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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Outdoor Girls At The Hostess House - Chapter 13. The Copperhead
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The Outdoor Girls At The Hostess House - Chapter 13. The Copperhead Post by :jmarkum Category :Long Stories Author :Laura Lee Hope Date :May 2012 Read :697

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The Outdoor Girls At The Hostess House - Chapter 13. The Copperhead


Betty was the first to break the silence.

"But, of course," she said, and they started at the sound of her voice--so far away had their thoughts been wandering, "it may only be one more of those rumors the boys are always talking about."

"I suppose so," said Grace, with a sigh. "Anyway, it won't do any good to worry about it till the time comes."

"Well, I don't know," said Mollie a little irritably. "It's like having a sword hanging over your head all the time. I'd just as soon have it cut me in two now and get it over with."

"Yes, it is something like cutting the poor dog's tail off an inch at a time," sighed Amy, and at the comparison and her sober countenance they had to laugh despite the very real trouble at their hearts.

"I wish," said Betty wistfully after a while, "the boys could have gotten leave to-day. I should like to have just one more picnic with them. We've had such good times together. And we're going to have lots more," she added, springing to her feet with a sudden, swift smile. "That's our part of the business from now on. Just to keep smiling and make up our minds that they're coming back to us just as they went--only better."

"They couldn't be," declared Amy, and once more the other Outdoor Girls laughed and hugged her.

"Anyway, they've got one good backer in you, Amy dear," said Betty fondly. "You've no idea how fond all the boys are of you. I declare, sometimes I'm almost jealous."

"You," cried Amy incredulously, looking at the flushed face and shining eyes. "You'll never need to be jealous of anybody in your life Betty Nelson--and especially of me," she added modestly.

Betty laughed and hugged her again.

"Girls, it's getting late," she said suddenly, with another of her swift changes of subject. "I guess perhaps it's time we were starting back. Oh, I forgot," she added, in consternation, "I, or rather, Amy and I, promised Mrs. Sanderson we'd gather some flowers for her, and now we've got to do it, even if it is late--"

"Of course we have," agreed Mollie, rising with alacrity. "It wouldn't do at all to disappoint her."

"It must have been a pretty lonely day for her," said Amy thoughtfully, as she snapped the lid of a basket shut. "I wish she had come with us."

"Well, we're pretty much in the same boat as she is--or will be soon," mused Mollie, as the girls scattered to make good Betty's promise.

"How so?" queried Amy.

"Why," said Mollie, "she's already lost her boy and now we're about to lose ours."

"Goodness, Mollie," cried Grace indignantly, while the others chuckled, "you make me feel eighty years old. They're not our sons, you know."

"Of course you had to tell me that--" Mollie was beginning, when a scream from Amy and a hurried scramble onto a convenient stump interrupted her.

"What is it?" they cried, running to her anxiously.

"Look out, look out," Amy cried, bringing them up with a sharp turn a couple of feet from her perch.

"What is it?" they cried again, looking wildly about them.

"A snake," she screamed. "Look out, Grace, it's coming for you! Oh, look out!"

Wide-eyed and open-mouthed, the girls looked where Amy pointed, and saw, wriggling ominously toward them through the short grass, a large coppery-headed snake.

Grace gave one desperate leap and landed beside Amy on the stump while Betty and Mollie stepped to one side out of the reptile's path. Then, almost miraculously--or so Betty thought when she looked back upon it afterward--her eye fell upon a forked twig lying at her feet.

Quick as light she stooped and picked it up, then turned to Mollie, who was standing backed up against a tree, white-faced, terrified, in a half-hypnotized condition, staring at the snake.

The reptile had coiled itself and lay hissing at them viciously.

"I'm going to hold out this stick," whispered Betty feverishly between lips that scarcely moved, "and when he strikes, pick up that rock at your feet and let him have it. Ready?"

"Y-yes," stammered poor Mollie, terrified, yet game to the last. "Oh, Betty--"

But the sentence was never finished for, with a menacing movement, Betty had thrust the stick toward the reptile and the latter with a hiss had struck.

Quick as a flash and before the snake had time to coil again, Mollie picked up the rock and hurled it at his sinister copper head. Her aim was true, and the long, slithery body, robbed of its deadliness, writhed and beat furiously at the short stubbly grass.

Mollie put her hands before her eyes, shivering, and even Betty leaned weakly against a tree, faint and sick, now that the crisis had passed.

"I--I thought you'd be k-killed," moaned Amy, and though the tears of excitement and horror were rolling down her cheeks, she would have been the first to deny it had you told her she was crying. "Oh, B-Betty, you're w-wonderful!"

"No I'm not--I'm just scared stiff," cried Betty hysterically. "Anyway, M-Mollie did it all."

"Well, let's g-get out of here," cried Grace. Later they had time to laugh at the chattering teeth that made it impossible to say anything without stammering--but it seemed anything but funny to them then. "Let's g-get out!"

"Second the motion," cried Betty, with a wry little twist to her mouth, being, as usual, the first to recover her self control. "I can't see any sense in lingering."

A few seconds later they had gathered up their belongings and jumped thankfully into the road--out of sight of that sinister body still writhing in the grass.

It was not until they had climbed into the car and were whirling over the smooth road at a rapid rate that they began to feel like themselves again.

"I guess that was one of the narrowest escapes we ever had," said Mollie over her shoulder with a laugh that was still a little unsteady. "I guess we won't go picnicking in the woods alone again for quite some time."

"But I didn't know there were any snakes around here," said Grace wonderingly, and, it must be admitted, still with a little quaver in her voice.

"There aren't many," Betty explained, "Allen told me that poisonous snakes of any sort had been so rarely seen around these parts that people thought the stories of them were made up. He said they always looked suspiciously at the bearers of the snake tales, shrugged their shoulders, winked, and asked each other to guess where So-and-So had been the night before."

"Goodness," cried Mollie. "I suppose we'll never dare to tell it then. They'll think we are--"

"Slightly inebriated," finished Betty drolly.

"Goodness, I don't know what that means," objected Mollie, "but it sounds worse than what I was going to say. Now what's the matter?"

This last exclamation was caused by a sudden, grinding noise within the machine and a jerking stop that jarred them all nearly out of their seats.

Mollie looked back over her shoulder with a despairing expression:

"Well, this certainly isn't our lucky day," she said, with forced calm. "First we nearly get eaten up by a snake, and then the car breaks down--"

"But, Mollie, what's the matter?" cried Grace impatiently. "We can't stay here. Can't you see?--there's a storm coming up."

"Well I didn't do it," snapped Mollie. "I do think, Grace, you can be the most unreasonable--"

"Oh, please don't start anything else," cried Betty, herself a little on edge with the rather exciting day's events. "Let's get out and see if we can find what's wrong. We certainly can't do any good by talking about it."

They got out, and Mollie even consented to "get under," but all to no avail. The machine refused to be placated and stood stubbornly still in the middle of the road while the storm clouds gathered and the first drops began to fall.

"Well," Mollie decided at last, sitting miserably on the running board, "I guess we've either got to sit here all night or walk home and trust to luck the car doesn't get stolen."

"Also get soaked through ourselves," Grace was adding disconsolately, when a familiar sound caught their ears. It was the regular tramp, tramp of marching men.

"Some of the boys from the camp!" cried Mollie, springing up joyfully. "Maybe they'll help us."

As the small squad swung around the turn in the road they were delighted to see that Sergeant Mullins was in charge. He brought the boys to a sharp halt at sight of them, and came forward to meet them, saluting gravely.

"Are you in trouble?" he asked, with his quiet smile and a glance at the stalled machine. "May I help?"

"Oh, would you?" cried Betty, her pretty forehead puckered. "We do want to get back before the storm breaks."

Without a word, the young fellow removed his jacket and examined the machine carefully. Then, with equal gravity, he wormed his way under the car.

In what seemed to the girls no more than a minute, he reappeared and smiled at them.

"I guess it's all right now," he assured them with another punctilious salute. "If I might suggest that there's no time to be lost--" with a significant glance toward the lowering sky. For answer, Mollie threw in the clutch and the machine purred evenly. Then, with a little impulsive gesture, she turned to the sergeant.

"It's--it's a long way to Camp Liberty," she said, with pretty hesitation. "Won't you let us show you how grateful we are by letting us take you there?"

"Please do," urged Betty.

He considered a moment, then with another of his grave smiles saluted once more and turned to the boys who stood waiting in the road.

"Pile in, fellows!" he said. "We'll just about make it before the storm."

Then, while the boys obeyed, scrambling in any way, and Betty and Grace squeezed themselves into the front seat, Sergeant Mullins leaned over and said, very quietly:

"Thank you."

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