TWILIGHT was creeping up Old Baldy Mountain as the dusty station wagon turned in at the private road leading to Pine Cone Girl Scout Camp.
In the front seat beside the driver, Miss Louise Ward, troop leader, twisted sideways to smile at the six girls who rode directly behind. All were attired in the neat, green uniform of the organization, but each member of Beaver Patrol, it seemed, wore her dark green beret at a different angle.
“We’ll soon be there now, girls,” the troop leader remarked. “Pine Cone is lovely. We should have a grand vacation.”
“I suppose it’s too late for a swim this afternoon,” remarked Judy Grant. She was one of the newest members of the patrol, a pleasant, dark-haired girl with saucy brown eyes and a ready wit.
“I’m afraid that by the time we’re snug down in our tents, it will be supper time,” the teacher replied, looking at her wrist watch. “Besides, we’re all rather tired after driving from Fairfield.”
“I’ll be ready for chow whenever it comes,” declared plump, good-natured Ardeth Padgett. “This
invigorating pine air has given me a tremendous appetite.”
“Given it to you?” teased Beverly Chester. “I’d say you always had it!”
The remark was made and accepted in fun. Nevertheless, Beverly had a quick tongue which occasionally annoyed even her best friends. At one time, the dark-haired eighth grader had been leader of the patrol. However, during the previous winter, an unfortunate skiing incident had caused her to become conscious of her personality handicap, and she had insisted upon turning the post over to Kathleen Atwell.
Kathleen was considered one of the most level-headed girls in the organization. A natural leader, she always was thoughtful of others and had a way of getting things done with a minimum of fuss.
The other patrol members were Betty Bache, who wore her sandy hair in a short boyish bob, and Virginia Cunningham, an excellent athlete. Judy had nicknamed the three girls the “A-B-C’s” because of their last names—Atwell—Bache—Cunningham.
All the girls lived in the little city of Fairfield, some distance from Old Baldy Mountain. Throughout Spring, they had worked very hard to save enough money for an outing at the official Girl Scout Camp on Morning Glory Lake. Now, as the station wagon turned into the private road, they felt that they were indeed at the threshold of a wonderful adventure.
“Our arrival here is somewhat different from the one last winter when we trudged into Maple Leaf Lodge,” Virginia Cunningham commented, grinning at the recollection. “Remember?”
“Can one ever forget?” chuckled Judy. Contentedly, she drew a deep breath of the pine laden mountain air. “No one to meet us ... a dreadful snow storm ... the lodge closed ... and that horrible caretaker!”
“A Scout camp is different, I promise you,” Miss Ward assured the girls. “Everything is carefully planned. Nothing ever is left to chance. We should be there any minute now.”
Eagerly, the girls leaned forward in their seats, striving for the first glimpse of the clear blue lake which they knew would soon be visible through the tall, stately pines. On either side of the curving road, they saw rustic signs pointing out interesting trails.
“There it is!” suddenly cried Betty Bache.
To the right, the girls caught a flash of blue water. A moment later, as the station wagon rounded another curve, they saw the camp itself, a cluster of tents, with main lodge and dining hall.
The station wagon pulled up at an office near the entrance gate. Everyone scrambled out, unkinking cramped legs. As the girls helped the driver unload dunnage, Miss Ward went inside to register the patrol. She was gone a long while. When finally she rejoined the group, it was evident by the expression of her face that something had gone wrong.
“Girls, I hate to tell you this—” she began apologetically.
“Don’t say we aren’t to stay!” exclaimed Beverly Chester. “That would be the last straw!”
“We’re staying,” the teacher replied. “However, there’s been a mix-up on reservations. Another patrol, which wasn’t expected until next week, arrived ahead of time.”
“Then there’s no place for us?” Kathleen asked.
“Miss Lubell, the camp director, is extremely upset about it. One tent, which sleeps four, is available. If we can make out with that for tonight, more satisfactory arrangements probably can be completed by tomorrow.”
“There are seven of us,” Beverly pointed out.
“The more the merrier!” declared Judy cheerfully. “I don’t mind being crowded for a night or two. For that matter, it’s warm enough to sleep out under the trees. We’ll get along fine.”
“Of course,” added Kathleen heartily, “Scouts aren’t softies.”
“I knew you’d feel that way about it,” Miss Ward said, pleased by the willingness of the girls to accept inconvenience. “Miss Lubell is taking me in with her, so that will make only six for the tent.”
After registration had been completed, the girls were shown to their temporary quarters. They stowed their dunnage, spread their blankets and changed into informal camp clothes. Carefully reading the rules posted on a bulletin board, they learned
that they would have only a half hour until the evening meal would be served.
“Let’s see the beach at least,” Virginia proposed. “We have a few minutes free time.”
A walk led down a gentle slope to Morning Glory Lake, a deep bowl of deep blue, edged with a ruffle of green forest. The beach had been cleared of stones and sticks, extending for a long distance. There was a roped off area for safe swimming, as well as a dock to which were tied a sailboat and two rowboats.
Judy bent down to test the water with her finger. “Cold,” she reported with a laugh. “It’s just as well, I guess, because otherwise, I’d be tempted to leap in, clothes and all!”
The girls of Beaver Patrol met the waterfront director, their unit leader and several counselors. Members of other patrols and troops came by to chat and to provide scraps of information relative to camp routine.
Several of the Beaver Patrol girls were inspecting the outdoor ovens when the unit leader approached the group.
“I’m looking for Judy Grant,” she said.
“Here I am,” Judy said, separating herself from the other girls. She could not guess why she had been singled out for attention.
“I have a telegram for you. It came only a moment ago from the village.”
“A telegram?” Judy repeated. She was startled,
and stood staring at the yellow envelope which the unit leader offered.
A half dozen fears assailed her. Her father or mother might have been taken unexpectedly ill! Perhaps her brother Ted had suffered an accident! At the very least, something must have gone wrong at home, and now it might be necessary for her to return to Fairfield before the vacation really started.
“Well, Judy, why don’t you open it?” Virginia demanded. “Don’t look so scared.”
“This is the first telegram I ever received,” Judy replied, a bit shakily.
Ripping open the envelope, she scanned the message. Her chubby face with its splattering of freckles became a study as she read.
“Bad news?” Betty Bache finally asked.
“No, not exactly. It’s from Aunt Mattie.”
“I don’t recall having heard you speak of her,” remarked Virginia.
“Aunt Mattie is a character. She’s coming here for two weeks.”
“To the Scout Camp?” Beverly inquired.
“Oh, no! Only to the resort area.” Judy folded the telegram and placed it in the pocket of her slacks. “Aunt Mattie, as usual, must have acted on impulse. Anyway, she wants me to find her a nice cottage with reasonable rent.”
“And you haven’t a bed to call your own!” chuckled Kathleen. “From what I’ve heard, space is at a premium in this locality.”
“That’s right,” agreed Ardeth. “I noted as we drove up the mountain, that there were no vacancies anywhere. Everything seemed to have been taken.”
“I saw one place for rent,” Virginia informed the group. “Remember that sign that said: ‘To Calico Cave?’”
“Yes, I noticed it particularly,” nodded Judy. “I was wondering if Calico Cave is only a name, or if the road leads to a real cave.”
“A cottage that looked practically new stood on the opposite side of the road,” Virginia went on. “It was rather cute, I thought. At any rate, a signboard in the yard said the place was for rent. A real estate man’s name was given, but I didn’t make note of it.”
“That cottage may be just the ticket!” Judy declared. “I’ll talk to Miss Ward, and if she says I may, I’ll try to rent the place tomorrow.”
Actually, it was nearly noon the next day before the girls gave further thought to Aunt Mattie’s housing problem. Camp routine absorbed them completely. There were so many fascinating things to do, so many interesting places to explore, that they neither desired nor sought permission to leave Pine Cone.
A brisk swim in the lake preceded breakfast, and after the camp work was done, there were classes in nature lore and first aid.
At luncheon, however, Judy broached the problem
that was on her mind, showing Miss Ward the telegram.
“I’m sure Aunt Mattie wouldn’t have made the request, if she had realized how difficult it is to obtain cottages here,” she apologized.
“Why, I think it’s nice your aunt is coming,” Miss Ward replied. “Of course we’ll help her find a place. A Girl Scout’s duty is to be useful and to help others.”
“That’s law three,” Judy said with a relieved grin. “I just didn’t want to put anyone to the trouble of having to take me to the village. Aunt Mattie’s good fun, and I’ll love having her near.”
Later that afternoon the Scout leader arranged for all the girls in the Beaver Patrol to ride down the mountain to the little town of Milburn, a railroad and tourist center.
“I may as well tell you the bad news,” Miss Ward remarked regretfully as the camp station wagon rolled smoothly around the curves. “You’ll be crowded into a single tent for another night or two. Miss Lubell tried, but wasn’t able to make other arrangements.”
“Oh, it wasn’t half bad last night,” Kathleen returned. “We’ll manage.”
“Of course,” added Judy cheerfully.
By this time, the station wagon approached a crossroad which bisected the main highway nearly at a right angle.
“There it is!” Ardeth cried, rolling down the car
window. “The road to Calico Cave! That cottage Virginia noticed is on the other side of the highway, perched up on a slope among the trees. See it?”
“I do!” cried Judy. “Why, it’s a darling little cottage! I’m sure Aunt Mattie would love it—if the rent isn’t too high.”
“All rents are sky high in this area,” Beverly Chester warned. “I’ll bet they’re asking a small fortune for the place. Probably that’s why it’s vacant.”
“Anyway, it will do no harm to inquire,” Judy said. As the station wagon halted for a moment, she jotted down the name of the real estate agent, who offered the cottage for rent.
Twenty minutes later the girls were in Milburn, standing at the door of the Timothy F. Krumm Realty Co. office.
Mr. Krumm was busy making entries in a book, but he laid aside his pen as the Scouts approached his cluttered desk. He was a baldish, middle-aged man with a nervous habit of moistening his lips.
Judy introduced the group, and mentioned her interest in the cottage which was for rent. Timidly, she inquired the rental price.
“Let’s not talk about price,” Mr. Krumm said briskly. “First, I want you to see Calico Cottage. Five beautiful rooms, including kitchen, fully equipped, and a tiled bath with hot and cold running water. A collosal bargain! And you’ll not find another cottage vacant within six miles of Morning Glory Lake.”
Judy glanced uneasily at Miss Ward and remained silent. She very much feared that “the bargain” would be offered at a price too steep for Aunt Mattie’s modest pocketbook.
“Well, I don’t know,” she began doubtfully. “My aunt isn’t prepared to pay a very high rental—”
“Give that detail no thought,” Mr. Krumm insisted. “I’ll run you up there in my car. If you like the cottage—and you’ll be crazy about it—we can come to terms.”
Almost before she could think, Judy was escorted to the realtor’s car which was parked at the curb. Miss Ward, Virginia and Ardeth also decided to accompany them, while the others elected to wait in the village.
During the swift ride up the mountain road, Mr. Krumm talked endlessly, extolling the virtues of the cottage he hoped to rent.
“It’s a classy little place,” he told the girls. “Brand spanking new! You’ll not find a snappier cottage anywhere in the area.”
“But the rental—” Judy began again.
“Now don’t try to get the cart before the horse,” Mr. Krumm interrupted once more. “Just hold your ponies until you see the cottage.”
Soon the car drew up amid the tall pines, in a lonely but lovely section of the forest. Mr. Krumm went ahead to remove the front door key from beneath an over-sized rubber “Welcome” mat on the porch. He unlocked the door.
“No neighbors hereabouts to bother one,” he asserted, stepping aside so that the girls might enter. “You’ll find everything in apple-pie order. Two airy bedrooms. Good mattresses. Nice draperies. Everything the very best—top hole!”
“It seems a bit musty,” Miss Ward commented.
“Oh, the place needs an airing,” Mr. Krumm replied, quickly raising the windows. “You know how it is after a cottage has been closed for a long while.”
“A long while?” the teacher repeated. “Then you’ve had no recent renters?”
“That was a slip of tongue, a mere figure of speech,” the real estate man said carelessly. “You like the place?”
“It is attractive,” Judy said after completing a quick inspection of the kitchen. “My aunt though, will be alone. She requires only one bedroom. So I’m afraid the rent may be too high.”
“Tell you what! I’ll make you a special offer,” Mr. Krumm said, eyeing the girl shrewdly. “That is, I will if you’ll agree that the cottage will be occupied for the full period of the rental. Say, fifty dollars?”
“For the two weeks. You can’t say that isn’t a generous offer. Rents are high at Morning Glory Lake.”
“It’s a very reasonable rental, I’m sure,” Judy agreed. “There isn’t anything—wrong with the place?”
Mr. Krumm drew himself up haughtily. “What
an idea! I take a shine to you girls and offer you a real bargain. Then you think there’s something wrong with the cottage! You think I’m pulling a fast one, handing you a cabbage!”
“I’m sorry,” Judy apologized hastily. “My question wasn’t tactful. The cottage is beautifully furnished. If Miss Ward says it is all right, I’ll take it.”
“Your aunt should be quite comfortable here,” Miss Ward replied after a moment’s hesitation.
“Fine!” Mr. Krumm approved. He whipped a receipt book from his pocket. “Now if you’ll kindly pay in advance, we’ll close the deal on the spot.”
Judy had brought only twenty-five dollars with her, but Miss Ward advanced the remainder, knowing she would be repaid. Mr. Krumm then handed over the key. Judy asked him if he would mind if the cottage were put to use before the arrival of her aunt.
“The rent’s paid, and the place is yours, for better or for worse,” the realtor replied. “All I ask is that you don’t come running to me with complaints, or a demand for a return of your money. The deal’s final.”
“That’s understood,” Judy agreed.
Having pocketed the fifty dollars, Mr. Krumm seemed eager to be away.
“You may want to look the place over more carefully,” he said quickly. “I have a pressing engagement in town. Suppose I have your friends pick you up in the camp station wagon. Okay?”
“Yes, that will be satisfactory,” Miss Ward replied.
“Oh, by the way,” Mr. Krumm said, apparently as an after-thought. “Better keep that door to the cellar locked.”
“Door?” Judy repeated with misgiving. “I didn’t notice a door. Is there a special reason—”
Mr. Krumm did not wait for her to complete the question. The girls were certain he heard and wished to avoid answering. At any rate, without offering further information, he tipped his hat and hastened down the weed-grown path to his car.