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

Comrades of the road

Already the scarlet sumac lit the road with its flaming torch, and here and there on the mountainside a flash of scarlet like a redbird’s wing appeared among the masses of foliage. Autumn was at hand, the autumn of the Adirondacks, when the evening air is nipped with the hint of frosts to come and the sky is a deeper blue than ever it is at mid-summer.

Summer comrades of the road may not linger in the hills at this enchanting season. There is work to be done in the valleys where the busy people live. In a few days now the shutters of log cabin camps will be closed and traveling vans will be sent to winter quarters.

The boys and girls who have lingered around the campfire, singing songs and telling stories under the great harvest moon, all comrades of the road, must turn their thoughts to soberer things than roasting apples and school day reminiscences. The grown people, too, stretched out in their steamer chairs, have been idling away the hours. Vaguely, as in a mist, a great surgeon recalls that there is a hospital somewhere he has been neglecting for weeks. An engineer is thinking of his tunnel only just started through the heart of a mountain. A little old spinster, fair and fresh as a rose, recalls with a start that for many weeks she has been sleeping under the stars and eating strange food on a bare deal table; and down in the valley her beautiful old home, filled with memories of her girlhood, is waiting to shelter her.

Near the spinster sits a tall man with a delicate, nervous face. He sits with folded arms, his eyes fixed on the back wall of mountains across the valley. He is thinking not of the future of the little home in Surrey that awaits him, but of the twenty black years behind him, as blank and empty as the years of a prisoner spent in solitary confinement. Sometimes, with a curious, startled gaze, he turns his eyes toward his daughter, seated in the circle with the young people.

While we have been taking this leisurely view of our friends, Alberdina has approached, smiling broadly over a great tray of cakes and ginger ale. Mrs. Lupo is hovering in the background.

“It was that skirt of the young lady’s that brought me really back to my senses,” Mrs. Lupo had confessed to Miss Campbell. “I thought the young lady had sunk in the mire. The misery that come to me then made me see things different; that and the prayer you taught me. Lupo, he’s workin’ now in the valley and when the camp is broke up, I guess we’ll forgive and forgit.”

Miss Campbell, glancing at Mrs. Lupo now in the background, wondered if that awful memory of the carving knife was not a dream.

“Papa,” Billie called from her place near the campfire, “you mustn’t forget to send pounds and pounds of really good coffee to old Granny, the herb gatherer, enough to last her all winter.”

“I’ll make a note of it, daughter. Are there any other old parties you wish to pension off with coffee or tea this winter?”

“No, papa. But I’d like to keep old Granny in coffee for the rest of her life because she loves it so.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” called Percy, rising and flourishing an apple on the end of a long stick, “I made a discovery this morning through a letter from a friend, and I’ve been saving it until this moment to spring it on the Motor Maids and company.”

“About whom is this discovery?” asked Richard uneasily, raising his eyebrows and blinking his humorous eyes.

“It’s about two impostors who travel around in a little wooden house on wheels and live like Gypsies ”

“Oh, dear,” cried Maggie, “now what have you been finding out about us, pray?”

“I know,” said Richard. “You’ve found that we are really Gypsies and only pretending to be amateurs.”

“Nothing of the sort. I’ve discovered that you have been traveling under a disguise ”

“My name is certainly ‘Hook,’” put in Richard.

“And mine is Maggie,” piped his sister.

“Maybe so,” went on Percy. “That’s not the disguise. You’ve been wearing the cloak of poverty, when you are really as rich as cream, the pair of you, with an old grandfather in England who has a title and castles and much pleasing property; and every now and then the old grandpapa sends for you and you have to give up Gypsying and fly.”

“And he’s your boss who’s always interfering with your vacations?” interrupted Billie.

“And you just pretend to be poor for the novelty of the experience?” asked Nancy. “I wish I could pretend to be rich in the same way.”

“But we are Gypsies at heart,” put in Maggie, “and I do love to scrub and cook. Grandpapa’s is so dull.”

“And where does Grandpapa think you are now? Not in a traveling van, I’ll wager,” said Miss Campbell.

Maggie laughed.

“We are supposed to be visiting Aunt Lucretia. She’s our American aunt, Papa’s sister, who brought us up, before Grandpapa decided to recognize us. You see Mamma would marry Papa, who was poor then, and came from Maine. He looked just like Richard and I don’t blame her. Grandpapa lets us come every summer to visit Aunt Lucretia now.”

“And where does Aunt Lucretia think you are?”

“Why, visiting Amy Swinnerton.”

Who could keep from laughing over this brother and sister who loved the life on the road and the campfire?

“Thank fortune, I’m not in line for the title,” Richard whispered to Billie under cover of the conversation of the others, “and Grandpapa or no Grandpapa, I shall buy that farm, do you guess where?”

“I can’t imagine,” answered Billie.

“In West Haven. I’ve never seen it, but that is the place you like best, isn’t it?”

“I think I like the traveling van best,” answered Billie irrelevantly, “that is, next to the ‘Comet,’” she added with a sudden feeling of loyalty toward the faithful motor car.

“The traveling van would be a part of it and the ‘Comet,’ too, for that matter.”

Then he calmly slipped his hand over hers under the folds of her scarlet cape.

“Shall we be comrades of the road?” he whispered.

“Some day, perhaps,” Billie answered, not taking her hand away, but glancing shyly at her father, who was watching her face in the fire light.

Then she smiled at Richard. After all, she was past eighteen and Richard, well, Richard was the most delightful person she had ever met in all her life.

Let us take leave of our young people before they go back to the valleys where work is waiting for them. Brown and strong and happy, they sit in a circle talking and laughing, as boys and girls will, under the light of the harvest moon.

While they are still comrades of the road, we will bid them good-night.

Good-night, little Mary, calm and sweet, watching the stars twinkling through the tree tops. Good-night to you, Nancy, dimpling and smiling, while Percy whispers in your ear; and Elinor, too, talking quietly and happily to Ben. And now a last good-night to Billie, best of comrades, kindest and truest of friends.