Chapter XIII. The Enemy Routed
 

Mrs. Irving pushed forward beside Betty, and the girls stared unbelievingly over her shoulder. Then they saw that she was right.

While they had been picking berries in the woods a flock of sheep had wandered down to the road from the other direction and had completely surrounded their two cars.

The big-eyed, innocent looking animals were circling around and around the machines as if examining them with a sort of ovine interest and curiosity.

But to the girls the sheep had a rather terrifying aspect. There were so many of them and they had so completely taken possession of their automobiles! How in the world were they ever to get back their property?

"Goodness!" Grace whispered plaintively in Betty's ear, "I expect they will try to climb into the cars next. What ever are we going to do?"

"Sh," cautioned Amy fearfully, as some of the flock, attracted by the noise in the bushes, turned their heads in the direction of it. "Suppose they should come in here?"

"Well, they are not lions, you goose," said Mollie, coming out of the trance into which surprise had thrown her. "They are only sheep, and they couldn't hurt you if they tried."

"Not unless they stampeded," said Betty quietly. "In that case I wouldn't care to be in the way."

"But we can't stay here all night," Mollie protested impatiently.

"Held up by a lot of silly old sheep," added Grace, still more uncomfortably conscious of a growing appetite.

"It must be almost two o'clock," added Amy with a sigh.

"Yes, if things keep on this way it will be night before we reach the lodge," said Mollie, adding with decision, "I vote that we get some sticks and stones and scat 'em out of the way."

"I think I have a better suggestion than that," put in Mrs. Irving, speaking for the first time. "I think we had better wait for a short time before we do anything. The sheep will probably get tired in a little while and wander off of their own accord."

"Oh, all right," said Mollie, with rather bad grace as she seated herself on a convenient rock. "But all the time we are waiting for them to be tired, we will be getting tired ourselves and, goodness, Mrs. Irving, I'm being starved to death."

At the desperation in her tones the girls had to laugh, though they were as reluctant to sit with folded hands and wait as she was. Still, Mrs. Irving was their chaperon and probably knew best.

So with admirable resignation they disposed themselves beside Mollie on the big rock and settled down to watch for developments.

But after waiting for an everlasting five minutes they decided that there were to be no developments. The foolish sheep continued to circle lazily about the cars, nibbling now and then upon the grass by the roadside but showing not the slightest intention in the world of moving from there for some time to come.

"Oh, what shall we do?" moaned Grace, moving restlessly on her uncomfortable seat. "My foot is going to sleep and I'm trying to sit on a pointed stone or something."

"And it looks as though those crazy sheep were going to stay there all night," added Betty, herself growing restive at the apparent futility of waiting for something to happen. "Can't we do something, Mrs. Irving?"

"Wait just a few minutes more," begged the lady, who was afraid of the sheep, but was reluctant to confess her fear to her young charges. "Look, there seems to be a movement among them now," she added hopefully, as one sheep pressed against another and sent it scampering a few feet along the road. "We won't have to wait much longer, I am sure."

And so, loth to break their chaperon's authority, the girls fidgeted and fumed, getting more impatient and hungrier with every leaden minute that dragged itself by until almost three-quarters of an hour had passed.

Then, when they began to think that they must scream if they were forced to wait another minute, their chaperon rose of her own accord and with a decided movement flicked the dust from her skirt.

"I think we have waited long enough," she hazarded, to which each girl said a fervent though silent "amen." "I suppose we shall have to follow Mollie's suggestion and gather sticks and stones. Perhaps we can scare them away."

"Hooray!" shouted Mollie, jumping to her feet with relief. At the unexpected sound the sheep in the road started and looked about them uneasily. "Come on, girls, I'm mad enough to attack 'em single-handed. All who are with me, say Aye."

"Aye!" they yelled, scurrying about to find sticks and stones.

Betty, flourishing a branch at the frightened flock, yelled: "We are wild, wild women, old sheep. You had better get out while the going's good. We eat little fellers like you alive!" and with a whoop of wild spirits she danced down to the edge of the wood waving her stick wildly about her head.

Her fun was contagious and, smothering their laughter, the girls waltzed after her, throwing sticks and stones and all sorts of improvised weapons into the midst of the now thoroughly frightened flock.

Mrs. Irving strove to caution them, but her voice was lost in the babble, and for once in her life at least she found herself utterly ignored. With a little sigh she picked up a stick of her own and followed after the girls.

For a moment it looked as though the panic stricken sheep would rush straight for the shouting girls, and in that moment what was little more than an exciting game to the girls might have turned into a rather dreadful tragedy.

But, luckily, half a dozen sheep broke through and, led by an old ram, started down the road and the rest of the flock, as is the habit of sheep, followed after.

In a moment the entire flock was galloping off down the road with the excited girls in pursuit. There is no telling how far they might have followed the sheep had not Betty become suddenly possessed of a grain of common-sense.

Panting and laughing, she came to a standstill while the girls rushed past her.

"Come back here!" she cried, her voice choked with laughter. "There's no use of our being as silly as the sheep. Mrs. Irving will think we have deserted her."

So reluctantly the girls abandoned the chase and started back to rejoin their much relieved but slightly dazed chaperon.

"Now if we had only done that an hour ago," said Mollie, as they climbed back into the machines determined to make up for lost time, "we would have been that much nearer the lodge and-- something to eat."

"Goodness, it will he almost dark when we get there now," wailed Grace, as she slipped into the seat beside Betty. "And we haven't had anything to eat since breakfast."

"What with highway robbers and sheep," laughed Betty, as she started the engine, "we shall be lucky if we get there at all."

"Oh, Betty, if you love me don't mention that awful highwayman again," begged Grace, looking uneasily into the shadows of the wood. "I don't want to have any more thrills like that as long as I live."

"Let's hope we won't," said Betty fervently.

"It's a pity there is no telephone along this road-- we could notify the folks at Deepdale," remarked Mollie.

"Humph, if we did that they might get so scared that they'd send for us to come home," came from Amy.

"That's so!" came from the other Outdoor Girls quickly.

"Well, as I said before, no more thrills like that for yours truly," repeated Grace.

But little did the girls know that in the weeks to follow they would have more and more startling thrills than they had ever experienced before.