Chapter XV. Wild Roses
 

"We will go into the house," Mrs. Irving answered to their concerted cry of "What shall we do?" "Whatever it was that has frightened us has disappeared now, and we shall certainly be safer inside the house than out here. Come on, girls, I have the key."

And so, leaving the cars where they were, the girls approached the house with shaking knees and hearts that hammered their fear aloud. The Outdoor Girls were ordinarily afraid of nothing real and human, but to be held up at the point of a pistol would unnerve almost any one, and the struggle the girls had made not to give way to their fears at the time had made them more nervous still. And this thing that had startled them now, added to what had gone before, seemed a little more than could be borne. It seemed, in fact, like nothing human.

Mrs. Irving turned the key in the lock, opened the door and stepped inside the dark place, motioning to the girls to follow her.

Fearfully the chums obeyed and Betty and Mollie pulled out their electric pocket torches, filling the place with a weird light. Mollie, being acquainted with the place, naturally took charge of the situation.

"There are matches over there," she said, "and candles over the fireplace. For goodness' sake, let's get a regular light, folks. Perhaps that will make us feel more natural."

"So say all of us," echoed Amy. "The dark makes everything worse, when you are not well acquainted with a place."

Mollie touched a match to the candles, and in the answering flare turned to face her chums.

"Girls," she said, determinedly, "I don't know how you feel about it, but I vote that before we do anything else we get something to eat. We all look like ghosts just now and I'm sure we feel much worse than that. But a little food makes a monstrous lot of difference."

"You know it does," cried Grace, relaxing into one of the big chairs that were scattered about the room and covering her face with her hands. "I think if I don't get something to eat soon, I'll die, that's all."

"Well, we are none of us going to die," said Mrs. Irving vigorously, as she threw aside her coat and hat. "Show us the way to the kitchen, Mollie, and if there is anything there to eat, we will get it."

Accordingly Mollie took one of the candles and led the way into a little room beyond while all the girls but Betty crowded in after her.

For the Little Captain slipped back for a moment and very quietly closed the door, shutting out definitely the shadow beyond it.

"I suppose it is foolish," she said to herself, "because if there is anything out there that really wants to get in there are plenty of ways that it can do it, without coming in through the door. But," and she turned the key in the lock, "it certainly makes one feel more comfortable to have the door closed." Then she followed the girls into the other room, and the sight that met her eyes was certainly more cheering than anything she could have imagined.

Mollie's Uncle John had surprised them. In the exact center of a table set for five lay a young pig, roasted whole and browned to a turn! Nor was this all. The table was littered with covered dishes of all sizes and descriptions, and as the contents of each one of these dishes was disclosed, the girls became more and more excited and hilarious.

There was apple sauce in one, salad in another, mashed potatoes that had become quite cold in another, and a boat of gravy which had also become quite cold.

"But we don't mind," cried Mollie joyfully, as she took the gravy-boat in one hand, the dish of potatoes in the other, and ran with them over to a great stove in one corner of the room. "We need only some matches to have this blazing hot in a minute. No, not that way, Grace," as the latter tried to help by lighting the burner. "This isn't a gas stove, you know; it's an oil stove and you had better look out or you will blow us all up.

It is small wonder if Betty was so dazzled by this joyful scene that she could neither move nor speak for the space of two seconds or so. Then, recovering her powers of locomotion, she went over to the table and picked up a note that, in their excitement, the girls had overlooked.

"See what this says," she called to them, and they looked at her rather impatiently. Just at that moment the only thing they cared to consider was food-- and more food-- and then some more!

But as Betty read they became more interested, and even stopped long enough to hear her through. It was a brief note. This is what it said.

"My dear young ladies:

"I am a neighbor of Mr. Prendergast," (this was the dressed-up name of Mollie's Uncle John) "and he axed me to get your dinner ready fer you. I tried to keep it hot but you wus so long comin' I had to go home to get dinner fer my old man. Hope things is all right.

"LIZZIE DAVIS."

"So she is the one who has done all this," said Betty, looking around at the good things with dancing eyes. "I bet she is nice and plump and has rosy cheeks."

"Lizzie Davis? Lizzie Davis?" repeated Mollie, bringing the steaming gravy back and plumping the dish triumphantly down on the table. "Rather a funny name for a fairy godmother, but she sure does know how to cook. Don't forget the potatoes, Grace. Come on, girls-- let's sit down."

So down the girls sat and acted like ravenous pigs-- or so Grace described their conduct afterward, Mrs. Irving set to work carving the delicious pork, but they could not wait for her.

They seized slices of bread, spread apple sauce and butter on them, and ate like what they were, four famished girls and one equally famished chaperon who had been out in the open all day and had had nothing to eat since morning.

It was some time before they showed any considerable signs of slowing up. Then Grace put down her fork, leaned back lazily, and called for dessert. The latter was a huge cherry pie, and before the girls were through with it there was not enough left to color a robin's egg.

After the pangs of hunger had been satisfied they found to their great surprise that they were dead tired and sleepy.

"We will get the dishes out of the way and then Mollie can show us where we sleep," said Betty. "Oh, girls, did you ever in your life taste such a dinner?"

It was not till the dishes had all been cleared away and Mollie took up her candle to show them their quarters that the unwelcome thought of the thing that had so frightened them again crept terrifyingly into their minds. Try as they would to forget it, they could not.

There were three small sleeping rooms in the lodge, but, small as they were, they were comfortable and contained beds that seemed the height of luxury to the tired girls.

Because of the indistinct and flickering candle light the girls could make out very little of what the rooms really looked like, and they postponed any close examination until the morning. Back of the lodge was a shed for the cars.

The bedrooms were all joined by doors, which gave the girls a safe and sociable feeling. Mrs. Irving, of course, had one room to herself, Betty and Mollie slept together and Grace and Amy paired off.

They wasted little time in getting ready-- Betty and Mollie had appointed themselves a committee of two to bring in the grips from Mollie's car-- and before long they tasted the exquisite restfulness of comfortable beds after a long nerve-trying day in the out-of-doors.

"I don't believe I shall close my eyes all night," said Amy with conviction. "I'm too horribly nervous."

But three minutes later she was sound asleep!

The sun had been up a good two hours before any one stirred in Wild Rose Lodge. Betty was the first to awake, and in fifteen minutes she had the rest of the sleepy-eyed and protesting girls up and nearly dressed.

"What's the idea, anyway?" yawned Grace lazily. "I could have slept at least a good two hours more."

"On a day like this?" sang Betty, breathing in deep breaths of the wood-scented air. "And isn't this just the dearest room you ever saw?" she added, wheeling about and regarding the apartment delightedly. They were in Grace and Amy's room, for, as usual, Mollie and Betty had been the first dressed and had gone into their chums' room to hurry them up-- if such a thing were possible.

Betty's summing up of the room they were in was indeed well deserved, for the place was charming. There was a dresser, a bed, and three chairs, and all of these articles of furniture had been rough-hewed out of logs, giving the place a delightfully rustic appearance. There was a grass rug on the floor and in one corner a little table covered with books.

"Isn't it darling?" cried Mollie, following Betty's glance about the place. "Uncle John built the lodge and made all of the furniture himself, you know. And he bought the grass rugs from the Indians."

They were still exclaiming about the place when Mrs. Irving called to them that breakfast was ready. With a whoop of delight they answered the summons, and a moment later sat themselves down to a most satisfying meal of omelet and toast and coffee with real cream in it. Also Mrs. Irving set on the table a yellow-topped pitcher of milk fresh from the cow.

"Our friend, Lizzie Davis, brought it," their chaperon answered with a smile, in response to the girls' curious questions. "Also some fresh butter and eggs, I have an idea," she added, as she got up to refill the butter plate, "that we shall live on the fat of the land while we are here."

"Lizzie Davis," repeated Betty, pausing in the act of filling her glass with fresh milk and regarding Mrs. Irving with dancing eyes. "Tell me, chaperon dear, Didn't she have nice red cheeks, and wasn't she delightfully plump?"

"Yes," said Mrs. Irving, smiling at Betty's flushed prettiness. "She was all of that, my dear. I don't believe I ever saw a more cozy looking person in my life."

"I knew it!" cried Betty triumphantly, adding with a suspicious eye on Grace: "Hand over that plate of toast, Gracie. You needn't think you can eat it all up!"

After breakfast they sallied forth to "view the country o'er." They would have stayed and helped Mrs. Irving clear up, but that good woman declared that she could do better by herself on this first morning. After she had become better acquainted with the place they could help her all they liked. Finally, after some protest, they had to let her have her way.

As they stepped out on the porch, Betty paused and held up her hand for silence.

"Listen," she said. "That murmuring sound and the splash of water----"

"It's the river and the falls," explained Mollie. "Let's go down and have a look at them."

But Amy, giving a little gasp of delight, fairly tumbled down the steps and into a riot of gorgeous pink wild roses. The lodge was fairly surrounded by them.

"Oh, you darlings!" cried Amy, putting both arms around a bush of the fragrant flowers as though she would gather in all their beauty at once. "I never saw anything so wonderful in all my life! Oh, girls, I'm glad I came!"