The Outdoor Girls at Wild Rose Lodge by Laura Lee Hope
Chapter I. Just Fun
"Did you ever see a more wonderful day?"
The four Outdoor Girls, in Mollie Billette's touring car and with Mollie herself at the wheel, were at the present moment rushing wildly over a dusty country road at the rate of thirty miles an hour.
Grace Ford was sitting in front with Mollie, while Betty Nelson and Amy Blackford "sprawled," to use Mollie's sarcastic and slightly exaggerated description, "all over the tonneau."
"You look as if you had never done a real day's work in your life," said Mollie, with a disapproving glance over her shoulder at the girls in the tonneau.
"We never have," returned quiet Amy, with a grin.
"And we are proud of it," added Betty, as she defiantly settled her feet still more comfortably on the foot rail. "Why should we be energetic when it is so much easier to be lazy?"
"There the proper spirit speaks," applauded Grace Ford from the front. "I think I shall have to change places with you, Betty. It's far too exciting up here with Mollie. She insists upon staging near collisions every few feet-- thus keeping me awake!"
"Great heavens!" cried Mollie, pressing an impatient foot upon the accelerator to which the great car responded with an eager purring, "did any one ever give us the mistaken title of Outdoor Girls, I wonder? They should have called us the Rip Van Winkle club, instead."
"Now she's getting sour-castic," commented Grace lazily. "Have some candy, honey, and sweeten up."
She passed the ever-present box of delicacies over to Mollie, to which overture the young driver responded with so indignant a stare that Grace quickly withdrew the box, tucked it behind her, and strove to look unconscious.
"Please, ma'am, I didn't mean to do it," she said meekly.
"Well, don't do it again, that's all," returned Mollie, uncompromisingly, her eyes once more on the road ahead. "I've eaten so many chocolates this week that I've had indigestion and mother threatened to cut down my allowance."
"Goodness, it's my allowance that suffers," retorted Grace, ruefully, "since it is my candy that you eat."
"Stop quarreling, girls, and answer my question," said Betty, sitting up straight and regarding delightedly a vista of flying hills and woodland greenery. "I asked you a few minutes ago if you had ever seen so wonderful a day?"
"Yes, plenty of 'em," returned Mollie, as she took a sharp curve on two wheels. "If you weren't too lazy to notice anything, Betty Nelson, you would see that there is a storm coming up. Look at those clouds over there in the east."
"Oh, you're a kill-joy!" cried Betty, cocking an optimistic eye up at the sky. "It's only one teeny little cloud anyway, and who cares for clouds when the boys are coming home?"
Both Amy and Grace felt a breathless little tug at their hearts at the joyful challenge in Betty's words, but Mollie, with a perverseness that was sometimes characteristic of her, refused to be too happy.
"Who says they're coming home?" she asked. "Now you're only guessing."
"Guessing!" cried Betty indignantly. "What do you mean-- guessing? The war is over, isn't it?"
"Yes; and has been for quite a while," Mollie responded dryly. "But that doesn't say that the boys are coming home right away----"
"We don't care about the right away," interrupted Amy, with a quiet happiness in her face that made Betty hug her impulsively. "We can wait patiently, now that we know they are safe."
"It's all right for you to talk about patience, Amy," retorted Mollie, throttling her engine and sliding at breakneck speed down a long hill without the thought of using a brake. A brake to Mollie meant something to be used at the last minute when she couldn't think of anything else to do. "You're an angel, but I'm not--"
"No, indeed!" said Grace, so emphatically that the girls in the tonneau chuckled and Mollie looked at her threateningly.
"For goodness' sake, don't waste time looking at me," Grace pleaded, as they bounced into a hole in the road and out again, fairly jouncing the breath from the girls' bodies. "Keep your eyes on the road, Mollie dear, We're not ready to die yet."
"Well, look out, or you may-- ready or not," threatened Mollie darkly, as the car skidded around another precipitous turn and the girls saw with relief a long stretch of flat road before them.
"Just the same the boys must be coming home before very long," said Amy, quietly returning to the subject. "And when they do come we'll have to give them some sort of big party or something, girls."
"Of course we will," said Grace, munching contentedly on a chocolate. "Something that will make the people in Deepdale sit up and take notice."
"We-el-- I don't know," objected Betty thoughtfully. "They say that the few soldier boys who have come home object to any sort of fuss being made over them. They seem to want to forget everything that has happened 'over there,' and any sort of celebration brings the whole thing vividly before them again."
"Yes, that's true, too," Mollie agreed. "I remember our doctor telling mother that if people only wouldn't try to force confidences from the boys and would try to keep all thought of the awful things they had been through out of their minds, there would be fewer cases of nervous breakdowns."
"Pop!" said Grace, snapping her finger resignedly. "There go all our hopes of a good time, Amy. When the boys come home all we shall be allowed to do will be to smooth their fevered brows and hold their hands
"Well, we might do worse things even than that," said Betty, with a light laugh, and Mollie shot her a malicious glance.
"Just watch Betty objecting to that," she said wickedly. "Before we know it she will be sighing that Allen has only one fevered brow to smooth!"
Amy and Grace looked at Betty mischievously-- at Betty who could not for the life of her look as unconcerned as she would have liked.
"Don't be so foolish," she said hastily, at which the girls only laughed the more.
"Never mind, honey," said Amy, putting an arm fondly about her chum. "I guess we will all be crazy with joy to get the boys home again,"
"Well, you needn't think you can hold hands with Will and smooth his fevered brow all the time," said Grace unexpectedly. "Because I really have some share in him myself, you know. Remember, mine was one of the three pictures he kept under his pillow."
Readers of previous volumes in this series may recall that joyful letter written to Betty not so long ago in which Sergeant Allen Washburn-- now Lieutenant Allen Washburn-- had spoken of the three pictures which Will Ford had kept under his pillow during his long convalescence in one of the army hospitals over there. These readers may also remember that one of the pictures was of the boy's mother, another of his sister, Grace, and the third of shy little Amy Blackford, who now was blushing so furiously at the mere mention of it.
"How about poor Frank and Roy?" asked Mollie, mentioning the other two boys who made up the quartette of the girls' boy chums. "Who will attend to their fevered brows?"
"Oh, you and Grace can take turns at that," said Betty, lightly adding, with a little sigh: "Try as we can, Amy and I never know quite how to pair you four off. We can't for the life of us find out which of you likes Frank best and which inclines to Roy."
"That's right, kid-- keep 'em guessing," said Mollie slangily, as she turned on power and challenged a steep grade. "Grace and I believe in scattering our favors-- as 'twere. See that hill just ahead of us? What do you bet I make it without changing gears?"
"If you make it without changing our looks, I'll be happy," said Grace ruefully, as they bumped and rumbled to the top of the steep grade. "Look out, Mollie!" she added suddenly, indicating a big pile of brushwood that jutted out almost into the center of the road. "For goodness' sake, slow down!"
But Mollie did more than slow down. She stopped-- and with such suddenness that the girls were all but thrown out of the car and Betty bumped her nose on the seat in front.
They had scarcely regained their poise when they were startled by a shrill cry from Amy.
"Girls!" she almost screamed, clutching Betty's arm in a grip that hurt, "look at that tree. It's going to fall! Oh, we'll be killed!"
The girls followed the direction of her pointing finger and looks of horror sprang to their eyes. Slowly, its descent retarded somewhat by the branches of other trees, a towering giant of the forest tottered and crashed its destructive way downward. And they were directly in its path!