Betty Gordon at Mountain Camp/Chapter 2
THE FRUITS OF TANTALUS
Betty Gordon had glanced hastily at her wrist watch as she went out of the little store. It was very near the minute appointed for her to meet Carter at the square. And she had forgotten to ask that girl, Ida Bellethorne (such an Englishy name!), how to find her rendezvous with the Littells' chauffeur.
She hesitated, tempted to run back. Had she done so she would have been in time to see Ida pick up the little locket that Uncle Dick had given Betty that very Christmas and which she carried in her bag because it seemed the safest place to treasure it while she was visiting. Her trunk was at Shadyside.
So it is that the very strangest threads of romance are woven in this world. And Betty Gordon had found before this that her life, at least, was patterned In a very wonderful way. Since she had been left an orphan and had found her only living relative, Mr. Richard Gordon, her father's brother, such a really delightful guardian the girl had been to so many places and her adventures had been so exciting that her head was sometimes quite in a whirl when she tried to think of all the happenings.
Uncle Dick's contracts with certain oil promotion companies made it impossible as yet for him to have what Betty thought of as "a real, sure-enough home." He traveled here, there and everywhere. Betty loved to travel too; but Uncle Dick was forced to go to such rough and wild places that at first he could not see how Betty, a twelve year old, gently bred girl, could go with him.
Therefore he had to find a home for his little ward for a few months, and remembering that an old school friend of his was married to the owner of a big and beautiful farm, he arranged for Betty to stay with the Peabodys at Bramble Farm. Her adventures as a "paying guest" in the Peabody household are fully related in the first book of the series, entitled "Betty Gordon at Bramble Farm," and a very exciting experience it was.
In spite, however, of the disagreeable and miserly Joseph Peabody, Betty would not have missed her adventures at the farm for anything. In the first place, she met Bob Henderson there, and a better boy-chum a girl never had than Bob. Although Bob had been born and brought up in a poorhouse, and at first knew very little about himself and his relatives, even a girl like Betty could see that this "poorhouse rat" as he was slurringiy called by Joseph Peabody, possessed natural refinement and a very bright mind.
Betty and Bob became loyal friends, and when Betty, in the second volume, called "Betty Gordon in Washington," had fairly to run away from Bramble Farm to meet her Uncle Dick in the national capital, badly treated Bob ran away likewise, on the track of somebody who knew about his mother's relatives. Betty's adventures in Washington began with a most astonishing confusion of identities through which she met the Littells—a charming family consisting of a Mr. Littell, who was likewise an "Uncle Dick"; a motherly Mrs. Littell, who never found young people—either boys or girls—troublesome; three delightful sisters named Louise, Roberta, and Esther Littell; and a Cousin Elizabeth Littell, who good-naturedly becomes "Libbie" instead of "Betty" so as not to conflict in anybody's mind with "Betty" Gordon.
The fun they all had in Washington while Betty waited for the appearance of her real Uncle Dick, especially after Bob Henderson turned up and was likewise adopted for the time being by the Littell family, is detailed to the full in that second story. And at last both Betty and Bob got news from Oklahoma, where Mr. Richard Gordon was engaged, which set them traveling westward in a great hurry—Betty to meet Uncle Dick at Flame City and her boy chum hard on the trace of two elusive aunts of his, his mother's sisters, who appeared to be the only relatives he had in the world.
Betty and Bob discovered the aunts just in time to save them from selling their valuable but unsuspected oil holdings to sharpers, and in "Betty Gordon in the Land of Oil" one of the most satisfactory results that Betty saw accomplished was the selling of the old farm for Bob and his aunts for ninety thousand dollars.
Uncle Dick decided that Betty must go to a good school In the fall, and they chose Shadyside because the Littells and their friends were going there. Bob, now on a satisfactory financial plane, arranged to attend the Salsette Military Academy which was right across the lake from the girls' boarding school, Uncle Dick, who was now Bob's guardian, having advised this.
Hastening back from Oklahoma, while Uncle Dick was called to Canada to examine a promising oil field there, Betty and Bob met the girls and boys they previously got acquainted with in Washington and some other friends, and Betty at least began her boarding school experience with considerable confidence as well as delight.
It was not all plain sailing as subsequent events prove; yet in "Betty Gordon at Boarding School," the fourth volume of the series, Betty had many pleasant adventures as well as school trials. She was particularly interested in the fortunes of Norma and Alice Guerin, who had been Betty's friends when she was living at Bramble Farm; and it was through Betty's good offices that great happiness came to the Guerin girls and their parents.
The hospitable Littells had invited their daughters' school friends (and, to quote Bob, there was a raft of them!) to come to Fairfields for the Christmas holidays, and at the close of the first term they bade good-bye to Shadyside and Salsette and took the train for Washington.
Fairfields, which was over the river in Virginia, was one of the most delightful homes Betty Gordon had ever seen. It was closer to Georgetown than to the nation's capital, and that is why Betty on this brisk morning was shopping in the old-fashioned town and had come across the orange silk over-blouse in the window of the neighborhood shop.
It was really too bad that Betty did not run back to the shop to ask for directions to the soldiers' monument square. She would have been just in season to interrupt the scene between Ida Bellethorne and Mrs. Staples and before the latter had threatened Ida with dismissal If she told Betty about the tiny locket. When she came to find it out, this loss of Uncle Dick's present, was going to trouble Betty Gordon very much.
"Where in the world can that soldiers' monument be?" murmured Betty to herself as, after hurrying on for a distance and having turned two corners, she found herself in a neighborhood that looked stranger than ever to her.
Not a soul was in sight at that moment, but presently she saw a small negro boy shuffling along, drawing a piece of chalk on the various houses and stoops as he passed.
"Boy, come here!" called Betty to the little fellow.
At once the colored boy stopped the use of his piece of chalk and stared at her with wide-open eyes.
"I ain't done nuffin, lady, 'deed I ain't," he mumbled, and then began to back away.
"I only want to know where the soldiers' monument is," she returned. "Do you know?"
"Soldiers' monument am over that way," and the boy waved his hand to one side, where there was a hilly street, and then hurried out of sight.
"Oh, dear! that's not very definite," sighed Betty.
But now she ran down the hilly street at a chance, turned a crooked corner and came plump upon the square and the soldiers' monument. There was the Littells' big, closed car just turning into the square from another street.
"What luck! Fancy!" gasped Betty, running swiftly to the place where the big car stopped.
"You're better than prompt. Miss Betty," said the driver of the car. "I am glad I hadn't to wait for you, for Mister Bob told me particular to get you home for luncheon. You'll be wanted."
"What for? Do tell me what for, Carter!" Betty cried. "I thought Bob Henderson was awfully mysterious this morning at breakfast. Do you know what is in the wind. Carter?"
"Not me. Miss Betty," said the chauffeur, and having tucked the robes about her he shut the door and got into his own place. But before he started the car he said through the open window: "I have to delay a little, Miss. Must drive around by the bank and pick up Mr. Gordon. But I will hurry home after that."
"Oh! Uncle Dick did go to the bank here," murmured Betty, nestling back into the cushions and robes. "I wonder if he is going to stop off at Mountain Camp on his way back to Canada. Oh!" and she sighed more deeply, "if we could only go up there with him——"
The car stopped before the gray stone bank building. Uncle Dick seemed to have been on the watch for them, he came out so promptly. Although his hair was graying, especially about the temples, Mr. Richard Gordon was by no means an old looking man. He lived much out of doors and spent such physical energy only as his out-of-door life yielded, instead of living on his reserve strength as so many office-confined men do. Betty had learned all about that in physics. She was thoroughly an out-of-door girl herself!
"Oh, Uncle Dick!" she cried when he stepped into the car, "are you really and truly getting ready to go north again?"
"Must, my dear. Have still some work to do In spite of the ice and snow in Canada. And, as I told you, I mean to stop and see Jonathan Canary."
"That is what I mean, Uncle Dick," she cried. "Will you go to that lovely Mountain Camp all alo-o-one?"
"Mercy me, child, you never saw it—and in winter! You do not know whether it is lovely or not."
"It must be," said Betty warmly. "You have explained it all so beautifully to us. The lovely lake surrounded by hills, and the long toboggan slide, and the skating, and fishing for pickerel through the ice, and—Oh, dear me! if we can't go——"
"If who can't go?" demanded her uncle in considerable amazement.
"Why, me. And Bob. And Bobby Littell and Louise, and the Tucker twins, and all the rest. We were talking about it last night. It—would—be—won—der—ful!"
"Well, of all the—— Why, Betty!" exclaimed Mr. Gordon, "you know you must go right back to school."
"Yes, I know," sighed Betty. "It is like the fruits of Tantalus, isn't it? We read about him in Greek mythology—poor fellow! He stood up to his chin in water and over his head hung the loveliest fruits. But when he stooped to get a drink the water receded, and when he stood on tiptoe to reach the fruit, they receded too. It was dreadful! And Mountain Camp, where your friend Mr. Canary lives. Is just like that, Uncle Dick. For us it is the fruits of Tantalus."
Uncle Dick stared at her for a moment, then he burst out laughing. But Betty Gordon remained perfectly serious until they arrived at Falrfields.