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

The return

With the exception of her three best friends, Billie Campbell had never met people who pleased her so much on short acquaintance as the Hooks and their guest. It had not taken them half an hour to bridge over the gap of unfamiliarity.

“What is it?” she asked of Maggie Hook, Richard’s small, whimsical sister, black haired, black eyed, with quick alert movements like a bird’s.

“I can tell you exactly the reason,” replied Maggie. “It’s because we all belong to the road. There is a bond between us. We go Gypsying in our van and you go Gypsying in your car. We be all of one blood like Kipling’s Mowgli and the animals in the jungle.”

“Only we aren’t the real thing as much as you,” said Billie modestly. “The ‘Comet’ is a dear old thing, but he’s not a house.”

“You wouldn’t enjoy it if he were,” said Maggie. “A motor traveling van would never do. You see the point of this kind of life is that it’s lazy and contemplative. We just amble along and it doesn’t matter whether we make ten miles or five. We are not attempting long distance records. We are just getting intimate with the ups and downs of the country; the streams and rivers; the little valleys and bits of green by the roadside. Sometimes, if we find a place that’s secluded enough, a little glen or a grove that screens off the road, we stay there for several days.”

“But what do you do?”

“We all do the things we like best. Richard reads and takes long walks or fishes, if there is a stream. I clean the van from top to bottom and polish everything up and bake a cake in the little oven. Then I darn all the stockings and mend the clothes.”

Billie laughed.

“You’re not a Gypsy,” she said, “if you are a black-eyed wanderer. They never mend or clean anything. But what does Miss Swinnerton like to do? Is she fond of housework, too?”

“Amy? No, not specially. She sketches and paints in water colors, and botanizes, and looks for bits of stones and rocks which she examines through a glass, and translates French and generally potters around. She’s always busy. She can do anything from making an omelette to painting a picture.”

Billie turned her eyes half wistfully toward the plump brown-haired Amy Swinnerton. She felt suddenly very inefficient and worthless.

“I can’t do anything,” she said, frowning. “I’m ashamed of myself.”

“You can run a motor car and keep it in order,” answered the new friend. “I never knew another girl who could.”

“That’s ground into me by experience. But I hate sewing. I’m not a good cook and I can’t draw or paint or play the piano. We met a girl this summer who has been brought up in a cabin on the mountain and has never been to school in her life, who knows a lot more than I do.”

Billie told what little she knew of the strange history of Phoebe.

“It would make a wonderful story,” observed Maggie. “I should like to put it into a book.”

“Do you write, too?” asked Billie eagerly.

Maggie blinked her dark, bright eyes.

“When you see my name appear in book reviews and magazines and things, then you’ll know I write,” she replied.

This conversation occurred the next morning at breakfast. Billie had risen at dawn and repaired the “Comet” and the motor party was soon now to start on its homeward journey.

Richard Hook presently joined his sister and Billie. Sitting cross-legged on the ground at their feet, he munched a bacon sandwich and sipped black coffee from a tin cup. He reminded Billie of one of Shakespeare’s wise fools. All he lacked were the cap and bells. His whimsical, humorous eyes were rather far apart; his dark hair, cropped close, stood up straight over his forehead. His nose was distinguished in shape and his flexible mouth turned up at the corners. He talked slowly with a sort of twang like a farmer from the east coast and there was a kind of hidden humor under whatever he said. He had charming old-world manners, and an old-fashioned way of saying “I thank you,” or “Permit me, ma’am,” or “At your service, ma’am.” He was really quite a delightful person, they unanimously decided; and so was his sister and so was her friend.

Billie wondered what Richard Hook’s work was; or whether perhaps he was still in college. She wondered a great many things about him, and she felt quite sure that he was not well off. Presently she said:

“It’s too bad when we are all just beginning to be friends that we must part so soon. Why can’t you turn old Dobbin right about face and come back and see us at Camp Sunrise?”

“Why not, indeed?” answered Richard.

“Do come,” urged Billie, never dreaming that in giving this invitation she had been moved by something stronger than her own friendly wish to know more of these nice people, and that destiny itself had a hand in the business.

Richard Hook took a little calendar from his pocket and contemplated it gravely.

“Another month has perished with her moon,” he remarked. “We’re in August, little sister. Did you realize that? I see no reason why we shouldn’t travel toward Sunrise Camp before ”

“Before ” repeated Maggie, and the brother and sister exchanged a swift glance.

“Then you do accept,” exclaimed Billie joyfully.

“With the greatest pleasure,” answered Richard, “if you think old Dobbin can climb the hill.”

“Of course he can,” replied Billie.

“But, Richard, do you think we dare?” asked Maggie in a low voice.

Richard’s mouth turned up at the corners and his eyes gave a humorous blink.

“We dare anything,” he said. “Pray excuse this little aside, Miss Billie. It’s only that we are obliged to consider certain complications that arise to vex us at times. I think we can easily arrange to go to Camp Sunrise.”

Billie was more certain than ever that money was the complication. But surely that was an inexpensive way of spending one’s vacation, provided one owned the van and the horse.

“How much longer does your vacation last, Mr. Hook?” she asked.

“It depends. My boss is a very notionate old party. He might let me go wandering on like this for several weeks longer or he might suddenly decide to send for me, and I should have to go hiking back in the midst of my holiday.”

Maggie laughed, and Billie wondered what kind of work this unusual young man did that sent out sudden calls in the very middle of hard-earned vacations.

However, it was arranged that the caravanners should meander back toward Sunrise Camp and in the course of time stop there for a visit.

“They are delightful young people,” Miss Campbell said. “I don’t know who they are, I’m sure, nor what the young man does, but I find them quite the most charming young people with the exception of my own that I ever met.”

“It’s rather strange about his work,” remarked Dr. Hume. “I don’t know what he does now, but he wishes above all things to be a farmer, he informed me. He’s always looking for farms as he journeys along the road. That’s one of the reasons why he got the van, in order to see the country and decide where he’d like best to locate.”

They were not so merry on the journey back as they had been on the trip of the morning before. For one reason those who had slept in open camp had not had off their clothes for twenty-four hours, and all of them felt the crying need of baths after the two dusty journeys. But there was another reason besides these physical ones. They were beginning to feel conscience-stricken about Alberdina. How had she taken their long, unexplained absence? Would she still be singing “Ach, mein lieber Augustine!” when they returned, and would there be a long clothes line bowed under the weight of clean white linen bleaching in the sun ready to be ironed? So restless did they grow under these speculations, that they did not pause for lunch and, urging the “Comet” to the limit of his speed, they reached home a little before noon. Alberdina was there. Thank heavens for that. They could see her plainly as they turned the curve in the road. But her appearance was not promising. Perched on her head was that absurd comedy hat. She was sitting down, quite low, on the iron-bound trunk, in fact, leaning on her large cotton umbrella, as one prepared to depart on a journey.

If you have ever lived in a remote spot with an uncertain maid, you will recall how apologetic you were to her for your own shortcomings.

“Oh, dear, what shall I say to her?” exclaimed Miss Campbell. “She looks as if she were ready to go this minute.”

“Why can’t we tell her the truth? We simply couldn’t help it,” said Billie. “She ought not to be angry over something we couldn’t control.”

“You don’t know them, but I’ll just brazen it out. I know we’re entirely dependent on the creature for the comforts of life, but I won’t let her bully me. Well, Alberdina,” she called, as the car drew up at the camp door, “have you been lonesome?”

“Lonesome?” repeated Alberdina, not moving from her ridiculous trunk. “I no time haf had for lonesomes. Many peoples to dis house come crazy peoples men and vimmen, hein? They haf my moneys took already yesterday! Ach, Gott! They haf me tied wid ropes. They have nogged and nogged in the night times. Dos vimmens, I hear the boice already yet. I no lig dees place. I to my home go bag to-day. Dey have robbed dis house. Dey haf made to turn red dos vite clothes.”

In dead silence they descended from the motor car and filed into the house to investigate Alberdina’s wild, incoherent story.

There were certainly signs of an invasion in the locker rooms, everything tipsy turvy on the floor. Alberdina showed them the ropes that had bound her. With rivers of tears she mentioned her loss of ten dollars.

“And the red clothes?” asked Billie doubtfully.

This had been reserved to the last by the wily-innocent Swiss girl. With cries of sorrow they beheld their underclothing and blouses all tinged a deep pink.

Suddenly Miss Campbell marched up and stood in front of the girl with a very cold steely look in her cerulean eyes.

“Answer me this instant,” she said, “and speak the truth. You boiled those clothes with a red silk handkerchief?”

Alberdina broke down and wept copiously.

“I knew not about dos red,” she exclaimed.

“But when you saw the clothes were turning red, why didn’t you take them off the fire?” asked Billie.

“I did nod see.”

“Not see? And why not, pray?” demanded Miss Campbell.

“I was asleeb and when I wog, I was wit rope tied.”

“Who cut the rope?” asked Dr. Hume, beginning to doubt the whole story.

“A gentlemans who mag to play music on the zither.”

“Phoebe’s father!” exclaimed the girls.

They glanced at each other with a wild surmise.

“It couldn’t have been ”

“No, no, I’m sure he never would ”

“Hush,” said Ben, “here comes Phoebe.”

The mountain girl, looking pale and distraught, her hair flying, her face and hands scratched from contact with brambles, rushed into their midst.

“My father,” she cried. “He has been lost all night. I have looked and looked and I cannot find him. Oh, if he should be in the marshes ”

She fell on her knees at Billie’s feet and broke into sobbing.