The Meadow-Brook Girls in the Hills - novelonlinefull.com
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Harriet opened her eyes in time to see Ja.n.u.s running rapidly from the camp, firing his revolver at every jump. After his second shout of warning he was not heard to speak again. For a moment or so they could hear him crashing through the hushes, now and then firing his revolver, probably when he caught sight of the man he was pursuing, the intruder having no doubt returned, perhaps hoping to be able to catch the camp asleep, thus giving him an opportunity to recover his rifle.
The girls unrolled themselves from their blankets as quickly as possible. Harriet started to follow Ja.n.u.s.
"Come back!" commanded Miss Elting.
Harriet halted abruptly. "Please let me go," she pleaded.
"By no means! How could you ask such a thing? Let Ja.n.u.s attend to matters of this sort. We must look after ourselves here. The man may return."
Harriet Burrell still stood where she had halted. Her head was bent slightly forward. She was listening. Not a sound could be heard now from the pursuing guide.
"Hoo-e-e-e-e!" called Harriet. But no answering call came back to her.
She still kept her position until the guardian called to her. Harriet then walked slowly back to her trembling companions. Jane and Miss Elting were no more frightened than Harriet. They did not know, however, what had occurred to disturb Ja.n.u.s, and could only surmise.
Harriet stirred the fire, throwing on more dry boughs and brush until a crackling blaze had sprung up. She was more disturbed than her expression indicated. In the meantime Miss Elting had satisfied herself that nothing had been taken from the camp, which knowledge served in a way to relieve her.
However, as the moments pa.s.sed, and nothing further was heard from the guide, the others of the Meadow-Brook party began to feel a vague alarm. They could not believe that anything had happened to Ja.n.u.s, nor could they understand why he should remain away from the camp so long.
Jane and Harriet "Hoo-e-e-ed!" until they were hoa.r.s.e, but no reply followed their calls. Half an hour pa.s.sed; then an hour, during which time everybody walked nervously about the camp.
"Miss Elting, something serious must have occurred to Mr. Grubb,"
"Oh, goodness, more mystery!" exclaimed Jane.
"Please, let Jane and myself go out to look for him. He may have been shot, he may be suffering, or----"
"No! Not a girl may leave this camp," replied the guardian firmly.
"But what if Mr. Grubb is in trouble?" protested Harriet.
"Would it better the situation were any of you girls to get into the same difficulty? No, I could not think of it. Besides, I believe Mr.
Grubb will return in good time. We do not know but he may be hiding, hoping to catch the one he went out after. If so, you would be interfering with, perhaps defeating, the very plan he has in mind. No, girls; you will stay here."
There was no more to be said. Miss Elting's word was law with her charges. Harriet and Jane submitted without further protest, but this did not lessen their concern over the continued absence of the guide.
Of course, there was no more sleep in the camp that night. The party sat down, always keeping out of the firelight, Harriet and Jane doing guard duty, walking about the camp some little distance back. Harriet had the rifle. The possession of this gave them a feeling of greater security than otherwise would have been the case. She kept the rifle in her hands during all the rest of the night.
Dawn found the girls pale after their long vigil following the exciting incidents of the evening. But daylight served to bring back their failing courage. Harriet put down the rifle at the first suggestion of morning light. Jane gathered fresh fuel for the fire and a roaring blaze warmed them up, for the morning on the mountain was very chill.
"Come, girls, get breakfast," directed Miss Elting. "We must eat.
Afterward we shall consider what is to be done. The situation demands careful thought, then action. We cannot go far without our guide."
They knew that. Breakfast was prepared in some haste that morning.
While eating they discussed their predicament, finally coming to a decision. It was decided that they should try to follow the guide's trail, spreading out so as to cover the ground thoroughly. In this formation they would continue until they either found him or failed.
There seemed no other course to take. The guide's pack was distributed among the girls. It made quite a load for them, but Harriet and Jane carried more than the others, in addition to which Harriet carried the captured rifle. An examination of the magazine showed that there were ten cartridges in it, quite sufficient for any likely needs of theirs.
Before starting out Harriet raised the rifle with the muzzle pointing skyward.
"Don't be frightened, I'm going to fire a signal," she announced.
Margery screamed, despite the warning, when a crash woke the echoes.
After an interval of a few seconds Harriet fired two more shots in quick succession. This was a signal. All listened, but no answering shot was heard, nor any shout to indicate that the signal had been heard.
"We will move on," announced the guardian. "Keep within calling distance. Harriet will take the trail from the camp; the others will spread out on either side."
Harriet Burrell started a little in advance of the others, beginning at the point where she had seen Ja.n.u.s disappear. For a time it was somewhat difficult to follow the trail, because of the trampling the bushes had had on the evening before. However, after a short time the trail stretched away, clear to the eyes of an experienced woodsman.
There were broken bushes here and there; that was all, though enough for one who knew how to use her eyes.
"I have found the trail," called Harriet; "it is turning to the east."
This she knew was to enable the pursued to make better time in getting away. After a short distance the trail turned upward, then led to the east again. Bushes were getting more scarce. Only occasional clumps of them were to be found, making the work of following the trail much more difficult.
Two hours of climbing, with frequent periods of hunting for the trail that had lost itself, brought them to the end of their resources. The trail, at first so plainly marked, had, as a famous woodsman has said, "petered out into a squirrel track, run up a tree and disappeared into a knothole." On every side were almost barren rocks, though below and further to the east the mountain vegetation showed thick and green, dropping away into ravines here and there, the surface being more uneven than anything they had yet encountered on this particular mountain. Still further below, the mountainside appeared to be quite heavily wooded.
"I believe we should look into that," said Harriet, indicating the lower part that was covered with green. "We may find some clue to the whereabouts of our guide."
"We might get lost there," answered the guardian.
"But--we have only to go down. We can't possibly get lost if we do that. Going down will lead us to the foot of the mountain, and out into the open once more," urged Harriet. The guardian smiled.
"How silly of me not to have thought of that. I am beginning to think that my pupil knows more about outdoor life and woodcraft than I ever dreamed. If you think best, Harriet, we will look down there. In the meantime I would suggest that one of us remain in this vicinity to make a more thorough search."
Harriet offered to do this, so it was agreed that the rest of the party should head obliquely down the mountain while she worked back and forth, like a switchback railway, until she, too, had reached the objective point where the others would be waiting for her. This programme was carried out, beginning immediately. Not a trace, however, did she find of the lost trail. While awaiting her arrival the others of the party walked back and forth along the edge of the thick growth, but with no better results than had attended the search made by Harriet Burrell.
At noon they stopped for luncheon, then followed the same method as had Harriet, moving east and west, ever enlarging their field as the growth increased in area. Night found them far up on the mountainside still facing the mystery of the disappearance of the guide, whom the girls earlier had named "The Pilot of the White Mountains."
He was no longer a pilot, but in need of one.
It was not a particularly cheerful party of girls that sat down to a supper of rice, corn cakes and coffee that evening. It was arranged that Harriet should take the early part of the night watch, Jane McCarthy the last half, for they dared not leave their camp unguarded.
A huge fire was built that sent a glow high above the foliage of bushes and second-growth trees, visible for a long distance. This was done with a purpose. The girls hoped that, were Ja.n.u.s within sight, he might see the light and be guided to them. The blaze did serve to attract the attention of others whom the girls were to see before the night was ended.
Harriet's vigil was not a lonely one to her. She always found comfort in Nature, no matter how dark or silent Dame Nature's mood might be.
She drew back a short distance from camp so that her moving about might not disturb her companions, remaining quiet until they had finally gone to sleep, after which she began strolling back and forth.
She had been on guard for something more than two hours when she was startled by three shots from somewhere lower down the mountain.
Harriet pointed her rifle into the air and promptly pulled the trigger twice. Two heavy reports from her rifle caused an instant commotion in the camp of the Meadow-Brook Girls. The girls untangled themselves from their blankets and sprang up very much frightened. Their nerves were on edge after all they had experienced, and these shots, fired so near at hand, had sent at least three of them to the verge of panic.
"Are we attacked?" cried Jane.
"We may be," answered Harriet. "Hurry and get yourselves together.
Some one besides ourselves is in the mountains and we must be ready for whatever comes. I don't know what it is. Hurry, please! We may have to leave here very suddenly."
No time was lost in "getting themselves together," as Harriet had expressed it. Fortunately, having gone to bed with their clothing on, there was little preparation to make. This completed, at Miss Elting's direction the girls moved off in a body, secreting themselves in the shadows some distance from the light of the campfire, but within sight of it. Up to this time Harriet had made no explanation. Miss Elting, after having placed the girls to her satisfaction, eagerly demanded to know the meaning of Harriet's signals, the guardian not having heard the other shots fired farther, down the mountainside.
"I answered a signal," replied Miss Burrell.
"Oh, then it is the guide? It's Ja.n.u.s!" cried Miss Elting joyously.
"No, it was not Ja.n.u.s. The signal was fired from a rifle," answered Harriet Burrell.