Chapter X. On the Wrong Road.
 

Molly, for a moment, looked as if she wanted to cry from sheer vexation, for the getting ready to start had been trying on all of them. Then the humor of the situation appealed to her, and she exclaimed, as the solemn-eyed twins drew: nearer:

"Dodo--Paul--what does this mean? Go back home at once! Mamma will be dreadfully worried about you. Go back."

"We tum too," lisped Dodo.

"We go for walk wit oo, Mollie," Paul added.

"The little dears!" murmured Amy.

"You wouldn't say so if you had to go all the way back with them," exclaimed the sister. "Dodo--Paul, you must go home at once."

"Dot any tandy?" asked Dodo, seeing, doubtless, a chance to make capital out of the escapade.

"Candy! The idea!"

"We go back if oo dot tandy," spoke Paul, cunningly, seeing the drift of his small sister's scheme. "We 'ikes tandy."

"I'll give them some if they promise to go back," spoke Grace, making a motion toward her little case that Frank carried.

"No, they must not be bribed," said Mollie, firmly. "I shall insist on their going back. And oh! what faces they have! They must have been eating candy already this morning."

"Our tandy all gone," spoke Dodo. "Oo dive us tandy we go back; won't us, Paul?" and confidingly she looked up into her brother's face.

"We go for tandy," he affirmed, and there was an air of determination about him that boded no good for the girls.

"You must go back!" declared Mollie.

"We go for walk," said Dodo. "Tum on, Paul. We dot fings to eat same as dem," and proudly she displayed a very dirty bag, the opening of which disclosed a rather jumbled collection of bread and butter, and cookie crumbs.

"An' I dot a gun to shoot bad bears," went on Paul, shouldering a wooden article, that, by a wide stretch of the imagination could be seen to somewhat resemble a musket. "Gun go bang-bang!" explained the little chap, "bad bears run 'way off. Turn on, Dodo, we go wif 'em," and he nodded at the "hikers," as Will unfeelingly characterized his sister and her chums.

"Go back! Go back!" cried Mollie, now again on the verge of tears. "Oh, you bad children! What shall I do? Mamma will be dreadfully worried, and if we take them back we'll lose a lot of time. What shall we do, girls?"

"We go back for tandy--lots of tandy," spoke the inexorable Dodo. "We 'ikes tandy; don't us, Paul?"

"Yes," said Paul, simply.

"The easiest way out of it is to give them some candy," said Grace, in a low voice, but, low as it was, the twins heard. Their eyes brightened at once, and they came eagerly forward.

"Oh, dear, I suppose it is the only thing to do," affirmed Mollie. "Will you go straight back if you get some candy?" she asked. "Straight home to mamma?"

"Ess--we bofe go," promised Dodo, who usually led her small brother. "We 'ikes tandy," she reiterated.

"Me tan shoot bears to-morrow," said Paul, philosophically. "Where is tandy?" With him evidently the prospect of present enjoyment was preferable to the future possibility of becoming a great hunter.

"Here you are!" cried Grace, as she took out some chocolates. "Now be good children. Do you think it safe for them to go back alone, Mollie?"

"That's so, I never considered that. I wonder if we'll have to go with them? Oh, isn't this annoying, and we're behind time now! We'll never get to Rockford to-night. What shall I do?"

"We take 'em back if oo dive us some tandy!" mocked Will, who, with his chums, had been an interested observer of the little scene.

"Smarty!" exclaimed his sister. "But I'll take you at your word just the same. Here, Frank--Allen--you see that he performs his part of the contract," and she held the candy box out to the other two, who laughingly accepted the bribe.

Then with the hands of the trusting, and now contented, twins in theirs, Will and Frank bade the girls good-speed and led away the two small ones on their homeward way, Allen following them after a farewell to Betty.

"At last we are off!" murmured Mollie. "I'm so sorry it happened, girls!"

"Why, the idea!" cried Betty. "It was just a little pleasant episode, and we'll remember it all day, and laugh."

"But it may make us late," suggested Mollie, anxiously.

"Not much," went on the Little Captain. "It wasn't your fault, anyhow. We can just walk a little faster to make up for it--that is, if, Grace thinks she can stand it."

"Oh, you won't find me complaining," declared the girl whose footwear had been the subject of comment. "I'm not as comfortable as you, perhaps," she admitted, "but I will be when I get my other shoes. And now, let's give ourselves up to the enjoyments of the way--and day. Oh, isn't it just lovely!"

Indeed, a more auspicious start--barring the little delay caused by the twins--could not have been provided. The day was one of those balmy ones in June, when it is neither too hot nor too blowy, when the breeze seems fairly laden with the sweet scent of flowers, and the lazy hum of bees mingles with the call of birds.

The way led out along a pleasant country road, which, for some distance, wound in and out among great maples that formed a leafy shade which might be most acceptable later in the day, since there was the promise of considerable heat at noon.

As yet it was early, a prompt enough start having been made to allow of an easy pace along the road.

"For," Betty had said in reviewing the procedure to be followed, "we don't want to tire ourselves out on the first stage of our trip. We ought to begin gradually. That is the way all athletes train."

"Oh, then we are going to be athletes?" asked Amy.

"Walking athletes, at least," responded the leader. "Now, girls, if any of you feel like resting at any time, don't hesitate to say so. We want this to be an enjoyment, not a task, even if we are a regular club."

So perfect was the day, and in such good spirits were the girls, that even the simplest sights and happenings along the highway brought forth pleased comments. The sight of a cow placidly chewing her cud in a meadow, the patient creature standing knee-deep amid the buttercups, was a picture they all admired, Mollie carried a little camera, and insisted on snapping the bovine, though the other girls urged her to save some films with which to take their own pictures.

"But that cow will make such a lovely enlargement," said Mollie. "It's like an artist's painting."

Bravely they marched along, with a confident swing and firm tread--at least, all but Grace trod firmly, and she rather favored herself on account of her high heels. But her chums were good enough not to laugh.

They passed farm houses, in the kitchen doors of which appeared the women and girls of the household, standing with rolled-up sleeves, arms akimbo, looking with no small wonder at the four travelers.

There were comments, too, not always inaudible.

"I wonder what they're selling?" one woman asked her daughter, as they paused in their work of washing a seemingly innumerable number of milk pans.

"They take us for peddlers," said Amy.

A little later a small boy, who had been playing horse in front of his house, scuttled back toward the kitchen, crying out:

"Ma--ma! Come an' see the suffragists!"

"Oh, mercy!" exclaimed Betty. "What will we be taken for next?"

But it was fun, with all that, and such a novelty to the girls that they wondered why they had not before thought of this means of spending part of their vacation.

The sun crept higher in the sky, and the warmth of the golden beams increased. The girls were thankful, now, for any shade they might encounter, and they were fortunate in that their way still lay in pleasant places. They came to a little brook that ran under the road, and not far from it a roadside spring bubbled up. Their collapsible drinking cups came in useful, and they remained for a little while in the shade near the cool spot.

"Where shall we eat our lunch?" asked Grace, as the ever-mounting sun approached the zenith.

"Are you hungry already?" asked Amy.

"I am beginning to feel the pangs," admitted the tall, graceful girl.

"Then you can't have eaten much candy," commented Mollie.

"Only three pieces."

"Hurrah! Grace is reforming!" cheered Betty. "That's fine!"

"I don't see why you're always making fun of me," Grace said, as she pouted. "I'm sure you are all just as fond of chocolate as I am."

"Never mind," consoled Mollie. "We will eat soon, for I confess to having an appetite on my own account."

Deciding to eat, at least on this first day of the tramp, a lunch of their own providing, rather than go to some restaurant, country hotel, or stop at a chance farm house, the girls had brought with them packages of food, and the alcohol stove for a cup of tea, or some chocolate.

"This looks to be a perfect place for our picnic," said Betty, as, on passing a farm, they saw the plow-horses unhitched and led under a tree to partake of their hay and oats. "It must be noon by that sign," went on the Little Captain, confirming her guess by a glance at her watch. "It is," she said. "So we'll eat here," and she indicated a little grassy knoll under a great oak tree at the side of the road.

"There's the most beautiful spring of water here, too," went on Grace. "Shall we make tea?"

"Do!" exclaimed Mollie. "I'm just dying for a good hot cup. But not too strong."

Soon they had merrily gathered about the greensward table, on which paper napkins formed the cloth. The sandwiches were set out, with a bottle of olives to add to the attractiveness, and then the little kettle was put on the alcohol stove, which had been set up in the shelter of the great oak's massive trunk.

"It's boiling!" finally announced Betty. "Hand me the tea ball, Amy, my dear."

Pouring the steaming water over the silver tea ball, Betty circulated it around in the cup, until one fragrant brew was made. She passed this over to Mollie, and proceeded to make another.

"It's delicious!" cried the French girl, as she tasted it, cream and sugar having been added. "Oh, isn't this just lovely!"

"Perfect," murmured Grace. "I wouldn't have missed this for anything!"

In pure enjoyment they reclined on the grass after the meal, and then, as Betty, after a look at her watch, warned them that the better half of their journey still lay before them, they started off again.

They had proceeded a mile or so, and the way was not so pleasant now, for the road was sandy, when they came to a fork of the highway. A time-worn sign-post bore letters that could scarcely be made out, and, though they had a road map, the girls were not quite sure which way to take to get to Rockford. They were debating the matter, alternately consulting the map and the sign-post, when a farmer drove past.

"Which road to Rockford, please?" hailed Betty.

"Th' left!" he exclaimed, sententiously. "G'lang there!" This last to the horses, not to the girls.

"The road map seems to say the road to the right," murmured Betty, as the farmer drove that way himself.

"Well, he ought to know," insisted Grace. "We'll take the left," and they did.

If they had hoped to have all go smoothly on this, their first day of tramping, the girls were destined to disappointment. In blissful ignorance they trudged on, talking so interestedly that they never thought to glance at the sign-boards, of which they passed several.

It was Amy who discovered the error they had made--or rather, the error the farmer had caused them to make. Again coming to a dividing of the ways, they saw a new sign-board, put up by a local automobile organization.

"Eight miles to Hamptown, and ten to Denby," read Amy. "Girls, where is Rockford?"

Anxiously they stared at the sign.

"It doesn't seem to say anything about Rockford," murmured Grace.

"Maybe someone has moved our town," suggested Mollie, humorously.

Betty looked puzzled, annoyed and a little anxious. A snub-nosed, freckle-faced boy came along whistling, and beating the dust of the road with a long switch.

"Which is the road to Rockford, little boy?" asked Betty.

"Huh?"

"I say, which is the road to Rockford?"

"Give him a candy if you have any left, Grace," suggested Mollie, in a low tone.

"Are you folks peddlin' candy?" asked the boy, and his eyes shone.

"No, but we have some," answered Betty. "We want to get to Rockford."

"You're five miles off the road," exclaimed the boy, with a grin, as though he took personal delight in their dilemma. "You come the wrong way. Huh!"

"Oh, dear!" murmured Mollie. "Don't you give him any candy, Grace."

"It isn't his fault that we went wrong," spoke Betty.