The Campfire Girls Go Motoring by Hildegard G. Frey
When the gust of wind overtook us that night while Sahwah and Nakwisi and I were struggling to shut the gate we had run against in the darkness, Nakwisi and I jumped into the Glow-worm in haste and we all thought Sahwah was in too. But in running for the car she slipped in the mud and fell flat on her face in the puddle. By the time she had picked herself up and wiped the mud out of her eyes the Glow-worm was gone. Slopping along in the pools of water she ran shouting down the road. She could hear the engine of the Glow-worm throbbing in the distance; then the sound began to die away. She knew then that they had not yet noticed her absence, but they must presently and would return for her. So she set out in the direction in which the car had vanished, going, as she supposed, to meet them. The road was so dark she could not see her hand in front of her eyes, and what with the wind moaning mournfully and the rain falling all around her, it was rather a dismal walk. On one side of her was a stretch of swamp where frogs glumped and piped in every known key. Sahwah is not nervous, however, and to her the voice of a frog is simply the voice of a frog and not the wail of a banshee, and anyway, her mind was occupied with pulling her feet out of the mud in the road and setting them in again. And she was straining her ears for the sound of the Glow-worm, and all other noises made little or no impression on her.
It seemed to her that it was high time the others had missed her and were coming back to pick her up. "Probably stuck in the mud somewhere," was her consoling thought, "and I'll come upon them if I keep going far enough."
And so she kept on pulling her feet out of the mud and setting them in again. By and by the road narrowed down until it seemed no more than a path, and then without warning it ended abruptly against a building. Sahwah had been looking at her feet and not into the distance, and due to the force of inertia which we learned about in the Physics class, which keeps people going once they have started, she did not stop as soon as the road did and ran her nose smartly against the building, which proved to be a barn, Sahwah drew back with a start, rubbing her injured nose. Gradually, the fact dawned on her that she was lost. She looked for the road from which she had strayed, but it seemed to have rolled itself up and departed. The croaking of the frogs came from everywhere and she could not locate the swamp. She walked around for awhile, and finally, did walk into the swamp, but there was no road anywhere near. There was water, water, everywhere. Sahwah, who had once declared she could never get enough of water, got enough of it that night.
She thought of the wicked uncle brook in Undine which had risen up and covered the land, and she wondered if something of the kind had not happened again. She railed inwardly against the darkness of the country roads and wished with all her heart for the lighted byways of the city, with their rows of cheerful lights on posts and their frequent catch basins that were capable of subduing the most rampant uncle brook. Several times more she fell, and once she stepped into a puddle over her shoe-tops. Then she fell against a fence and tore her skirt. Then, when she was sure she had found the road again she ran plump into the barn again, from a different side this time. A window frame minus a window told that the barn was empty and with a grunt of utter disgust at the wetness of the world in general, Sahwah climbed in and stood on a dry floor. She made up her mind to stay there until the sound of the engine would tell her that the Glow-worm had come for her. As the time went by and no familiar throbbing rose on the air, she began to have cold chills when she realized that we might not yet have noticed her absence, and might be miles away by that time.
"At any rate," she decided, "I'm going to stay in here until it stops raining. If I get any wetter somebody'll take me for a sponge." She took off her jacket and wrung the water out of it and then wrung the water from the tail of her skirt, where it had been dripping on her ankles. Luckily she could not see herself in the darkness, for the green color from her veil had run in streaks all over her face and she looked like a savage painted for the war-path.
A half hour drizzled by and then she heard the most welcome sound in the world, the honk of the Glow-worm's horn. Then she saw the glimmer of the headlights coming toward her out of the distance. And the strangest part of it was that the road was in just the opposite direction from where she thought it was. She climbed out of the barn window and ran toward the lights, landing in a puddle in the road with a mighty splash. The next minute the lights were full on her and the car came to a sudden stop.
"You will run off and leave me, will you?" she called, running forward. Then she paused. The driver at the wheel was not Nyoda, but a man. There was no one else in the car.
"Excuse me," she said, stepping back. "I thought you were friends of mine." And the car moved on.
But if Sahwah had not found the Glow-worm she had, at least, found the road, and she made up her mind not to lose it again until she had come upon the others. Dawn found her still trudging along, very wet, very muddy, very tired and very much puzzled. For she had not come upon the Glow-worm stuck in the mud as she had expected.
The rain had stopped and the sun was opening a watery eye on the horizon. The east wind was rising and ushering in the day. The frogs ceased croaking and the birds began to twitter. It was a morning to delight the soul, that is, any but a lonely soul which was wandering around, wet to the knees, unutterably weary, separated from its kindred souls, and without a cent of money. Sahwah had left her purse in the Glow-worm. By the position of the sun she discovered that she was traveling toward the west. The events of the night before were like a dream in her mind. The storm, the ball, the finding of the necklace in Nyoda's pocket and the flight in the rain were all jumbled together. She sat down on a stone by the roadside to think things over, and let down her damp hair to fly in the wind. For once in her life Sahwah was at a loss what to do next. So she sat still and waited for inspiration. The sun dried her hair and her coat and the mud on her shoes. The wild asters along the road craned their necks to get a look at this great muddy creature that sat in their midst, and a bird or two paused inquiringly before her.
"I shall sit here," she said aloud, quoting the Frog Footman in Alice in Wonderland, "till tomorrow, or next day, maybe." It suddenly seemed to Sahwah as if she would like nothing better than to sit there forever. The stone she was sitting on was so soft and comfortable, and the sun was so warm and pleasant and the breeze was so soft and caressing. The song of the birds became very loud and clear; then it began to melt away. Sahwah's head nodded; then she slid off the stone and lay full length in the grass, sleeping as soundly as a babe in its cradle.
Mr. and Mrs. James Watterson of Chicago were motoring back to their home from the races in Indianapolis. The night before the Indianapolis papers had been full of the disappearance of Margery Anderson and the efforts her uncle was making to recover her. He even offered a reward for information concerning her whereabouts. The papers said he had gone to Chicago to follow up a clue. Mrs. Watterson had read every word of the article with great interest. She did not know the Andersons and she was not particularly interested in them and their troubles, but she had nothing else to do at the moment, her husband having gone out and left her alone in the hotel, so she read and reread the details of the affair until she knew them by heart.
The next morning, on their way north, they came upon Sahwah sleeping in the road. "Somebody dead or hurt here," exclaimed Mr. Watterson, and he stopped the car and jumped out. Sahwah's face was streaked with green from the soaked veil and she looked absolutely ghastly. And her arm was twisted under her head in the peculiar position in which Sahwah always sleeps, so that it looked as if she had fallen on it.
"Her heart's beating," announced Mr. Watterson, after investigating.
Mrs. Watterson came out and also looked Sahwah over. A handkerchief was dangling half out of the pocket of Sahwah's coat and a name written on it in indelible ink caught the woman's eye. That name was Margery Anderson. Sahwah had gotten something into her eye the day before, and not having a handkerchief handy--Sahwah never has when she wants one--Margery had handed her one of hers. At the sight of that name Mrs. Watterson was in a flutter of excitement. The story in the newspaper was fresh in her mind. "It's that Anderson girl!" she exclaimed, holding up the handkerchief.
Quickly they lifted Sahwah, still sleeping, into the car. They thought she was unconscious and I believe their idea was to take her to the next house they came to. But, of course, as soon as the car started Sahwah woke up and looked with a gasp of surprise into the faces near her. At first when she felt the throb of the engine under her she had thought she was in the Glow-worm. Mr. and Mrs. Watterson were as surprised as she was. They had not expected her to come to life in just that manner.
Of course, Sahwah wanted to know where she was and whither she was going.
"You are going to your friends, my dear," replied Mrs. Watterson.
"Do you know where they are?" asked Sahwah, wondering how they had come upon the whereabouts of the Glow-worm. Mrs. Watterson merely smiled ambiguously. Sahwah looked at her with instant suspicion. "Who are you?" she demanded. "And where are you taking me?" Mrs. Watterson smiled again, somewhat uncertainly this time. There is something about Sahwah's direct gaze that is a trifle disconcerting.
"I am a friend of your uncle's"--she told the falsehood glibly--"and I am taking you back to him."
"My uncle?" echoed Sahwah, wonderingly. "Taking me back to him?" She was completely at sea. Mrs. Watterson did not answer. She looked away, over the green fields they were passing. She was having visions of the reward.
Sahwah clutched her arm. "I don't believe it," she said. "I don't know you. Stop the car and let me out." Mr. Watterson drove a little faster. Sahwah rose in the seat and looked as if she were about to cast herself headlong from the car. Mrs. Watterson took a firm hold of her coat and pulled her back into the seat.
"Sit right where you are, Margery Anderson!" she said. "We will let you out when we turn you over to your uncle in Chicago and not before."
Sahwah looked petrified. Margery Anderson! "You've made a mistake," she said. "I'm not Margery Anderson."
"Don't tell lies, my dear," said Mrs. Watterson. "You are Margery Anderson." And she drew the handkerchief from Sahwah's pocket and held it before her eyes with a triumphant flourish. Sahwah was so overcome with astonishment that she could not speak for a moment and it was just as well that she could not, or she might have explained how she came to be carrying Margery's handkerchief and that would have revealed the whereabouts of the real Margery.
Mrs. Watterson was triumphantly quoting from the newspaper article: "Tall, slender, brown eyes and hair, one upper front tooth shorter than the remainder of the row--"
Sahwah, while actually resembling Margery no more than red-haired Hinpoha did, yet fitted the description perfectly!
An idea had come into Sahwah's mind. She abandoned her half-formed plan of jumping from the car the moment it should slow up for any reason. Since these people insisted that she was Margery Anderson in spite of all she could say to the contrary, well and good, there was so much less chance of Margery's being discovered. After all the trouble they had taken so far to return the girl to her mother it would never do for her to betray her. So she sat silent under Mrs. Watterson's fire of cross questioning as to where she had been since running away, which Mrs. Watterson took for conclusive proof that she was Margery.
"Did you say my--my uncle was in Chicago?" Sahwah asked at last.
Mrs. Watterson replied affirmatively. Sahwah was inwardly jubilant but the expression of her face never altered. It was all right as long as they were taking her to Chicago. Once confronted with Margery's uncle, if he were there, the truth would come out and she would be free to go as she pleased. Then she could go directly to the Carrie Wentworth Inn and await the arrival of the others. She chuckled to herself, as she pictured the meeting between this man and woman and Margery's uncle and their discomfiture when they discovered that they had bagged the wrong bird. Sahwah is keen on humorous situations.
But how was Nyoda to know that she was safe in Chicago? She might spend endless time looking for her, nearly wild with anxiety, thinking some misfortune had befallen her. Sahwah puzzled awhile and then her originality came to her rescue. Somewhere on this very road Nyoda had vanished the night before, and she herself had walked, as she supposed, in a straight line from the gate. She did not know that the light of the strange automobile she had seen from the barn had lured her across to an entirely different road. Well then, she reflected, it was reasonable to believe that Nyoda would be making inquiries for her along this road. Very well, she would drop a clue. With the swiftness of chain lightning she whipped her little address book out of her pocket and wrote on a leaf:
"To those interested:
Picked up by tourists. On way to Carrie Wentworth Inn, Chicago.
Sarah Ann Brewster."
For obvious reasons she made no mention of having been mistaken for Margery Anderson.
She tied the address book in the corner of her green veil while Mrs. Watterson looked on curiously. Then she tied the veil around her hat to give it weight and threw it out of the car into the road just in front of a house. The green veil shone like a headlight and could not fail to attract attention. Thus someone would get the information that would eventually reach Nyoda. Then, Sahwah-like, having overcome her perplexities, she settled down to enjoy her trip. Surely a worse fate might have befallen her, she decided, after being lost from her companions, than to wake up and find herself being hurried toward the city which had been her destination in the first place.
At that time Sahwah thought that the fates were kind to her, but ever since she has declared that they had a special grudge against her in making her miss the spectacular finish of our trip to Chicago. Sahwah, who was the only one who would really have enjoyed that exciting ride, was doomed to a personally conducted tour. I consider it unfair myself. But was there a single feature about the whole trip that was as it should have been?
Sahwah's ride to Chicago was tame enough although the circumstances of it were rather melodramatic. She did not make any thrilling escape such as jumping from the moving car onto a passing train the way they do in the movies, or shrieking that she was being abducted and, as a result, being rescued by a handsome young man who became infatuated with her on the spot and declared himself willing to wait the weary years until she was grown up, when he could claim her for his own. That was the trouble with our adventures all the way through; while they were thrilling enough at the time they were happening, they lacked the quality that is in all book adventures, that of having any permanent after-effects. While there were several men mixed up in our trip none of us came home with our fate sealed, that is, none of us but----
But I am rambling again. It is as hard for me to keep on the main track of my story as it was for the Glow-worm to stay on the sign-posted highway. If I am not careful I will be telling the end of it somewhere along the middle, and that would be rather confusing for the reader who likes to turn to the back of the book to see how things come out before beginning the story. Nyoda said I should put a notice in the frontispiece saying that the end was on page so-and-so instead of the last chapter, and save such readers the trouble of hunting for it. As it is, I am afraid the last chapter will be crowded with afterthought incidents which I forgot to put in as I went along, and which should really be part of the story. But after all, I suppose it is immaterial in what order they come, for, by the time the reader has finished the book she will have them all, which is no more than she would have done if they had all been fitted together in the proper order. And she always has the privilege of rearranging them to suit herself.
Mr. Watterson, as well as his wife, had doubtless been picturing to himself the dramatic moment in Mr. Anderson's office, when his niece should be turned over to him. He began to look important and self- conscious as they entered the city. Both he and his wife looked at the people around them in the street with a you-don't-know-whom-we-have-in- this-car expression, while Sahwah put on a very doleful countenance. Secretly she could hardly wait for the meeting to take place. They crossed the city and began threading their way through the down-town streets, crowded with the traffic of a busy week afternoon. Mr. Watterson, thinking of the coming interview on Michigan Avenue, failed to notice that a traffic policeman was waving peremptorily for him to back up from a crowded corner. The result was that he became involved in the line of vehicles which was coming through from the cross street and rammed an electric coupe containing two ladies and a poodle. The coupe tipped over onto the curb and the ladies were badly shaken and the poodle was cut by flying glass, or the ladies were cut by the flying poodle, I forget which. Mr. Watterson and his party emerged from the crush under the escort of a police officer who directed the finish of the tour. Their destination was the police station.