Chapter XIII. Their Native Wilds
 

Miss Judy's hat was more or less a barometer of the state of her emotions. Worn far back on her head with its brim turned up, it indicated that she was at peace with all the world and upon pleasure bent; tipped over one ear, it denoted intense preoccupation with business affairs; pulled low over her eyes, it was a sign of extreme vexation. This morning the hat was pulled so far down over her face that only the tip of her chin was visible. Katherine, stopping to help her run a canoe up on the bank after swimming hour, noticed the unnecessary vehemence of her movements, and asked mildly as to the cause.

Miss Judy replied with a single explosive exclamation of "Monty!"

"Monty!" Katherine echoed inquringly. "What's that?"

"You're right, it is a 'what'," replied Miss Judy emphatically, "although it usually goes down in the catalog as a 'who.' It's my cousin, Egmont Satter-white," she continued in explanation. "He's coming to pay us a visit at camp."

"Yes," said Katherine. "What is he like?"

"Like?" repeated Miss Judy derisively. "He's like the cock who thought the sun didn't get up until he crowed--so conceited; only he goes still farther. He doesn't see what need there is for the sun at all while he is there to shed his light. He's the only child of his adoring mother, and she's cultivated him like a rare floral specimen; private tutors and all that sort of thing. Now he's learned everything there is to know, and he's ready to write a book. He regards his fellow creatures as quaint and curious specimens, 'rather diverting for one to observe, don't you know,' but not at all important. I suppose he's going to put a chapter in his book about girls, because he wrote to father and announced that he was going to run up for a week or so and observe us in our native wilds--that was the delicate way he put it. He'll probably set down everything he sees in a notebook and then go home and solemnly write his chapter, wise as Solomon."

"What a bore!" sighed Katherine. "I hate to be stared at, and 'observed' for somebody else's benefit."

"Monty's a pest!" Miss Judy exploded wrathfully. "I don't see why father ever told him he could come. He's under no obligations to him--we're only third cousins, and Monty considers us far, far beneath him at best. But you know how father is--hospitality with a capital H. So we're doomed to a visitation from Monty."

"When is he coming?" asked Katherine, smiling at Miss Judy's lugubrious tone.

"The day after tomorrow," replied Miss Judy. "The Thursday afternoon boat has the honor of bringing him."

"'O better that her shattered hulk should sink beneath the wave,' eh?" remarked Katherine sympathetically.

"Katherine," said Miss Judy feelingly, "vous et moi we speak the same language, n'est-ce pas?"

"We do," agreed Katherine laughingly.

That evening when all the campers were gathered around the fire in the bungalow, listening to Dr. Grayson reading "The Crock of Gold" to the pattering accompaniment of the raindrops on the roof, Miss Judy went into the camp office to answer the telephone, and came out with a look of half-humorous exasperation on her face.

"What is it?" asked Dr. Grayson, pausing in his reading.

"It's Cousin Monty," announced Miss Judy. He's at Emmet's Landing, two stops down the river. He decided to come to camp a day earlier than he had written. He got off the boat at Emmet's Landing to sketch an 'exquisite' bit of scenery that he spied there. Now he's marooned at Emmet's Landing and can't get a boat to bring him to camp. He decided to stay there all night, and found a room, but the bed didn't look comfortable. He wants us to come and get him."

"At this time of night!" Dr. Grayson exclaimed involuntarily. He recovered himself instantly. "Ah yes, certainly, of course. I'll go and get him. Tell him I'll come for him."

"But it's raining pitchforks," demurred Miss Judy.

"Ah well, never mind, I'll go anyhow," said her father composedly.

"I'll go with you," declared Miss Judy firmly. "I'll run the launch." As she passed by Katherine on her way out of the bungalow she flashed her a meaning look, which Katherine answered with a sympathetic grimace.

In the morning when camp assembled for breakfast there was Cousin Egmont sitting beside Dr. Grayson at the table, notebook in hand, looking about him in a loftily curious way. He was a small, slightly built youth, sallow of complexion and insignificant of feature, with pale hair brushed up into an exaggerated pompadour, and a neat little moustache. In contrast to Dr. Grayson's heroic proportions he looked like a Vest Pocket Edition alongside of an Unabridged.

"Nice little camp you have here, Uncle, very," he drawled, peering languidly through his huge spectacles at the shining river and the far off rolling hills beyond. "Nothing like the camps I've seen in Switzerland, though. For real camps you want to go to Switzerland, Uncle. A chap I know goes there every summer. Of course, for a girl's camp this does very well, very. Pretty fair looking lot of girls you have, Uncle. All from picked families, eh? Require references and all that sort of thing?"

Dr. Grayson made a deprecatory gesture with his hand and looked uneasily around the table, to see if Egmont's remarks were being overheard. But Mrs. Grayson sat on the other side of Egmont, and the seat next to the Doctor was vacant, so there was really no one within hearing distance except the Lone Wolf, who sat opposite to Mrs. Grayson, and she was deeply engrossed in conversation with the girl on the other side of her.

Monty prattled on. "You see, Uncle, I wouldn't have come up here to observe if I thought they were not from the best families. Anybody I'd care to write about--you understand, Uncle."

"Yes, I understand," replied Dr. Grayson quizzically. "Have you taken any notes yet?" he continued.

"Nothing yet," Monty admitted, "but I mean to begin immediately after breakfast. I mean to flit unobtrusively about Camp, Uncle, and watch the young ladies when they do not suspect I am around, taking down their innocent girlish conversation among themselves. So much more natural that way, Uncle, very!"

Dr. Grayson hurriedly took a huge mouthful of water, and then choked on it in a very natural manner, and Miss Judy's coming in with the mail bag at that moment caused a welcome diversion.

"Ah, good morning, Cousin Judith," drawled Monty. "I see you didn't get up as early as the rest of us. Perhaps the fatigue of last night--"

"I've been down the river for the mail," replied Miss Judy shortly. Then she turned her back on him and spoke to her father. "The weather is settled for this week. That rainstorm last night cleared things up beautifully. We ought to take the canoe trip, the one up to the Falls."

"That's so," agreed Dr. Grayson. "How soon can you arrange to go?"

"Tomorrow," replied Miss Judy.

"Ah, a canoe trip," cried Monty brightly. "I ought to get quantities of notes from that."

Miss Judy eyed him for a moment with an unfathomable expression on her face, then turned away and began to talk to the Lone Wolf.

All during Morning Sing Monty sat in a corner and took notes with a silver pencil in an embossed leather notebook, staring now at this girl, now at that, until she turned fiery red and fidgeted. After Morning Sing he established himself on a rocky ledge just below Bedlam, where, hidden by the bushes, he sat ready to take down the innocent conversation of the young ladies among themselves as they made their tents ready for tent inspection.

Katherine and Oh-Pshaw were in the midst of tidying up when the Lone Wolf dropped in to return a flashlight she had borrowed the night before. She strolled over to the railing at the back of the tent and peered over it. A gleam came into her eye as she noticed that one of the bushes just below the tent on the slope toward the river was waving slightly in an opposite direction from the way in which the wind was blowing. Stepping back into the tent she stopped beside Bedlam's water pail, newly filled for tent inspection.

"Your water looks sort of--er--muddy," she remarked artfully. "Hadn't you better throw it out and get some fresh? Here, I'll do it for you. I'm not busy."

She picked up the brimming pail and emptied it over the back railing, right over the spot where she had seen the bush waving. Immediately there came a curious sound out of the bush--half gasp and half yell, and out sprang Monty, dripping like a rat, and fled down the path toward the bungalow, without ever looking around.

"Why, he was down there listening," Katherine exclaimed in disgust. "Oh, how funny it was," she remarked to the Lone Wolf, "that you happened to come in and dump that pail of water over the railing just at that time."

"It certainty was," the Lone Wolf acquiesced gravely, as she departed with the pail in the direction of the spring.

Cousin Monty flitted unobtrusively to his tent, got on dry garments, fished another notebook out of his bag, and set out once more in quest of local color. He wandered down to Mateka, where Craft Hour was in progress. A pottery craze had struck camp, and the long tables were filled with girls rolling and patting lumps of plastic clay into vases, jars, bowls, plates and other vessels. Cousin Monty strolled up and down, contemplating the really creditable creation of the girls with a condescending patronage that made them feel like small children in the kindergarten. He gave the art director numerous directions as to how she might improve her method of teaching, and benevolently pointed out to a number of the girls how the things they were making were all wrong.

Finally he came and stood by Hinpoha, who was putting the finishing touches on the decoration of a rose jar, an exquisite thing, with a raised design in rose petals. Hinpoha was smoothing out the flat background of her design when Monty paused beside her.

"You're not holding your instrument right." he remarked patronizingly. "Let me show you how." He took the instrument from Hinpoha's unwilling hand, and turning it wrong way up, proceeded to scrape back and forth. At the third stroke it went too far, and gouged out a deep scratch right through the design, clear across the whole side of the vase.

"Ah, a little scratch," he remarked airily. "Ah, sorry, really, very. But it can soon be remedied. A little dob of clay, now."

"Let me fix it myself," said Hinpoha firmly, with difficulty keeping her exasperation under the surface, and without more ado seized her mutilated treasure from his hands.

"Ah, yes, of course," murmured Monty, and wandered on to the next table.

By the time the day was over Cousin Monty was about as popular as a hornet. "How long is he going to stay?" the girls asked each other in comical dismay. "A week? Oh, my gracious, how can we ever stand him around here a week?"

"Is he going along with us on the canoe trip?" Katherine asked Miss Judy as she helped her check over supplies for the expedition.

"He is that," replied Miss Judy. "He's going along to pester us just as he has been doing--probably worse, because he's had a night to think up a whole lot more fool questions to ask than he could think of yesterday."

And it was even so. Monty, notebook in hand, insisted upon knowing the why and wherefore of every move each one of the girls made until they began to flee at his approach. "Why are you tying up your ponchos that way? That isn't the way. Now if you will just let me show you--"

"Why you are putting that stout girl"--indicating Bengal--"in the stern of the canoe? You want the weight up front--that's the newest way."

"Now Uncle, just let me show you a trick or two about stowing away those supplies. You're not in the least scientific about it."

Thus he buzzed about, inquisitive and officious.

Katherine and Miss Judy looked into each other's eyes and exchanged exasperated glances. Then Katherine's eye took on a peculiar expression, the one which always registered the birth of an idea. At dinner, which came just before the expedition started, she was late--a good twenty minutes. She tranquilly ate what was left for her and was extremely polite to Counsin Monty, answering his continuous questions about the coming trip with great amiability, even enthusiasm. Miss Judy looked at her curiously.

The expedition started. Monty, who had Miss Peckham in the canoe with him--she being the only one who would ride with him--insisted upon going at the head of the procession. "I'll paddle so much faster than the rest of you," he said airly, "that I'll want room to go ahead. I don't want to be held back by the rest of you when I shall want to put on a slight spurt now and then. That is the way I like to go, now fast, now slowly, as inclination dictates, without having to keep my pace down to that of others. I will start first, Uncle, and lead the line."

"All right," replied Dr. Grayson a trifle wearily. "You may lead the line."

The various canoes had been assigned before, so there was no confusion in starting. The smallest of the canoes had been given to Monty because there would be only two in it. Conscious that he was decidedly ornamental in his speckless white flannels and silk shirt he helped Miss Peckham into the boat with exaggerated gallantry, all the while watching out of the corner of his eye to see if Pom-pom was looking at him. He had been trying desperately to flirt with her ever since his arrival, and had begged her to go with him in the canoe on the trip, all in vain. Nevertheless, he was still buzzing around her and playing to the audience of her eyes. By fair means or foul he meant to get the privilege of having her with him on the return trip. Miss Peckham, newly graduated into the canoe privilege, was nervous and fussy, and handled her paddle as gingerly as if it were a gun.

"Ah, let me do all the paddling," he insisted, knowing that Pom-pom, in a nearby canoe, could hear him. "I could not think of allowing you to exert yourself. It is the man's place, you know. You really mustn't think of it."

Miss Peckham laid down her paddle with a sigh of relief, and Monty, with a graceful gesture, untied the canoe and pushed it out from the dock. Behind him the line of boats were all waiting to start.

"Here we go!" he shouted loudly, as he dipped his paddle. In a moment all the canoes were in motion. Monty, at the head, seemed to find the paddling more difficult than he had expected. He dipped his paddle with great vigor and vim, but the canoe only went forward a few inches at each stroke. One by one the canoes began to pass him, their occupants casting amusing glances at him as he perspired over his paddle. He redoubled his efforts, he strained every sinew, and the canoe did go a little faster, but not nearly as fast as the others were going.

"What's the matter, Monty, is your load too heavy for you?" called out Miss Judy.

"Not at all," replied Monty doggedly. "I'm a little out of form, I guess. This arm--I strained it last spring--seems to have gone lame all of a sudden."

"Would you like to get in a canoe with some of the girls?" asked Dr. Grayson solicitously.

"I would not," replied Monty somewhat peevishly. "Please let me alone, Uncle, I'll be all right in a minute. Don't any of you bother about me, I'll follow you at my leisure. When I get used to paddling again I'll very soon overtake you even if you have a good start."

The rest of the canoes swept by, and Monty and Miss Peckham soon found themselves alone on the river.

"Hadn't I better help you paddle?" asked Miss Peckham anxiously. She was beginning to distrust the powers of her ferryman.

"No, no, no," insisted Monty, stung to the quick by the concern in her voice. "I can do it very well alone, I tell you."

He kept at it doggedly for another half hour, stubbornly refusing to accept any help, until the canoe came to a dead stop. No amount of paddling would budge it an inch; it was apparently anchored. Puzzled, Monty peered into the river to find the cause of the stoppage. The water was deep, but there were many snags and obstructions under the surface. Something was holding him, that was plain, but what it was he could not find out, nor could he get loose from it. The water was too deep to wade ashore, and there was nothing to do but sit there and try to get loose by means of the paddle, a proceeding which soon proved fruitless. In some mysterious way they were anchored out in mid stream at a lonely place in the river where no one would be likely to see them for a long time. The others were out of sight long ago, having obeyed Monty's injunction to let him alone.

Monty, in his usual airy way, tried to make the best of the situation and draw attention away from his evident inability to cope with the situation. "Ah, pleasant it is to sit out here and bask in the warm sunshine," he murmured in dulcet tones. "The view is exquisite here, n'est-ce pas? I could sit here all day and look at that mountain in the distance. It reminds me somewhat of the Alps, don't you know."

Miss Peckham gazed unhappily at the mountain, which was merely a blur in the distance. "Do you think we'll have to sit here all night?" she asked anxiously.

Monty exerted himself to divert her. "How does it come that I have never met you before, Miss Peckham? Really, I didn't know that Uncle Clement had such delightful relations. Can it be that you are really his cousin? It hardly seems possible that you are old enough. Sitting there with the breeze toying with you hair that way you look like a young girl, no older than Judith herself."

Now this was quite a large dose to swallow, but Miss Peckham swallowed it, and much delighted with the gallant youth, so much more appreciative of her than the others at camp, she sat listening attentively to his prattle of what he had seen and done, keeping her hat off the while to let her hair ripple in the breeze the way he said he liked it, regardless of the fact that the sun was rather hot.

In something over an hour a pair of rowboats came along filled with youngsters who thought it great sport to rescue the pair in the marooned canoe, and who promptly discovered the cause of the trouble. It was an iron kettle full of stones, fastened to the bottom of the canoe with a long wire, which had wedged itself in among the branches of a submerged tree in the river and anchored the canoe firmly.

"Somebody's played a trick on us!" exclaimed Miss Peckham wrathfully. "Somebody at camp deliberately fastened that kettle of stones to the bottom of the canoe to make it hard for you to paddle. That's just what you might have expected from those girls. They're playing tricks all the time. They have no respect for anyone."

Monty turned a dull red when he saw that kettle full of stones, and he, too, sputtered with indignation. "Low brow trick," he exclaimed loftily, but he felt quite the reverse of lofty. "This must be Cousin Judith's doing," he continued angrily, remembering the subtle antagonism that had sprung up between his cousin and himself.

His dignity was too much hurt to allow him to follow the rest of the party now. Disgusted, he turned back in the direction of camp. By the time he arrived he began to feel that he did not want to stay long enough to see the enjoyment of his cousin over his discomfiture. He announced his intention of leaving that very night, paddling down the river to the next landing, and boarding the evening boat.

Miss Peckham suddenly made up her mind, too. "I'm going with you." she declared. "I'm not going to stay here and be insulted any longer. It'll serve them right to do without my services as councilor for the rest of the summer. I'll just leave a note for Mrs. Grayson and slip out quietly with you."

When the expedition returned the following day both Pecky and Monty were gone.

Bengal raised such a shout of joy when she heard of the departure of her despised councilor that her tent mates were obliged to restrain her transports for the look of the thing, but they, too, were somewhat relieved to be rid of her.

The reason of the double departure remained a mystery in camp until the very end, but there were a select few that always winked solemnly at one another whenever Dr. Grayson wondered what had become of his largest camping kettle.