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CHAPTER VII AN OFFENDED EAVESDROPPER
“We are alone, the world my own,
That holds but you and me, but you and me,”

hummed Emmeline Cerrito softly, her dark eyes fixed dreamily on the wide expanse of rippling blue water, gleaming more dazzlingly blue in the warm sunlight of a perfect August morning.

“That is exactly the way I feel, only I couldn’t express myself,” remarked Ruth Garnier lazily, from her recumbent position on the white sand. “Just to lie here and look out on this wonderful lake makes me feel as though there was nothing except a world of water and sky with you and me the only persons in it.”

Ruth and Emmy had crept silently from their beds at the first rays of dawn. Stealing a march on the rest of the slumbering party, they had donned their bathing suits and noiselessly made their escape from the cottage for a morning plunge in the cool waters of the lake. They were now idly lolling on the sand, in the midst of a delightful tête-à-tête.

The previous afternoon had witnessed the tumultuous arrival of the Equitable Eight at Driftwood Heights, as Miss Drexal had named her cottage. Six weeks had followed one another in rapid succession since the seven Hillside members had departed from Miss Belaire’s for their respective homes. It had been agreed among them, and with Blanche Shirly, who had declared her intention to join them shortly after Miss Drexal had made her generous proposal, that the last of July should find them bag and baggage under the Garniers’ hospitable roof, where Marian was to meet them. Arrived at the Garniers’, the girls were to leave there all excess luggage, and proceed as lightly burdened as possible to the Heights. Adhering strictly to this program, they had arrived at Lakeview, the nearest station to the Heights, and from there had, at their own request, made the journey to the cottage on foot. The few remaining hours of the afternoon had been spent by the Equitable Eight in unpacking and in exploring the immediate environs of the Heights.

Ruth and Emmy had felt no fatigue from the long railroad journey of the day before. The morning sun showered its welcome warmth upon them as they lay on the sand, placidly enjoying the beauty of the prospect that stretched before their eyes.

“Yes, it does give one the feeling of being cut off from the rest of the world,” Emmy was saying. “It’s looking at the water that makes it seem so. That’s what made me think of Tosti’s Venetian Song. Let me tell you that we won’t be cut off from it long. Once the girls wake up and discover that we are missing, our beautiful illusion will be rudely shattered by wild yells from the rear.”

“Sad but true,” laughed Ruth. “With such lively persons as Jane Pellew and Frances Bliss in the near background, no illusion is really safe.”

“It was worth getting into one’s bathing suit with the daylight and sliding cat-footed out of the cottage, just to watch the sun come up over the water,” declared Emmy warmly. “I was just thinking while lying here in the sand what a different sort of person I’d grown to be. Don’t you remember last year, when first I came to Wanderer’s Roost, I wasn’t a bit interested in Nature. It was going camping that one week that woke me up to the glory of the outdoors. Now I wonder how I could ever have allowed myself to miss so much for so long.”

“I think I’ve always been a Nature lover,” mused Ruth. “When I was a tiny girl I dearly loved to tear through the fields and tramp about in the woods. Once when I was about ten years old, I packed my best doll, six ginger cookies and half a loaf of bread in my doll carriage and went off to the woods all by myself on a picnic. Of course, I didn’t ask permission. It was to be a great adventure, and I felt quite equal to it. I stayed in the woods all day and had a beautiful time. I played Babes in the Wood and covered my doll with leaves, and impersonated Robinson Crusoe, using the same good old doll for Friday.

“You can imagine what was happening at home while I was enjoying myself! By the middle of the afternoon, half of Burton was out looking for me. About five o’clock I began to get pretty hungry. I had eaten the ginger cookies, but bread without butter didn’t look very good to me, so I had broken it up and scattered it broadcast for the birds. I was serenely trundling my doll carriage along the road home when I ran straight into a search party headed by my father. I did a great deal of explaining, but it wasn’t very satisfactory to either Father or Mother. My great adventure ended in a scolding from both, and I wasn’t allowed to go out of the yard for a whole week afterward. That almost broke my heart, but it cured me of running away.” Ruth’s merry laugh rang out as she dwelt upon the tragic ending of her great adventure.

Emmy smiled her amusement at the tale. Her lovely face sobered a trifle as she said: “I never had a real childhood like yours. Mine was lived among grown-ups in fashionable hotels all over the civilized world. Not that Father and Mother neglected me. I’ve always been their chief consideration. But we are unfortunate enough to belong to that portion of society known as the ‘idle rich.’ Add to that, my father’s restless temperament, and you can understand why we never take root in any particular bit of soil. Until I came to Hillside, Paris was more like home to me than any other place I ever lived in. We’ve spent several winters there. I always had a governess except the one year I went to boarding school near Paris.”

“It’s funny, but do you know I’ve never asked how you happened to pick out Miss Belaire’s Academy,” commented Ruth, her bright eyes sending out signals of belated curiosity.

“Oh, Mother and I were at Bar Harbor the summer before I came to Hillside, and while we were there, we met a perfectly delightful woman, an intimate friend of Miss Belaire. She recommended the academy at Hillside for me. Just at that time, Mother was quite in favor of letting me go to some good school in America. So she wrote to Miss Belaire, and you know the rest. It was a lucky day for me when I landed at Hillside.”

“And for me,” echoed Ruth fervently. “It’s strange how things happen, isn’t it?”

“Yes, I—” Emma sat up suddenly, her lovely face breaking into smiles. “Discovered!” she exclaimed dramatically.

From the top of the steep bank, that rose to a height of perhaps twenty-five feet behind the narrow strip of white beach, a shrill halloo had split the enchanted silence. On the heights above, three figures in bathing suits were prancing about, accompanying their gyrations with triumphant shouts. Having succeeded in attracting the attention of the recumbent pair on the sand, they charged recklessly down the narrow path to the beach and landed tumultuously beside their quarry.

“Stole a march on us, didn’t you?” cried Jane Pellew, playfully shaking Ruth by the shoulders. “Shall we duck them, girls?”

“Just try it,” challenged Ruth. Wriggling free of Jane’s hold, she sat up in the sand, arms rigid, braced to withstand assault.

“Don’t be so demonstrative, young ladies.” Rising lazily to a sitting posture, Emmy delivered her rebuke in exact imitation of Miss Melby, the prim instructor in mathematics at Miss Belaire’s.

“Let’s duck Miss Melby in effigy,” proposed naughty Frances. “You shall be the effigy, Emmy. Come on, Sarah.”

Amid shrieks of protest from the luckless effigy, she was hustled or rather dragged across the sand and bundled into the water, where the trio participated in a lively tussle. Ruth laughed so immoderately as to relax her own grip on terra firma, and all but shared Emmy’s fate. Jane, realizing her opportunity, promptly seized it, and a friendly conflict ensued between the two that brought them to the water’s edge, breathless and laughing.

“Just as I told you, Ruth,” declared Emmy, as she emerged dripping from the shallows and proceeded to wring the water from her bathing suit. “We were down here basking in a glorious sunshiny world of our own when—I hate to be so brutally frank. Still, I believe I’d rather be brutally frank than frankly brutal.”

“I wonder what she means,” giggled Sarah, in appreciation of Emmy’s word-play.

“Her mind is evidently wandering. It’s not safe for us to go near her. Let’s go swimming. When we come back she may be more rational.”

With a gay laugh, Frances ran into the water, Jane and Sarah following.

“I’ve thought of a lovely name for you,” announced Emmy, when, a little later, the trio emerged from the lake and flung themselves down on the sand. “Ruth, I call you to bear witness that we have with us this morning the Terrible Three.”

“That’s a fine name,” shamelessly applauded Frances. “Come on, Janie and Sarey, let’s go up to the cottage and introduce ourselves to the rest of the crowd. Isn’t true appreciation a lovely thing?”

“By the way, where are they?” asked Ruth. “Certainly they must be awake and stirring. No one could sleep with the Terrible Three abroad and screaming.”

“They were all up when we started out to hunt you and Emmy. That is, all except Blanche.” Jane’s accompanying shrug was eloquent of her feelings.

“Blanche hates to get up in the morning,” observed Emmy. “I’ve already told you girls about what a time her mother used to have waking her when we were at Silver Birch Inn last summer.”

“Very likely she is tired out,” excused Ruth considerately. “She’s not used to long hikes like the one we took yesterday. We’ll have to give her time, children, to grow into our ways.”

Ruth’s pertinent speech brought momentary pause in the conversation. In the minds of all five girls rose a vision of Blanche as she had very recently appeared to them. It was not a vision which carried encouragement in its wake.

“Let’s hope she grows into them soon.” Uncharitable Jane broke the little silence, which had fallen upon the group on the sands, with this satirical comment on Blanche Shirly. Despite her promise to “be a little bit nice to Blanche,” Jane could not resist this one fling at her.

“Leave it to Plain Jane to speak the epilogue,” jibed Frances. “Come on, Equitable Five, let’s go up to the cottage. I am hungry as a hunter. Lucky for us that Marian and Betty were detailed to help Martha with the breakfast. While we are gaily gallivanting along the sands, they are toiling in the kitchen.”

“I am glad we decided yesterday, when we first came, to divide the work. It’s strictly Camp Fire procedure, and besides we wouldn’t feel right to allow Miss Drexal and Martha to do all the housekeeping,” confided Ruth to Emmy as they started up the steep path to the cottage.

“It will be a lark.” Emmy’s eyes sparkled. “Last year, when we went camping, I played at being an ornament. This time I intend to get busy and learn to do various useful things. I am going to earn a whole collection of honor beads as soon as ever I can.”

“You’ve done very well, already,” praised Ruth. “I expect to see you a Torch Bearer before long.”

“If only I can be some day!” Emmy’s impulsive answer betrayed her intense yearning toward the honor.

The business of clambering up the narrow path precluded further confidences. Sarah, Jane and Frances had already reached the top, there to be met by Anne Follett, who had come in search of the missing quintette. In her white middy blouse, and blue uniform skirt and bloomers, Anne looked a typical Camp Fire girl.

“Hurry up, loiterers,” she urged gaily. “Such wet, bedraggled objects can’t expect to eat breakfast in the company of the dry and suitably clothed. Breakfast is almost ready, too.”

“Where’s Blanche?” demanded irrepressible Jane. “Is she up?”

“Perhaps. She wasn’t up yet when I came out here. Maybe she is now.” An unconscious pucker appeared between Anne’s delicately-arched brows, as she made reply. She had left Betty engaged in the difficult task of rousing the slothful Blanche.
“For meals may come and meals may go,
But Blanche sleeps on forever,”

warbled Frances noisily.

“She won’t after that,” grimly predicted Sarah. “I don’t see how she could help hearing you, even though she is such a sleepyhead.”

“Be good, Frances,” admonished Ruth, laughing a little in spite of herself. She was reflecting that a few such shouted pleasantries would send their proposed reform tumbling down in a hurry.

“I am good, gooder, goodest,” stoutly protested the warbler. “Also I have an inspiration. It’s a how-to-be-helpful-to-Blanche stunt. In due season I will reveal it to Jane. I can depend upon her to help me carry it out.”

“Not until I know what it is,” was Jane’s canny stipulation. “Tell me now.”

“No, my child. We are of a too nearness to the cottage. We must observe great caution, or our victim, I mean our candidate for helpfulness, may overhear and thus forfeit a delightful surprise.”

As it happened, the aforesaid candidate had already heard. What Betty had partially accomplished, Frances’ high-pitched lilt had perfectly completed. Blanche had been in the act of lazily sitting up in her bed when Frances’ clear tones had assailed her ears. The tuneful announcement, “But Blanche sleeps on forever,” had acted upon the displeased listener with dynamic force.

Hastily swinging her feet to the floor, she had pattered to the open window where, concealed by the swaying folds of the white scrim curtain, she had angrily listened to the ensuing remarks, which floated plainly to her ears. With the muttered exclamation, “Deceitful things!” she rushed from the window, and began to dress with an energy quite at variance with her usual languor. So Frances Bliss and Jane Pellew were planning to play some hateful trick on her! Very well. Forewarned was forearmed. She would lose no time in showing them that they had best leave her alone. Furthermore, she would impress it upon them in a fashion they would not relish.


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