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By warrEN L, ELDRED
CHAPTER VI THE JOYS OF CAMP LIFE
Doctor HALSEY stepped forward and removed his hat, as the lady turned toward him inquiringly. “I trust you will pardon me for stopping you,” he began, “but we are strangers here, and want to find the nearest neighbor who can supply us with food. We reached our camp about an hour ago, expecting our provisions would be there, but we don't find them. Our cupboard is in worse condition than that of old Mother Hubbard.” “Oh, I 'm so sorry!” was the compassionate reply. “Now, let me see ' What can I do for you? Why, yes! We have plenty of bread and meat in the house—and milk and tea. So we can give you an informal luncheon. I cannot promise you very much, but in an emergency like this, it will be better than nothing.” “Indeed, yes!” exclaimed the doctor, gratefully. “It is very kind of you to suggest it, but I dislike to trouble you.” “Don’t speak of it,” was the prompt reply. “It really is no trouble”; adding, with a smile, “but I will drive on and get things ready. You will find our landing about half a mile up the lake, the next one to yours. Or, if you come by land, look on the left side of the road for a mail-box with my name on it, Mrs. Elizabeth Spencer.” “Thank you very much, Mrs. Spencer,” Doctor Halsey responded. “I hope some day we may have an opportunity of repaying your great kindness.” Mrs. Spencer nodded pleasantly and started the horses. “Come up and sing for me sometimes, and we 'll call the account settled,” she said. They went back to the bungalow, and removed the marks of recent travel as well as their resources permitted. Then they started for what Lefty called “the palace of Lady Bountiful.” It was nearly a mile by the road, but finally they found Mrs. Spencer's home—a pretty, white cottage with green blinds. Upon the shady porch, shielded from the sun by awnings and climbing vines, sat the girl who had been in the carriage, and three others. A sudden shyness seized the boys, and they felt a strange reluctance to advance. Then one of the girls disappeared within the house, and in a minute Mrs. Spencer came out to welcome them. “I know you will be willing to take things just as you find them,” she said half jestingly. “I 'm only sorry that I can do so little for you.”
As she talked, she had led them into the diningroom. The lunch was all ready, and it seemed to the hungry boys as if they never had tasted anything quite as good. Mrs. Spencer proved a kind and gracious hostess. Before the boys left the cottage, they felt as if they had known her a long while. The meal being over, Doctor Halsey excused the boys and himself, reminding their hostess how much work awaited them. With many heartfelt expressions of gratitude, they prepared to depart. “Mrs. Spencer, can you tell us where to find Mr. Samuelson?" Tom inquired. “He was to cart our stuff over from the railroad station at North Rutland, and I want to hunt him up and see what 's become of it.” Mrs. Spencer hesitated. “You 'd better not go there—yet,” she said finally. “You can inquire at the North Rutland freight office, and find out whether your goods were delivered, but I would n't let any one know, if I were you, that F 'd had any dealings with Mr. Samuelson.” The boys looked surprised, so she added, by way of partial explanation, “This will seem like very strange advice, no doubt, but I assure you that it is the best I can give. I earnestly hope we all may understand the matter clearly before the summer passes.” Wondering, yet not caring to question further, the party left their kind friend and walked back to Beaver Camp, discussing with eager curiosity the strange affair partially revealed to them by Mrs. Spencer's guarded warning. They had not yet settled upon any definite plan of action when they turned into the camp road. All at once Eliot stopped short and stared about. “It looks as if some one had been dragging a big box or something else large and heavy through those bushes,” he said, pointing toward the left. “See how the ground is scraped and torn up. Suppose we investigate.” They plunged into the underbrush, and within ten yards found a trunk. Walter Cornwall set up a shout of joy, and eagerly inspected his property to see if it had been damaged in transit. Farther in among the trees and bushes was the ice-cream freezer, packed full of smaller articles. Scattered about were boxes, barrels, trunks, and bundles. Apparently everything was there except the cots, Jack's trunk, and the smaller one belonging to Cousin Willie, who had brought two in order to carry what his mother considered necessaries.
“Well, I wish whoever dumped this stuff out here in the wilderness would kindly tell us how to get it back,” muttered Tom, who, nevertheless, was vastly relieved to know that so much of their equipment had arrived. “I don't see how we 're going to drag it up to the bungalow.” “Hold on a minute,” Eliot said thoughtfully, seating himself on a box; “it looks to me as if this stuff had been left up at the bungalow all right. Whoever stowed it away locked the door and put the keys outside under the mat. Somebody came along, read the sign, opened the door, dragged out all the truck, and dumped it here. Must have used a wheelbarrow or a stone-boat.” “All of which is very interesting, but what 's it got to do with getting our house furnishings back under the ancestral roof?” Ed interrupted. “My idea is to see if that stone-boat is n't around somewhere, load as many of our boxes and barrels on it as we can manage, and then drag it to the bungalow,” Eliot went on. Luckily it was soon discovered, overturned on the ground, among some bushes. Then the tedious, backbreaking process of transferring all the equipment to the bungalow was undertaken. Although twilight lingered long for their accommodation, it was dark before they finished. While the boys still busied themselves unpacking the things, Doctor Halsey fried some bacon over the camp-fire, and made “camp flapjacks,” which the boys pronounced “great.” The evening meal was informal in the extreme, the bungalow being in a state of wild disorder, but the boys made the best of the situation. Nine o'clock came—half-past—and, at last, the doctor said: “We have a whole vacation before us, and there is no need of doing too much the first day. Leave the rest until to-morrow. It 's warm to-night and clear. We may as well curl up on the piazza, I suppose.” And they did. Wrapping themselves in blankets and pillowing their heads on sweaters or anything else soft that came handy, they drifted off to dreamland. The doctor slept in the middle of the long line, with five boys on each side. Lefty found himself at one end with Cousin Willie next, between himself and Tad. The boys were very tired, and soon fell asleep, in spite of their hard beds which afforded slight comfort for aching muscles. About an hour later, Lefty stirred uneasily, then rolled over, seeking a more comfortable position. As he did so, he was conscious of a sound like a stifled sob from his next neighbor. He smiled scornfully. What was the kid blubbering about, anyhow? Then Lefty's kind heart
reproached him. After all, he was only a little fellow, and this was the first time he ever had been so far away from home without his mother. No wonder the poor chap felt homesick | Lefty rolled over quietly, and put his arm protectingly around the younger boy. “What 's the matter, kid?" he said gently. At first no answer came from the sobbing boy, but at length his tale of woe was told. He was so lonesome and tired (he would n't say homesick) that he could n't go to sleep, and yet he did n't want the boys to know how miserable he felt for fear they would think he was a baby. Lefty smiled to himself when this statement fell falteringly from Willie's lips. Lefty soothed and comforted the unhappy boy as best he could. “It won't be nearly as hard tomorrow, Willie,” he whispered. “By that time, you 'll be so happy that the vacation won't seem long enough. Don't feel badly, either, when the fellows tease you, because you 'll notice that we make fun of one another every day. It 's a sign they like you if they sort of jolly you along. “Suppose we form a partnership, you and I. You want the fellows to think that you 've quit being a kid. That 's good | That 's the proper spirit ! If you ’re really on the level, I'll stand by you and help all I can, but I'll expect you to do your part, and you must n’t feel sore if I sail into you like a Dutch uncle whenever you play the baby. I'll begin now by telling you to go to sleep. Just forget everything, and settle down for pleasant dreams.” “All right, partner,” Willie murmured drowsily. When the doctor awoke, soon after sunrise, and looked over the still forms about him, he saw
the partners fast asleep with their arms around
each other, and he smiled contentedly.
CHAPTER VII “Hoist the FLAG ! THE GIRLS ARE CoMING !”
MANY duties awaited the boys that first morning in Beaver Camp, and they were stirring before the sun was very high in the eastern sky. Doctor Halsey paired them off, and set them to doing different things that needed attention. One pair cut wood and piled it near the camp-fire; another carried groceries into the room which had served the former occupants as a kitchen, and arranged them conveniently on the shelves; a third finished unpacking the boxes and barrels; another swept out the rubbish, aired the blankets, and made the premises tidy, while the last two boys carried water, washed dishes and cooking utensils that had just come out of boxes and barrels, and aided in the preparation of breakfast.
During the morning, Tom and the doctor arranged for a supply of milk, eggs, butter, and vegetables from a farmer in the neighborhood, while Jack and Eliot rowed across the lake to purchase some necessary articles. While they were gone, Tad and Lefty walked over to the railway-station at North Rutland, where they found the two trunks that had not yet been delivered, but no cots. “Whatever has become of those bally beds?” Tad exclaimed helplessly. “I wanted to warn Tom not to buy 'em,” Lefty reminded him, “but you would n't let me. I knew something 'd happen to 'em.” “Maybe the railroad is using them. They have sleepers, you know.” “Sure! Maybe they 've used them for part of the road-bed.” “No. I know what, Lefty. Don't you remember the salesman said the legs could be folded underneath? They probably got tired, curled up their legs, and went to sleep.” “Well, anyhow, I wish they 'd come. The piazza floor may be swell for rugged constitutions, but there are things I like better.” “We won't sleep there to-night. We 'll cut branches and make camp beds. I read a book not long ago that told how to do it.” “Perhaps they 'll come to-morrow. There 's a freight up from the south every morning. I wonder if some one here would cart them over to the camp and bring the trunks at the same time?” “Should n't be surprised. I'll ask the supreme potentate of freight and baggage.” That official “guessed "Zekiel Pettingill 'd bring 'em over for 'em if he had a load that way,” and directed them toward the humble home of the worthy Ezekiel. As they turned away from the office, they became suddenly aware that three boys, evidently natives of the place, were regarding them attentively from the top rail of a near-by fence. “Mornin’,” one of them ventured. Lefty removed his hat and bowed low. “Greetings,” he responded. That stunned the trio into speechlessness, and it was not until Tad and Lefty had moved some yards away, that the previous speaker again found his voice. “Reckon you fellers play ball?” “Reckon we do | Want a game P” The boy nodded. “Be you the fellers that 'r' stayin' over on the lake?” “We be—but not all of them. There are eight more.” “Campin' on the Raymond place, ain't ye?” “We’re making a feeble stab in that direction.”
The natives exchanged glances of ominous solemnity, and sighed in a manner which somehow conveyed the idea of awe, apprehension, and gloomy foreboding all at once. “Reckon ye won't stay there long. There ain't a feller in the hull township that 'd go near the place. It 's haunted | They say there 's awful goings on after dark, and somethin' always happens to folks that stay there.” “I noticed it,” Lefty solemnly assured them. “Last night, along about midnight, I heard a queer noise out in the woods. It was a wild, mournful sound”—he shivered as he recalled the experience, noting the fact, as he paused, that his auditors were visibly impressed—“like—like a man playing a bass viol in a prison cell. I seized the first weapon that came handy, which turned out to be a can-opener, and went forth to discover the cause—” “All alone?” gasped one of the natives. “Sure! If I 'd taken some one with me that would have made a pair, and it 's not time yet for pears. Well, I stole silently into the woods, and what do you suppose I saw P A red, white, and blue elephant with gleaming tusks and a steamer trunk | He was sitting on a log, singing, ‘Has anybody here seen Kelly?" Oh, yes! the place is haunted, all right !” “Wal, I swow !” ejaculated one of the boys, and all three stared at Lefty with feelings too deep for expression. “We 'll arrange a game with you the next time we 're over,” Tad hastily assured them. “Come along, Lefty' We want to hunt up the great and only 'Zekiel and get him to bring the cots over when they get here. It 's no fun tramping over to the station every day, only to find out that there 's nothing doing.” They located Neighbor Pettingill, and made favorable arrangements with him, then started back toward the camp. “Well, Tad, we seem to have landed knee-deep in an awful mystery,” Lefty remarked. “We 've hired a haunted camp and discovered a man that we don't dare talk about when anybody's around. I thought Tom said this was such a quiet section of the country.” “That was before taking. His present ideas have not yet been submitted for publication. I wonder if those fellows can play base-ball enough to keep themselves warm.” Lefty shrugged his shoulders doubtfully. “You never can tell about these country teams, Tad. They may be able to play all around us. Most likely they practise a lot, and have a bunch of heavy hitters on board. It is n't a good plan to underestimate a team like that. If you do get
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“Oh, don't fret about Cousin Willie | The kid 's got the right stuff in him, Tad. I had a talk with him last night, and he and I have formed a partnership for — er — for mutual improvement and development.” “That 's fine, Lefty . A partnership like that ought to do you lots of good. I 'm so glad, for your sake, that Cousin Willie has consented to improve you. ...You need it ! Of course, I would n't say so to any one outside, but since you mentioned it—” “Exactly Cousin Willie has the right idea about camp life, Tad. I don't believe he 's going to give up very easily, no matter what happens. At home, I suppose he 's humored and petted to death, so he 's grown to expect it. He knows that he can have his own way if he makes a fuss about it, consequently he rules the r00St. “He seems to have sense enough, though, to know that such a program does n’t specially draw a crowd up here. He 's a sensible kid I don't know where he got his level-headed notions—” “They come from our branch of the family.” “A lot they do | You 'd have to give trading-stamps to get anybody to take 'em. Anyhow, Cousin Willie has made up his mind that it 's time he quit being a kid. He wants to show the fellows up here that he is just as big as they are in feelings, and has just as stiff a backbone. I told him I 'd stretch forth a helping hand to aid a stumbling brother as long as he acted as if he meant what he said, and he quite fell on the offer.” “Good work, Lefty " I did n't think the kid had it in him. I hope he 'll make good. It would tickle Mother immensely if he developed as she wants him to up here at camp.” Arriving at Beaver Camp, the fun-loving pair lost no time in proclaiming the fact that intelligent natives had declared the place to be haunted, but the announcement excited only amusement and ridicule. The boys, however, welcomed the invitation to meet the natives in friendly rivalry on the baseball diamond, and began to discuss ways and means of accomplishing their defeat. “First thing on the program, we must get our diamond in shape,” Tom suggested. “If we play in the village, they may want a return game here. Anyhow, we need plenty of practice. We want to make a good showing.” “Probably by to-morrow we'll be able to tackle our athletic field,” Charlie observed. “We seem to have things in fairly good shape around the place.” And it was agreed that this matter should receive attention the next day. By mid-afternoon, the campers were comfortably settled in their new quarters, and they celebrated the completion of their hard toil by having an invigorating bath in the lake. Cousin Willie stood timidly on the shore, after having waded in until his ankles were covered, shivering at the thought of plunging into the cold Water. “Let 's duck the kid,” Bert proposed to Lefty. “Don't you do it—now,” was the pleading response. “He "s only a kid, you know, Bert, and if you go to work and scare him into fits the first time he comes down to swim, he won't get over it in a hurry. What's the use, anyhow 2 We want to brace the kid up ! Most likely he 'll enjoy it as well as any of us once he gets the habit. If he sees that we 're not going to bother him, he won't be afraid to come in.” “All right, deacon '" Bert laughingly replied. “I 'll help make a water baby of him.” He waded ashore as he spoke, and stood for a moment beside the younger boy, swinging his arms to keep warm. “Can you swim, Willie?” he asked finally. “A little.” “Better come in. The water 's fine to-day. Honest It does n't feel cold after you 've been in awhile, and it 's a lot more fun than standing here shivering. Come on in with me. It is n't deep until—until you get out there where Ed and Tad are.” Willie drew back, reluctant to plunge in, but Bert threw an arm about his waist and lifted him into the water, where they both splashed about gaily for a few minutes. Then Bert swam off into deeper water, and Willie essayed a few strokes himself. “Not bad, Will' Kick your legs out more. That 's the way !” Doctor Halsey called to him from the shore. Then he waded out to en
courage the boy with a few suggestions and a little praise. Will was very happy when the signal was given to come out of the water. New forces were stirring within him, and it seemed to him as if he were just beginning to be a real boy. Also he felt a growing regard for these lively, fun-loving. manly fellows, who seemed to take especial pains to be kind to him and to help him in the carrying out of certain commendable resolutions which he had made, and which he had partially revealed to Lefty when their partnership was formed. The campers sunned themselves on the beach for a few minutes, in spite of the doctor's warning of possible sunburn, then dressed leisurely and wandered up toward the bungalow. A dismal wailing, which reminded them of backyard fences at home, saluted their ears as they approached the house, and Charlie and Walter, who were in the lead, ran forward to investigate. No cat had been on the premises since their arrival, so they wondered whence came the unmistakably feline solo. “A cat" Charlie gasped. Well, did you ever !” The others crowded around, and saw a small Maltese kitten imprisoned in a rough cage made of a crate. On this was tacked a sign bearing the inscription printed in red ink:
DANGER DO NOT TOUCH ! WILDCAT CAPTURED IN THE WOODS ON THE RAY MOND PLACE. MANY MORE AT LIBERTY | BEWARE I
The kitten had a piece of red ribbon tied around its neck, and a little bell tinkled when it moved. “Must belong to some one in the neighborhood.” Tom asserted. “We’d better hang on to it until it 's claimed.” “Wonder how it got into the crate.” “Through the crater, most likely.” There was considerable speculation as to how and by whom the kitten had been placed on the bungalow piazza, but other matters claimed the boys' attention, and just then they were too busy to attempt a complete solution of the mystery. A large flag was owned by Beaver Camp, and Tom, with the help of Eliot and Charlie, attempted to attach it to halyards on a flagpole near a corner of the bungalow. This required some little time, but they had just completed the task, when Bert came running up the pathway from the shore. “Hoist the flag" he cried breathlessly, as he neared the house. “The girls are coming !”