"Take it easy, Davy," said his Uncle Dunston. "We don't want any accidents away out here from any garage."
"I want to keep Ben in sight. He's going it pretty lively," answered Dave.
"Yes, it's a wonder his father doesn't hold him back a little. But Mr. Basswood said he was anxious to reach Rayville, and that's at least twenty miles farther."
Ahead were several turns in the road, and at these Dave lost sight of the car ahead. Being cloudy, it was quite dark on the roadway, especially where the trees lined the highway, and soon Dave found it necessary to turn on the headlights. Then he sounded his horn, expecting to get a reply from Ben, but to his surprise none came.
"Do you know what I think he's trying to do?" said our hero, hastily. "I believe he's trying to run away from us."
"It's a foolish thing to attempt, Dave, on a strange road like this," answered Dunston Porter, gravely. "I should think Mr. Basswood would stop it."
Presently they were climbing a long hill. The road wound in and out among the trees, and at one place the grade was so steep that Dave had to throw the clutch into low gear. He and his uncle listened intently, and from a distance heard the chug-chug of the other car a long way ahead.
"Say, this is some climb, believe me!" cried Roger, as they made another turn, and Dave found it advisable to come down to low gear.
"What will you do if you can't make it, Dave?" queried Phil.
"Oh, we'll make it—don't worry," was the answer. "I threw into low gear just for safety's sake. This road twists so a fellow can't see fifty feet ahead of him."
"I don't hear the other car any more," declared Roger, a moment later.
To this Dave did not reply. There was another turn ahead, and a particularly hard climb over some rather rough rocks. Then, with a jolt, the big touring-car came out on the top of the hill. Here was another turn, and then began a sharp descent.
"Stop here a minute, Dave!" ordered the youth's uncle, and then, as our hero brought the machine to a standstill, he added: "That's rather a bad road ahead, and you had better give the other car a chance to get down before we try to make it."
"A good idea, Uncle Dunston. We'll wait," answered Dave.
As they stood there all strained their ears to catch some sound from the other car.
"I don't hear it at all," said Roger.
"All I hear is the breeze in the trees," put in Laura.
"They must be running without power," answered Dunston Porter.
"If they are going down a really steep hill, it's a wonder we don't hear some squeak from the brakes," was Phil's comment.
"Listen!" cried Dave, suddenly, and held up his hand.
All strained their ears once more, and now far below them they heard several cries mingled with a shriek. Then came a sudden crash, followed by more shrieks.
"They've had an accident!"
"Wonder what it was?"
"We'll have to go and see!" cried Dave, and put on the power once more.
"That's right!" cried Dunston Porter: "Get down there as fast as you can, Dave. But be careful—we don't want to run into them, or have any accident of our own. There must be something wrong down there!"
ON THE ROAD
"Perhaps they have gone off into some ditch!"
"Maybe they bounced off a rock and hit a tree!"
"A fellow could easily break a wheel on this rough road!"
"Oh, I hope none of them have been hurt!"
Such were some of the remarks that came from those in the tonneau of the touring-car, as Dave put on the power and started down the winding road which led to the bottom of the long hill.
"Better keep her in low gear, Dave," said Dunston Porter, as the car struck a rather steep incline. "The engine will help hold her back."
"I think I can hold her with the brakes, Uncle Dunston," answered the youth, who had already thrown off the power. He had the foot-brake well down, and now he threw in the emergency as well.
On and on slipped and slid the big touring-car, bumping over a road which seemed to grow worse as they progressed. All of the lights were on full, and they were needed, for the road turned and twisted in such a fashion that but little could be seen ahead. In some places the highway seemed extra narrow, this being caused by the heavy trees and bushes lining both sides. At one point the water had caused quite a washout, and into this and out again they bumped with such violence that all the girls shrieked in alarm.
"Some bump that!" was Roger's grim comment.
"O dear, I thought sure I'd be jounced out!" cried Jessie. "Dave, can't you go a little slower?"
"I'll try," returned the youth, and jammed down the foot-brake as hard as he could. For an instant the touring-car came almost to a standstill, but presently they slid onward again, coming a moment later to another bend.
"Look out! Don't run into us!" It was a yell from in front, and now Dave saw Luke Watson standing in the roadway, waving his handkerchief.
Down in the darkness beyond Dave made out the red, rear-light of the Basswood automobile. As the second touring-car came on Luke leaped to one side, but his warning had had its effect, and now Dave jammed on both brakes with all the force at his command, at the same time swerving slightly to the left. He just grazed a trunk strapped to the back of the first machine, and then came to a halt on a water-break a short distance beyond.
"Somebody get out and put a few stones under the wheels!" cried Dave, who could not leave his seat because of one foot on the brake.
"All right, we'll fix it!" cried his uncle, and leaped out, followed quickly by the boys in the tonneau of the car.
Loose stones were to be had in plenty, and soon the car wheels were well blocked. Then Dave was able to join those on the ground.
"Shall we get out?" asked Laura, anxiously.
"Suit yourselves," returned Dunston Porter, who was already moving in the direction of the other car.
The Wadsworth machine contained a hand flashlight, and getting possession of this, Dave and his chums hurried toward the other automobile. They had already seen at a glance that the Basswood touring-car had swung around to the side of the road, and that one front wheel was held fast between a large rock and a fair-sized tree. Apparently the car was not hurt, and no one seemed to be injured.
"How did it happen, Ben?" sang out Dave, when he saw that the accident was not a serious one.
"Funniest thing you ever heard of," returned his chum. "You couldn't possibly guess it."
"Didn't you slip on the rocks?" queried Phil.
"It was a cow put us here," said Mr. Basswood, gravely. "Just a plain, every day, red cow." And in spite of the accident his eyes had a twinkle in them.
"A cow!" came from several of the others, in wonder.
"Yes, a cow!" answered Ben, and his tone showed his deep disgust. "I was going down the hill just as nicely as you please when along came a cow. A man was driving her, and when he saw us coming he did his best to get the cow out of our way. But that mooly didn't budge from the middle of the road, so I had to turn to one side—and this is the consequence."
"But I am so thankful that no one was hurt," broke in Mrs. Basswood. "Think of what might have happened if the car had turned over!" and she shuddered.
"But where is the cow?" questioned Roger.
"Oh, as soon as she had put us in this hole she turned tail and ran down the hill as fast as she could, and the man went after her," explained Mr. Basswood.
"I guess the man ran away because he was afraid we might hold him responsible for damages," remarked Shadow. "Say! this puts me in mind of a story," he added. "One time a cow got on the front piazza of a house, and——"
"For gracious sake, Shadow! I guess you'd want to tell stories at a funeral," burst out Ben. "Never mind your yarn now. Let us see if we can get this machine out from between this rock and that tree."
"You didn't break the steering-gear, did you?" asked Dave, anxiously, as he allowed the flashlight to play over and around the touring-car.
"I don't believe I hurt anything, Dave. But of course I can't be sure until I try to run the car," answered Ben. "What's worrying me is: How am I going to get out of this fix? I don't believe I can back out—in fact it wouldn't be safe."
"Looks to me as if we'd have to chop the tree down to get out of here," commented Luke, who had come back from where he had signaled the other car.
"I think I see a way of aiding you," said Dunston Porter, who was examining the rock that held the wheel to the tree. "I think if we dig under the edge of this rock, we can loosen it and roll it down the hill. Then we'll be able to lift the front of the automobile around—that is if we can keep the machine from sliding down on us."
"We can easily fix that part of it," answered Dave. "All we've got to do is to take that towing-rope we brought along and fasten it to a tree and the back axle of the car."
"That's the talk, Dave!" cried his uncle. "Get the rope and make it fast at once."
While our hero and several of the other boys were adjusting the towing-line which had been brought along for emergencies, Dunston Porter and Mr. Basswood set to work to loosen the rock which held the wheel. This was no easy task, but finally, with the aid of a hammer and a small crowbar, it was accomplished, and the rock slid down the roadway. Then the automobile began to start forward.
"Look out there!" cried one of the boys. "This line may not hold!"
"That will hold two cars like that," answered Dave. The rope strained and creaked, but did not break, and soon those in front of the car had the machine jacked around once more in a straight position, headed down the road.
"Now Ben, I guess you're all right again," said Dave.
"Provided I don't meet that cow again," was the retort. "How about that rope?"
"I'll unfasten it for you just as soon as you are ready to start."
"I think I'd rather walk to the foot of the hill," remarked Mrs. Basswood, timorously.
"Let us all walk down. I'll be glad of the exercise," cried Belle, who was tired of being cramped up in the tonneau of the automobile.
"Oh, but maybe that cow will get after us," exclaimed Jessie.
"Pooh! who's afraid of a cow!" cried the western girl, who had been brought up to face hundreds of animals on her father's ranch.
"Well, I think we had better let the automobiles go first, anyway," suggested Laura. "We don't want them to come along and run over us," she added, playfully.
Soon Ben and his chums were in the first of the touring-cars. Dave released the rope, and the automobile resumed the descent of the hill. Then the towing-line was wound up and thrown into the tonneau of the second car, and that also resumed its journey.
Down at the foot of the long hill they met the cow and her owner, a tall, cadaverous-looking individual, who eyed our friends frowningly.
"I see you got your cow all right enough," remarked Ben.
"So I did, but I'd a mighty long run to stop her," growled the man.
"You put us in quite a hole; do you know that?" went on Ben.
"'Tain't none of my fault," replied the owner of the cow, quickly. "I have as much right on this road with my cow as you have with that there autymobile."
"Just the same, you had no right to let your cow keep to the middle of the road," cried Ben. "If we had had a worse accident we might have held you responsible."
"Huh! Hold me responsible, eh? Well ye wouldn't have got a cent out of me," said the owner of the cow, and then he passed on up the hill once more, driving the animal before him. The cow was contentedly chewing her cud, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened to disturb her.
A quarter of a mile further on our friends came to a small stream spanned by rather a shaky-looking bridge, over which each machine was run with great care. On the other side of the stream they came to another fork of the road.
"Here's a signboard anyway!" cried Dave, whose car was now in advance. "'Rayville Four Miles.' We'll be there soon if this road holds out."
"I think you'll find the roads around Rayville all right," called Mr. Basswood to him. "My friend told me that they were in good condition, especially those on the other side of the town."
A quarter of an hour later found the two touring-cars in the village where Mr. Basswood's friend resided. Here, as the gentleman had said, was located a fairly good hotel, where accommodations for the night could be had.
"Now, I'm going to go around and see my friends," said Mr. Basswood. "Ben, you and your chums can stay here at the hotel. We'll be back before it's time to retire," and then he set off in the touring-car, taking his wife with him.
As the hotel at Rayville made a specialty of catering to automobile parties, our friends found the accommodations there both ample and satisfactory. After the hard run of the day, the girls and the boys were glad to rest awhile. Then they fixed up for dinner, which was served to them in a private dining-room, apart from the other patrons of the house. As might be expected, they had a good deal of fun, and Shadow was allowed to tell several of his stories, much to his own satisfaction if not to that of his listeners.
"By this time to-morrow night we ought to be at Bear Camp," said Dave, after they had finished dinner and gone out on the hotel veranda to watch what little was going on in the town.
"I guess it will be a good deal more lonely than it is here, Dave," observed Jessie.
"There will be too many of us to be lonely," he answered. "I'm looking forward to some splendid times."
"Oh, so am I, Dave, and I am sure the others hope to have good times, too."
It was about ten o'clock when Mr. and Mrs. Basswood came back to the hotel, having spent a very pleasant evening with their friends, who had wanted them to remain over night.
"I've got some news that I want to telegraph to Crumville," announced Ben's father, as he came in. "News that may interest Mr. Poole."
"What is that, Dad?" questioned his son, curiously.
"Why, Mr. Dobson spoke about a strange sort of man who called on him yesterday. He thought the man was out of his mind. He said the fellow asked for work first, but then said he didn't care whether he got a job or not, because he had to take the night express for Sumatra."
"A strange man who wanted to take the night express for Sumatra!" exclaimed Dave. "It must have been 'The King of Sumatra'—Wilbur Poole!"
"Just exactly what I think, Dave," answered Mr. Basswood.
CAUGHT IN A STORM
"Did you ever know this Wilbur Poole, Dad?" questioned Ben.
"Yes, I met him years ago at Aaron Poole's home. But of course he was in his right mind then. Poor chap! I pity him very much."
"I think we all pity him," answered Dave. "Nobody can be responsible after his mind breaks down."
"I feel sorry for Nat Poole and his folks," said Laura. "This will give them a great deal of trouble, not to mention the expense."
"If Wilbur Poole was anywhere around Rayville it might pay to start a hunt for him," suggested Roger.
"I don't think you'll find him anywhere around here," answered Mr. Basswood. "But it won't hurt to take a look around, if you boys care to take a walk."
Ben's father went off to send his telegram to Aaron Poole, and all the boys set off on a hunt for the wild man. They covered the streets of the village and some of the roads on the outskirts, but without success. They met three people who had talked to the strange individual, and from what had passed Dave and his chums were sure that the man must have been Wilbur Poole.
"I guess we'll have to give it up," said Phil, when it was getting late. "I'm tired out. And remember, fellows, we have a hard ride before us to-morrow if we expect to reach Carpen Falls in time to hit the trail for Bear Camp before it gets dark."
When the boys reached the hotel the girls were anxious to hear what they might have to tell.
"It's too bad," said Jessie, soberly. "I am glad it is not one of my relatives who is roaming around like that."
Both Dunston Porter and Mr. Basswood had suggested an early start on the following morning, so the entire party were downstairs and to breakfast by seven o'clock. In the meantime the two automobiles had been overhauled, and provided with oil and gasoline, as well as with water.
"I've got rather a bad cut on one of the rear wheels," said Ben. "Perhaps I had better change the shoe before we start."
"Oh, take a chance on it!" cried Luke. "I think you'll get through all right enough."
"Perhaps Luke; but if I don't, that blow-out will cost me a fine inner tube. However, I'll take the chance. Get in everybody, and we'll be off!"
As Mr. Basswood's friend had said, the road leading from Rayville northwestward was in fine shape, and they were able to cover the next thirty miles at a fair rate of speed. But then they got in among the hills, and here the road became as winding and dangerous as ever.
Not knowing much about the stopping-places ahead, the grown folks had had the hotel people put up a substantial lunch for the tourists, packed in two hampers.
"It will be jolly fun camping out this noon," said Laura. "It ought to just suit you, Belle."
"It certainly will!" was the answer from the western girl. "I'd rather eat in the open than in the stuffy dining-room of a hotel any time."
"There may be one drawback to having lunch outdoors," said Phil. "It looks like rain."
"Phil, if you say rain again I'll throw you out of the car!" cried Roger.
"I must admit it does look a little like rain," said Laura, casting her eyes skyward. "That's an awfully black cloud over yonder. O dear, rain would spoil it all! I do hope it holds off!"
Dave had been running the car, but now his uncle insisted upon taking the wheel. Then Roger climbed over onto the front seat, giving the one he had been occupying beside Jessie to our hero. They were in the lead, with the Basswood turnout not far behind.
"This is more like," said Dave, in a low tone to Jessie.
"Oh, well, I suppose you had to do your share in running the car, Dave," she replied, giving him a bright look.
"I don't believe Uncle Dunston cares as much for driving as he pretends," went on the youth. "Behind it all, he is a good deal like Belle—he prefers to be on horseback. He was brought up to it."
"He has certainly been a great traveler, Dave."
"Yes, indeed! And I would like to be just like him. I'd love to travel."
"And where would you go if you had the chance?"
"I don't know. Maybe around the world," and Dave's eyes lit up as he spoke.
"Around the world! And would you go all alone?"
"All alone? Not if I could get anybody to go along with me! Wouldn't you like to take a trip like that, Jessie?" and he gazed at her fondly.
"Well, it would be a great trip for both of us; wouldn't it?"
"Dave, don't be silly," and Jessie blushed deeply. "We are not going around the world yet, we are going to Bear Camp, and that's plenty far enough."
"Yes, I know, Jessie. But you see"—and Dave lowered his voice—"I want to make sure that when I go you'll go with me. It will then be the finest trip that ever anybody——"
Bang! It was a report like that from a small cannon, and came from close beside them. Jessie gave a scream, and so did Laura and Mrs. Basswood, while cries of wonder and alarm came from the boys. The Basswood car had come up alongside of the other automobile, and just at that instant the tire which Ben had said was cut blew out, sending a shower of dirt and stones in all directions. Mr. Basswood, who was at the wheel, brought the car to a quick stop, and Mr. Porter also halted.
"Well, it went, just as I thought it might," remarked Ben, grimly.
"Too bad!" returned Luke. "I reckon it was my fault. I should have let you put on that other shoe before we started."
"It's nobody's fault!" cried Mr. Basswood, quickly. "Now then, boys, we'll see how soon we can get another shoe on."
Many hands made the labor of jacking up the car and changing the tire a light one. Fortunately the automobile was equipped with a pump attached to the engine, so that blowing up the tire by hand was unnecessary.
"This is only a little exercise to get up an appetite for that lunch," remarked Dave, gaily. "We want to do full justice to the stuff in the hamper."
"As if there was ever anything the matter with your appetite!" cried Phil, dryly.
"Why Philip, my son, you know I never eat more than a bird!" retorted Dave, with a twinkle in his eye.
"Humph! A bird, eh? I guess you must mean an ostrich," retorted the shipowner's son, and at this sally there was a general laugh in which even Dave joined.
"Just eleven o'clock," remarked Luke, consulting his watch. "When do we stop for that lunch?"
"At twelve o'clock precisely," answered Mrs. Basswood. "That is, of course, if we happen to be in the right kind of a place. We don't want to stop just anywhere."
"Might eat the lunch while we were running," suggested Roger. "It would make it last so much longer."
"Wow! What a joke!" cried Phil.
"Say, that puts me in mind of a story!" burst out Shadow. "A fellow named William took his best girl for a trip by train to another town, and on the way they went into the dining-car for lunch. He said afterwards that it was the longest lunch he had ever eaten, and as the girl had ordered nearly everything on the bill of fare it was also the longest bill he had ever paid."
"A long bill but a short story, Shadow!" cried Luke.
"I'd like to know one thing, Shadow," observed Dave. "Was it William who paid the bill or was it Bill who had to put up several Williams to pay for it?"
"Good gracious, Dave! What are you talking about?" queried his sister, with a puzzled look on her face.
"Oh, that's easy, Laura," answered Roger. "William—Bill, Bill—William. Don't you see the joke?"
"Yes, of course! How thick I am!" returned the girl, quickly.
Soon they were once more on the way. They had a long hill to ascend, the road winding in and out among the trees and around the rocks. It was a hard pull, and several times they had to change to second gear and even to low.
"O my, what a beautiful view!" cried Belle, when the top of the hill was gained. And in her excitement she stood straight up in the automobile to look around her.
"It certainly is beautiful," returned Jessie. "One can see for miles and miles in every direction!"
"Oh, Mrs. Basswood, don't you think this would be a lovely place to have lunch?" cried Laura.
At the mention of lunch, Luke, Shadow, and Phil brought out their watches simultaneously.
"Seventeen minutes of twelve," announced the shipowner's son.
"I've got quarter of," cried Luke.
"You must both be off," put in Shadow. "I'm only fourteen minutes and a half of twelve," he announced, gravely. "Have we got to wait till twelve o'clock?" he continued, anxiously.
"I guess it'll be twelve o'clock before we get anything to eat," answered Mrs. Basswood, with a smile. "I think this would be just an ideal spot to rest."
"Oh, we've just got to stay here for a while, whether we eat or not!" cried Belle. "I'm going to get out and run up on to the rocks over there," and suiting the action to the words, she leaped out of the automobile and started to make her way to the spot she had indicated.
"Look out that you don't fall over into the hollow," cautioned Dave, as he assisted Jessie and his sister to alight.
To one side of the roadway was something of a cleared space, and into this the two automobiles were run. The boys got out the hampers and other things, and took them over to the spot which Belle's quick eyes had picked out. Here there was a patch of green grass shaded by several large trees, and in front of it a flat rock, beyond which was spread out a vast panorama of hills and valleys stretching for many miles.
"It's a perfect picture!" cried Jessie. "I must get a photograph of it."
"Yes. And we must take a photograph of the crowd at lunch," returned Dave.
"Let's eat before we start to take any photographs," put in Luke, who seemed to be extra hungry. "I never did look well in a picture taken before eating," and at this there was a general laugh.
While the boys brought the various things from the cars, the girls and Mrs. Basswood spread a lunch-cloth partly on the grass and partly on the flat rock, and on this placed the various good things which had been brought along.
"First call for lunch!" sang out Dave, loudly, when all was in readiness.
"I guess your first call will be the last, too, Dave!" exclaimed Jessie. "Here! what will you have—a ham sandwich or one with chicken?"
"I think I'll try the chicken," he answered.
"Oh, don't be backward about coming forward, Dave!" cried Luke. "Why don't you try them both?"
"I will before I get through."
"We all will," declared Roger. "There is nothing the matter with this air for giving one an appetite," he added. "I believe after we have been up at Bear Camp for a while we'll all be eating like wolves."
"Why not like bears, if we are going to Bear Camp?" suggested Phil.
"Say, I can't bear a joke like that!" broke in Roger.
"It was a little barefaced; wasn't it?" commented Dave.
"Oh, quit your joking, I'm hungry," pleaded Luke. And then all the young folks fell to eating with great gusto, and it must be admitted that the older heads followed suit.
The lunch lasted the best part of half an hour, and was thoroughly enjoyed by every one. Then the young people got out their cameras, and various snap-shots and time-pictures were taken, to be developed and printed later on.
"Now then, let us pack up as quickly as we can, and finish this trip," said Mr. Basswood, presently.
As he spoke he looked up at the sky, and the others did the same. Off to the westward they saw a number of black clouds rolling up rapidly.
"Say, Dave, that looks like a real storm to me," remarked Roger, anxiously. "What do you think of it?"
"It's a storm, all right," was the answer. "And if we don't catch it before we reach the end of our journey we'll be lucky."
As quickly as possible, the various things were packed up and placed in the two touring-cars. Then they started off once more, with Mr. Porter and Mr. Basswood at the steering wheels. They had covered less than five miles when they heard a rushing of wind through the woods. It seemed to come by fits and starts, but steadily increased in volume. The sky grew darker, and soon some large drops of rain fell.
"We'll have to put up the tops!" cried Dave.
The Basswood car had already come to a stop and those in it were hurrying to put up the top. As Dave unfastened the straps on the Wadsworth automobile, the drops of rain came down faster than ever.
"We didn't get that up any too soon," remarked the boy's uncle, when the job was finished.
"Hadn't I better put up the side curtains, too?" queried Dave.
"You'll have to put up everything you've got, Dave!" cried Roger. "Just look at what's coming!"
There was no need to look, for already the rain was driving in on them. Working with all possible speed, the boys soon adjusted the curtains.
"Uncle Dunston, we can't run without chains if the road gets wet," cried Dave.
"I am going to run under yonder trees. We can put the chains on there," answered Dunston Porter, and they started forward once again, with the rain pelting down upon them furiously.
FROM ONE HARDSHIP TO ANOTHER
"I guess I was right about the rain," remarked Phil, grimly, as the drops pattered unceasingly on the cover of the automobile.
"You sure were, Phil!" cried Belle. "It's coming down just as hard as ever it can."
"If only the wind would stop blowing!" said Jessie. "Do you think there is any danger of our being blown over?"
"Oh, it isn't as bad as all that," answered Dave.
A few minutes later Mr. Porter espied a suitable place under several large trees, and here he brought the touring-car to a standstill. Then the Basswood car come close alongside.
"Going to put on the chains?" called out Mr. Basswood, to make himself heard above the noise of the elements.
"I think we had better," returned Dave's uncle. "I imagine we've quite a hill to descend a little farther on."
There were raincoats in each touring-car, and these were now donned by Dave and his uncle, and by Ben and his father. Then the chains for the back wheels for both automobiles were brought forth.
Even under the thick foliage of the trees the rain was coming down, although of course not nearly as hard as on the roadway beyond. The chains were straightened out on the grass, and each automobile was backed up a little so that the articles might be fastened on. The task took but a few minutes, and then those who had accomplished it got back into the machines.
"I'll lead the way," called out Mr. Porter. "You had better not follow me too closely."
"Very well, I'll watch out," answered Mr. Basswood.
"Uncle Dunston, don't you want to let me drive?" queried Dave. "I've had a little more experience at it than you have had."
"I can do it, Dave," was the reply. "But, at the same time, if you think it would be safer, take the wheel. I must own up that I'd rather be on a horse or behind one than steering a car like this in such a storm."
Dave squeezed himself into the driver's seat, and a moment later they were off again over the plateau of the hill, and then down the other side.
The wind was blowing as furiously as ever, and now from a distance came the low rumble of thunder.
"O dear! What is that?" cried Laura.
"I guess it was thunder, but I don't think it will amount to anything," returned Roger.
The bottom of the hill gained, they traversed a narrow valley for a distance of seven or eight miles. Then came another climb over a winding highway, which at certain points was filled with loose stones and dirt.
"Be careful, Dave. We don't want to do any skidding," cautioned the youth's uncle.
"I'm watching out all I can," was the grim reply. Dave was bending over the steering-wheel, trying his best to see through the windshield. "I guess I'll have to open it a little," he went on, nodding in the direction of the glass.
"I'll do it for you," answered Dunston Porter, and threw out the upper side of the shield.
By this means Dave was able to get a clear vision of the roadway directly in front of the machine. But the opening of the windshield let in considerable of the driving rain.
"Oh, Dave, you'll get wet from the knees down!" cried Jessie, solicitously.
"Can't help it," he replied. "I can't see with the windshield closed."
The rumblings of thunder had increased, and now from over a distant hill came various streaks of lightning. The sky was much darker, and in order to see better, Dave turned on the electric lights. Looking back, those in the tonneau of the forward car saw that the Basswood machine was also lighted. By the time the top of the next hill was gained, a distance of fully a mile, the thunderstorm was on them in all its fury. The wind tore through the woods, sending leaves and small branches flying in all directions. From the north and the west came vivid flashes of lightning, followed by sharp claps of thunder, which rolled and rumbled across the hills and mountains.
"O dear, if we only had some place to stop!" cried Jessie, timorously.
"There isn't any sort of a building in sight," replied Dunston Porter, who had been looking on all sides for some time. "If there was I'd have Dave head for it pretty quick."
"According to the map we ought to be within a few miles of Simpson's Corners," said Roger. "How about it, Dave?"
"Just what I was thinking," answered our hero. "I was wondering if it wasn't on the other side of the next rise."
They were running along another small valley, at the end of which was a sharp turn to the left and a rise of several hundred feet. Here the downfall of rain had flooded the road for a considerable distance. Coming to this place Dave had to slow down, but he still kept on some power, not wishing to get stuck.
"Can you make it, Dave?" asked his uncle, anxiously, as the chains of the automobile ground deeply into the mud and loose stones.
"We've got to make it, Uncle Dunston!" cried the boy, grimly.
The car proceeded more and more slowly even with the power turned on. Dave had been running in second gear, but now he came down to low. Mud and stones flew in all directions, while the water was splashed out on both sides as if coming from geysers. Then, with one last effort, the automobile left the level roadway and started up the hill beyond.
The Wadsworth car was almost at the top of the rise when a turn in the road enabled its occupants to see the second car.
"Look!" burst out Roger. "I do believe they're stuck!"
"Stuck! Do you mean in that wet place?" asked Dave, quickly.
"That's it," put in Phil. "They are stuck just as sure as you're born!" he added, a second later.
The forward car had now reached a spot on the side of the hill which was comparatively level, so that Dave had no trouble in coming to a halt. It was still raining as furiously as ever, and the thunder and lightning were just as incessant. Looking down on the wet portion of the road below them, they saw that the Basswood car was standing still, with water and mud half way up to the hubs.
"He has shut off the power! That's no way to do!" cried Dave. "He ought to keep his engine going, and either try to go forward or backward. If he stands still he will sink deeper than ever."
"He's trying to back now, Dave," returned Phil, and he was right.
Soon they saw the wheels of the Basswood car revolving rapidly, and the turnout itself moved slowly to the rear. Then Ben must have reversed the power, for the car came forward, but this time headed for the left side of the road.
"I don't think he'll gain much by that move," observed Dave. "I tried it, and found it rather soft over there."
"Look, he is backing again!" cried Laura. "O dear! Whatever will he do if he gets stuck fast?"
"Let us hope that nothing like that happens," answered her uncle, gravely.
But that was just what did happen, and although both Ben and his father did their best to free the car from the mud, it was without avail. They managed to get to within fifteen feet of the end of the wet place, and there they stayed, unable to budge either forward or backward.
"Listen! he is sounding his horn!" cried Roger, during a brief lull in the storm.
"I guess he wants us to come back and help pull him out," answered Dave, and sounded a reply to show that he had heard the call of distress.
"What are you going to do, Dave—try to turn around here or back down?" asked Roger.
"Oh, it's too narrow to turn here!" cried Laura, in alarm.
"You'll have us all over in the ditch if you don't look out!" came from one of the others in the car.
"I see a little wider spot further ahead," answered Dave, and turned on the power once more.
Soon he had reached the place in question, and there, by skillful maneuvering, he managed to turn the touring-car the other way. Then he came down the hill slowly until within a few feet of the bad spot in the highway.
"Hello there!" called out Mr. Basswood. "I guess you'll have to get out that towing-rope again and give us a lift."
"Just what I thought," answered Dave. "We'll have it out in a jiffy."
He and his uncle alighted once more, taking with them the towing-rope that had been used before. Mr. Basswood was already out of the car, standing in water and mud over his shoe-tops.
"Here, catch the rope!" called out our hero, and sent one end whirling toward the other car in true cowboy fashion—a trick he had learned while staying at Star Ranch.
Mr. Basswood caught the rope, and soon had it adjusted to the front axle of the car. In the meanwhile Dave and his uncle fastened the other end to the rear axle of their own turnout.
"Now then, turn on your power when I sound my horn," directed Dave.
"Right you are!" yelled back Ben, who was at the wheel.
Mr. Porter remained on the ground to watch proceedings, while Dave re-entered the Wadsworth machine and turned on the power. Then our hero sounded the horn and began to advance. The towing-rope strained and cracked, and threatened for a moment to snap. Slowly the Wadsworth car went ahead inch by inch. The rear wheels of the Basswood machine churned the water and mud furiously.
"Say! we don't seem to be getting out of this very fast," remarked Shadow, who was in the rear car beside Mrs. Basswood.
"Put on all your power, Ben. It's the only thing you can do," ordered the lad's father.
The rear wheels of the second machine ground deeper into the mud and loose stones, throwing them and the water up into the air and even onto the cover of the machine. The towing-rope continued to creak ominously.
"Be on guard, everybody, if that rope breaks!" cried Mr. Basswood, warningly. He knew that if the towing-line parted near one end or the other there was grave danger of the flying rope coming back to damage one of the machines.
Inch by inch the second car moved forward. Dave had not dared to turn on all power, fearing to snap the towing-line, but now, as the second machine gained a little headway, he added power steadily.
"Hurrah! Here we come!" shouted Luke, in a tone of relief. And a few seconds later the Basswood car rolled out of the water and mud to the comparatively dry roadway ahead.
"Say, that was some stunt—to get out of there!" was Shadow's comment.
"I'm mighty glad the other car was here to help us," answered Ben. "If it hadn't been here I guess we would have stayed there for a while," he added, grimly.
"I think both our cars will need washing after this trip," observed Dave, with a grin, as he coiled up the towing-line once more and stowed it away.
"This sure is some ending to this trip!" observed Ben, making a wry face.
"We haven't seen the end of it yet, Ben," answered Dunston Porter. "There may be worse roads than this ahead. I don't believe they are very good around Carpen Falls."
With the rain pelting down unceasingly, the two cars proceeded on the journey. The thunder and lightning had let up a little, but now, as the top of the next hill was gained, it seemed to become more violent than before.
"Oh, this is dreadful!" cried Jessie, as a particularly bright flash lit up the interior of the automobile. "What if we should be struck!"
"Let us hope that nothing like that happens!" answered Laura. Her face, too, showed her alarm.
"I think I saw some sort of a village ahead," cried Dave, who had been peering intently through the windshield. "I think I saw the white steeple of a church."
"Maybe it's Simpson's Corners," suggested Belle.
"I hope there is a hotel there and a garage," said Dunston Porter. "We'll want to have a chance to dry ourselves and get supper."
"Then you don't think we'll reach Carpen Falls to-night?" questioned Phil.
"I don't know what to think, Phil. Perhaps we may——"
Mr. Porter did not finish what he was saying. Just at that instant came a vivid flash of lightning that nearly blinded them. It was followed by an ear-splitting crash of thunder. Then came another crash closer by, and an instant later Dave and his uncle saw a large tree fall directly toward the roadway in front of them!
A STROKE OF LIGHTNING
"We are going into that tree!"
"Jam on both brakes, Dave, just as hard as you can!" cried Dunston Porter.
Even before his uncle had spoken Dave had pressed down both feet hard, thus putting on the foot-brake and releasing the gear-clutch. Now his hand shot over to the emergency brake, and this came up with all the power at his command. But the grade was downward, and the road slippery from the rain, and instead of stopping, the touring-car went on, sliding through the mud and over the rocks until it was practically on top of the tree. Then came a jar that threw everybody forward. The steering-wheel saved Dave, but his uncle's elbow struck the windshield, cracking it in several places.
"Look, we've run into a tree!"
"Did the lightning hit the machine?"
"Say, Roger, take yourself off my feet; will you?"
This last cry came from Phil, who was huddled up in a corner of the tonneau.
"It isn't me, it's the handbag, Phil," gasped out Roger, who hung partly over the front seat of the touring-car.
"Anybody hurt?" questioned Dunston Porter quickly, as soon as the shock had come to an end.
"I—I—think I am all right, Uncle Dunston," panted Laura. "But dear me! wasn't it awful?"
"I thought I was going to fly right over Dave's head," wailed Jessie, who had come up behind the youth with a great thump. "Oh, Dave, did I hurt you?"
"Knocked a little of the wind out of me, Jessie; that's all," he answered. "But I won't mind that if only you are not hurt."
"Say, that was some stop, believe me!" was Phil's grim comment, as he managed to straighten up and look ahead. "Stuffed mackerel! what did we try to do, Dave—climb a tree?"
"No. We tried to take a running jump and go over it," replied Roger, with a faint attempt at humor.
"Sound the horn, Dave, as loudly as you can!" cried his uncle, quickly. "We must warn the others." And thus admonished, Dave put his finger on the button of the electric horn and held it down for some time. Looking backward, those in the Wadsworth car soon saw the Basswood machine come into sight and then slow down. The heavy clap of thunder was now followed by another fierce downfall of rain, while the sky grew blacker than ever. In the midst of this outburst the second touring-car came slowly forward.
"Did the lightning strike you?" yelled Ben.
"No. But we had a close call of it," answered Mr. Porter. "It hit this tree when we were less than one hundred and fifty feet away. Then the tree came down as you see, and we ploughed right into it."
"Phew! That's some escape!" was Mr. Basswood's comment. "Anything broken?"
"We don't know yet," answered Dave.
He alighted from the car, and his uncle did likewise. An examination showed that one of the mudguards in front had been badly bent, and that a headlight had snapped off, but beyond this, and the windshield, the big touring-car seemed to be undamaged.
"I'm thankful it's no worse," remarked Dunston Porter.
"It's too bad the light had to go," returned Dave. "It will make running at night rather dangerous until we can get it fixed."
"Oh, let us be thankful that no one was hurt!" cried Laura.
While Dave and his uncle had been examining the car, Mr. Basswood and the others had been looking for some way around the tree, which covered the roadway completely.
"I think I see a path through yonder trees," said Ben, pointing to his left. "The ground seems to be pretty good there, and I think the opening is plenty large enough for our cars."
Mr. Basswood moved forward in the direction his son indicated, and soon called to Ben to start the car. He led the way on foot, and the machine followed slowly. They passed in and out among several trees, and then emerged once more on the highway, some distance beyond the obstruction.
"Hurrah! That's the way to do it!" cried Luke. "Now the others can back up and follow us."
"So they can," answered Shadow. "But what about leaving that tree in the roadway? It's mighty dangerous, and will be more so after dark."
"We can notify the authorities at Simpson's Corners," said Mr. Basswood. "They can send somebody up here with a lantern."
He went back to tell the others of what had been accomplished, and soon the Wadsworth car was backed out from between the branches of the tree that shut off the highway.
"Well, I think the rain is letting up a little, anyway," announced Roger, after the two touring-cars were once more under way. And he was right. That last downfall seemed to clear the sky, and soon they saw the clouds scattering.
Wet from end to end, and covered with mud, the two automobiles rolled into the little settlement that went by the name of Simpson's Corners. Here an old man named Simpson kept a general store to which, in the rear, was attached a small livery stable and garage.
"You certainly must have had some trip over the hills in this storm," remarked Mr. Simpson, after the party had trooped into his place. "It's about as heavy a rainfall as we have had in some time. Where are you bound?"
"We wanted to get to Carpen Falls if we could," answered Dunston Porter. "But perhaps we'll stay in Simpson's Corners, if there are any accommodations."
"Ain't no hotel here," answered the storekeeper. "Used to be one some years ago, but it didn't pay, so the feller that run it gave it up. But Mrs. Whittle serves lunch to travelers if you are hungry."
"Me for Mrs. Whittle's!" whispered Phil.
"Good gracious, Phil! You seem to be hungry all the time on this trip," was Belle's good-natured comment.
"Maybe if we stay here an hour or two it will clear off," said Dave, who was examining the sky closely. "I think the storm is shifting very rapidly."
"I believe you're right, Dave," answered his uncle. "Yes, we'll stay here and get dried out a little, if nothing else."
It was learned that Mrs. Whittle's place was just across the street, and the lady said she would be very glad to furnish them with a hot supper, and added that they could come in and dry themselves in her sitting-room, where she started an open fire. The machines were placed in Mr. Simpson's garage, and they purchased from the storekeeper some gasoline and oil.
"Only a little after five o'clock," announced Roger. "I think by six o'clock the storm will be over," he added.
While they were eating the supper provided by Mrs. Whittle, it stopped raining, and a little later they saw the setting sun over the hills to the westward.
"How many miles is it to Carpen Falls from here?" asked Luke.
"Fourteen by the automobile blue book," answered Dave.
"And what of the road?" questioned Ben.
"Mr. Simpson said it wasn't so bad but that it might be worse," answered Dunston Porter, who had been interviewing the storekeeper and who had told the man about the fallen tree, having learned that Mr. Simpson was the head of the township committee.
"We don't want to get stuck, especially after it gets dark," said Ben.
"I wish we could stay here," sighed Mrs. Basswood. "But there don't seem to be any accommodations."
"Oh, we'll get through; come ahead!" cried Dave. "If we don't reach Carpen Falls to-night Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth will worry about us."
Feeling in somewhat better spirits after having eaten, and after having had an opportunity to dry themselves, the tourists brought out their automobiles again, and soon Simpson's Corners was left behind. They had a long hill to climb, and then the road wound in and out among some particularly rough rocks. Then they came out along the edge of a cliff with a vast panorama of woods and waters below them.
"Oh, isn't it perfectly lovely!" cried Belle.
"If I'm not mistaken, Mirror Lake lies off in that direction," said Dunston Porter, pointing with his hand. "That sheet of water away off yonder may be it."
Leaving the cliff, the road wound in and out of the forest for a distance of several miles. Then they came to another little valley, in which the highway was wet and, in some spots, suspiciously spongy.
"Now then, Dave, be careful," warned his uncle. "We don't want to get stuck if we can possibly help it."
"I'll do my best, Uncle Dunston," was the answer.
With the wheels sucking and sousing in the mud, the Wadsworth machine moved forward as rapidly as the conditions would permit. Close behind was the Basswood car, and this time Ben took care not to let the engine slow down too much. Once Dave was afraid that he was going to be stuck, but in a few seconds the danger was past, and in two minutes more they were out on the solid roadway once more.
"We are coming to some sort of a settlement!" cried Mr. Porter, after several miles more had been covered. "See, there it is—right down at the foot of this hill!"
"It must be Carpen Falls," announced Dave. "See, there are the Falls off to the right!" and he pointed to where a fair-sized stream of water came down between the trees and fell over the rocks. The Falls were fifteen to twenty feet high, and made a beautiful sight.
Carpen Falls was a settlement of some importance, for the campers on the lakes for miles around came there to do their trading. There were two general stores, one containing the post-office, and also a blacksmith's shop, livery stable and garage combined, and a small summer hotel.
"Oh, look! My father and mother!" cried Jessie, as the two machines rolled up to the hotel.
To the surprise of all, Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth stood on the piazza watching their approach.
"Oh, we thought you would never get here!" cried Mrs. Wadsworth, in relief. "We thought sure you had had some sort of accident on the road."
"And how is it you are here?" asked Dave, quickly.
"We came in this morning to do some trading at the store," answered Mr. Wadsworth. "We were going back, when it began to storm so hard that we decided to stay here until the rain let up, and until you arrived. It certainly was a hard downpour!"
"We came pretty near having several accidents," answered Ben. And then after the party had alighted, they told of the various happenings on the journey.
"We can remain here all night if you want to," announced the jewelry manufacturer. "But if you would rather go on to the bungalows I think we can make it. There are two old stages here, and the drivers are perfectly willing to make the trip."
"Now we have gotten so far, let us finish the trip," urged Laura. "I think I would rather be at the bungalows than at this hotel," she added, with a look around that hostelry—a place that was not particularly inviting.
"But you'll want supper first; won't you?" questioned Mrs. Wadsworth.
"We had something to eat at Simpson's Corners," answered her daughter.
The stages that Mr. Wadsworth had mentioned were certainly old-fashioned and dilapidated, but each was drawn by a pair of sturdy horses, and the drivers said that they were perfectly safe and could make the journey to Mirror Lake without trouble. So, having transferred the baggage from the automobiles to these ancient vehicles, and having placed the touring-cars in the garage, with orders to have the damaged car repaired, our friends piled into the turnouts, and then, with various calls to the animals and loud crackings of the whips, the two stages started for Bear Camp.
AT BEAR CAMP
"Talk about the old-time coaching days!" remarked Dave. "I don't believe they were any worse than this."
"Oh, Dave, you mustn't find fault!" cried Jessie. "We'll soon be there, I hope."
"Providing we don't go down in some hole and break off a wheel," put in Roger. "Say, this road is some rough!"
"I'll have it rolled down for you the next time, Roger!" cried Phil, gaily. "Just imagine yourself in the wild West, in one of the old-time overland coaches, with the Indians in full pursuit. How about that, Belle?"
"It sounds good enough for a dime novel," answered the girl from the West. "Personally I never saw any Indians in pursuit of a stage-coach or anything else. The Indians around Star Ranch were as peaceable as one could wish."
Over the rough and rather narrow trail bumped the two stage-coaches. Our friends frequently found themselves bounced off the seats, and more than once they were in danger of cracking their heads against the roofs of the turnouts. It was growing dark, and the only lights the drivers had were their smoking lanterns. Inside of the stage-coaches the boys had their hand flashlights, which they used occasionally to illuminate the scene.
"Never mind! Don't you care!" cried Phil, and then added: "What's the matter with a song?"
"Let's give them our old Oak Hall song!" exclaimed Dave, and a moment later he started their old favorite, sung to the tune of "Auld Lang Syne."
"Oak Hall we never shall forget, No matter where we roam, It is the very best of schools, To us it's just like home. Then give three cheers, and let them ring Throughout this world so wide, To let the people know that we Elect to here abide!"
"Oh, how splendid!" was Belle's comment. "Please sing it again," and they did.
Then they followed with a number of familiar songs. The sound was caught up by those in the second coach, and soon they too were singing lustily.
"Gosh-all-hemlock!" was the comment of the stage-driver of the forward coach. "That there singin' is better'n a nigger minstrels!"
"Better join in," suggested Dave, and then started up with "The Suwanee River," and to the surprise of all the old stage-driver broke in with a heavy bass voice which really balanced the others quite well.
The storm was a thing of the past, and as night came on the thin crescent of the new moon and numberless stars showed themselves.
"O my, look!"
"Isn't that perfectly grand!"
"I don't wonder they call it Mirror Lake!"
Such were some of the cries from the girls as the first of the stage-coaches rolled out on the edge of the sheet of water by which the bungalows were located. Here, at a certain point, they could gaze down the full length of the lake. In spite of the rain that had fallen the surface of the water seemed unusually smooth, and it glistened in the light of the moon and the stars like silver.
"Oh, it's just too splendid for anything!" exclaimed Jessie, as she clapped her hands in delight. "What a beautiful place to come to!"
"I don't see how it could be any prettier than it is," added Laura.
"Why, it's just like a scene from fairyland!" declared Belle. "Oh, I know I'm going to have just the nicest time ever while I'm here!"
"I see the bungalows!" cried Roger, and he pointed to a number of lights twinkling between the trees.
"I told Mary, the hired girl, to light up so we could see where we were going," said Mrs. Wadsworth.
"This is about as far as we can go with the stages," announced the driver of the first turnout, as he came to a halt. "You'll have to walk the rest of the distance. Bill and me will help you with the traps."
Soon the other stage came up, and all on board alighted. The two stage-drivers took the heaviest of the suitcases, while the boys and Mr. Porter and Mr. Basswood carried the others. Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth led the way along a trail that was still somewhat wet and slippery.
"It's right in the woods, that's sure!" declared Roger.
"What do you think of it?" asked Dave, as they approached the two bungalows, which stood only a short distance apart.
"Oh, I like it very much. I think we ought to have a dandy time here, Dave."
"Just what I was thinking."
Their approach had been noticed by the servant girls, and this couple came out to meet them. Then the two drivers were paid, and they returned to their stages and started back for Carpen Falls.
"I'm glad that journey is ended!" remarked Jessie, as she sank into a rustic rocking-chair. "My! but it was quite an adventure; now wasn't it?"
"It certainly was, Jessie," answered Dave. "I don't suppose you'll want to go back by automobile?"
"Not unless you guarantee the weather, Dave," she answered, with a smile.
The Basswood family, along with Shadow and Luke, had gone off to the second bungalow, leaving the others at the one over which Mrs. Wadsworth was to preside. The lady of the bungalow showed the girls and the boys the various rooms which they were to occupy. As all of the other baggage had arrived from the railroad station two days before, the tourists lost no time in getting rid of their damp garments and donning others more comfortable. After that all made an inspection of the bungalow, and then trooped over to the other building.
"Say, this suits me down to the ground!" said Luke. "It couldn't be better."
"I noticed a number of canoes and rowboats at the dock," said Shadow. "We are bound to have some fine times out on that lake."
"And did you notice the bath-houses?" added Ben. "That means good times swimming."
"Providing the water isn't too cold," said Phil. "In some of these lakes among the mountains it gets pretty cold, don't you know, especially if the lake happens to be fed by springs."
"Oh, pshaw! who's afraid of a little cold water?" cried his chum, disdainfully.
"Any danger of a bear coming to eat us up?" queried Luke.
"Oh, don't say bears again!" cried Jessie. "I don't want to hear of them, much less see them."
"Say, that puts me in mind of a story!" cried Shadow, eagerly. "Once a bear got away from his keeper and wandered around a little New England village until he came to a cottage where an old lady lived. All of the villagers were scared to death, and some of them started to get their shotguns and rifles with which to kill Mr. Bruin. But the old lady had her own idea of what to do. She grabbed up a broomstick and began to hammer that bear right on his nose, and would you believe me? Mr. Bruin got so scared that he ran away and then went straight back to his keeper and allowed himself to be chained up again!"
"Shadow, is that a true story or a made-up yarn?" asked Laura.
"It was told to me down East, and they said it was absolutely true," was the answer. "They even gave me the name of the old lady."
"Say, Shadow, it was a wonder they didn't give you the name of the broomstick," said Dave, and with that there was a short laugh.
Dave, Roger, and Phil had been given two rooms between them. One was considerably smaller than the other, and this Dave occupied. On the other side of a little hallway were the girls, while Mr. and Mrs. Wadsworth and Dunston Porter occupied large chambers next to the living-room. In the rear were two tiny rooms for the hired help. At the other bungalow Ben and his friends occupied three little rooms, while Mr. and Mrs. Basswood had a large apartment off to one side. At this bungalow there was an extra large living-room in which was placed, among other things, a small upright piano, somewhat out of tune but still usable.
"Now don't you boys dare to play any tricks to-night!" said Laura, when she and her girl friends were about to retire. "You just keep your tricks for some other time."
"All right, Laura, I'll make Roger and Phil be good," answered her brother. "I guess we are all tired enough to sleep soundly." And he certainly spoke the truth as far as he personally was concerned, for hardly had his head touched the pillow than he was off to the land of dreams.
The boys were up bright and early on the following morning. It was a beautiful day, with the sun shining brightly and a gentle breeze blowing from the West. To be sure, the forest back of the bungalow was still wet, but it had dried off down at the shore of the lake, and at the dock where were located two rowboats and several canoes.
"Let us all go out for a row after breakfast," suggested Dave. "It will limber us up."
The aroma of freshly-made coffee and of sizzling bacon filled the air between the bungalows, and soon the young folks who had gone down to the dock to look at the lake and the craft on it, came trooping back for their breakfast.
"Don't you think it would be more pleasant if we could all eat together, Mrs. Wadsworth?" said Laura, while they were partaking of the repast.
"Perhaps so, Laura, and maybe we'll be able to arrange it," answered the lady. "Mrs. Basswood spoke about it. They have a large living-room there that might be utilized as a dining-room for all, and in pleasant weather we might all eat out on our wide porch."
"That's the talk!" cried Dave. "I'd rather eat outdoors any time, if the weather would permit."
"Oh, yes, let us eat on the porch!" cried Jessie. And so, later on, it was arranged, the entire party eating indoors only when it was wet.
The canoes had been turned over and were perfectly dry, but the two rowboats had to be bailed out. Various parties were made up to go out, and presently Dave found himself in one of the canoes with Jessie as his sole companion.
"Any particular place you'd like to go?" questioned our hero, as he dipped his paddle into the lake, and with a firm sweep sent the long and graceful canoe gliding away from the little dock.
"Supposing we go along the shore, Dave?" answered the girl. "I would like to see how it looks beyond this cove."
"All right, I'll keep as close to shore as possible," he replied. And then they set off, leaving the others to go where they pleased.
"You don't suppose there's any danger of our upsetting?" queried Jessie.
"We won't upset if you keep perfectly still," answered Dave. "I think I can manage this craft all right."
On and on they went over the smooth surface of the lake, passing at times close to the shore and under the overhanging branches of trees, which at some points were very thick. In spots the water was shallow, and so clear that they could see the bottom with ease and occasionally catch sight of fishes darting in one direction or another.
"I think we're going to have some fine times fishing up here," declared the youth, as a beautiful trout flashed by only a few feet away.
They were coming around a long curve of the shore. Just ahead was a high point of rocks, on which somebody had erected a rude summer-house of untrimmed tree-branches.
"What a cute little place!" declared Jessie, in delight.
"It must belong to some of the cottages around the bend," answered Dave. "I believe there is quite a colony somewhere up here."
They passed around the point of rocks, and a few minutes later came in sight of several rustic cottages set in a grove of trees. In front of the cottages was a long, narrow dock, at which rested several craft, including a fair-sized motor-boat.
"Hello, I didn't know there was a motor-boat on this lake!" exclaimed Dave. "Whoever owns it must have had some job getting it here."
No one was at the dock or on the motor-boat, and passing that point, Dave sent his canoe along another picturesque bit of the lake shore. Then, as they made another turn, they came in sight of a log cabin which had evidently been erected many years before.
"Well, I never! Dave, what in the world are those folks doing?"
The cry came from Jessie, and not without reason, for they had suddenly come in sight of three or four men and several ladies, all stationed in front of the old log cabin. One of the men was dressed in the garb of a woodsman; and he held a large ax in his hands, raised over his head as if to strike down one of the younger ladies. Then another of the ladies rushed up, and fell on her knees with upraised hands in front of the man.
"Hello, I know these people!" cried Dave, in astonishment. "They are the moving-picture actors who were on board that burning steam yacht!"
SOMETHING OF A QUARREL
"The moving-picture actors, Dave?" queried Jessie, in wonder.
"Yes. Don't you see the man over there with the camera? He is grinding out a picture of that scene."
"O my! is that the way they do it?" returned the girl, with interest. "I've read about it, but I never had a chance before to see how it was done."
Dave brought the canoe to a standstill, and both watched the little drama being enacted before the old log cabin. Our hero saw that the young lady in the scene was Della Ford, and the elderly lady the one she had called Aunt Bess.
"All over!" exclaimed a man, who stood beside the individual at the moving-picture camera. The latter had stopped turning the handle of the machine, and now he proceeded to cover the whole outfit with a black cloth.
"Well, I'm glad that's over!" those in the canoe heard Della Ford exclaim. "Come, Aunt Bess, let us go back to the water." The young lady turned from the group, and as she did so she caught sight of the canoe and its occupants. She stared for an instant, and then her face lit up.
"Mr. Porter! is it possible!" she exclaimed. "I certainly didn't expect to meet you up here. Aunt Bess, here is the young gentleman who saved us from drowning."
"You don't tell me!" came from the aunt, and then both hurried their steps toward a tiny dock beside which the canoe was resting.
"I certainly didn't expect to meet you again, and away up here in the Adirondacks," answered Dave, with a smile. And then, as the young moving-picture actress came closer, he introduced the girls to each other.
"This is my aunt, Mrs. Bess Ford," announced Della, to Jessie. "I suppose you saw us acting just now?"
"We did," answered Jessie. "It was quite interesting."
"I suppose it is, to an outsider," responded the young actress. "It gets to be an old story with us; doesn't it, Aunt Bess?"
"Oh, I don't mind it," returned the aunt. "I'd rather be up here in the woods acting for the movies than down in some stuffy theater in this warm weather."
"Did Mr. Porter tell you what a grand hero he is, Miss Wadsworth?" asked Della Ford, turning to Jessie. "Oh, he's just the grandest hero I ever met!" and she beamed on Dave.
"Come now, Miss Ford, please don't mention it again," expostulated Dave. "I didn't do so very much, and you know it."
"Isn't saving my life a good deal?" demanded the young actress, archly.
"Oh, I don't mean that. What I mean is that anybody could have done what I did."
"But you did it, young man, and you ought to have credit for it," put in Mrs. Ford, bluntly. "It was certainly a brave thing to do."
"It was; and I shall never cease to thank Mr. Porter for it," went on Della Ford, and she gave Dave another warm look, at which he blushed more than ever.
This look was not lost on Jessie; and she bit her lip in a way that showed she was not altogether pleased. Then Mr. Appleby, the manager of the moving-picture company, came forward, followed by several others.
"This certainly is a surprise!" said the manager. "First we meet on the Atlantic Ocean, and next in the heart of the Adirondacks."
"It's like some of your changes in the movies," answered Dave, smiling. "You show us a shipwreck, and then, presto! you transfer us to an office in Wall Street. You must have to jump around pretty lively to get all the scenes of a drama."
"We don't take just one drama," explained Mr. Appleby. "We sometimes do half a dozen or more. For instance, while we are up here we are going to take the outdoor scenes to fifteen or twenty dramas. Then we'll go back to the city and finish up with a number of interiors."
"Wouldn't you like to be a moving-picture actor, Mr. Porter?" asked Della Ford, eagerly. "You could go into a nautical rescue scene very nicely."
"There you go again, Miss Ford!" returned Dave. "Just the same, it must be some fun being in a moving picture."
"Oh, Dave, don't you go into any moving picture," interrupted Jessie, quickly.
"Why, what would be the harm?" he questioned.
"Oh, no particular harm, I suppose. Only I shouldn't like it," she answered, in a low tone.
"You might get into our next scene," went on Della Ford, ignoring Jessie's remark. "We are going to have one that will show several canoes besides the motor-boat tied up at the dock around the bend."
"Well, I'll think about it," answered Dave, hesitatingly; and then he went on to Mr. Appleby: "By the way, is Ward Porton still with you?"
"He is with my company, yes; but he is not here just now," was the reply. "I expect him in a week or so."
"I met him in Crumville, where I live."
"Is that so? I thought he had gone to his old home down East. However, it doesn't matter; he has a right to go where he pleases."
"By the way, Mr. Appleby, I would like to speak to you in private for a moment," went on Dave, and leaping ashore he drew the manager to one side.
"What is it?"
"You have a new member of your company, a young fellow named Link Merwell."
"Yes, what of it?"
"Link Merwell is a criminal—a fugitive from justice," answered Dave. And then he gave the man some of the particulars already known to my readers.
"If what you say is true, Porter, I don't want that fellow in my company," said Mr. Appleby, warmly. "What do you want me to do when he comes, hold him a prisoner?"
"I wish you would do that, and let us know. Mr. Wadsworth will take care of Merwell."
"All right, I'll do it—if he shows up. But he may not do that—if he has found out that you are in this vicinity," added the manager.
"I'm thinking he will make himself scarce," returned Dave, with a grim smile.
In the meantime Della Ford had come down to the side of the canoe.
"Where are you staying, Miss Wadsworth?" questioned the young actress.
"At a bungalow near the end of the lake," returned Jessie, and explained about the location and who were in the party.
"Oh, how delightful! You will surely have a splendid time here. We are located in the cottage around the bend where you perhaps saw the motor-boat tied up. I am sure we'll be very glad to have you call on us."
"Thank you; perhaps we'll get this way again some time," returned Jessie, somewhat coolly.
"You must come and see us, Mr. Porter, by all means," went on the young moving picture actress when our hero returned to the side of the canoe. "And bring the others along, too. I liked the appearance of your chums. You all seemed to be so jolly."
"Dave, don't you think we ought to be going?" questioned Jessie.
"Just as you say," he answered, and dipped his paddle into the lake.
"Then you don't want to stay and take part in that other picture?" called out Della Ford, as the canoe began to leave the dock.
"Not to-day, Miss Ford," called back Dave. "But I may get into one of your pictures just for the fun of it."
"Do! And don't forget to call at the cottage," returned the young lady; and then the canoe passed out of hearing of those on the shore, and a dozen strong strokes of the paddle sent the frail craft out of sight around another headland.
"That certainly was a surprise," was Dave's comment, as they passed along under some overhanging trees. "I never dreamed of coming across that moving-picture company in such a fashion as that."
"What did you get out for?" asked Jessie, curiously.
"I wanted to ask Mr. Appleby about Link Merwell. He didn't know Link was a criminal. He says if Link shows himself up here he will make him a prisoner and notify us."
"Isn't it queer that Link should join that company!"
"Rather, although I suppose he has got to do something for a living,—and I guess he isn't the fellow to pick out hard work. Acting in the movies must be easy—and lots of fun in the bargain."
"You are not going to act with them, are you, Dave?" questioned Jessie, with her big round eyes full upon him.
"Oh, I don't know. I think perhaps it might be sport."
"I don't think so."
"Miss Ford tried to make a regular hero out of me. I wish she wouldn't do that."
"Well, it was a grand thing for you to do—to pull her out of the water, Dave, and she ought to be exceedingly grateful. Just the same, I don't think I like her very much," and Jessie pouted a little.
"Is that so? Why, I thought she was real nice."
"She's awfully forward."
"I didn't notice that. But maybe it's her calling makes her so. An actress can't be just like other people."
"I think she might be when she wasn't acting. Anyway, I think she was too—well, too gushing."
"I noticed that you didn't give her any invitation to call when she invited you," went on Dave, after a pause, during which they left the vicinity of the shore and swept out into Mirror Lake.
"Why should I? Mamma might not approve of it. I don't think she has a very high opinion of moving-picture actors and actresses."
"And I guess you haven't either, Jessie," returned Dave, somewhat bluntly.
"Oh, I don't know about that," and the girl tossed her head. "They have a right to act in the movies if they want to. They've got to earn their living some way, I suppose. Don't you think we had better be getting back, Dave?"
"Why, it's early yet, Jessie!"
"Never mind, I think I would rather go back. Now that the sun is overhead it is quite warm."
Dave started to answer, and then suddenly shut his mouth tightly. The paddle went deeper into the water, and the canoe shot around quickly in a long semicircle.
"Oh, Dave! don't tip us over!"
"Don't fear. The canoe won't go over if you sit perfectly still," he replied, in a tone that was somewhat unsympathetic.
"Are you going back to the bungalows?"
"Why, certainly. That was what you wanted—to go back; wasn't it?"
"We haven't got to race back, have we?"
"I'm not racing; but I thought you wanted to get out of this hot sun."
"Dave, I think you're angry with me," returned Jessie, reproachfully, but she did not raise her eyes as before. Instead she kept them fastened on the bottom of the canoe.
"Angry? What foolishness! What is there for me to be angry about?"
"Oh, you know well enough."
"I don't see why you should feel so cut up over Miss Ford. I can't help it if she is grateful—as you put it—for my saving her from drowning; can I?"
"Oh, it isn't that, Dave. Of course she ought to be grateful. But you—you——" Jessie's voice broke a little and she could not go on.
"Me? I haven't done a thing! Didn't you hear me tell her to quit it?"
"Oh, it wasn't what you said. It was——But never mind, let us get back to the bungalow." And Jessie kept her eyes on the bottom of the canoe, refusing to look at her companion.
"And I'm sure I didn't do a thing either. Now please don't be silly and——"
"I didn't mean that exactly, Jessie. But you know——"
"It's not a bit nice for you to call me silly!" retorted the girl, her face flaming.
"I didn't mean just that, Jessie. I meant——"
"You did mean it! You think I am silly, do you? All right, you can think so! Please paddle straight for our dock."
"Now, Jessie——" began Dave, entreatingly.
"I don't want to hear another word! Take me straight to the dock," retorted the girl.
"Very well, if you won't listen to me you don't have to," answered Dave; and now he, too, showed that he was completely out of sorts.
He struck the paddle deeper than ever into the water, and with long, telling strokes the canoe shot forward over the lake in the direction of Bear Camp.
Several days went by and during that time the coldness that had sprung up between Dave and Jessie increased, although both did their best to hide it from the others.
One afternoon while the girl was off with Laura and Belle for a tramp along a brook that flowed into the lake not far from the bungalows, Mr. Appleby came into the cove in his motor-boat, bringing with him an old hunter and guide of that vicinity, named Tad Rason, and also Della Ford and her Aunt Bess. They found Dave, Roger, and Phil at the dock, fishing.
"Any luck?" called out the manager of the moving-picture company, cheerily.
"Some, but not a great deal," answered Dave, and he and the others pulled in their lines, so that they might not become entangled in the propeller of the boat.
"You'll have to go to the other shore for good fishing," said Tad Rason, who had already shown himself at the bungalows and made himself known.
"The fish are mighty scarce around here."
"I'd like to go fishing sometime!" exclaimed Della, with a smile and a nod to Dave and his chums. "I never caught a fish in my life. Mr. Porter, couldn't you show me how to do it?" she asked, sweetly.
"I might, if the fish was willing to be caught," answered Dave, with a grin.
"Oh, I am sure I could catch one if you would only show me how," returned the young actress.
"Well, if you are going to fish with worms you've got to first learn how to put one on a hook," said Phil.
"O my! I'm sure that I don't want to put a squirming worm on any hook!" cried Della, with a slight shudder. "I want to fish with one of those beautiful flies, it's so much more interesting."
"I came down on a peculiar errand," broke in Mr. Appleby, after he had tied up at the dock. "I would like to borrow a little furniture from you for one day only."
"Furniture?" queried Roger.
"Yes. You see, we have an interior scene up at our cottage, but we haven't got just the furniture that the drama calls for. I noticed when I stopped at your bungalows yesterday that you had several pieces that are just the ones required. If you will lend them to me to-day, I will see that you get them back safely by to-morrow."
"You'll have to see Mrs. Wadsworth and Mrs. Basswood about that," returned Dave. "Not but that I think it will be all right," he added, hastily.
"Come up here to do some shooting, I suppose, just as soon as the season opens?" remarked Tad Rason, to the boys.
"Well, we won't object to bringing down a deer or two if we get the chance," answered our hero. "But I rather imagine deer are scarce around here. I haven't seen any of them yet."
"Oh, you'll find plenty of deer up at the head of the lake," returned the old hunter. "They don't come down here much. They always left this spot for the bears."
"The bears! Oh, Mr. Rason! you surely don't mean that?" cried Della Ford.
"But I certainly do, ma'am. This was always a great place for bears. That's why they call this end of the lake Bear Camp. I shot one of 'em here last winter, and I got an old she-bear and her two cubs here two years afore that."
"We haven't seen any traces of bears," said Phil.
"You'll see 'em sooner or later," returned the old hunter, with conviction. "They are bound to come here."
"What makes you say they are bound to come?" questioned Dave, curiously. "Is there any particular reason for it?"
"I think there is, young man. So far as I can understand it, I think the bears come here in the fall to get certain roots and herbs that they like to eat. I think they find more of 'em around here than they do anywhere else, and that's what fetches 'em."
"And do you think the bears keep the deer away from here?" questioned Roger.
"I don't know as to that. But I do know that bears and deer don't mix very well," answered Tad Rason.
While Mr. Appleby was negotiating with Mrs. Wadsworth and Mrs. Basswood for the loan of several pieces of rustic furniture which the bungalows contained, Della Ford and her aunt visited with the boys. The young actress wanted to know all about what the young folks at the bungalows had been doing, and expressed her delight at the cosiness of the place, and its beautiful surroundings.
Mr. Appleby, aided by Tad Rason, carried the borrowed furniture down to the motor-boat. There was more of it than the manager had at first anticipated taking, and, as a consequence, the craft was well loaded.
"I don't see how we are going to sit in there with all that furniture packed around us!" exclaimed Della, in dismay, as she viewed the situation.
"You might sit in that rocking-chair on the bow," suggested Phil, with a broad smile; and at this suggestion there was a general laugh.
"No, thank you. I have no desire to be spilled overboard. I went overboard once, and that was quite enough," answered the young actress.
"I'll tell you what we might do," answered Dave. "We could take you and your aunt in one of the rowboats, and have the motor-boat tow it."
"Oh, that would be lovely!" cried Della. "What do you say, Aunt Bess; shall we do it?"
"I'm willing, if it is safe," answered the aunt, "I don't want to go to the bottom of this lake any more than I wanted to go to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean."
"It's perfectly safe," answered Dave. "The boat's a good broad one, so there is no danger of its tipping over—not unless Mr. Appleby makes a quick turn, and I don't suppose he will do that."
"If I pull your rowboat I'll be as steady as an old freight engine," was the manager's reply. "It's very kind of you boys to do this."
The best and broadest of the rowboats was brought around, and Della Ford and her aunt were assisted into the craft. Then, after the boys had procured a pair of oars, they, too, embarked, and the motor-boat headed back for the moving picture company's camp.
"Hello! hello! Where are you going?"
The cry came from the shore at a point where the brook ran into the lake, and looking in that direction, those in the rowboat saw Jessie, Laura, and Belle just emerging from behind some brushwood and rocks. The girl from the West was swinging her broad hat vigorously.
"We are going to take these ladies home!" yelled Dave. "We'll be back soon."
"Oh, see; the motor-boat is loaded with furniture!" exclaimed Dave's sister. "What a funny sight!"
"I didn't know those folks were going to visit us to-day," was Jessie's comment, and her face showed she was not at all pleased.
"See! they have Miss Ford and her aunt with them," said Belle. "Miss Ford is a stunning girl; isn't she?"
"She certainly is quite good-looking," returned Laura. "What do you say, Jessie?"
"Oh, I don't think she is any better-looking than lots of other girls I know," returned Jessie, rather coldly. "Come on, let's get back to the bungalows; this long tramp has tired me dreadfully."
"You do look rather pale," said Belle, kindly. "Don't you feel well?"
"I've got a little headache, that's all. I think I'll go back to the bungalow and rest," returned Jessie; and went on ahead, soon disappearing within one of the buildings.
"Do you know, Laura, I don't believe Jessie likes that Miss Ford a bit," was the comment of the western girl, when she was alone with Dave's sister.
"Why shouldn't she like Miss Ford, Belle? She seems to be a nice enough girl, and I don't think the fact she acts in the movies ought to be held against her."
"I don't think it is that, Laura. It is something else."
"Something else? What do you mean?"
"Oh, I don't know that I ought to mention it. Come on, let us get up to the bungalows."
"But, Belle, do tell me what you think," pleaded Laura. "You know you haven't any right to keep back anything from me," and she caught her chum around the shoulder and held her tightly.
"Well, if you must know, it's this: Jessie can't forget that Dave saved Miss Ford from drowning."
"Oh, I see what you mean, Belle! You think that because Dave did that Jessie thinks he might get more interested in her than would otherwise be the case."
"Not exactly that, Laura. Jessie may imagine that Miss Ford is quite interested in Dave."
"Oh, I see!" Dave's sister was silent for a moment. "But you forget one thing, Belle; Dave saved Jessie's life, too. Don't you remember that I told you of it? A gasoline tank exploded, and she was in danger of being burned to death when Dave jumped in and——"
"Oh, yes, I remember that very well, and you may be sure that Jessie remembers it, too. But then this rescue was so much more recent."
At these words Laura grew more thoughtful than ever, and suddenly she caught her western chum by the arm and pulled Belle into a path leading to the dock.
"What now, Laura?"
"Oh, Belle! do you really think there is anything in that? Do you think that is what has made Jessie act so queerly for the last couple of days? I noticed she was not herself at all; and Dave seemed to be different, too."
"If you want the truth of it, I do think there is some sort of a quarrel between them. Of course, I am not sure it is on Miss Ford's account. But they don't act as they used to."
"It's too bad!" and Laura's face showed great seriousness. "I wouldn't have anything come between Dave and Jessie for the world!"
"It would be a great shame, there is no doubt of that," answered the girl from the ranch.
When the pair entered the bungalow they found that Jessie had gone to her room. She was lying on a couch, and though the light was dim, Laura could see quite plainly that her friend had been crying.
"You poor dear!" said Dave's sister, going up and placing her hand on Jessie's forehead. "Is your headache worse?"
"Not much, Laura," was the answer. Jessie turned over with her face toward the wall. "I just want to be left alone awhile, and then I'll be all right."
"Don't you want me to get you anything at all?"
"No. Just leave me alone, that's all."
Laura stood by the side of the couch for a moment. She was on the point of speaking again. She wanted very much to relieve her mind, but concluded that it might not be a wise thing to do. She tiptoed to the doorway, where she encountered Belle, and both walked to another part of the bungalow.
"And do you really think it was a headache, Laura?" whispered Belle, when the two were safe out of earshot of any of the others.
"She may have a headache, but I think it is more than that," was the reply from Dave's sister. "Oh, Belle, if matters are as you think they are, what in the world are we going to do?"
"I don't know of anything to do, Laura. I don't believe it would be a wise thing to say anything to Jessie."
"Then suppose I talk to Dave?"
"You can suit yourself about that. But if I were you I'd be very careful. Boys are as touchy as girls when it comes to a subject like that."