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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Outdoor Girls On Pine Island - Chapter 21. The Lost Trail
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The Outdoor Girls On Pine Island - Chapter 21. The Lost Trail Post by :joebiff Category :Long Stories Author :Laura Lee Hope Date :May 2012 Read :1520

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The Outdoor Girls On Pine Island - Chapter 21. The Lost Trail

CHAPTER XXI. THE LOST TRAIL

Before the cheerful glow of the fire, the young people talked long that night, while Mrs. Irving listened with interest. Her eyes sparkled at the description of the cave and the gypsy troupe and once she broke in with:

"You needn't think you are going to leave me behind when such exciting things are happening. After this, I am going to be on the spot with the rest of you."

"I wish you would," Mollie answered. "We thought you didn't care to go along."

"Ask me in the morning," she said.

And now the morning had come at last. Betty had lain awake most of the night, too excited to sleep and impatiently awaiting the first streak of dawn.

Now it had come after a wait that had seemed interminable and she slipped silently out of bed, determined not to awaken the sleeping girls. But before she had time to move half way across the room, Grace hailed her.

"Hello, Betty!" she called, "I'm glad you are up--I haven't been able to sleep for the longest while. What are you going to do?"

"Get dressed, I suppose," Betty answered. "I simply couldn't lie in bed any longer."

"Guess I will, too," said Grace; and that being the first time she had ever agreed with Betty on that subject, the latter looked at her in surprise.

"You must be all worked up, Gracy," she commented, "to be willing to get up at this time in the morning. I don't think it can be six o'clock, at the very latest."

"Well, anything is better than lying in bed awake," yawned Grace, sitting up in bed and curving her arms behind her head with that slow, instinctive grace that was part of her. "Look at Mollie staring at us for all the world like a little night-owl," she added.

"Thanks," said Mollie dryly. "I feel highly complimented, I'm sure. I'd hate to tell you what you look like."

"Don't," said Grace. "What I don't know won't hurt me."

"Let's all agree that you both look as bad as you can," said Betty crossly, for the strain of a sleepless night was beginning to tell. "It would be a relief to know the worst, anyway."

"Oh, for goodness' sake, Betty, don't you begin to disturb the peace, too," Amy broke in sleepily. "It was bad enough before with Grace and Mollie always at swords' points, but if you begin it, I don't know what I shall do."

Amy's despair was so comical that the girls had to laugh in spite of themselves. As if at a signal, the sun broke through the heavy mist that had risen over night and flooded the room with golden beams. Somehow the world suddenly seemed a better and a happier place to live in, and the girls' spirits rose like mercury.

"Do you suppose Mrs. Irving will really want to go?" Amy asked, as they finished dressing. "She seemed eager enough last night, but she may have changed her mind by this time."

"I don't think so," said Betty. "She is as game as we are for things like that."

"Yes, and she is feeling better now," said gentle little Amy.

The boys called for them bright and early. It seemed that they, also, had spent a rather restless night, and were glad of the sunshine and warmth of the morning.

The party started off in high spirits to find the cave and solve its mysteries. Mrs. Irving was with them, for, as Betty had said, she was a game little person and in for a good time whenever one could be found.

"Suppose we can't find the place?" it was Grace who voiced the thought that had been secretly troubling them all. "Betty just found it by accident yesterday."

"Don't cross bridges till you come to them, Grace," Frank admonished her. "We'll find it, all right, if we have to cover every square inch of the island."

"I vote that we let Allen and Betty take the lead," Roy suggested. "They know more about it than we do--or at least they ought to."

"What's that?" asked Betty, who had been deep in a conversation with Amy. "Who's talking about me now?"

"They are shifting the responsibility to our shoulders, that's all," Allen explained. "Roy says because we found the cave in the first place, it's sort of up to us not to disappoint them now."

"You may be sure we'll do our best," said the Little Captain, with her whimsical smile, "since we'd be disappointing ourselves at the same time."

"Wasn't it somewhere about here, Allen?" asked Mollie, pointing into the woods. "The place looks familiar."

"I don't think so," said Allen, puzzled. "Betty and I noticed a big tree that was almost directly on a line with the cave, but I don't see it to-day. I wonder----"

"It's a little farther ahead, I think, Allen," Betty volunteered, trying to force conviction into her tone. "I'm sure we haven't passed it."

"Well, I'm not," said Mollie, abruptly. "I'm positive I saw the bushes where we hid yesterday quite a distance down the road."

"Well, why on earth didn't you say so," Grace demanded, "instead of letting us wander on ahead?"

"Well, I wasn't sure," Mollie retorted. "And besides, I thought Betty and Allen knew what they were doing----"

"Sh-h!" warned Mrs. Irving. "There's nothing to get excited about. We all want to find the cave, and we are all going to do our best to find it. Remember, we are equally interested."

"Well, but it's very strange that we can't locate that tree," said the Little Captain, a troubled frown on her forehead. "Allen and I were so particular about it yesterday."

"Well, we surely won't accomplish anything by standing here," said Will, a shade impatiently. "Let's travel ahead a little--it seems to me it was farther on."

So they started again, troubled and perplexed and scanning every step of the way. Half an hour later they halted for another conference. The tree was nowhere to be found--neither was the cave. It seemed as if their adventure of the day before had been a dream which had faded and vanished into thin air with the advent of the morning.

"Every place we look at seems to be it, and then it isn't," wailed Amy.

"That's fine English, I must say," Will teased. "Where did you go to school?"

"Oh, for goodness' sake, let her English alone, Will!" Grace admonished. "It isn't _that we're interested in just at present. Oh, where has the old thing gone to?"

"I guess it never was," Roy replied gloomily. "We just imagined it."

"Imagined it!" sniffed Betty. "If I thought I had an imagination like that I'd write books or something."

"I wish I knew what the something stood for," said Frank, laughing at her. "It must be good."

"I imagine it would be," said Betty, laughing back at him, "if I only knew myself."

"Stop fooling, you two, and help us think of something," Mollie demanded. "We can't stand here and admire the view all day."

"What would you suggest?" Frank asked politely. "We are willing to give weighty consideration to anything you say."

Mollie looked weakly about her for support. "Grace, can't you do anything with him?" she pleaded. "He does nothing but talk nonsense all day long."

"And just after he's paid you a compliment," Grace drawled. "I wonder you call that nonsense."

Mollie had opened her mouth for a stinging rejoinder, but before she could voice it there came a disturbance from a new and unexpected quarter. The bushes parted and two figures emerged--a young man and a girl.

Astonishment held the little group motionless, but the strangers, or so they appeared, stepped forward impulsively.

"It's no wonder you don't remember me," said the girl impulsively, "since I was dressed very differently when you last saw me. I am Anita Benton--the girl you rescued the other day."

As usual, Betty was the first to find her voice. "Oh, we _are glad to see you!" she said warmly. "We were wondering when you and your brother were coming to pay us that promised visit."

"Oh, we would have been here long ago, but, you see, I was rather, well--shaken up," Anita explained, with a merry little laugh that made the girls warm to her at once. "Conway could hardly wait to come to tell you all how grateful he was--and is," she added, with a quaint little sideways glance in the direction of her tall brother.

"Anita's right. I almost came alone when I found she was inconsiderate enough to get sick," said Conway, who had been regarding the scene with lively interest. "You see, I never knew before what it was to almost lose a small sister."

"He speaks as if he had any number of them," cried Anita, gaily; and one could see at a glance the perfect understanding and union between the two. "But, really, this is the very first day I have been able to walk any distance at all, so Con and I thought we'd take advantage of it."

"Well, we are mighty glad you did," said Roy heartily, and Mollie glanced at him sideways. "I wonder if you two could help us solve a riddle," he added. "We had just about given it up for a bad job when you came along."

"What is it?" asked the girl eagerly. "I love riddles."

"Don't let him get your hopes raised," Betty warned. "It isn't a riddle at all. The thing is, we found a cave yesterday, and to-day it has simply vanished, disappeared, gone up in smoke."

"A cave?" said Conway, interestedly. "A cave around here? Why, I never heard of any."

"Well, we are beginning to think that _we dreamed it," said Allen, pessimistically. "The only strange thing about it is that we all should dream the same thing."

"But please tell me what you mean," begged Anita. "Caves are even better than riddles. Why did you say you dreamed it?"

There could be no escaping this emphatic young person--that they realized--so Allen started to explain. When he had finished the two visitors were almost, if not quite, as excited as the Outdoor Girls and their boy chums had been.

"You think it was somewhere about here, don't you?" Anita asked. "It ought to be easy enough to find."

"That's what we thought before we started," said Grace, "but after you have been hunting for an hour or two you begin to realize your mistake. I vote we do something else."

"Grace! And leave the cave?" Amy cried, amazed at her friend's lack of romantic fervor.

"Why not?" said Grace. "It won't run away. Besides, I guess everybody's forgotten this is the day we set for the race."

They stared at one another dumbfounded. It was as Grace had said--this was the day they had decided on for the race and they had forgotten all about it. Had ever such a thing happened before in the annals of history? If so, they could not remember it.

"A race?" demanded Anita. "What race?"

Betty looked at her dazedly. "What race?" she repeated. "Why, _the race, of course. Oh, I beg your pardon--I forgot you didn't know. The fact is, we have been planning a swimming race for--oh, ever so long--and now this gypsy-cave business put it clear out of our heads. Oh! how could we have forgotten it?"

"Well, it isn't too late yet," said Will, practically. "That is, if you aren't too set on finding this elusive cave to do anything else."

"Oh, that's safe enough where it is," said Allen. "If we can't find it, it's a pretty safe bet that nobody else can."

"I vote we get into our bathing suits just as fast as we can," said Frank. "That is, if our visitors don't mind seeing a crazy race," he added, half-apologetically; for he remembered his manners just in the nick of time.

"There's nothing we would like better," Conway assured him heartily. "And I don't think it will be crazy, either, from the way you fellows demonstrated your swimming ability the other day."

"Oh, it would be all right if we fellows could be in it alone," said Roy, wickedly. "But, you see, the girls have a mistaken idea they can swim, too, and so, just to encourage them, we have let them in on it."

"Let them in on it, indeed!" sniffed Betty. "If I remember correctly, we were the first to propose the race. That doesn't look as if we were particularly afraid of getting beaten."

"Sheer nerve, that's all," said Frank, snapping his fingers with an air of superiority.

"We don't need to talk," said Mollie; "we will _show you what we can do."

"All right, we're from Missouri," Will announced, cheerily. "All we want is to be shown."

By this time they were well on their way to the bungalow, and now the subject of the cave was overshadowed by the excitement of the approaching race.

As the young people neared "The Shadows" their excitement grew, and when at last they reached the house the girls fairly flew up the stairs, dragging Anita with them, Conway going with the boys, of course.

"Don't you want a suit?" Betty inquired of her visitor, pausing in the act of slipping her skirt over her head. "I brought an old one in case of emergency that I think would fit you."

Anita shook her head. "Thanks just the same," she said. "But the doctor says I mustn't think of swimming for some time."

"It's pretty hard luck," said Mollie, sympathetically, "to have to stay out of the water on days like this. Say, girls, do you think we have a chance in the world of even keeping up with the boys?" she asked, anxious, now that the moment of the test had come.

"Why, of course we can," said Betty, pretending a confidence she did not feel. "Especially if the boys give us the heavy handicap we agreed on. I didn't want them to, but I guess it may come in handy."

"Well, are you ready?" cried Mollie, jumping up. "I am. Come on, girls, let's show them something!" and she was off down the stairs with the others close behind.

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