Chapter IX. Off on the Tour.
 

"How do we look?"

"Don't you think these skirts are too short?"

"Isn't it fine to have--pockets?"

"Oh, Grace Ford! You'll never be able to walk in those shoes! Girls, just look at those French heels!" It was Amy who spoke.

"They're not French!" declared Grace, driven to self-defense. "They're a modified Cuban."

"Not enough modification, then; that's what I say!" exclaimed Mollie, the three expressions which opened this chapter having come from Betty, Grace and Amy, respectively. "They're of the French--Frenchy, Grace, my dear!"

"I don't care! I tried to get fitted in the kind of shoes you girls have," and Grace looked at the stout and substantial walking boots of her companions, "but they didn't have my size. The man is going to send for them, and he said he'd forward them to Middleville. They'll be there when we arrive."

"All right, as long as you're going to get them," spoke Betty. "You never could belong to our Camping and Tramping Club in those shoes, Grace."

"Well, they're the largest I have, and I don't think the heels are so very high; do you?" and she appealed to the others.

"Here are Will and Frank," spoke Amy. "We'll let them decide."

"Oh, Will is sure to say something mean," declared his sister. "Don't you dare mention heels to him!"

"Ready for the hike?" demanded Will, as he came up with his chum.

"We start in half an hour," replied Betty, in the front yard of whose house the others were gathered. "Gracious, I know I haven't half the things I need. What did I do with that alcohol stove?"

"I saw you put it in the case," said Amy.

"Oh, yes, so I did. I declare I don't know what I'm doing! Now, girls, is there anything else to be thought of?"

"If there is, I'm not capable of it," declared Mollie. "I am a wreck," and she leaned against patient Amy for support.

"We'll go part way with you," offered Will.

"You shall not!" exclaimed his sister. "You'll make all manner of fun of us, and--"

"No, we won't--I promise!" exclaimed Frank, earnestly.

"Oh, let them come," pleaded Betty.

"Then go get Percy," urged Grace.

"Don't you dare!" cried Betty.

"Well, here comes Allen Washburn, anyhow," went on the tall girl. "At least we'll have enough escorts." Betty blushed and hurried into the house on some pretense or other.

The girls were to travel "light," taking with them only a few articles of clothing. Their suitcases they had arranged to send on ahead, so that they would be at each stopping place in the evening when the little party arrived. Then on leaving in the morning the satchels would again be dispatched in advance. Near the end of the route trunks would await them.

The girls expected to get their dinners wherever it was most convenient, and Betty had drawn up a sort of schedule that, should they be able to keep up to it, would mean comfort at noon. As I have explained, the breakfasts and suppers would be eaten at the homes of friends or relatives.

The girls had a little alcohol stove, a teapot and saucepan, and they expected, under favorable circumstances, to stop by the roadside and brew a cup of tea, each girl carrying an aluminum cup and saucer. Evaporated cream and sugar, to be replenished from time to time, formed part of their stores. Sandwiches, to be procured as needed, would form a staple food.

The day was a "perfect" one for June. Clad in their new suits of olive drab, purposely designed for walking, with sensible blouses, containing pockets, with skirts sufficiently short, stout boots and natty little caps, the outdoor girls looked their name. Already there was the hint of tan on their faces, for they had been much in the open of late.

They had assembled at Betty's house for the start, and were about ready to leave, though there seemed to be much confusion at the last minute.

Their first stopping place, at least for the night, would be the town of Rockford, about sixteen miles away, where Betty's aunt lived. They expected to remain two nights there, using the second day to walk to a certain old historic mill that was said to be worthy of a visit.

The good-byes were said, over and over again, it seemed, and a number of friends called to wish the girls good luck. Betty, who had been voted into the place of leader, looked over her small command. What it lacked in numbers it made up in attractiveness, for certainly no prettier picture could have been viewed than the one the girls presented that June morning, beneath the trees in the big yard.

"Well, are we ready?" finally asked Betty.

"As ready as we ever shall be," replied Grace.

"Then--what shall I say--forward--march?"

"Just say--hike!" cried the irrepressible Will.

"Don't mind him!" cautioned his sister. "Oh, I've left my handkerchief in your house, Betty!" and she hastened to secure it.

But, finally, after a few more forgotten articles had been collected, the girls were ready to start. Mr. Nelson came out to wave a farewell, and his wife appeared, to add more to her already numerous cautions.

"What shall I do with that five hundred dollar bill?" asked Betty's father. "If the owner comes, shall I give it up?"

"Don't you dare!" she cried. "At least, not until we girls have a chance to see him. We want to find out about the romance back of it. Write to us if it's claimed."

"All right--I will," he said, with a laugh.

"But it doesn't seem as though, after this lapse of time, that it would be called for. Good-bye!"

"Good-bye! Good-luck!"

This was echoed and re-echoed. Then the four members of the Camping and Tramping Club started down the pleasant country road, whereon the June sun shone in golden patches through the leafy branches of the trees.

"A good omen," breathed Amy, who walked beside Betty.

Will, Frank and Allen brought up the rear, carrying the small valises or suitcases the girls had packed. The little cavalcade passed Mollie's house, Mrs. Billette appearing at the window to wave another farewell. The twins were not in sight.

"For which I am thankful--they'd cry to come," said their sister, "and they are dreadful teases."

As the girls and their escorts swung around a turn in the highway a little later, about a mile from Mollie's house, Grace looked back to cry out in almost tragic accents:

"Look! The twins! They're following us," and the others turned around to see Dodo and Paul, hand in hand, trudging bravely and determinedly after them.