THE MOTOR MAIDS AT SUNRISE CAMP
Author of "The Motor Maids' School Days," "The Motor Maids by Palm and Pine," "The Motor Maids Across the Continent," "The Motor Maids by Rose, Shamrock and Thistle," "The Motor Maids in Fair Japan," Etc.
With Four Illustrations by Charles L. Wrenn
M. A. Donohue & Company Chicago New York
Copyright, 1914, by Hurst & Company
Made in U. S. A.
I. OFF FOR THE MOUNTAINS 5 II. THE CAMP 19 III. RULES AND REGULATIONS 34 IV. TABLE TOP 50 V. IN THE BOG 67 VI. THE DOCTOR 83 VII. PHOEBE 101 VIII. THE GYPSY COOKS 114 IX. A LESSON BY THE WAYSIDE 132 X. ALBERDINA SCHOENBACHLER 146 XI. A COMEDY OF ERRORS 162 XII. THE RETURN 177 XIII. BILLIE AND THE DOCTOR 190 XIV. CHANCE NEWS 204 XV. A WARNING 221 XVI. THE ATTACK 234 XVII. THE FORCE OF ELOQUENCE 249 XVIII. THE MORNING AFTER 262 XIX. THE MILLS OF GOD 273 XX. A LONG SLEEP 286 XXI. COMRADES OF THE ROAD 304
THE MOTOR MAIDS IN SUNRISE CAMP.
OFF FOR THE MOUNTAINS.
"Sunrise Camp! What next, pray tell me?" sighed Miss Helen Campbell.
"But it doesn't mean getting up at sunrise, Cousin Helen," Billie Campbell assured her. "Although Papa says we would like it, once we got started. Campers always do rise with the sun. It's the proper thing to do."
"But why do they give it that uncivilized name?" continued Miss Campbell in an injured tone of voice. "Why not Sunset Camp or Meridian Camp or even Moonrise Camp? There is nothing restful to me in the name of 'Sunrise.'"
"It will be restful, indeed it will, dear cousin, once you are used to the life, and it couldn't be called any of those other names because they would not be appropriate. You see there is a wonderful view of the sunrise from the camp, and every morning if you wake early enough you see a beautiful pink light all over the sky and you wonder where the sun is; and suddenly he comes shooting up from behind the tallest mountain in the range across the valley, and it's really quite late by then. He has been up ever so long, but he's been hiding behind the mountains."
"And we are to sleep on the ground under those flimsy tents, I suppose?" asked Miss Campbell, who was not taking very kindly to the camping proposition.
"No, no," protested her young cousin, laughing, "you're thinking of soldiers, and they do have cots. This camp is a log house, a really beautiful log house. There is one immense room without any ceiling, and you look straight up through the beams into the roof. Papa says it's splendid."
Miss Campbell bestowed upon Billie a tolerant, suffering smile.
"And back of that room," continued Billie, speaking quickly, "is a long sleeping porch that can be partitioned off into bedrooms——"
"No protection from rain and wild animals, I suppose?" put in Miss Campbell sadly.
"Oh, yes. There is a roof overhead and a floor underneath, and it's all enclosed with wire netting to keep out mosquitoes. It can't rain in far enough to wet the beds and, of course, nothing else matters——"
"Clothes?" groaned the little lady.
"But khaki skirts, cousin, and rubber-soled shoes and pongee blouses,—water couldn't injure things like that."
"I went camping once forty years ago," went on Miss Campbell, without seeming to notice Billie's reply. "It was terrible, I assure you, it was quite too dreadful. One night there was a storm, and the tents that were not blown away by the high winds were swamped by rain. Our clothes all mildewed, and the flies! I shall never forget the disgusting flies,—they were everywhere."
"This camp couldn't possibly be blown away even by the strongest wind," broke in Billie, ready to refute every argument, "and the screens make it just as comfortable as your own home would be."
"How far is it from anywhere?" demanded Miss Campbell suddenly.
"It's twenty-five miles, but there is a good road from the railroad station and the 'Comet' can take us across in no time. You see, there is a little village in the valley at the foot of our mountain, and in summer a 'bus runs twice a day with passengers and the mail, so the road must be fairly good. Papa says lots of automobiles go over it."
"Twenty-five miles," groaned Miss Campbell.
"Twenty-five miles from a telegraph station——"
"But there is no one for you to telegraph to if Papa and I are with you, dear Cousin, is there?" asked Billie ingenuously.
Miss Campbell's expression softened. Nothing pleased her so much as for Billie to make one family of the three. The young cousin had become such a fixture in her home that she had grown quite jealous of Duncan Campbell's possessive airs with his daughter.
"One would think she really belonged to him more than to me," she would exclaim at such times, with some unreasonableness it must be admitted.
But it was plain that the little spinster's resolutions against camping were beginning to crumble.
"We are not to eat on the ground, then, or drink coffee from tin cups, or sleep in our clothes, or be bitten to death by mosquitoes, and finally exterminated by wild animals?"
Billie laughed joyously. She knew by these extravagant remarks that her cousin had been won over.
"None of those things," she cried. "We are to lead a comfortable, beautiful rustic life, and I know you'll just love it. There are lakes, cousin, exquisite, beautiful little gems of lakes; and trails all through the pine forests, and the walking isn't a bit difficult——"
"Khaki skirts, did you say?"
"Yes, and sneakers."
"What are they, child?"
"Rubber-soled shoes to keep you from slipping."
Miss Campbell sighed.
"And at my age!" she said aloud, answering some unspoken thought. "Tell your father I accept, but it's the last straw, and I may never see my comfortable old home again."
Billie did not pause to disprove this dejected statement. She kissed her relative with the wild abandon of eighteen, rushed from the room and was down the stairs in a breathlessly short space of time.
"She's going! She's going!" she cried, rushing into the drawing-room, where her three friends were anxiously awaiting news, and Mr. Campbell, almost as anxious himself, was pacing the floor, his hands thrust deep into his pockets.
"Good work, little daughter!" he said, pausing in his walk. "I knew you could win her over if anybody could, although last night I was afraid we hadn't the ghost of a show. She was dead set against it. The word 'camp' alone seemed to make her wild."
"But, you see, she thought it was tents and flies and mosquitoes and tin cups."
Mr. Campbell smiled.
"I think we won't tell her any more, now that she has made up her mind. We'll give her a little surprise. Call the camp a log hut and let it go at that."
"Now, about clothes——" began Nancy Brown, and her friends all smiled. "Well, one must have clothes, even on a camping trip. Don't you think a blue corduroy would be attractive, with a touch of coral pink in the silk tie, say; and high russet walking boots—the kind that lace, you know——"
"They must have rubber soles," put in Billie, "no matter what the tops are."
"And a straw hat in the natural color, with a brim that droops slightly, and a pheasant's tail feather, slightly at one side——"
There was another burst of laughter at this juncture, and Mr. Campbell joined in.
"Miss Nancy," he said, "I'm afraid you'll have everything from hedge hogs to wood choppers at your feet if you make yourself so attractive in silks and velvets and russets——"
"Nothing perishable," protested Nancy. "It will be quite suitable, of course. It's a mountain costume I saw in a French fashion magazine, and it was really intended for an Alpine climber; only it was much fancier. The French lady in the picture wore a lace jabot and high-heeled shoes, and she carried an Alpine stock with a pink bow tied just below the crook."
"Was the skirt hobble?" demanded Billie.
"It sounds to me like a Little Bo-Peep costume," put in Mary Price.
"I think one should dress quite quietly on a camping party," observed Elinor Butler.
Mr. Campbell seized his hat.
"My only advice to you, ladies," he announced as he reached the door, "is to wear shoes that won't turn your ankles; skirts that give you plenty of leeway for climbing, and shirts that may be easily washed, because laundries are not abundant in those regions. As for hats," he finished, "you'll probably not wear any after the first day, even the latest thing from the Alps trimmed with the tail feather of a pheasant. As for colors, the first time you go camping you'll probably let your fancy run riot and wear Assyrian purple or crushed strawberry. But the next time, you'll pass right down the line until you get to brown, because you will know by that time that brown fades brown. If campers had been born wild animals instead of human beings, Nature would surely have provided them with brown coats for utilitarian as well as protective purposes."
"I thought we could just wear old clothes," put in Mary Price, doubtfully. "I didn't know people had costumes made for camping."
Mr. Campbell thrust his genial, handsome face back into the room.
"Camping clothes are like bathing suits," he remarked. "After the first wetting or so, they all look alike."
"I'm sure blue corduroy will last," cried Nancy. "The man at the store said it was unfadeable."
"You mean that curly-haired clerk who wears the ruby scarf pin?" laughed Billie. "What's his name?"
"Delosia Moxley," answered Elinor. "He is always giving Nancy pointers about the latest modes. He was responsible for that Spanish veil she would wear last winter——"
"He was not," interrupted Nancy. "He merely told me they were the fashion in New York. I needn't have bought it if I hadn't wanted to."
"I suppose he furnished that French lady's Alpine costume, too, didn't he, Nancy Bell?"
Nancy smiled good-naturedly. She never really minded being teased about her elaborate taste in dress.
"His taste is extremely good," she said. "He expects to run a millinery shop in a year or so. He says he can trim hats charmingly."
"My word!" exclaimed Billie. "I suppose his mother will make your suit and he'll pin the feather on the hat, and between them they will equip you to climb the Adirondacks. But, oh, Nancy, I implore you to explain to Mrs. Moxley that hobbles don't go in the mountains."
"She understands," replied Nancy with much dignity. "She is going to make me the very latest thing in mountain-climbing suits, and she gets all her fashions straight from New York."
Her friends exchanged covert glances and said nothing. Nancy's conferences with Mrs. Moxley, the dressmaker, were a source of endless amusement to them. It was Mrs. Moxley who had made Nancy's graduating costume that June, and never had been seen on the platform of West Haven High School such a fashionable toilette. It had a hobble skirt and a fancy little train that flopped about Nancy's feet like a beaver's tail, and at the reception afterwards the boys had teased her until she left in tears.
Two weeks had passed since graduation and our Motor Maids were just beginning to feel the results of their hard winter's work. It had been a tough pull to catch up with their classes after the return from Japan. There had been no gayeties for them during the Christmas holidays, only continuous hard study, and for weeks afterwards Billie and Nancy and Elinor were tutored every afternoon. Mary Price, the best student of the three, had outstripped them, and in the end had carried off first honors and a scholarship besides. But after the excitement of finals, the four friends had collapsed like pricked balloons. Billie, mortified at what she considered a weakness in her character, had not been able to throw off a deep cold contracted in the spring. Mary Price was limp and white; Elinor had grown mortally thin, and even Nancy had lost her roundness, and her usually plump face was peaked and pale.
"My child needs mountain air!" said Mr. Campbell on one of his flying trips to West Haven. "She must not be in a hotel, and she must have her friends with her."
With characteristic energy he had set to work to find a place somewhere in the mountains, and he had made three trips before he satisfied himself that "Sunrise Camp" in the Adirondacks, to let furnished, was exactly what he had been searching for. The owners had gone abroad and were glad to rent it at a low price.
To "Sunrise Camp" therefore, after due preparation, Miss Helen Campbell, the Motor Maids and Mr. Campbell, who went up to install them, departed. At the station next day they found the "Comet," still attired in his blue suit acquired in Japan, in charge of a chauffeur from a nearby hotel. Along twenty-five miles of mountainous road the faithful car carried them, patiently climbing the last steep grade which led to a kind of shelf in the mountain whereon stood "Sunrise Camp."
"Hurrah!" cried Billie, trying to pretend that she was not at all tired after the interminable hot journey on the train and across the mountains.
But her enthusiasm was not echoed by the others. Even Mr. Campbell, who always felt the heat, sat silent and dejected. Billie, however, usually endeavored to live up to her theories, and she had believed that pure mountain air would act as an instantaneous tonic on their jaded spirits. She was trying now to persuade herself that she was not hot and dusty and excessively weary.
They had drawn up in front of a rustic hut built of logs with the bark left on. The roof had a graceful slant from the central peak, and over the gallery in front was another low-hanging roof like the visor of a cap. On one side of the camp, at no great distance from the house, a majestic army of pine trees had ranged itself in the manner of a silent and faithful guard. At the other side, the ledge sloped down in natural, uneven terraces to the valley far below. From the sleeping porches in the back could be seen a broad vista of low country encircled by a wall of mountains, now clothed in a mantle of purple shadows as the sun sank behind the crests of the opposite range. The air was hot and sweet and very dry, and the atmosphere vibrated with the hum of insects like the low, steady accompaniment of stringed instruments in a great orchestra. But at close view, it must be confessed, Nature was very dingy. The pine trees had a rusty look and the parched earth cried out for rain.
"Well, ladies, we are here," remarked Mr. Campbell, "and I hope you'll find it to your several tastes."
"I am sure we will," answered Mary politely, while the others moved in a silent procession toward the house.
Miss Campbell was already wondering how long they could endure this crude and lonely existence a hundred miles from anywhere. The contagion of doubt had indeed spread like a plague over the entire company, and all for the want of a bath, a supper and a good night's rest.
"Ah, here are Mr. and Mrs. Lupo," exclaimed Mr. Campbell in a tone of relief, as a man and woman approached down the gallery. "They are half Indians," he added in a low voice. "Mrs. Lupo will be cook and her husband, guide, protector and man of all work."
Miss Campbell turned reproachful eyes upon her relative.
So then they were to be left in charge of two half-breed Indians in this wild mountainous place, while he was away. Really, men were too incorrigible. But Mr. and Mrs. Lupo, at first glimpse, were far removed from savages. They were, apparently, like two shy, gentle animals with dark, shining eyes, and when they spoke, which was seldom, it was almost as if they had broken a vow of silence. Winter and summer they lived in these high places, and only occasionally did Mrs. Lupo descend to the valley to visit the little shops in the village and look upon the vanities of life.
"Well, Mrs. Lupo," said Mr. Campbell, after shaking hands with the husband and wife and properly introducing them to the others, "I trust you have some food ready for a crowd of very hungry people. It was too hot this afternoon to be enthusiastic about lunch at the Valley Inn and hunger has overtaken us."
Mrs. Lupo looked gravely from one face to another but said nothing.
"Supper will be ready in fifteen minutes," answered her husband, and the strange pair promptly and quietly disappeared.
"She reminds me," said Mary to Billie, "of one of those genii in fairy tales that appear when you want them and melt away when you have finished with them."
"I wonder if she can cook," was Billie's unpoetic reply.
During these brief moments they had lingered on the dusty gallery, and now Mr. Campbell, eager as a boy for their approval, led them through the broad opening into the only room of the camp, of which they had caught glimpses as they waited outside. But they were quite unprepared for its vast size, capped by the unceiled roof now fast filling with shadows.
"Why, it's really grand," cried Miss Campbell, with a sudden spurt of enthusiasm. "It's like a cathedral."
"Isn't it fine?" answered Mr. Campbell. "I think the primeval huts must have looked like this, and when it came time to build churches it wasn't a very far cry."
"I expect Mr. Primeval Man would have been mighty glad to have had one of those nice Morris chairs," observed Billie.
"It would have been good-by to cathedrals then," answered her father. "Mr. Primeval Man would have passed so much of his time in the easy chair that he would never have got beyond the age of dull-edged tools."
And in this thoroughly modern primeval hut there were plenty of inducements to be lazy. Grouped about the stone chimney of an immense open fire-place were numerous easy chairs, and ranged against the dim confines of the walls were quite half a dozen cots to be used by people who might prefer to sleep indoors, Mr. Campbell explained.
The heads of several deer with branching antlers looked down at them from the walls, and on the floor in front of the fire-place was stretched the skin of a great black bear.
"Papa, I think it's really beautiful," exclaimed Billie, rubbing her cheek against her father's shoulder.
"So do we all, Mr. Campbell," cried the other Motor Maids.
"I am delighted and relieved," he answered, rubbing his hands together with pleasure over their pleasure. "Better introduce Cousin Helen to her—er bedroom now, and wash up before supper," he added, winking and grinning behind that little lady's back.
Anybody would approve of the big room of the camp. It was indeed a splendid place, but how was Miss Campbell going to take to the dormitory? A flight of rustic steps at one end led to a gallery opening on this doubtful territory.
"Oh, how delightful," cried Billie, rushing through the door with a great show of enthusiasm. "I have always wanted to sleep in the open and never had a chance except that one night on the plains. Remember, Cousin Helen? And how you did enjoy it, too!"
"One night, yes, my dear, but this is for some sixty nights or more," answered Miss Campbell, surveying a row of cots placed at intervals along the porch. "I never slept in the room with anybody in my life before."
"But this is not sleeping in a room. This is sleeping in the world, under the great dome of heaven," exclaimed Billie, laughing uneasily.
"If you want privacy, you can draw a veil," remarked Elinor, pointing to denim curtains on poles between some of the beds.
"And be alone in the world, under the great dome of heaven? Never!" cried Miss Campbell. "But do we dress out here in sight of the entire range of mountains? I should feel that each mountain had an eye turned on me."
"Really, cousin, you remind me of the old lady from Skye," ejaculated Billie:
"'There was an old lady from Skye Who was so exceedingly shy, When she undressed at night, She put out the light, For fear of the all-seeing eye.'"
Miss Campbell so far forgot her objections as to burst out laughing, and she was still further placated by finding at one end of the porch a good-sized locker room, and adjoining that a bathroom.
"The water comes from the top of the mountain," announced Billie. "It's just piped in and doesn't have to be pumped. Think of bathing in such clear pure water as that. Oh, I know camping like this will be perfect!"
"It may and it may not be," observed Miss Campbell, bathing her hands and face in some of the crystal water. "Good heavens, what's that?" she demanded, startled by the sound of a bugle in the twilight stillness. The call was loud and clear, reverberating among the mountains and coming back to them in a softened, muffled echo.
"That's Mr. Lupo blowing the supper horn," called Mr. Campbell from the sleeping porch below. Down they all filed and seated themselves anywhere around a long rustic table apparently loaded with food, for all the meal had been placed upon it regardless of ceremony, and people were expected to help themselves.
"Fall to, fall to, ladies," said Mr. Campbell, serving slices of broiled ham until the pile of plates in front of him was reduced to one.
"Let's introduce scientific management into this business," suggested Billie. "With one deft movement of the arm, I'll help each plate to creamed potatoes, passing them along in order to Nancy, who can dish out the baked omelette. While we are doing that Mary can serve the butter and Elinor can pass around the biscuits. There is no labor wasted and the food is distributed in the quickest possible time."
"What shall I be doing?" asked Miss Campbell. "I don't see that I am being scientifically managed."
"Yes you are," answered Mr. Campbell with a mischievous glance at the pretty little lady. "You are being scientifically managed by not being allowed to do anything."
There was a chorus of drowsy, good-natured laughter. The leavening influence of food at a journey's end was already beginning to take effect. Presently Mr. Lupo came in with a tray of cups and saucers and a pot of steaming hot coffee, and Mrs. Lupo, silent and soft of foot, placed four tall wooden candlesticks on the table, the light from the tallow candles shedding a yellow glow on their faces.
"Excuse me," said Mary, rising, after the hungry company had cleared up everything before them, "I want to go to the end of the room and see what we look like. I feel as if we were making a picture somebody ought to see. We are," she called presently from the far end of the vast apartment. "You've no idea how picturesque you look around that dark wooden table with those candles and the blue water pitcher and the pewter coffee pot."
"And the empty omelette dish," called Billie.
"And only one biscuit left," added Elinor.
"I've no doubt Mr. Rembrandt would have painted us just so," said Mr. Campbell.
"And called it 'The Guild of The Globe Trotters'," Miss Campbell was saying, when Mary gave a low exclamation of surprise. In order not to obstruct the beautiful view across the valley, the rustic porch had not been enclosed with screens, but the openings into the living room were screened, and, standing just outside the broad door, Mary saw a man peering into the room.
"I beg your pardon," he said, "I am afraid I frightened you. I was lost on the side of the mountain, and when I saw the light in the camp I thought I would stop and ask the way."
"Come in, won't you?" said Mr. Campbell hospitably. "Have you had your supper?"
"I am afraid not," answered the stranger with a short laugh.
"Mrs. Lupo, will you get this gentleman some supper?" called Mr. Campbell, while Miss Campbell, almost lost in one of the big chairs, was wondering if this were the etiquette of campers, and if they would be expected to take in strangers after Duncan had departed.
"Sit down," went on the incorrigible Duncan. "We only arrived ourselves an hour ago, and we are hardly familiar with the house yet, but there is plenty of room. Won't you stop over night? My name is Campbell."
"My name is St. Clair," answered the stranger. "I live in a place called West Haven. Ever hear of it?"
"Percy St. Clair!" cried the girls and Miss Helen. "Where did you come from?"
"The scheme worked pretty well, eh, Percy?" laughed Mr. Campbell, after the young man, their old friend and playmate, had shaken hands all around and insisted on hugging Miss Campbell. "I thought I would keep you as a surprise. Where's the motor cycle?"
"It's outside. I walked it up the last climb."
"Did you have any trouble finding the way?"
"Considerable. That's why I'm so late. A fellow told me the wrong road, and I was lost for a while and had a foolish adventure besides."
"What was it? What was it?" they demanded.
Percy seated himself at the supper table, while Nancy poured out his coffee and Billie served him with ham and eggs.
"Well, I asked a man the way and he said, 'Are you a doctor?' I said, 'Not yet, but soon.' Then he showed me a road and told me there was a very sick woman in a house at the top, and would I call and see what could be done. You may imagine my feelings when I found that the road led straight to an old ruined hotel, and there wasn't a human being in it as far as I could see nor any sign of one. So I got on my cycle and went back down the mountain until I found a sign board that put me on the right track again. But it was queer, wasn't it, and rather uncanny, too."
It was a strange experience, and after supper they sat under the stars discussing it until bedtime, and came to the conclusion that Percy had met a crazy man.
Never had Miss Helen Campbell slept so well as she did that night on the sleeping porch. Toward morning there came a quiet life-giving rain that freshened the parched earth and brought out the pungency of the pine trees. Only Mary knew of the shower and of the soft wind that followed just before dawn, bearing with it the fragrance of the wet woods. Only Mary saw the miracle of the dawn; first the faint flush of pink; then a deep rosy blush; next, rays of orange and gold, and at last the sun bursting into view. It was Mary who softly let down the bamboo blinds to keep out the sunlight and who finally slipped back to bed and went to sleep with the songs of innumerable forest birds in her ears.
RULES AND REGULATIONS.
At six o'clock they were awakened by a long, melodious trumpet call. The vigorous tripping melody drove the sleep from their brains like a dash of cold water. Billie found herself sitting up in bed humming:
"'Oh, come to the stable, As soon as you're able And feed the horses grain. If you don't do it The Captain will know it And raise particular Cain.'"
It was an energetic summons to rise and view a fresh and beautiful world, and Billie, glancing at her watch, was aware that, as a concession to new arrivals, the summons had come half an hour later than scheduled. Half-past five was to be the hour for rising in camp, provided the ladies were willing. And certainly they showed no signs of unwillingness at the six o'clock call. Miss Campbell glanced placidly down the line of white cots. Then she inhaled a breath of the delicious air.
"In all my life I never slept as I did last night," she announced. "Did somebody put sleeping drops in my coffee, I wonder?"
"I fancy the sleeping drops fell in the night in the form of showers," observed Mary from her cot at the end of the line. "There was no storm, just one of those quiet steady rains, and I never saw people sleep so hard. I thought you were all dead until I heard Miss Campbell——" Mary paused and blushed. "That is, until I heard some one breathing very heavily."
"Now, Mary Price, don't tell me you heard me snore. I never did such a thing in my life," cried Miss Campbell.
With a laugh, Billie leapt from her bed and ran to take a cold plunge in the mountain water which gurgled from the faucet with the pleasant song it had not left off singing when it leaped out of the side of the rock into the pipe.
At seven o'clock came the clarion call for breakfast: inviting and persuasive it was, with a lingering last note that fell softly on the ear and gradually died into discreet silence.
"Mr. Lupo blows the horn with so much expression," said Elinor. "I really think he must have had long experience in summoning people to breakfast who were never ready. He'll be giving 'Weber's Invitation to the Dance' for dinner, I suppose."
They had finished their morning toilets in the locker room, and were about to go downstairs when something tapped against one of the bamboo blinds. Billie promptly drew it up and looked into the clearing below.
"Who's tapping at our chamber door?" she demanded.
A long fishing pole on which dangled five little nosegays made of ferns and grasses and wild asters was thrust at her. "Why, Algernon Percival," she called. "I never dreamed you were so energetic."
"Not guilty," answered that young man's voice from the lower porch. "When the bugle sounded just now, I was taking a shower bath. I'm still busy, but it doesn't take long to get into camping clothes. Who is the only person we know who would get up at dawn and go tramping off for wild flowers?"
A tall, lanky figure stepped out from the shadow of the gallery and lifted his handsome, thoughtful face up to the girls leaning over the railing.
"Why, it's Ben Austen," they cried. "Dear old Ben, when did you come?"
"Last night at ten o'clock," he answered. "The 'bus wouldn't come up from the village at that hour, so I walked. It was great. How are all of you?" he added, wiggling the nosegays in front of their noses.
"We're as fine as silk," answered Billie, with a happy laugh. "And it's such fun that you and Percy are here. Papa kept it a secret so as to surprise us, I suppose."
"I hope it's a pleasant surprise."
"The jolliest kind," they cried, running downstairs at the second call to breakfast.
Those of you who have read the first volume of this series, "The Motor Maids' School Days," will recall Percy St. Clair and Ben Austen, two West Haven boys who were great friends of the girls during that winter when Billie Campbell and her red car first made their appearance in the town. Percy, in the transition from boyhood to manhood, has changed very little. He is of medium height, and his handsome fair face still flushes like a schoolgirl's, to his great annoyance. Ben, at nineteen, is six feet tall. His face has developed since we knew him some years ago. His features are large and regular, his dark eyes filled with serious intent, and a mop of curly black hair covers his head like a thick cap.
Downstairs they found Mr. Campbell pouring for himself a cup of coffee. The camp table was never to be set for breakfast, but the dishes were to be piled at one end and the food at the other, and each camper was to help himself to what he chose. There was a good deal of laughing and scrambling at this morning meal. It started everybody off in a good humor, and in time it became the hour for jokes and absurdities that will never die out as long as there are boys and girls enough to keep them alive.
After they had disposed of quantities of very good food, at least it seemed good to mountain appetites, Mr. Campbell took a sheet of letter paper from his pocket and rapped for quiet.
"Young people, I want to read you a few rules which must be obeyed if camp is to be run on a military basis, the only way a camp can be successfully conducted. Here they are:
"'RULES FOR SUNRISE CAMP.
"'Unless physically unable, all persons must appear at breakfast promptly at six-thirty. Penalty for not appearing—general housework for a day.
"'Every camper, except Captain Helen E. Campbell, must make his own bed and keep his part of the dormitory in first rate order.
"'There will be inspection twice a week by Captain H. E. Campbell.'"
Miss Campbell bowed her head in acknowledgment of the honor.
"'Dinner at twelve-thirty, unless picnics interfere.
"'Supper at six.
"'SUB-RULES FOR WOMEN MEMBERS.
"'Females unattended or with each other are expressly forbidden to wander off bounds; that is, off the three trails which pass near this camp.
"'Picnics are forbidden without male attendants.'"
"Dear me," interrupted Billie, "aren't there any laws for the men to follow? These are all against women."
"They are merely for your protection, my dear."
"That's what the men always say when they begin to trample on women's rights," declared Billie.
"All right, Miss Suffragette, just wait a minute. There'll be a few for the men.
"'SUB-RULES FOR WOMEN MEMBERS—Continued.
"'Hobble skirts are forbidden.'" Mr. Campbell gave a jovial wink and glanced at Nancy.
"'Any individual who introduces a Parisian Alpine climbing suit into camp must pay the penalty by being made to climb a mountain in it.'"
"Now, you know that's not on the list. You're making it up," exclaimed Nancy, blushing.
"'The tail feather of a pheasant is not recommended as trimming for a camp hat,'" he went on blandly.
"'No woman member is permitted to wear a lavender silk polonaise with lace ruffles.'"
"Polonaise?" cried Miss Campbell. "What on earth are you talking about, Duncan? Do you mean negligee?"
"Oh, excuse my ignorance. I thought it was called polonaise," he answered humbly.
"Polonaise," exclaimed the little lady, amid a wild whoop of laughter. "It's a good thing you brought your daughter to a woman member to have her education finished. Goodness me!"
"Dearest Papa," said Billie, kissing him, "don't you wear negligee shirts most all the time? It's the same thing."
"I thought all ladies wore polonaises," insisted Mr. Campbell. "It certainly was the fashion in my youth, at any rate."
"Fashions change with the times and manners, my boy," said Miss Campbell. "But do give us the rules for the men of this household before you forget it."
"'SUB-RULES FOR MEN MEMBERS.
"'Men are required to look after the wants of the ladies and see that they obey their set of rules to the letter.'"
"And is that all?" demanded the women members with a great show of indignation. "Why, we have no rights at all and they have everything!"
"No indeed, children," answered Mr. Campbell. "When a man is required to look after the wants of five ladies, he at once gives up all rights of his own and becomes a slave. There is no need of making any more rules for the men, but there is one more rule for general obedience.
"'All questions and disputes arising shall be settled by Helen Eustace Campbell, Captain of Sunrise Camp.'"
"Three cheers for Captain Campbell," cried Percy.
Miss Campbell rose and lifted her little crinkled hand for silence.
"I accept the responsibility of Sunrise Camp," she said, "under the conditions I am about to state: that I am not asked to go canoeing in one of those tippy little boats without seats; that I am not persuaded against my better judgment to climb to the top of a mountain, for I simply won't, I tell you beforehand; and that nothing shall interfere with my afternoon nap."
"I am sure that these mild requests will be agreeable to all concerned," said Mr. Campbell. "Will the company state objections, if any?"
There was a dead silence.
"Captain Campbell, consider yourself installed as absolute ruler in this camp."
"Papa, why be so businesslike?" asked Billie.
"Because there must always be a certain amount of system in a camp or it won't run. I've lived in camp so much more than in houses that I know, and since I can't be with you until later, I think it wise to get things started in this way before I go——"
"The car is ready, sir," said the village chauffeur at the door.
The Motor Maids had begun to learn by this time that it was invariably Mr. Campbell's way to leave his guests in a cheerful frame of mind, and they all knew perfectly well that "Rules for Sunrise Camp" had been prepared chiefly for Billie's sake, that she would be still laughing when her father kissed her good-by and still smiling when he turned to wave his hat for the last time. She had been very homesick for him lately during his absences from West Haven, perhaps because she had been run down in health and tired out. And to-day, in spite of all the laughing and joking, her eyes filled with tears as she watched the car creep down the mountain road to the valley.
For a little while the camp seemed lonely and remote.
"The truth is," thought Mary, wandering down the path to look at the view, "Mr. Campbell is so splendid that when he goes away he always leaves a big empty space that doesn't seem to fill up. And Billie is just like him. Nobody ever could fill the emptiness she would leave."
As if drawn by these loyal and devoted thoughts, Billie had followed Mary, and the two girls stood with clasped hands watching the distant motor, now a black speck in the valley.
"Dearest, dearest Papa," exclaimed Billie under her breath, as the tears welled into her eyes and slipped down her cheeks.
Mary pressed close to her side with silent sympathy.
Presently Billie wiped her eyes and began to smile.
"Don't tell on me, Mary dear. I'm just like a foolish little girl. But I do love Papa so, and sometimes I can't bear to have him leave me. Then I wish I had been born his twin brother and we never could be separated."
Mary was about to dispute this argument on the grounds that marriage would have separated them, when they noticed coming up the steep road a small bony horse drawing a little cart. A girl was walking at one side, holding the reins. She wore a broad-brimmed jimmy hat and an old gingham dress faded to a soft mellowed pink. The two girls watched her with admiration as she swung along the road, swaying slightly at the waist like one who had adopted the easiest way of walking up hill. They were so intent upon her that they hardly noticed the blackberries and vegetables in the back of the cart.
Presently the girl paused and turned her beautiful dark blue eyes on them without any embarrassment.
"Want to buy any vegetables?" she asked.
"Perhaps they will up at the camp," said Billie. "Ask Mrs. Lupo."
The mountain girl looked at her strangely and shook her head.
"Do you know Mrs. Lupo?" asked Billie.
"Yes, but I will not ask her."
"Very well, I'll buy something myself. What have you got?"
"Blackberries, onions and beets."
Billie bought a pail of berries.
"You had better come up to the camp and let me empty them," she said.
"Keep the pail," answered the mountain girl, and swung on up the road, flicking the little old horse with a long switch.
Billie and Mary followed with the berries, which they presently left in the kitchen where Mrs. Lupo was working.
"I bought these from a mountain girl, Mrs. Lupo," said Billie.
The woman went on working without looking up. Billie repeated what she had said. There was still no answer, and the girls went out of the kitchen somewhat disconcerted.
"She's a queer, shy creature," said Billie, and thought no more about it.
Miss Campbell was quite willing to trust her brood with Ben Austen.
"He was always reliable," she remarked. "When he was a baby, his mother could depend on him not to cry at the wrong time, although, of course, he was only human."
On the whole, she was relieved that her cousin had asked Ben to make them a visit. Mr. Lupo was all very well and had guided their walking parties up the trails, or, seated beside Billie in the "Comet," had pointed out good roads for motoring; but Miss Campbell did not consider him as entirely to be trusted, because, as you probably recall, she never liked mixed bloods nor mixed colors, either.
Some days after their arrival, when they had quite recovered from that unconquerable disposition to sleep, which always attacks lowlanders visiting the mountains, Billie proposed that they take a walking trip across a tableland which separated their mountain from the one behind, and finally scale the peak beyond, where the view, it was said, was magnificent.
"Let's go to-day while the spirit moves us and it's so delightfully cool," she suggested at breakfast.
"But Mr. Lupo isn't here," objected Miss Campbell. "He's gone to the village."
"We know the way, don't we, Ben? Mr. Lupo showed us the trail yesterday. Most of it goes through the woods. It's only two miles across 'Table Top' and then we get to the other mountain. I'm wild to go. I'm beginning to feel shut in, and I want to see what's on the other side of this Chinese wall."
"More Chinese walls," observed Ben gravely.
"Mr. Lupo is such a restraining influence," put in Nancy. "When he's along, we have no real conversation."
"He is a kind of a wet blanket," observed Percy. "You never know whether he has heard you or not. You generally have a feeling he has, but that your remarks are too trivial for comment."
"All of which means," said Miss Campbell, "that you want to go off for the day without a guide."
"Please, Cousin Helen," pleaded Billie.
"Dear Miss Campbell, won't you let us?" cried the other Motor Maids.
"Not because that feather-top Percy is with you, but because Ben is here, I suppose I might as well consent," said Miss Campbell.
"Old Ben is just as much of a feather-top as I am, Miss Campbell," protested Percy. "He deceives people because he looks like an Indian. I've got a serious mind underneath all this curl and color."
"I don't believe it," answered Miss Campbell. "But I wouldn't have you changed, my boy. I like you as you are."
After this two-sided compliment, they took it for granted that consent had been given and Billie rushed off to see Mrs. Lupo about the lunch.
They had come to learn during that first week in camp that Mrs. Lupo was a law unto herself. For one thing, the blackberries that Billie had purchased of the mountain girl had never come to the table, although the girls kept looking for them to appear in the form of a cobbler or a roly-poly pudding. What had become of them they never learned, but Billie had an uncomfortable suspicion that they had been tossed into the garbage pail.
"We can't do anything about it, my dear," Miss Campbell had informed Billie. "The woman certainly holds us in the hollow of her hand unless we want to do our own cooking."
Billie smiled. Miss Campbell was never known to boil a kettleful of water, let alone cook a meal. If there was any culinary work to be done the Motor Maids would do it, and Miss Campbell might possibly arrange the salt cellars or offer to go over the silver with a polishing cloth.
Mrs. Lupo dumbly acquiesced to the lunch.
"We will be glad to make the sandwiches, Mrs. Lupo," said Billie timidly. "Please let us have some cold meat. I suppose there is plenty of bread? Will you hard-boil a dozen eggs?"
Mrs. Lupo rarely replied to any question addressed to her, but she went about getting the things for the lunch and Billie breathed a sigh of silent thanks.
"It's really terrible to be a slave to one's cook," she thought. "But I know perfectly well that if I ever tried to subjugate Mrs. Lupo I'd get mad, and she would just fold her tent like the Arab and silently steal away, and one morning there would be no breakfast."
Billie had tried several methods with Mrs. Lupo. She had said good morning with a polite smile, but received no response. Once she had added:
"How do you feel this morning, Mrs. Lupo?"
A dead silence had followed this courteous inquiry.
"Wires crossed," Percy had cried. "Try again, Central."
They had all laughed at this witticism and Billie had hoped Mrs. Lupo had not understood.
"If you had lived in the mountains all your life I guess you wouldn't be very communicative, either," she had admonished Percy, after Mrs. Lupo had glided noiselessly out of the room.
"I guess I wouldn't miss a call," answered Percy. "If there was any one to call, I wouldn't hang up the receiver."
There were times, however, when Billie could scarcely conceal her irritation, and this morning nothing went quite as she had planned.
There was only enough bread for a dozen sandwiches and there were only six eggs.
"But I said a dozen eggs, Mrs. Lupo," she said, after she had sliced and buttered the bread and glancing up saw six eggs cooling in a pan. "You know we are going to take a long walk across Table Top to Indian Head."
The silence was profound.
"And we need more bread. Will you get me another loaf, please?"
No reply. Mrs. Lupo was quietly stringing beans on a bench by the door of the lean-to which served the camp as a kitchen.
"Did you hear what I asked?" demanded Billie.
Nancy and Mary, placing ham between the slices of bread, looked up quickly, half amused and half frightened.
"Did you hear me ask you a question, Mrs. Lupo?" repeated Billie, exasperated beyond endurance.
Mrs. Lupo went on stringing beans.
Brandishing the long carving knife, Billie went over and stood in front of the strange woman. Percy, peeping through the half open door, was grinning, and Nancy stifled a giggle.
"When I speak to you I expect an answer, Mrs. Lupo," said Billie, trying to keep her voice smooth and even. "Now, answer me at once."
Mrs. Lupo looked up mildly surprised.
"There ain't no more bread and there ain't no more eggs," she said, in a voice that sounded like an echo.
Billie went back to her work without a word, and later, when they had started on the walk with the small allowance of lunch packed in a candy box, Percy teased her and called her the javelin thrower.
"I was almost tempted to pitch it at her," said Billie. "She is the most aggravating human being I ever saw. I'll certainly never address another word to her, but it's so hard to remember not to be agreeable."
The placid depths of Billie's amiable nature had been so stirred by the incident that it took her some time to calm down, and she went blindly along the trail following Ben without seeing anything or anybody.
"Don't let her jar you, Billie," said Ben, soothingly. "If you want to forget your troubles, just have a look at Nancy-Bell. She looks like a fashion plate lady standing on the top of Mont Blanc."
Nancy had disappeared just when they were ready to start and kept them waiting fifteen minutes, which had also served to aggravate Billie's ruffled temper.
"Goodness me," exclaimed Billie, laughing, "the child has put on her new walking costume made by Delosia Moxley's mother! When the climbing part comes, what will she do, Ben?"
Ben shook his head doubtfully.
"How do you like it, Billie dear?" asked Nancy in a honeyed tone, noticing her friend's backward glances.
"It's awfully pretty, Nancy. Lovely color, but——"
"You see, the skirt's quite broad," interrupted Nancy, anticipating objections and endeavoring to spread the skirt to the full limit of its yard and a quarter.
"Just about as broad as one trouser leg," teased Ben.
Nancy ignored the remark, and the pheasant's feather in her hat seemed to quiver with indignation.
"Where's the crook?" asked Mary politely.
"I'm her crook," put in Percy. "You'll find she'll be using me as a staff presently when she has to take a step six inches instead of five."
"We'll be carrying her yet," Ben predicted.
"I think you are all perfectly horrid," ejaculated Nancy, who indeed looked as pretty as a picture in the blue velveteen. There was the coral tie at her throat, as she had planned, and perched on her curls was the jauntiest little hat imaginable that served only to keep the sun off the top of her head and was no protection whatever to her tip-tilted freckled nose. Mary and Elinor wore jimmies bought in the village, and Billie wore no hat at all.
"No, we aren't, Nancy dear. We're just teasing," said Billie. "You look sweet, but why have you never worn it before?"
"To tell the truth, I was afraid of the scorn of Mr. Lupo," said Nancy. "All of you are just like a family, so it didn't matter, but Mr. Lupo might have thought me, well—an amateur. I've been dying to wear it," she added, giving a dance step and looking down with pride at the snug-fitting skirt. "Of course, I know the skirt is a bit narrow. You know how Mrs. Moxley is,—just determined to have her own way. It was all I could do to get her to put the extra quarter of a yard in the skirt. But I think I can manage it if we don't walk too fast. There is so much level ground on this walk, too,—all that table land, you know."
Ben gave a covert smile and the others laughed openly.
"You funny child," said Billie. "It's really beautiful to see a person enjoy clothes like that. You look sweet enough to charm a snake, and if the walking is too stiff, we'll just carry you."
"So far so good," said Ben, "but on the other side of Table Top there'll be some climb."
Nancy did not hear this prediction.
So far, indeed, the trail was a broad and honest path leading through the pine forest; but after a while, as it descended toward the tableland, it grew so narrow as to be imperceptible to everybody but Ben, whose eyes, trained by long months of camping and vacation walking trips, could pick out the faintest indication of a path where the others saw nothing at all.
It was well past noon when at last they arrived at a scooped out area of land between the two mountains, connecting them half way to their summit, like the web foot of a duck.
Here, hungry and tired, they paused for lunch, and somehow, two sandwiches and a boiled egg apiece didn't seem to go very far.
"I have to apologize," said Billie. "There was nothing in the camp to eat. I suppose that's why Mr. Lupo made his mysterious visit to the village: to get supplies."
"I'm thankful it's all gone and there is no more," announced Percy. "It's something less to carry," he added, tying a cord around Nancy's coat and his own and hanging them over his back like a peddler's pack.
"Be still," whispered Elinor, raising a warning hand, "I was certain I heard music off in that direction."
The six friends sat silently listening for strains of music. In the stillness of the forest they heard nothing but the songs of the birds, broken occasionally by the caw of a crow or the tapping of a woodpecker. But it was good to stop chattering for a while in this peaceful place, and Billie, lying on her back looking up into the interlacing branches of the trees, smiled happily.
How could she have been out of humor when just at their very doorstep lay the most wonderful enchanted forest? It would not be easy to recall silly domestic troubles in the midst of all this beauty.
"Curious. I was certain I heard the sound of some instrument like a mandolin or a zither," said Elinor. "It was just one strain, almost as if the wind had blown over an aeolian harp."
"It was fairy music," put in Mary.
"Like enough," said Ben; "and we had better be moving on," he added, rising and leading the way. "The fairies don't like human ears to hear their music and they might be playing tricks on us. Then we'd be in the deuce of a fix out in the wilderness."
"They don't mind at all," said Mary. "You're entirely mistaken, Ben. You are thinking of elves. The fairies are kind little people who never harm anyone."
They had been walking for some time when they heard cries behind them.
"Help! Help!" screamed the voice of Nancy from around a curve in the trail.
"What did I tell you," said Ben, running back with the others to see what had happened, and then bursting into a perfect roar of laughter.
There was Percy in the act of killing a long black snake, which was curled up with head thrust out in an attitude of defence, and there was Nancy, who had evidently started to run and, missing the trail, had rushed into a tall clump of bramble bushes. The brambles had wrapped themselves about her like the tentacles of an octopus, and the jaunty feather was caught in an overhanging branch.
"Don't kill the snake, Percy," objected Ben. "There are lots more just like him, and it won't help any to kill one. Besides, they never start a quarrel."
"All right, old S. P. C. A.," said Percy, as relieved as the snake, which immediately glided off into the bushes as if it had actually understood that Ben was making a plea for its life.
With subdued giggles they released Nancy from the clutches of the brambles. The feather was broken in half and dragged dejectedly over the crown of her hat, and there was a long scratch across her left cheek.
"Do you remember Jim Phipps in the Fourth Grade, Ben," began Percy, pointing to Nancy's hat. "Do you remember the poem called 'Absalom' he recited? That is, he began it but he never got any farther than the first line, because he started out by saying, 'Abalsom, my son Abalsom.'"
The laugh was against Nancy, but she took it good-naturedly and joined in, while she broke the feather in half and left the lower end standing up in the band in a straight cockade.
And now the path, although it was on level ground, seemed to grow more and more difficult. Ben, glancing behind him, doubtfully remarked:
"As long as there are only two miles of this, I suppose we can stand it, but if any person feels tired, sing out and we'll start back without trying to make Indian Head."
"We are all right," they assured him.
For a long time they walked on in silence. The ground was soft and squashy under foot, and Billie privately believed that the trail lay only in Ben's imagination.
"Ben," she said at last. "I think maybe we had better start back. We don't seem to be getting anywhere, and this ground is like a sponge."
Silently they turned their faces in the other direction, feeling all at once chilled and tired and hungry. Ben, leading the way with Billie, began to look serious.
"Billie," he said in a low voice after a while, "I am afraid I am not worthy the confidence Miss Campbell has placed in me. I am afraid I'll have to confess that we are lost."
IN THE BOG.
It was not an unique experience to Billie to be lost. She had once known what it was to be out of sight of every human habitation on a Western plain, and furthermore half dead with hunger and thirst. You will recall how the "Comet" once carried the Motor Maids safely over an old wagon trail through a tropical forest in Florida, and perhaps also you have not forgotten how Billie and Mary Price were lost in the sacred groves of Nikko in Japan. Therefore, Billie was not in the least frightened when Ben confided to her private ear that he had missed the trail.
"We can't be very much lost," she answered. "'Table Top' is only two miles broad, and we'll have to reach one side or the other pretty soon."
"I hope so," said Ben, "but don't tell the others yet. If they lose confidence in me, it will only make matters worse. I wasn't prepared for this bog. I should think Mr. Lupo might have mentioned it."
"There couldn't be a trail through a bog anyhow, could there?"
"Sometimes there is. I've seen a swamp with just a narrow path running through it. But a swamp path is the sneakiest kind of a trail. It hides itself wherever it can under tall grasses and bushes. Of course, Mr. Lupo didn't know we were going, or he would certainly have stopped us, but do you suppose Mrs. Lupo understood we were taking this particular trail?"
"She certainly did. I told her myself just before I drew the knife on her."
Ben smiled at the mental picture of Billie brandishing a carving knife.
"Hey, Ben," called Percy. "Is this a trail? I think it's a channel. I'm up to my knees."
Ben made no reply. He was deeply mortified, and hung his head with a kind of animal-like humiliation.
"What's the matter, old man?" demanded Percy, putting his arm affectionately on his friend's shoulder. "You look like my collie did when I caught him sucking eggs."
"I've missed the trail," Ben burst out with a choke in his voice.
The others had gathered around now. Their shoes were wet, their stockings torn with brambles, and their skirts splattered and stained with grasses and the juices of wild berries. But they were a valiant little company, even Mary Price, the weakest and frailest among them, and the sight of Ben's unhappiness and remorse only added to their courage.
"It's all right, Ben," said Elinor. "We'll find the trail again. We're obliged to. There is the mountain right over there. Why not walk until we get to it?"
"I'm afraid it looks nearer than it is," said Ben, "and besides, it's not Sunrise Mountain. It's Indian Head. I thought some time ago we were getting well away from it, but these infernal bogs are so deceiving."
"I move we start on," put in Billie, briskly. "We're obliged to get somewhere some time."
"I'll put it to the vote, then," announced Ben. "Shall we go toward Indian Head or Sunrise? We are nearer to Indian Head, and we may strike a farm and hire a horse and wagon to take us home."
This seemed a good suggestion, and they accordingly turned their faces toward the mountain, the rugged outline of which resembled the profile of an Indian.
Anything to get on solid dry land again was the unspoken thought of the six friends. Once on dry surfaces and out of the level treacherous monotony of the bog, they felt they might be equal to anything. For nearly two hours they worked their way through the morass without making any apparent progress toward the mountain. And now the sun was sinking behind the Western range. Ben watched the lessening rays with feelings very much like despair.
"If I had been alone or with some of the fellows it wouldn't have mattered," he thought, "but with the girls——"
In a little while Table Top took on the appearance of a vast plain shut in by high walls. It was a weird, lonely place.
"It reminds me of the Valley of the Shadow of Death in 'Pilgrim's Progress'," Mary whispered to Ben, who was helping her over the rough, uneven ground. "Don't you remember the Wilderness that Christian had to pass through before he reached the Celestial City?"
"I'm afraid I never read 'Pilgrim's Progress'," Ben confessed in grief-stricken tones, "but I can see what you mean, and the white mist that's rolling in looks like a troop of spirits."
"Would any person or persons care to hear me sing some cheerful ditty?" asked Percy, and he forthwith began to sing in a rollicking tenor voice:
"'It was a robber's daughter and her name was Alice Brown; Her father was the terror of a small Italian town, Her mother was a foolish, weak, but amiable old thing, But it isn't of her parents that I'm going for to sing.
"'As Alice was a-sitting at her window sill one day, A beautiful young gentleman he chanced to pass that way, She cast her eyes upon him and he looked so good and true That she thought, "I could be happy with a gentleman like you."'"
"Help! Help!" screamed Nancy. "Oh, Ben, Oh, Percy, Oh, Billie, save me!"
"What is the matter?" they cried.
"Don't come near me," she interrupted. "Don't, don't! Keep away. They'll kill you, too."
Nancy was jumping up and down in a perfect agony of fear, wringing her hands one moment and tearing at her skirts the next.
"It's a hornet's nest," exclaimed Ben. "Keep still, Nancy. Don't run. They won't sting you if you are perfectly still."
But it was needless to tell Nancy not to run. What with her narrow skirt and the spongy ground she could scarcely walk.
"There are dozens of them crawling inside my skirt," she sobbed, "and you tell me to keep still."
"Don't be frightened, Nancy-Bell. I'll stand with you," announced Percy, boldly offering himself as a sacrifice to hornets, as he drew Nancy's arm through his.
"Come on, hornets," he cried. "Sting a man. Don't attack a helpless girl."
The others could not keep from laughing at the picture of Nancy and Percy standing arm in arm in the wilderness.
"You remind me of a bridal couple walking up the aisle," exclaimed Billie. But Nancy was too frightened to withdraw her arm from Percy's even at this witticism. She leaned on him in an attitude of relief and extreme confidence.
"Didn't I tell you I would be her staff before the day was over?" he remarked with a grin.
"I've been stung in a dozen different places," sobbed Nancy.
"Stand still," ordered Ben. "They will leave you and go back to their nest if you are quiet."
And as he had predicted, the hornets did leave off their attack and return to their home, but not until Percy had been stung several times without a murmur. For the sake of Nancy Brown, he would voluntarily have stepped into any number of hornets' nests.
At last the procession started on. In the misty twilight, they were a company of gray shadows moving silently along. When people are lost, really and unquestionably lost, their true natures rise to the surface: if there is any selfishness hidden away, it develops into complainings and reproaches; the faint-hearted make unhappy predictions; the lazy ones get tired before they have any right to. Ben had always admired the Motor Maids, but never more than now when he saw them quiet and courageous in the face of a night in the swamp. Nancy might shriek over hornets and snakes, but she would never confess to being tired or frightened. Not once had they complained or reproached him, and now when the will-o'-the-wisps began their ghostly dance through the mists, and the great wall of mountain loomed up in front of them black and threatening, it seemed to poor Ben that it would make it easier for him to bear his sorrows if some one would only make one little complaint.
It was Mary who gave out first. She was just sinking to her knees when Billie called out cheerfully:
"I see a light and it's not a will-o'-the-wisp."
There indeed was a light sending out a kindly beam in the darkness, and while they watched it, it went out.
"Listen," exclaimed Elinor, "I hear the music again." There came to them the sweet fairy notes of the zither.
"Halloo!" called Ben again and again, and presently the others joined in the chorus.
"What is it?" answered a voice quite near, and a figure bounded toward them through the mists.
"We have been lost," answered Ben. "Do you think you could let these young ladies rest in your cabin while we get a vehicle and drive them home?"
"Yes," answered the voice, and Billie then recognized the mountain girl who had sold them the blackberries that Mrs. Lupo had pitched out.
"Come this way," she added, and they presently realized they were on rising ground and that the morass with its glimmering will-o'-the-wisps and its floating veils of thin mist was now well below them. After a stiff climb up a rocky path they reached a little cabin built in a clearing, commanding a wide vista of the treacherous Table Top and the mountains beyond. At the door of the cabin sat the zither player, his hands traveling aimlessly over the strings while he listened to the approaching footsteps.
"Father," called the girl, "visitors!"
"Eh? Eh?" answered the man. "Physicians, with medicines? Will they save her? Come in! Come in!"
They filed slowly into the cabin wondering what sort of a person it was sitting in the darkness and calling for physicians. The girl struck a match and lighted two candles, and at least three of the visitors noticed that the candlesticks were of silver, tall and graceful in design, and as bright as rubbing could make them.
The father like the daughter was tall and slender, with the same dark blue eyes, although his had a strange unseeing look in them. His hair was very thick and almost white, his frame spare to emaciation, but he carried himself erect and his shoulders were broad and well developed.
"Make a fire, father," the girl ordered, and he obediently left the room, presently returning with an armful of wood.
Oh, the joy of sinking to the floor in front of that warm blaze! Ben consulted with the girl at the door of the cabin, and the strange father, rubbing his hands and smiling absently, remarked with an accent that was very different from Mr. Lupo's or any of the natives thereabouts:
"Not half bad, this fire, eh? Rather cheerful on a dull night."
Presently his daughter began preparing supper on a little wood stove in the lean-to back of the house. Swiftly and silently, with Ben's assistance, she made coffee, scrambled eggs and fried bacon.
"You may set the table," she said to Percy, pointing to some shelves at one end of the cabin.
Percy obediently placed on the plain deal table six blue plates, nicked and cracked in a dozen places, but undoubtedly of Canton; also in a tin box he found knives and forks and spoons, all shining as brightly as the candlesticks, and, he felt perfectly certain, all of silver. It was necessary to revive Mary with some hot coffee before she could eat a mouthful, and after she had taken a little food, Ben hoisted her in his arms and carried her into a small adjoining room where he laid her on a cot; all this under the supervision of the young mistress of the cabin.
There was no attempt at conversation while they satisfied their ravenous appetites, but later, when the wanderers had risen and Billie was consulting with Ben and Percy what was best to do, the father pointed to Nancy sitting in the darkest corner of the room in a small huddled heap.
"Rosalind has come out of the Forest of Arden," he said.
All eyes were turned on Nancy who shrank into the shadow. Suddenly Percy seized one of the tall candlesticks and held it over her head.
"Why, Nancy-Bell," he cried, "what has happened to your——"
Nancy spread her hands over her lap and turned her large blue eyes to them with a piteous expression.
"I took it off and threw it away in the swamp," she said tremulously. "I did hate the thing so, and it was full of hornets and not big enough to take a decent step in anyhow. I hoped no one would notice."
They were tired, but not too tired to laugh.
"If I had been dying, I should have died laughing," Billie often afterwards remarked in telling of this incident.
Nancy, minus her narrow velveteen skirt, was really a beguiling figure in blue pongee knickerbockers. The straight velveteen jacket reached just below her waist, and with her rumpled curls and weary expression she might easily have been taken for Rosalind, just arrived at the Forest of Arden with Celia and Touchstone.
But the wonder of it was how a half-crazed mountaineer could know anything about the greatest comedy in the world. This did not trouble them until afterwards, however.
"Billie," observed Ben presently, "I've been consulting with—with this young lady here. She knows the trail through the swamp and has consented to guide me back to the camp to-night. We may be able to make it in less than two hours by a short cut, she says, and we ought to start at once. Miss Campbell will be half wild with uneasiness. As soon as it's daylight, I'll come back by the road in the 'Comet.' There are some bearskins and blankets. You can all put up here for the night. Percy will stay of course."
"But isn't that a great deal to ask of you, to take that long trip to-night?" asked Billie gratefully, turning to the girl.
"It is nothing," she answered shortly and set about lighting a lantern. Then she beckoned to Ben and they silently left the cabin.
In a few moments, the father, who had been smoking a pipe at the cabin door, took one of the silver candlesticks from the mantel.
"Good night," he said courteously. "I trust you will have a pleasant rest after your journey. I presume you have been shown your rooms?"
"Yes, sir," answered Percy.
The man paused at the door of his bedroom at the other side of the cabin.
"I trust the physician will come soon," he said. "With luck he may reach there before I do."
"That's the man who sent me to the old ruined hotel," whispered Percy. "He's certainly touched, but he's harmless."
They found two steamer rugs and several blankets in a heap on a bench, left there by the mountain girl for their comfort; and it was not long before they lay in a circle around the fire, sound asleep.
After the young people had departed on the morning of that eventful day, Miss Helen Campbell settled herself in a hammock on the upper porch with a novel and two new magazines. She loved the "children," as she called them, and the sound of their voices and laughter was as music to her ears, but occasionally she enjoyed a peaceful morning to herself without any chatter to disturb her quietude.
Who would have imagined as she sat there idly swinging in the hammock, that the dainty little lady was all the way to sixty years old? Her eyes were as blandly blue and clear as a child's; her complexion had never lost its peach blossom glow, and the fine network of wrinkles around her eyes and at the corners of her mouth was only faintly visible.
"But I'm getting old," she thought. "Those long trips have rejuvenated my spirits but my body is tired. I haven't the physique for adventuring any longer. I don't think I could stand a shock of any kind, great or small."
Her thoughts broke off at this point and she idly touched the railing of the porch with one of her little feet and set the hammock to a gentle motion like a rocking cradle.
"No, I shall not put myself in the way of shocks. I am glad we are not touring this summer; just taking life peacefully——"
Again her thoughts broke off. Her eyes wandered across the wide vista of valley flanked by a range of mountains. The landscape was flecked by great shadows cast by lazily moving ribbons of cloud. The foliage of the trees and the undergrowth on the opposite mountains were like rugs of velvet. One might imagine a gigantic figure stretched out on the soft green patches of forest. There were no harsh outlines to the mountains. Their rugged edges were veiled and softened by the shadows of the passing clouds. Miss Campbell closed her eyes.
"Life is very pleasant," she thought, "even at sixty."
After a long dreamy period as untroubled as a summer sea, some instinct compelled her to open her eyes, and she found herself looking straight into the eyes of Mrs. Lupo who was standing at the foot of the hammock. Mrs. Lupo held her hands behind her back. Miss Campbell noticed at once that the woman's expression had changed. She had lost that look of a shy gentle animal. Her eyes had narrowed into little slits and her upper lip was drawn back showing an even row of glistening teeth. Without taking her eyes off Mrs. Lupo's, Miss Campbell sat up very straight and stiff.
"Well, what do you want?" she demanded, always holding the woman's gaze with hers.
Mrs. Lupo moved a step nearer, still with her hands behind her back.
"Stand where you are," ordered Miss Campbell, fired with superhuman courage and never once shifting her gaze. "Stand where you are," she repeated. There was not a tremor in her voice. "Now, give me what you are hiding behind you."
For at least a moment the two women stood looking at each other. If Miss Campbell had flinched, there is no telling what the half-savage creature, insane with rage, might have done.
And even now, with a swift movement, Mrs. Lupo brandished a long carving knife in Miss Campbell's face.
"Drop that instantly," thundered Miss Campbell in a voice that did not seem to be her own.
But the force of her splendid will and courage struck home. The carving knife slipped from Mrs. Lupo's hand and stood upright between them in the board floor of the porch.
"Get down on your knees," ordered Miss Campbell, and all this time she had never taken her eyes off Mrs. Lupo's.
The knife was still swaying on the point of its blade, as the woman sank to the floor in a quivering, sobbing heap.
"What do you mean by coming to me like this?" demanded Miss Campbell.
"Your daughter, she try cut my throat this morning with same. I take revenge," answered Mrs. Lupo between her sobs.
"She have dislike me from first," went on Mrs. Lupo, who seemed to eliminate all articles from her conversation. "She joke at me. She buy berries of girl I hate."
Miss Campbell leaned against the rail and watched the woman crouched at her feet like a whipped dog. Only an instant did she allow the thought to come to her that she was alone in camp with a half-crazed savage.
"She is a very weak, pitiable object," she said to herself. "I must manage her and I shall. I am not afraid."
Suddenly she leaned over and put her hand very softly on the woman's shoulder.
"I am so sorry for you," she said. "Won't you let me help you? I think you are much too fine and capable to fly into rages like this. What is the reason of it?"
"Not know," answered Mrs. Lupo. "When they come, I see red. I wish to break up—kill."
"Do you love your husband?"
"Yes," answered the other with so much eloquence of expression that Miss Campbell knew she spoke the truth.
"And he loves you?"
"He loves me, but not so much. He leaves me for long time,—alone."
"Has he ever seen you in a rage?"
"Yes," answered Mrs. Lupo in a low voice, her head sinking on her breast.
"Of course, then, that is why he leaves you. Men like gentleness in a woman. A violent-tempered wife never keeps her husband's love. If you were gentle and quiet, your husband would take you with him to the village. But you are jealous and uncontrolled. You make a spectacle of yourself and of him. You look very ugly as you looked a while ago, like an angry animal instead of a handsome young woman. Try being gentle and always looking pretty and see how it works."
Mrs. Lupo looked up. Miss Campbell had captured her interest and she was listening to that sage spinster's advice with entire attention.
"You think me handsome woman?"
"Very, when you are in a good temper."
"Suppose I can't keep back anger?"
"The next time your eyes see red, make a little prayer. It will always be answered."
"To Christ?" asked Mrs. Lupo, who had been to a mission school as a girl.
"Yes, to Christ, who never spoke a harsh word even when He was struck in the face and spit upon and finally nailed to a cross."
"What shall I say?" asked the other, as interested as a child.
"When you feel the rage coming on, say over and over: 'Oh, Christ, take my anger from me and make me gentle and kind.'"
Mrs. Lupo repeated the prayer several times.
"And it will come true?" she asked.
"Always, always. Try it and see."
At last the half-breed rose to her feet. The knife stood upright between them swaying on its blade.
"You forgive?" she asked.
"I will go away. I am afraid yet when the daughter comes. There is still hate here," she pointed to her temples. "But it will be gone if I stay away. When Lupo goes to village he stays long time. It is better for me not to see him when he comes back. Until I learn, I will not see him no more. Good-by. I'm thankful to you."
Mrs. Lupo departed, leaving the knife where it had fallen. It was on the tip of Miss Campbell's tongue to say:
"You must not leave me alone." But she checked herself. She doubted if she could exert her will another time like that. Already beads of perspiration stood out on her brows. A feeling of extreme lassitude crept over her and she slipped back into the hammock with a sensation of nausea. Then unconsciousness bound her with invisible cords and the brave little woman fainted dead away.
As Mrs. Lupo turned into the gallery, she glanced back but she only saw the train of Miss Campbell's white wrapper fluttering from the hammock in the breeze.
There had been several loud raps downstairs, but to Miss Campbell, fighting her way slowly back to consciousness, it sounded hundreds of miles away, like spirit rapping; or perhaps it was the pounding of her own pulses. A man entered the living room. He was of medium height and spare with a lean brown face, and he was dressed as men usually dress for walking trips, in knickerbockers, heavy shoes laced well up the leg, a gray flannel shirt open at the neck with a brown silk tie. He wore a pith helmet; on his back was strapped a flat knapsack, and he carried a cane and a telescope. As he hurried through the living room, he tossed his helmet into a chair. There was a bald spot on his head fringed with reddish hair turning gray. His features were distinguished and because of a certain dignity with which he carried himself, a certain air of command and confidence, people were apt to wonder who he was.
"It was upstairs, I am certain," the visitor remarked to himself, glancing into the empty kitchen and then mounting the rustic steps to the upper sleeping porch. With quick, comprehensive eyes he took in the five white cots standing in a row, on the porch the group of wicker chairs, the murderous looking knife, swaying on the tip of its shining blade, and lastly the high-backed canvas sleeping hammock from which trailed the train of a white muslin dress.
"Whew!" he exclaimed, under his breath.
For a moment it looked as if something unspeakably dreadful had happened that beautiful morning, and his fears were not set at rest even when he bounded past the knife and stood leaning over Miss Campbell's half conscious form.
"Water," she gasped faintly.
"I wonder if there's a bathroom," he thought, running along the porch to the nearest door after the one leading to the passage. "Of course they always have them in these so-called camps," he added, catching the flash of a porcelain tub beyond. In another moment he had wet Miss Campbell's lips from a glass of water and was dabbing her temples with the end of a wet towel. "Better now?" he asked, as she opened her heavenly blue eyes.
She nodded with a faint smile and closed them again.
"Curious how a doctor is always finding work to do even in the wilderness," he thought, feeling Miss Helen's pulse. With an exclamation, he hurried back to the bathroom, and among a perfect army of tooth powder and talcum powder boxes,—"enough for half a dozen people," he thought,—he spied a bottle of aromatic spirits of ammonia. He mixed a dose in the glass with professional dexterity and hurried back.
"Just as well I happened along," he thought, moistening her lips with the mixture. "That does the trick," he added, as she presently opened her eyes again and swallowed a little of the ammonia and water.
The white, pinched look left her face, the color crept back to her cheeks, and she gave a sigh of relief as she shifted her position in the hammock.
"My pillows?" she asked, feeling for the pillows which he had slipped from under her head to the floor.
"Better lie flat for a while," he ordered in a tone of authority. "I wonder where her people are?" the doctor added to himself, glancing again at the five cot beds. Then he drew up a chair and watched Miss Helen Campbell as she dropped into a doze.
In a little while she exclaimed in a much stronger tone of voice:
"Please take me out of this wobbly thing; I want to lie on my own bed." The walking-doctor promptly lifted her in his arms like a little child and deposited her on one of the cots. Her hands were cold, and he covered her with a Roman blanket that lay on the foot of the bed. Then he found two hot water bottles, marched down stairs, heated a kettle of water on the kerosene stove, searched for beef tea in the ice chest and by good luck found half a jar. With the water bottles at her feet and a little beef tea to nourish her, Miss Campbell at last fell into a deep sleep, while the doctor, sitting near at hand, read one of the magazines and, occasionally tip-toeing to her bedside, listened to her breathing and felt her pulse.
Toward late afternoon, he descended into the lower regions of the log house and foraged for food. He found crackers and cheese, a tin of beans and a bottle of ginger ale. Having refreshed himself, he was about to return to his patient when Mr. Lupo staggered into the kitchen with a market basket on his arm.
"Where is my wife?" he asked in a thick voice.
"She is not here and you'd better go, too, quick," answered the doctor.
Mr. Lupo looked at him with an ugly expression, his eyes narrowing, as his wife's had done when she had approached Miss Campbell with the carving knife.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"I am a doctor."
"Has anything happened? My wife, she is crazy when she is mad. Is that the reason why she ran away?"
"Does your wife flourish carving knives?"
Mr. Lupo retreated with a terrified expression.
"She has—?" he was too frightened to finish.
"No," replied the doctor. "The lady was too strong for her here." He touched his forehead with his finger.
"She was not touched—the lady?"
"No, but she has collapsed from fright,—she is very ill,—I could not answer for her recovery if you gave her another shock."
Without a word, Mr. Lupo rushed out of doors, jumped into a rickety wagon drawn by an old mountain-climbing horse and in another instant was clattering down the road.
Toward evening Miss Campbell grew stronger. The doctor raised her head and fed her by the spoonful a cup of malted milk, also found in the ice chest.
"Billie?" she said.
"That's my name," answered the doctor. "William for long."
"Nice boy," she added, patting him on the shoulder, with a very small limp hand. "Have the children got back?"
"They will be here pretty soon, now," he answered, frowning and glancing at his watch.
"Ben is a safe guide. They are safe with him. Wake me when they arrive," and turning over on her side, Miss Campbell went back to sleep.
Occasionally the doctor scanned the side of the mountain with his telescope.
"The children are taking a long time," he said to himself. "They had better look alive, if they want to make it before nightfall."
But night fell and there was no sign of the wanderers. The doctor lit a cigar and watched the shadows creep up the side of the mountains. He listened to the last twittering of the birds and then a silence, profound and deep, settled on the camp.
Again he descended to the living room of the camp now in darkness. Presently he lighted the green shaded lamp and two lanterns, hanging one at the front of the house and the other at the back. He unpacked the market basket and cooked himself some supper, and finally with a glass of milk and a slice of bread for Miss Campbell when she waked, returned to the upper sleeping porch.
"A telescope is an excellent thing," he observed, settling himself in a steamer chair, a lamp on the floor beside him with a tin protector to keep draughts from the flame. "I saw the woman plainly enough flourishing the carving knife. It must have been sheer force of will on the part of this little lady that made her drop it."
And now the darkness had indeed fallen, a black, impenetrable curtain. Only the outline of the opposite range could be seen. It seemed to have closed in on the camp, and like a gigantic wall, to shut it off from the outer world. An owl hooted in a tree not far away and from a cleft in the mountains came the weird song of the whippoorwill.