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THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT THE END OF THE TRAIL
BY MARGARET VANDERCOOK Author of The Ranch Girls Series, The Red Cross Girls Series, etc.
PHILADELPHIA THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO. PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1917, by The John C. Winston Company
PAGE I. A Strange Background 7 II. White Robes 22 III. A New Dawn 32 IV. A New Girl 46 V. The Patient 59 VI. A Wager 67 VII. A Study in Temperaments 78 VIII. Possibilities 90 IX. An Adventure 103 X. A Good Samaritan 116 XI. The Canyon 127 XII. The Man from Above 139 XIII. Disillusion 151 XIV. Facing the Music 161 XV. Expiation 170 XVI. The Pine, not the Olive 190 XVII. The Passionate Pilgrim 200 XVIII. An Appeal 209 XIX. The Arrest 222 XX. The Grand Canyon 231
PAGE When He Appeared He was Leading, Half Carrying, a Girl who did not Look like a Formidable Intruder. _Frontispiece_ They Heard the Sound of Low Voices Before Seeing Any One. 111 With the Rope now about His Own Waist, Howard Brent Crawled Down to Her. 143 'I Just Wanted to Thank You,' She Said. 229
The Camp Fire Girls at the End of the Trail
CHAPTER I A Strange Background
The castle had been built before the first known palace in Europe. It wasfashioned centuries ago inside the walls of a stone cliff with two tallercliffs rising on either side. Beyond was a break between, allowing anarrow entrance to the cliff dwelling from the outside. In front therewas a small plateau of rock ending in a precipice, which descended with adrop of a hundred feet to a new ledge, and then came another still deeperfall.
That afternoon a group of four persons were inside the ancient cliffdwelling. One of them--a young girl in an odd costume which was partlymodern and yet suggesting an older race--had climbed to the crest of theruins and stood, with her hand above her eyes, gazing about her.
Another girl, in a chamber below, was sitting upon a comfortable campstool which she had undoubtedly brought with her, she was hammeringindustriously with a small steel hammer, and now and then stopped to workwith her chisel at a solid stone wall. Evidently she believed someextraordinary treasure was embedded inside, since she never glanced awayfrom her labors.
On the bottom floor historic influences had not kept the two remaininggirls from the cheering occupation of preparing tea. The wood must havebeen brought from the country behind the cliffs, for a camp fire wasburning in the old stone chamber, with a large kettle of water simmeringabove it.
One of the two girls--tall and foreign in appearance, with large darkeyes and thick dark hair parted in the middle over a low brow--left hertask now and then. She would then walk twenty yards or more toward afigure lying quietly in the sunshine. In spite of the warmth this figurewas wrapped in a great blanket which allowed only a fair head and thinface to show forth.
If no attention was vouchsafed her, she would quietly return to heroccupation. But, by and by, without speaking, she came and spread a smallcloth on a flat surface of rock. Then she unpacked an Indian basketstored with things for making tea. Immediately afterwards, putting herfingers to her lips, she summoned the other girls to join her.
In response Alice Ashton rose up at once and carefully stored away herprecious bits of stone and her hammer and chisel into the bag she carriedfor the purpose. Then she climbed down the jagged but secure steps cutinto the face of the rock so many years ago.
But Peggy Webster, at the summit of the cliff dwelling, refused todescend in any such sensible fashion.
Instead, she began to slide over the face of the rock, losing and thenregaining her foothold. Below the others watched her half fascinated andhalf annoyed.
Peggy! one of the girls called warningly.
For Vera Lageloff had seen her safely reach a flat surface about ten feetfrom the plateau below. She had walked out to the edge of it and therestood poised for a moment with her back to the sun. Her pose was asvirile and graceful as that of a young boy.
Then, before the watchers exactly realized her purpose, she had crouchedand sprung from the ledge. For the instant she was in the air she was afigure of bronze and crimson. The moment had struck the earth, she wasmerely Peggy Webster, in a khaki Camp Fire costume with a red band abouther black hair and a little out of breath from her plunge.
There I have been wondering if I could accomplish that feat ever since Iarrived in this stone age country, she announced penitently, appearingmore ashamed of her performance than proud.
Well, as long as you are gratified and still alive, Peggy, I onlyrequest that you never make the same attempt again, Betty Grahamreturned, her color returning swiftly, now that her momentary nervousnesshad passed. For she had come away from her task of guarding the fire justin time to behold the other girl's act.
Really, since we came West, Peggy dear, I am becoming more and moreconvinced that the Fates never intended you for a feminine person, shewent on. There is never any guessing what reckless thing you may donext. I am afraid an accident may happen to you.
While she was speaking, Bettina Graham had taken her seat on the groundand had begun pouring the hot water into a tea-kettle of generous size.
Peggy now dropped down beside her.
Don't say I am masculine, please, Bettina; I do so hate a masculinewoman. Your last remark was only a more polite way of expressing the sameunpleasant idea. Why don't you say instead that I am 'Seraphita?' She isBalzac's charming character--half girl, half boy, neither and both. WhenI am in favor with Tante she has a way of declaring me anotherSeraphita.
Besides your sudden plunge might have frightened Billy, Vera Lageloffinterrupted, not realizing how her speech betrayed the interest usuallyuppermost in her mind.
The figure, still wrapped in the blanket, was at present sitting up,looking from one girl to the other in a quietly disinterested fashion.
Oh, no, I am never worried over Peggy when she is attempting athleticfeats, he announced. She will never do herself serious harm in thatway. What I fear for her, what I know will hurt her some day, are theexperiences about which she is so scornful at present. You see she isperfectly convinced that she will never care for any human being outsideher family and a few friends. So nothing and no one can ever harm her.
Billy Webster accepted the cup of tea and a comfortable number ofsandwiches which Vera now offered him.
Don't be absurd, Billy, Peggy challenged, her face reddening in spiteof her effects to appear undisturbed. As far as you are concerned youwill look ever so much better as soon as you cease behaving like aninvalid. I do believe you are in better health than you wish us to thinkyou are.
Perhaps I am; really I don't exactly know, Billy returneddispassionately, as if he were speaking of some one else. He was holdinghis cup and gazing over its rim. I do enjoy having so little asked ofme. It has never happened before, as I have always been expected to dothe things I dislike. Now, I would far rather be half ill than to have toshoot and fish and do the kind of things Dan and the other fellows outhere like to do. Besides, I really tried to make myself ill, so thatfather would have to consent to my coming West.
Billy made this announcement without embarrassment, but not as if hecared whether or not it were believed.
It was his sister, Peggy, who flushed uncomfortably as she always didover her brother's oddities. To her truthful mind and straightforwardnature his peculiarities were impossible to understand.
But Billy did not look as if his words had been altogether true. In spiteof his sister's speech, he was far more fragile than he had been when shehad said farewell to him at their farm in New Hampshire a few monthsbefore. She had then started west to join her aunt, Mrs. Burton, andbecome a member of the Sunrise Hill Camp Fire club in Arizona.
At this instant and without being observed, Vera shook her head at Peggy.
If no one else understood Billy Webster's vagaries, the Russian girl withwhom he had so deep a friendship apparently did, or if not she usuallyhad an excuse for him.
But Peggy suddenly remembered that her brother was not supposed to knowhow ill he had been.
Then, almost at the same time, an interruption followed in the form of anextraordinary sound, or combination of sounds. First there was thelong-drawn-out wail of annoyance and protest made by a small westernburro; then an intermingling of faint shrieks of fear with gay laughter.
Peggy and Bettina both ran forward to the narrow opening between the twocliff walls. Then they beheld an extremely pretty, rather plump woman,with rose-colored cheeks and grey in her brown hair, riding astride aburro. The burro was being lead by another woman of the same age,extraordinarily like and yet unlike the other one. The woman on foot wasmore slender and paler, her hair was darker and not grey, and her eyes adeeper blue.
Peggy, darling, for goodness sake help me get your mother off thisbeast, she called out as soon as the two girls were inside the defile,I have had to drag both the animal and Mollie Webster every inch of theway. See, Mollie, I told you that our camp was not far from this oldcliff dwelling which the girls and I discovered and adopted the otherday. You might easily have walked here.
So I might and would have, Polly O'Neill Burton, had I dreamed that youwere going to make this wretched animal actually trot with me across astone wilderness.
During her protest, with some difficulty, Mrs. Webster was beingpersuaded to dismount from her burro by Peggy and Bettina. But she seemednot to have acquired the art of making the proper beginning, for her toolong and too full skirt kept getting twisted around her.
Better wear a proper Camp Fire costume, especially adapted for a CampFire guardian at the Grand Canyon of Arizona, Mollie, Mrs. Burtonsuggested, going forward and leaving the girls to find some place tofasten the burro, when finally her beloved twin sister had made thedescent to earth in safety.
Mrs. Burton's costume was in fact charming and so simple that one wouldnot easily have known how expensive it was. She wore tan-colored, highkid boots, wrinkling above the foot like mousquetaire gloves, akhaki-colored broadcloth coat and a short skirt with trousers of the samematerial beneath. Her hat was of French felt, a little deeper shade ofbrown, and trimmed with a soft red scarf.
Billy, you look like an Indian chief with that blanket wrapped aboutyou, provided one does not look too carefully on the inside, sheannounced. Hope the tea isn't all gone; your mother needs somerefreshment, although I don't care for any.
Then walking over to the edge of the cliff Mrs. Burton stood lookingdown, with a curious sensation of fascination and fear.
A moment later Mrs. Webster sat down beside her son, giving a suppressedsigh of relief. Billy seemed so much better, although he had been at thenew Sunrise Camp but little over a week.
A short time before the Sunrise Hill Camp Fire party, who had been forseveral months living in a group of tents on the borders of the PaintedDesert, had moved on to the neighborhood of the Grand Canyon. They werenow in camp not far from the famous Angel Trail.
But before they were fairly settled a letter had arrived from Mrs.Webster saying that she would like to join the Camp Fire party and wishedto bring along her two sons, Dan and Billy Webster.
There was no possibility of declining to welcome the newcomers, for itwas Billy's serious illness which had made a western trip necessary andforced his father's consent to their joining his aunt's camping party.
However, the campers were extraordinarily well pleased and particularlyPolly Burton. For if her beloved Mollie were with her, surely herdifficulties as Camp Fire guardian were over. She and Mollie were sounlike they were complements to each other.
Fact is when we are together, Mollie mine, we have all the virtues andleave none to be desired, Polly O'Neill, who was now Mrs. RichardBurton, had more than once announced to her twin sister.
And Mollie had laughed as she always did, accepting the speech as onlyone of her gifted sister's absurdities. For, in spite of her Polly'sgenius, her opinions never made much impression upon Mrs. Webster.
Nevertheless, perhaps on this point she was not altogether wrong.Already, since Mrs. Webster's coming, the group of Camp Fire girlsunconsciously were under the spell of its truth. There were some to whomMollie Webster represented the influences which they needed and desired.She was far more motherly than her sister and loved to fuss and worryover each girl's health and appetite. Yet, in her gentler fashion, shewas really more exacting than Mrs. Burton, as such apparently yieldingnatures often are.
Already Alice Ashton and Vera Lageloff felt more closely drawn to Mrs.Webster--Vera, because she was Billy's mother and had been her friendbefore she met Mrs. Burton.
With Alice Ashton the circumstances were different. For one thing, Alicefelt that her Aunt Mollie took her more seriously and had a real respectfor her intellectual interests and abilities. She could not always beperfectly certain that the other Camp Fire guardian was not sometimes alittle amused by her ambitions.
Vera and Alice were both engaged in serving Mrs. Webster with tea. Amoment later Bettina and Peggy walked over and stood on either side ofMrs. Burton.
To what on earth, Tante, did you expect us to hitch that wretchedbeast? Bettina demanded. Peggy did finally manage to tie him to a cliffbut it required an extraordinary amount of talent.
Laughing, Mrs. Burton slipped one hand inside Peggy's and the other inBettina's.
Sorry, children, but I could not persuade Mollie to come with me in anyother way and I did want her to see this wonderful view. You know how shehates walking, but perhaps we may get her into better habits while she isin the West with us. Look down there. The distance is tremendous, isn'tit? and yet this is only one of the smaller canyons--not the GrandCanyon. The roaring of the water sounds as far beneath as if it were theRiver Styx. But don't get so close to the edge, Bettina. I thoughtlooking down great heights made you feel uncomfortable.
Some one jumped or fell over this cliff the other day, Peggy announced.Ralph Marshall told me that the man had been a guest at the hotel wherehe is staying.
Mrs. Burton shivered, drawing back in her usual impressionable fashion.
Don't tell us any gruesome details, please, Peggy dear. Remember it isthe wonder and beauty of nature we must think of, and not itsterribleness.
Afterwards the woman and two girls were silent for a little while, eachpursuing her own train of thought and each admiring in her fashion themarvelous spectacle before them.
It was as if a sunset had been inverted and its colors dropped downinside the cliffs, using the stones for clouds to hold the lights.Farther down, the walls of earth grew dark and finally a black stream ranbetween them.
A little later Mrs. Webster called to her sister and the two girls tojoin her. They then returned at once to the rest of the group and forhalf an hour sat there laughing and talking. For their background theyhad one of the most ancient dwellings of the human race ever found uponthe earth, and their foreground was a portion of one of the great wondersof the world.
Nevertheless the Camp Fire party talked chiefly of their own affairs.After all, human beings are seldom vitally interested for long inanything save themselves and their own kind.
But, by and by, Mrs. Burton arose.
Please hurry, everybody, we must get back to camp as soon as possible,she suggested. We forget that now September is here the days are gettingshorter. I for one have not the courage to be lost in this part of theworld. Moreover I have something to tell you when we reach camp which maysurprise you.