THE FALL IN THE WOODS

Grave misgivings flooded into Nancy’s mind. She had known of Rosalind’s
peculiarities, had often heard her mother express keen regret that she,
Uncle Frederic’s own sister, could not have done something to supply
the mother-need for Rosalind when Katherine Fernell was taken from her
daughter.

And it seemed more unfortunate than otherwise, that Uncle Fred’s
position guaranteed so much hired care for Rosalind, because it was
this fact that had separated her from Mrs. Brandon, Nancy’s mother
herself having been separated from her brother through a circumstance
not unlike this very issue.

Not that Nancy bothered now to recall all this, but just because the
“why” of her own circumstances compared oddly with the “why not” of
Rosalind’s. It appeared that Rosalind did not know why she should not
“sneak off to ride with Gar” when she was supposed to be following all
the rules of Fernlode, which must have forbidden this.

“I suppose it is not that I’m any better than Rosa,” the puzzled Nancy
was thinking, “but just because mother made me think differently.”

“Nance, I suppose you are tired from that long, dirty train ride,”
suggested Rosalind, who was getting out a wrap for herself and another
for Nancy. “Suppose we just scout around a little?”

“Scout around?”

“Yeppy. First let’s make sure you’re acquainted with your room, because
you might want to come in before I do,” said Rosalind. “Here’s all the
night stuff, but I don’t suppose you try to bathe and scour off fat
as I do. At any rate, do just as you please. Lock your door and yell
through the keyhole at Margot, and if she asks for me–”

“Won’t you be–in?”

“Oh, yes, of course,” Rosalind hurried to assure the puzzled girl.
“I’m just preparing for emergencies. You see, I always expect them, but
they somehow seldom come.” A little sigh took years from Rosalind’s
heavy shoulders. She was acting now like such a very little girl, just
sighing for romance and adventure.

On the big front porch, they tried the swing. As ever Rosalind cuddled
up to Nancy in that eager, impulsive way that made Nancy feel sort of
old. She, not being demonstrative herself, leaving that prerogative
for the small brother Ted, could not at once get used to Rosalind’s
effusions.

“You see, Nance,” bubbled Rosalind, “I’m going to do something
won-der-ful!” This last word was dragged out like a tape line
measuring thrills. “I waited until you came–you see, Orilla is really
won-der-ful. She’s the very smartest thing. And you see, Nancy, _you_
can’t realize the curse of being fat.”

A peal of laughter from the amused Nancy checked this.

“You can’t really mean it, Rosa,” she said. “Being fat isn’t anything.
You’re just growing, and you won’t always be so–so stout,” the visitor
assured her cousin, kindly.

“No, you just bet I won’t, not if I know it,” declared Rosa, who even
then chewed a chocolate drop. “I’m going to get thin while the folks
are in Europe. Wait until you see Betty, then you’ll understand. She’s
just eel-ly, and she loves slippery clothes, the shimmery-shimmery
kind. How could she ever own me as a step-daughter?” Again the catchy
little sigh betrayed Rosa’s state of mind. Nancy was beginning to
wonder if she might not be a little bit jealous of the famously
beautiful Betty.

“But don’t you know,” cautioned Nancy, feeling more and more like a
grandmother giving advice, “it’s awfully dangerous to–to take off fat
too suddenly.”

“Don’t believe a word of it,” declared Rosa. “I’d take a chance on
reducing pounds per day if I knew how. You see,” shifting the cushion
and kicking the swing into action, “I inherit it from Grandmother
Cashion, mother’s mother. She was fat. I have her picture. And she had
curly hair like mine, so of course I just had to be like her,” argued
the surprising girl.

“But you also got the curls,” suggested Nancy, in genuine admiration.

“Which I don’t want. Orilla says they make me look fatter, more
babyish, you know.”

“I suppose Orilla has thin hair,” Nancy could not resist saying, for
she was already convinced of Orilla’s methods.

“’Tis straightish, rather straggily,” conceded Rosa. “But, you see,
Orilla doesn’t have to be pretty, she’s so smart.”

“What is she so smart about?” pressed Nancy.

“Oh, well, ’most everything,” floundered Rosa. “She intends to be a
nurse, no, a beauty doctor,” she corrected herself. “That’s why she’s
helping me.”

“How’s she doing it?” demanded Nancy, frankly.

“Oh, it’s sort of a secret, but, of course, I’ll tell you later on,”
agreed Rosa.

“Does your–does Betty know?”

“Mercy me, no! She’s the very last person on earth to know,” said Rosa
tragically. “I’m going to surprise her, and dad. It’s all beautifully
planned and I’m just waiting for them to sail, then I’ll sail in.”

“You’re an awful lot like our Ted,” Nancy told Rosa, a compliment
unqualified.

“Is he fat?”

“A little. But I don’t mean that way. I mean in making plans. He always
has the most wonderful ideas–”

“I’d love Ted. What a shame you didn’t bring him along.”

“He would have been jolly,” agreed the sister wistfully. “But you see,
Ted needs to be trained. Being a boy without a father–”

“Just like me being a girl without a mother,” spoke up Rosa. “I’d
_love_ to go to camp. In fact, father almost agreed, but Betty! You see
Betty believes in white hands and slim ankles.”

“Oh,” said Nancy.

“Want to go around to the other side of the house? We can watch the
boats from there. We have a motorboat but that’s one thing dad is
strict about. He just won’t let me go on the water at night without
him–imagine his having to be along always. And he won’t let me go in
a canoe even in broad daylight, unless I almost swear I’ll stay in the
cove, or just hug the edge. Dad is such a darling, I never would think
of breaking my word to him,” declared Rosa, her hand bruising Nancy’s
arm in making the declaration.

“We do feel that way when we love folks, don’t we?” supplied Nancy.
“Mother hardly asks me to promise anything, except where something
might be dangerous, but it’s fun to keep a promise as well as to break
it, if you just think that way. I’ve a chum who spends most of her
time planning to fool folks. Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’ve tried
it and it didn’t turn out so funny. Once when I tried to fool Ted by
locking him out, he just climbed in a window I couldn’t reach, and I
came pretty near having to stay out in the rain all night. You see,
Miss Manners, we call her Manny–is to us about like Margot is to you.
Except, of course, she isn’t a servant, she’s a dear friend we found
last year out at Long Leigh. We had a great time last summer,” Nancy
continued. “I’ll have to tell you about it some time.”

“I’d love to hear. You had a shop or something, didn’t you?”

“Yes, a funny little store we turned into almost everything but a
church,” laughed Nancy. They were moving around the winding porch and
Nancy felt relieved that Rosa seemed to be more contented than she had
been at dinner time. Surely she wasn’t thinking of stealing off any
place?

“Doesn’t the lake look lovely with all the boats lighted up?” Rosa
exclaimed. “With the big black mountains at the back and the little
firefly boats in front–I guess this is one of the most beautiful lakes
in America,” she finished.

“It is glorious,” agreed Nancy. “But it makes me feel sort of
awe-stricken,” she admitted.

“Not homesick? That isn’t just a nice way of saying you’re homesick,
Nance?” asked Rosa solicitously.

“Oh, no indeed, Rosa,” denied Nancy. “But I was just thinking how dark
it can be under all these trees.”

“And this house hasn’t a bright spot in it,” added Rosa. “I wonder why
folks build with black beams in forests? And they always seem to. If I
were planning a mountain camp I’d have white pine wood and turn yellow
paint on with a hose, inside and out,” she declared. A car was coming
up the winding drive, its headlights threading their way through the
trees in glaring billows.

“There’s Gar!” exclaimed Rosa, joy juggling the words. “I’m so glad he
came over! Now, you won’t be homesick.”

“I wasn’t,” defended Nancy. But the car was at the steps now and Rosa
was racing off in that direction. The prospect of meeting a strange
boy fluttered Nancy, naturally, but Perhaps she would have been more
self-conscious had the caller been a girl. Girls are supposed to be
critical, and Nancy’s wardrobe was not elaborate, but boys–well boys
ought to be jolly. She knew that Ted and his little friends would still
be when they grew up.

“My cousin, you know, Gar,” Rosa was exclaiming, as the youth in white
knickers, with his prep school sweater of violent yellow, came along
the porch.

The introductions over, Nancy knew she was going to like Garfield
Durand. His manner toward Rosa was that of a big brother, and he did
not hesitate to argue against many of her suggestions.

“Can’t take you out, Rosa, unless you’re sure your dad won’t mind,” he
said frankly. Then turning to Nancy, “Don’t _you_ think it’s silly to
be meeting that Orilla girl–”

“Gar!” came Rosa’s warning. “Please don’t tell _all_ my secrets at
once. I’m sorry if I bother you–”

“Oh, now Rose, you know well enough I don’t mean that,” interrupted
Gar. “It’s just that you’re so–so easy with Orilla, and she’s a fox,
only you won’t believe it,” declared the boy, flushing.

An awkward silence followed that remark. It was very plain that Rosa
objected to discussing Orilla and her ways before Nancy. It was also
quite plain that the boy was trying to avoid something, perhaps a
clandestined ride which Rosa seemed bent upon. He didn’t settle himself
down as one does who might expect to stay awhile; in fact, he first sat
upon the porch rail, next straddled a bench, then flung himself into a
rocker and seemed to find it impossible to obtain any position suitable
to his turbulent mood.

“It’s certainly early enough _now_ to take a drive,” Suggested Rosa,
pointedly.

“Oh, surely,” agreed Gar. “Can’t I take you and your cousin over to the
Point, or some place?”

“Like a dear,” replied Rosa. “I’ll run and break the news to Margot.
She still believes in you, Gar,” and then Nancy found herself chatting
to the boy, free from the unpleasant little discussion and at ease,
because he seemed so frankly boyish and so eager to take her for the
proposed drive.

“Don’t mind my scrapping with Rose,” he remarked. “She’s such a kid and
so easily influenced. And you see, Mr. Fernell trusts our folks to sort
of keep track of her.”

“Of course. That’s splendid,” agreed Nancy. “You see I’m sort of a
stranger myself, and I guess Rosalind has been a lot alone–”

“You’re the very thing for her, and maybe just in time,” he said under
his breath, with an intention by no means clear to Nancy.

“Just in time!” she thought. “Whatever can that mean?”

“We’ll probably pick up Dell,” suggested Garfield, referring to his
sister who was found on the “next pile of rocks,” as Rosa had described
the Durand estate. She was older than her brother, much older than
Rosa, and somehow this fact brought relief to Nancy, who was fearing
things she couldn’t quite define. It seemed safer, however, to have an
older girl along, and when Dell Durand jumped into the car and added
her part to the fun of driving through the woods, up and down hills, in
and out of sly curves that often brought Nancy’s breath up sharply, she
talked to Nancy in the sensible, intelligent way that she, Nancy, was
most accustomed to.

“We couldn’t live up here if it were not for the fun at the Point,”
Dell declared. “It’s all well enough in the daytime–plenty of sport
then for anyone who likes the water, mountains or–pet dogs,” she
said this sarcastically, “but if we didn’t have the pavilion for
dancing and the movies and such things, I’m afraid we would find the
evenings–long!”

“Shall we go over to Bent’s?” called Gar from the wheel.

“Just as Rosa says,” replied his sister politely.

“I’m afraid Nancy may be tired,” replied Rosa considerately. “I haven’t
given her a minute since she landed, and you know what that Boston and
Maine train does to you. No–guess we’ll just peek in at the pavilion.
I’m afraid I couldn’t sleep a wink if I didn’t get a little something
to pep me up,” sighed Rosa. “That house with Margot and Thomas can get
on–one’s–nerves–”

“Nerves!” mocked Gar. “Say, Rosie, when you get nerves I’ll get–”

“Sense,” supplied Rosa, imitating the boy’s voice. “Anyhow I have a
little of that–”

“Quit your squabbling, babes,” ordered Dell. “Can’t you behave before
company?”

Just then the pavilion loomed up, with the paper covered lights and
jazzing music, not the usual, ordinary summer place, but rather a
little spot in the wilderness where, evidently, the young folks of
Craggy Bluff found such evening entertainment as Dell had so briefly
described.

It was all a little strange to Nancy, who had never before been thrown
in with such grown up young folks. Even Rosa, although in reality only
a few months older than Nancy, seemed very grown up and superficial,
now that she was mingling with numbers of friends who promptly greeted
their arrival at the dance hall.

Gar took himself and his car off, excusing himself to join other boys
who claimed him, while Rosa insisted upon Nancy dancing.

“Let’s wait a while,” Nancy coaxed, not wishing to lose herself at once
in the gliding dancers.

“Can’t,” objected Rosa. “I’ve got to dance. It’s good for me,” she
whispered; and when the two girls did glide off, Nancy was agreeably
surprised at the ease displayed by her cousin.

“Just like floating,” Rosa explained. “I Can float all day. And dancing
is such a silly walk, isn’t it? Don’t even have to bend.”

It was not much more than a rhythmic walk, and as for bending–surely
that was quite out of question, for that season’s dance was markedly a
glide.

Dell was dancing with some young man, and Gar was not to be seen about,
when Rosa led Nancy over to a corner of the platform.

“I just thought I saw–someone I knew over here,” she said, “Orilla,
you know. But I don’t imagine she would be out here–she’s so busy,
always.”

Rosa was peering into the dark corners where some few persons stood
watching the dancers. Somehow Nancy was secretly hoping that Rosa was
mistaken, for while she had a certain curiosity to see this much talked
of Orilla, she would rather have delayed the experience until some
other time.

“I guess it wasn’t she,” Rosa said finally, still jerking her head
from side to side attempting to find the face she was seeking for.
“Yes,” she exclaimed again, “I do believe I see her. Glide over this
way–”

“Isn’t it too dark along the edge?” Nancy asked. She did not like the
idea of getting so far away from Dell. Besides that, it really was dark
and deserted at that end of the platform.

But Rosa was bent upon following the figure she either saw or imagined
she saw. In fact, so intent was she, that Nancy’s remark went by
unnoticed.

“Wait here just a minute,” Rosa said suddenly, dropping Nancy’s arm and
dashing off along the uncertain edge of the circular platform.

Fear seized Nancy! What if Rosa was as foolish as Garfield had hinted,
and what if she should run off even for a short time on some silly
pretext with the undesirable Orilla? Gar had said that Nancy had
arrived “just in time.” What could he have meant?

She was watching Rosa’s light dress and felt she would surely have to
follow her. No matter what Rosa had said about Nancy waiting, she was
going to keep as close–

The flash of Rosa’s dress had gone out like a candle flame in the
wind. Turning her own steps in the direction Rosa must have taken,
she hurried along the platform’s edge and just caught a glimmer of
something light–Rosa’s dress it must have been–darting through the
trees, away from the pavilion.

“Rosalind!” she called anxiously. “Rosa!”

A queer little twittering whistle, that could not have been an answer
from Rosalind, pierced the darkness. The music had ceased, that dance
was over and now the young folks were all flocking in the other
direction. Nancy saw this, too, as she stepped off the platform and
attempted to follow the hidden trail of Rosalind.

“How absurd!” she could not help sighing, “if this is the way I’m going
to spend my summer chasing after a foolish girl–”

The next moment she was sure she heard whispering. That certainly was
Rosa, but why should she be hiding?

“Rosa!” again called Nancy, this time feeling very much like turning
back to Dell and leaving Rosa to report for herself.

Indignant and offended, Nancy was almost about to follow out that
thought when a sudden sharp cry–it was from Rosa–certainly–a cry of
pain came from a spot close by.

“Oh, Orilla! quick!” Nancy heard. “My foot is caught and–”

“Rosa, where are you?” sharply demanded Nancy. “_I’m_ here! I can help
you!”

“She’s all right–” came a voice not Rosa’s. Then the flash of a small
light betrayed the spot where Rosa had fallen.

“It’s my foot, it got caught in briars, and oh, mercy!” Rosa exclaimed,
“I’m afraid I’ve sprained my ankle!”

By this time Nancy could see Rosa’s companion. So that was Orilla! A
tall girl with fiery red hair that even in the glimmering light of the
hand flash which she, Orilla, was holding, looked too red to be pretty.
It was as if the head that held it all was in a real blaze, rather
than being covered with hair.

“Oh, you’re all right, Rose. Get up,” the girl ordered so unkindly that
Nancy bent over and put her arm about the struggling figure.

“Did you ever see anything–so–so–beastly!” poor Rose was muttering.
“Just to jump into a hole and get strangled with briars–”

“Hold on to me, dear.” Nancy could not help offering the endearing
term, for the red-haired girl surely was scoffing. And Rosa’s every
attempt to seem grown up, her foolish little expressions, and her
disregard of that sort of conduct which Nancy very well knew was Rosa’s
natural manner just being held back, made the cousin all the more an
object of affection to Nancy. She was now Rosa’s champion against this
girl, Orilla.

“Showing off,” was what it all was, of course, but there was something
more important to think of just now. Rosa was hurt, the Durands were
not in sight and Nancy was simply frightened to death at the whole
situation.

“Can’t you really get up?” asked Orilla, showing some concern herself
now. She was holding the flash light over Rosa, and in the darkness its
rays shone clear and remarkably bright for a thing so small. It picked
out a mass of wicked briars and treacherous undergrowth into which Rosa
had fallen.

“I can’t–stir–” she moaned. “There’s a regular rope of something
around–my–leg. Oh-h-h!”

It was not hard to realize that a rope of something had indeed
imprisoned the girl, for even the efforts of Orilla joining those of
Nancy, failed to extricate the injured one.

“What–shall–we do!” breathed Nancy, more deeply concerned than she
wished to admit even to herself. “However will we get her out of this?”

“Silly thing for her to get into,” grumbled the red-haired girl. “But I
guess I can chop her out.”

“Chop her out!” exclaimed Nancy, incredulously.

“Yes. I’ve got tools. You stay here with her, and for goodness’ sake
keep her quiet. My car is over on the road. I’ll be back as quickly as
I can get here.”

Presently the two girls found themselves alone, in the dark, in that
lonesome wood. Nancy was too frightened to do more than keep whispering
courage to Rosa, and Rosa was too miserable to do more than groan.

“Why–” started Nancy once more, but checked the query before it was
formed. Of what use to question Rosa now? The thing to do was to hope
for Orilla’s return. But even that worried Nancy.

“Oh, Nance,” groaned Rosa, “if my poor leg is broken–”

“It isn’t, dear, I’m sure,” consoled Nancy. “You know a strain feels
dreadfully at first. Are you sure she’ll come back?”

“Oh, yes. She sounds mean, but that’s her way,” Rosa explained. “Can’t
you see her light? Isn’t she coming yet?”

“No,” replied Nancy. “And Rosa, I feel I’ll just have to go back to the
pavilion for Dell. What will they think?”

“Think we’re lost, maybe.” Rosa was tugging at the briars and uttering
groans at every attempt to free herself. Nancy had torn the skin from
her right hand in her attempts to help, but was still working carefully.

“How far is the road?” Nancy asked presently.

“Just there, behind that little hill. You can’t see it, of course–”

“Will you stay while I look for Dell?”

“I’ll have to. But oh, Nance,” as her cousin prepared to go, “you
know I don’t want them to see me meeting Orilla. They just wouldn’t
understand. Every one hates her so and she’s so bitter about it. Look
again. Isn’t she coming?”

Mystified, Nancy obeyed.

“Yes, I believe she is. There’s a spark–yes, it’s her light,” she
added relievedly. “But how will she chop you out?”

“She carries tools; she’ll have a little chopper–a small ax, you
know,” faltered Rosa, relief showing also in her voice.

“You mean a hatchet. Why would she carry a hatchet?”

“Oh, I’ll tell you, sometime; if I ever get out of this,” groaned Rosa,
digging her fingers deep into the flesh of Nancy’s arm to which she was
clinging.

The faithful little flash-light dispelled what darkness it could reach,
as the girl with the small hatchet hurried back to them.

“Now don’t move while I chop,” she ordered sharply. “I’m hours late
now, and I’ve got to hurry.”

“Being late–” began Nancy indignantly. But holding back the briars
and bushes while Orilla chopped at that which so securely bound Rosa,
precluded anything like objections to the apparent heartlessness of
Orilla.

“There; I guess you can get up now. Hope to goodness I’m not all stung
with poison-ivy,” Orilla snarled, while Nancy gave her entire attention
to the unfortunate cousin.

“Put your arm under her other arm,” she ordered Orilla. “Her ankle is
hurt, you know,” she finished sarcastically.

“Oh yes, I know,” sneered the red-haired one. But nevertheless she did
as Nancy Brandon ordered her to do.

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