SCOUTING FOR THE TRUANTS

If Rosa had been rebellious and uncertain in her conduct, her friends
Gar and Dell were just the opposite, it seemed to Nancy. Waiting now
a few minutes for Gar to return with his motor boat, Nancy tried to
keep down her anxieties by building her courage upon the assistance of
Gar, and as he presently hailed her from the landing, she saw that his
sister Dell was with him.

“Two heads are better than one,” he said simply, as Nancy stepped into
the launch.

“Don’t worry,” Dell remarked. “Gar and I know those islands, although
we haven’t had a chance to do any exploring lately.”

“But why should Orilla do that?” questioned Nancy. “She knew perfectly
well that Rosa had been exhausted in the water and was unfit for
anything but rest.”

“You can never ask why, where that creature is concerned,” answered
Dell. “She’s the unaccountable. Doesn’t do any real harm but–”

“How awful close she does come to it,” put in Gar, who was tending the
smoothly running little engine, as Nancy sat near by and watched.

“This lake turns up real waves, doesn’t it?” she remarked when a sheet
of spray swept their deck.

“You bet,” answered Gar, blinking to clear his eyes of the mist.

“I hope it isn’t going to storm,” Nancy added, apprehensively.

“Not right away, at any rate,” answered Dell. “And the islands aren’t
far away. Better swing left, Gar. Here comes the steamer from the
Weirs.”

The swell from the big steamer struck the Whitecap presently, giving
its occupants such a merry ride, that only their present upset state of
mind prevented them from keenly enjoying it. Even the excursionists,
who waved frantically at them, received scant attention in return, for
there was no denying their anxiety. They must find Rosa, and they must
take her away from Orilla Rigney, no matter what else happened.

Purposely Dell Durand avoided criticizing Rosa to Nancy, but this
consideration could not entirely prevent Nancy from expressing
something of her own confused opinion.

“You never saw anything like it,” she recalled. “No sooner had Rosa
gotten into the boat than Orilla seemed to pounce upon that engine–”

“Like a beast upon its prey,” finished Gar, as a boy would when such a
chance for such an expression was so obviously offered.

“She should not be allowed to come over to our side of the lake at
all,” went on Dell. “She has no business there and our docks are
private property.”

“But the lake isn’t,” her brother reminded her.

“Try Crow’s Nest first,” suggested Dell. “That’s a little place and we
can scout over it in no time.”

“Think I better–blow?” Gar asked.

“No,” said Nancy. “Can’t tell what Orilla might do if she had time to
do it.”

“Right-o!”

With a soft swish through the water the boat glided into shore, with
the engine turned off.

Silently the three landed. Gar found a stout young tree to throw his
boat rope around and in accord, without the need of questions, each of
them immediately faced the little wilderness in a different direction.

“We’ll come together by the big pine–see, right on top of the hill,”
Dell suggested, pointing out the big sentinel pine that stood guard
over Crow’s Nest.

“Better take a good, strong club,” Gar advised Nancy. “Wait, I see
one,” and he made his way through brambles and briars to procure the
end of a young birch that had evidently been broken in a storm.

Nancy thanked him, and with the staff began to beat her path through
the bushes. They did not really expect to find the girls actually
hidden in the underbrush, but Orilla’s habits were said to be so
unusual that the scouts were prepared to find her busy at almost any
camping detail on the island, if indeed it was this island upon which
she had landed.

“Do you know that she carries a hatchet in her car?” Nancy asked, when
Dell had come near enough for conversation, “I can’t see what she would
want with such tools as that.”

“Well, frankly, Nancy,” Dell replied, “I wouldn’t be surprised to hear
that she carried a shotgun, for the reputation given her around here is
as vague as it is mysterious. Everybody seems to have a different story
about Orilla Rigney.”

“Yet she’s–industrious, and honest, I suppose,” pressed Nancy.

“All of that–too industrious. She not only works herself but wants to
make the whole world work with her. Perhaps she’s a case of misdirected
energy. You know, Nancy, they say nowadays that that’s as bad as sheer
laziness,” explained the older girl.

Sounds from treetops or from thickets attracted their notice then,
and conversation was suddenly discontinued. But no sign of human life
rewarded the most careful scrutiny of the searchers.

“I don’t see how they could be around here without making some noise,”
Dell remarked.

“Take–no–chances!” hissed Gar, striking a comical poise with his
mountain stick held high above his head, and his free arm struck out at
right angles. His attempt at humor was rewarded with a wan smile from
Nancy, but Dell only waved her club threateningly.

“We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, you know, Gar,” said Dell
seriously, “and we mustn’t forget there is no guarantee of continued
fair weather.”

“I’m going to yell,” the boy suddenly announced. “Better take a chance
on Rosa hearing us than leave it all to the big gray fox.”

A series of mountain calls followed. They were varied, queer, weird,
owlish and even funny, for Gar proved to be an expert in the art.

No answer came. Instead, the silence of the woods after its
interruption seemed even deeper than before.

Nancy sighed aloud, Dell did not try very hard to hide her own
impatience and Gar protested openly.

“If we find her this time I think we ought to lock her up,” he said,
not entirely in jest.

“I–am ashamed of her,” admitted Nancy. “But she really didn’t do this.
She actually blamed Orilla for her tumble in the lake,” she recalled.

“That’s probably why,” declared Gar, “the orang-utan is now getting
even.”

“Well, we’ll just try the other side of the oaks,” proposed Dell,
“then, we had better try some place else.”

The little island covered only a small strip of land, which was made an
island by a blade of the lake water that cut it away from another strip
of land. To explore the entire territory took but a short time, and now
the scouting party were scurrying down the other side of the summit,
looking for the truants along the water front at that point.

“Someone has been here lately,” Gar declared, as he kicked over a small
stone furnace. “This always was a favorite spot for campers, you know,
Dell.”

“Yes.” She surveyed the charred stones. “But our campers haven’t been
here. That stuff is old.”

“Don’t you think we had better shout again?” suggested Nancy. “I’m
afraid Margot will be scared to death, although I did call something to
her about going to the Point.”

“Doesn’t it beat the chickens!” murmured Gar. “Just imagine us hunting
for those girls like a couple of lost–kids. Makes me think of our
picnics long ago when _I_ was the star for getting lost.”

“You were clever that way, boy,” replied his sister, “but please don’t
try it now.”

“Oh, no,” begged Nancy, frightened instantly. “Whatever would we do if
you–got lost?”

“Don’t worry, I won’t. No fun in it without ice cream cones. But
there’s nary a one on this safety isle. Let’s get in the launch and
skirt the edges of the whole place. We can’t possibly beat down bushes
on all these piles of rocks.”

“Indeed we can’t,” Dell agreed. “But suppose they didn’t come in here
at all? And where could she have left the launch?”

“She could hide that almost any place along here, for the edge has a
regular curtain of young trees,” the brother answered. “Nancy, don’t
look so dejected. When we find your cousin, maybe we shall find she has
gone down to the ideal weight. I believe that’s the main issue with
poor old Rosalind.”

“If we don’t find her in any more trouble,” Nancy replied. “But I’m
never sure about her when she dashes off with Orilla. This is about
the third or fourth escapade she has starred in since I came to Craggy
Bluff.”

“I couldn’t count all she has starred in since I came up,” Gar said
dryly, as he untied the boat. The girls quickly stepped in and he
promptly started up the willing engine.

Each new move in their expedition only brought greater anxiety to
Nancy, for in spite of her companions’ insistent attempts at gaiety,
she, as well as they, felt that the finding of Rosa was by no means
assured.

And it was so lonely, away out there, with shadows closing in from
the sky, from the mountains and from the heavy growth of all sorts
of trees, high and low, leafy and stark, in their pretty covering of
silken foliage, or in their defiant armor of pine needles!

But nothing seemed beautiful; everything seemed sinister, and even the
lapping of the waves against the rocks now struck terror into Nancy’s
heart.

Vacation? She had forgotten the word. Pleasure seemed very far away, if
not entirely beyond her reach. All she thought of, all she wanted, was
to find the unfortunate Rosalind.

“I’ll swing in here and let’s try that comic opera again,” said Gar,
determined to keep up their courage.

“The opera” was made up of the shouts and calls, such as they had been
practising ever since they decided to break the woodland silence, and
following Gar’s advice they again took up the refrain.

“There’s a few birds answering, at any rate,” Dell remarked, “but for
my part, I think even the angels must have heard that yell of yours,
Gar. If those girls are in these woodlands they either do not want to
reply or–”

“There’s the boat!” exclaimed Nancy, jumping up so suddenly she all but
fell over in the launch. “I see it in that little clump of willows!
Steer in there, Gar. They can’t be far away from their boat.”

And only too willingly did Garfield Durand comply with that eager
request.

Under the willows, almost hidden in the vine-like foliage, they found
the small motor boat that Orilla was in the habit of using. It was not
her own, but belonged to a summer place that had not been opened for a
few years past, and the owners were allowing Orilla to use the boat in
return for some small care she gave to special plants upon the grounds
and surroundings.

“That’s the boat, all right,” Gar announced, as he shoved alongside.
“And just look at the–timber!”

The timber consisted of small trees, newly cut into pole lengths and
placed into the launch, evidently ready to be carried off.

“That’s queer,” remarked Dell. “What can she want those for?”

“Not for wood,” Nancy replied. “That would stay green all winter. But
let’s hurry and hunt. Shall we call now?”

“Here’s their path,” replied Gar, instead of answering. “See how fresh
the broken weeds are. Let’s follow this a–ways.”

Nancy’s heart was fairly jumping with excitement. She did not want to
guess at how they might find Rosa; whether she would be lying sick in
that dark, damp woods, or–

“Hello there!” came a sharp call. “Meet Miss Robinson Crusoe–”

“Rosa!” exclaimed Nancy. “Oh, Rosa!” She couldn’t seem to say anything
else just then, the sight of Rosa was such a relief.

“Rosalind Fernell!” was Dell’s emphatic greeting.

“Runaway Rosie,” chuckled Gar, his stout stick beating viciously at the
greenery that choked the little pathway.

By this time Rosa was in full view, and the searchers beheld her
lugging great bundles of young saplings, her arms scratched and torn
from her efforts to carry more of the poles than she could properly
manage.

“Why the woodyard?” asked Gar, laconically.

“They’re for Orilla–”

“Any objections?” demanded the girl just spoken of. She also was now
visible, having come through a mass of clotted hazel nut trees, and she
too looked like a picture from some foreign land, where women do all
the chores.

“Yes, we have objections, Orilla Rigney,” spoke up Dell, sharply, “and
you ought to know well enough what they are.”

“Let’s help them load their boat,” interposed Nancy, fearful that the
unpleasant discussion would develop into something more serious. “Here,
Rosa, I’ll take some of those–”

“Do–please,” murmured Rosa, her voice now betraying what Nancy
feared–exhaustion. “I’m almost dead,” she whispered, as the defiant
Orilla made her way down to the boat. “I was never so frightened in–my
life!”

“Neither was I,” returned Nancy. “I’m shaking yet. What ever got into
her–”

“Hush! She’s excited and ugly–”

“What ever–”

“Let me lug those logs if you must have them,” called out Gar, in his
roughly frank, boyish way. “Goin’ to start a new cure, Orilla? Is this
tree bark good for snake bites or something?”

“What I’m going to start is my own business,” snapped back Orilla,
throwing her vivid head up high and bracing her thin body to carry the
heavy load of wood. She was wearing a khaki suit, like a uniform, but
even this, strong as the material must have been, showed more than one
jagged tear from violent contact with the young trees, which must have
struggled bravely against her cruel little ax.

“Have it your own way,” drawled Gar, good-naturedly. “Here, Nancy and
Rosa, let’s help you. Maybe you’re not quite so fussy.”

Willingly enough Nancy and Rosa relinquished the rough sticks, their
hands smarting and red from trying to tote them down to the water’s
edge.

No one said much, everyone seemed to realize that that was the only way
to avoid trouble, for Orilla seemed ready to snap at every word, and
the thing to do, obviously, was to get in their boats and sail away
from Mushroom Islands, promptly.

“But it’s all too silly,” grumbled Dell aside to her own friends. “Why
should we humor that girl?”

“We are almost ready to go now,” Rosa coaxed. “And it is so killing
hard to chop down those trees. Just look at my poor hands!”

The poor hands represented a pitiable sight indeed, for being pudgy
and fat, they were easily bruised and torn, so that their surface now
looked like nothing other than bruises and scratches.

Unwillingly they went back once more to the little woodland, where
the devastation had been perpetrated, and there they gathered up what
remained of the felled trees.

“You must have worked hard, Rosa,” Gar commented. “Why don’t you go in
the business? Put a sign out, ‘Woodlands Cleared While You Wait.’ I
tell you, I tried once on our back woods and didn’t do anything like as
well as this–”

To which Rosa did not risk a reply, for the quarrelsome Orilla was at
her elbow directing the gleaning in no uncertain tones.

But it was not so easy to suppress Gar. He wasn’t afraid of Orilla
Rigney, and he was willing to let folks know it.

“Now, that’s enough,” he decided sharply. “We’re not going to take
another stick. If you want to chop down trees, Orilla, why don’t you
hire help? Or why don’t you choose a woods nearer civilization?”

“What are you grumbling about?” retorted Orilla, letting drop more than
one of the sticks she had just picked up. “I didn’t ask your help, and
I don’t want it–”

“But there’s a storm coming, Orilla,” said Nancy very kindly, as kindly
as she might have spoken to some troublesome child, “and we had better
all hurry back. There now, it’s all cleared up. Here, give me that
long one. I haven’t an armful this time.”

So for the moment peace was restored, and the queer proceedings
continued, until at last even Orilla seemed satisfied that the task had
been properly finished.

Only to Nancy did she deign a pleasant look, and that look, Nancy
thought, was rather secretive. For as the girl did half smile, she also
winked one of her green, gimlet eyes, as if trying to convey to Nancy a
message not meant for the others. This recalled the party cape episode,
when Nancy compromised by agreeing, at least partly, not to mention
Orilla’s secret visit.

“But we found you, Rosa, at any rate,” Nancy repeated, as again they
paired off. “I’ll never be able to tell you how I felt,” she continued,
giving the truant cousin a reassuring pinch.

Rosa rolled her eyes meaningly. “If you hadn’t–” She left that
contingency to Nancy’s over-worked imagination, and again turned to
help Orilla.

“Don’t bother; just go along,” ordered Orilla rudely.

“But aren’t you going too?” Rosa questioned in surprise.

“Seems to me folks are awfully worried about what _I’m_ going to do,”
snapped Orilla. “But if you’ll all go along and take your pet with
you–”

“Orilla Rigney!” called out Dell authoritatively. “What is the matter
with you? Are you determined to make enemies of even those who are
trying to help you?”

Nancy turned quickly to interpose, and as she caught a queer expression
on Orilla’s face she hurried to answer Dell before the other could do
so.

“Now, Dell, please don’t be cross,” begged Nancy with a sly glance
intended for Dell alone. “We had all best be going if we hope to escape
that storm. Just see those clouds!”

“All aboard!” called out Gar. “Orilla, can’t I push your boat out for
you?”

“No, thank you. I’m not ready yet.”

“But the storm,” pleaded Nancy.

“I’m not afraid of storms. I love them.”

“Out here, all alone?”

“I have birds and all the wild life of the woods. They are the friends
I can depend upon,” replied Orilla. And as she said this her voice was
soft, pleasant, actually musical. It was plain where her affections lay.

“All right. Sorry. Hop in, girls. I’m heading straight for the other
shore,” Gar made known, starting up the engine as he talked.

Reluctantly they turned away from the solitary figure on the shore.
She looked like a creature of the woods, indeed, the brown outline of
her form merging so completely into the shadows, that it was scarcely
distinguishable as the watchers swung around the end of the island.

“Why won’t she come?” queried Nancy anxiously.

“Because she won’t let us see where she goes,” replied Rosa.

“And don’t you know?” pressed Nancy further.

“No. She had promised to take me this afternoon–but–oh, well–”
sighed Rosa. “I’m glad you came and I don’t care much about her
promises now. I guess I’ve been pretty–foolish.”

“Only guess so?” put in Dell, in a way naturally expected from her, as
the oldest member of the party. “We’ve been _sure_ of that all summer.
Just imagine, cutting down trees and doing that silly stuff!”

“Now, Dell,” objected Rosa, a little huffed, “you must know I did have
_some_ reason. I’m not altogether a simpleton, I hope.”

“So do we–hope,” flung back Gar over his shoulder. “But there’s a boat
I’ve got to tow in. See them waving? Hold tight; I’ve got to turn sharp
and these waves are pretty frisky.”

All hands now turned their attention to the fisherman’s boat, a little
rowboat, quite helpless against the fury into which the lake was
working its surface. It took but a very short time to reach the craft,
then a man flung Gar a line which the boy pulled up until he could tie
it securely into the stern lock of the Whitecap.

“Why, there’s Pixley!” shouted Rosa. “See her trying to hold on to the
fish. She’s sitting in the bottom of the boat.”

And those who looked saw the little woman just as Rosa said, trying
desperately to keep her cargo from being washed overboard.

As she recognized the party in the Whitecap, however, she managed to
shout her delight, for it appears she and her pilot had been battling
the waves for some time before the launch came along.

“Ought to call you girls life-savers,” she called out. “This is the
second time you have saved mine.”

“Maybe the third,” joked Nancy to Rosa, “for if I hadn’t saved her from
the mob in the train when that grape juice bottle exploded–”

But Nancy just then saw a speck of light, like a spark, over in one of
the group of islands from which they had lately embarked.

And it couldn’t have been lightning, for the storm, though imminent,
had not yet broken and there was no rumble of thunder even in the
distance.

She looked again, made sure of the spot, but said nothing to her
companions. The appeal Orilla had silently given her, with that glance
from her deep-set eyes, seemed to Nancy too pathetic to be made light
of. And perhaps the spark of light in the woodland, away out there
where nothing but low, scrubby pine trees grew, had something to do
with Orilla’s secret. At any rate this was no time to discuss it.
Confusion forbade.

“We’ll be in before it hits us,” called Gar gayly, surveying the racing
storm clouds.

“And a good thing for us,” added his sister, “for even this launch is
not altogether safe in a real lake hurricane.”

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