Chapter I. On the Way

"All aboard!" The hoarse voice of Captain MacLaren boomed out like a fog horn, waking a clatter of echoes among the tall cliffs on the opposite shore of the river, and sending the seventy-five girls on the dock all skurrying for the Carribou's gangplank at once.

"Hurry up, Hinpoha! We're getting left behind." Agony strained forward on the suitcase she was helping Hinpoha to carry down the hill and endeavored to catch up with the crowd, a proceeding which she soon acknowledged to be impossible, for Hinpoha, rendered breathless by the hasty scramble from the train, lagged farther behind with every step.

"I--can't--go--any--faster!" she panted, and abruptly let go of her end of the suitcase to fan herself with her hand. "What's the use of rushing so, anyway?" she demanded plaintively. "They won't go off without us; they can see us coming down the hill. It wasn't my fault that my camera got wedged under the seat and made us be the last ones off the train," she continued, "and I'm not going to run down this hill and go sprawling, like I did in the elevator yesterday. Are the other girls on already?" she asked, searching the crowd below with her eyes for a sight of the other Winnebagos.

"Sahwah and Oh-Pshaw are on the boat already," replied Agony, "and Gladys and Migwan are just getting on. I don't see Katherine anywhere, however. Oh, yes," she exclaimed, "there she is down there in the crowd. What are they all laughing at, I wonder? Oh, look, Katherine's suitcase has come open, and all her things are spilled out on the dock. I thought it would be strange if she made the trip without some kind of a mishap. Oh, dear, did you ever see anyone so funny as Katherine?"

"Well," observed Hinpoha in a tone of relief, "we don't have to hurry now. It'll take them at least ten minutes to get that suitcase shut again. I know, because I helped Katherine pack. I had to sit on it with all my might to close it."

"All Aboard!" came the second warning roar from Captain MacLaren, accompanied by a deafening blast of the Carribou's whistle. Agony picked up Hinpoha's suitcase in one hand and her own in the other, and with an urgent "Come on!" made a dash down the remainder of the hill and landed breathless at the gangplank of the waiting steamer just as the engine began to quiver into motion. Hinpoha was just behind her, and Katherine trod closely upon Hinpoha's heels, carrying her still unclosed suitcase out before her like a tray, to keep its contents from spilling out.

Migwan was waiting for them at the head of the gangplank. "We've saved a place for you up in the bow," she said. "Hurry up, we're having such a time holding it for you. The boat is simply packed."

The four girls picked their way through a litter of suitcases, paddles, cameras, tennis rackets and musical instruments that covered every inch of deck space between the chairs, and joined the other Winnebagos in their place in the bow. Hinpoha sank down gratefully upon a deck chair that Oh-Pshaw had obligingly been holding for her and Agony disposed herself upon a pile of suitcases, from which vantage point she could get a good look at the crowd.

The Carribou had turned her nose about and was gliding smoothly upstream, following the random curvings of the lazy Onawanda as it wound through the low-lying, wooded hills of the Shenandawah country, singing a carefree wanderer's song as it flowed. It was a glorious, balmy day in late June, dazzlingly blue and white, sparklingly golden. It was the Carribou's big day of the year, that last day of June. On all other days she made her run demurely from Lower Falls Station to Upper Falls, carrying freight and a handful of passengers on each trip; but every year on that last day of June freight and ordinary passengers stood aside, for the Carribou was chartered to carry the girls of Camp Keewaydin to their summer hunting grounds.

The Winnebagos looked around with interest at the girls who were to be their companions for the summer, all as yet total strangers to them. Girls of every shape and size, of every shade of complexion, of every age between sixteen and twenty. A number were apparently "old girls," who had been at Camp Keewaydin in former years; they flocked together in the bow right behind the Winnebagos, chattering animatedly, singing snatches of camp songs, and uttering conjectures in regard to such things as whether they would be in the Alley or the Avenue; and who was going to be councilor in All Saints this year.

A number of these old girls were grouped in an adoring attitude around a pretty young woman who talked constantly in an animated tone, and at intervals strummed on a ukulele. Continual cries of "Pom-pom!" rose on the air from the circle surrounding her. It was "Dear Pom-pom," "Pom-pom, you angel," "O darling Pom-pom! Can't you fix it so that I can be in your tent this year?" and much more in the same strain.

"Pom-pom is holding her court again this year, I see," said a biting voice just behind Agony.

Agony maneuvered herself around on her perch and glanced down at the speaker. She was a decidedly plain girl with a thick nose and a wide mouth set in a grim line above an extraordinarily heavy chin. Her face was turned partly away as she spoke to the girl next to her, but Agony caught a glimpse of the sarcastic expression which informed her features, and a little chill of dislike went through her. Agony was extremely susceptible to first impressions of people.

The girl addressed made an inaudible reply and the first girl continued in low but emphatic tones, "Well, you won't catch me fetching and carrying for her and playing the part of the adoring slave, I can tell you. I think it's perfectly silly, the way the girls all get a crush on her."

There was a pause, and then the other girl asked, somewhat hastily, "Who do you suppose will get the Buffalo Robe this year?"

"Oh, Mary Sylvester will, of course," came the reply. "She nearly got it last year. Now that Peggy Atterbury isn't coming back Mary'll be the most popular girl in camp without a doubt. Look at her over there, trying to be sweet to Pom-pom."

"Isn't she stunning in that coral silk sweater?" murmured the other girl.

"She has too much color to wear that shade of pink," returned the sarcastic one.

Agony's eyes traveled over to the group surrounding Pom-pom and rested upon the girl who, next to Pom-pom herself, was the center of the group. She was very much like Agony herself, with intensely black hair, snow white forehead and richly red lips, though a little slighter in build and somewhat taller. A frank friendliness beamed from her clear dark eyes and her smile was warm and sincere. Agony felt drawn to her and jealous of her at the same time. The most popular girl in camp. That was the title Agony coveted with all her soul. To be prominent; to be popular, was Agony's chief aim in life; and to be pointed out in a crowd as the most popular girl seemed the one thing in the world most desirable to her. She, too, would be prominent and popular, she resolved; she, too, would be pointed out in the crowd.

The sarcastic voice again broke in upon her reverie. "Have you seen the hippopotamus over there in the bow? I should think a girl would be ashamed to get that stout."

Agony glanced apprehensively at Hinpoha, who was staring straight out over the water, but whose crimson face betrayed only too plainly that she had heard the remark. The rest of the Winnebagos had undoubtedly heard it also, as well as a number of others rubbing elbows with them, for a sudden embarrassed silence fell over that corner of the boat and a dozen pairs of eyes glanced from Hinpoha to the speaker, who, not one whit abashed, continued to stare scornfully at the object of her ridicule.

"Of all the bad manners!" said Agony to Sahwah in an indignant undertone, which, with the characteristic penetrating quality of Agony's voice, carried perfectly to the ears of the girl behind her. A light, satirical laugh was the reply. Agony turned to bestow a withering glance upon this rude creature, and met a pair of greenish tan eyes bent upon her with an expression of cool mockery. In the instant that their eyes met there sprang up between them one of those sudden antagonisms that are characteristic of very positive natures; the two hated each other cordially at first sight, before they had ever spoken a word to each other. Like fencers' swords their glances crossed and fell apart, and each girl turned her back pointedly upon the other. Broken threads of conversation were picked up by the group around them, shouts of laughter came from the group surrounding Pom-pom, who was reciting a funny poem, and the tense moment passed.

The other Winnebagos forgot the incident and gave themselves over to enjoyment of the beautiful scene which was unrolling before their eyes as the Carribou bore them further and further into the wilds; great dark stretches of woodland brooding in silence on the hillsides; an occasional glimpse of a far distant mountain peak wreathed in mist, and near by many a merry little stream romping down a hillside into the mother arms of the Onawanda. Gradually the shores had drawn close together until the travelers could look into the cool depths of the forests past which they were gliding, and could hear the calling of the wild birds in their leafy sanctuary.

Just past a long stretch of woods which Hinpoha thought might be enchanted, because the trees stood so stiffly straight, the Carribou rounded a bend, and there flashed into sight an irregular row of white tents scattered among the pines on a rise of ground some hundred or more feet back from the river.

"There's camp," Sahwah tried to say to Hinpoha, but her voice was drowned in the shriek of ecstasy which rose from the old campers. Handkerchiefs waved wildly; paddles smote the deck with deafening thumps; cheer after cheer rolled up, accompanied by the loud tooting of the Carribou's whistle. Captain MacLaren always joined in the racket of arrival as heartily as the girls themselves, taking delight in seeing how much noise he could coax from the throat of his steam siren.

Amid the racket the little vessel nosed her way up alongside a wooden dock, and before she was fairly fast the younger members of last year's delegation had leapt over the rail and were scurrying up the path. The older ones followed more sedately, having stopped to pick up their luggage, and to greet the camp directors who stood on the dock with welcoming hands outstretched. Last of all came the new girls, looking about them inquiringly, and already beginning to fall in love with the place.