NIGHT FEARS

When Marjorie and Kirk reached the camp again, they found the rest
of the party already eating breakfast. Too hungry to wait for the
wanderers, they had begun as soon as the cook announced that he was
ready.

“See what we have!” cried Marjorie, gleefully, holding up her catch.

“Great!” commended Bob, thinking of the pleasant addition to his
breakfast. The scouts, however, were too much surprised to see Marjorie
and Kirk together to think much about the fish.

“When did you get up?” questioned Alice.

“Oh, pretty early!” replied Marjorie, seating herself upon the ground
beside Lily, and helping herself to a biscuit.

“Why didn’t you let some of us in on your fun?” demanded Ethel.

“Two’s a company–three’s a crowd!” teased Alice. “I should think you’d
know that by this time, Ethel!”

Marjorie flushed angrily, but hid her embarrassment with a smile.

“I went by myself,” she said, calmly. “And Kirk came down later, and
happened to find me there. It was a good thing for us all, too, that he
did, because I didn’t catch a single fish till he came!”

“And what magic does he use?” asked Alice, sarcastically.

“Oh, Kirk and Pop Welsh are the best fishermen on the ranch!” put in
Bob. “I know that from experience. It’s handy to have people like them
on a pack trip.”

“Well,” said Marjorie, returning to Ethel’s previous question, “I
certainly did want to waken somebody to go with me, but you all seemed
to be sleeping so peacefully, I just didn’t have the heart. So I went
alone.”

“And did you all sleep well last night?” asked Mrs. Hilton. “Was
everybody warm enough?”

“Yes, indeed!” cried several of the girls promptly.

“And how soon are we off?” asked Marjorie. She was always anxious to be
on the go.

“Just as soon as the tents are down,” replied Bob, “and the horses
packed. Probably in an hour or two.”

“It seems to me it takes an awfully long time to put up the tents and
take them down every day,” remarked Ethel. “Why couldn’t we do without
them, when it is clear?”

“No, it’s better to have them,” said Mr. Hilton; “but you girls really
might learn to take down your own. It would save us a lot of time.”

“We will! We will!” cried several; and Kirk and Tom offered to give
them instructions.

Doris and Mae were not, however, particularly ambitious. They were
tired from the long ride of the preceding day, and their muscles were
horribly stiff. Neither said anything, but neither made any move to
help with the tents.

“What’s the matter, Doris?” asked Marjorie. “All in?”

“Yes, my knees hurt so,” she replied.

“Well, I’ll take down your tent,” offered Marjorie. Then, turning to
Kirk, “I really don’t think we need much instruction, because you see
we’ve done it before, with tents very much like these. We didn’t have
any young men to help us on our canoe trip.”

This little assistance to the men saved quite a considerable amount of
time, and the whole party were on their way again almost an hour sooner
than they had expected.

Everyone seemed quieter than they were on the day before; as they rode
along they talked little, and did not sing at all. Perhaps this was
because the girls who were usually the merriest were the most tired.
Lily, Mae, and Doris all began to wish in their hearts that they were
back at the ranch.

Somehow Mr. Hilton sensed this feeling, and ordered that an early stop
be made for dinner. After all, it was a pleasure trip, and there was no
reason for undue hurry. Tomorrow, undoubtedly they would reach the goal
of their journey.

“Just wait till we come to our stopping-place tomorrow!” he said, by
way of cheering their spirits, as they were eating dinner. “It is one
of the prettiest scenes around here–really almost as wonderful as
the Park itself. It’s way up on a mountain, where there is the most
astonishing view. And the place itself looks like a carefully cared-for
garden. There are acres of smooth, velvety grass, and tiny lakes
and waterfalls. And the flowers! You never saw anything like their
colors in the East! Here and there, too, you’ll see pine trees, and
sometimes beautiful herds of elk. It would be a perfect place to take
photographs.”

In spite of the vividness of the picture Mr. Hilton gave them, Doris
sighed wearily. She wished that she might take a warm bath, sleep in a
bed under a roof, and not have this eternal climb, climb, climb, while
her knees ached so dreadfully.

“Oh!” shrieked Alice, suddenly terrified. “What is the matter with
Bob’s horse? Do look at him!”

The horse was repeatedly jumping several feet into the air, waving his
head about wildly, and acting as if he had gone mad. The girls watched
him in terror, but Bob laughed reassuringly.

“He only smells a bear!” he explained. “That’s the way he always acts!”

This explanation, however, did not serve the desired purpose, for
the girls were even more afraid of a bear than of a crazy horse. To
quiet their fears, Mr. Hilton stood up and looked searchingly in the
direction in which the horses were sniffing at the air. Several of the
boys followed his example, but apparently there was no animal within
sight.

“There’s really no need to worry,” said Bob. “He probably won’t come
around here.”

“But suppose he does!” said Doris, who felt so nervous that she did not
want to eat any more dinner. “What shall we do?”

“We’ll shoot, of course,” said Mr. Hilton, calmly. “Wouldn’t it be
thrilling to take a bear skin back with you?”

But Doris continued to shiver, unappeased by the man’s confidence. She
resolved to stick pretty close to camp that afternoon.

“And what is the program for this afternoon?” asked Kirk, as he lighted
his pipe after dinner.

“Swimming and washing for those who want to,” answered Mr. Hilton. “We
men will give the girls first chance at the swimming hole; then after
they are through, we will take ours. How does that suit everybody?”

“Fine!” exclaimed Marjorie, who had decided that morning to wash her
extra things.

All the girls decided to take advantage of this opportunity, and even
Doris found a great deal of pleasure in swimming about in the cool
delightful water. It was early in the afternoon that they went in, and
the sun was still hot, so that they found the exercise refreshing.
Fortunately, the temperature was not so low as that of the stream on
the ranch.

“I wonder if bears can swim!” remarked Doris, who could not get away
from her fears. “If they can’t, we could jump into the water if one of
them attacked us.”

“I don’t know–I think they can,” said Marjorie. “But I do wish you
would stop worrying about it so much.”

“Yes,” said Alice, a little sharply, for she never could sympathize
with a person of Doris’s nature; “if you had some real worry like
Daisy has, perhaps you’d have some reason to complain. But look how
self-controlled she is!”

The words which sounded harsh were really just what Doris needed, for
she had been thinking entirely too much about herself. Alice was right:
Daisy Gravers was certainly a girl to be admired. She bore her trouble
bravely; she had never even mentioned it to anyone but Marjorie since
that first day at the ranch.

“You are right, Alice,” Doris admitted, accepting the rebuke meekly. “I
guess I am a baby.”

“Oh, I have no need to preach,” replied Alice, repenting of her
harshness. “But we all have to acknowledge that Daisy is a wonder. Even
Kirk Smith treats her differently from the other girls.”

The swim and the clean clothing had a refreshing effect upon all the
girls; they returned to the camp in brighter spirits. Marjorie felt
positively exhilarated.

Supper that night was perhaps the gayest meal of the trip; everyone
seemed to have some joke to tell, or some story to add to the enjoyment
of the occasion. It was not until long afterward when the whole party
was sitting around the camp fire that Arthur Hilton introduced the
first unlucky stroke. He could not resist the opportunity to tell a
harrowing story of an attack by a bear.

The men listened with the keenest relish to this exciting adventure,
but the girls began to edge up closer and closer to each other,
breathing a sigh of relief when Arthur finished.

Mrs. Hilton, as usual, made the first move to go to bed. The girls were
only too glad to follow her example.

Still impressed by Alice’s rebuke of the afternoon, Doris had
resolutely succeeded in keeping her fears to herself. Now she crept
hastily into bed, pulling her blanket up tight about her, as if to shut
out the darkness and the sounds of the night.

She was almost dropping to sleep, when her senses were suddenly aroused
by a queer howl–the weirdest noise she had ever heard, she thought.
She listened, terrified, too much afraid even to sit up in bed.

“Marjorie!” she called to her nearest tent-mate, “do you hear that
howl?”

Marjorie sat up in bed. She had heard it, but had not thought much
about it.

“Yes, I do,” she replied. “But I don’t know what it is. Listen again!”

They were perfectly still, and the sound was repeated. It was not like
anything they had ever heard before.

“It’s a bear!” wailed Doris. “I just know it is!”

“I don’t honestly think so,” replied Marjorie.

“Then what is it?”

“I don’t know.”

They were quiet for a few minutes, and the sound kept recurring.

“Marj!” whispered Doris, “I can’t stand it! I’m going to call the men!”

“I wouldn’t, Doris.”

“I’ve got to–I’m so scared, I’d never live through the night.”

Immediately she let out a piercing shriek.

“Mr. Hilton! Bob!… _Bears!_”

Instantly the men were awake, and had pulled on their boots, and seized
their guns.

“Where? Where?” demanded Bob.

“We can’t see them–only hear them!” answered Doris. “Listen!”

During the silence that followed, the weird howling could be heard
again. Both Bob and Mr. Hilton burst out laughing.

“That isn’t a bear! It’s a coyote!” said Mr. Hilton. “And far off too.
It won’t hurt you!”

Doris breathed a sigh of relief.

“Are you sure?” she demanded.

“Positive.”

“I’m awfully sorry I wakened you,” she said, apologetically.

“Oh, that’s all right,” replied Mr. Hilton pleasantly. “Now go back to
sleep.”

One by one the girls’ heads disappeared inside the tents, but not
before their owners had addressed some laughing remark at Doris,
teasing her for her fears. Nor could the girls go immediately to sleep
again; for a long while tent-mates lay there whispering to each other,
and from the suppressed giggles that were heard from time to time,
they were evidently enjoying the situation immensely.

After they had quieted down, an idea occurred to Mae.

“Doris!” she called. “Hello, Doris!”

“Well, what now?” demanded Doris.

“If you hear anything more, you just scream like that again, and you’ll
scare all the bears within fifty miles.”

“I don’t care!” responded Doris; “if there are bears around here, I
won’t stay.”

This sally caused another chorus of giggles, and the chiding was
resumed again until Marjorie put a sudden stop to it by calling sharply,

“That’s enough, girls! It’s mean to tease Doris so–especially when
none of you are a bit braver than she is, but only less nervous. Now go
to sleep!”

After this rebuke, all was quiet.

But although there was no more talking, not all of the girls went to
sleep right away. Marjorie was right; they were not braver than Doris;
and as they lay there thinking about her remark, wondering what they
would do if a bear really did appear, they began to realize that they
did not at all relish the possibility. In the end, the fatigues of the
day and the good health of the girls asserted themselves, and they fell
into a sound sleep.

It was sometime later that Marjorie awoke. She felt strangely
wide-awake as she lay there staring about her in the gloom of her tent;
it seemed as if she had not been asleep at all. The moon had risen;
she could see that by the bar of pale light slanting across the ground
from where the flaps of the tent were loosely joined. She could hear
the stamping of the horses, hobbled over beyond the tents of the men.
She wanted to get up, but she knew that she would surely waken her
tent-mates if she moved about; so she resolutely forced herself to lie
there, while her thoughts wandered from one thing to another–scouting,
John Hadley, the strange disappearance of Daisy’s sister–until she
finally dozed off.

Suddenly she came wide-awake again, and found herself sitting upright
on her bedsack. Then she knew that something had wakened her. Could it
be overwrought nerves, she wondered? She was as bad as Doris, who now
slumbered peacefully a few feet away from her. Surely, it could not be
nerves, since she felt no fear.

The night air had become chilly, almost cold; and she pulled her
blankets about her shoulders and prepared to listen and to wait
for something to happen. But as she sat straining her ears for the
slightest sound, she could hear nothing but the regular breathing of
her companions. The silence was becoming almost unbearable, and she
was about to give up and lie down again, when she heard, just outside
her tent, a strange sniffing noise such as her dog at home often made
when he had something up his nose.

Bears! It was her first thought. For an instant she felt too terrified
to move, even to breathe. But no; it could not be a bear; the thought
flashed across her brain that the horses would smell it and be alarmed.
What was it then? She waited for a repetition of the sound. When it
came again it was accompanied by a scuffling noise that seemed to
approach to the very canvas wall which separated her from the outside
world. Now she was sure it was a bear–it was just the sort of noise a
bear would make. Perhaps those horses had run away. The girl was now
terrified indeed, and pressed both hands tightly against her mouth to
prevent herself from crying out, expecting every moment to have the
thing outside break through the wall of her tent and tramp over her.

But whatever it was, it had paused, and all was quiet again; except
once or twice she heard a slight swishing sound against the canvas,
as if a branch containing dead leaves had been brushed against it.
Marjorie was determined not to utter a sound, though she was so
frightened she could feel first hot and then cold chills passing over
her body. There came a muffled tramp of steps receding to a short
distance away.

As she waited, trembling, and nothing more occurred, her courage slowly
returned and her active brain commenced to plan. The danger, at least,
was no longer imminent. Should she arouse the men? And how? The thing
was still out there somewheres, she reflected; if she attempted to
leave her tent she would call its attention to herself; if she cried
for help, she would not only frighten the rest of the girls out of
their wits, but would bring forth the men–perhaps unprepared–face
to face with the unknown danger. She had read somewhere that bears,
when cornered, were extremely ferocious. Perhaps she had better remain
quiet; there was always the possibility that it would go away.

Then the thought occurred to her that she might safely raise the lower
edge of the tent without being heard, and make observations. Rolling
over, with her head to the ground, slowly she stretched forth a cold,
shaking hand to the cover, fumbled with her fingers beneath the edge,
and raised it sufficiently to look out. But she kept her eyes tightly
closed for fear of what she was about to see.

When she opened them she thought she must have been dreaming. After the
darkness of the tent, the world without appeared remarkably bright in
the soft light of the moon. Glancing quickly about, Marjorie beheld,
to her utter amazement–not a bear, but a horse! It stood clearly
outlined against the wall of Mr. Hilton’s tent, about fifteen yards
away and was apparently dozing; for it was motionless, with drooping
head. Marjorie felt so provoked that she risked waking the other girls
by putting her head outside her tent to utter a sharp hiss. The horse
raised its head with a jerk, and with a loud snort trotted back to its
companions.

Marjorie threw herself back upon her bed, and pulled the blankets over
her. She was undecided whether to laugh or to cry. But she did neither.
Now that she was relaxed she felt limp and worn out. She again told
herself that she was worse than Doris; but she was glad that she had
not aroused the men and alarmed the girls unnecessarily; that she had
had sufficient courage to sit there quietly in spite of her fears. She
resolved to say nothing about it, not because of the joking which would
be sure to ensue at her expense, but for the sakes of the more timid
of the girls; and she determined to go through with the rest of the
journey even though she were the only girl to remain in the party.

“I decided last night to go back,” announced Doris at breakfast. “At
least if anybody will take me.”

“Of course somebody will,” said Marjorie sympathetically. “And I
shouldn’t be surprised if some of the other girls wouldn’t like to go,
too.”

“Yes, I’d be glad to,” said Mae.

“And I, too,” put in Lily.

“But you’ll miss today’s trip to that wonderful place!” cried Alice, in
amazement. “How could you?”

“The ranch is good enough for me,” said Doris.

The subject was discussed at greater length, and the plans made. The
Melville boys agreed to conduct the girls across to a little town where
they could hire a Ford to take them back to the ranch.

“I suppose you can go without a chaperone,” said Mrs. Hilton, “because
you will surely reach the ranch by afternoon. So I had better stay
here.”

“May Daisy and I ride a little piece with them?” asked Marjorie, who
was not in the least tired or stiff. Somehow she dreaded a whole
morning of inactivity; for the party had promised to wait there until
after lunch for the boys to return.

They started early, the girls in high good spirits at the prospect
of reaching the ranch without encountering the dangers of the steep
descent of the trail they had just climbed. They all talked and laughed
so much that Marjorie and Daisy wished they might accompany them to the
place where they were to get the automobile; but Tom persuaded them
that this would be foolish, that they would tire themselves so that
they would not be fit for the afternoon’s ride.

“You better turn back now,” he said, consulting his watch; “but do be
careful not to get lost.”

“Oh, I’m sure we know the way,” replied Marjorie. “We’ll see you later.”

Reluctantly, they said goodbye to the other girls, and turned their
horses in the direction from which they had come. But they were quiet
now, missing the gay chatter of their companions, and thinking how hard
it would be to be separated from them during the next three days.

“Well, I’m glad we’ll be back with the rest of the girls for lunch,”
said Marjorie.

Little did she think, as she said this, that they had taken the wrong
trail, and if they continued in the direction for which they were
headed, they stood not a chance in the world of reaching their camp by
noon.

But they rode on, blissfully ignorant of their plight.

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