Read CHAPTER V of The Motor Maids at Sunrise Camp , free online book, by Katherine Stokes, on ReadCentral.com.

In the bog

It was not an unique experience to Billie to be lost. She had once known what it was to be out of sight of every human habitation on a Western plain, and furthermore half dead with hunger and thirst. You will recall how the “Comet” once carried the Motor Maids safely over an old wagon trail through a tropical forest in Florida, and perhaps also you have not forgotten how Billie and Mary Price were lost in the sacred groves of Nikko in Japan. Therefore, Billie was not in the least frightened when Ben confided to her private ear that he had missed the trail.

“We can’t be very much lost,” she answered. “‘Table Top’ is only two miles broad, and we’ll have to reach one side or the other pretty soon.”

“I hope so,” said Ben, “but don’t tell the others yet. If they lose confidence in me, it will only make matters worse. I wasn’t prepared for this bog. I should think Mr. Lupo might have mentioned it.”

“There couldn’t be a trail through a bog anyhow, could there?”

“Sometimes there is. I’ve seen a swamp with just a narrow path running through it. But a swamp path is the sneakiest kind of a trail. It hides itself wherever it can under tall grasses and bushes. Of course, Mr. Lupo didn’t know we were going, or he would certainly have stopped us, but do you suppose Mrs. Lupo understood we were taking this particular trail?”

“She certainly did. I told her myself just before I drew the knife on her.”

Ben smiled at the mental picture of Billie brandishing a carving knife.

“Hey, Ben,” called Percy. “Is this a trail? I think it’s a channel. I’m up to my knees.”

Ben made no reply. He was deeply mortified, and hung his head with a kind of animal-like humiliation.

“What’s the matter, old man?” demanded Percy, putting his arm affectionately on his friend’s shoulder. “You look like my collie did when I caught him sucking eggs.”

“I’ve missed the trail,” Ben burst out with a choke in his voice.

The others had gathered around now. Their shoes were wet, their stockings torn with brambles, and their skirts splattered and stained with grasses and the juices of wild berries. But they were a valiant little company, even Mary Price, the weakest and frailest among them, and the sight of Ben’s unhappiness and remorse only added to their courage.

“It’s all right, Ben,” said Elinor. “We’ll find the trail again. We’re obliged to. There is the mountain right over there. Why not walk until we get to it?”

“I’m afraid it looks nearer than it is,” said Ben, “and besides, it’s not Sunrise Mountain. It’s Indian Head. I thought some time ago we were getting well away from it, but these infernal bogs are so deceiving.”

“I move we start on,” put in Billie, briskly. “We’re obliged to get somewhere some time.”

“I’ll put it to the vote, then,” announced Ben. “Shall we go toward Indian Head or Sunrise? We are nearer to Indian Head, and we may strike a farm and hire a horse and wagon to take us home.”

This seemed a good suggestion, and they accordingly turned their faces toward the mountain, the rugged outline of which resembled the profile of an Indian.

Anything to get on solid dry land again was the unspoken thought of the six friends. Once on dry surfaces and out of the level treacherous monotony of the bog, they felt they might be equal to anything. For nearly two hours they worked their way through the morass without making any apparent progress toward the mountain. And now the sun was sinking behind the Western range. Ben watched the lessening rays with feelings very much like despair.

“If I had been alone or with some of the fellows it wouldn’t have mattered,” he thought, “but with the girls ”

In a little while Table Top took on the appearance of a vast plain shut in by high walls. It was a weird, lonely place.

“It reminds me of the Valley of the Shadow of Death in ’Pilgrim’s Progress’,” Mary whispered to Ben, who was helping her over the rough, uneven ground. “Don’t you remember the Wilderness that Christian had to pass through before he reached the Celestial City?”

“I’m afraid I never read ’Pilgrim’s Progress’,” Ben confessed in grief-stricken tones, “but I can see what you mean, and the white mist that’s rolling in looks like a troop of spirits.”

“Would any person or persons care to hear me sing some cheerful ditty?” asked Percy, and he forthwith began to sing in a rollicking tenor voice:

“’It was a robber’s daughter and her name was Alice Brown;
Her father was the terror of a small Italian town,
Her mother was a foolish, weak, but amiable old thing,
But it isn’t of her parents that I’m going for to sing.

“’As Alice was a-sitting at her window sill one day,
A beautiful young gentleman he chanced to pass that way,
She cast her eyes upon him and he looked so good and true
That she thought, “I could be happy with a gentleman like you."’”

“Help! Help!” screamed Nancy. “Oh, Ben, Oh, Percy, Oh, Billie, save me!”

“What is the matter?” they cried.

“Don’t come near me,” she interrupted. “Don’t, don’t! Keep away. They’ll kill you, too.”

Nancy was jumping up and down in a perfect agony of fear, wringing her hands one moment and tearing at her skirts the next.

“It’s a hornet’s nest,” exclaimed Ben. “Keep still, Nancy. Don’t run. They won’t sting you if you are perfectly still.”

But it was needless to tell Nancy not to run. What with her narrow skirt and the spongy ground she could scarcely walk.

“There are dozens of them crawling inside my skirt,” she sobbed, “and you tell me to keep still.”

“Don’t be frightened, Nancy-Bell. I’ll stand with you,” announced Percy, boldly offering himself as a sacrifice to hornets, as he drew Nancy’s arm through his.

“Come on, hornets,” he cried. “Sting a man. Don’t attack a helpless girl.”

The others could not keep from laughing at the picture of Nancy and Percy standing arm in arm in the wilderness.

“You remind me of a bridal couple walking up the aisle,” exclaimed Billie. But Nancy was too frightened to withdraw her arm from Percy’s even at this witticism. She leaned on him in an attitude of relief and extreme confidence.

“Didn’t I tell you I would be her staff before the day was over?” he remarked with a grin.

“I’ve been stung in a dozen different places,” sobbed Nancy.

“Stand still,” ordered Ben. “They will leave you and go back to their nest if you are quiet.”

And as he had predicted, the hornets did leave off their attack and return to their home, but not until Percy had been stung several times without a murmur. For the sake of Nancy Brown, he would voluntarily have stepped into any number of hornets’ nests.

At last the procession started on. In the misty twilight, they were a company of gray shadows moving silently along. When people are lost, really and unquestionably lost, their true natures rise to the surface: if there is any selfishness hidden away, it develops into complainings and reproaches; the faint-hearted make unhappy predictions; the lazy ones get tired before they have any right to. Ben had always admired the Motor Maids, but never more than now when he saw them quiet and courageous in the face of a night in the swamp. Nancy might shriek over hornets and snakes, but she would never confess to being tired or frightened. Not once had they complained or reproached him, and now when the will-o’-the-wisps began their ghostly dance through the mists, and the great wall of mountain loomed up in front of them black and threatening, it seemed to poor Ben that it would make it easier for him to bear his sorrows if some one would only make one little complaint.

It was Mary who gave out first. She was just sinking to her knees when Billie called out cheerfully:

“I see a light and it’s not a will-o’-the-wisp.”

There indeed was a light sending out a kindly beam in the darkness, and while they watched it, it went out.

“Listen,” exclaimed Elinor, “I hear the music again.” There came to them the sweet fairy notes of the zither.

“Halloo!” called Ben again and again, and presently the others joined in the chorus.

“What is it?” answered a voice quite near, and a figure bounded toward them through the mists.

“We have been lost,” answered Ben. “Do you think you could let these young ladies rest in your cabin while we get a vehicle and drive them home?”

“Yes,” answered the voice, and Billie then recognized the mountain girl who had sold them the blackberries that Mrs. Lupo had pitched out.

“Come this way,” she added, and they presently realized they were on rising ground and that the morass with its glimmering will-o’-the-wisps and its floating veils of thin mist was now well below them. After a stiff climb up a rocky path they reached a little cabin built in a clearing, commanding a wide vista of the treacherous Table Top and the mountains beyond. At the door of the cabin sat the zither player, his hands traveling aimlessly over the strings while he listened to the approaching footsteps.

“Father,” called the girl, “visitors!”

“Eh? Eh?” answered the man. “Physicians, with medicines? Will they save her? Come in! Come in!”

They filed slowly into the cabin wondering what sort of a person it was sitting in the darkness and calling for physicians. The girl struck a match and lighted two candles, and at least three of the visitors noticed that the candlesticks were of silver, tall and graceful in design, and as bright as rubbing could make them.

The father like the daughter was tall and slender, with the same dark blue eyes, although his had a strange unseeing look in them. His hair was very thick and almost white, his frame spare to emaciation, but he carried himself erect and his shoulders were broad and well developed.

“Make a fire, father,” the girl ordered, and he obediently left the room, presently returning with an armful of wood.

Oh, the joy of sinking to the floor in front of that warm blaze! Ben consulted with the girl at the door of the cabin, and the strange father, rubbing his hands and smiling absently, remarked with an accent that was very different from Mr. Lupo’s or any of the natives thereabouts:

“Not half bad, this fire, eh? Rather cheerful on a dull night.”

Presently his daughter began preparing supper on a little wood stove in the lean-to back of the house. Swiftly and silently, with Ben’s assistance, she made coffee, scrambled eggs and fried bacon.

“You may set the table,” she said to Percy, pointing to some shelves at one end of the cabin.

Percy obediently placed on the plain deal table six blue plates, nicked and cracked in a dozen places, but undoubtedly of Canton; also in a tin box he found knives and forks and spoons, all shining as brightly as the candlesticks, and, he felt perfectly certain, all of silver. It was necessary to revive Mary with some hot coffee before she could eat a mouthful, and after she had taken a little food, Ben hoisted her in his arms and carried her into a small adjoining room where he laid her on a cot; all this under the supervision of the young mistress of the cabin.

There was no attempt at conversation while they satisfied their ravenous appetites, but later, when the wanderers had risen and Billie was consulting with Ben and Percy what was best to do, the father pointed to Nancy sitting in the darkest corner of the room in a small huddled heap.

“Rosalind has come out of the Forest of Arden,” he said.

All eyes were turned on Nancy who shrank into the shadow. Suddenly Percy seized one of the tall candlesticks and held it over her head.

“Why, Nancy-Bell,” he cried, “what has happened to your ”

Nancy spread her hands over her lap and turned her large blue eyes to them with a piteous expression.

“I took it off and threw it away in the swamp,” she said tremulously. “I did hate the thing so, and it was full of hornets and not big enough to take a decent step in anyhow. I hoped no one would notice.”

They were tired, but not too tired to laugh.

“If I had been dying, I should have died laughing,” Billie often afterwards remarked in telling of this incident.

Nancy, minus her narrow velveteen skirt, was really a beguiling figure in blue pongee knickerbockers. The straight velveteen jacket reached just below her waist, and with her rumpled curls and weary expression she might easily have been taken for Rosalind, just arrived at the Forest of Arden with Celia and Touchstone.

But the wonder of it was how a half-crazed mountaineer could know anything about the greatest comedy in the world. This did not trouble them until afterwards, however.

“Billie,” observed Ben presently, “I’ve been consulting with with this young lady here. She knows the trail through the swamp and has consented to guide me back to the camp to-night. We may be able to make it in less than two hours by a short cut, she says, and we ought to start at once. Miss Campbell will be half wild with uneasiness. As soon as it’s daylight, I’ll come back by the road in the ‘Comet.’ There are some bearskins and blankets. You can all put up here for the night. Percy will stay of course.”

“But isn’t that a great deal to ask of you, to take that long trip to-night?” asked Billie gratefully, turning to the girl.

“It is nothing,” she answered shortly and set about lighting a lantern. Then she beckoned to Ben and they silently left the cabin.

In a few moments, the father, who had been smoking a pipe at the cabin door, took one of the silver candlesticks from the mantel.

“Good night,” he said courteously. “I trust you will have a pleasant rest after your journey. I presume you have been shown your rooms?”

“Yes, sir,” answered Percy.

The man paused at the door of his bedroom at the other side of the cabin.

“I trust the physician will come soon,” he said. “With luck he may reach there before I do.”

“That’s the man who sent me to the old ruined hotel,” whispered Percy. “He’s certainly touched, but he’s harmless.”

They found two steamer rugs and several blankets in a heap on a bench, left there by the mountain girl for their comfort; and it was not long before they lay in a circle around the fire, sound asleep.