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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » The Camp Fire Girls at Driftwood Heights » CHAPTER XIX A PAIR OF INNOCENT MISCHIEF-MAKERS
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CHAPTER XIX A PAIR OF INNOCENT MISCHIEF-MAKERS
Meanwhile, Jane and Frances had rushed gleefully off on their arrow-hunting quest. Jane’s impetuous method of dashing into things, coupled with Frances’ love of mischief, made them boon companions, despite their readiness to argue on sight. Jane’s merry challenge, “I’ll beat you to the ledge!” sent them crashing through brush and bush with a will that carried them several yards past it.

Their mad dash ended in catastrophe for Frances. Close at Jane’s heels, an avenging slap in the face from the recoiling branch of a stunted sapling which Jane’s headlong flight had rudely set in motion, caused Frances to stumble and pitch forward into a heap of brush. Her slam-bang invasion resulted in dislodging a peaceful garter-snake, which wriggled indignantly off almost across Jane’s feet, causing her to execute a wild leap. “Ugh, a horrid snake!” she shrieked. “You did that, Frances Bliss!”

“You snapped that limb in my face and made me fall,” counter-accused Frances. Whereupon both girls burst into laughter.

“Come on. We’re clear past the ledge. If we don’t hurry, we won’t have time to look for arrow-heads.” Jane reached forth a helping hand to haul the still-chuckling Frances to her feet.

Still hand in hand, the two trotted toward the out-cropping rocky ledge. Straight across it lay a fallen tree, scorched black and white by lightning, the greater part of its dead length extending into space. Stepping upon it, Frances ran fearlessly along toward the edge of the rocks. At every step the dry, rotten wood gave forth a crunching sound, accompanied by an ominous quivering of its entire length. Though she could not know it, it was on this very account that Ruth had forborne exploring the ledge.

“Look out!” Simultaneous with Jane’s warning cry, came a rattle of stones. Frances made a wild backward spring for safety. Precariously balanced, as was the tree across the ledge, Frances’ weight on it had served to dislodge a crumbling bit of rock on which it had partially rested. Down into the hollow below it catapulted, its brittle boughs, snapping and splintering as it descended. The terrific thud, with which it landed in the hollow, was echoed by a long, low rumble, a great quivering of the ledge itself, then a second deafening crash.

Well back from the scene of disaster, Jane and Frances clung to each other, speechless with terrified amazement.

It was Jane who first managed to gasp: “What—what was it?”

In spite of the fact that she had narrowly escaped accompanying the tree on its downward career, Frances answered with a slightly hysterical laugh. “You must have caused an earthquake, Plain Jane.”

“I? You mean you! You started the tree, and I guess the tree did the rest. Something besides that tree certainly dropped. Dare we go over and see just what happened? Come on!”

Very gingerly the two went forward. To all appearance, the ledge of rock was still intact. Securing a thick stick, Frances went cautiously forward, striking the stony formation ahead of her with every step she took. Where it jutted off into space she halted, and kneeling, peered over. Emulating her bold example, Jane was soon kneeling beside her.

“All I can see is a great lot of stones and one big rock,” declared Frances. “Maybe the tree jarred the under part of this rock loose. We’d better move back. The rest of it might go. That second terrible crash must have been caused by that big rock when it fell. The rest of the folks must have heard it. Hark!”

A long shrill halloo assailed their ears. Again it sounded; this time nearer.

“They heard. They’re calling. We’d better go.” Jane sprang to her feet and set off through the woods, Frances following after.

Halfway to the spot where the party had stopped to rest, Jane and Frances dashed into the midst of an excited sextette.

“What caused that frightful crash? Were you girls very close to it? Where are Ruth and Blanche?” White-faced and anxious-eyed, Miss Drexal fairly hurled her questions at the laggards.

“Ruth and Blanche?” Frances echoed, staring at the Guardian. “Why, I don’t know. They weren’t with us!”

“We almost got caught in an earthquake. Frances declares it was one, and that I caused it,” broke in Jane gaily. “Of course she’d—”

“This is not a time to joke,” interrupted Miss Drexal curtly. “The question is, where are Ruth and Blanche. They were with us until a few minutes ago. We were all standing together looking at a flock of crows. I had been telling the girls about a pet crow I once owned. It was only after I had finished that we noticed they were missing. Then we guessed that they had gone to find you two. Tell me quickly what happened over there.”

“That’s queer!” Jane’s gaiety had vanished. She now looked very solemn. In a subdued voice, she recounted what had occurred at the ledge.

“You might both have been killed.” Miss Drexal looked uncompromisingly stern. “I blame myself for allowing you to go. Now we must find the girls. I can’t understand their running off in this strange fashion. It’s not in the least like Ruth.”

“Oh, they can’t have gone far,” encouraged Anne. “Ruth wouldn’t dream of straying away purposely after all you’ve said. Blanche—”

“Make up your mind Blanche is to blame,” asserted the too-candid Jane. “She’s been sulking ever since she tried to upset the canoe this morning and Ruth spoke to her about it. I promised Ruth not to mention it, but I think I ought to tell you. They—well—Blanche may have said something horrid to Ruth while you folks were watching those crows, then started off into the woods just to be mean. Ruth is so—so—good. Of course, she’d run after Blanche and try to put her in a good humor. Ruth has stood a lot from her since we came up here. I don’t know why Blanche is so down on her. I only know she is. I haven’t been blind,” was Jane’s energetic conclusion.

“I must have been,” was the Guardian’s dry comment. “I had no idea such a state of affairs existed. Later on, Jane, I shall ask you to tell me all about what happened in the canoe. Just now we must devote ourselves to finding the girls. We must cover the ground around here in all directions, shouting their names together. As neither you nor Frances saw them, we will first try an opposite direction from the ledge. It is now almost four o’clock. We must work thoroughly but speedily. We can’t risk being caught in this wilderness after dark. But I am sure they will hear us and answer.” It seemed impossible to the Guardian that sturdy, capable Ruth would remain long lost. She was competent to pilot both herself and Blanche.

The search begun, for over an hour the anxious seekers tramped sturdily over the portion of the island they sought to cover, stopping frequently to send forth long, shrill halloos. As is usually the case in going it blind, they expended their greatest effort in a wrong direction. By the time they had returned to the spot from which they had started, the shadows had commenced to thicken in the woods. The day had dawned with a lavish display of sunshine, but by mid-afternoon considerable of its glory had been obscured by banks of grayish clouds in the west. Though no rain had fallen, the glimpses of sky which the foresters caught between the trees were not encouraging. In them they read an early twilight, followed possibly by storm. To go back to Wohelo Wigwam without Ruth and Blanche was hardly to be considered. Neither was the prospect of spending a night on the island, unsheltered, particularly pleasant.

“What shall we do? Where can they be?” quavered Anne, when at a quarter past five the searchers halted, despair written on every face.

“I think we’d do well to go straight to the lake shore before it gets darker,” proposed Marian. “Blue Wolf will be there. He can find them. I know he can. Don’t you remember, he said if any of us got lost he’d find us? The sooner we see him and tell him, the sooner he’ll start to hunt for them. We can’t do any good just staying here after dark.”

“It’s dreadful to think of leaving them behind to—” Betty’s voice broke.

“If any harm has come to Ruth, I’ll never forgive Blanche Shirly.” All the pent-up emotion of Emmy’s Latin temperament vibrated in her tones. “I don’t care much what happens to her.”

“Neither do I,” flared Jane hotly. “I despise her! She—”

“Girls, girls!” Miss Drexal held up her hand. “Remember you belong to the Camp Fire. I cannot allow you to talk so of Blanche. You may live to bitterly regret such harsh words. We can only hope that no harm has come to either Ruth or Blanche. The safety of Blanche is as important as the safety of Ruth. I am ashamed of both of you!”

“I’m sorry for what I said,” apologized Jane contritely.

Emmy, however, was silent. Love of Ruth made it very hard for her to forgive one who had wronged her idol. In her own mind, she laid the blame for the whole affair at Blanche’s door. Like Jane, she had not been asleep to the churlish fashion in which Blanche had treated Ruth all along.

“I think, with Marian, that our wisest plan will be to go straight to the shore before dark. We shall hardly make it, at that.” Miss Drexal endeavored to hide her own gloomy apprehensions. “I am confident that Blue Wolf will succeed where we have failed. Forward march, now, and try to keep up your spirits. We are doing the only sensible thing to be done under the circumstances.”

It was a weary and heart-sick company that stumbled its way through the growing twilight of the forest, finally arriving at the edge of the lake almost a quarter of a mile below where they had landed. Out under the open sky it was still fairly light, yet by the time they had plodded sadly along the shore toward the point where the two canoes were moored, the shadows of evening were closing down upon the island.

Fully expecting to see the Indian already there and waiting for them, it was a crushing disappointment to all to come upon only the two canoes. On him was based their one hope of finding the lost girls. He had promised to return before sunset. Now it was almost dark and he, too, was among the missing. Undoubtedly something had happened to delay him, Miss Drexal assured. He was not one who would wilfully break his word. He was likely to heave in sight at any moment.

At her suggestion, the dispirited party applied themselves to gathering fuel for a fire while there was still a little light. The Guardian’s patent anxiety that enough be secured to keep the fire going indefinitely, hinted at the dire possibility that they might have to remain on the island until late in the evening, perhaps all night. While the fuel was being brought, she and Marian took the pitcher, which Ruth had carried to the spring that morning, and went for water, guided only by a small flash light which the Guardian carried. The fire having been started in their absence, she went briskly to work to make coffee, insisting, in spite of forlorn pleas of non-hunger, that the remaining food in the packs should be eaten, reserving a portion against the return of the missing girls. All in all, it was a dolorous meal they managed to choke down, seated about the glowing Camp Fire. The coffee alone was welcomed. Tired out, as the girls were, it put a little new life into them. Seven, eight, nine o’clock came and went; yet Blue Wolf did not appear. Fortunately for them, their fear of a storm had not been verified. Conversation had long since languished among them, gradually dying out almost entirely. The very sound of their own voices oppressed them.

When at eleven o’clock there was still no sign of the guide, Miss Drexal said quietly: “It looks as though we are in for spending the night here. If Blue Wolf were to come now, we could not paddle back to the camp in the dark, even if we wished to, which, of course, we don’t. As it is, we shall have to keep the fire going, and sit around it until morning. We have no blankets, and it would be unwise to think of lying on the ground. It is too damp.”

An assenting murmur rose that quickly subsided into heavy silence. It was shattered by a stifled sob from Emmy. “I—can’t—help—it!” she cried out brokenly. “It’s—too—awful! Oh, Ruth, dear, where are—you?”

But only the voice of the night wind in the trees answered with a mournful sigh. Somewhere in the blackness behind them, the unyielding forest was jealously guarding its prey.


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