Betty Gordon at Boarding School/Chapter 24

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It did seem a shame that lessons should be as exacting as ever when outside the trees bent beneath their white burden and eager eyes were fixed longingly on the hill back of the school.

"You can't coast through the woods, anyway, Betty," Libbie whispered in the French period. "You may be a wonder, but how can you go through the tree stumps?"

"Don't intend to," whispered back Betty. "There's a cleared space in there—I'll show you."

"Young ladies, if you please——" suggested Madame politely, and the girls jerked their thoughts back to translation.

The moment lessons were over that afternoon, they dashed for their sleds. The eight who chummed together had four sleds between them which was enough for the enjoyment of all. Constance Howard had seen so little snow in her life spent in California that she was very much excited about it and had bought her sled in August to be ready for the first fall. Bobby had been to Edentown and bought a little toy affair, the best she could get there, and Frances Martin had sent home for her big, comfortable Vermont-made sled that made up in dependability what it lacked in varnish and polish. Counting Betty's, this gave them four sleds.

There was a conventional hill half a mile away from the school, toward which most of the girls turned their steps. On the first afternoon it was crowded. The Salsette cadets had come coasting, too, for on their side of the lake there was not so much as a mound of earth, and whoever would coast must perforce cross the lake.

"We'll go up to the woods," announced Betty. "There will be more room, and it's much more exciting to go down a steep hill."

So it proved. The cleared space to which Betty had referred demanded careful steering, and Frances Martin at the first glance relinquished the control of her sled.

"I can't judge distances," she explained, touching her glasses, "and I'd be sure to steer straight for a tree. Libbie, you'll have to be the skipper."

So Libble took Frances, Betty took Bobby, Constance took Norma on her sled, and Alice steered for Louise, using Bobby's sled.

Such shrieks of laughter, such wild spills! If Ada Nansen had been there to see she would certainly have been confirmed in her statement that coasting was "for children." They were coming down for the sixth time when Bob Henderson, the Tucker twins and Timothy Derby appeared.

"We thought we'd find you here!" was Bob's greeting. "Trust Betty to pick out a mystic maze for her coasting. It's a wonder some of you girls haven't shot down into Indian Chasm!"

"Well, I like a steep coast," said Betty defensively. "I wouldn't give a cent a hundred for a little short coast down a gentle slope. Want me to take you down on my sled, Bob?"

"I don't believe I do, thank you just the same," returned Bob politely. "Six of you can pile on the bob, though, and I'll give you a thrilling ride, safety guaranteed. Who wants to come?"

It ended by all taking turns, and by that time it was half-past four and they must start back to school.

"I'm coming to-morrow," declared Betty. "I think winter is the nicest time of the whole year."

"You say that of every season," criticised Bobby. "Besides, I think it will rain to-morrow; it is much warmer than when we came out."

Bobby proved a good weather prophet for the next day was warmer and cloudy, and when lessons for the day were over at half-past two, a fine drizzle had begun to fall.

"Just the same I'm going," persisted Betty, pulling on her rubbers and struggling into a heavier sweater. "The snow hasn't all melted, and there will be enough for a good coast. I think you're a lazy bunch to want to stay cooped up in here and knit. A little fresh air would be good for you, Norma."

"I've a cold," said Norma, in explanation of her red eyes. "Anyway, I don't feel like playing around outdoors. And Alice has gone to bed with a headache and I'd rather not leave her."

Some had studying to do and others refused to be moved from their fancy work, so Betty and her sled finally set off alone. She knew, of course, that Norma's red eyes were the result of crying, as was Alice's headache. They had definitely decided the night before that they would not return to Shadyside after the Christmas holidays.

"I think this is a funny world," scolded Betty to herself, as she reached her favorite hill and put her sled in position. "Here are Norma and Alice, the kind of girls Mrs. Eustice is proud to have represent the school, and they can't afford to take a full course and graduate. And Ada Nansen, who is everything the ideals of Shadyside try to combat, has oceans of money and every prospect of staying. She'll probably take a P. G. course!"

A wild ride through the slushy snow made Betty feel better, and when, as she dragged the sled up again, Bob's whistle sounded, the last trace of her resentment vanished.

"Something told me you'd be out hunting a sore throat to-day," declared Bob, In mock-disapproval. "The fellows all said there wouldn't be enough snow to hold up a sparrow."

"Silly things!" dimpled Betty. "There's plenty of snow for a good coast. Take me, Bob?"

"Well, if you'll come on over where there's a decent hill," Bob assented. "With only two on the bob, we want to get some grade. Here, I'll stick your sled in between these two trees and you can get it when we come back."

Together they pulled the heavy bobsled up the hill and crossed over the hollow, taking a wagon trail that led up over another hill.

"It's a long walk," admitted Bob, panting. "But wait till you see the ride we're going to get."

They reached the top of Pudding Hill presently, and Betty looked down over a rolling expanse of white country covered closely by a lowering gray sky that looked, she said to herself, like the lid of a soup kettle.

"Bully coast!" exclaimed Bob with satisfaction, swinging the bodsled into position. "All ready, Betsey?"

"Just a minute," begged Betty, with a delightful little shiver of excitement as she tucked in her skirts and pulled her soft hat further over her eyes. "Ye-s, now I guess I'm fixed."

They started. The wind sang in their ears and sharp particles of snow flew up to sting their faces. Zip! they had taken one hill, and the gallant bobsled gathered momentum. Betty clung tightly to Bob.

"All right?" he shouted, without turning his head.

"It's fine!" shrieked Betty. "It takes my breath away, but I love it!"

The bobsled seemed fairly to leap the series of gentle slopes that lay at the foot of the long hill, and for every rise Betty and Bob received a bump that would have jarred the bones of less enthusiastic sportsmen. Then, suddenly, they were in the hollow, and the next thing they knew Betty lay breathless in a soft snow bank and Bob found himself flat on his back a few feet away. The sled had overturned with them.

"Betty! are you hurt?" cried Bob, scrambling to his feet. "Here, don't struggle! I'll have you out in a jiffy."

He pulled her from the bank of snow and helped her shake her garments free from the white flakes.

"I'm not hurt a bit, not even scratched," she assured him. "Wasn't that a spill, though? The first thing I knew I was sailing through space, and I'm thankful I landed in soft snow. Where's the sled? Oh, over there!"

"Want to quit?" asked Bob, as she began to help him right the overturned sled. "We can walk over to where we left your sled, you know, Betty."

"And miss the coast?" said Betty scornfully. "Well, not much. Bob Henderson. It takes more than one upset to make me give up coasting."

She seated herself behind Bob again, and with a touch of his foot they began the descent of the second hill. The snow had melted more here, and in some spots the covering was very thin. Bob found the task of steering really difficult.

"I don't think much of this," he began to say, but at the second word the bobsled struck a huge root, the riders were pitched forward, and for one desperate moment they clung to the scrubby undergrowth that bordered what they supposed was the side of the road.

Then their hold loosened and they fell.

Slipping, sliding, tumbling, rolling, a confused sound of Bob's shouts in her ears, Betty closed her eyes and only opened them when she found that she was stationary again. She had no idea of where she was, nor of how far she had fallen.

"Bob?" she called timidly at first, and then in terror. "Bob!"

"Look behind you," said Bob's familiar voice.

Betty turned her head, and there was Bob, grinning at her placidly. His cap was gone and several buttons were ripped bodily from his mackinaw, but he did not seem to be injured and when he pulled Betty to her feet, that young person found that she, too, was unhurt.

"What happened?" she asked. "Where are we?"

"The bobsled balked," explained Bob cheerfully. "Guess it knew where we were heading for better than I did. Anyway, you and I took a double header that was a beauty. If you want to see where we came down, just look up there."

Betty followed the direction of his finger and saw a trail gashed in the snow, a trail that twisted and turned down the steep, forbidding sides of a frowning gorge. Was it possible that they had fallen so far and escaped injury?

"Know where you are?" asked Bob, watching her.

Betty shook her head.

"I must have been away off the road," explained Bob. "Betsey, you and I are standing at the bottom of Indian Chasm."