "She's from old Hengland, Miss. I come with her myself and I've knowed her since she was foaled. Mr. Bolter ain't got in 'is 'ole stable, Miss, a mare like this one."
He pointed to a glossy black creature in the end box. Before the animal raised her head and looked over the gate, Betty knew that the mare from England was one of the most beautiful creatures she had ever seen.
"Hi, now, 'ow's that for a pretty lydy, Miss?" went on the rubber proudly.
"Oh! See! She knows you! Look at the beauty!" gasped Betty, as the black mare reached over the gate and gently nipped the blue sleeve of the crooked little man.
"Knows me? I should sye she does," he said proudly. "Why, she wouldn't take her meals from nobody but me. I told 'em so w'en I 'eard she was sold to Hamerica. And they found Hi was right, Miss, afore hever they got 'er aboard the ship. They sent for me, an' Mr. Bolter gave me a good job with 'er. I goes with Ida Bellethorne wherever she goes. That's the——"
"Ida Bellethorne?" interrupted Betty in amazement
"Yes, Miss. That's 'er nyme. Ida Bellethorne. She comes of the true Bellethorne stock. The last of the breed out o' the Bellethorne stables, Miss."
"Ida Bellethorne!" exclaimed Betty again. "Isn't that odd? A horse and a girl of the same name!"
But this last she did not say audibly. The cockney rubber was fondling the mare's muzzle and he did not hear Betty's comment. The discovery of this second Ida Bellethorne excited Betty enormously.
Betty Gordon's active mind could not let this incident pass without further investigation. Not alone was she interested in the beautiful black mare and the girl in the neighborhood shop, but she wanted to know how they came to have the same name.
Betty was a practical girl. Bob often said it was not easy to fool Betty. She had just as strong an imagination as any other girl of her age and loved to weave fancies in her own mind when it was otherwise idle. But she knew her dreams were dreams, and her imaginings unreal.
It struck her that the name "Ida Bellethorne" was more suitable for a horse than for a girl. Betty wondered all in a flash if the English girl who had sold her the silk sweater in the neighborhood shop that morning and who confessed that she had come from England practically alone had not chosen this rather resounding name to use as an alias. Perhaps she had run away from her friends and was hiding her identity behind the name of a horse that she had heard of as being famous on the English turf.
This was not a very hard thing for Betty to imagine. And, in any case, her interest was stirred greatly by the discovery she had made. She was about to speak to the little, crooked man regarding the name when something occurred to draw her attention from the point of her first surprise.
The mare, Ida Bellethorne, coughed. She coughed twice.
"Ah-ha, my lydy!" exclaimed the rubber, shaking his head and stepping away from the door of the stall that the mare should not muzzle his clothing. "That's a fine sound—wot?"
"Is it dust in her poor nose?" asked the interested Betty.
"'Tis worse nor dust. 'Tis wot they call 'ere the 'orse distemper, Miss. You tyke it from 'Unches Slattery, the change in climate and crossin' the hocean ain't done Ida Bellethorne a mite of good."
"Is that your name? 'Hunches Slattery'?" Betty asked curiously.
"That's wot they've called me this ten year back. You see, I was a jockey when I was a lad, and a good one, too, if Hi do say it as shouldn't. But I got throwed in a steeplechase race. When they let me out o' the 'orspital I was like this—'unchbacked and crooked. I been 'Unchie ever since, Miss."
"I am so sorry," breathed Betty Gordon softly.
But the crooked little rubber was more interested in Ida Bellethorne's history than he was in his own misfortune, which was an old story.
"I was working in the Bellethorne stables when this mare was foaled. I was always let work about her. She's a wonnerful pedigree, Miss—aw, yes, wonnerful! And she was named for an 'igh and mighty lydy, sure enough."
"Named for a lady?" cried Betty. "Don't you mean for a girl?"
"Aw, not much! Such a lydy, Miss! Fine, an' tall, and wonnerful to look at. They said she could sing like a hangel, that she could. Miss Ida Bellethorne, she was. She ought've been a lord's daughter, she ought."
"What became of her?" asked the puzzled Betty.
"I don't know, Miss. I don't rightly know what became of all the family. I kept close to the mare 'ere; the family didn't so much bother me. But there was trouble and ruin and separation and death; and, after all," added the rubber in a lower tone, "for all I know, there was cheating and swindling of the fatherless and orphan, too. But me, I kept close to this lydy 'ere," and he fondled the mare's muzzle again.
"It's quite wonderful," admitted Betty. But what seemed wonderful to her, the stableman did not know anything about. "I suppose the pretty mare is worth a lot of money?"
"Hi don't know wot Mr. Bolter would sell 'er for, if at all. But 'e paid four thousand pun, laid down at the stables where she was kep' after the smash of the Bellethorne family. She's got a pedigree longer than some lord's families, and 'er track record was what brought Mr. Lewis Bolter to Hengland when she was quietly put on the market.
"Maybe they couldn't 'ave sold 'er to Henglish turfman," he added, whispering softly in Betty's ear, "for maybe the title to 'er would be clouded hand if she won another race somebody might go into court about it."
Betty did not understand this; and just then the mare began to cough again and she was troubled by Ida Bellethorne's condition.
"Is that the black mare, Slattery?" demanded a voice behind them.
"Yes, sir," said the crooked little man respectfully, touching his cap.
Betty turned to see a gentleman in riding boots and a short coat with a dog-whip in his gloved hand, whom she believed at once to be Mr. Bolter. Nor was she mistaken.
"She's a beauty, isn't she, my dear?" the horseman said kindly. "But I do not like that cough. I've made up my mind, Slattery. She goes to-morrow to Cliffdale, and of course you go with her. Pack your bag to-night. I have already telephoned for a stable-car to be on the siding in the morning."
"Yes, sir. Wot she needs is dry hair, an' the 'igher the better," said the crooked man, nodding.
"They will put her on her feet again," agreed Mr. Bolter. "The balsam air around Cliffdale is the right lung-healer for man or beast."
He went out and Betty heard the girls calling to her. She thanked Hunchie Slattery, patted Ida Bellethorne's nose, and ran out of the stable.
But her head was full of the mystery of the striking name of "Ida Bellethorne." She felt she must tell somebody, and Bobby of course, who was her very closest chum, must be the recipient of her story as the cavalcade started homeward. It was Bobby whom Betty wanted to have the blue blouse just as soon as the shopgirl finished it.
"Now, what do you think of that?" Betty demanded, after she had delivered, almost in a breath, a rather garbled story of the strange girl and the black mare from England.
"Goodness, Betty, how wonderful!" exclaimed her friend. "I do so want to see that over-blouse you bought. And you say she is making another?"
"Is that all you've got to say about it?" demanded Betty, staring.
"Why—er—you know, it really is none of our business, is it?" asked Bobby, but with dancing eyes. "You know Miss Prettyman told us that the greatest fault of character under which young ladies labor to-day is vulgar curiosity. Oh, my! I can see her say it now," declared naughty Bobby, shaking her head.
"But, Bobby! Do think a bit! A girl and a horse both of the same name, and just recently from England! I'm going to ask right out what it means."
"Who are you going to ask—the horse?" giggled Bobby.
"Oh, you! No, I can't ask the pretty black mare," Betty said, shaking her head. "For she is going to be sent away for her health. She's got what they call 'distemper.' She has to be acclimated, or something."
"It sounds as though it might hurt," observed Bobby gravely.
"Something ought to hurt you," said Betty laughing. "You are forever and ever poking fun. But I am going to see Ida Bellethorne in the shop and find out what she knows about the pretty mare."
"Well, I'm sorry I didn't see the horse," confessed Bobby. "But I'll go with you to see the girl. And I do want to see the blouse."
That, Betty showed her the moment they arrived at Fairfields and could run upstairs to the room the two girls shared while Betty visited here. The latter unfolded the orange-silk blouse and spread it on the bed. Bobby went into exstacies over it, as in duty bound.
"Wait till you see the one she is making for you," Betty said. "You'll love it!"
"What is that you are going to love?" asked a voice outside the open door. "Measles?"
"Oh, Bob! Who ever heard the like?" demanded Betty. "Love measles, indeed. Why—What makes you look so queer?"
"Greatest thing you ever heard, girls!" cried Bob, his face very red and his eyes shining. "I didn't really understand how much I had come to hate books and drill these last few weeks."
"What do you mean?" demanded Roberta Littell. "If you don't tell us at once!"
"Why, didn't you hear? Telegrams have come. To all our parents and guardians. Measles! Measles! Measles!"
He began to dance a very poor imitation of the Highland Fling in the hall. The girls ran out and seized him, one on either side, and big as Bob was they managed to shake him soundly.
"Tell us what you mean!" commanded Betty.
"Who has the measles?" cried Bobby.
"Everybody! Or, pretty near everybody, I guess. The chaps who had it and were quarantined when we came away from Salsette, gave it to the servants. And it has spread to the village. And Miss Prettyman's got it and a lot of the other folks at Shadyside. Oh, my eye!"
"Are you fooling us, Bob?" demanded Betty.
"Honor bright! It is just as I say. Of course, it all isn't in the messages the two schools have sent out to 'parents and guardians.' That is the way the messages are headed, you know. But the Shadyside Mirror has come, too, and tells all about it. Opening is postponed for a fortnight. What do you know about that?" and Bob began his clumsy dance again.
Betty broke away and darted down the stairs. She scarcely touched the steps with her feet she flew so fast, and if it had not been for the banister she surely would have come to the bottom in a heap.
She ran out on the porch to find her Uncle Dick smoking a cigar and reading the paper in a warm corner. Like a stone from a catapult she flung herself into his arms.
"Oh, Uncle Dick! Uncle Dick! Now we can go!" she cried, seizing him tightly around the neck.
"Goodness, child!" choked Uncle Dick, fairly throttled by her exuberance. "What is it? Go where, Betty?"
"To Mountain Camp! With you! All of us! No school for more than two weeks! Oh, Uncle Dick!" Then she suddenly stopped and her glowing face lost its color and her excitement subsided. "Dear me!" she quavered, "I 'member now I had 'em when I was six, and they say you can't have 'em but once."
"What can't you have but once?"
"Measles," said Betty, sighing deeply. "I suppose after all I can go back to Shadyside. Maybe Mrs. Eustice will expect all of us that have had 'em to come."
There was an exciting conclave at Fairfields that evening. Perhaps I should say two. For in one room given over by the good-natured Mrs. Littell to the young folks there was a most noisy conclave while the older members of the household held a more quiet if no less earnest conference in the library.
There were eight in the young folks' meeting for Mrs. Littell insisted upon Esther's going to bed at a certain hour every evening "to get her beauty sleep."
"And I'll say she is sure to be a raving beauty when she grows up, if she keeps going to bed with the chickens," giggled Bobby.
"You know she can't go to Mountain Camp anyway," Louise said quietly, "for her school isn't measly and it begins again day after to-morrow."
"Poor Esther!" sighed Betty. "We must make it up to her somehow. I was afraid she would cry at dinner this evening."
"She's a good kid," agreed Bobby. "But are you sure, Betty, that we can go to the mountains? Just think! Eight of us!"
"Some contract for Mr. Gordon," observed Tommy Tucker with unusual reflection.
"How about it's being some contract for Mr. and Mrs. Canary?" suggested Bob Henderson. "Maybe they will shy at such a crowd."
"I asked Uncle Dick about that," Betty said eagerly. "He told me all about Mr. and Mrs. Canary. He has known them for years and years. They must be awfully nice people and they have got a great, big, rambling bungalow sort of house, all built of logs in the rough. But inside there is a heating plant, and electric lights, and shower baths, and everything up-to-date. Mr. Canary is very wealthy; but his money could not keep him from getting tuber—tuber——"
"'Tubers,'" said Bob with gravity, "are potatoes, or something of that kind."
"Now, Bob! you know what I mean very well," cried Betty. "His lungs were affected. But they have healed and he is perfectly well as long as he stays up there in the wilderness. The air there has wonderful cur—curative properties. There!"
"Look! Will it cure such a bad attack of poetry?" interrupted Bobby, drawing the attention of the others to Timothy Derby and Libbie who, with heads close together, were absorbed in a volume of verses the boy had brought with him from home.
"It might help," said Bob. "It ought to be cold enough up there at Mountain Camp to freeze romance into an icicle."
"I hope we all go then," Teddy Tucker agreed. "Our folks have said we could—haven't they, Tom?"
"With suspicious alacrity," agreed his twin. "How's that for a fine phrase, Louise? Do you know, I think mother and dad were almost shocked when they got the telegram from Salsette and knew our vacation was to be prolonged. The idea of Mountain Camp seems to please them."
"Goodness! I know dear Mrs. Littell doesn't feel that way about it," cried Betty.
"She's got girls," said Ted dryly. "You know it is us boys who are not appreciated in this world."
"Yes," said Bob, "you fellows are terribly abused, I'll say. But, now! Are we all sure of going? That's what I want to know."
"Timothy——" began Louise; but Bob held up his hand to stop her.
"I know from his father that Tim can go. Uncle Dick is sure to take us, Betty, isn't he?"
"He sent off a telegram to Mrs. Canary this evening. If she sends back word 'Yes' we can go day after to-morrow."
"That's all right then," said Bob, quite as eagerly. 'The thing to do then is to plan what to take and all that. It is cold up there, but dry. Much colder than it was at school before we came down. Furs, overcoats, boots, mittens—not gloves, for gloves are no good when it is really cold—and underthings that are warm and heavy. We don't want to come back with noses and toes frozen off."
"Humph!" said Bobby scornfully, "what kind of underwear should you advise our getting for our noses, Bob Henderson?"
"Aw—you know what I mean," said the boy, grinning. "Don't depend on a fur piece around your neck and a muff to keep the rest of you warm. Us fellows have all got Mackinaws and boots and such things. And we'll want 'em."
And so they excitedly made their plans. At least, six of them did while Timothy and Libbie bent their minds upon the book. One thing about those two young romanticists, they agreed to the plans the others made and were quite docile.
At ten Timothy and the Tucker twins went home and the others went cheerfully up to bed. While Betty Gordon remained at Fairfields Bobby insisted on sharing her own room with her. They were never separated at Shadyside, so why should they be here?
When she was half undressed Betty suddenly went down on her knees before the tall chiffonier and opened the lower drawer. She dug under everything in the drawer until she came to her handbag, and drew it forth.
"I declare!" chuckled Bobby, "I thought you were digging a new burrow like a homeless rabbit. What did you forget?"
"Didn't forget anything," responded Betty, smiling up at her friend. "I remembered something."
"My locket. Uncle Dick's present. I wanted to see that it was safe."
"Goodness! Do you carry it in your bag?"
"I've got a lovely chain at Shadyside, you know. I told Uncle Dick not to buy a chain. And I don't believe Mrs. Eustice will object to a simple little locket like mine, will she?"
"M-m-m! I don't know," replied Bobby. "You know she is awfully opposed to us girls wearing jewelry. And your locket is lovely. Just think! Platinum and a real diamond. Why! what is the matter, Betty?"
For Betty had begun scrambling in her bag worse than she had in the bureau drawer. Everything came out—purse, tickets, gloves, handkerchief, the tiniest little looking-glass, a letter or two, a silver thimble, two coughdrops stuck together, a sample of ribbon which she had failed to match, a most disreputable looking piece of lead-pencil——
But no twist of tissue paper with the locket in it!
"What is the matter?" repeated Bobby, frightened by the expression of the other girl's face.
"I—I——Oh, Bobby! It's gone!" wailed Betty.
"Not your locket?"
"Yes, my locket!" sobbed Betty, and she sat down on the floor and wept.
"Why, it can't be! Who would take it? When did you see it last? Nobody here in the house would have stolen it, Betty."
"It—it must have dropped out of my bag. Oh! what shall I do? I can't tell Uncle Dick."
"He won't punish you for losing it, will he?"
"But think how he'll feel! And how I'll feel!" wailed Betty. "He advised me to put it somewhere for safe keeping until I got my chain. And I wouldn't. I—I wanted it with me."
"You should have put it downstairs in daddy's safe," said Bobby thoughtfully.
"But that doesn't do me a bit of good now," sobbed Betty Gordon.
"Don't you remember where you had it last?" asked her friend slowly.
"In my bag, of course. And I carried my bag to town to-day. Yes! I remember seeing the paper it was in at the bottom of my bag more than once while I was shopping. Oh, dear! what shall I do?"
"Then you are quite sure it was not stolen?" Bobby suggested.
"No. I don't suppose it was. It just hopped out somehow. But where? That is the question, Bobby. I can't answer it."
She rose finally and finished her preparations for bed. Bobby was very sympathetic; but there did not seem to be anything she could say that would really relieve Betty's heart, or help in any way. The locket was gone and no trace of how it had gone had been left in Betty's mind.
When the light was out Bobby crept into Betty's bed and held her tightly in her arms.
"Don't cry, Betty dear!" the other girl whispered. "Maybe your Uncle Dick will know how to find the locket."
"Oh, Bobby! I can't tell him. I'm ashamed to," sighed Betty. "It looks as though I had not cared enough about his present to be careful with it. And I thought if I carried it about with me that there would be no chance of my losing it. And now——"
"Then tell Bob," suggested her chum, hugging Betty tightly.
"Tell him all about it," said Bobby Littell. "Perhaps he will know what to do. You can't really have lost that beautiful locket forever, Betty!"
"Oh, I don't know! It's gone, anyway!" sobbed Betty.
"Don't give up. That isn't like you, Betty," went on Bobby. "Maybe Bob can help. We can ask him, at least."
"Yes, we can do that," was Betty's not very hopeful reply.
ALL MRS. STAPLES COULD SAY
The two girls sought out Bob Henderson before breakfast and told him of the disappearance of Betty's beautiful little locket. Betty's eyes, were a little swollen and even Bobby seemed not to have passed a very agreeable night. Bob was quite shrewd enough to see these evidences of trouble and he refrained from making any remark even in fun to ruffle the girls.
"Here's a pretty mess!" exclaimed Bob, but cheerfully. "And we all going to Mountain Camp to-morrow if Mrs. Canary telegraphs 'Yes,' Hunted everywhere, I suppose?"
"Yes, Bob," Betty assured him. "And there was but one place to hunt. In my bag."
"Carried it loose in your bag, did you?" he asked reflectively.
"Wrapped up in white tissue paper. You know, the box it came in got broken."
"I remember. Gee, Betty! that's an awfully pretty locket. You don't want to lose it."
"But I have lost it!"
"For keeps, I mean," rejoined Bob, smiling encouragingly. "Come on! Let's see the bag. Where did you carry it? When was the last time you saw the locket in the bag and where?"
"Oh!" Betty cried suddenly. "I remember it was in the bag when I was shopping yesterday."
"Shopping where? Let's hear about the last place you remember seeing it."
Betty remembered very clearly seeing the twist of paper with the locket in it while she was at Purcell's where she had bought some veiling.
"Then, Betty," said Bobby, "you went to that little store afterward, you said, where you got the over-blouse."
"Ye—es. But I didn't notice it while I was there. I was so excited over the blouse and so interested in Ida Bellethorne that I don't remember of looking in my bag to see if my locket was safe."
"'Ida Bellethorne'?" repeated Bob in surprise. "Why! that's the name of Mr. Lewis Bolter's new mare from England. I heard Mr. Littell and Uncle Dick talking about her."
"And I met a girl named Ida Bellethorne. I'll tell you all about her later, Bob," said Betty. "Just now I want to know what to do about the locket."
"I should say you did! And I'll tell you what," Bob said promptly. "Right after breakfast we'll borrow the little car and I'll take you over to Georgetown and we'll go to every place you went to yesterday, Betty, and inquire. I'm allowed to drive in the District of Columbia, you know."
"Will you, Bob?" cried Betty. "Do you think there is any chance of our finding it?"
"Why not? If it was picked up in one of the stores you went to. There are lots more honest people in the world than there are dishonest. Come on now, don't cry."
"I'm not going to cry," declared Betty. "I've cried enough already. Don't tell the others, Bob. Nor Uncle Dick. I don't want him to know if I can help it. It looks just as though I didn't prize his present enough to take care of it."
Somehow, Betty felt encouraged by Bob's taking hold of the matter. The small car was secured after breakfast and Bob and the two girls set off for the other side of the river. It was not alone because of Bob's advice that they stopped first at the little neighborhood shop on the hilly side street where Betty had bought her sweater. Bobby was anxious to see her blue sweater, and the two girls ran in as soon as the car halted before the door.
The little bell over it jingled pleasantly at their entrance; but it was a tall and rather grim-looking woman who came from the back of the shop to meet them instead of the English girl with whom Betty had dealt on her former visit.
"Humph!" said Mrs. Staples, for it was she, when she spied the over-blouse under Betty's coat. "You are the young lady who was to purchase the blue blouse when it was finished?"
"For my friend here," said Betty, bringing Bobby forward. "I know she will like it."
"I hope so," said Mrs. Staples. "It is finished. Ida sat up most of the night to finish it. Here it is," and she displayed the dark blue blouse for the girls to see.
"How lovely!" ejaculated Bobby eagerly. "I like it even better than I do your orange one, Betty. It's sweet."
"It's twelve dollars, Miss," said the shop woman promptly. "You can pay me and take the blouse. I paid Ida for it."
"Isn't the girl who made it here?" asked Betty anxiously.
"No, she ain't," said Mrs. Staples in her blunt way. "She left an hour ago."
"Oh! Will she come back?"
"I don't expect her. I am sure I cannot be changing help all the time. She left me very abruptly. I did not ask her to come back."
"Why," said Betty, wonderingly, "I thought you were her friend. Isn't she all alone in this country?"
"She is a girl who seems quite able to take care of herself," the grim shopwoman said. "Or she is determined to try. I advised her to write to her aunt——"
"Then she has an aunt over here?" cried Betty eagerly.
"So she thinks. An aunt for whom Ida was named. There was some family trouble, and Ida's father and her father's sister seem to have had nothing to do with each other for some years. The aunt is a singer—quite a noted concert singer, it seems. Ida came to Washington expecting to find her. She did not find the elder Ida Bellethorne——"
"Then there are three Ida Bellethornes!" whispered Bobby in Betty's ear.
"So she came here to help me," continued Mrs. Staples, all the time watching Betty with a rather strange manner. "She would better have remained with me, as I told her. But she found in the paper last night this notice," the woman produced a torn piece of paper from the counter and handed it to Betty, "and nothing would do but Ida must go right away to find the place and the person mentioned here."
The two girls in great interest bent their heads above the piece of paper. The marked paragraph was one of several in the column and read as follows:
"It is stated upon good authority that the great Ida Bellethorne will arrive at Cliffdale, New York, within a day or two, and will remain for the winter."
"Why, how odd," murmured Betty. "And did this make Ida go away?"
"She has gone to Cliffdale to meet her aunt. That was her intention," said Mrs. Staples. "Are either of you young ladies prepared to buy this blue blouse?"
"Oh, yes, indeed!" cried Bobby, who had taken a fancy to the blouse. "I've got money enough. And it was nice of Miss Bellethorne to finish it for me before she went. I wish I might thank her personally."
"I do not expect to see Ida again," the shopwoman repeated in her most severe manner, wrapping up the over-blouse. "Twelve dollars—thank you, Miss. Can I show you anything else?"
"Wait!" gasped Betty. "I want to ask you—I wanted to ask Ida Bellethorne if she saw me drop anything here in the store yesterday?"
"I am sorry she is not here to answer that question," said Mrs. Staples. "I was not here when you came, Miss."
"No, I know you weren't. But somewhere while I was shopping yesterday I lost something out of my bag. If it dropped out here——"
"I can assure you I picked up nothing, Miss," declared the shop woman.
"If Ida Bellethorne did, she is not here, unfortunately, to tell you," said Mrs. Staples in her same manner and without a change of expression on her hard face.
"Oh, dear!" sighed Betty.
"But you don't know that you dropped it here," Bobby said to encourage her. But perhaps it encouraged Mrs. Staples more!
"I have nothing more to say, Miss," the woman declared. "Ida not being here——"
"Oh, well," said Betty, trying to speak more cheerfully, "it is true I do not remember having seen it while I was here at all. So—so we will go to the other places. Of course, if Ida had found anything she would have told you?"
"I cannot be responsible for what Ida Bellethorne would do or say," replied the shopwoman grimly. "Not having been here myself when you came, Miss——"
"Oh, yes! I understand," said Betty hastily. "Well, thank you for keeping the blouse for us. Good-bye."
She and Bobby were not greatly pleased with Mrs. Staples. But they had no reason for distrusting her. When they had gone the shopwoman smiled a most wintry smile.
"Well, I am not supposed to tell people how to go about their own affairs, I should hope," was her thought. "That chit never told me what she had lost. It might have been a pair of shoes or a boiled lobster! Humph! Folks would better speak plain in this world. I always do, I am sure."
UNCLE DICK MUST BE TOLD
The two girls did not tell Bob Henderson all that had happened in the little shop when they first came out. They were in too much haste to get to the other places where it might be possible that Betty had dropped her locket. Of all things, they did not suspect that Mrs. Staples knew the first thing about it.
But they did tell the boy that Ida Bellethorne had gone away.
"Where's she gone?" asked the inquisitive Bob. "Couldn't be that she found the locket and ran off with it?"
"Why, you're almost horrid!" declared Betty, aggrieved. "You don't know what a nice girl Ida is."
"Humph!" (Could he have caught that expression from waiting outside Mrs. Staples' shop?) "Humph! I don't believe you know how nice she is, or otherwise. You never saw her but once."
"But she's seen the horse," giggled Bobby.
"What horse?" demanded Bob.
"Mr. Lewis Bolter's black mare, Ida Bellethorne."
"And, oh, Bob!" cried Betty, "there's another Ida Bellethorne, and this Ida has gone away to see her. She's her aunt."
"Who's her aunt?" grumbled Bob, who was having some difficulty just then in driving the car and so could not give his full attention to the matter the girls were chattering about.
"Why, see!" cried Betty, rummaging in her bag. "Here's the piece of newspaper with the society item, or whatever it is, in it that made Ida go away so suddenly this morning. It's about her aunt, the great concert singer. Ida's gone to meet her where that says," and she put the piece of paper into Bob's hand.
"All right," he said. "Here's Markham and Boggs' place. You said you were in this store yesterday, Betty."
"So I was. Come on, Bobby," cried the other girl, hopping out of the car. "I suppose we shall have to go to the manager or the superintendent or somebody. Dear me! if we don't find my locket I don't know what I shall do."
When Betty and Bobby came out of the store, much disappointed, they found Bob grinning—as Bobby declared—"like a Cheshire cat."
"But never mind the cat," continued Bobby. "What is the matter with that boy? For boys will laugh at the most serious things. And this is serious, my poor, dear Betty."
"Indeed it is," agreed her friend, and so they crossed the walk to the grinning Bob Henderson who had the scrap of newspaper Betty had given him in his hand.
"Say," he drawled, "who did you say this aunt of Ida Bellethorne is?"
"Mrs. Staples says she is a concert singer—a prima donna," replied Betty.
"She's a prima donna all right," chuckled Bob. "Where now? Oh! To Stone's shoe shop? Well, what do you know about this notice in the paper?" and his smile grew broader.
"What do you mean, Bob?" demanded Betty, rather vexed. "You can read the paragraph yourself. 'The great Ida Bellethorne'. That means she is a great singer of course."
"Yes, I see," replied Bob, giving some attention to the steering of the car. "But there is one thing about you girls—you never read the sporting page of the newspaper."
"What is that?" gasped Bobby Littell.
"This string of items you handed me is torn out of the sporting page. All the paragraphs refer to racing matters. That particular one deals with Mr. Bolter's black mare, Ida Bellethorne. Cliffdale is the place he was shipping her to far her health."
"Never!" cried Bobby.
"Oh, Bob! Is that so?" gasped Betty.
Bob burst into open laughter. "That's a good one on you and on your friend, Ida," he declared. "If she has gone to meet her aunt up in New York State she'll meet a horse instead. How's that for a joke?"
Betty Gordon shook her head without smiling. "I don't see the joke at all," she said. "Poor Ida! She will be sadly disappointed. And she has lost her position here with Mrs. Staples. We could see that Mrs. Staples was angry because she went away."
"Why," cried Bobby, likewise sympathetic, "I think it is horrid—actually horrid! You needn't laugh, Bob Henderson."
"Shucks!" returned the boy. "I can't cry over it, can I? Of course it is too bad the girl has made such a mistake. But our weeping won't help her."
"No," confessed Bobby, "I suppose that is so."
"And our weeping won't find my locket," sighed Betty. "Dear me! If I did drop it in Stone's place I hope they have saved it for me."
But the locket was not to be found in that shop, either. Nor in the two others which Betty Gordon had visited the previous day. This indeed was a perfectly dreadful thing! The plainer it was that the locket could not be found, the more repentent and distracted Betty became.
"I shall have to tell Uncle Dick—I shall have to," she wailed, when Bob drove them away from the last place and all hope was gone glimmering. "Oh, dear! It is dreadful."
"Don't take on so, Betty!" Bob begged gruffly, for he could not bear to see the girl actually cry. "I'll tell him if you are afraid to."
"Don't you dare!" she flared out at him. "I'm not afraid. Only I dread it. It was the nicest present he ever gave me and—and I loved it. But I did not take proper care of it. I realize that now, when it is too late."
Bob remained serious of aspect after that. That his mind was engaged with the problem of Betty's lost trinket was proved by what he said on the way back to Fairfields:
"I suppose you spoke to all the clerks you traded with in those stores, Betty?"
"Why, yes. All but Ida Bellethorne, Bob."
"And Mrs. Staples said she didn't know anything about Betty's locket," Bobby put in.
Of course, this was not so; but Bobby thought she was telling the exact truth. The two girls really had not explained Betty's loss to Mrs. Staples at all.
"The English girl going off so suddenly, and on such a wild-goose chase, looks kind of fishy, you know," drawled Bob.
"She thinks she is chasing her aunt!" Bobby cried.
"You don't even know her, Bob," declared Betty haughtily. "You can't judge her character. I am sure she is honest."
"Well," grumbled Bob, "being sure everybody is honest isn't going to get you that locket back, believe me!"
"That's horrid, too! Isn't it, Betty?" demanded Bobby.
"It's sort of, I guess," said Betty, much troubled, "But, oh, Bob! I don't want to think that poor girl found my locket and ran away with it. No, I don't want to believe that. And, anyway, it doesn't help me out a mite. I've got to tell Uncle Dick before he notices that I don't display his pretty present any more. Oh, dear!"
"It's a shame," groaned Bobby, holding her chum's hand tightly.
"Guess there are worse things than measles in this world," observed Bob, as he stopped the small car under the porte cochere at Fairfields.
THE LIVE WIRE OCTETTE
It was not an easy thing to do; but Betty Gordon did it. She confessed the whole wretched thing to Uncle Dick and was assured of his forgiveness. But perhaps his serious forgiveness was not the easiest thing for the girl to bear.
"I am sure, as you say, that you did not mean to be careless," Mr. Richard Gordon said gently. It was hard for him to be strict with Betty; but he knew her impulsiveness sometimes led her into a reckless path. "But mark you, Betty: The value of that locket should have, in itself, made you particularly careful of it."
"I—I valued it more because you gave it to me, Uncle Dick," she sobbed.
"And yet that did not make you particularly careful," the gentleman reminded her. "The main trouble with you, Betty, is that you have no very clear appreciation of the value of money."
"Oh, Uncle Dick!" and she looked at him with trembling chin and tears welling into her eyes.
"And why should you?" he added, laughing more lightly and patting her hand. "You have never been obliged to earn money. Think back to the time you were with the Peabodys. The money my lawyer sent you for your own use just burned holes in your pinafore pockets, didn't it?"
"I didn't wear pinafores, Uncle Dick," Betty said soberly. "Girls don't nowadays."
"No, I see they don't," he rejoined, smiling broadly again. "But they did in my day. However, in whatever pocket you put that money as you got it, the hole was figuratively burned, wasn't it?"
"We—ell, it went mostly for food. Mr. Peabody was such a miser! And—and——"
"And so when you wanted to come away from Bramble Farm you actually had to borrow money," went on Uncle Dick. "Of course, you were fortunate enough finally to get the lawyer's check and pay your debts. But the fact remains that you seem unable to keep money."
"Oh, Uncle Dick!"
"Now," continued her guardian still soberly, "a miser like Mr. Peabody for instance is a very unpleasant person. But a spendthrift often does even more harm in the world than a miser. I don't want my Betty-girl to be a spendthrift."
"Oh, Uncle Dick!"
"The loss of your pretty locket, my dear, has come because of that trait in your character which ignores a proper appreciation of the value of money and what can be bought with it. Now, I can buy you another locket——"
"No, no, Uncle Dick! I don't deserve it," she said with her face hidden against his shoulder as she sat in his lap.
"That is true, my dear. I don't really think you do deserve another—not right at once. And, anyway, we will advertise for the locket in the newspapers and may recover it in that way. So we will postpone the purchase of any other piece of jewelry at present.
"What I have in my mind, however, and have had for some time, is the reorganization of your financial affairs," and now he smiled broadly as she raised her head to look at him. "I think of putting you on a monthly allowance of pocket money and asking you to keep a fairly exact account of your expenditures. Not an account to show me. I don't want you to feel as though you were being watched."
"What do you mean, Uncle Dick?"
"I want you to keep account for your own satisfaction. I want you to know at the end of the month where your money has gone to. It is the best training in the world for a girl, as well as a boy, to know just what she has done with the money that has passed through her hands. And in this case I am sure in time that it will give you a just comprehension of money's value.
"If we do not recover the locket, why, in time, we will look about for another pretty trinket——"
"No, Uncle Dick," Betty said seriously. "I loved that locket. I should have been more careful of it. I hope it will be found and returned to me. I do! I do! But I don't want you to give me another."
"Why not?" he asked, yet giving her quite an understanding look.
"I guess you know, Uncle Dick," she sighed. "I don't really deserve it. And it wouldn't be that locket that you gave me for Christmas, you see."
"Well, my dear——"
"Wait, dear Uncle Dick! I want to say something more," said the girl, hugging him tightly again. "If you give me a certain sum of money to spend for myself every month I am going to save out of it until I have enough to buy a locket exactly like that one I lost—If it isn't found, I mean."
"You approve, Uncle Dick?"
"Most assuredly. That would be following out my suggestion of learning to take care of money in the fullest sense, my dear."
"Then," said Betty, bouncing happily on his knee, "that is what I am going to try to do. But I do hope my locket will be found!"
This serious conference was broken up at this point by the arrival of the telegram Uncle Dick had been expecting from Mountain Camp. Mrs. Jonathan Canary had signed it herself and it was to the effect that the young friends of Mr. Richard Gordon would be as welcome as that gentleman himself.
Bob immediately saddled a horse and galloped to the Derbys and the Tuckers to carry the news. Final plans were made for departure the next morning and in spite of a rather threatening change in the weather the party left Fairfields on time and in high spirits for upper New York State.
A few flakes of snow had begun fluttering down as the train pulled out of Washington; and as it raced across the Maryland fields and through the hills which grace that State the snow blew faster and faster and thicker and thicker. But even in midwinter snow storms do not much obstruct traffic so far south, and the gay party from Fairfields had no suspicion that it was being borne into any peril or trouble. What was a little snow which scarcely, at first, caught upon the brown fields?
They had engaged two whole sections for the young folks and an extra place for Uncle Dick. The latter did not interfere at all with the fun and frolic of his charges. He was—he should have been—used by now to the ridiculous antics of the Tucker twins and the overflowing spirits of the rest of the octette. Bachelor as he was, Mr. Richard Gordon considered himself pretty well acquainted with young folks of their age.
The two sections occupied by the eight girls and boys were opposite each other and they had that end of the car pretty much to themselves. Of course, people sometimes had to go through the aisle—and others besides the conductor and the porter; but after running the gauntlet of that lively troop once the restless passenger usually tried to keep out of the "line of fire."
The fun the party had was good-natured sport for the most part. Their practical jokes were aimed at each other rather than at their fellow passengers. But it was a fact that there was very little peace for a nervous person in that Pullman coach.
"We're the live-wire octette, and we are going to let everybody know it," proclaimed Tommy Tucker vociferously. "Say! there's a chap up at the other end of the car, sprawled all over his seat—fresh kid, he is. Did you notice him?"
"I did," replied his twin. "I fell over his foot twice when I went for a drink."
"Why didn't you look where you were walking?" grinned Bob Henderson craning his neck to see up the aisle and mark the passenger in question.
"Huh!" grumbled Ted, "he stuck it out for me to tumble over both times—and you know this train is joggling some."
"Ill say so," agreed Bob.
But Betty had jumped up to look and she said eagerly:
"Do you mean the man with the silk handkerchief over his head? He must be asleep, or trying to sleep."
"I tell you he is just a fresh kid," said Tommy Tucker. "And I'm going to fix him."
"Now, boys, be careful what you do," advised Louise, who occasionally considered it her duty to put on a sober, admonishing air.
Tommy, however, started for the nearest exit to the platform of the car. He was gone some time, and when he reappeared he carried in both hands a great soggy snowball, bigger than the biggest grapefruit.
"Gee, folks!" he whispered, "it's snowing, and then some! I never saw such a snow. And the porter says it is likely to get worse the farther north we go. Suppose we should be snowbound?"
There was a chorus of cries—of fearful delight on the part of the girls, at least—at this announcement.
"Never mind," Bob Henderson said, "we have a dining car hitched to this train, so we sha'n't starve I guess, if we are snowed up. What are you going to do with that snow, Tommy?"
The Tucker twin winked prodigiously. "I'm going to take it up the aisle and show it to Mr. Gordon. He doesn't know it's snowing like this," said the boy quite soberly.
"Why, Tommy Tucker!" cried Betty, "of course Uncle Dick knows it is snowing. Can't he see it through the window?"
But when she looked herself at the window beside her she was amazed to see that the pane was masked with wet snow and one could scarcely see through it at all. Besides, evening was falling fast.
"I do hope," Teddy remarked, watching his brother start up the aisle, "he tumbles in the right place."
"What is he going to do with that snowball?" demanded Louise.
"I know! I know!" giggled Bobby, in sudden delight. "That man with the silk hander chief over his head is going to get a shower."
"He isn't a man. He's just a fresh kid," declared Ted, but he said it somewhat anxiously now.
"Stop him, somebody!" cried Louise. "He'll get into trouble."
"If you ask me," drawled Bob Henderson, "I think that somebody else is going to get into trouble. I saw that chap stick his foot out and trip Ted before."
"He did it unknowingly," cried Betty, under her breath. "He's asleep."
"If he is he won't be long," whispered Bobby, clutching at Betty and holding her into the seat. "Let Tommy Tucker be. If that fellow trips him——"
The next instant Tommy did trip. Without any doubt the well shod foot of the man lolling in the seat slid into the aisle as the boy with the snowfall approached, and Tommy pitched over it with almost a certainty of falling headlong. Indeed, he would have gone to the floor of the car had he not let go of the mass of snow in his hands and clutched at the seat arms.
"Whoo!" burst out Teddy Tucker in delight. "Now that fresh kid's got his!"
For the soft snowball in Tommy's hands landed plump upon the handkerchief-covered crown of the person sprawling so ungracefully in the Pullman seat! The victim uttered a howl audible above the drumming of the car wheels. And he leaped upright between the seats of his section, beat the fast-melting snow off his head and face, and displayed the latter to the young peoples' amazement as that of a very stern looking gentleman indeed with a bald head and gray side whiskers.
"Oh, my aunt's cat and all her kittens!" gasped Bob Henderson. "Now Tommy has done it! See who it is, Ted?"
Teddy Tucker was as pale as the snow his brother had brought in from outside and which now showered about the victim of the ill-timed jest.
"Ma—Major Pater! From Salsette! He has an artificial leg, and that's why it was sticking out in the aisle whenever he nodded off. Oh, Jimminy-beeswax! what's going to become of Tommy?"
The girls had heard the boys who attended Salsette Academy mention that martinet, Major Pater. Although his infirmity—or injury—precluded his having anything to do with the drilling of the pupils of the academy, in the schoolroom he was the most stern of all the instructors at Salsette.
"Oh, poor Tommy!" gasped Betty, wringing her hands.
"Served him right," declared Louise. "He should not have played that trick. A lame man, too!"
"Oh, Louise!" exclaimed her sister Bobby, "Tommy didn't know it was an artificial limb he was stumbling over."
"And I'm sure I didn't know it was his old peg-leg I tripped on twice," declared Teddy Tucker in high dudgeon. "What did he want to go to sleep for, spraddled all over the aisle?"
He said this in a very low voice, however; and be kept well behind Bob and the girls. As for Timothy Derby and Libbie Littell they actually never heard a word of all this! They sat side by side in one of the sections and read together Spenser's Faerie Queene—understanding, it must be confessed, but an infinitesimal part of that poem.
The other passengers near Major Pater, without any doubt, were vastly amused by his condition. The melting snow cascaded off his head and shoulders, and not a little of it went down his neck. Such a military looking and grim-faced man, standing so stiff and upright, seemed all the more ridiculous under these conditions.
"H-r-r-rrp!" barked Major Pater, glaring at Tommy Tucker as though his eyes would burn holes right through that boy's jacket.
Tommy sprang to attention. He was in citizen's dress, as was the major; but Tommy was sure the martinet knew him.
"What do you mean, young man, by pouring a bucket of slush over my head and shoulders?" demanded the angry Major.
"Please, sir, if you'll let me wipe it off——"
Tommy had produced his own handkerchief and made a feeble attempt to attack the melting snow on the Major's shoulders.
"H-r-r-rrp!" barked the Major again, and Tommy translated it as meaning "as you were" and came once more to attention in the middle of the aisle.
One could not really help the angry gentleman, if one was kept standing in that ridiculous position. And the passengers near by were more amused than before by the attitude and appearance of the two engaged in the controversy.
"Are you aware of what you have done?" demanded Major Pater, at last "Humph! Tucker of the Fourth, isn't it?"
"Ye—ye—yes, sir," gasped Tommy. Then: "One of the Tuckers, sir."
"Oh! Ah! Can there be two such awkward Tuckers?" demanded Major Paten "Humph! Is this your father, Tucker?"
For by this time Uncle Dick saw what was going on and he approached, smiling it must be confessed, but with a towel secured from the men's lavatory.
"I am acting in the capacity of guardian for the present, sir," said Mr. Gordon frankly. "This is a ridiculous thing; but I do not think the boy quite intended all that happened."
At once he began flicking away the melted snow, and then rubbed Major Pater's bald head dry. All the time he continued to talk to the military academy instructor:
"I grant you that it looks very awkward on Tucker's part. But, you see, Mr.—er—?"
"Ma—Major Pater!" stammered Tommy Tucker.
"Quite so. Major, of course. Major Pater, you will realize that the boy in coming along the aisle—Er, by the way, Tommy, what were you coming for?"
"I was coming to you, Mr. Gordon, to show you how fast the snow was gathering. I—I scraped that ball of it off the step. The porter opened the door for me just a moment. I say, Mr. Gordon, it's a fierce storm!"
Tommy came through this explanation pretty well. Uncle Dick's understanding smile helped him a good bit.
"Quite so," said Mr. Gordon, and looking at Major Pater again. "Of course, I would never have known it was snowing if you had not undertaken to show me. But you see, Major Pater, your foot was sticking out into the aisle. I saw it. You have the misfortune to——"
"Artificial leg, sir," growled Major Pater.
"Quite so. Well, accidents will happen, you know. There! You are quite dry again. I don't think you will get much sleep here until the porter makes up the berths. Suppose we go into the smoking compartment and soothe our minds, Major?"
"Ah—Humph! Thank you, Mr.—er——?"
"Mr. Gordon," explained Tommy Tucker still standing as though he had swallowed a very stiff poker indeed.
"Ah! Glad to meet you, Mr. Gordon." They shook hands. Then Major Pater shot another command at Tommy: "H-r-r-rrp!" (or so it sounded) and the boy with vast relief dropped his stiff military pose.
The rest of the "live wire octette"—even Timothy and Libbie—were highly delighted by the outcome of Tommy's joke. For, if there is fun in such a practical joke as Tommy had tried to carry through, they thought there was double fun in seeing the biter bitten!
"Now will you be good?" crowed his brother, Ted. "See what you get for being so fresh! Tumbling over his game leg and pitching a wilted snowball at the Major's head. Aren't you ashamed of yourself?"
"Oh, hush!" grumbled Tommy. "You needn't say anything. He doesn't know which of the Tucker twins it was crowned him with that snowball, and you are just as much in his bad books as I am. Remember that."
"Listen to him!" cried Ted, at once feeling abused. "And Major Pater is near-sighted, too, although he scorns to wear glasses. You've got me into a mess, too, Tommy Tucker."
"There! There!" said Betty Gordon, soothingly. "Never mind. Uncle Dick will smooth him down. But I do think, boys, that you need not have got into trouble at all."
"Huh! that's our natural state," observed Teddy. "Boys out of trouble are like fish out of water. So my dad says. And he ought to know," he grinned. "He has twins."
Tommy considered, however, that he had got out of a bad box pretty easily.
"Your Uncle Dick is fine, Betty," he observed. "Think of his getting on the blind side of Major Pater so easy. But cracky! how that snow did squash all over him," and he ended with a wicked giggle.
"One of your instructors, too!" exclaimed Louise. "For shame!"
"My!" chuckled Bobby, "what we'd like to do to Miss Prettyman at Shadyside!"
"I am afraid Miss Prettyman is no more beloved than Major Pater is."
"Never mind, you girls!" interrupted Tommy, with renewed interest in the storm and trying to peer through the window. "It's a regular blizzard. When the porter opened the door of the vestibule for me to get that snow, I thought he wouldn't get it shut again."
"Suppose we get stalled?" questioned Louise, inclined to be the most thoughtful of the party.
"Well, suppose we do?" returned Bob. "I tell you we are all right for food, for the dining car——"
"Oh, I forgot to tell you," Tommy put in. "The porter let me into a secret. The diner was dropped about thirty miles back. Broken flange of one wheel and no time, of course, to put on a new wheel."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Betty. "I begin to feel hungry already."
"Of course, we'll pick up another diner?" asked Libbie, though rather doubtfully.
"We'll hope so!" Bobby cried.
"If we get through to Tonawanda, yes," said Tommy Tucker. "That's what the porter told me. But we don't get there, if we are on schedule, until eight o'clock."
"There! I knew I was perishing of hunger," exclaimed Betty. "It's half past four already," she added, looking at her wrist watch.