Betty Gordon at Mountain Camp/Chapter 20

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When Betty Gordon and her young friends had set out from Mountain Camp on their snowshoe hike the sun shone brilliantly and every ice-covered branch and fence-rail sparkled as though bedewed with diamond dust. Now that it was drawing toward noon the sky was overcast again and the wind, had Betty stopped to listen to it, might be heard mourning in the tops of the pines.

But Ida Bellethorne, the black mare, gave Betty no opportunity of stopping to listen to the wind mourn. No, indeed! The girl had all she could do for the first mile or two to keep her saddle and cling to the reins.

When first they set forth from the Candace stables the mare went gingerly enough for a few rods. She seemed to know that the frozen crust of the old drifts just beneath the loose snow was perilous.

But her sharpened calks gave her a grip on the frozen snow that the wise mare quickly understood. She lengthened her stride. She gathered speed. And once getting her usual swift gait, with expanded nostrils and erect ears, she skimmed over the frozen way as a swallow skims the air. Betty had never traveled so fast in her life except in a speeding automobile.

She could easily believe that Ida Bellethorne had broken most of the track records of the English turf. She might make track history here in the United States, if nothing happened to her!

Betty was wise enough to know that, had Mr. Candace been at home, even in this earnest need for a surgeon he would never have allowed the beautiful and valuable mare to have been used in this way. But there was no other horse on the place that could be trusted to travel at any gait.

Ida Bellethorne certainly was traveling! The speed, the keen rush of the wind past her, the need for haste and her own personal peril, all served to give Betty a veritable thrill.

If Ida made a misstep—if she went down in a heap—Betty was pretty sure that she, herself, would be hurt. She retained a tight grip upon the reins. The mare was no velvet-mouthed animal. Betty doubted if she had the strength in her arms to pull the creature down to a walk now that she was started.

The instructions Mrs. Candace had given the girl pointed to a descent into the valley for some miles, and almost by a direct road, and then around a sharp turn and up the grade by a branch road to the village where Dr. Pevy lived. Betty was sure she would not lose her way; the question was, could she cling to the saddle and keep the mare on her feet until the first exuberance of Ida's spirit was controlled? The condition of the road did not so much matter, for once the mare found that she did not slip on the crust she trod the way firmly and with perfect confidence.

"She is a dear—she undoubtedly is," Betty thought. "But I feel just as though I were being run away with by a steam engine and did not know how to close the throttle or reverse the engine. Dear me!"

She might well say "dear me." Uncle Dick would surely have been much worried for her safety if he could know what she was doing. Betty by no means appreciated in full her danger.

Indeed, she scarcely thought of danger. Ida Bellethorne seemed as sure-footed as a chamois. Her calks threw bits of ice-crust behind her, and she never slipped nor slid. There was nobody on the road. There was not even the mark of a sledge, although along the ditch were the shuffling prints of snowshoes. Some pedestrian had gone this way in the early morning.

This was not the road by which Betty and her friends had been transported by Mr. Jaroth. There was not even a hut like Bill Kedders' beside it. In places the thick woods verged right on the track on either side and in these tunnels it seemed to be already dusk.

It flashed into Betty's mind that there might be savage animals in these thick woods. Bears, and wild cats, and perhaps even the larger Canadian lynx, might be hovering in the dark wood. It would not be pleasant to have one of those animals spring out at one, perhaps from an overhanging limb, as the little mare and her rider dashed beneath!

"Just the same," the girl thought, "at the pace Ida Bellethorne is carrying me, such wild animals couldn't jump quick enough to catch me. Guess I needn't be afraid of them."

There were perils in her path—most unexpected perils. Betty would never have even dreamed of what really threatened her. For fifteen minutes Ida Bellethorne galloped on and the girl knew she must have come a third of the way to Dr. Pevy's office.

The mare's first exuberance passed. Of her own volition she drew down to a canter. Her speed still seemed almost phenominal to the girl riding her, but Betty began to feel more secure in the saddle.

They reached the top of a steep hill. The hedge of tall pines and underbrush drew closer in on either side. The road was very narrow. As the mare started down the incline it seemed as though they were going into a long and steep chute.

Before this Betty had noted the ice-hung telephone and telegraph wires strung beside the road. Sheeted in the frozen rain and snow the heavy wires had dragged many of the poles askew. Here and there a wire was broken.

It never entered the girl's mind that there was danger in those wires. And, perhaps, in most of them there was not. But across this ravine into which the road plunged, and slantingly, were strung much heavier wires—feed cables from the Cliffdale power station over the hill.

"Why, look at those icicles!" exclaimed Betty, with big eyes and watching the hanging wires ahead. "If they fell they would kill a person, I do believe!"

She tugged with all her might at Ida Bellethorne's reins, and now, well breathed, the mare responded to the unuttered command. She came into a walk. Betty continued to stare at the heavily laden wires spanning the road, the heavier power wires above the sagging series of telephone and telegraph wires.

In watching them so closely the girl discovered another, and even more startling fact. One of the poles bearing up the feed wires was actually pitched at such an angle from the top of the bank on the right hand that Betty felt sure the wires themselves were all that held the pole from falling.

"There is going to be an accident here," declared the girl aloud. "I wonder the company doesn't send out men to fix it. Although I guess they could not prop up that pole. It has gone too far."

Even as she spoke the mare stopped, snorting. Her instinct was more keen than Betty's reasoning.

With a screeching breaking and tearing of wood and wire the trembling pole fell! Betty might, had she urged her mount, have cleared the place and escaped. But the girl lacked that wisdom.

The pole fell across the deep road and its two heavy cables came in contact with the wires strung from the other poles below. Instantly the ravine was lit by a blinding flash of blue flame—a flame that ran from wire to wire, from pole to pole, melting the ice that clung to them, hissing and crackling and giving off shooting spears of flame that threatened any passer-by.

The mare, snorting and fearful, scrambled back, swerved, and tried to escape from the ravine; but Betty had her under good control now. She had no spurs, but she yanked savagely at the bit and wheeled Ida Bellethorne again to face the sputtering electric flames that barred the road.

Only a third of the way to the doctor's and the way made impassable! What should she do? If she turned back, Betty did not know where or how to strike into the thick and pathless forest. Hunchie, suffering from his injured leg, must be aided as soon as possible. Her advance must not be stayed.

Yet there before her the sparking, darting flames spread the width of the ravine. Burning a black hole already in the deep drifts, the crossed wires forbade the girl to advance another yard!