Betty Gordon at Mountain Camp/Chapter 18

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Mr. Richard Gordon was, as Betty and Bob often declared, the very best uncle that ever lived! One good thing about him they thought was that he never "fussed."

"He isn't always wondering what you are going to do next and telling you not to," explained Bob to Ida Bellethorne as the party started out from Mountain Camp. "Not like a woman, oh, no!"

"Hush, bad boy!" cried Bobby. "What do you mean, throwing slurs at women?"

"You know even if Mrs. Canary had seen us start off she would have given us a dozen orders before we got out of earshot. And she's a mighty nice woman, too. Almost as nice as your mother, Bobby," finished Bob.

"Bob doesn't like chaperons," giggled Betty.

"Nor me," said Tommy Tucker, sticking close to Bobby Littell as he always did when Roberta would let him. "Uncle Dick suits me as a chaperon every time."

Uncle Dick had let the party troop away on their snowshoes without advising them when to return or asking where they were going, and presently Betty and Bob formed a sudden plan about their hike.

From one of the men working about the camp Bob had got directions regarding the nearest way to Candace Farm. Ida longed to go there. It was but seven miles away in a direct line, and now, when Betty spoke of going there, Bob said that, with the aid of his compass, he knew he could find it without difficulty.

"We didn't mention it to Uncle Dick, but he won't be bothered about it," said Bob. "We've got all day. We can tell him where we have been when we get back, which will be just the same."

"Will it, Bob?" the girl asked doubtfully. "But of course there is nothing really wrong in going."

"I—should—say—not!" exploded Bob. "I'm sure it will be all right with Uncle Dick, Betty. Remember how he let us roam and explore in Oklahoma?"

The others in the party were not troubled by doubts in the least. They went hurrying through the snow with shouts and laughter; and if any forest animals were astir that day they must have been frightened by the noise the party made scrambling along on snowshoes. Not one of them but fell at times—and the very "twistiest" kind of falls! But nobody was hurt; although at one point Bobby fell flat on her back at the verge of a steep descent and there was no stopping her until she plunged into a deep drift at the bottom.

Tommy kicked off his snowshoes and ran down to haul her out while the others, seeing that she was unhurt, shouted their glee. Bobby was not often in a fix that she could not get out of by her own exertions. Being such an energetic and independent girl, she would not often accept help of her boy friends, especially of Tommy who hovered around her like a moth around a candle.

But when she had lost her snowshoes she found the soft snow so much deeper than she expected at the bottom of that hill that she was glad indeed to accept Tommy's aid. He dragged her out of the drift and set her upright. Even then she found that she could not climb up again by herself to where her friends were enjoying her discomfiture.

"Come on!" cried Tommy, who had kicked his own snowshoes off at the top of the slide. "Give us your hand, Bobby. We'll make it somehow."

But they did not "make it" easily. It seemed as though they could climb only so high and then slide back again. Under the shallow top snow the frozen crust was like pebbled glass. Tommy could barely kick the toes of his boots into it to make steps, and just as he had secured a footing in a particularly slippery place, Bobby would utter a shriek and slide to the bottom again.

Even Betty was almost ill with laughter as this occurred over and over again. But the Tucker twin finally proved himself to be master of the situation. He was determined to get Bobby to the top of the hill, and he succeeded.

Tom Tucker was a strong lad. Stooping, he commanded the girl to put her arms over his shoulders so that he could seize both wrists with one hand. Then he bent forward, carrying Bobby on his back and her weight upon his aided in breaking through the snow-crust and getting a footing.

He plodded up the slope, a little at a time, and after a while Betty and Bob helped them to the level brink of the hill. Tommy fell to the snow panting, and Bobby was inclined to scold for a minute. Then she gave Tommy one of her rare smiles and helped him up. She was not often so kind to him.

"You are a good child, Tommy Tucker," she proclaimed saucily, as she beat the loose snow off his coat. "In time you may be quite nice."

Betty and Ida Bellethorne praised him too; but Bob continued to laugh and when the party started on again the others learned why he was so amused.

The way to Candace Farm lay right down that slope to the bottom of which Bobby had tumbled, and all the exertion Tommy had put forth to save her was unnecessary. Bob led them along a lane right past the spot where Tommy had pulled the girl out of the snowbank!

"That's the meanest trick that was ever played on me!" declared Bobby, in high wrath at first. Then she began to appreciate the joke and laughed with the others. "I was going to tell the folks at home how Tommy saved me from the peril of being buried in the snowbank; but I guess I'd better not," she observed. "Don't blame me, Tommy. Give it to Bob."

"I'll get square with Bob," grumbled the Tucker twin. "No fear of that."

Bobby remained kind to him however; and as Tommy frankly admired her he was repaid for his effort. But every time Bob looked at Tom he burst out laughing.

They had struck into a straight trough in the snow, with maples on either side standing gaunt and strong, and a windrow of drifted snow where the fences were supposed to be—a road which Bob said the man at Mountain Camp had told him led straight to Candace Farm.

"Wish we had brought a sled with us," Tommy said. "We could have ridden the girls on it. Aren't you tired, Bobby?"

"Not as tired as you are, I warrant," she said, laughing at him. "Poor Tommy!"

"Aw, you go fish! I could carry you a mile and not feel it. Gee! What's this coming?"

Far down the snow-covered road they first heard shouts, then a cloud of snow-dust spurted into the air and hid whatever it was coming along the way toward them. Bob immediately drew Betty and Ida to one side of the road and Tommy urged Bobby to follow.

Suddenly out of the cloud of flying snow appeared a horse's head and plunging fore feet. Then another and another! They came along the road at a plunging, blundering pace, snorting and neighing. Behind them were men, evidently trying to stop the runaways.

"Colts!" shouted Bob. "Yearlings. All young horses. And just about wild. Remember that bunch we saw in Oklahoma, Betty, that was being driven to the shipping station? They are wild as bears."

Ida Bellethorne did not seem to be much disturbed by the possibility of the horses doing them any harm. She stood out before her companions and stared at the coming herd eagerly. The black mare she loved so, however, was not in this bunch of runaways.

The young stock swept past the watching party from Mountain Camp, their pace rapid in spite of the hard going. They kept to the snow-covered road, however. Behind them came half a dozen men, wind-spent already and not a little angry.

"Why didn't you stop 'em?" bawled one red-faced fellow. "If they spread out in some open pasture we'll be all day gathering them."

"Easy to stop 'em, I guess," returned Tommy. "They'd have trampled us down."

"Could stop a snowslide easier, I guess," Bob suggested. "But I tell you: We'll give you a hand collecting them. How did they get away?"

"Went over the paddock fence like a flock of sheep. Snow is so deep, you know," said the red-faced man. "Come on, you boys, if you will. The girls can go on to the house and Mrs. Candace will let 'em warm up. It's only a little way."

The "little way" proved to be a good two miles; but the three girls did not falter. They saw the big farmhouse and the great barns and snowfilled paddocks a long way ahead.

"I'll be glad of that 'warm'," confessed Betty, as they turned in at the entrance to the lane. "And maybe Mrs. Candace will give us a cup of tea."

At that moment Bobby clutched her arm and pointed up the lane. "See there! He'll fall! Oh, look!"

Betty was as startled as her chum when she spied what Bobby had first seen. A little, crooked man was crawling out above the hay door of the main barn upon a timber that was here thrust out from the framework and to which was attached a block and fall. The rope had evidently fouled in the block and he was trying to detach it.

"That's Hunchie Slattery!" gasped Betty. "What a chance he is taking!"

For everything was sheathed in ice from the effect of the rain and frost of the night before. That timber was as slippery as glass.

Ida Bellethorne set off on a run for the barn; but unlike Bobby she did not say a word. Had she thought of any way to help the crooked little man, however, she was too late. Hunchie suddenly slipped, clutched vainly at the rope, which gave under his weight, and he came down "on the run."

The rope undoubtedly broke his fall. He would have been killed had he plunged immediately to the frozen ground beneath.

As it was, when the three girls reached him, he was unconscious and it was plain by the attitude in which he lay that his leg was broken.