FANTASY

Summer was almost over. It had passed quickly for Nancy, although at
first her visit had threatened to be dull, monotonous and even a little
unpleasant. But as soon as the conflict between Rosa and Orilla became
of concern to her, just so promptly did her own days at Fernlode become
absorbingly interesting.

Rosa’s worry over a few extra pounds of fat now seemed simply babyish,
but so it is with most personal appearance worries. They may mean much
to a sensitive girl, but to others they are usually accepted as they
should be, as matters of small importance. It is character that always
matters most.

All this was clear to Rosa finally, and with it had come the lesson in
self-restraint: no candy, the lesson in self-discipline: long walks,
and the lesson in common sense: to be sincere. All of which had
developed a surprisingly attractive Rosa, and in her laudable cousin’s
efforts Nancy had enjoyed an active and interesting part.

It had been thrilling–those hunts on the islands, those escapades
of Rosa’s–and it had been fun when the worry was over. As Nancy
repeatedly insisted she would not be called smart, because she wasn’t
any smarter than most girls; it was simply because Rosa had been so
oddly different that Nancy’s plain common sense shone forth.

The cousins now were affectionate chums indeed, for trouble and trials
often bring forth the brightest flowers of true affection, especially
where these troubles do not interfere with the rights of others and are
strictly matters which belong in a girl’s world.

Having the little picnic proved a welcome change, and its success was
marked by many pleasant memories of the children’s lovely time, besides
the pleasure the report of the affair was sure to bring to Lady Betty.

There remained now but one more problem for the young girls to solve:
they must reach Orilla and tell her that Margot had agreed to let her
use her old room, under the grape vines, so that she would no longer be
compelled to steal in and snatch a few precious moments in her coveted
sanctuary.

But where to find Orilla?

Leaving the station Dell drove the smallest of the fleet of cars, with
Nancy and Rosa, to hunt for the girl. Inquiring at Mrs. Rigney’s they
found Orilla’s mother in great distress.

“Something must have happened,” she wailed. “Orilla has not been home
to-day and I’ve even had the little boys and girls searching the woods
for her. Where can she have gone? Do you girls know anything about
her?” she implored, excitedly.

Nancy did not say that she too had expected to see Orilla, but the
three girls assured the worried mother that they surely would locate
her daughter, and once more they faced that almost continuous task of
searching the woods.

Driving through the woodland roads at the rear of the lake front, was
by no means as easy as sailing on its smooth waters, but this was the
way the girls were now compelled to go.

“Those logs she cut down must have been for something,” Dell reasoned.
“Have either of you found out what she did with those?”

“She intended to build a camp,” Rosa answered, “but I don’t know where.
She was as secretive as a–fox.”

“She told me too she had a place in the woods, and spoke of loving the
wilderness so much, but she never said anything to me about where it
was,” Nancy also explained.

“Well, we’ll drive along toward Weirs,” Dell suggested. “But we can’t
expect to get out onto the islands from the land side.”

Thus they journeyed in the late afternoon, over the rough hills, up and
down, in and out, but among the camps picked out along the road, where
summer folks had pitched their tents, no sign of Orilla was discovered.

“Could we hire a boat here at this landing and go along the water
front?” Nancy suggested. “I feel we must have been near her place that
afternoon we helped with the little trees.”

“Yes, we could do that,” agreed Dell. It was rather late for sailing
parties, and the man in the sailor’s uniform literally jumped at the
chance of taking them on his power boat.

“I believe she is on that island over there,” pointed out Nancy,
“because when we were on the water that afternoon, I saw a flash of
light in that clump of low pines.”

“A clue!” sang out Rosa gayly. “Depend upon Nancy to notice things.
Tell the man to steer in there, Dell. And let’s hope for the best.”

Like the other islands this was small in area; and as the girls jumped
ashore the boatman took out his “picture-paper” to look that over while
he waited, for they all knew the search would take but a comparatively
short time.

“Yes, she’s been here,” declared Rosa, almost as soon as she had
stepped on land. “See these bushes? They’ve just been trampled down–”

“Here’s a regular path,” interrupted Nancy. “And see all these pieces
of paper.”

“We are certainly on the trail,” agreed Dell. “Nancy, we’ll follow you;
this was your clue, you know,” she pointed out tersely.

Quietly they followed Nancy. The little path was leading some place,
certainly, for it was marked out clearly in the heavy grass and
undergrowth.

Suddenly Nancy stopped. She felt she was near someone, and the path was
opening into a cleared spot that was faced around from the other side
with the low scrub pine trees.

“Orilla!” she said, instinctively.

“Nancy!” came a feeble, faint reply.

“Where–is–she!” demanded Rosa, close upon Nancy’s lead. “Oh, look!”

There she was, on a bed of pine needles, lying like an Hawaiian
under the most picturesque hut. It was open on the side the girls
were facing, but the thatched roof fell over the other sides in true
tropical fashion.

“Orilla,” breathed Nancy, who was quickly beside the unhappy girl,
“what has happened?”

“I’m sick, Nancy,” she replied, “too sick to walk and–and–I’ve been
lying here–so long!”

“You want a drink, Orilla,” insisted Rosa, all excitement now. “Here’s
your tin cup, but your water pail is–empty!”

“Yes. I couldn’t get to the spring–”

“The boatman may have some drinking water,” Dell suggested. “Give me
the pail, Rosa.”

Immediately they set about to care for the sick girl, stifling their
natural curiosity at the strange surroundings.

“Don’t go away, Nancy,” Orilla begged, as Nancy rose from her side to
attend to something. “As I lay here I have been thinking of so many
things. Just let me have a drink, Dell. Thank _you_ for coming,” she
said, noticing Dell Durand’s kind attention. “I’m not worth all this
bother.”

“Hush,” ordered Nancy, “you don’t want us crying, do you? When folks
talk that way–”

“It’s so like a funeral,” spoke up the impulsive Rosa, who was secretly
looking over the hut, mystified and astounded.

“You had better not talk now,” Nancy cautioned Orilla.

“Oh, I must; I’m not so very sick, just weak and worried, and I’ll be
better when I’ve told you,” Orilla insisted. “Girls, this is the camp
I was building,” she began. “You see, my father was a carpenter and I
love even the scent of freshly cut wood.”

A smile twisted Rosa’s face at this, but she quickly conquered it. She
had disastrously followed Orilla in her quest for freshly cut wood.

“Yes, I always carried home chips,” Orilla went on, having risen on her
queer bed and settled her head against an uncovered pine pillow. “When
I was very small I would follow the men who chopped the trees, to carry
the chips home in my little sunbonnet. I have always loved new wood.”

“This place is wonderful,” Dell interrupted. “Just like a picture. I
can’t imagine you building it all alone. You are really a genius at it,
Orilla.”

“My arms are very strong–I suppose I’ve trained them to be,” Orilla
said, “but Rosa helped me with the wood–”

“You bet I did,” exclaimed Rosa, “and my hands still bear the marks.”

“Well, you see,” the sick girl continued, “I know what an attraction a
real hut in a real woods would be, and I’ve worked at this all summer.
I was going to bring parties here–”

“We had one of them to-day,” burst out Nancy, and that remark brought
on a hurried report of the party just held at Fernlode.

“You did that! You girls!” exclaimed Orilla, who was too surprised to
lie still. She was shifting to a sitting position, her thick, bright
hair hanging over her shoulders, adding the last touch to her tropical
appearance under the thatched hut.

“Why, yes,” replied Nancy. “It was the best fun we had this whole
summer. If we hadn’t been worrying about you–”

“Why should _you_ have worried about me?” Orilla asked, seriously.

“Why shouldn’t we?” retorted Nancy.

“Feel better now, Orilla?” Dell inquired. “You see, we have a hired
boat–”

“And we’ve got such glorious news, Orilla,” sang out Rosa. “You’re
coming back to live at our house–”

“I’m–going–back!”

“To your own little room,” added Nancy, smiling. “It’s all fixed.
Margot thought it only fair–”

The color rushed back into Orilla’s cheeks as if it had been suddenly
lighted there.

“My room! Back to my own–little–room!”

“These little girls are like fairies, aren’t they?” Dell interposed.
“But not more magical than you have been, Orilla. This place is
perfect. Good enough for a fancy picture!”

“If only my mother and her library friends could see it,” Nancy
commented. “And where ever did you get these queer things? Just look
at that East Indian water jug. Isn’t it one, Orilla?”

“Yes. I found most of them in a curio shop. I think they came from an
old seaman’s collection,” and the girl on the pine-needle bed smiled.
“But how lovely it is to have someone see them besides me!” Orilla
sighed. “I had planned this so long and made such a secret of it,
I just didn’t seem to know how to tell anyone about it. But I’m so
glad–now!”

“So are we,” declared Rosa. “And I’ll tell you, Orilla. You and I had
best never have any more secrets. Nancy would find them out, at any
rate, so what’s the use?”

“We must go,” announced Dell. “Orilla, do you feel strong enough to
walk down to the boat?”

“Oh, yes, I’m much better. I guess I just fretted myself ill, and when
I thought no help would come I sort of collapsed.”

“Lean on me,” commanded Rosa grandly. “You’re going to live at our
house now, so you will be my guest, sort of,” she said humorously.

“I can’t believe that,” demurred Orilla, and the puzzled look on her
drawn face showed how surprised she really was.

Presently they were going toward the boat, Orilla leaning on Dell
and Rosa, for she was quite weak and the rough path was not easy to
traverse.

“You have fever,” Dell said gently. “If we had not found you, what
would you have done?”

“Died perhaps,” Orilla answered, simply.

“But we were _sure_ to find you,” Nancy insisted. “Don’t you hate to
leave your rustic bower? Even your room in Fernlode could never be as
lovely as that camp. I’ve seen pictures like it in the Geographical,
but I never expected to visit one in reality,” she enthused.

“We’ll come back,” chanted Rosa, “and bring parties of our own. Won’t
the boys howl?”

“Step in, please,” the boatman ordered, for they had reached the edge.
“It’s getting late.”

Once seated in the boat the girls did what they could to make Orilla
more presentable. They pinned up her hair, fixed the rough khaki
blouse, and Nancy insisted upon contributing her tie, although Orilla
protested that a tie was not necessary for her to wear, she never did
so, she declared. But the bright little tie improved her looks, they
were all quite positive of that.

The transfer from boat to auto was made easily, as Orilla, who was
perhaps more frightened at finding herself ill and being alone in the
camp than actually sick, seemed much better and expressed keen interest
in all the girls’ prattle.

“Like a real story,” Nancy thrilled. “I’ll have to tell it hundreds of
times to Ted, I know,” she laughed happily, for she expected soon to
have that welcome privilege.

“Don’t let’s stop at your mother’s now,” proposed Rosa. “We can come
straight back and fetch her up after you get installed, Orilla. Margot
has been frightfully busy, but she promised to have the room aired and
everything,” she added sagely.

This plan was quickly agreed upon, and when Dell drew her car up
alongside of the porch, Orilla seemed almost too dazed to step out.

“Home, James!” joked Rosa, jumping around gayly. “Fernlode is going to
have three girls now instead of just me.”

“But I’ll soon be going home,” Nancy told her, while they all,
including Dell, marched along the porch with Orilla.

“Don’t mention it, Nancy,” begged Rosa. “If I weren’t going to school
I wouldn’t let you go. This way, Orilla. We’re going in the front door
this time.”

“Please don’t, I would so much rather not,” murmured Orilla. “I love
the way I’ve always gone in–and–I’m sort of nervous, you know.”

“Orilla’s right, Rosa,” Dell replied. “It’s much better just to get her
quietly into bed. Don’t make the least fuss–” she cautioned aside to
the two eager girls.

“Thanks,” sighed Orilla. “You see, I can’t help feeling a little
guilty, Rosa. I did fool you an awful lot.” There was the flash of a
smile with this admission.

“Not such an awful lot, either,” Rosa defended herself, “for all the
exercise was surely good for me. See how frail and fairy-like I am!”
and she attempted a little demonstration.

“Just open that door, will you?” Nancy ordered. “We’ll admire _you_
some other time, dear.”

Dell had hurried inside to bring the news quietly to Margot, and to
tell her of Orilla’s weakened condition. Promptly and in her own
capable way, Margot slipped into the hidden room, quite as if its
blinds had not been closed for so long, or as if the mustiness she had
fought for two days to conquer, were merely a new brand of natural
perfume.

It took but a few minutes to install Orilla in her bed, which had been
made fresh and comfortable, and upon Margot’s orders Rosa and Dell
then withdrew.

They were really going for Dr. Easton, although they did not let Orilla
know that. But Nancy stayed near the sick girl, who seemed still
anxious to talk of her secrets.

“The money, you know, Nancy,” she said, when Margot had left for some
fresh water. “I had saved that to buy the little lot next here.”

“Next here?” queried Nancy, again much perplexed at Orilla’s statement.

“Yes. There’s a strip of land adjoining this. It is only a fisherman’s
place and he promised to sell it to me very cheap. I had almost enough
money, and the fresh-air parties were to pay me more. But I won’t need
it now. This is–so–much better,” and the sick girl sighed happily.

“You were trying so hard to get money to buy land near here,” Nancy
repeated, beginning to understand Orilla’s struggles.

“Yes. It’s in the little brown bag, but half of it belongs to Rosa.
She must have it back,” Orilla said firmly.

“But I’m sure she won’t take it–” declared Nancy.

“Then I’ll have to give it to mother. Poor mother, she has worked so
hard,” Orilla sighed. “But this, having me here again, will surely make
her happy.”

Dr. Easton found Orilla highly nervous, and privately he told Margot
and Mrs. Rigney that the fancied injustice had so preyed upon the
girl’s mind she had been unable, for the time being at least, to
control her bitterness. This would now be removed and so her health
would be sure to improve.

Mrs. Rigney had been brought back in the car, as the girls arranged,
and in spite of her daughter’s illness they were all almost happy.

“It is her dream come true,” said Nancy to Rosa. “And she has just
given her mother the brown bag with the money. She wanted to give you
half.”

“I wouldn’t take a penny,” declared Rosa sharply. “I gave her that and
it’s all hers.”

“That’s what I told her, Rosa,” Nancy replied. “You won’t miss me so
much now, you’ll be so busy with all this,” she pointed out. “I had a
letter from mother today–”

“You can’t go home–yet,” cried Rosa instantly. “You have got to be
here when Betty and Dad come. You must know what they say when they see
me–thin!”

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