Girl Scouts at Dandelion Camp
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“I shall never accuse Hepsy of being a silly beast again,” said Mrs. Vernon, once she was satisfied there were no bruises or other injuries to the girls.
CHAPTER ELEVEN – IN BLUEBEARD’S CAVE
The buckboard was drawn out of the path and left beside the cave; then Hepsy was unhitched and tethered to a tree with enough rope to allow her to graze. But she kept turning her head to look quizzically at the scouts, as much as to say:
“Huh! you thought you had played a trick on me, but I managed to turn the tables, after all!”
“Verny, Hepsy’s got a wicked gleam in her eyes, just as if she dumped us out on purpose,” laughed Julie, slapping the horse on the shoulder.
Mrs. Vernon was too busy unpacking a pasteboard box to reply, so the scouts stood about her asking questions about the package.
“I brought a number of thick candles and a box of matches. Each one of you girls must carry a candle, while I go first and carry the electric flashlight,” explained Mrs. Vernon.
“How exciting!” cried Joan, trying to light her candle.
“Just like explorers in an unknown jungle,” added Julie.
“Caves, I should say, Jule,” corrected Ruth, laughingly.
“Well, are we all ready?” now asked the Captain, seeing that each scout had the candle lighted.
“All ready for the great adventure,” laughed Julie.
In the first lap of the exploration nothing unusual occurred as the footpath ran over smooth stone and sand, while the vaulted ceiling and sidewalls were far enough away to make the cave seem really larger than it was.
“It doesn’t make one feel very spooky,” said Ruth.
“Let’s wait until we get in where the water drips and the queer formations hang from the roof. That is where the hunter said the weirdness of the place impressed you,” explained Julie.
They continued deeper into the mountainside, and the air felt cooler, while the domed tunnel grew perceptibly smaller. The girls were silent now, being very careful to follow closely behind the Captain.
“I think it is quite spooky enough for me,” whispered Betty, taking hold of Mrs. Vernon’s skirt.
“If you feel this way, now, what will you do when we get away in!” laughed Julie.
The laugh echoed madly and hurled its sounds back again at the scouts, and the entire party stopped suddenly with fright.
“Oh! It was only an echo of Julie’s laugh,” sighed the Captain, in relief.
“But what a horrible maniac’s cry it was!” gasped Joan.
Betty was shivering with nervousness, when Julie again laughed, to hear the echoes come back.
“Please don’t do that!” cried Ruth, closing her ears, and at the same time dropping the candle.
Its light was extinguished, and the candle must have rolled into some crevice, for it could not be found, even though the flashlight and other candles were used to hunt for it.
“You’ll have to creep close beside me,” said Julie, linking Ruth’s arm through hers.
The cave now narrowed down so that they had to stoop to go on.About fifty feet further, the tunnel forked. Two separate tubes ran at diagonal lines with each other.
“Which shall we take first?” asked Joan, comparing the two openings.
“‘My mother told me to take this one,’” counted Julie, her finger pointing to each tunnel alternating on each word she spoke. It was the right-hand opening that was on the last count.
Mrs. Vernon laughed. “Well, we will go this way and see why your ‘mother told you to take this one.’”
The scouts laughed, too, but the echoes failed to ring back as repeatedly as in the front tunnel.
“That means we are near the end of this tube,” said Joan.
“I’m glad of it! I don’t like to be away in here,” admitted Betty.
“The roof is coming down to bump our heads, Verny,” said Julie, who was now leading.
“Then we must soon retrace our steps and take the other tube, as this was the short one that leads nowhere. The other must be the tube that leads to the stalactite cave,” said Mrs. Vernon.
The scouts proceeded a few feet further but the aperture was becoming too small to follow comfortably, and the Captain said:
“Well, we may as well turn around, girls.”
As she spoke a low moan seemed to come from the ground, and the girls huddled close to the Captain.
“What was it, Verny?” whispered Julie, fearfully.
Mrs. Vernon gravely turned her flashlight over the walls and ceiling of the rocky tunnel, then moved it slowly over the ground about them.
Just when the scouts began to feel courageous again, thinking the sound was some other form of hallucination in the cave, the light fell upon a form doubled up against the side of the rocky wall.
The scouts saw it about the same time the Captain did, and four high-pitched, excited young voices screamed fearfully, causing the tunnel behind them to echo with ear-splitting yells of terror. Even Mrs. Vernon shivered at the uncanny sight and sounds.
Betty and Ruth had hidden their faces in the Captain’s skirt, as if this would defend them from danger. But Julie and Joan stood their ground beside the Captain, trying to peer in advance of their position to see what the form could be.
“Is he drunk?” whispered Joan.
“Maybe he is murdered,” ventured Julie, causing the others to shiver again.
“No – he moaned, so he is not dead. I must find out what is the matter,” replied the Captain, bracing herself for the unpleasant task.
“Oh, Verny! Please don’t!” wailed Betty.
“He may be hoaxing us like Hepsy did – better call to him and tell him we haven’t a jewel or a cent with us,” cried Ruth.
But the form remained inanimate. Not another sound was heard other than the cries and talking of the scouts.
Mrs. Vernon went over slowly, keeping the electric light directly upon the form. The two other girls held their candles so that the footpath showed distinctly, as they walked beside the Captain. Ruth and Betty clung to each other where they had been left standing.
“Here! Get up!” ordered Mrs. Vernon, pushing the body gently with her foot.
But there was no sound or motion from the form.
The coat had been removed, but the undergarments looked like good ones, so Mrs. Vernon stooped down the better to see. The right arm was so bent upwards that it covered the face, and it seemed as if the man was sleeping that way.
“Wake up! Do you hear me?” called the Captain, again.
The fearful quiet was the only effect of the second demand, so then Mrs. Vernon carefully removed the arm from the face.
“Oh!” shrieked Julie and Joan, falling back suddenly, and even the Captain cried with horror.
“Help! Help!” screamed Ruth, not sure of what was happening to her friends.
But the movement of the arm must have caused an instance of consciousness in the man, as he made another faint sound like a sigh or a moan.
“Girls, something has happened to this man, and we have to use our scout-sense to try and carry him out to the air,” said Mrs. Vernon, turning to the girls.
“Oh, dear me! I’m afraid to go any nearer. He may die if we move him,” said Joan, fearfully.
“He’ll surely die if left here alone. It may be days or even weeks before any party again visits this Cave,” said Mrs. Vernon, emphatically.
“How terrible! We just can’t let him die, then,” admitted Julie.
“Do we have to help you?” wailed Ruth, from the rear.
“Betty and you will have to carry the lights, while we three try to carry him,” answered the Captain.
“If only we had a blanket!” sighed Julie.
“It would have been so easy to make a stretcher, then,” added Joan.
“We’ll have to contrive one from my skirt, girls. I have a full skirt on, and the pleats at the belt can quickly be ripped out.”
Even as she spoke, Mrs. Vernon slipped off the plaid skirt and began pulling at the belt. But it was well-sewed and would not give way.
“Here, let me chew open some of the stitches,” said Joan.
“No, no! I have an idea – let me burn the threads with the candle-flame,” called Julie.
“Good! Now touch it right there,” said the Captain, as she held the belt over the flame.
In a few moments, the scorched and smoking skirt belt gave way to the strength of the pull Mrs. Vernon used on it, and once the stitching began, it easily ripped across the entire width.
“That scorching also reminds me, girls! I’ve heard said that smoking wool will revive a fainting person. We will try it as soon as we have him out of this smothering place,” said the Captain.
An impromptu stretcher was then contrived of the skirt, and the three bearers lifted the unconscious man upon it. They managed to carry the form over to the spot where Betty and Ruth held the lights, but the moment Ruth saw the gash on the head, and the blood trickling from it, she screamed and clung to Betty.
“Don’t, Ruth – don’t hang on to me like that!” wailed Betty. “I’m going to faint, if you don’t let go of me!”
“Betty Lee! You’d better not!” cried Julie, desperately.
“We haven’t time to hold you up and try to revive you,” added Joan.
“Children, start ahead and show us the way, or we’ll all be taken to Court to testify why we let this man die,” ordered the Captain, hoping by such awe-inspiring words to make Betty and Ruth see the necessity of self-control.
Ruth managed to take the extra candle from Betty’s shaking hand, and say: “Come on, Betty, we’ll both be in jail for murder if we don’t.”
As this was Ruth’s interpretation of Court, and it seemed to have the desired effect, Mrs. Vernon thought best not to correct her. The two frightened girls led the way with the lights and the three bearers of the still unconscious form followed.
Finally they reached the open, and the man was placed upon the grass near the Cave entrance. “If he doesn’t regain his senses in a few moments, we will have to try that burnt wool,” said Mrs. Vernon, watching the patient very closely, while the scouts bathed his head with the water they had brought in a bottle.
But the fresh air seemed to have the hoped-for effect, for the man heaved a deep sigh and slowly opened his eyes. At first he merely stared right up at the green foliage of the trees, but as his strength came back, he tried to see who was bathing his forehead.
“Do you feel better, now?” inquired Mrs. Vernon, softly.
The man tried to speak but couldn’t, so Julie whispered: “Maybe he’s been in there for days, and needs food.”
“Some of you girls run and bring the hamper up,” said Mrs. Vernon, but the patient had heard.
“No – all right,” he managed to gasp.
After what seemed an eternity to the scouts, the man had survived far enough to sit up and lean against the front seat of the buckboard which the girls had removed and carried over.
“I fear you have had a bad accident,” said the Captain. “Do you know what happened to you in the Cave? Maybe you fell from a shelf of rock.”
“No – tramps did it.”
The girls cried out, but the Captain gave them a severe look that quieted them at once. Then she held the cup of water for the man to sip, and he freshened up visibly.
“Girls, all four of you go for the hamper, as we must eat our dinner up here. You can take turns in carrying it, you know,” said the Captain.
The scouts preferred to hover about and hear about the tramps, but Mrs. Vernon’s word was law, so they started down the hill. On the way, Ruth said, complainingly:
“We ought to hitch that lazy old horse to the buckboard and make her pull the load up the hill.”
“She’d balk halfway up, Ruth, and make us pull her up the rest of the way,” retorted Julie, laughingly.
Mrs. Vernon fanned the cut and bruised face, and wished the man could tell who he was. As if in answer to her thoughts, he whispered: “Did you find my card-case in the coat pocket?”
“No, the tramps who maltreated you so, stole everything.”
The man was not yet aware that he was in his shirt-sleeves, but now he glanced at himself and frowned.
“I beg your pardon, but you see my appearance is unavoidable,” murmured he, while a flush rose to his pale face.
“Oh, don’t think of form just now – let us help you back to a normal state as soon as possible,” replied Mrs. Vernon, earnestly.
“I am a stranger in these parts, having left the train that goes to New York, because I heard there were some marvelous caves of stalactite formation in this mountain. I was told to find a young hunter on top of this crest who would guide me,” whispered he.
“But I must have missed my way, as I found myself at the Cave itself, before I even found the trail that goes to the hunter’s cabin. I had a grip which I left outside, and taking my flashlight out of it, I started in alone.” The speaker rested a few moments, then continued: “As I reached the branch where the two tunnels fork, I heard voices. So I hailed, thinking it might be the hunter escorting a party through the Cave. Then suddenly the voices were silenced.
“That should have warned me that all was not right, but I hurried on, hoping to meet some one. Instead I suddenly was struck directly in the face with a sharp rock. The blow staggered me, but I leaned against the wall, until two hard-looking villains crept along the tunnel thinking I was unconscious.
“One of them had on stripes, so I judged they were escaped convicts. I fought them off, but the blows from a cudgel and the loss of blood from the gash made by the rock, weakened me so that I remember no more until I opened my eyes and found you bending over me.”
“How horrible! But how grateful we are that we visited the Caves to-day. What day was it that you went in there?”
“Let me think: I left the train at the Junction on the evening of July third, and stopped at a country inn for the night. Early on the Fourth I climbed the mountains, and visited the Cave. What day is it now?”
“Why this is the Fourth still! You must have been attacked but a short time before we found you. It is now noon,” exclaimed Mrs. Vernon, showing her dread of lurking rascals by calling to the girls to hasten up the hill.
“Thank heavens! Then we may catch them before they get out of the country,” said the man.
“My name is Mrs. Vernon, and I am camping in these woods with my girl scouts. But I should dread having them go about alone after this.”
“My name is Mr. Gilroy, and I certainly feel greatly obliged to your scouts and to you, Madame, for your aid.”
“If only we were not so far from camp, or such a long ride to Freedom. You could have medical attention there, and notify the police of this assault.”
“My dear Madame! I, too, have been an enthusiastic camper and can help myself better than the physicians can. Give me a few hours’ rest, and I will be as well as ever,” said Mr. Gilroy.
The scouts now came puffing up with the hamper, registering many threats against Hepsy for her untimely trick. As they came over and stood beside the Captain, she introduced them to Mr. Gilroy. They were delighted to find him so far recovered, and they said so in girlish words and expressions.
The scouts displayed as hearty an appetite as if nothing unusual had happened, but Mrs. Vernon was too concerned over the news of some tramps being at large to enjoy her dinner; she put two and two together and decided that this was what the young hunter wished to warn her about.
Mr. Gilroy seemed to like the eager attendance on him shown by the girls, but he ate sparingly of all the many goodies they urged upon him.
When the dinner was over, Mrs. Vernon said: “We must leave the hamper hidden somewhere, girls, and call back for it another day. The back seat we must leave here, also.”
“Why?” asked the scouts, wonderingly.
“Because we must contrive some sort of couch on the floor of the buckboard for Mr. Gilroy; you girls will sit on either side, or at the back of the buckboard. I can manage to crowd in one extra scout on the front seat. As Ruth is the slenderest one, I think it had better be she and Betty for the front seat, while Joan and Julie mount guard over their patient.”
The girls seemed to think the plan a good one, so the hamper and extra seat were soon hidden inside the Cave.
CHAPTER TWELVE – AN UNPLEASANT SURPRISE
When dinner was cleared away, Mrs. Vernon and the scouts gathered young spruce tips from the trees growing so profusely near the Cave. These were woven into a soft springy mattress on the floor of the buckboard, by placing a row of tips where the head would be. The next row of tips was so placed that the stems ran under the soft resisting tops of the former row. So on, row after row was woven, until the floor of the vehicle was covered.
Mr. Gilroy was then helped up and partly carried over to the spruce-bed. He had been preparing for this ordeal, and managed to get up on the buckboard, but then he sank back in a half-faint. The scouts were at hand, however, with water and a paper fan.
The return trip took more than two hours, and when the trail was followed that led direct to the camp Hepsy jogged along without urging and without balking.
Joan and Julie sat on either side of their patient, with their feet dangling from the rear. Mrs. Vernon drove Hepsy very carefully, and the animal seemed to sense that she must step circumspectly. Not a bowlder or rut did she cause the vehicle to encounter.
“For which we are duly grateful to tricky old Hepsy,” declared Julie, as they neared the camp.
The scouts entertained Mr. Gilroy on this ride down the mountainside, so that he smiled and almost forgot he was a patient. In fact, the scouts forgot he was a stranger, so pleasant was this middle-aged man of forty-five, with his fine face and gray hair.
On the last hundred yards to the Camp, Hepsy pricked up her ears.
“She smells oats for supper, and a good bed,” laughed Joan.
“I’m awfully glad we had Hepsy with us to bring back this couch for Mr. Gilroy,” said Betty.
“Yes, and we’re all glad there is such a nice hut ready to receive Mr. Gilroy. All we will have to do will be to carry the spruce tips from here to the cabin and make the bed,” added Julie.
Then they told Mr. Gilroy all about the hut and the rugs and the wonderful furniture, that had taken more than two weeks to build. They were still laughing over the perfect work done on the roof by the young hunter, when Hepsy pulled the vehicle up on the plateau near the huts and stopped.
“Our camp is under those pines, right beside the tumbling waters,” explained Ruth, pointing out the spot to the tired-looking eyes of the man.
“Well, I’ve enjoyed the ride, dear young ladies, but I am greatly relieved to be here,” sighed Mr. Gilroy.
“Verny, can’t you make Hepsy bring the buckboard over to the hut so Mr. Gilroy won’t have to walk?” said Joan.
“I was just going to suggest it. I will lead her by the head, so she won’t balk, but you girls remain seated and see that our guest does not roll off.”
Ruth and Betty followed behind, and the Captain led the horse carefully over the grass until the camp was reached. All that was now necessary was for the man to wait until the spruce bed was removed from the wagon to the hut.
“You girls run and make room in the hut so we can lay the bed on the floor. Move the furniture against the walls,” said the Captain.
Julie and Joan, being foremost, ran over to begin the work while Mrs. Vernon unhitched Hepsy to take her to the shed. Ruth and Betty were about to push the buckboard under the trees when a heart-rending cry came from the hut.
The Captain thought instantly of the tramps, and held her heart as she ran to help. Ruth and Betty left the wagon where it was and started after Mrs. Vernon. Even Mr. Gilroy, forgetting his weakness, slid from the buckboard and crept along in wake of the others.
“Oh, Verny! Our lovely, lovely hut! Oh, oh!” wailed Joan.
“Everything ruined! Who could have done it!” cried Julie, stamping her foot furiously.
When the others crowded about the door, they beheld a scene indeed! Mr. Gilroy sank upon the grapevine seat just outside the door, and panted forth:
“Those rascally vandals! They did it!”
“Oh, oh! everything gone or broken! But why did they do it? It won’t help them any!” wailed Ruth.
The table and chairs had disappeared completely, and bits of grapevine and ends of boards scattered everywhere, testified to the cataclysm that struck the inside of the hut. The pictures were torn from the walls, and the flowers were tossed, with their holders, into the grass near the hut. The willow and grass mats were in strips, some of them showing where the demons had tried to set fire to them, but they were too green to burn readily.
Suddenly Mrs. Vernon gasped and said: “The annex, girls!”
She feared that the tramps might be hidden there. But the girls thought she meant the food-stock, so they ran pell-mell out of the new hut into the old one, Mrs. Vernon trying to hold them back.
The scouts found the food-stuff had been taken, too. This was too much for them! They fairly screamed with rage. Mrs. Vernon had all she could do to calm their hysterical anger.
“I’ll kill them if I get sight of them!” screamed Ruth, with clenched hands, jumping up and down.
“Oh, if we only had that hunter’s gun!” added Joan.
“And shoot each other – no thank you!” declared Julie, in so matter-of-fact a tone that it did more to stop the howling than anything else. Even Mr. Gilroy felt like smiling, in spite of the troubles these innocent scouts had had thrust upon them.
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