DOROTHY DALE'S CAMPING DAYS
Author of "Dorothy Dale: a Girl of To-Day," "Dorothy Dale at Glenwood School," "Dorothy Dale's Great Secret," "The Motor Girls," "The Motor Girls at Lookout Beach," etc.
New York Cupples & Leon Company
BOOKS BY MARGARET PENROSE Cloth. Illustrated. THE DOROTHY DALE SERIES DOROTHY DALE: A GIRL OF TO-DAY DOROTHY DALE AT GLENWOOD SCHOOL DOROTHY DALE'S GREAT SECRET DOROTHY DALE AND HER CHUMS DOROTHY DALE'S QUEER HOLIDAYS DOROTHY DALE'S CAMPING DAYS (Other volumes in preparation) * * * * * THE MOTOR GIRLS SERIES THE MOTOR GIRLS Or A Mystery of the Road THE MOTOR GIRLS ON A TOUR Or Keeping a Strange Promise THE MOTOR GIRLS AT LOOKOUT BEACH Or In Quest of the Runaways THE MOTOR GIRLS THROUGH NEW ENGLAND. Or Held by the Gypsies (Other volumes in preparation) Cupples & Leon Co., Publishers, New York
I. OUT OF A HAYRICK
II. TAVIA GOES BO-PEEPING
III. THE DISASTROUS DRAG
IV. THE PREMATURE CAMP
V. THE SEARCH
VI. OFF FOR CAMP
VII. CAMP C.C.
VIII. THE WILD ANIMAL
IX. A STRANGE MEETING
X. THE DISAPPEARANCE OF TAVIA
XI. WHEN THE BOYS CAME
XII. THE EDGY-EDGE!
XIII. THE SAD AWAKENING
XIV. TAVIA'S MISTAKE
XV. WHEN THE TRAIN CAME IN
XVI. A HARROWING EXPERIENCE
XVII. STRANGER STILL
XVIII. MISTAKEN IDENTITY
XIX. CAMPING DAYS
XX. HAPLESS TAVIA
XXI. AT THE SANITARIUM
XXII. THE CLEW
XXIII. DOROTHY'S ESCAPE
XXIV. A LONELY RIDE
XXV. LOOKING FOR TAVIA
XXVI. DOROTHY'S SUCCESS
XXVII. ONE KIND OF CAMP
XXVIII. GOOD NEWS
XXIX. THE ROUND-UP—CONCLUSION
OUT OF A HAYRICK
"Oh, my!" exclaimed one girl.
"Oh, mine!" amended another.
"Oh, ours!" called out a third.
Then there was one awful bump, and the chorus was understood.
The old-style hay wagon, which was like a big crib, wobbled from side to side. The young ladies followed its questionable example, and some of them "sort of" lapped-over on the others.
"Dorothy Dale!" gasped one particularly sensitive member of the party, "we thought when you vouched for this affair that it would turn out all right!"
"But it hasn't turned out anything yet," replied Dorothy, "although we all came pretty near it—that time."
She clasped her hand around one of the braces of the hayrick, evidently determined that should she be "turned out" her arm would be responsible.
"That's just like you, Nita Brant," declared Tavia Travers, the latter really being manager of the occasion. "When I go to work, and hire a car like this, and especially stipulate that the ride shall be—rural—you kick on the bumps."
But scarcely had she uttered these words, when a "bump" came, with neither time nor opportunity for Nita's "kick." In fact, it was remarkable that the old hay wagon did not actually carry out its threat, to roll over in the direction toward which it wobbled.
"If you young ladies care to ride any farther," called out a man from the front of the wagon, "you better be still. I ain't put no corks in the holes in the bottom of this autymobile."
He chuckled at his own joke. The holes were only too apparent to the fair occupants of the hay wagon.
"Oh, it's all right, Sam," called back Tavia, "the only thin member of the party, who might by any chance fall through a hole, is dying from bumps, and we have a good hold on her. If you could see through the hay you would behold the human chain in action," and she gave Nita such a jerk that the latter declared the bumps were lovely, and begged to be allowed to do her own experimenting with them.
"He laughs best who laughs least," misquoted Dorothy, as the wagon continued to jog along. "I don't exactly like the—er—contour of the hill we are approaching."
"Why, that's the real thing in hills," declared Tavia. "I planned this road purposely to 'tobog' down that hill."
"I hope the old horses are hooked up securely," remarked Rose-Mary, whom the girls called Cologne. "I don't mind making a hill, but I hate to have the wagon make it in solo. I have had a try of that sort."
"Now say your prayers, Nita," ordered Tavia, "and don't forget to repent for snibbying my chocolates."
"Oh!" screamed Edna Black, alias Ned Ebony, "I do believe something is going to happen!"
"Sure thing," continued Tavia, in her joking way. "Do you suppose the girls from Glenwood ever go out without having 'something happen'?"
The old man was pulling at the reins, but his horses were starting to slide.
"Watch that fellow waltz," remarked Tavia. "Now, wouldn't he be great in a circus?"
The "waltzing horse" tried to sit down, but the farmer tugged at the lines, and otherwise objected to such conduct, and the unfortunate animal did its best to comply with the orders, which were now being flung at him, not only from the driver but from the girls in the wagon.
"Oh, hold them!" pleaded Nita.
"Let them run," suggested Tavia. "It will be over sooner!"
"Mercy!" exclaimed Dorothy, "there's a river!"
This remark was followed by a most significant pause. Evidently even Tavia saw the danger now.
And the old horses were frightened as well, for they backed, side stepped, and made every possible effort to avoid having the wagon, and its precious load, overturned into the deep river at the very side of the roadway.
"Don't yell so!" called Dorothy to the driver. "That won't help any and it hurts our ears."
"Is there no brake?" wailed Nita.
"There is likely to be one soon," Tavia assured her.
The girls were becoming more and more alarmed, and only Tavia kept up the jesting. The hill was very steep, the river fairly curled around it, and the horses grew more nervous each moment, under the strain that was being put upon them.
Deep in the bed of hay the girls from Glenwood School had ensconsed themselves. The horses were now going at such a pace that it would be rash to attempt to jump from the rick. Nita Brant actually made her way forward, and had now fairly grasped the old driver about the neck. She felt that he must know how to save himself, at least, and she determined to "take chances" with him.
Tavia did deign to sit up and notice the rate of speed the old horses had acquired. Her dark eyes shot glances of daring admiration, and she reminded her companions that Roman chariot races were "not in it," just then.
Dorothy stood up bravely and agreed to call out, when they should be too near the river.
Suddenly there was a crash, and then the horses bolted!
"Something snapped!" called Dorothy. "Something is broken!"
No need to announce this, for, with the ominous sound, one of the horses broke from its traces, and the other was now dragging the old wagon along by the straps that had withstood the jerks and plunges.
"Oh, we will be killed!" screamed Nita, "There's the river!"
The girls made ready to jump.
"Don't!" begged Dorothy. "You will be dragged along in this stuff. You cannot jump through these braces."
Truly they were imprisoned by the uprights of the old-fashioned hayrick! But if they could not jump what could they do? Each face showed its panic of fear. If only the one remaining horse would break loose, it might not be so dangerous to fall over in all that hay!
A shriek from Nita turned all eyes to her. "The man!" she screamed. "He has fallen—under the wheels!"
By a single impulse Dorothy and Tavia grasped one of the rungs of the rick, and they threw their full weight on it until it snapped—then broke!
"Quick!" cried Dorothy. "Jump after me!"
Tavia needed no second invitation. In an instant she had followed Dorothy Dale, and, as they landed in the dusty roadway, shaken up, but not otherwise hurt, the runaway horse, freed from the interference of its mate that had broken loose, continued to drag the hayrick toward the dangerous river, which bubbled over the black and sharp rocks, scarcely concealed by the foam that broke upon them.
"Oh, the girls! The girls in the wagon!" gasped Dorothy, and she pressed bravely on, followed by Tavia.
TAVIA GOES BO-PEEPING
Well might Dorothy exclaim in terror at the fate that seemed imminent for the girls left in the wagon—the girls of Glenwood School—her dearest chums. Those of my readers who are familiar with the previous volumes of this series, will, perhaps, pardon the rather unceremonious manner in which I have just introduced the young ladies of this book. To those who are reading of Dorothy Dale for the first time, a few words of explanation may be necessary. And, in presenting the young ladies of Glenwood School, I must at once apologize for, and criticise Tavia Travers.
From the very first book of the series entitled "Dorothy Dale, a Girl of To-day," we find Dorothy striving bravely to induce Tavia to give up her stagey ways. Every predicament in the story was a "scene" to Tavia, while but for Dorothy's intervention, and gentle determination, these scenes would have been turned into tragedies for the wily Tavia. Then, in the second book, "Dorothy Dale at Glenwood School," Tavia and the young ladies of that institution got into many a "scrape" and, while Dorothy was one of the girls, in the true sense of the word, she managed to discriminate between fun and folly.
But what sacrifices Dorothy was actually capable of making for a friend were more clearly related in "Dorothy Dale's Great Secret," where she shielded Tavia from the consequences of her daring and foolish venture, of running away with a theatrical company. Through two more books of the series, "Dorothy Dale and Her Chums," and "Dorothy Dale's Queer Holidays," we find Dorothy still busy trying to reform Tavia, and while in each of the books there is plenty of other work for Dorothy to attend to, it seems that Tavia is her one perpetual charge. What Tavia thinks fun is not always of the safe sort, and what Dorothy thinks necessary Tavia often thinks may be passed by as some subtle joke. So it will be seen that each of these two interesting characters always has her own particular following, while the friendship between Tavia and Dorothy has withstood every possible test.
So we find the same young ladies in the present story, still indulging in their favorite pastime—getting into and out of mischief.
They had been out riding on an improvised chariot—a hayrick of the old-fashioned kind, like a cradle, filled with the fragrant timothy and redtop, when the accident, narrated in the first chapter, took place.
As Tavia and Dorothy ran after the wagon containing their friends, while the vehicle swayed from side to side in the road, they saw it give a sudden lurch, and almost topple over on the steep embankment which descended to the river.
Dorothy gave a gasp of fear, and Tavia covered her eyes with her hand. The next moment Dorothy saw the driver of the wagon crawling out from a clump of bushes. Guessing that he was not badly hurt, she ran on, for she had halted momentarily when she saw the vehicle sway so dangerously. Together she and Tavia sprang forward, to reach, if possible, before it toppled over, the swaying, bounding wagon.
Whether from an unconquerable spirit of fun, or from motives purely humane, Tavia had snatched up armful after armful of the loose hay, which had been spilled out on the road. In doing this she never halted in her running, but stooped over, like some gleaner in a field, urged on by the approach of night.
"Oh!" cried Dorothy. "If we can only reach them before——"
A figure darted out on the road just ahead of them, and the unexpected move interrupted Dorothy's exclamation.
"Oh, a man!" shouted Tavia, who was somewhat in advance. "Now we—will be—all right!"
Yes, a man had started down the hill after the runaway, but just how or why Tavia was sure that this would make things right, was not clear to Dorothy.
"He can run!" she called, "Can't he, Tavia?"
"Can't he!" replied Tavia. "But I'm not going to let him have all the glory. Here," and she tossed a bundle of hay to Dorothy. "Take it along for the—hospital beds. I'm going—to—run!"
"Going—to!" repeated Dorothy, all out of breath from her own efforts to catch up to the runaway.
But Tavia darted on. The strange man kept well ahead. Dorothy paused one moment from sheer exhaustion. Then she saw the wagon overturn!
The next instant she noted that the stranger had grabbed the horse by the trailing reins.
"Quick!" shrieked Tavia. "The girls may be under the cart!"
With strength gathered from every desperation Dorothy ran on.
She was beside the overturned wagon now, and without uttering a word she crawled in through the upright sticks, down amid the dust and hay.
Three girls, so wound together as to look like one, lay on one side of the wrecked vehicle.
"Dorothy!" gasped Rose-Mary. "Are you safe!"
"Yes, but you—Nita and Edna?" gasped Dorothy, pantingly.
"I think Nita has fainted," replied Rose-Mary. "But Edna is all right. Where is Tavia?"
"Safe," answered Dorothy. "A strange man stopped the runaway. Tavia is helping hold the horse. We must get the traces loose before we can attend to Nita."
She made her way out of the overturned wagon. The traces were unfastened and the horse was free, and the strange man was actually astride the animal.
"Why," exclaimed Dorothy, "that horse will bolt again. You had best make him fast somewhere!"
The stranger looked at her with the air of a Chesterfield.
"By kindness we alone subdue," he said.
Dorothy stared at him. What could he mean?
Tavia seemed to have forgotten the predicament of her companions—she appeared charmed by the stranger—who really was good looking.
"There comes the man who owns the horse," remarked Dorothy, as the frenzied farmer, whip in hand, ran toward the stranger, yelling all sorts of unintelligible things in the way of threats and predictions. He would see to it personally, he declared, that these things would happen to the man who dared ride his used-up horse.
"A fight to finish it off," exulted Tavia, and Dorothy, for the moment, felt as if she could find it in her heart to despise so frivolous a girl. The next second she remembered Nita, and turned back to the wrecked hayrick.
"It's all well enough for you to laugh," complained the badly-frightened Nita, "but I can't see where the joke comes in. Just look at me!"
"A perfect beauty!" declared Tavia. "The rips are all in one piece. That rent near the hem is positively artistic—looks like the river Nile!"
It was some time later, but they were still in the roadway. The farmer had patched up his damaged rig, but would not listen to the girls' appeals to give them a lift toward town. He insisted it was all their fault for laughing and scaring the horses, and he vowed vengeance on the man who really had saved the team from positive destruction in the river.
The strange young man, after considerable gusto, all of which was wasted on the farmer, but hugely enjoyed by Tavia at least, had made his way off, leaving the girls discreetly to their woes. No one was actually injured, although, as Nita said, costumes had suffered severely.
"Wasn't he queer?" remarked Cologne, as she shook small bundles of hay from her Glenwood cap and blouse. "I thought I would laugh outright when he mounted the old horse a second time. He looked like somebody on a variety stage."
"Yes," added Tavia, "and Dorothy had to spoil the show by inducing him to give up the act. What if the farmer did ply the whip? That would only heighten the effect."
"Since we have to walk," Nita reminded the others, "it might be advisable to start."
"Great head," commented Tavia, "but do you realize that we shall be locked out? That the ogresses of 'Glen' will be ready—axe in hand, block in evidence, grin prominent——"
"Tavia!" exclaimed Dorothy, "do gather yourself up! That bundle of hay seems enchanted. As Nita says, we must be going."
Tavia almost lolled over on the soft hay, then she gathered it up with conspicuous tenderness, pressed it fondly to her heart, and agreed to start on. Each of the other girls was taking with her, back to the school, a similar souvenir; but Cologne and Dorothy threw theirs over their shoulder, in true rustic fashion, while Nita complained that she was not able to carry hers; though she did manage to bribe Tavia with a promised return of the chocolates to tie hers in with the extra sized bundle that Tavia was lugging along.
"Five miles of this will just about do me," declared Cologne. "I think it would have been infinitely better for us to have hitched on to the hay wagon, in spite of the old farmer."
"And to think that we paid him in advance! It's a wonder we have never had a single lesson in financial economy at gloomy Glenwood. 'How to cheat farmers; or, how to die game in a hayrick!' I must suggest the text to Mrs. Pangborn, our honored principal," declared Edna, as she, too, made her way along under the uncertain weight of a bundle of hay.
"But what are we dragging this stuff along for?" asked Dorothy. "Sure as fate, we will have to drop them when we get within the city, and why not anticipate? I vote for a drop right here!"
"Never!" declared Tavia. "These are to make up the sacrificial altar. If old Pangborn growls—won't allow the doors open—we will do it with a match!" and she signified that the hay would make a spontaneous blaze in that lamentable instance.
Dorothy saw more than a joke in the remark. Tavia was so ridiculously daring! It would be very wise to get rid of the hay before entering the sacred precincts of Glenwood.
The sight was most absurd. Five pretty girls, each dressed in the Glenwood blue and white, and each with a bundle of fragrant hay on her shoulder.
"There's a lamb!" declared Cologne. "I could do worse than give Mary's pet a treat," and she ran to the rail fence, jumped up on one of the queer crossed posts, and called all sorts of names to the surprised sheep, that scarcely stopped grazing to notice the girls outside of the barrier.
This spectacle induced the other students to climb up on the crooked fence, and presently the old rails were ornamented with the five girls in blue, with the hay bundles in hand!
It was getting dusk, and the sunset did not detract from the unusual scene. Great shafts of gold and scarlet fell down on that old fence, and a prettier sight could scarcely have been worked up, much less imagined.
"Here, sheepy, sheepy!" called Tavia.
"Here, lamby, lamby, lamby!" pleaded Dorothy.
"Here, woolly, woolly, woolly!" invited Nita.
"Here, kinky, kinky, kinky!" induced Edna.
"Here, Flossy, Flossy, Flossy!" persuaded Cologne.
But never a lamb, sheep or other species of animal named made a move toward the fence.
"I'll get a few!" declared Tavia, jumping down over the fence, into the meadow, and racing wildly among the sheep.
"The ram! The ram!" shouted Edna. "Tavia! He is coming directly for you!"
This was a signal for Tavia to turn back to the fence. The ram did follow her. She pulled down a rail, and bolted through the opening just as the savage animal and the great herd of sheep followed.
"Run, sheep, run!" yelled Edna, as the much-terrified girls scattered hither and thither, along the road, fully conscious that they were responsible for the safety of the frantic flock that had broken loose from their pasture.
"Now for the farmer and his whip!" gasped Dorothy. "I thought we had had enough of that for one afternoon!"
"Too much is enough," answered Edna dryly, "but Tavia likes it. May she have a real account of the little lamb story for the English class to-morrow."
"Look! They are all following her!" moaned Nita.
"And they seem to think she is taking them home to supper!" added Cologne.
"What shall we do?" wailed Nita. "We will surely all be arrested!"
"Wish the police van would hurry up, then," sighed Edna, "I am getting tuckered out," and she glanced back again, to behold Tavia in the very midst of the flock of the now somewhat quieted sheep.
"A nice cool cell wouldn't be so bad," declared Cologne, who, being inclined to flesh, was apt to give out before her companions would give in.
"How are the 'Bo-Peepers'?" yelled Tavia, with a flourish of a stick meant to represent a shepherdess crook. "Or do you prefer the old Roman? There will be all kinds of conflagrations when Nero comes!"
"Isn't she dreadful!" retorted Nita, whose face was really a sickly white. "She gets us all into trouble, and then gloats over it."
"You wanted something real to write about to-day," Edna reminded her. "This would make a regular thriller!"
"But, as a matter of fact," began Dorothy seriously, as she stopped, and her companions halted with her, "what had we best do? We cannot walk into Glenwood Hall with a herd of sheep at our heels," for the animals were now following the girls along the road.
"Let's shoo them," suggested Cologne. "Maybe they'll shoo nicely."
"We'll get shooed when we try to get in to-night," murmured Edna. "And just when we were finishing up the year in rather good style. I hadn't a single thing against my name——"
"There's that man who saved the team," gasped Dorothy. "Mercy! Wherever does he come from? A man is worse than two herds of sheep—in our scrape with Mrs. Pangborn!"
Just as mysteriously as he had appeared before, the man with the Chesterfieldian walk, and the big slouch hat, turned into the road. Where he had come from, nobody could imagine.
"He has followed us!" breathed Nita. "Oh, dear me!" and she pressed her handkerchief to her eyes.
"If you cry we will tell him you are too ill to walk, and then, maybe he'll offer to carry you," blurted out Edna. "If one insists on being a baby, she must be babied."
This charge rather frightened Nita back to courage, or at least she pretended to it, for she promptly quickened her pace, and even hid away her handkerchief.
Tavia, too, saw the strange man as he emerged, seemingly, from nowhere, for she started on a run, laughing uproariously at the herd of sheep that trotted as she increased her pace, turned as she turned, and, in fact, seemed to be at a regular game of "follow the leader."
The young man stood carefully posed in the path, just where a huge stone afforded him a setting for his rather dusty boots.
"What a chap!" commented Edna. "Seems to me he has enough strikes and poses to make a good cigar box picture."
"Any particular brand?" asked Dorothy. "I might label it 'Spectacular,' with all rights reserved."
"Look at Tavia," begged Cologne with a smile. "The rights are 'reserved' in her particular direction."
"She's welcome," finished Dorothy, just as Tavia reached the spot where the other girls were now waiting, and where the young man stood like a statue.
"Another situation?" remarked the man, doffing his hat in the most gorgeous bow.
"Yes, the climax," answered Tavia. "What do you think of the scenery?"
"Mercy!" breathed Edna aside. "If they start that sort of talk we may as well camp out to-night."
But the young man did not express his opinion publicly. Instead, he stepped up to Tavia, and presently the two were conversing in subdued voices.
Dorothy did not like that. She, in fact, did not fancy this young man's "apparition" habit, and she now determined to force Tavia to a sense of her own obligations to reach Glenwood School without further delay.
"Girls," called Dorothy, "we really must hurry! Thank you, very much" (this to the strange man), "for your kindness this afternoon, but you see now, we have to get back to school. We would not have been out so long but for the fact that this is privilege day—school closes Thursday."
"Then why not make use of the privilege?" the young man asked, with a sly look at Tavia. "We don't meet—professional friends every afternoon."
The thought that Tavia might have met this man while engaged in her brief and notable stage career, as related in "Dorothy Dale's Great Secret," flashed across Dorothy's mind. With it came a thought of danger—Tavia was scarcely yet cured of her dramatic fever.
The sheep stood around in the most serio-comic style, and the seminary girls were scarcely less comic.
"Oh!" screamed Nita, suddenly, "there comes that awful farmer! And he has a whip!"
"Can't ride off on a sheep this time," remarked Tavia with ill-chosen levity. "Let's run!"
"Yes, let's!" chimed in Dorothy with a knowing look at Cologne.
At this the girls started off; and they did run!
When they reached the foot of the steep hill, Dorothy stopped to look back.
There, on the summit, stood the unmistakable form of the young man. Beside him posed the equally unmistakable form of the farmer and his whip.
And the sheep were flocked around them!
THE DISASTROUS DRAG
"It was perfectly delicious!"
"I'm glad you think so, Tavia. No, I am not, either; I am very sorry."
Dorothy put aside her notes, and sighed the last sigh for one night—that sort of content signal with which young girls usually put the final period to labor.
"Oh, Dorothy!" and Tavia flung herself down directly upon her friend's nicely pressed robe. "You always want to put the damper on. What's the use of being girls if we can't be——"
"Idiots!" added Dorothy, and she wondered why she so strongly opposed Tavia. "I'll tell you, Tavia, this business of chatting with strange young men is nothing less than foolish. I can't see where it becomes funny."
"It begins," said Tavia, balancing her pencil on her third finger, "at the point where Dorothy Dale turns preacher. A poor sermon is absolutely—funny."
"Thank you," returned Dorothy, without recovering her good nature, "but you must remember, Tavia, that we are leaving Glenwood in two days."
"I may leave to-night if you keep on," declared Tavia. "Dorothy, I never knew you to be so obstinate."
"Nor have I ever known you to be so foolish. Tavia, that young man is—queer. He is mysterious, and I have a feeling that he means harm."
"Pure jealousy, Doro," and Tavia jumped up and flung herself almost upon the girl who sat in the shade of the study lamp. "I am so sorry he did not take the notion to you."
Dorothy was accustomed to these outbreaks, and they merely meant a gesture, or whatever fling came with the speech; the words indicated absolutely nothing. She gave Tavia an answering smile. "Well, dear, we won't quarrel, at least this time. But see that it doesn't happen again."
"When shall we go home? Dear me! It does seem a long time between holidays," and Tavia tumbled down in the most nondescript heap.
"I shall be glad to see dear old Dalton," replied Dorothy. "Father and the boys are going with me to settle things up there. Then we will go to Aunt Winnie's. I hope you and I will be able to spend our vacations together. You know I am going to camp with Cologne, and she has included you in the invitation."
"As Dorothy's paper-weight—no, it can't be that—I could never keep anything down—it must have been Dorothy's watch-charm," interrupted Tavia, with a slight show of sarcasm.
"Rose-Mary was particularly anxious that you should come, Tavia," declared Dorothy, with emphasis, "and she has the reputation of never giving an insincere invitation. She likes you, and wants to enjoy you, as well as to have you enjoy yourself."
"Three cheers for the enjoys," retorted Tavia, "and may their shadow never grow less. But say, Dorothy, how did you get out of the scrape? I was a traitor to run, but somehow I couldn't stand for Higley's look. When she puts her alleged features at half mast, and sounds taps, I have to quit."
"But we had to stand. I can't see any good reason for telling you about it—making a report to the deserter."
"Now, Doro," and Tavia fairly melted into sweetness, "I simply cannot slumber until I have heard. Did Nita peach?"
"There was nothing to hide in our part of the—comedy," declared Dorothy. "Of course, we skipped the man part, and left out the hay cart dump, besides omitting the sheep act, and forgetting the farmer's whip——"
"Hip! Hip!" threatened Tavia. "Couldn't have done better myself. And no one ordered to the guard house?"
"You have not yet been accounted for," said Dorothy, with well-aimed meaning. "Miss Higley said she would see to your account herself."
"Will, eh? Not if I see her first. Did any one say I was there? I should think, with such remarkable skill at omitting, that you might have had the good taste to omit me."
"Tavia, does it strike you that this is packing-up night? That to-morrow we make all our bouquets of remembrance, more or less artificial, and that the day following——"
"We flit the flutter! And good riddance! I just abhor school—notice how I have improved? Last year I 'hated' it."
"And I must admit you have improved otherwise than in your vocabulary," said Dorothy. "Seems to me you have grown almost tall."
"Thanks, pretty maiden. Any more in stock like that?" and Tavia jumped up to get a look in the glass. "Tell me, before I shrink—in your opinion," she begged, making queer passes before the mirror. "But say, Doro, do you ever take a look at yourself? I have to say you are simply splendid, and that's putting it mild. The Dalton youths will be suiciding on account of the returned Calla—that lily is the one that stands beings boxed up without food or—atmosphere—for half the year, I believe, hence my comparison: you have withstood Glenwood, and come out of the ring more beautiful than when you entered. Oh, you need not protest! Everybody admits that you are a perfect Dresden, animated, of course," and Tavia gazed with unstinted admiration at the girl under the study lamp.
"Well, I hope I have not actually grown homely," conceded Dorothy, "for Aunt Winnie is so fond of a good appearance."
"Your hair is darker—that is, on the ripe corn shade. I like that better than the fourteen karat variety. I only wish mine would turn mahogany. I have a mind to turn it."
"I wonder the thoughts do not poison the roots—the idea of you saying a word against your hair! Why, it's simply wonderful! Edna says it sings in the sunshine."
"Oh, Ned pities me I suppose—she has such a fine crop herself. But I would—love—to—be handsome!"
"Suppose you start in to drag down some of that stuff you insist on taking home, Tavia," said Dorothy, indicating the decorations that hung on Tavia's side of the room. "Then it will be handsome is as——"
"Handsome didn't," misquoted Tavia. "I don't mind dragging it down, but I have a mind to get some one to help me. I might give out that we were having a 'doings' and so entice Ned Ebony, and a couple of the others."
"You compendium of laziness! You proverbial prolonger! There, I have used up more energy in giving expression to those expressions——"
"Than I should have used up in expressing the whole art gallery via the Amalgamated Express Company. Now, Doro, I am going to give a dragging-down evening. If you have anything you value, that might get in the drag, take notice," and she left the room, to gather in the innocent victims of her plot.
Dorothy laughed. She did love Tavia, and once more they were separating from the days and nights spent together at dear old Glenwood. The girls had occupied room "nineteen" in spite of the fact that their advance in class entitled them to other quarters, but each loved the apartment, and they had "grown into it," as Tavia remarked.
"I believe I had better rescue my things," mused Dorothy, "for there is no telling where the dragging may end," and, suiting her act to the words, she promptly put a pile of cushions on the highest chair, and began to take from her side of the room such trinkets as are inconceivably dear to the heart of every schoolgirl.
How differently her division of the room was decorated! Tavia had actually drawn a line—clothes line—straight across the room, marking out the territory of each. Dorothy had put up pictures, birds' nests, flags and the home colors, while Tavia had revelled in collapsed footballs, moth-eaten slouch hats, shot through and through, and marked with all sorts of labels, of the college lad variety. Then she had a broken bicycle wheel, in and out of which were laced her hair ribbons and neckties, this contrivance being resorted to in order to save the junk from the regulation pile—it being thus marked as a useful article. There were pictures, too, on Tavia's side of the room, but how they got there one could never guess from a birds-eye view—for the hanging indicated a sudden storm on "art day," without paper-weights. This same blow included the mottoes, and wise sayings; trophies of certain victories in the way of narrow escapes from dismissals, or such mementos as suspicious games outside the school grounds.
"No wonder Tavia wants help," thought Dorothy, as she hurried to get her own things safely put in the box that stood ready. "I declare, she has the queerest taste—if such things are included in the taste faculty."
A shuffle and hum at the portal indicated the arrival of Tavia's guests.
"Enter!" called Tavia, as she threw open the door, "and with the kind permission of the fair hostess, proceed to drag. 'Drag if you must this good old bed, but spare my sister's rags, she said,'" and she deliberately kicked Dorothy's box across the room, while Edna, or Ned, proceeded to "shoot up" everything she could reach or at which she could lunge. Cologne, being Dorothy's friend, did the same thing on Tavia's side, Molly Richards, known as Dick, was not particular on which side she dragged, just so long as she got a hold on something.
"Oh, girls, do be careful!" pleaded Dorothy. "I have a tea set here I am so fond of—"
But the warning came too late, for at that very moment Ned had thrown a picture, frame and all, into the box that Dorothy had started to pack the tea set in. There was a crash, and even the reckless girls paused, for the sound of broken china is as abhorrent to any girl as is the bell for class to the Glenwoods.
Tavia dropped the pop gun she had been holding. "Doro, I am so sorry," she said. "I know you valued that set so highly. Take mine for it."
"Oh, no, indeed," replied Dorothy, her voice strained, for the set had been a gift from her little brother Roger, and he had used the first money he ever earned to buy it. "Perhaps I can have it mended."
Cologne, Edna, and Tavia put their heads together. Presently they apologized to Dorothy and left the room.
"Wonder what's up now?" Dorothy asked herself. She did feel badly—that tea set of all the things in her room!
She recalled how Roger had written that he had a surprise for her; then the arrival of the blue cups and saucers, and the note saying that the boy had sold lemonade, and thus earned his first money. Then, that he had spent the money for that set. And to think that it was ruined, for the crash told the woeful story of many pieces!
Dorothy did not feel like finishing her packing. She felt more like having a good cry. She was thinking of home, of her father, the major, then of her brother Joe, older than Roger, and lastly of dear, impetuous Roger himself.
Soon she would be home to them again! Was she not their mother ever since she could remember? For her own darling mother had been called away from her little ones so early in a promising life!
Sounds of voices in the hall roused her from her reverie.
Tavia entered first. But her following! Girl after girl crowded into the small room, until its very capacity was taxed beyond its possibilities.
"We've come!" announced Cologne.
"So I see," replied Dorothy, all confusion.
"To make amends for our damage," continued Cologne. "Every girl on the floor has contributed to the collection and we venture to present to you the most unique tea set that has ever gone in or out of Glenwood. Here," and she set her contribution down, "is my prettiest piece."
"And here is mine," followed Edna, placing on the table a real gold-and-white creamer.
"And mine—with my love," whispered Nita, putting down an egg-shell cup and saucer.
"Oh!" gasped Dorothy. "How lovely!"
"And, Doro, dear," added Lena Berg, "I brought my tankard. It was the best piece, and nothing else would satisfy the committee."
"I am sure——" began Dorothy.
"Not too sure," interrupted Dick, or Molly Richards. "For here is mine—it came all the way from Holland!"
"Girls! How can I take all these beautiful things? I am sure you must want them your own selves——"
"Not half as much as we want you to have them," declared Cologne. "The fact is, we were just waiting for such a chance as this. We are all gone—soft to-night. Take care we don't kiss you, Doro."
Tears were in Dorothy's eyes. She loved her school friends, and this was an affecting parting.
Tavia snatched up the banjo. She sang:
"Good night! Good night! Good night! Good night! Good night again; God bless you. And, oh, until we meet again, Good night! Good night! God bless you!"
The strain swelled into a splendid chorus, and, while they sang, the girls wrapped up the china pieces, putting each safely in the box beside the damaged ones.
"Speech! Speech!" came the demand from Tavia's corner, and without further ceremony Dorothy was lifted bodily up on the table and compelled to make a speech. It was a dangerous, undertaking, for the sofa pillows that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere put in so much punctuation that the address might have been put down as a series of stops. However, Dorothy did manage to say something, for which effort she was roundly applauded.
The night bell called them to the sense of school duties still unfinished.
"Oh, that old bell!" complained Nita, pouting.
Cologne drew Dorothy over in the corner. "Ask Tavia about the man on the horse," she whispered. "She got a letter from him!"
THE PREMATURE CAMP
After all, the last days of school came and went, and the Glenwood girls had started off for their respective homes before Dorothy had a chance to fully realize that the vacation had really begun, and that each day of that delightful calendar now seemed suspended from the very skies, illumined with the prospects of the very best of good times.
Dorothy had promised to spend a greater part of the summer with Rose-Mary Markin at the Markin summer place, a delightful spot on Lake Monadic in Maine. This plan was particularly fortunate, as Mrs. Winthrop White, Dorothy's Aunt Winnie, with whom the Dales had lately made their home, was to go abroad, while Ned and Nat, Dorothy's cousins, had arranged such a varied itinerary for their summer sports, that one might imagine, to hear the schedule, that the particular summer involved must have been of the brand which has neither night nor autumn to mark its limits.
Then Major Dale, and Dorothy's brothers, Joe and Roger, were to take a long-promised cruise on the St. Lawrence, so that Dorothy was quite at liberty to plan for herself.
But these plans could never interfere with a visit to the Cedars, the White's summer home, and here, on the afternoon of which we write, Dorothy found herself at last surrounded by her family, and submerged in their joyous welcome.
"Roger, how you have grown!" she kept saying as her eyes, time after time, sought out the "baby" brother of whom Dorothy was so fond. "And Joe! Why, you are getting to look so much like Nat——"
"Here, now! No knocking!" called out the jolly Nat. "I don't want to be handsome, but I simply refuse to look ten years younger!" This last was said in imitation of the "lady-like way" girls are supposed to have in expressing their compliments.
"And me?" asked Ned, pulling himself up out of his high-enough height before his cousin. "What is the verdict? Am I not—ahem—stunning?"
"You are big enough, that's sure," admitted Dorothy, giving him a look of unstinted admiration, "and as to being stunning—I just imagine that you are even that—in your golf suit."
"There now!" and Nat went off into kinks; "he has to wear knickers to look cute. You ought to see me in my football togs if you want to behold something really magnificent."
"Here, here!" called out Major Dale. "When I was a lad it was considered a crime to keep a mirror in one's room. We used to keep one blind shut to get a reflection on the window pane for the neck-tie business, and we took a chance at the hair-part. But to hear you young ones! What you actually need, boys, is a little of the real thing in training. Why don't you pitch a tent out on your own river here, and go in for roughing it?"
"Great!" declared the boys' chorus.
"Now that's something like," continued Nat, "and it would do a lot toward patching up a fellow's finances. Let's see. Where's that itinerary? Suppose we make it two weeks at home—on the co-operative."
Like the proverbial wildfire, the suggestion spread, until within a short hour the boys, with Dorothy, were out on the river edge, selecting the spot upon which to pitch the "War Tent"—for war they declared it would be, "against masculine beauties." Dorothy found herself so busy planning the boys suits, figuring out what they would require in the way of supplies and furniture, though this last was to be cut down to mere necessities, that she almost felt her own camping days had begun, as Nat expressed it.
"Now that comes of having a girl around," declared Ned. "If you had not come, Dorothy, we would never have had that admiration conference, and then we could never have discovered our own beautiful river, for in this case, I don't mind using a correct, and all right adjective, although usually I consider anything adjectivey rather too much of a spread."
He sauntered once more to the river's brink, where a short distance down stream could be seen the Lebanon, the family rowboat. Surely the place did warrant the boy extravagant use of "a correct adjective," and did look "adjectivey" away into the superlative.
Nat found just the spot for the tent, Roger and Joe were racing about like little human greyhounds, intent upon the scent of fun, and Dorothy took time to decide that perhaps this camp would prove as delightful as she expected that one to be, whither, in a few days, she must journey, and leave the dear home-folks, reluctantly, indeed. But then boys' fun always seemed like their idea of Fourth of July—just as noisy and just as unreliable. At the same time they always managed to put it off with a roar, and this roar had already set in for the Blanket Indians of "Cut-it-out-Camp."
Dorothy had promised her Aunt Winnie not to stay too long away from her, as there were so many things to be discussed before the aunt and her favorite niece should part for the summer. So that, now, Dorothy was hurrying to finish up her part of the camp map, and go back to the Cedars.
"We fellows must get a few good strong poles over there on the knoll," said Nat, "and I see no better time to get them than right now."
"Then I must go home," spoke Dorothy. "I have already overstayed my leave of absence."
"Can you go back alone?" asked Ned. "If not, I'll cut the trees by cutting out the work. See how well we have named the camp. It's in working order already."
"No you don't," interrupted Nat. "You've got to do your share of everything."
"I'll run back while you are talking about it," declared Dorothy. "I'm sure I know the way perfectly well."
"Be sure," called Ned, "for there are turns and twists in that woodland, that I think you are scarcely familiar with."
But Dorothy was gone. She ran along through the twilight-tinted woods, stopping now and then to look at the gray squirrels that capered up and down the trees, some making so bold as to run along the fence at her very side.
"This will make an ideal camping grounds," she was thinking. "I wonder the boys never thought of using it before."
Suddenly she heard a rustle in the brush. She stopped and listened. It sounded again, this time nearer. She looked about her, and, for the first time, realized that she was, indeed, in deep woods.
To call for the boys, Dorothy knew would be worse than useless, for it would simply notify any listener of her fears, so, instead, she walked along boldly enough, even whistling lightly as any Glenwood girl would do "when in doubt," according to the Glenwood code.
But she had not more than crossed the first small stream, made up of a number of springs, running through this wood toward the river, when something—a most grotesque figure—stepped out in her path!
It was too absurd to really frighten her at first, for it apeared to be a boy dressed up as a bandit, and surely any such prank could mean nothing serious, she thought.
"Good afternoon," Dorothy said, attempting to pass.
A queer growl was her answer, and the figure in the Indian suit, with a mask of red cloth, and all sorts of trappings hanging about from belts and straps, actually pointed what seemed to be a real gun at her.
"Hands up!" came the command.
Dorothy still felt like laughing. Surely this must be a trick of some boy in the neighborhood, she decided.
"Hands up!" again came the command, this time the gun being deliberately aimed at her head!
"What do you want?" demanded Dorothy. "Why should you stop me—with your nonsense?"
Dropping the old-fashioned gun the boy (for such she decided the person was) jumped at her, and grasped her hands, at the same time making an effort to tie them, with a bit of rope from the belt trappings.
"Stop! Stop!" Screamed Dorothy, now thoroughly frightened. "Help! Help!" she yelled at the very top of her terrified voice.
"Easy, easy," came the exasperating, sneering words from the bandit. "Take it easy or it will be all the worse for you. Now where do you keep the goods?"
He had actually succeeded in tying her hands and now held her prisoner with one strong arm about her waist, and with the other hand he was endeavoring to unclasp her beautiful little gold bracelet. Fearing to lose her footing, in her frantic efforts to get free, Dorothy thought quickly. It would be better to lose her jewelry, than to have her life perhaps imperiled.
"You may take my—gold," she panted. "You seem to be stronger than I, and if you are not crazy you must be—a thief!"
"If you shout—I'll gag you," came the astonishing declaration, while the bandit struggled with the bracelet, and almost cut Dorothy's wrist on the knife with which he was trying to cut loose the circlet.
"Oh, don't," pleaded Dorothy. "Let go my hand and I'll give it you!"
How she wanted to yell! But if he should tie her mouth!
"Oh, it must be the boys," thought Dorothy. "If only they come this way!"
Her assailant heard the same voices, and desperately he pulled at the locked bracelet. As he made one final attempt to wrench it from Dorothy's wrist, his knife slipped, and cut clear across his own hand, the blood spurting from a long wound. With a cry he dropped his hold on Dorothy, and attempted to staunch the flow of blood.
Freed, Dorothy ran—ran as she felt she had never known she could run! She did not stop to call, although she judged that the boys might be near by; but ran on, across the marshes without any heed to the water, that even splattered up in her face, as she jumped from edge to edge of the rivulets, making her way out to the open roadway.
How her heart pounded! It did not seem to beat, but rather to strike at her breast and almost to strangle her.
It was getting quite dusk, but once on the road and she would feel safe.
"Hey there!" came a call in a familiar voice.
The boys were just coming out of the woods at the far end of the oaks.
"What's your hurry!" demanded Nat.
Dorothy felt like sinking down. The relief was almost as overwhelming as had been her fear.
"Oh, do hurry!" she called rather feebly. "I am almost dead!"
When Dorothy told her folks of what had happened, the boys could scarcely believe the strange story. That any one should actually make such a wild-west attempt at robbery, within reach of the Cedars, certainly did seem incredible. However, there was no disproving the marks on the girl's arms, where they had been rudely tied, nor could any one deny that in the attempt to remove her bracelet her delicate wrist had been badly bruised. At first it was thought best to at once notify the police, but, upon further consideration, Major Dale advised keeping the matter quiet, hoping that some one in the neighborhood would fall upon a clue to the daring young highwayman.
"I do hope the mystery will be cleared up before I leave for camp," remarked Dorothy, as the family sat in the beautiful library at the Cedars, discussing the strange affair. "I should never be satisfied with a written account of what may happen, when you find the culprit."
"Oh, we can tell you that right now," declared Nat, warmly. "When we find him we will lynch him, burn him at the stake, and have him imprisoned for life. When that sentence shall have been served we will make a fresh charge against him, and perhaps——"
"Put him in a reformatory until he is twenty-one," finished Ned. "Well, he deserves it! And to think that we should be almost within call! Dorothy, I am inclined to question the wisdom of your silence. Why didn't you yell like thunder?"
"And have him put some terrible gag down my throat?"
"And get all sorts of germs therefrom," added Joe. "Doro, you did just right, and we are thankful that you got off as well as you did," and her brother shook his head proudly, as if to say that a mere cousin could hardly know how a closer relative would feel on such a matter.
"I wish I could have seen him," mused Roger, to whom the whole story seemed like a wonderful tale of the West.
"Just for effect," put in Nat, with a laugh. "Roger is rather sorry he missed the show—he always falls for the scary part."
But Dorothy did not mind the child's natural curiosity. In fact she told him again just how the strange robber was dressed, and how fierce he looked at her through the holes in the red handkerchief.
"Maybe he'll come around to the camp," said Roger hopefully. "I'm going to have my rifle all ready."
"And I haven't yet told you of the adventure we had at Glenwood, just before school closed," went on Dorothy, realizing fully how delighted Roger would be with the tale of the hay wagon accident, as well as that of the scattered sheep. "We very nearly all lost a week's vacation through it, the principal was so indignant."
With splendid description, and with nothing startling left out, Dorothy went over the story. Even the larger boys became interested, and when she mentioned about the queer man, who sprang from nowhere, and who did things so unlike other people, Ned and Nat exchanged sly glances.
"You say he rode horseback like a real Indian?" queried Nat. "And that he sort of made up to my old friend Tavia?"
"I knew you would be jealous, Nat," answered Dorothy. "But you really must put Tavia out of your heart."
"Never!" and Nat struck a most tragic attitude. "Tavia will ever be the queen of my heart!" and he made a thump toward that organ, with seeming suicidal intent.
Dorothy laughed merrily. She knew very well how devoted Nat really was to her own best girl friend, and she also knew that Tavia fully appreciated the friendship of the handsome young cousin.
"When's Tavia coming?" asked Roger, another special friend of the girl without wisdom.
"I hope she will be here before I start for the Lake," replied Dorothy. "She always enjoys the Cedars more than she does any other summer place."
"Hope she does, too," replied Nat, with unhidden warmth. "I want to put a flea in her ear before she runs any further risks with the knight of the horse."
"Really," said Dorothy, aside to Ned, when she had an opportunity of speaking privately, "there is something very mysterious about that man. I have an uncanny feeling regarding him, and Cologne told me he had written a letter to Tavia."
"Did, eh?" and Ned, the elder of the White boys, instantly put on a defensive air. "Well, whoever he may be, he had better be careful. We happen to have a——"
"Children," called Major Dale, "if you are going out to look for your bandit, you had best be at it. He will have all his best holding-up-ing done and be off to his cave with the spoils before you—beard him outside of his lair."
Just what Ned was going to confide in Dorothy about the strange man was left unfinished much to Dorothy's disappointment, for she felt that the boys had some important clue as to the identity of the queer character. However, there was no time for further confidences, and she was obliged to run off to her little personal duties, while the boys made ready to explore the woods.
They proposed to lie in wait for the bandit for some time, and, if he did not put in an appearance, they planned to explore the woodland for at least half a mile around. They felt sure that they would come upon his tracks not far from the spot where Dorothy had been attacked, for it seemed reasonable to them, that any boy, or man, dressed as he was described to have been gotten up, would not attempt to go far from his hiding place.
With the White boys were two college friends, also home in North Birchland on their vacation, so that when the party actually started out they made up quite a squad.
"All got your guns?" asked Ned, as they sketched out their separate lines of advance, and made secret marks to show the starting points.
"Yep," replied Ben Nichols, the biggest boy in all North Birchland, whose particular "gun" was a golf driver.
So they started off. Roger insisted upon going, so Ned took him under his protection, while Joe kept within safe distance of Don Aikins, the young man from Bergen who claimed to be able to do anything, and any one, in the athletic world. He swung his light stick expectantly at the underbrush. Evidently he would be very pleased to have a swing at the boy with the roped-on armor.
It was splendid to have something real to hunt for—what boy, or girl either, would not have enjoyed the prospect—when there was not a question of being held up, but of holding up?
Then they separated.
Meanwhile Dorothy was very anxious. What if the boys should really come upon this daring young villian? What if little Roger should run off, and be overtaken? She almost wished she had never told the whole story, for as she believed it all a wild whim of some foolish boy, she also felt that he would quickly see the danger of his sport. It was the morning after her adventure, and she was able now to regard it with less terror. Still her wrist did pain and she still trembled when she recalled how the knife had slipped, and how easily it could have severed her own vein, instead of severing the skin of the masked bandit.
She was thinking this all over, while shaking the creases from her lately-packed clothes, brushing the walking skirt, in which she had traveled to North Birchland, and generally putting her things in order, when Mrs. White, gowned for the street, entered the room.
"My dear," she began, "I am afraid you will lose the out-door joy of this delightful morning. Why not slip into your riding habit, and take a run on Cricket? He would be so glad to do it himself, poor pony! The boys are so busy with their camping that they forget a young horse wants some fun too."
"I should be glad to, Auntie, but I feel I must get my things straightened out. The night I was packing up, the girls cut up so I had to hurry everything into my boxes in all shapes," replied Dorothy. "But I will take a canter as soon as I have finished," and she gathered up the pieces of broken crockery that had remained in her box after the "fall of China," as Tavia designated the accident to her tea set. "How lovely you do look, Aunt Winnie," exclaimed the girl, gazing with sincere admiration at the superb figure in rose broadcloth. "I do believe you have grown taller!"
"It's the style of this gown, my dear. These lines affect the Venus length. Ned declared when he first saw me in this that I was put together in sections—couldn't possibly be all in one piece," and she laughed in the deep, velvety tone that, perhaps, more than anything else about her interesting personality, proclaimed her the woman of unmistakable culture.
When she was gone, and Dorothy looked out into the inviting sunlight, she hurried with her unpacking, and was soon dressed in the simple tan-colored riding habit, that so well matched herself, as to make her look like a shade of the morning, when she mounted the pretty little bay pony, and set off at a canter along the North Birchland roads.
She soon forgot the fright of her boy-bandit, although she did wonder just where the boys were, and if they had found any evidence of that person's depradations.
"Come Cricket," she spoke to her pony. "We must try a cross-cut. I want some mandrakes."
The horse pricked up his ears in response. Dorothy turned into a field where she thought the plum-shaped fruit would be found.
Dismounting, she threw the reins over Cricket's head and allowed him to nibble at the sweet grass. Yes, there were the mandrakes with their finger-shaped leaves. And they were turning yellow. Dorothy gathered a few, then stood up to look about her.
"The bandit!" she gasped in a whisper.
He had his hand on Cricket's rein!
"Drop that!" she shouted. "You need not think I am afraid of you now!"
"What?" asked the boy, dropping his disguise like a thing held by one single fastening and moving as if to spring up into the saddle.
Dorothy fairly jumped over the tall grasses, and was beside the horse before the boy could mount. She grasped the bridle, and, at the same time, more firmly grasped her riding crop.
"Now I have you," she declared, gazing in wonderment at the very good-looking boy who tried in vain to escape from the stirrup in which his boot had stuck. Seeing her opportunity, Dorothy dropped the bridle and crop, and, with both hands, grasped the boy very much in the same manner as he had seized her the day before.
"Let me go!" he snarled, struggling to free himself.
"Not just now," replied Dorothy, coolly, for she saw that she was quite able to hold him, and that he was really only a very slight young boy. "I am going to have a try at your game," she added, smiling at her versatility.
The boy almost fell under the horse, but Cricket was so well trained that he did not attempt to go beyond Dorothy's orders.
"Steady, Cricket!" she said softly. "Now young man," to her prisoner, "I am going to do something very original. I am going to tie you to that pretty tree."
"You are not!" he yelled, but she had her whip in her hand and she raised it threateningly.
"I don't want to strike you," she said, "but you know prisoners must obey. Just step over there a foot or two!"
There was such authority in her voice that the boy looked up frightened.
"Don't hit me," he pleaded, "and I'll go!"
This was more than Dorothy expected, and as the lad moved to obey, she raised, with her foot, the rope he had dropped with his disguise, and grasped it in her hand with the riding crop.
"You see school girls learn a lot about 'team work,'" she said. "We have to do it in all sorts of games."
"What are you going to do with me?" asked the boy, who actually seemed more interested than frightened.
"Well, first I am going to make you secure. See, I just slip this rope around you—you had it all ready with that slip knot," and she put it over his head before he had a chance to protest. It fell over his hands, and she pulled the cord tight. Then, as he was standing near the tree, she dropped the rope to his feet, gave it a jerk, and springing around the tree she had him secure with two turns of the hemp, and a knot made after the style of one Nat had showed her how to fashion.
The boy burst out laughing.
"You're all right!" he declared. "You beat me! Where did you learn?"
"Oh, I often played bandit with my brothers, but never with a stranger before. Aren't you afraid? Don't you want to say your prayers?"
"I've forgotten them," he said with a smile. "Guess I forgot them when I started in at this—the two don't hitch."
"Not exactly," and Dorothy was fixing the rope more tightly. "But you did know some once. I can tell."
"How?" he asked.
"Because you don't swear. Didn't even when you cut your hand. How is it?"
"Sore," he replied. "Please don't pass the rope over the bandage."
"I won't," answered Dorothy with some tenderness.
The humor of the situation was apparent to both of them.
Dorothy, however, was determined not to relent, she would hold him a prisoner, she decided, until she found the boys. They would know best what to do. Certainly such a desperado was unsafe to be at large.
"Are you going to make the fire now?" he asked, in a mocking tone.
"No, I am just going to jump on my horse and leave you here to think of your sins. I am sure you will be here when I come back."
"Oh please, miss, don't go for the police," he begged, tears welling into his deep blue eyes. "I have never done anything wrong before—and I can see, now, how silly I was."
"I am not going after the officers," said Dorothy, "but you must know that you have done very wrong—you might have hurt me seriously."
"Oh, please let me go!" he pleaded. "I will promise you anything, and I never want to play Wild West again!"
"It was too real for play," retorted Dorothy. "But you need not be too alarmed. My cousins are good boys."
"Yes, the White boys. Do you know them?"
"Ned and Nat? Of course I do! Oh, don't tell on me! Really I shall be disgraced forever."
He was crying. Dorothy felt herself weakening.
"I'll tell you where everything is, and I'll promise you anything in the world if you will only not—give me up. I can't bear to think of—poor mother. I could stand it—but she——"
"Is she ill?" and Dorothy quickly counted what a disgrace it would be to a good mother to find her son in such a plight.
"Yes, she is away from me all the time—with the nurses, and I haven't seen her in a week. It would kill her to know what I've been doing."
"Who takes care of you?" asked Dorothy. "Whom do you play with?"
"Oh, father is away, and I have plenty of money to buy guns and things. Then I go to plays a lot."
This was the sequel to the story, Dorothy thought. Would it possibly be safe for her to take the boy's word, and let him go? As he said he would be disgraced, and perhaps her kindness to him might be his clearest lesson.
How good-looking he really was! Even standing there, tied, his clear face, and light hair, could not be undervalued, from the point of fine looks.
Somehow he was just a bit like Roger—that same round baby face, and that one unmanageable curl that would hang down on his forehead in spite of years, and in spite of barbers.
"I'll tell you where I put all the things," he fairly sobbed, "and I'll give them all back, if you will only give me one more chance. I remember the Bible always gave folks a second chance."
Dorothy could not repress a smile. Yes, that was true—the Bible taught forgiveness.
"Quick! They're coming!" he pleaded. "Untie me, and I—I'll run."
Dorothy heard the voices. Quickly she untied the slip knot and almost as speedily as he had been tied, the lad was made free.
"No, don't run," ordered Dorothy. "You can just stay with me—get some grass for Cricket and——"
"The togs! Where can I hide them?"
"Give them here! Hello, there boys! Did you find him?" called Dorothy, as that very moment she raised a clump of brush to hide the "togs" under, and at the same time she hailed the boys who just turned into the open field from the search through the woods.
"Nary a find!" called back Nat. "Guess you were 'seeing things,' Doro. We have come to the conclusion that the bandit lit on your brain."
"Maybe," replied Dorothy. "But see, my Sir Galahad," indicating the captive, who stood beside her. "He saved Cricket from a ditch, and I haven't had a chance to get his other name."
"Hello, Roy!" greeted Ned. "Glad to see you. Where have you been keeping yourself? We wanted you the other day for the town games, but couldn't find you."
"Hello, Roy!" shouted the approaching Joe.
"'Low there, Royal!" came from Roger, who just then threw away his bandit stick.
"I'm glad you are all acquainted," added Dorothy. "I must ask Roy to come up to the house this afternoon."
"I'll be there!" declared the boy, but only Dorothy knew why he spoke so earnestly.
OFF FOR CAMP
"But Cologne won't wait another day. I have got to be off to camp," Dorothy insisted.
"Isn't our camp good enough?" asked Joe. "We have not seen you for so long—and now off you go again."
"Yes, and I thought she was going to cook for us. I guess I don't want to camp with the fellows cooking," murmured the disappointed Roger.
"I am sure I would love to stay at the Cedars longer," their sister assured them. "But you know I must keep my engagements, and I am to live in a real camp this summer."
"And Tavia is going, too," Roger went on. "If she was around here there might be some fun."
"Perhaps you both can come to Maine for a stay. Then you would see the great big moose you hear so much about. If they are not to be found alive I am sure we could manage to see some dead," said Dorothy. "Now be good boys, and I'll see if I can arrange that."
She was saying good-bye to her brothers, and a half hour later she had taken her chair in the train bound through New England en route for Maine. The few days spent at home had been so delightful—even her Wild-West adventure had ended up happily, for Royal Drake, the erstwhile bandit, did all he could to make up for his "crimes," and even went so far as to take Dorothy to a big tree, in the hollow of which he had hidden considerable loot, during his try at the "wild and wooly." This loot Roy took back to his own home, which had been the first scene of his juvenile depredations. He declared he did get out of a window with the stuff, and otherwise fulfilled the attempt in true desperado fashion, but before Dorothy left him, she felt that he had changed his mind as to the propriety of this line of "fun."
"I hope I meet Tavia on time," Dorothy was thinking, as she neared the station where her companion was expected to board the train. "If she keeps up her reputation, though, I won't. Something is sure to happen when Tavia goes traveling."
Summer folks were taking themselves and their luggage into the crowded cars. It did seem that the privilege of carrying freight personally was being abused, for old and young were simply bending down under the weight of the stuff for which they struggled to find room in the passenger coaches.
"That would simply spoil my vacation," Dorothy reflected. "It seems to me each season evolves some new sort of hamper to be hampered with."
It was Tavia!
"Oh, hello—Tavia. I was so afraid——"
"You don't look it. I fancied I saw you sizing up that piece of architecture at the door. Gothic; isn't it?" and Tavia fell into the chair Dorothy had emptied for her. The "piece of architecture" took the sofa at the end of the car, and she appeared to need every bit of it for her hat, and other pieces of luggage.
"Funny how the porters always like that sort of thing," remarked Dorothy. "I don't believe they ever get a cent for it, either."
"But look at the glory," said Tavia. "Every eye in the car is on that sofa. My gaze is simply crowded out. Let's want something. Oh, yes. I have lost my—'Porter!'" called Tavia sweetly, at the same time touching the button at the window. The man in the brass-buttoned uniform turned promptly. "I have lost my hand bag," said Tavia. "I surely had it when I entered."
Persons in several seats around disturbed themselves. Dorothy's face flushed. How absurd Tavia was to make that confusion, just for fun.
Every time Tavia stooped to look under the seat, or about it, she would pinch Dorothy, which act did not add to the latter's comfort.
"Oh, I have it," exclaimed the wily one. "Thank you so much," and she smiled clear up and down the aisle. "I was sure I had it," and taking her seat, she managed, in the most conspicuously discreet way, to slip into the porter's palm something shiny.
"There," she added, when he was gone, "wasn't that neat, Doro? He is ours now for the rest of the trip, and the lady on the sofa is nil."
Dorothy knew it was worse than useless to protest, but this was not the sort of thing she considered fun.
"Did you have a pleasant time at Dalton?" she asked, hoping to get Tavia's attention. "I was so sorry I could not go up for a day."
"You might be glad," replied Tavia. "Of all the stupid times—I would have run away but for Johnnie. He took me fishing, and I—wore overalls! Oh, only out in the woods, of course, but it was sport, and I caught fish! It's skirts that hoodoo the catch. I have come to that conclusion."
"In what woods did you wear—overalls?" and Dorothy looked almost frightened. Might Tavia have the garb with her?
"Oh, away out Mushroom way. And I stretched out just like any respectable boy, and cast the line! Dear me, Doro! I would just loved to have smoked! That would have made it—perfect!"
"There isn't a shock left in me," Dorothy assured her, "so don't try so hard Tavia. I am simply immune. You must have looked just—sweet—in overalls. I hope they were dark blue."
"Are," corrected Tavia, "are dark blue," and she wheeled around out toward the aisle just as a young chap in white flannels passed along. He looked down at her in that pardonable way common even in the best style of traveling. Dorothy breathed more easily when he passed out to the next coach.
"Wasn't he dear?" commented Tavia. "Doro, I just know we are going to have a perfectly bang-up time, this summer."
"Take care you come out of it without too much 'banging' up," cautioned Dorothy. "This summer business is getting exciting."
"Wonder if we will see the man of the horse? He who made such beautiful bows, and acted so—actly. Wasn't he lovely? My, I have dreamed of him, Doro!"
"Foolish," replied the other. "Nat said he fancied that chap would make trouble."
The thought that Cologne might have whispered to Dorothy something about Tavia getting a letter from this man just flashed across her mind. Tavia was always getting into some foolish scrape, and kept Dorothy busy getting her out, and it just occurred to Dorothy that it might not be a bad idea to let Tavia try getting herself out, should she repeat her usual indiscretions of risking too much for the sake of some trifling whim.
"Bangor! Bangor!" called the porter, and our friends gathered themselves up to make the change for Lake Monadic.
"I must get a shoe shine," said Tavia, as they stepped on the platform of the big depot. "Just wait here. I won't be three minutes."
"We only have five," Dorothy told her, "and if you are late—I must go on. Cologne is going to meet us away out from camp."
"Oh I'll be back," promised Tavia, and then she was lost in the throng.
"There is not another train out this evening," Cologne was telling Dorothy. "Wasn't it perfectly dreadful for her to leave you!"
"I expected something like that to happen from the start," Dorothy replied. "Tavia has a faculty for missing trains. I wonder what she will do?"
"There is just a chance that she may be able to make the way train, and switch off at the Junction, then, if she is lucky, she may flag the shore train and get to this spot about midnight. But what would she do then? Better stay out in civilization until daylight."
"I feel dreadfully, Rose-Mary, that she should give you so much trouble. I sometimes think Tavia ought to be——"
"Spanked," finished the girl, with a smile. "Well, with all her faults we love her still," and she tightened her hands on the horse reins. "Let us hope she will be more fortunate than we anticipate."
"Isn't this lovely!" exclaimed Dorothy, as they started over the hill in the depot wagon. "These are real Maine woods, aren't they?"
"Not the big-game kind. Those are farther out. But wait until you see our camp. Then you may say lovely!"
"And your camping suit," went on Dorothy. "Surely I may say lovely to that. It is perfectly splendid, and your cap is so becoming!"
"Think so? Yes, I like the cap, and it's handy. I've got one for you and one for Tavia—if she ever gets here to claim it," and Cologne handed the cap to Dorothy for close inspection. It was a jaunty blue affair with the letters "C.C." in gilt. These, Cologne explained, might stand for anything, but they mostly stood for Camp Cologne, or Camp Cozy, or Camp Clamor, although some of the members wanted it Camp Capital, Cologne said.
"We will end up by making it 'See See,'" declared Dorothy, "for it does seem one or other of us is constantly calling upon some one else to see something—there is lots to see."
A party of other campers came trooping along the shady roadway. Cologne knew them, and hailed them pleasantly.
"They are our neighbors," she said, "and they have the nicest brothers! I just want you to meet Teddy—he is too funny!"
"Don't you think that variety would suit Tavia better than me?" asked Dorothy. "I thought you always picked out the real good kind for me, the sort that wear collars all summer," and Dorothy laughed at the idea, for the day was warm, and the thought of a stiff collar was rather incongruous.
"Well, he must be nice, at any rate," replied Cologne, as they turned into a lane, a short cut over the woodland. "But, say, Dorothy, do you know I believe that fellow—the one who rode the farmer's horse—is out this way? I saw some one who had that same queer gait, and who wore his hat on the side of his head, and I am almost sure it was he. I was not near enough to see his face, but there is something so characteristic about his swing, I am sure I could not be mistaken. Did Tavia tell you anything about the letter?"
"No," replied Dorothy slowly, "but I do hope he is not going to spoil our camping days. I should never feel safe with him loitering about the woods. What could fetch him away out here?"
"Well, this is a great rendezvous for swell invalids and nature lovers," Cologne told her, "and of course, it may be a mere coincidence. I even might be mistaken."
"Let us hope you are," said Dorothy fervently. "I would not mind so much—but Tavia—Oh well, you know how queer she is."
"Yes, indeed I do, but never mind, Doro, we are going to have the time of our lives this summer, and we must not go into the missionary business for it's awfully wearing."
"It's quite a long drive out here, isn't it? I shouldn't think you would often take it after dark?"
"Oh, we never do, unless we have a whole party and go merry-making. But this evening I fear we will have to go for Tavia. Isn't it too provoking? It spoils my plans for to-night."
"I wonder what ever could have kept her? She had five minutes, and I warned her."
"Likely she saw something interesting, and determined to make those five minutes grow into ten. She has no respect for time, I know that, and as for the railroads, why it would tickle her to miss a train and make trouble for the next one."
"Oh, there are the tents! I see the white specks over that way. And there is the little lake!" exclaimed Dorothy.
"Yes, we are getting there. Come on, hurry up Jeff" (this to the horse), "we must get home by five and we have only three minutes. I promised mother to be back at five, and punctuality is an unbreakable rule of our camp. We made it so because we have always found that tardiness is the ruination of all good summers; even camp life must have rules," and Cologne urged the steed to a little faster gait.
"Is this your own horse?" asked Dorothy.
"No, but we have him for the summer. Mother insisted on us having a real old timer—safer, she thinks."
"And he knows all the roads, that's something," added Dorothy. "If we should get lost he could find our way home for us."
"Indeed, he could. I often give him the lines, and he goes along to the post office, and back again, without the slightest prompting. Here we are!"
Cologne drew up, not in front of a canvas tent, but beside a fine old barn.
"Is that the—tent—the camp?" asked Dorothy.
"Yes, but just wait until you see how we have it settled. There's mother," as Mrs. Markin appeared at the door and extended the most cordial welcome to Dorothy.
Swinging aside the great old-fashioned door, that opened in two parts, Cologne ushered Dorothy into the camp.
"Oh, how perfectly splendid!"
It was like a picture from an art magazine. The real rafters—no boxed-shaped beams set up like an uncovered porch roof—but rafters, that hung down low, fragrant with the scent of hickory, soft in tint, and brown with the polish and glow of years. Then the big field stone fire-place, with the "side walk" all around it, and the pieces of rag carpet!
"I have never seen anything so perfectly splendid!" chimed Dorothy, "how ever did you find such a camp?"
"The mater's idea," replied Cologne, enthused with Dorothy's delight. "There used to be a big house on this farm, but it was burned down. Mother knew the place and we got it. Isn't it a perfect mansion? Mater would not hear of us sleeping in the open—says tents fly away in the night. Let me show you the whole house."
The first floor—for there was a loft—was laid out in a living room, with many luxuries even to a hired, old-fashioned, square piano; the chairs, Cologne explained, had been bought at a second-hand shop along the mountain road; and the man who kept the shop was so surprised to have a call for such odd chairs and tables that Mrs. Markin was able to pick up some splendid pieces for a mere trifle. Then the sleeping rooms, Mrs. Markin's and her daughter's, besides the guest room, were on the first floor, while Jack, the big boy of the family, had his "bunk" on the loft, and up there also was a "bunk" for any of Jack's friends who might pay him a visit.
The first floor rooms were divided by cretonne partitions, or curtains, made secure top and bottom, and the coloring of these screens gave the place an ideal tone in color. The kitchen was outside under a lean-to tent.
And the dining room! A broad porch with an uncovered roof. A canvas flap was hung over the roof to be used, or thrown aside, just as the weather ordained. The table was a matter of two "horses" and three planks, and the seats were of the same brand, only in a lower grade. The cover was of oilcloth, and the dishes were some wooden and some white enamel.
"You see," said Cologne, "Mother did not want us to be working always, so she made the table service a la Indian. We burn most of the dishes when we've used them, and they keep our camp fire going, or rather, they only start it. Then the metal plates are so easy to wash, and so hard to break. Oh, we have camping down to a system! I hope you will like the system."
"How could I help liking it! Why it's just ideal. It makes our pretentious homes look like cheap bric-a-brac," Dorothy declared.
"Well, come now and have tea—we are to have it alone, you and I, for mother is busy helping Jennie can berries, and Jack is never home until the cows come—we can see herds of them troup over that hill every night."
Cologne put a match to the small oil stove, and then when the kettle boiled she made tea in the proper way, pouring the water over the leaves as they nestled in the blue Delft pot on the table. The edibles were produced from an improvised cupboard, and in a remarkably short time Dorothy and her friend were seated at the long table, enjoying a meal, the like of which the visitor declared she had never before fallen heir to.
"It must be the air," she remarked, helping herself to a sandwich, "for I have never felt so alarmingly hungry."
"Jack says they are 'standwiches,'" remarked Cologne, "for he never gets a chance to eat one while sitting down."
"That's true," replied Dorothy, "for at the places where one gets them one is never supposed to sit down. 'Standwiches' they really are. I am anxious to see Jack. He gave me such a nice time when I visited you at Buffalo."
"Oh, he's a perfect giant," Cologne told her. "He grows while you wait. He's off fishing to-day. Promised to fetch home some nice fish for to-morrow's dinner. We get trout for breakfast in the stream over there. It's jolly to fish. I know you will like it up here, Dorothy."
"Will like it! I do like it! There is no future tense on that score. I have always longed for a visit 'way down east.' And how strange people talk! Just as soon as we passed Connecticut it was like going into a new country, the accent is so different. Tavia declared it was nothing but a left-over brogue of the Mayflower vintage. Of course, that's what it really is. But Tavia! I had almost forgotten her. Could we go out anywhere and look for her?"
"Hardly," replied Cologne. "But we could drive out to the station again, and send a message to the Junction. I wish Jack was here. He would know best what to do. It is too provoking!"
"And she is so apt to fall in with a 'friend,'" mused Dorothy. "I never saw her equal for picking up friends."
"There's an automobile," exclaimed Cologne, listening to the ripping of the atmosphere as a machine tore down the road. "We don't have many cars around here, it's too hilly."
"They're coming in the lane! It's Tavia!"
Both girls jumped up, and ran to the lane that wound around the camp.
Tavia was standing up waving her hand bag.
"She made friends this time," declared Dorothy. "Just like her to fall into something easy."
THE WILD ANIMAL
"Perfectly delicious," Tavia was exclaiming, in her reckless way, "never believed a barn could be thus converted into a home." She tossed aside her traveling things. "And so sweet of you, Cologne, to ask poor me. The old joke, as if Rose-Mary-Cologne-Lavender could be other than sweet!"
"And so dear of you to get here," said Dorothy, with mocking voice. "We really thought——"
"Doro, dear, if you only would get over that abominable thinking habit! See what happened to me when I thought I was was going to be locked up for the night in the little railroad station! Why, along whisked an auto, and the lady with the scared-to-death-hair looked at me. Seeing me was believing. The chaufferine (it was a lady and my French is packed up) asked me in. That was what I got for thinking on the wrong stoop. And weren't they dears? Did you mind the veils? First I thought they were hoisted for rain clouds, and again, when I saw the blues and pinks, I decided for fair weather. There were enough colors to make a rainbow look like the milky way. And they asked me to come see them! Asked me! Why they begged me and made me give a cross-my-heart yes."
"But you won't go?" asked Cologne. "You know the Lamberts are—well—they are a troup of theatrical folks, and no one knows much about them."
"The only profession that hides the ego," broke in Tavia. "Now that is what I call cozy, to get away from the dear old nosey public. I wonder the whole world does not go in for the stage, and get a chance to walk through the streets, and have folks say, 'Isn't she perfectly sweet!' All the while one could be sticking out her tongue, and otherwise enjoying herself—"
"Tavia!" exclaimed Dorothy. "Do talk something akin to common sense if you cannot do better. And don't mix up your pronouns. You keep one bobbing through tenses and pronouns as if the thinker were a jack-in-the-box."
"All the same I would love to go over to that big white house in the cherry trees, and see a dress rehearsal. They play Shakespeare."
"You must not think of such a thing," declared Dorothy. "Since Cologne does not wish you to go in the strange set, you will surely comply, but I do not have to tell you that I am sure you will," and she turned away in evident distress.
The next morning the three girls started to camp in earnest. Tavia insisted that it was her share of work to fetch one pail of water from the spring, because, she said, she had to stoop down so low, and walk so far the effort was equal to Dorothy's dish-washing or Cologne's muffin-making.
"While you do the rest," she said, "I'll just run up, and look over the loft, the boys are out now, and Dorothy won't be afraid I'll forget my manners."
"You come here directly, and set this table for lunch," ordered Dorothy. "We are going out for trout, and will not be in until eating time, so we will get everything ready now."
"All right," answered Tavia, at the same time climbing up the ladder, and making her way to the loft.
"Oh, let her explore," said Cologne. "Then when she gets enough of it she will be satisfied."
"Don't touch any of the old guns up there," called Dorothy, "Jack says there are dangerous."
"All righty!" yelled Tavia from above. "But say wouldn't this be a handsome place to drop from?"
She was in the opening of the hay loft, lying on the floor with her head over the edge.
"Oh don't" begged Cologne. "Tavia, that is dangerous!"
Her voice was rather strained, Cologne was annoyed. Tavia jumped up, and, with a most unladylike "whoop," ran from one end of the loft to the other, exclaiming at every new found article of interest. Suddenly she stopped.
"Now what do you suppose she is at?" asked Dorothy, as she and Cologne listened.
"Maybe Jack's pipes. I am sure she would be interested in them. He has quite a collection."
"Oh! G-i-r-l-s!" came a shout from the loft. "Come quick! A wild animal!"
The voice left no room for doubt. Tavia did see something.
Cologne and Dorothy dropped their work and scrambled up the ladder.
Tavia was on all fours, peering behind an old door that lay close to the side timbers of the barn. "Just look! His hair stands up like a porcupine, and his eyes! Oh, my! such eyes!"
Cologne and Dorothy looked.
"There certainly is something," admitted Cologne.
"It has straight black hair," exclaimed Dorothy, "and it does look fierce!"
"What shall we do?" asked Cologne. "Jack will not be back until night."
"And if we take our eyes off it we run the risk of having it under the bed to-night," said Tavia. "Now if only we could shoot a gun," and she looked at the line of weapons that decorated the side of the loft.
"I can load and fire a gun," declared Dorothy. "Wasn't my father a soldier?"
"Wasn't her father a soldier!" repeated Tavia. "Cologne you hump down there, and keep your eye on the bear, while we get a gun, and load it. Then if it's all the same to you, I'll do down stairs, and out in the back yard until it is all over. I hate murder close by."
"I'll choose my own gun, if you please," said Dorothy, as Tavia was about to hand her an old musket. "I like the vintage of the last century at least."
"Are you sure you won't hurt yourself?" asked Cologne anxiously. "I think perhaps we had best try to box the thing in here. Shooting is rather risky."
"Not if I can get a gun I happen to know," said Dorothy. "You may both go out in the back yard if you choose. I must try the rifle first—oh, here is one just like father gave Joe his last birthday. I had a mind to borrow it to come out here to Maine woods, but I never dreamed of getting game right in camp."
"Don't shoot dis niggah!" pleaded Tavia, actually making for the ladder.
Dorothy went over to the open window and put the rifle to her shoulder. She pulled the trigger. There was no discharge. Not satisfied with one trial she worked the rifle until there was positively no possibility of any load being in the weapon.
"There, that's clean," she said. "Now for the cartridge."
Over on the wall hung Jack's ammunition box. Cologne was watching at a safe distance. Tavia had gone downstairs by way of a rope that Jack Markin used for descending. Dorothy put the load in, made sure it was all right, then went over to the beast's hiding place. She crouched down and took aim.
"There! That fetched him!" exclaimed Dorothy. "I saw him roll over."
"Make sure he is dead before you pull the door away," again cautioned Cologne.
"Dead as a carpet tack," declared Dorothy. "Let's call Tavia and get her to pull him out. She ought to do something in this, our first hunt."
Tavia was called, and being assured that the thing had rolled the death roll, she came up the ladder, and with the aid of a long handled hay rake, she just ventured to touch the strange thing.
This was the signal for a series of antics such as Tavia might imagine to be popular in the Figi Islands when some real dainty morsel fell into the camp kettle.
"Oh, let us see what it is!" ordered Cologne. "Maybe we won't have to go trout fishing, it may do for dinner."
"It may, then again it may not," replied Tavia. "But May or Mamie, let's haul her out."
Dorothy put her shoulder to the frame door, back of which the thing was hidden.
"One, two, three!" she shoved it over. "Are you ready?"
"Let her go!" called Cologne, springing up on an old trunk.
But it didn't go, neither did it come.
The girls waited breathlessly.
"Pull him out, Tavia! What's the use standing there with a rake in your hand," said Dorothy.
"I want to make sure he does not revive," she replied, gingerly poking the rake handle a little further under the hidden corner.
"Oh, here," exclaimed Dorothy impatiently. "Let me take that implement and you hold this door. We ought to get the animal out in time for lunch."
They shifted positions. Dorothy jabbed the rake recklessly into the corner. Tavia moaned, and Cologne groaned.
Drag—drag—It was coming out.
"Mercy!" exclaimed Tavia.
"Goodness me!" gasped Cologne.
But Dorothy, who was the only one near the thing, simply dropped the rake and stood aghast—too dumbfounded to utter a syllable!
"What is it?" begged Cologne.
"A WINDOW BRUSH!" she gasped, at the same moment stooping to pick up the beast—the thing with the straight, long black hair that stood up in fierce bristles!
"But the eyes!" asked Tavia. "I saw terrible eyes!"
"Might have been imported fire flies," answered Dorothy. "I believe Jack has a penchant for odd bugs!"
"Oh, isn't that too mean!"
"And Jack's good cartridges!"
"But the brush is all right," declared Cologne. "We just needed a window brush to make the camp outfit complete. But don't let's tell the boys," she pleaded hastily.
"Oh, no!" chimed Tavia and Dorothy. Then all three in turn took the rope route down to the lower floor.
A STRANGE MEETING
For several days after the "hunt" the girls kept up the joke on themselves. Time after time they threatened to let Jack, and his friend Percy, guess the truth, but Tavia, the most to be feared, did manage to keep the laugh purely feminine.
Dorothy and Cologne were gathering berries this morning, while Tavia ran off to a spot where she declared she could get the better kind of fruit, better than any they had yet secured. She turned in back of the big barn, then ran over behind the ice-house, and then she smelled apples, ripe apples.
"There are harvest apples around here, somewhere," she told herself. "I simply must find them."
From tree to tree she scampered along until she was out in the lane that ran into the next estate.
"That's a road," she was thinking. "And there's a man."
Glancing around to see if she could discern Dorothy or Cologne, Tavia had a sudden thrill of terror.
"I didn't know I had gone so far," she thought, "and that man is coming this way."
Something familiar about the manner in which the stranger advanced toward her attracted her attention.
"Looks like that man! It is he! The fellow who stopped the hay-wagon runaway!"
She was still frightened, but a trifle more at ease, since she recognized the man in the big slouch hat. "Whatever could have brought him here?" she asked herself. The next moment she was glad—glad that Cologne and Dorothy were out of reach.
"Oh, I'm not afraid of him," she thought. "Perhaps he knows I'm here——"
He was almost up to her. Yes, it was he—the same queer smile lurked about his face, and he had that indefinable air—was it attractive, or only different?
"Good morning, Maud Muller," he said doffing that unlimited hat. "I'm so glad to see you alone."
"Good morning," answered Tavia, "but I am not alone, I just ran away from my friends; they are over there."
"But not over here. It's all the same. I want to speak to you, and this is the best opportunity I could have wished for."
Tavia unconsciously picked up a stick. She felt queer, and he looked queer, so that altogether it was a very queer proceeding.
"I have news for you," the man resumed. "Is not your name Tavia Travers?"
"Then you must follow my advice closely and you will come into your own. Are you not from the town of Dalton?"
"Then I am right, as I was sure I was from the start. Your father is a—is an officer in Dalton?"
"A squire," replied Tavia, bewildered now at his knowledge of her and her family.
"The same. I want to tell you"—he stepped up uncomfortably near to her so that his sleeve touched her—"I want to tell you there is a fortune coming to your family, and I can put you on the track to secure it. My uncle Abe"—he seemed to chuckle—"knew about it, he told me, and I had to swear on a Bible covered with blood, that I would never betray his secret!"
"Oh, my!" shuddered Tavia stepping away. "I don't think I can wait now." She was thoroughly frightened. "Couldn't you come down to the camp, and tell me? Then we could talk comfortably. The sun is very hot up here."
"But what I have to say is best said in the open," he answered vaguely. "I prefer this to all spots on earth." He paused and Tavia's first impulse was to run, but then——
"I won't ask you to believe me now," he said, his voice softening, "but if you will come to where I say I can prove my assertion."
"That there is a fortune left to my family? That is too absurd," and Tavia smiled. "Money does not run in our family."
"Exactly. That is why it has to be run into it—put on the track, so to speak. Well, I know what I am talking about. But if you are not interested——"
He turned as if to go. What if it could be true, and Tavia was throwing away the only chance she would ever have of learning the truth?
"Where did you want me to go?" she stammered.
"Meet me at the old stone bridge to-morrow at three, and I will convince you of the actuality of this wonderful inheritance—this inheritance which you so long have been deprived of—which you have been fleeced out of by my scheming Uncle Abe!"