Betty Gordon at Mountain Camp/Chapter 24
TWENTY MILES OF GRADE
Ida slept in the room with Betty and Bobby that night. Betty had confided to her chum, as well as to Uncle Dick, the outcome of the mystery of her locket. Because of Ida's information, Uncle Dick had assured his niece they would recover the trinket.
"If Mrs. Staples is not a dishonest woman, she shades that character pretty closely. There are people like that—people who think that a found article is their own unless absolutely claimed by the victim of the loss. A rather prejudiced brand of honesty to say the least."
The two Shadyside girls made much of Ida Bellethorne on this evening after they had foregathered in the bedroom. Just think! her Aunt Ida might take her to South America. Ida already had traveled by boat much farther than even Betty had journeyed by train.
"Although I am not at all sure how my aunt will meet me," the English girl said. "She was very angry with my father. She wasn't fair to him. She is impulsive and proud, and maybe she will think no better of me. But I must give her father's letter and see what comes of it."
The main difficulty was to get to New York in time to deliver the letter before the San Salvador sailed. When the girls awoke very early and saw a sliver of moon shining low in the sky, they bounced up with glad if muffled cries, believing that everything was all right. The storm had ceased. And when they pushed up the window a little more to stick their heads out they immediately discovered something else.
"Goodness me!" gasped Bobby. "It's one glare of ice—everything! And so-o cold! Ugh!" and she shivered, bundled as she was in a blanket robe.
First Betty and then Ida had to investigate. The latter looked very mournful.
"The horse can never travel to-day," she groaned. "You saw how he slipped about in the soft snow the other day when they had him out. He is not shod properly."
"If you only had Ida Bellethorne here!" cried Betty.
"But she is a long way off, and in the wrong direction. Why, none of us could walk on this ice!"
"How about skating?" cried Bobby eagerly.
"Mr. Canary says it is all downhill—or mostly to the railroad station," Betty said. "I would be afraid to skate downhill."
They dressed quickly and hastened to find Uncle Dick. He had long been up and had evidently canvassed the situation thoroughly. His face was very grave when he met his niece and her friends.
"This is a bad lookout for our trip," he said. "I don't really see how any of you will get to school on Monday, let alone Ida's reaching New York to-morrow morning."
"Oh, Uncle Dick, don't say that!" cried Betty. "Is it positive that we cannot ride or walk?"
"Walk twenty miles downhill on ice?" he exclaimed, "Does it seem reasonable? We can neither ride nor walk; and surely we cannot swim or fly!"
"We could fly if we had an aeroplane. Oh, dear!" sighed Bobby. "Why didn't we think of that? And now the telephone wires are down."
But Betty was thoughtful. She only pinched Ida's arm and begged her to keep up her courage—perhaps something would turn up. She disappeared then and was absent from the house, cold as the morning was, until breakfast time.
The whole party had gathered then, excited and voluble. It was not only regarding Ida's need that they chattered so eagerly. In spite of the fun they were having at Mountain Camp, the thought that Shadyside and Salsette might begin classes before they could get there was, after all, rather shocking.
"Measles is one thing," said Bob. "But being out of bounds when classes really begin is another. The other fellows will learn some tricks that we don't know."
"And somebody else may be put in our room, Betty!" wailed Bobby, as her chum now appeared.
Betty was very rosy and full of something that was bound to spill over at once. As soon as she had bidden Mr. and Mrs. Canary good morning she cried to all:
"What do you think!"
"Just as little as possible," declared Tommy Tucker. "Thinking tires me dreadfully."
"Behave, Tommy!" said Louise admonishingly.
"There's a big two-horse pung here. I found it in the barn. Like Mr. Jaroth's. It has a deep box like his. And a tongue. It's like a doublerunner sled, Bob—you know. The front runners are independent of the rear."
"I know what it is, Betty," said Bob, while the others stared at her. "I've seen that pung."
"Your observations are correct, Miss Betty," said Mr. Canary, smiling at the girl. "I own such a pung. But I do not own two horses to draw it. And I am sorry to say that the horse I have got cannot stand on this ice."
"Gee!" exclaimed Teddy, "if we got old Bobsky started down that hill he'd never stop till he got to the bottom. How far do you say it is to the station, Mr. Canary?"
"It is quite twenty miles down grade. Of course there are several places where the road is level—or was level before the snow fell. But once started there would not be many places where you would have to get out and push," and the gentleman laughed.
Betty's mind was fixed upon her argument. Her face still glowed and she scarcely tasted her breakfast.
"I believe we can do it," she murmured.
"What under the sun do you mean, Betty?" asked Louise.
"I hope it is something nice we can do," said Libbie dreamily. "I looked out the window and it is all like fairyland—isn't it, Timothy?"
"Uh-huh!" said Timothy Derby, his mouth rather full at the moment. "It is the most beautiful sight I ever saw. Will you please pass me another muffin?"
But Bob gave Betty his undivided attention. He asked:
"What do you believe we can do, Betty?"
"Make use of Mr. Canary's pung."
"Cricky! What will draw it? Where is the span of noble steeds to be found? Old Bobsky would break his neck."
"One horse. One wonderful horse, Bob!" cried Betty clapping her hands suddenly. "I am sure I'm right. Uncle Dick!"
"What do you mean, Betty?" cried Bobby, shaking her. "What horse?"
"Gravitation," announced Betty, her eyes shining. "That's his name."
"Great goodness!" gasped Bob. "I see a light. But Betty, how'd we steer it?"
"The front runners are attached to the tongue. Tie ropes to the tongue and steer it that way," Betty said, so eagerly that her words tumbled over each other. "Can't we do it, Uncle Dick? We'll all pile into the pung, with a lot of straw to keep us warm, and just slide down the hills to the railroad station. What say?"
For a while there was a good deal said by all present. Mr. and Mrs. Canary at first scouted the reasonableness of the idea. But Mr. Gordon, being an engineer and, as Bob said, "up to all such problems," considered Betty's suggestion carefully.
In the first place the need was serious. Especially for the much troubled Ida. If she could not reach the dock on New York's water-front by eleven o'clock the next morning, her aunt would doubtless sail on the San Salvador, and then there was no knowing when the English girl would be able to find her only living relative.
The party had ridden over the mountain road in coming to Mountain Camp, and Uncle Dick remembered the course pretty well. Although it was a continual grade, as one might say, it was an easy grade. And there were few turns in the road.
Drifted with snow as it was, and that snow crusted, the idea of coasting all the way to the railroad station did not seem so wild a thought. The road was fenced for most of the way on both sides. And over those fences the drifts rose smoothly, making almost a trough of the road.
"When you come to think of it, Jack," Uncle Dick said to Mr. Canary, "it is not very different from our toboggan chute yonder. Only it is longer."
"A good bit longer," said Mr. Canary, shaking his head.
However, it was plain that the idea interested Uncle Dick. He hastened out to look at the pung. Bob followed him, and they were gone half an hour or more. When they returned Bob was grinning broadly.
"Get ready for the time of your lives, girls," he whispered to Betty and Bobby. "The thing is going to work. You wait and see!"
Uncle Dick called them all into the living room and told them to pack at once and prepare for a cold ride. There was plenty of time, for the train they had to catch did not reach the station until noon.
"If our trip is successful—and it will be, I feel sure—it will not take an hour to reach the station. But we shall give ourselves plenty of time. Now off with you! I guess Mrs. Canary will be glad to see the last of us."
But their hostess denied this. The delight of having young people at the lonely camp in the hills quite counterbalanced the disturbance they made. But she bustled about somewhat anxiously, aiding the girls and the boys to make ready for departure. The Canarys, being unused to roughing it, even if they did live in the Big Woods, were much more afraid of the possibility of an accident arising out of this scheme Betty had conceived than was Uncle Dick.
A little after ten o'clock they all piled out of the bungalow with their baggage. The two men working at the camp had filled the box of the pung with straw and had drawn it out to the brow of the hill where the road began. The tongue was raised at a slant, as high as it would go, and half of it had been sawed off. Ropes were fastened from this stub of the tongue to ringbolts on either side of the pung-box.
"It will take two of us to steer," said Uncle Dick, and we must work together. Get in here, Bob, and I'll show you how it works."
It worked easily. The girls and the baggage were piled into the pung. The Tucker twins were each handed an iron-shod woodsman's peavey and were shown how the speed of the pung might be retarded by dragging them in the crust on either side.
"You boys are the brakes," sang out Uncle Dick, almost as excited as the young people themselves. "When we shout for 'Brakes!' it is up to you twins to do your part."
"We will, sir!" cried Tommy and Teddy in unison.
"And don't hang your arms or legs over the sides," advised Uncle Dick. "Farewell, Jack! Take care of him, Mrs. Canary. And many, many thanks for a jolly time."
The boys and girls chorused their gratitude to the owner of Mountain Camp and his wife. The men behind gave the pung just the tiniest push. The runners creaked over the ice, and the forward end pitched down the slope. They had started.
And what a ride that was! It is not likely that any of them will ever forget it. Yet, as it proved, the danger was slight. They coasted the entire down-grade to the little railroad station where Fred Jaroth was telegraph operator with scarcely more peril than as though they had been riding behind the Jaroth horses.
But they were on the qui vive all the time. Bobby declared her heart was in her mouth so much that she could taste it.
There were places when the speed threatened disaster. But when Uncle Dick shouted for "Brakes!" the twins broke through the crust with their peaveys and the hook broke up the thick ice and dragged back on the pung so that the latter was brought almost to a stop. The handles of the peaveys were braced against the end staffs of the pung, and to keep them in position did not exceed the twins' strength.
Once Ted's peavey was dragged from his hands; but he jumped out and recovered it, and then, falling, slid flat on his back down the slippery way until he overtook the slowly moving pung again amid the delighted shouts of his chums.
Otherwise there were no casualties, and the pung flew past the Jaroth house a little before eleven to the great amazement of the whole family, who ran out to watch the coasting party.
"I don't know how Jonathan Canary will recover his pung," said Mr. Gordon when they alighted on the level ground. "But I will leave it in Jaroth's care, and when the winter breaks up, or before, it can be taken back to Mountain Camp.
"Now how do you feel, young folks? All right? No bones broken?"
"It was delightful," they cried. But Ida added something to this. "I feel rather—rather dazed, Mr. Gordon," she said. "But I am very thankful. And I know whom I have most to thank."
"Who is that, my dear?" asked Uncle Dick smiling.