Betty Gordon at Mountain Camp/Chapter 14
THE MOUNTAIN HUT
If Bobby had not gone first and had not stuck half way down the hole with her feet kicking madly just at the mouth of the tunnel, without doubt Betty Gordon would have been driven by her own fears back into the Pullman coach.
That shaggy beast diving from the top of the embankment, plunging, yelping and whining, through the softer drifts of snow, frightened Betty just as much as it had Bobby Littell. The latter had got away with a flying start, however, and her writhing body plugged the only means of escape. So Betty really had to face the approaching terror.
"Oh! Oh!" cried Betty, turning from the approaching beast in despair. "Hurry! Hurry, Bobby Littell! Do you want me to be eaten up?"
But Bobby had somehow cramped herself in the winding passage through the snow, and her voice was muffled as she too cried for help.
However, Bobby's demands for assistance were much more likely to bring it than the cries of the girl outside. The porter heard Bobby first, and when he opened the door of the coach several men who were near heard the girl.
"Help! Help! A wolf is eating her!" shrieked the frightened Bobby.
"Ma soul an' body! He must be a-chawin' her legs off!" cried the darkey and he seized Bobby by the wrists, threw himself backward, and the girl came out of the tunnel like an aggravating cork out of a bottle.
"What's this?" demanded Mr. Richard Gordon, who happened to be coming back to the end of the train to look for his niece and her chum.
"Oh, Mr. Gordon!" sputtered Bobby, scrambling up, "it's got her! A wolf! It's got Betty!"
"A wolf?" repeated Uncle Dick. "I didn't know there were any wolves left in this part of the country."
Major Pater was with him. Mr. Gordon grabbed the latter's walking stick and went up that tunnel a good deal quicker than Bobby had come down it. And when he got to the surface he found his niece, laughing and crying at once, and almost smothered by the joyful embraces of a big Newfoundland dog!
"A wolf indeed!" cried Mr. Gordon, but beating off the animal good-naturedly. "He must be a friend of yours, Betty."
"Oh, dear me, he did scare us so!" Betty rejoined, getting up out of the drift, trying to brush off her coat, and petting the exuberant dog at the same time. "But it is a dear—and its master must be somewhere about, don't you think, Uncle Dick?"
Its master was, for the next moment he appeared at the top of the bank down which the "wolf" had wallowed. He hailed Uncle Dick and Betty with a great, jovial shout and plunged down the slope himself. He was a young man on snowshoes, and he proved to be a telegraph operator at that station three miles south.
"Wires are so clogged we can't get messages through. But we knew that Number Forty was stalled about here. Going to be a job to dig her out. I've got a message for the conductor," he said when he reached the top of the drift that was heaped over the train.
"Wasn't it a hard task to get here?" Mr. Gordon asked.
"Not so bad. My folks live right over the ridge there, about half a mile away. I just came from the house with the dog. Down, Nero! Behave yourself!"
"We are going to be hungry here pretty soon,*' suggested Mr. Gordon.
"There will be a pung come up from the station with grub enough before night. Furnished by the company. That is what I have come to see the conductor about."
"I tell you what," said Betty's uncle, who was nothing if not quick in thinking. "My party were bound for Cliffdale."
"That's not very far away. But I doubt if the train gets there this week."
"Bad outlook for us. We are going to Mountain Camp—Mr. Canary's place."
"I know that place," said the telegraph operator. "There is an easy road to it from our farm through the hills. Get there quicker than you can by the way of Cliffdale. I believe my father could drive you up there to-morrow."
"In a sleigh?" cried Betty delightedly. "What fun!"
"In a pung. With four of our horses. They'd break the road all right. Ought to start right early in the morning, though."
"Do you suppose you could get us over to your house to-night?" asked Mr. Gordon quickly. "There are a good many of us——"
"How many in the party?" asked the young man. "My name's Jaroth—Fred Jaroth."
Mr. Gordon handed him his card and said:
"There are four girls, four boys, and myself. Quite a party."
"That is all right, Mr. Gordon," said Fred Jaroth cheerfully. "We often put up thirty people in the summer. We've a great ranch of a house. And I can help you up the bank yonder and beat you a path through the woods to the main road. Nothing simpler. Your trunks will get to Cliffdale sometime and you can carry your hand baggage."
"Not many trunks, thank goodness," replied Mr. Gordon. "What do you think, Betty? Does it sound good?"
"Heavenly!" declared his niece.
Just then a brakeman came up through the tunnel to find out if the wolf had eaten both the gentleman and his niece, and the telegraph operator went down, feet first, to find the conductor and deliver his message.
"Then the idea of going on to Mountain Camp by sledge suits you, does it, young lady?" asked Mr. Gordon of Betty.
"They will all be delighted. You know they will, Uncle. What sport!"
The suggestion of the telegraph operator did seem quite inspired. Mr. Gordon and Betty re-entered the train to impart the decision to the others, and, as Betty had claimed, her young friends were both excited and delighted by the prospect.
In half an hour the party was off, Betty and her friends bundled up and carrying their bags while Mr. Gordon followed and Fred Jaroth led the way on his snowshoes and carrying two suitcases. He said they helped balance him and made the track through the snow firmer. As for Nero, he cavorted like a wild dog, and that, Bobby said, proved he was a wolf!
Once at the top of the bank they found it rather easy following Jaroth through the woods. And when they reached the road—or the place where the highway would have been if the snow had not drifted over fences and all—they met the party from the station bringing up food and other comforts for the snowbound passengers. As the snow had really stopped falling it was expected that the plow would be along sometime the next day and then the train would be pulled back to the junction.
"But if this man has a roomy sled and good horses we shall not be cheated out of our visit to Mountain Camp," Mr. Gordon said cheerfully.
The old farmhouse when they reached it certainly looked big enough to accommodate them all. There was a wing thrown out on either side; but those wings were for use only in the summer. There were beds enough and to spare in the main part of the house.
When they sat down to Mrs. Jaroth's supper table Bob declared that quite evidently famine had not reached this retired spot. The platters were heaped with fried ham and fried eggs and sausages and other staple articles. These and the hot biscuit disappeared like snow before a hot sun in April.
Altogether it was a joyous evening that they spent at the Jaroth house. Yet as Betty and Bobby cuddled up together in the bed which they shared, Betty expressed a certain fear which had been bothering her for some time.
"I wonder where she is, Bobby?" Betty said thoughtfully.
"Where who is?" demanded her chum sleepily.
"That girl. Ida Bellethorne. If she came up here on a wild goose chase after her aunt, and found only a horse, what will become of her?"
"I haven't the least idea," confessed Bobby.
"Did she return before this blizzard set in, or is she still up here in the woods? And what will become of her?"
"Gracious!" exclaimed the sleepy Bobby, "let's go to sleep and think about Ida Bellethorne tomorrow."
"And I wonder If It is possible that she can know anything about my locket," was another murmured question of Betty's. But Bobby had gone fast asleep then and did not answer.
Under the radiance of the big oil lamp hanging above the kitchen table, the table Itself covered with an old-fashioned red and white checked cloth, the young folks bound for Mountain Camp ate breakfast. And such a breakfast!
Buckwheat cakes, each as big as the plate itself with "oodles of butter and real maple syrup," to quote Bob.
"We don't even get as good as this at Salsette," said Tommy Tucker grimly. "Oh, cracky!"
"I want to know!" gibed his twin, borrowing a phrase he had heard New England Libbie use on one occasion. "If Major Pater could see us now!"
Libbie and Timothy forgot to quote poetry. The fact was, as Bobby pointed out, buckwheat cakes like those were poems in themselves.
"And when one's mouth is full of such poems, mere printed verses lack value."
Romantic as she was, Libbie admitted the truth of her cousin's remark.
A chime of bells at the door hastened the completion of the meal. The boys might have sat there longer and, like boa-constrictors, gorged themselves into lethargy.
However, adventure was ahead and the sound of the sledge bells excited the young people. They got on their coats and caps and furs and mittens and trooped out to the "pung," as the elder Jaroth called the low, deep, straw-filled sledge to which he had attached four strong farm horses.
There were no seats. It would be much more comfortable sitting In the straw, and much warmer. For although the storm had entirely passed the cold was intense. It nipped every exposed feature, and their breath hung like hoar-frost before them when they laughed and talked.
During the night something had been done to break out the road. Mr. Jaroth's horses managed to trample the drifts into something like a hubbly path for the broad sled-runners to slip over. They went on, almost always mounting a grade, for four hours before they came to a human habitation.
The driver pointed his whipstock to a black speck before them and higher up the hill which was sharply defined against the background of pure white.
"Bill Kedders' hut," he said to Mr. Gordon. "'Tain't likely he's there this time o' year. Usually he and his wife go to Cllffdale to spend the winter with their married daughter."
"Just the same," cried Bob suddenly, "there's smoke coming out of that chimney. Don't you see it, Uncle Dick?"
"The boy's right!" ejaculated Jaroth, with sudden anxiety. "It can't be that Bill and his woman were caught by this blizzard. He's as knowing about weather signs as an old bear, Bill is. And you can bet every bear in these woods is holed up till spring."
He even urged the plodding horses to a faster pace. The hut, buried in the snow to a point far above its eaves, was built against a steep hillside at the edge of the wood, with the drifted road passing directly before its door. When the pung drew up before it and the horses stopped with a sudden shower of tinkling bell-notes, Mr. Jaroth shouted:
"Hey, Bill! Hey, Bill Kedders!"
There was no direct reply to this hail. But as they listened for a reply there was not one of the party that did not distinguish quite clearly the sound of weeping from inside the mountain hut.