GRACE HARLOWE'S OVERLAND RIDERS IN THE GREAT NORTH WOODS
Jessie Graham Flower, A. M.
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY Akron, Ohio—New York Made in U. S. A.
Copyright MCMXXI By THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
CHAPTER I—ON THE BIG WOODS TRAIL................................ 11
The Overlanders, arriving at their destination, are told that their guide is busy doing the family washing. Hippy and Hindenburg, the bull pup, make a hit. Emma Dean wishes she had stayed at home. The "untamed" bronco entertains the villagers.
CHAPTER II—THE VOICE OF NATURE.................................. 18
"Why don't yer feed the critter some soothin' syrup?" jeers a villager. Emma reads the message of the hermit thrush. On the way to the "Big Woods." Trouble is threatened at Bisbee's Corners. The Overlanders attacked by roistering lumberjacks.
CHAPTER III—THE CHARGE OF THE JACKS............................. 31
"Out of this, lively!" shouts Tom Gray. The fight in the village street. Hippy and Tom rescue an unfortunate Indian from the jacks. Willy Horse follows and overtakes his rescuers. "You Big Friend—Big Medicine!" The new guide creates a sensation.
CHAPTER IV—A HUMAN TALKING MACHINE.............................. 42
Joe Shafto lays down the law to her charges. Tom Gray admits that he is at fault. Emma announces that some of her ancestors were birds. Hippy advises the guide to eat angel food. A wild beast in the cabin of the forest woman.
CHAPTER V—OVERLANDERS GET A JOLT................................ 53
"A bear! A bear under the table!" Grace Harlowe's companions thrown into panic. Nora puts her foot in a platter of venison. The guide explains that Henry, the bear, is a "watch dog." Hippy and the bear meet in hand-to-hand conflict.
CHAPTER VI—CAMPING UNDER THE GIANT PINES........................ 63
"Sick 'im, Hindenburg!" gasps Hippy. The bull pup saves his master, and Henry gets a beating. Tom shows how to read the forest "blazes." The Overland Riders pitch their first camp in the great forest. Emma gets a message from the air. The lull before the storm.
CHAPTER VII—FELLED BY A MYSTERIOUS BLOW......................... 74
Tom and Grace hearken to warning sounds in the trees. "Quick! Get the girls out!" A rush from an unknown peril. Hippy declares that "Nature is an old fogy." Crashing reverberations are heard in the forest. "Hippy's hurt!" cries Elfreda Briggs.
CHAPTER VIII—THEIR FIRST DISASTER............................... 80
Tom informs his companions that their camp has been wiped out. Building a fire in the rain. Overland girls learn the secrets of the forest. Joe Shafto boxes Hippy's ears. The pet bear is welcomed with a club. A startling assertion.
CHAPTER IX—LUMBERJACKS SEEK REVENGE............................. 91
"The skidway was tampered with!" Overland tents are destroyed. Tom gets a cold welcome. A warning of timber thieves. Lean-tos are built for the night's camp. "How can we go to bed with one side of the house out?" wonders Emma. Awakened by an explosion.
CHAPTER X—MYSTERY IN THE FALL OF A TREE........................ 102
Hippy is assisted down the river bank by a flying tree limb. The camp of the Overlanders again suffers disaster. "Hurry! We've set the woods on fire!" Battling with a forest fire. Hippy wants to dream of food. A disturbing outlook.
CHAPTER XI—THE THREAT OF PEG TATEM............................. 115
Henry sleeps on high. The bear and the bull pup scent trouble. The foreman of Section Forty-three goes trouble-hunting. Settlement is demanded of the Overlanders for the burned trees. "Skip! Get out!" orders Lieutenant Wingate. Peg starts a row.
CHAPTER XII—A SHOT FROM THE FOREST............................. 121
Tom Gray attacked by the lumberman. The jacks take a hand. Hippy uses a firebrand as a weapon. Overlanders badly punished. Shots from the forest shatter Peg's wooden leg. Henry paws his way into the fight. The Overlanders meet a fresh mystery.
CHAPTER XIII—A BLAZED WARNING.................................. 132
Grace Harlowe's party seeks a change of scene. The bent arrow points to danger. The end of a long night's journey through the forest. The mournful wail of a timber wolf carries a meaning to Emma Dean. "Put out that fire!" commands the forest ranger.
CHAPTER XIV—THEIR DAY AT HOME.................................. 143
The caller at the Overland camp grows threatening. Henry sounds a warning growl. Ordered to leave the forest. Emma tells the ranger how to get rid of wolves. "I reckon you haven't heard the last of Peg Tatem."
CHAPTER XV—THE WAY OF THE BIG WOODS............................ 150
Newcomers arouse the apprehensions of the Overland Riders. "Put up yer hands!" comes the stern command. Deputy sheriffs inform the Overlanders that they are under arrest. Joe Shafto fires a warning shot at their annoying callers.
CHAPTER XVI—WILLY HORSE SHOWS THE WAY.......................... 157
Elfreda out-argues the officers of the law. Visitors politely requested to remove themselves. Threats of revenge. Camp is made on the banks of the Little Big Branch. Willy shows the way to the Overlanders' permanent camp.
CHAPTER XVII—IN THE INDIAN TEPEE............................... 173
Willy Horse arrives in a bark canoe. An Indian home is built for the Overland girls. Grace paddles the birch canoe and gets a ducking. Henry investigates the tepee and his nose suffers. A loud halloo arouses the girls from their beauty sleep.
CHAPTER XVIII—THE TRAIL OF THE PIRATES......................... 182
The bull pup keeps bankers' hours. Tom and Hippy seek evidence of timber-thieves and make discoveries. Hippy evolves a great idea. Willy tells Lieutenant Wingate about Chief Iron Toe. Hippy and the Indian go away on an important mission.
CHAPTER XIX—THE RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL......................... 193
"Bears is better than husbands," declares Joe Shafto. Hippy announces that he has bought a big timber tract. "Don't ask me a question until my stomach begins to function." Willy Horse brings a warning of spies near the camp.
CHAPTER XX—PEACE OR WAR?....................................... 204
Chet Ainsworth arrives at the point of a rifle. The peace of the Overland camp violently disturbed. Hippy admits that he is crazy. Henry gives uninvited guests a scare. "They do get that way sometimes." Overlanders gaze in amazement.
CHAPTER XXI—A WISE OLD OWL..................................... 210
Joe sicks the bear on the guests. The forest woman in a rage. "Stop him! He'll kill the man!" Willy Horse sees things in the campfire. Emma finds a message for Hippy in the hoot of the old owl.
CHAPTER XXII—WHEN THE DAM WENT OUT............................. 217
A surprise party for the lumberjacks on Hippy's claim. The dance is interrupted by the Indian's message. "Dam up river go out! Water come down!" announces Willy Horse unemotionally. The jacks take alarm.
CHAPTER XXIII—THE RIOT OF THE LOGS............................. 227
A desperate struggle. "I'm slipping!" gasps Hippy. "Too late!" Tom and Hippy are hurled into the river. Dynamite used on the pirates' dam. A hand-to-hand knife battle on the spiles. Grace stays the Indian's hand.
CHAPTER XXIV—CHRISTMAS IN THE BIG WOODS........................ 238
A capture and a confession. Peg Tatem in the toils. Timber pirates get prison terms. The lumberjacks' big Christmas. "Sit down, you rough-necks!" roars Hippy. Spike bares his soul. What the snow-bird said.
GRACE HARLOWE'S OVERLAND RIDERS IN THE GREAT NORTH WOODS
ON THE BIG WOODS TRAIL
Hippy Wingate stepped from the train that had just pulled into the little Red River Valley station and turned to observe Tom Gray and the others of the Overland Riders detrain. In one hand Hippy carried a suitcase, in the other a disconsolate-looking bull pup done up in a shawl strap.
"Be you Gray?"
Hippy turned to look at the owner of the voice, not certain that the question had been addressed to him. He found himself facing an uncouth-looking youth who, despite the heat of an early September afternoon, wore a heavy blanket Mackinaw coat, rubber shoes and thick stockings tied at the knee. Khaki trousers, and a cap of the same material as the coat, completed the typical lumberjack outfit, though Tom Gray was the only member of the Overland party who recognized it as such. The youngster's hands were thrust firmly into the pockets of the Mackinaw coat as he stood eyeing Hippy with a sullen expression on his face.
"Am I what?" demanded the Overland Rider, putting down the suitcase and dropping the pup, much to the animal's relief.
"I said, be you Gray?"
"Not yet, old chap. I am threatened with a bald head early in my young life, but I thank goodness I am not gray. Why? What's the joke?"
The loungers on the station platform laughed, and the boy shifted uneasily and leaned against a station pillar.
"'Cause I was to meet er feller named Gray who was comin' in on this train."
"Oh! That's it, is it? I thought you meant is my hair gray," grinned Hippy. "Oh, Tom! Here is your man. Here's your guide," cried Hippy, shaking hands cordially with the young fellow.
Detaching himself from the girls of the party of Overland Riders who were assembling their luggage, Tom Gray stepped over to Lieutenant Wingate.
"Are you Joe Shafto?" questioned Tom, addressing the boy.
"Naw, I ain't. Joe sent me over to meet you folks and tell you how to git up to the place."
"Why isn't Joe here to meet us?" demanded Grace Harlowe, joining the group in time to hear the boy's explanation.
"Joe's doin' the washin' to-day, and to-morrer is ironin' day. Joe sent word sayin' as I was to meet you and tell you not to git up there before late to-morrer afternoon."
"Ho, ho! Doing the family washing, eh?" chortled Hippy. "Fine guide you have selected, Tom Gray. Hey there!" Hippy made a spring for the bull pup, who had fastened his teeth in the neck of a fox terrier, and picked his dog up by the handle of the shawl strap. The fox terrier came up with Hindenburg, by which name the bull was known, and it required the united efforts of Tom and Hippy to extricate the fox terrier from Hindenburg's tenacious grip.
"It might be wise to hang onto your dog, Hippy," advised Tom. "You are to show us the way to Shafto's, I presume?" questioned Tom Gray, addressing the boy again.
"Naw. I reckon you can find the way yourself. Can't spare the time. I got a fall job in the woods over near the reservation. You take the main road straight north from here till you git to Bisbee's Corners. Ask at the general store there where Joe Shafto lives and they'll steer you. Joe said to tell you folks to get your supplies there, too. Bye." The boy turned abruptly and walked away.
"Hold on! Not so fast, boy. How far is it to Joe's?" demanded Tom.
"Nigh onto thirty mile," flung back the boy.
"I wish I had stayed at home," wailed Emma Dean.
"We have not yet begun, dear," reminded Elfreda Briggs, to which Anne Nesbit and Nora Wingate agreed with emphatic nods.
"Tom Gray, I fear you have made a mess of selecting a guide to pilot us through the Big North Woods of Minnesota," declared Grace with a doubtful shake of the head.
"I can't help that. I engaged Shafto on the recommendation of the postmaster of this very town. He wrote me that, according to his information, no man in the state knows the woods so well as this fellow Shafto does. At my request, the postmaster engaged him for us, so don't blame me because Joe is doing the family washing instead of being here to meet us," retorted Tom with a show of impatience.
"Lay it to the postmaster and let it go at that," suggested Hippy good-naturedly.
"Tom, I am really amazed that you, a woodsman and a professional forester, should require the services of a guide," teased Anne.
"I don't. The guide is for you folks. Of course I know how to keep from getting lost, but I shall not be with you all the time, so—"
"Come, let's get busy," urged Hippy. "Nora, if you will kindly hold Hindenburg, Tom and I will unload the ponies. Ready, Thomas?"
Tom said he was. The palace horsecar attached to their train had already been shunted to a siding, and the ponies of the Overland Riders were found to have made the journey from the east without injury. Quite an assemblage of villagers had gathered to witness the operation of unloading the ponies, and they gazed with interest as each Overland girl in turn stepped up to claim her mount as it was led slipping down the gangway. Hippy Wingate's pony, a western bronco that he had acquired that summer, was the last of the ponies in the car. "Ginger," as its owner had named it because of its fiery temper, being unusually free with his heels, had been separated from the other animals in the car by bars, the bars now bearing marks made by his sharp hoofs.
"Tom, please fetch out my educated horse," urged Hippy, winking wisely at the crowd of spectators.
"Why not fetch him out yourself? He isn't my horse," laughed Tom.
"Oh, very well," said Lieutenant Wingate, stepping into the car, removing the bars and reaching for the pony's headstall. That was the beginning of what proved to be an exciting time for Lieutenant Wingate and a most enjoyable entertainment for the villagers. The next act was when Hippy was catapulted from the car door by the heels of the untamed bronco and landed in the street. Fortunately for him, Lieutenant Wingate, instead of jumping back when the pony began to kick, threw himself towards the animal, a trick that handlers of ugly horses quickly learn to do. He was thus, instead of being hit by the heels of the bronco, neatly boosted through the open door of the car.
The villagers howled with delight as the Overland Rider got up and brushed the dirt from his uniform.
"I have heard it said that incorrigible horses are sometimes made docile by sprinkling a pinch of salt on their tails," observed Elfreda Briggs to her companions.
"Remonstrate with the beast, Hippy. He is educated," suggested Emma Dean.
"Hippy, my darlin', do be careful," begged Nora as her husband limped up the gangway, jaws set, the light of battle in his eyes, his anger rising with every step he took.
Hippy clasped the pony's neck, the rat-tat-tat of the animal's heels against the side of the car being somewhat reminiscent of machine-gun fire to the Overland girls.
"He'll be killed!" wailed Nora.
"Who? The pony?" asked Emma in an unruffled voice.
"No! What do I care about the pony? It's my Hippy."
A yell from the villagers brought others running to the scene, but no one offered assistance. Hippy and the bronco were tussling on the threshold of the car with Hippy's feet in the air most of the time.
"Tickle him in the ribs," suggested a villager. "That'll make him laugh and he'll fergit to kick."
The villagers howled with delight.
"Tickle him yourself," retorted Nora.
"Jump!" urged Miss Briggs.
"No! Hang on!" shouted Tom Gray. "If you let go he'll kill you! Urge him down the gangway and I will grab him when he makes the rush."
At that instant the pony leaped. Hippy lost his foothold on the edge of the doorsill, and the pony, unable to bear the additional weight on its neck, stumbled and went down on the gangway. The animal's hips struck the railing, burst through it, and man and horse rolled off to the ground, Ginger kicking and squealing, with Hippy Wingate clinging desperately to his neck.
THE VOICE OF NATURE
The bronco was on his feet instantly, with Hippy still clinging to the animal's neck. All the villagers scattered as Ginger bolted across the street.
"Why don't you tickle his ribs?" cried Emma to the spectators.
For a few moments it looked as if man and bronco would land in the village postoffice by way of its large front window.
"Whew!" grinned Hippy, mopping his brow after he had conquered and tied the pony to the tie-rail in front of the postoffice.
"I—I thought you said that Ginger was an educated horse," reminded Emma.
"He is. That is what is the matter with him. Like some persons, not far removed from me at the present moment, he knows too much for the general good of the community. What Ginger needs is a finishing school, and he's going to start right in attending one this very day. You watch my smoke."
"Smoke!" chuckled Elfreda Briggs. "I don't mind it at all ordinarily, but I do wish that, when you get excited, you wouldn't insist on burning soft coal."
"Say, Mister! Why don't yer feed the critter some soothin' syrup? They got it in the store there," urged a spectator. "Good fer man er beast."
Hippy grinned at the speaker, and the villagers roared.
"Good idea, old top. We will pour a bottleful down your throat at the same time. It is good for all animals, you know. Why don't you roar, you folks? All right, if you won't, I'll roar." Hippy haw-hawed and the villagers grinned.
"Come, come. Please do something, Hippy," begged Grace laughingly.
"Sure thing. What do you want me to do?"
"If you and Tom will roll and tie the packs, you will be doing us a service. I imagine we girls are a bit out of practice in lashing packs, and, as we have quite a bit of equipment to carry, and a long ride ahead of us to-day, we must have everything secure, and start as soon as possible."
"Want a guide, Mister?" questioned a young man dressed as a lumberjack, lounging up to Lieutenant Wingate. "I kin take ye anywheres."
"We have one," replied Hippy briefly.
"I don't see none. Who be he?"
"Name's Hindenburg," said Hippy, pointing to the bull pup. "Greatest little guide west of the Atlantic Ocean. I paid a thousand dollars for his bark alone. The breeder threw in the rest of the dog because, when you peel the bark off a tree, it dies."
Emma Dean uttered a high, trilling laugh, and the other girls joined in so heartily that, for a moment, or so, work came to a standstill. Hippy then briskly attacked the packs, while Tom secured them to the backs of the ponies.
While this was being done Grace left the party to buy food sufficient to last for at least a two-days' journey, and returned with her arms full of bundles, the contents being transferred to the mess kits of her companions.
"Are you going to let the dog run?" questioned Anne.
"I am not. He rides horseback," replied Hippy briefly. "I am a man of resources."
"Especially in leading educated ponies," murmured Emma.
In the meantime, Hippy had taken a canvas bag from his pack and hung it over the pommel of his saddle.
"Come, Little Hindenburg. We will now go bye-bye," cooed Hippy, lifting the bull pup, depositing it in the open bag, and tying the dog's lead string to the saddle.
"Hippy darlin'!" cried Nora. "If Hindenburg jumps out he will hang himself and choke to death."
"Sure he will. That is why he isn't going to jump out."
Hindenburg stood up in the bag and barked in apparent approval of Hippy's assertion.
"Listen!" exclaimed Emma, holding up a hand. "Bark again, Hindenburg."
Hindenburg did so, Emma Dean giving close attention.
"What is the big idea?" demanded Lieutenant Wingate.
"I wished to listen to this voice from the canine world because it carries a message to us," answered Miss Dean gravely.
Hippy gave her a quick keen glance, but Ginger, taking sudden umbrage at a dog barking at his side, demanded his rider's exclusive attention. By the time Hippy had subdued the bronco, Emma's peculiar remark had passed out of mind. Soon after that, with packs neatly lashed, each rider in the saddle, the Overland Riders wheeled their ponies and jogged along the village street on their way to the Great North Woods where Tom Gray, as an expert forester, was to "cruise" or estimate the amount of timber standing on the thousands of acres in the huge timber tract, the largest tract of virgin timber east of the Rocky Mountains.
The Overland Riders, who, for the previous three summers, following their return from France where they had served in various capacities during the war, in the Overton College Unit, had decided to accompany Tom to the Big Woods, seeking such adventure as the northland might afford.
As they started away on the first leg of their journey, none was more joyous than the bull pup, who barked at the villagers, barked at every dog and cat within sight, and, after the village had been left behind, entertained himself by barking at imaginary cats and dogs, Emma Dean being his most interested listener. Emma's quietness attracted the attention of her companions, and they wondered at the change in her, for, on previous journeys, there was seldom a time when Emma did not have a great deal to say.
Not until after five o'clock that afternoon did the party halt to rest the ponies and have luncheon, the latter consisting of hot tea and biscuit, the Riders having planned to eat their supper at Bisbee's Corners.
Most of the girls were quite ready for a rest, but, this being their first long ride of the season, they found, upon dismounting, that they could hardly walk. Grace, being the least disturbed of the party, volunteered to get the fire started and brew the tea, while Lieutenant Wingate and Tom Gray watered the horses and staked them at the side of the road for a nibble at the grass that grew there. Then all hands sat down with their feet curled under them and held out their tin cups for a drink of hot tea.
Emma Dean poised her cup in the air, and, with a far-away look in her eyes, listened intently to the solemn bell note of a hermit thrush.
"What is on your mind to-day, Emma Dean?" laughed Anne Nesbit. "Is it possible that you are in love or something?"
"I am listening to the voices of nature," replied Emma solemnly, shaking her head slowly and taking a sip of tea.
"This is something new, isn't it?" twinkled Grace Harlowe.
"Yes," agreed Elfreda. "Only a few hours ago you were listening to a 'message' from the throat of the bull pup, and now I suppose you are turning your attention to that hermit thrush for the same reason."
"I am listening to the voices of nature," returned Emma. "Listening for the messages that, when once rightly interpreted, will open up the vast realm of the unknown to us mortals. If we would but listen we should hear many mysteries explained and—"
"Speak, Hindenburg!" interjected Hippy, giving the bull pup a push with the toe of his boot and bringing a growl from the animal. "How long has she been this way, girls?"
"Make fun of me if you wish. I am used to it."
"I agree with Emma that there is much in nature that we might do well to consider, suggestions that it would be to our everlasting advantage to adopt," spoke up Tom Gray. "So far, however, as being able to read the notes of the birds or the growl of a bull pup—piffle!"
"I agree with you," nodded Elfreda.
"Emma, where do you get all that dope?" questioned Hippy. "I am beginning to believe what I suspected last season, when you were riding that 'con-centration' hobby, that your war service has unbalanced your mind."
"No, no! He is only joking, Emma," protested Nora.
"It matters little to me what Hippy Wingate says or thinks. I belong to the 'Voice of Nature Cult.'"
"What's that? A breakfast food?" laughed Anne.
"The 'Cult' is an organization of advanced thinkers, presided over by Madam Gersdorff, an adept who can converse with the birds of the air, the animals and—"
"I wish she were here," declared Hippy with emphasis. "I should like to have her tell that bronco what my opinion of him is and hear what he says in reply," added Lieutenant Wingate, flipping a biscuit, which Hindenburg deftly caught and gulped down at a single swallow.
"Madam Gersdorff gave some remarkable demonstrations of her power in the direction of interpreting the voices of nature last winter," resumed Emma. "She is giving me a correspondence course at five dollars a lesson, which I consider a remarkably low price. I wish I might induce you girls to take the course, but I don't suppose any of you have the nerve to do so in the face of Hippy Wingate's unkind criticisms. Let me tell you something. A medium that I went to in Boston a few weeks ago told me some remarkable things about myself. I had been telling her of this 'Voice of Nature Cult.' 'How strange,' answered the medium. 'I see birds all about you. A whole flock of them accompanied you into this very room. See! They are hovering over you at this very moment.'"
"I'll bet they were a flock of crows," murmured Hippy.
"Did you see them, darlin'?" begged Nora in an awed tone that brought smiles to the faces of her companions.
"No. I was not sufficiently in tune with nature to see them, especially in daylight."
"Good-night!" muttered Hippy Wingate.
"And what do you think the medium also said?" asked Emma.
"Five dollars, please," laughed Grace.
"She did not. All she would consent to take from me was a dollar, and she said that, if I would come to her twice a week regularly, she would promise that, in a few weeks, I could see the birds as well as she could. But I didn't tell you—what the medium said of even greater importance was that the explanation was that some of my ancestors, far back in the dim shadows of the early hours of the world, were birds of the air. Just think of it, girls! Birds! Flying through the air and—"
"Darting yon and hither," finished Hippy.
"Alors! Let's fly," cried Elfreda Briggs amid a shout of laughter from the Overland Riders.
"So say we all of us," answered Grace, springing up and beginning to pack away her mess kit. "It will be long after dark before we reach Bisbee's Corners."
The girls were still laughing as they rode away, Emma Dean silently resentful, her chin in the air, her face flushed.
"Do you really think she is in earnest about that nature stuff?" questioned Anne.
"She thinks she is, but of course she isn't. Emma, like many others, must have a hobby to ride. She, fortunately, is fickle in her hobbies, and rides one but a short time before she tires of it and casts it aside. What would we do on these journeys without her?" laughed Grace.
"Yes. Our Emma is a joy and a delight," nodded Anne.
After a brisk ride at a steady gallop, the Overlanders jogged into the one street that Bisbee's Corners possessed shortly after nine o'clock that evening, all thoroughly tired but happy, with Hindenburg sound asleep in the saddle bag.
The streets, they saw, were thronged with men, mostly lumberjacks, some singing, others shouting, and here and there a pair of them engaged in fist battles.
"Must have been paid off," observed Tom Gray. "We are getting near the Big Woods, folks."
"I should say we are," replied Grace, taking in the scene with keen interest. "I hear a fiddle. There must be a dance going on."
"A dance? Oh, let's go," cried Emma.
"Better listen to the voices of nature," answered Tom laughingly. "A lumberjack dance is no place for a refined woman, or man either, for that matter. Where to, Grace?"
"The general store. I'll go in. The girls had better stay on their horses, for I don't like the looks of things in Bisbee's."
"Lumber-jacks are rough, but let them alone and they will let you alone," said Lieutenant Wingate.
Tom Gray said this might be true in theory, but that it was not always true in fact.
Pulling up before the general store, Grace dismounted and elbowed her way through a crowd of men, smilingly demanding "gangway," which was readily granted, though accompanied by quite personal remarks about her, to which, of course, the Overland girl gave not the slightest heed.
"Joe Shafto bought the supplies for you, Mrs. Gray," the owner of the store informed her after Grace had introduced herself and stated her mission. "Joe packed the stuff home on the mules and said you'd pay for it when you come along. That alright?"
"Perfectly so, and thank you ever so much. What is the excitement out there?" with a nod towards the street.
"Jacks comin' in for the early work in the woods. The foremen are hirin' 'em here and sendin' 'em on to the different camps. The whole bunch is just spoilin' for fight. Better not stir 'em up unless your crowd is lookin' for trouble," advised the storekeeper.
"Oh, no. Nothing like that," laughed Grace Harlowe, laying the money for their supplies on the counter. "Nothing wrong outside, is there, Hippy?" she asked quickly as the lieutenant came in rather hurriedly.
"No. I'm after candy."
"That is fine. Buying candy for Nora and the girls," glowed Grace. "My husband seldom thinks to bring me candy, and—"
"For Nora? No. I'm getting the candy for the bronco and the bull pup—trying to buy my way into their good graces, as it were. Neither one of them takes to the uproar in the street. The bronc' is threatening to bolt, and Hindenburg has declared war on the lumberjack tribe because one of them poked a stick in his ribs just now."
Grace, after thanking the storekeeper for his courtesy, went out laughing, but the instant she stepped into the street she intuitively sensed a change in the spirit of the crowd there. The jacks had fallen silent in comparison with their previous uproarious attitude—sullen and threatening, it seemed to her.
"What's wrong here, Elfreda?" she asked, stepping up beside Miss Briggs' pony.
"A jack tried to pull Emma from her horse, probably out of mischief. Tom jumped his pony over and knocked the fellow down with his fist. Three or four others started for him. Tom rode one of them down and the others ran into the crowd for protection. I think we are headed for trouble," prophesied J. Elfreda.
"Grace, where is Hippy?" called Tom Gray anxiously.
"In the store buying candy for the pup."
"Stand back, you fellows!" commanded Tom sternly as he discovered that the jacks were crowding closer and closer to the little group of horsewomen. "We don't mind sport so far as the men are concerned, but you must let these young women alone. Hurry, Hippy!" he urged, as Lieutenant Wingate appeared at the store door.
"Overland!" called Grace, which was the rallying hail of the Overland Riders, and by which signal Lieutenant Wingate knew that all was not well with his companions.
Hippy jumped from the store porch and strode to his pony.
"What is it?" he questioned sharply, taking Ginger's rein from Nora and vaulting into his saddle to the accompaniment of joyous barks from Hindenburg.
"Reckon these wild jacks are getting ready to rush us. Keep your eyes peeled," warned Tom Gray.
"Here they come! Look out!" called Grace.
"Let go of my bridle, you ruffian!" they heard Anne Nesbit cry, and as they looked they saw her bring down her riding crop across the face of a lumberjack who had grasped her pony's bridle and was trying to separate the animal from the others of the party.
THE CHARGE OF THE JACKS
"Get out of this! Lively!" shouted Tom to the girls.
"Keep together!" added Hippy.
The two men forced their ponies between the girls and the lumberjacks, the girls using their crops on their ponies and urging them on.
The Overland girls cleared the scene in a few seconds, and halted a short distance up the street to wait for Hippy and Tom, who were having difficulty in extricating themselves from the mob. They did not succeed in doing this until Hippy began to belabor Ginger over the rump, at the same time pulling up on the reins. This caused the animal to whirl and buck and kick. Every volley from Ginger's lightning-like kicks put several members of the mob out of the fight. Tom was using his crop, but without much effect.
A rough hand was laid on Hippy's leg, and a mighty tug nearly unhorsed him. It probably would have done so had not Hindenburg at that juncture taken a bite of the lumberjack's hand and caused the fellow to let go without delay.
The jacks by this time had begun to fight among themselves. Single and group fights suddenly sprung up all over the street. The jacks, for the moment, had lost their interest in the newcomers, and the two Overland men, taking advantage of the opportunity, galloped down the street, passing scattered groups of brawlers who were too busy with their own affairs to heed them.
The Overland men were almost clear of the mob when yells ahead of them attracted their attention to a fresh disturbance. A man, who, as they drew near, was seen to be an Indian standing at the side of the road, taking no part in the disturbance, was the object of the uproar. A crowd of half a dozen jacks had pounced on the Indian. He went down under the rush. Hippy saw them grab the fellow and hurl him into the middle of the street. The Indian was on his feet in an instant, and, from the light shed through the windows along the street, Hippy saw a knife flash in the Indian's hand, saw the red man's arm shoot out, and a man fall, uttering a howl.
The jacks hesitated briefly, then uttering angry yells they hurled themselves upon the Indian, bore him to the ground, and began to kick at him with their heavy boots.
Tom turned his pony and rode into the crowd at a gallop. Three lumberjacks went down under his charge.
"The cowards!" raged Hippy, also charging into the group and completing what his companion had begun.
"Run, you poor fish!" he yelled at the Indian, who had got to his feet and stood dazedly gazing at his rescuers. "Run!"
The Indian, suddenly recovering himself, darted between two buildings and disappeared.
"Good work!" chuckled Hippy, galloping up the street with Tom to join the girls, who were waiting for them.
"Oh, that was splendid!" cried Anne Nesbit as Tom and Hippy rejoined the party of Overland girls.
"It won't be splendid unless we step lively," answered Tom.
"Keep going, girls, keep going," urged Hippy.
"I hate to run away, but being a peace-loving person I run away whenever a fight is suggested to me."
"We know it," observed Emma.
"Thanks! Which way do we go?" questioned Hippy.
"Straight ahead and take the first right-hand turn about a mile from the village to reach Joe Shafto's place, the storekeeper told me," Grace informed them.
The party galloped on until they reached the turn indicated by Grace where they halted and consulted, deciding that the road to the right was the one they should take. This road, according to Grace's information, should lead them to Joe Shafto's place, ten or fifteen miles further on, though it was not their purpose to go on to Joe's that night.
The Overland Riders walked their horses after making the turn, there being no need for haste, as no one believed that the lumberjacks would follow, and further, the Overlanders were looking for a suitable camping place for the night.
"This appears to be a good place to make camp," finally called Tom Gray, who was riding in the lead of the party. Tom pulled up and looked about him, the others riding up to him and halting.
"No good!" answered a strange voice.
"What? Who said that?" demanded Hippy.
A man stepped out from the shadow of the trees and stood confronting the peering Overlanders.
"It's Lo, the poor Indian!" cried Hippy. "Hello, Lo!"
"So it is," agreed Tom. "How did you get here ahead of us?"
"Come 'cross," answered the man, indicating with a gesture that he bad taken a short cut through the woods, though how he knew where they were going, unless he had heard their discussion at the point where they took the right-hand road, the Overlanders could not imagine.
"You say this is 'no good' as a camping place. What is the matter with it?" demanded Tom Gray, regarding the Indian suspiciously.
"No water. You come, me show."
"Let him lead the way," suggested Elfreda.
"Yes. Give the poor red man a chance," urged Hippy.
The Indian, without asking further permission to lead them, turned and trotted along ahead at a typical Indian lope, and at a rate of speed that necessitated putting the ponies at a jog-trot in order to keep him in view. The Indian proceeded on for fully half a mile, then, turning sharply to the left, led them on until he reached the bank of a stream, to which he pointed as indicating their camping place.
The site was hidden from the road by which they had arrived by trees and a bluff, thus protecting the party from discovery by persons passing along the road, which they readily understood the Indian had purposely planned.
"Fine! Fine!" glowed Tom.
"We are much obliged to you, and thank you," added Anne.
"What is your name?" asked Elfreda as the girls began to dismount.
"Ho, ho, ho!" exclaimed Hippy Wingate. "That's a horse of another color. Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to introduce to you Chief Willy Horse, and believe me he is some horse to stand the punishment those lumberjacks gave him and still be able to talk horse sense."
The Overlanders acknowledged the introduction laughingly, and shook hands with the Indian, at the same time giving him their names.
"Where you go?" demanded the red man, addressing Tom Gray.
"To the Pineries in the north."
"Good! What do?"
"Cruise them, Willy. Do you know what that is?"
The Indian nodded.
"Good! What you do?" he questioned, turning to Lieutenant Wingate.
"Oh, most any old thing, Willy old hoss," answered Hippy jovially. "It is mostly other persons who do the doing, in my case. They do me instead."
"Good! You Big Friend—big medicine. You help Willy Horse. Willy not forget. Mebby kill lumberjacks one day, too."
"Don't get naughty. They hang naughty Indians," reminded Hippy.
"Oh, Mister Pony—I mean Mister Horse—won't you sit down and have a snack with us?" invited Emma Dean.
"Of course he must," insisted Tom, pausing at his work of starting a cook fire.
The Indian shook his head.
"Me go," he announced briefly.
"Sorry. Hope we see you again," said Hippy.
"Me see. You Big Friend. Bye," he said, halting before Lieutenant Wingate. With that he trotted away.
"What a queer character," exclaimed Nora Wingate. "He loves my Hippy, because my Hippy is a brave man."
"Who runs away to fight another day—not!" added Emma mockingly.
"He must have run very fast to catch up with us," suggested Anne.
"An Indian can outdistance a horse, as horses ordinarily travel," answered Tom. "Then, too, he probably knew a shorter cut."
"Did you notice how bruised and swollen his face was, and how indifferent he appeared to be about it?" questioned Grace solicitously.
"Probably not so indifferent as he seemed to be," laughed Hippy. "You know an Indian forgets neither a kindness nor a wrong, and you see how my magnetic personality led this particular Indian to love me."
"All Indians do," observed Emma.
"Let's make camp and eat," urged Anne. "I am nearly famished."
Hippy most heartily approved of Anne's suggestion. Every member of the outfit assisted in "rustling" the camp and the food. Ginger got a whole handful of candy for his part in the routing of the lumberjacks, and Hindenburg also helped himself liberally from the bag when Hippy put it down on the ground.
While eating their supper the Overlanders talked over their experiences of the day and the evening. Miss Briggs declared that she would have been keenly disappointed if something had not occurred to stir them up at the outset of their journey.
"This getting into difficulties became a habit with this outfit on the very day that it set sail for France and the great world war," she said.
"I thank my stars that we are going into the woods where peace and the voices of nature reign supreme," spoke up Emma.
"Sometimes the voices of nature have a savage growl in them," reminded Tom Gray laughingly. "Who is going to stand guard to-night?"
"No one," answered Grace, nodding to Hippy.
"Righto! The bull pup is the guard for this journey. I brought Hindenburg along so that I might not lose sleep," answered Hippy, which stirred the Overland girls to laughter. They had not forgotten that it was a habit with Hippy Wingate to go to sleep when on guard and leave the camp unprotected.
All hands being tired and stiff after their long ride, they turned in as soon as the supper dishes were washed and laid out to dry. Hindenburg was tied to a tree on a long leash so that he might not stray away, and the camp quickly settled down to slumber, a slumber that was uninterrupted until some time after sun-up, when the bull pup awakened them with his insistent barks. Hindenburg wanted his breakfast.
They took their time in breakfasting, knowing that nothing was to be gained by haste in view of the fact that Joe Shafto would be engaged in ironing the family wash, and that they probably would not get started on their journey to the Big North Woods before the following day.
Stiffness of joints from the previous day's ride was soon forgotten in the crisp morning air and the flame of color of the foliage, for they were now entering a scattering growth of forest. As they progressed, however, the trees were of larger and sturdier growth and the road became merely a wagon trail leading to the northward.
Luncheon was eaten by the roadside and the journey resumed immediately afterwards. An hour later they came upon a clearing of about an acre, with a small space occupied by a garden in which stood a log cabin of comfortable dimensions.
"Grace, is this the place?" called Tom Gray as they slowed down.
"I don't know, but it seems to answer the description."
"Anybody living up here would need to be a guide or he never would be able to find his way home," declared Lieutenant Wingate.
"Hoo—oo!" hailed Emma.
After a few moments of waiting the Overlanders were gratified to see the cabin door open and a woman step out, shading her eyes with a hand. She was tall, thin and angular, the thinness of her face accentuated by a pair of big horn-rimmed spectacles through which she glared at the newcomers.
"Who be ye?" demanded the woman in a rasping voice.
"We are the Overland Riders, and we are looking for Joe Shafto's place," answered Grace pleasantly.
"I reckon ye ain't lookin' very hard," snapped back the woman.
"Is this Joe's place?" interjected Tom Gray.
"It be, I reckon."
"Is Joe at home? I am Tom Gray. I arranged to have him act as our guide."
"I reckon he is."
Tom dismounted and led his pony to the gate, irritated at the woman's abrupt manner and speech, but this feeling was not shared by the others of his party who were greatly amused at the brief dialogue.
"I say, I am Tom Gray. May I see Joe?"
"I reckon ye kin if ye've got eyes."
"Then please ask him to step out. Or shall I go in?"
"Yer lookin' at Joe Shafto. If ye don't like the looks of me look t'other way!" she fairly flung at him.
"You don't understand, Madam. We engaged Joe Shafto, a man, to guide us through the North Woods and—"
"I tell ye I'm the party, and I'm man enough for any bunch of rough-necks in the timber," retorted the woman.
"A woman guide! Good night!" muttered Hippy Wingate under his breath.
A HUMAN TALKING MACHINE
"Of course, of course. I—I—well, I'll talk to my friends about it," answered Tom lamely. He was flustrated and flushed, greatly to the enjoyment of the Overland girls.
"That's all right, Tom," soothed Grace. "I am positive that Miss Shafto—"
"Mrs. Shafto," corrected the woman. "Mrs. Joe Shafto. Git the handle right."
"I am positive that Mrs. Shafto will answer our purpose very nicely," finished Grace.
"Yes, yes. I—I agree with you," mumbled Tom. "If you have time, or when you do have time, we shall have to talk over our plans with you and—"
"Ain't got no time for nothin' to-day. Had yer dinners?"
"We had luncheon on the way," replied Grace.
"Lucky for ye. I'll go work at the ironin'; then I've got to clean house. Mebby then I'll talk to ye."
Joe stamped back into the house, slamming the door behind her, and the Overland Riders lost themselves in gales of laughter, galloping their horses on beyond the house so that Joe might not hear. Tom followed along slowly, considerably crestfallen.
"Tom Gray, you surely have distinguished yourself," declared Anne Nesbit.
"My Hippy couldn't have done worse," added Nora.
"It gives me a pain in my back just to look at her," averred Elfroda. "Listening to her is worse."
"I shan't listen at all. Thank goodness I have the voices of nature to listen to," observed Emma.
"Girls, I admit that I have made a mess of it. I suppose we can go on without a guide, but really it is not wise for you girls, inexperienced as you are in woodcraft, to venture into the Big Woods."
"I do not agree with you folks," interjected Grace. "That woman is sharp-tongued, but she is a sturdy and dependable character. It is my opinion that we might have done a great deal worse in selecting a guide. Let's go back to the house, make camp nearby, and wait until the sturdy warrior is ready for us. She will be out again to talk to us soon enough, if I am a judge of human nature."
The Overlanders acted upon the suggestion and pitched their little tents among the trees across the trail from Joe Shafto's home. While they were thus engaged Joe came over and watched the operations, but without uttering a word until the camp was made and a little cook fire started for a cup of afternoon tea.
"What's that for?" she demanded, pointing to the fire.
"Afternoon tea now, and to cook our supper on later," answered Grace.
"Yer all goin' to eat supper with me."
The girls protested, but Joe, when once she had made an assertion, would brook no opposition.
"Six o'clock; no earlier, no later. To-morrow mornin' we start at four o'clock. I've got all yer fodder, which-all I'll carry on June and July. Them's my pack mules. Work singly or in pairs. Kin kick like all possessed. No great scratch whether there's anythin' to kick at or not, but they know better'n to kick me, though they ain't no love for Henry, and he gives them heels plenty of room, 'cept one time when he forgot hisself and got kicked clear out into the road, and nigh into kingdom come, and I'll bet the pair of 'em that ye folks ain't got a hoss in the outfit, not even that bronco with the glassy eye, that kin kick once to June or July's twenty kicks, and, if you don't believe it, just heave a tin can at one or t'other of 'em and see if ye can count the kicks, but keep the road between ye and the kicks or I shan't be responsible for what happens to ye, because I know them mules and I know what they can do, and then agin—"
"Oh, help!" wailed Emma.
"The voice of nature," chuckled Hippy. "And to think we've got to listen to it for weeks to come."
"What's that ye say?" demanded Joe.
"I—I think I was thinking out loud. I didn't mean to say anything. Honest to goodness I didn't," apologized Hippy lamely.
Joe fixed him with threatening eyes, then launched into another monologue on mules, which wound up with some remarks on lumberjacks, and a leaf from her family history.
The Overland Riders learned that Joe's husband, who was a timber cruiser, had been killed by lumberjacks, and that she was the sworn enemy of every man who wore a Mackinaw coat and worked in the woods.
"Since my man's death I've been livin' up here in the woods, guidin' huntin' parties, makin' an honest livin' and layin' for the men who killed my man. I'll find 'em yet. Now who be ye all? I hain't had no interduction except as Mister Gray interduced himself to me, and—"
"This is my wife, Grace Harlowe Gray," said Tom.
The forest woman shook hands and glared into Grace's smiling eyes.
"Glad to meet ye, Miss Gray. Ye look like one of them boudwarriors that I seen pictures of in the high saciety papers."
"Miss Emma Dean," announced Tom, pointing to Emma.
"Glad to meet ye." Joe gave Emma a searching look. "Pert as a bird, ain't ye?"
"Some of my ancestors, I have reason to believe, were birds, and it is quite possible that I have inherited some of their traits," answered Emma airily.
"Sparrows! No good. Don't git swelled up over some of yer folks wearin' feathers. The kind ye belong to they shoot on sight. And now who be ye?" demanded the woman, stepping up to the dignified J. Elfreda Briggs.
Elfreda introduced herself.
"Glad to meet ye. Yer quite set up, but I guess ye might come down a peg after ye git acquainted."
Nora Wingate and Anne Nesbit then introduced themselves, and Joe was "glad to meet" them, but she forgot to address personal remarks to them, for her eyes, glaring through the big spectacles, were fixed on Hippy Wingate's grinning face. All this was "a powerful good joke to him," as Emma confided to Grace in a loud whisper.
Joe strode over to Hippy and peered down into his face as he sat playing with Hindenburg.
"I reckon some of yer ancestors must been monkeys, judgin' from that monkey-grin on yer face. What's yer name?"
Hippy told her, adding that he had been a flying ace in the world war, which announcement he made pompously.
"Glad to meet ye, Lieutenant; but look smart that ye don't try any of yer flytricks on Joe Shafto. Six o'clock, folks. Remember!" was Joe's parting word as she strode swiftly from their camp, screwing up her face into a long-drawn wink as she passed Grace Harlowe. In that wink Grace read what she had been searching for. Joe Shafto was human and a humorist, crude, but with a keen mind and a love for banter that promised much enjoyment for the Overland Riders.
"I wonder who is the Henry that she mentioned?" reflected Grace out loud.
"Perhaps Henry may be a tame goose. Think of 'June' and 'July' as names for mules," chortled Hippy. "Oh, we're going to have a merry, merry time this coming two months—especially Hindenburg and myself."
Afternoon tea was an enjoyable occasion that day, at which the principal topic was their new guide.
At five minutes before six, after stamping out their little campfire, the Overland party started for the log cabin. As they crossed the road Hippy sniffed the air.
"I smell food!" he cried.
"Onions! Save me!" moaned Emma.
"No. It is something far and away ahead of mere onions," answered Hippy. "I don't know what it is, but were this not so formal an occasion, I should break into a run for it."
The door of the cabin stood open, so the party filed in unbidden. The table was long enough for a lumberjack boarding house, constructed of boards nailed together with cleats and placed on two boxes. Oilcloth covered the boards and hung clear to the floor on either side. The ends were open. There was a freshness and wholesomeness about the place that attracted the girls at once.
"Set down!" commanded Joe, entering with a heaping platter of meat.
"That is what I smelled!" exclaimed Hippy. "May I ask what that meat is, Mrs. Shafto?"
"Eh? Don't wake me up," murmured Hippy.
"Is the deer season on?" questioned Tom.
"No. Not till November fifteenth. This is smoked venison, killed last season. I put down a lot of it in caches where the water will keep it cool."
Another dish, a tinpanful of baked potatoes, came on with other smaller dishes of vegetables; then the coffee was poured into the thick serviceable cups that had already been placed by the plates, which, together with two loaves of bread, comprised the meal. Appetites were at concert pitch and it was with difficulty that Hippy Wingate restrained himself until the girls were seated.
"Miss Dean, set down at the end where I can watch ye that ye don't fly away. Sorry ye have to set on a box, but there ain't chairs enough to go around. I give the Lieutenant a chair 'cause a box ain't safe for him. He's a big feeder and the box ain't strong. Dip in, folks. Get started. Help yourselves. This ain't no saciety tea."
The food was passed along and each Rider helped herself from platter and pan, and every plate was heaped under the observant eyes that were glaring through the big horn-rimmed spectacles to see that each person helped herself to liberal portions.
Exclamations were heard all around the table when the girls had tasted of the smoked venison. Hippy, however, was too busy to talk or exclaim unless he were forced to do so.
"Lieutenant, did ye et like that when ye was chasin' the flyin' Dutchmen in France?" demanded Joe.
"It's a eternal wonder ye didn't fall down then."
"I couldn't. I lived on angel food most of the time, and, after a while, I could fly. See? You live on angel food long enough and you can fly, too," promised Hippy gravely.
"I reckon I would at that," answered the forest woman, pursing her lips, the nearest thing to a smile that the Overland Riders had seen on her stern, rugged face.
The girls laughed merrily, and Nora turned a beaming face on her husband.
"Hippy, my darlin', you've met your match this time," she said.
"I met you first, didn't I?" retorted Hippy, then returned to his absorbing occupation and shortly afterwards passed his plate for another helping.
"My land!" exclaimed Joe. "Ye do beat the bears for eatin'. Never seen one that could stow it away the way ye do."
"You should see him when he is hungry," advised Emma. "Why, when we were riding in the Kentucky Mountains last year we—"
"Well?" demanded the guide.
Emma had abruptly ceased speaking as she felt something rubbing against her foot. At first she thought it was Hindenburg who had slipped into the house and crawled under the table to salvage the crumbs. Now something surely was nosing at her knee.
Emma Dean's face contracted ever so little when a cold something brushed the back of the hand that hung at her side.
"Hi—Hippy, where's the pup?" she questioned weakly.
"Tied to a tree out yonder. Why?"
Emma groped cautiously with the hand, first wishing to assure herself that she was not imagining, before making an exhibition of herself. The hand came in contact with what she recognized instantly, as a cold nose. Light fingers crept gingerly along the nose and paused at a huge, furry head, now well at her side. She gave a quick, startled glance down at what lay under her hand, and her face went ghastly pale.
Uttering a hysterical scream, Emma Dean toppled over backwards, crashing to the cabin floor.
OVERLANDERS GET A JOLT
As she went over, Emma Dean's feet hit the under side of the table. Her plate of venison slid off to the floor, and Hippy Wingate's coffee landed in his lap. The Overlanders sprang to their feet, but Joe Shafto sat glaring from one to the other of them in amazement.
"A bear! A bear! A bear under the table," screamed Emma and sank back in a dead faint.
It was then that the Overland Riders saw what had so frightened her, for a black bear ambled out from under the table and began gulping down the venison from Emma's overturned plate. To the eyes of the girls he appeared to be a huge animal, and his growls, as he swallowed choice morsels of venison, were far from reassuring.
"Don't be skeert! It's only Henry," cried the forest woman. "Set down!"
No one heeded her advice. Elfreda Briggs was standing on a chair, Anne Nesbit had run into the garden which she had reached by a short cut through an open window. Tom and Hippy, having sprung back, were gazing on the intruder in startled amazement, while Nora Wingate, standing on the table with one foot in the platter of venison, was screaming.
Grace, who had backed into a corner, was trying to subdue her own individual panic sufficiently to reason out the situation. Joe Shafto's words, when Grace finally absorbed them, brought enlightenment.
"Will he bite, Mrs. Shafto?" she called.
"Won't bite nothin' if ye don't bother him."
Grace ran to Emma and bathed her face with water.
"Get down!" commanded Lieutenant Wingate, holding up a hand to Nora. "Don't you see you're spoiling a perfectly good lot of venison? I never saw such a parcel of 'fraid cats in all my life."
"Neither did I," grumbled Mrs. Shafto. "I didn't know Henry was down there or I'd a shooed him out before ye set down."
"I won't get down until that beast is out of the house," declared Nora. "Whoever heard of such a thing. Don't!"
Hippy pulled her down without ceremony and placed Nora in a chair.
"Behave yourself! You will see more bears, and then some, before you finish this journey."
Joe took a broom and shooed Henry out into the yard. A scream out there followed almost instantly, for Henry had ambled around the house to make the acquaintance of Anne Nesbit.
"The beast is chasing me!" she panted, as she ran back into the house.
No one gave heed to her, so she ran to Nora and the two consoled each other. In the meantime, Grace had revived Emma.
"Ha—as he gone?" she wailed weakly.
"Yes. That is Mrs. Shafto's tame bear, you silly."
"Merely a voice of nature that you heard, Emma," reminded Hippy. "By the way, what message did Henry convey to you?"
"Henry is the name of Mrs. Shafto's pet," explained Grace.
"Fright!" moaned Emma in answer to Hippy's question.
"Mrs. Shafto, if you don't mind, I believe I will have another piece of deer," said Hippy.
"Yer wife stepped in it," replied Joe.
"It's all in the family," observed Hippy, holding out his plate.
One by one the Overlanders returned to the table, with the exception of Emma, whose appetite had left her, but Hippy had the rest of the venison all to himself. The meal was finished off with apple pie, and the girls said they had not eaten so much since their first meals at home on their return from service in France.
Following the meal, the Overland Riders discussed their proposed journey with the forest woman, looked over the supplies she had bought and pronounced themselves satisfied, not only with her purchases, but with Joe Shafto herself. Nothing more was seen of Henry that evening. The woman said he probably had gone into the woods to sleep or to forage for food.
"Where did you get the beast?" questioned Emma.
"When he war a cub. I shot his mother and brought the cub home, and he's one of the family. I kin make him mind just like a dog, and sick him on like a dog. I'll call him in and show ye."
"No, no," protested Emma and Nora in chorus.
"I shall dream of bears all night, but don't you dare let him out while I am here," begged Emma.
"Henry's my watchdog. He sleeps on the front steps, and he'll chaw up anything that comes in the yard after I git to bed, so keep out or you'll git bit."
"Oh, I shall keep out, never fear," answered Emma in a tone of voice that brought a laugh from everyone at the table.
Before leaving Mrs. Shafto that night the Overland girls acquainted her with such plans as they had made for their outing, Tom telling her of the work that lay before him and expressing his wish to have the party as near to his work as possible. "Good nights" finally were said, and the guests departed for their little camp among the trees. A fire was built to light up the tents while the girls were arranging their blankets and preparing themselves for bed.
"Hindenburg gets free range for the night," volunteered Hippy. So, with the bull pup on watch, all hands turned in, for an early start was to be made on the following morning. They were awakened by his barking at daybreak.
Joe Shafto was hallooing to them.
"Git a hustle on ye," she called in answer to Tom Gray's answering hail.
There was a scramble in the camp of the Overlanders, for they desired to show their guide that they were no novices at breaking camp and getting under way. Just as they were finishing their breakfasts Joe led over June and July, and waited observantly while Tom and Hippy rolled their belongings into packs which Mrs. Shafto lashed to the mules with her own hands.
"Ye see the twins don't like to have strangers monkeyin' around 'em," she explained. "I'll git goin' now and ye kin foller along. I've got to git Henry first."
"Eh? What's that?" demanded Hippy.
"I don't go nowheres without my Henry."
"You—you aren't going to take that beast with you, are you, Mrs. Shafto?" cried Emma.
"I sure be, and I reckon ye'll be mighty glad to have him along before we git through with this here hop into the Big Woods."
Emma groaned dismally.
"Never mind," soothed Hippy. "You can practice your nature reading stunt on him. Who knows but that you may learn the bear language, so that by the time we finish our work up here you will be able to go out in the forest and tell the bears your life history, and listen to them telling you theirs. Of course they might eat you, but that would not matter."
"Huh!" grunted Miss Dean, elevating her nose and turning her back on him.
"Mount!" ordered Hippy, after each girl had saddled her pony and stood waiting for the start. They swung into their saddles with agility, and jogged out into the road with Hindenburg racing ahead and darting back, barking joyously. He was already feeling the call of the wild.
"There's Joe," called Emma, as they rounded a bend in the road.
"I do not see the bear," wondered Tom.
"Perhaps she decided to leave him at home to shift for himself. I hope so."
Grace said she hoped not, for the bear would make life interesting for them.
Joe was sitting on the back of one of her pack mules jogging along, leading the second mule behind, but, though she must have heard the Overlanders shout to her, she neither replied nor looked back. Hindenburg, however, darted ahead and began barking at the mules, dodging their heels successfully for several minutes, much to the amusement of the party following. At last, however, he caught a glancing blow from a mule foot that sent him rolling into the bushes. In a few moments he was out again, circling mules and rider, barking his angry protests, then dodging off the trail into the bushes where they heard him barking with a different note in his voice.
"There comes the bear!" cried Nora. "Look at him!"
"Yes, and there comes Hindenburg bucking the line," added Hippy.
The bear, followed by the dog, burst into sight just at the moment that Hindenburg nipped the bear's hind leg. Henry whirled, made a pass at the pup, and missed him. The bear then charged Hindenburg with mouth wide open, and the battle was on.
"Call off yer dog," shouted Joe.
"Call off your bear," answered Hippy Wingate.
The guide tried to do so and failed. Hippy's efforts to draw Hindenburg from the fray met with no better success.
It was at this juncture that the bear scored first blood. With a well placed blow of his paw he knocked the pup into the middle of the road, and the lead mule, at whose heels Hindenburg had fallen, kicked him the rest of the way into the bushes.
"Sick 'im, Henry!" yelled Joe.
"No you don't," shouted Hippy as the bear ambled across the road in pursuit of the injured pup.
"I'll learn that fresh pup to bite my bear," flung back the forest woman.
"And I'll kill that brute of a bear if he gets the pup," retorted Hippy, galloping his pony to the point at which the two animals had disappeared, and leaping from Ginger's back, regardless of the risk of losing his mount.
Hippy plunged into the bushes to the rescue of the bull pup. The dog's yelps indicated that he was in further trouble, which Hippy discovered to be the fact when he came in sight of the combatants. Henry was boxing the unfortunate dog with both fore paws. Hindenburg, from whose mouth and nose the blood was running, was staggering about weakly, but trying his utmost to get a hold and hang on.
"Let go, Henry, you brute!" commanded Hippy.
Henry, however, instead of letting go, ambled at the dog with wide open mouth, thoroughly angered and determined to finish with his teeth the battle he had begun with his paws.
Lieutenant Wingate sprang into the fray and delivered a kick on the side of the bear's head with all the strength he could throw into the blow.
Henry rose in his might, rearing on hind legs, and advanced on Hippy, snarling and showing his teeth, and sparring like a prize fighter.
"That's your game, is it?" jeered the Overland Rider.
Hippy planted a blow with his fist full on Henry's nose, the most tender part of a bear's body. Henry reeled, backed away, followed by Lieutenant Wingate who sparred skillfully, frequently planting other blows on the tender nose of his adversary.
Boxing with a bear was a new experience for him, but his success thus far made Hippy careless, and in a particularly savage blow he threw his body too far forward, missed the nose, and was obliged to spring towards the animal to save himself from falling.
Henry, despite his rage and aching nose, did not miss his opportunity. Both powerful front legs closed about Hippy Wingate like a flash, and the man and the bear went down together.
CAMPING UNDER THE GIANT PINES
Tom Gray heard the two crash into the bushes, as he was on his way to the scene followed by Joe Shafto and part of the Overland outfit.
As he went down Hippy had the presence of mind to thrust both hands under the bear's chin and press upward with all his strength, though, in that tight embrace, it was difficult to do anything except gasp for breath and wonder how long it would be before he heard the snap of his ribs breaking in.
With the bear's breath hot on his face, Lieutenant Wingate afterwards remembered wondering why it was that Henry did not bite when the biting was good. Never having bitten a human being and having no recollection, in all probability, of any associates outside of human beings the bear may not have been inclined to bite.
On the other hand, the bear's temper appeared to be rising, for his growls were growing more menacing with the seconds.
"Hindenburg! Sick 'im!" gasped Hippy.
He heard the pup, weak from loss of blood, give a feeble yelp, then a snarl, and in the next second Hindenburg had fastened his teeth in Henry's neck.
A heavy paw swept Hindenburg away and left him quivering and moaning. The respite had been sufficient, however, to enable Lieutenant Wingate to roll out of the clutches of the beast, but his freedom was brief. Hippy had hardly sprung to his feet when the bear rose and snatched him again.
It was at this juncture that Tom and the guide arrived, just in time to see Hippy Wingate deliver another blow squarely on Henry's all too tender nose.
"Henry!" yelled the woman. "Let go, Henry!"
Henry plainly was in no mood to let go, and it was evident that it was now his intention to bite and bite hard, for the snarling mouth was wide open when Joe Shafto sprang to the rescue. Joe carried a hardwood club, which she evidently carried as a handy weapon.
"Now will ye mind me!" she shrieked, bringing the club down with a mighty whack on the bridge of Henry's head. "Take that, and that, and that!" she added, delivering three more resounding whacks.
Henry uttered a howl, released his hold on Hippy Wingate and rolled over on his back, feet in the air, where he lay whining and plainly begging for mercy like a child that was being punished.
Hippy had quickly rolled out of the way and jumped up, his face bloody, and his clothes showing rents where Henry's claws had raked them. Hippy ran to Hindenburg whom he found whimpering and licking his wounds.
"You poor fish! Why did you do it?" rebuked Lieutenant Wingate.
"Git up!" commanded Joe Shafto, poking Henry in the ribs with her stick. "Come with me and behave yerself, or I'll wallop ye till ye won't be able to smell venison for a year of Sundays." The guide fastened on one of Henry's ears and started for the trail, Henry ambling along meekly at her side. "Lieutenant, keep that pup away from my Henry," ordered Joe.
"Joe, keep that bear away from my pup," retorted Hippy, carrying Hindenburg in his arms and gently depositing him in the saddle bag.
"Oh, Hippy, what happened to you?" cried Emma.
"I've been communing with nature," he answered briefly.
"Darlin', let me wipe the blood from your face," crooned Nora. "Did the naughty bear scratch oo bootiful face?"
The Overlanders shouted and Hippy, very red of face, sprang into his saddle with such a jolt that Ginger gave him a lively minute of bucking in which poor Hindenburg got a shaking up that made him whimper.
The forest woman with her mules had already started and was now some distance in the lead, with her pet bear shuffling along at the edge of the road abreast of the leading mule.
"Ye git nothin' to eat to-day, Henry. I didn't bring ye up to brawl and to fit with yaller dogs, ye lazy lout," scolded Joe.
When the party halted for its noon rest and luncheon, Henry sat morosely at one side of their camping place, now and then licking his chops, while Hindenburg, performing the same service for his wounds, occupied a position on the opposite side of the camp. Neither animal appeared to be aware of the other's existence.
"Behold the forest," said Tom Gray later in the afternoon, halting his pony on a rise of ground, and encompassing a wide range of country with a sweep of his arm.
It was an undulating sea of deep green, almost as limitless as the sky itself, that the Overland Riders gazed upon.
"Them's the Big North Woods," Joe informed them. "We take a log trail just beyond here, and to-night we'll be in the 'Pineys.'"
"And to-morrow I shall be off and at work," announced Tom.
They were soon picking their way along a shady fragrant trail, tall, straight, noble pines about them seeming to be vieing with each other in their efforts to reach the blue sky. The wind now bore a new fragrance, and the air was heavily pungent with the odor of pine.
"Emma, does your nature cult explain to you why the trees grow so tall and so straight?" asked Tom, riding up beside Miss Dean.
Emma shook her head.
"Because they are fighting the battle of nature—fighting for existence, for their very lives, just as all the world of humans is fighting its battle. A tree must have light and air, or it dies. To get these it must grow up, it must keep up with its competitors, the trees about it, and forge ahead of them if possible, ever reaching up and up for sunlight and air. Once let it fall behind and it is lost; it is overwhelmed by the sturdier giants; it pales and pines and seems to lose its ambition. The tree, knowing it has lost its grip, then seems to grow thin and gaunt, and one day it goes crashing down, to rot and furnish nourishment for the giants that overwhelmed it. The tree's life, like ours, is a struggle for existence, with the survival of the fittest."
"Were I a tree I think I should prefer to grow alone out in an open field," decided Emma.
"Not if you were a wise tree, you would not," laughed Tom. "Out there you would be the plaything of the winds. Your body would be exposed to the glaring sun, the full blast of every passing storm, and the bitter cold of winter, which would, unless you were very hardy, have a tendency to retard your growth and weaken your vigor. Trees, like humans, do not enjoy a lonely life, but when they get together they immediately enter into bitter competition. Isn't that quite human?"
"Where are you heading, Mrs. Shafto?" interrupted Grace, as the guide struck off, leaving the trail and entering the dense forest.
"Goin' to find a campin' place while I kin see," she answered. Now and then Joe would halt to examine an old blaze on a tree, occasionally making a new blaze with her short-handled woodsman's axe on the opposite side of the tree so that, upon returning along that trail, the new blaze might be easily seen.
"I fear that I was not born with a woodsman's sense," complained Anne.
"No one is. That is why a woodsman blazes trees," answered Tom. "I do not know whether you people are familiar with 'blazes.' Grace knows something about them."
"The only 'blaze' I know anything about is the blaze I make when I try to start a cook fire," laughed Hippy.
"You will need more knowledge than that if you stray a hundred yards from camp in the Pineries," replied Tom as they rode along. "A blaze is made by a single downward stroke of the axe, the object being to expose a good-sized spot of the whitish sapwood, which, set in the dark framework of the bark, is a staring mark that is certain to attract attention."
"Yes, but suppose the traveler tries to find the trail a year or so later?" questioned the practical Elfreda. "Hasn't it grown up so high that he can't see it?"
"No. A blaze always remains at its original height above the ground, because a tree increases its height and girth only by building on top of the previous growth. There is much of interest that I could tell you along this line, but I will merely describe the various blazes and their meanings, leaving the rest until some other time. It is well to remember that a trail blazed in a forest is likely to have been made either by a hunter, a lumberman, a timber-looker, or a surveyor. A hunter's line is apt to be inconspicuous. So is a timber-looker's, because he is searching for a bonanza and doesn't wish anyone else to discover it. A surveyor's line is always absolutely straight, except where it meets an insurmountable object, when it makes a right-angle turn to avoid the object, then goes straight ahead again.
"All trees that stand directly on the line of a survey have two notches cut on each side of them and are called 'sight trees.' Bushes on or near the line are bent by the woodsman at right angles to it.
"When a blaze line turns abruptly so that a person following it might otherwise overlook it, a long slash is made on that side of the tree which faces the new direction. There are other forms of blazes, such as marking section corners, boundaries and the like, which it is unnecessary for you to know now, but with which it might be wise for you to familiarize yourselves as you go along. This is the end of your first lesson."
"There's the fork of the river that we are goin' to camp on," called Joe, riding down a steep bank, followed by the Overlanders, their ponies slipping and sliding until they had reached the more level ground near the stream.
"We camp here," announced the forest woman. "If ye don't like it, pick out yer own camp. The bear and I stay right here."
Dismounting, Tom strode over to the tree under which Joe had announced her intention of making camp, and, placing a hand on it, gazed up along its length, then at the adjacent trees.
"She's stood here for a hundred years or more, and I reckon no wind will blow her down to-night. All right!" announced Tom.
"Get busy, girls," called Grace.
The Overlanders, dismounting, inhaled deeply of the air, heavily pungent with the odor of the pine, then set to work with a vim to pitch their camp. Tom, in the meantime, climbed the bank to look at a huge pile of logs that lay on a skidway above their camping place.
"Someone got left last spring," he said upon his return to his companions. "Those logs were cut last winter, but the water in the river last spring was evidently too low to float them down, so they must stay where they are until next spring awaiting the freshets. The blocks will then be knocked from under the skidway and those hundreds of thousands of feet of timber will go thundering down into the river. You will observe that they have cut a channel or 'travoy,' as it is called, through which the logs will roll after leaving the skidway, and pass on to the stream. This 'travoy' is pretty well grown over with second growth, but the logs will roll the growth down, and when they do you would think that all the tremendous forces of nature had been let loose."
By this time the camp was nearly finished, and the tents of the Overlanders looked like tiny doll houses under those giant pines, and in this, the very heart of nature, in the silence and the grandeur of it all, the girls felt a deep sense of something that they could not define, which left them disinclined to laugh or chatter.
Soon after dark the sky became overcast, the pines began dripping moisture, and a gentle breeze was heard murmuring in the tops of the trees.
"Come, little nature child! What are the wild winds in the tree-tops saying?" teased Hippy, breaking an awed silence of several minutes.
"I—I don't rightly know," answered Emma, after listening intently to the whisperings in the pines. "I—I think that the message they are trying to convey to me—to us—is a warning of something to come, something that is near at hand. I wish Madam Gersdorff were here. She could read the warning and tell us what peril it is that is hovering over us."
Nora uttered a shrill peal of laughter.
"Don't," begged Anne.
"You've got a bad attack of the willies," groaned Hippy in a tone of disgust that brought a half-hearted laugh from his companions, though, had they been willing to admit it, they too felt something of the depression that was reflected in Emma Dean's face and voice.
Work on the camp finished, the Overland Riders put out the fire and turned in, Henry rolling himself up into a furry ball, Hindenburg snuggling down between Tom and Hippy. Only forest sounds, now faint and far away, marred the solemn impressive stillness of the Big North Woods, a stillness that was destined to be rudely interrupted ere the dawn of another day.
FELLED BY A MYSTERIOUS BLOW
When Grace awakened late in the night the feeling of oppression with which she had gone to sleep still lay heavy upon her. The faint soughing of a breeze in the tree tops, the light thuds of falling pine cones, were the only sounds to be heard outside of the breathing of her companions who were sleeping soundly.
Suddenly her ears caught a distant roar, and a few drops of rain pattered on the tent.
"It is going to storm," murmured Grace. "I hope no dead limbs fall from the trees on our camp." Pulling the blankets over her head to shut out the sounds she tried to go to sleep, but sleep would not come, so Grace uncovered her head and lay listening.
The wind seemed to die down for a while, but it soon sprang up with renewed strength, and was sweeping violently over the tops of the pines, which were creaking and groaning under the strain. A distant crash told of some forest giant that had gone down under the blast; then the rain fell, a deluge of it, which finally beat through the little tents and trickled down over the sleeping Overland girls.
"Are you all right in there?" called Tom from the outside.
"Yes, but we are getting wet. Is it going to last long?" asked Grace.
"Not being able to get a view of the sky, I can't say positively. It seems like only a shower to me."
"Wait a moment. I'll join you."
Grace hurriedly dressed and, throwing on her rubber coat, stepped out.
"I don't just like the way some of these trees are acting," said Tom. "Perhaps you haven't noticed how the ground is heaving."
"Yes I have, but I did not know that it meant anything alarming."
"It shows that the wind is throwing a great strain on the trees and that there is too much play in the roots for the good of the trees—and ourselves," he added. "I hope our supplies do not fall down under the whipping they are getting."
The provisions had been slung in sacks from a rope strung between two trees, about ten feet above the ground, to keep them out of reach of Henry and other prowling animals.
"How long have you been up?" asked Grace.
"Half an hour or so. I went up to the ridge to the rear of the camp, thinking that I had heard something unusual going on up there, but hurried back when the rain started. What I heard must have been the trees creaking."
They listened to the storm for several minutes, Tom Gray trying to interpret the sounds.
"Awaken the girls!" he directed, acting upon a sudden resolution. "Get them out as quickly as possible." Tom had heard a sound coming from the ridge that stirred him into quick action. "Tell them to fetch the blankets and our rifles. We mustn't lose any of those things."
"Will you call Hippy and Joe?"
"Yes, yes. Hurry!"
"Turn out!" shouted Tom at the opening of Hippy's tent. "Be lively. Blankets and weapons with you."
"Wha—at, in this storm?" wailed Hippy.
"Better get wet than get killed," retorted Tom, springing over to Joe Shafto's tent. Joe answered his hail with a sharp demand to know what he wanted.
"Pile out as quickly as possible. We are likely to have trouble. And call your bear off."
Henry was sniffing at Tom's heels and growling ominously, but he obeyed the incisive command of his master and retired to his position in front of her tent.
The girls, he found, were already out of their tents, blankets over their heads, all shivering in the chill rain, all too cold to speak except Emma Dean.
"I—I to-o-old you something was go-going to happen," she stammered. "The v-v-v-voice of nature to-o-old me so."
"N-n-n-nature is an old fogy," jeered Hippy mockingly. "Nothing has happened and I don't know why we have been dragged out into this rotten storm."
"Follow me and watch your step," directed Tom tersely. He led the way to the river and along its bank to the tethering ground. "Lead your ponies to a safer place, further up the stream," he ordered.
This hurried departure from their camp was a good deal of a mystery to the Overland Riders. They did not understand why, nor did Tom Gray tell them.
"Hippy, help me tie the horses," he said, after having gone several rods further up stream. "One at a time with the ponies, folks, then go make yourselves as comfortable as possible under the bluff of the bank. The bushes there will offer you more protection from the wind and rain than the trees would."
Shortly thereafter Tom and Hippy joined their shivering companions, and the party, with blankets stretched over their heads, huddled miserably as they sat on the wet ground under the blanket roof, Hindenburg on Hippy's lap, and Henry outside in the rain licking the water from his dripping coat of fur.
"How are you, J. Elfreda?" teased Grace.
"Saturated and satiated," answered Miss Briggs briefly.
"I wonder what the voices of nature are saying at the present moment?" mused Hippy. "If they feel anything like I do, their remarks are more forceful than elegant."
"Even if you were to hear them you would be mo wiser," observed Emma. "Only persons with unusual minds can read the messages that nature conveys."
Someone under the blanket roof giggled, and Hippy articulated "Ahem!"
"As I was about to say—What's that?" he exclaimed sharply.
A boom, that reminded all who heard it of the explosion of a high-powered shell at a distance, smote the ears of the Overland Riders. Then a succession of resounding reports and terrific crashings shook the earth.
"Stay where you are!" shouted Tom Gray as, with single accord, the girls sprang to their feet and started to run. They halted at sound of Tom's voice.
Something from the air struck the ground with a thud, and Hippy Wingate toppled over against Elfreda Briggs and sank down, uttering a faint moan.
"Hippy's hurt! Something hit him. Quick, Tom! Show a light!" cried Miss Briggs.
Tom Gray flashed a ribbon of light from his pocket lamp and sprang to his companion.
"Hippy! Hippy!" he begged.
Nora uttered an anguished wail, and in an instant her arms were about Lieutenant Wingate's neck.
"Let go and give him air," commanded Tom.
Hippy lay as he had fallen, half on his side, one arm doubled under his head. A red welt across his forehead showed where the blow that felled him had fallen.
The reverberating crashes that had shaken the earth were dying out and now seemed much further away than at first.
THEIR FIRST DISASTER
"Oh, what has happened?" begged Anne tremblingly.
"The logs went out," answered Tom briefly.
"Di—did a log hit Hippy?" questioned Emma.
"I don't know what hit him. Fetch water," directed Tom, who was fanning the unconscious Hippy with his hat.
Joe Shafto had run down to the stream and, at this juncture, came up to them with a hatful of water, which she handed to Tom. Grace took Tom's hat from him and did the fanning while her husband was bathing Hippy's face. The rain had become a misty drizzle and the wind had died out entirely, but the trees were dripping moisture that soaked into the clothing of the Overland Riders more effectively than had the downpour of a few moments before.