Chapter III. The Great Mystery Sound
 

After supper the camp was summoned to the smaller bungalow for first assembly and Sing-Out. Over the wide entrance doorway of this picturesque building among the trees was painted in large ornamental letters:

            MATEKA

THE HOUSE OF JOYOUS LEARNING

This house, Dr. Grayson explained, was the place where all the craft work was to be done. The light from the lamps fell upon beautifully decorated board walls; wood-blocked curtains, quaint rustic benches and seats made from logs with the bark left on; flower-holders fashioned of birch bark; candlesticks of hammered brass, silver and copper; book covers of beaded leather; vases and bowls of glazed clay.

At one end of the long room stood a piano; at the other end was the huge cobblestone fireplace whose chimney the Winnebagos had noticed from the outside; in it a fire was laid ready for lighting.

The seventy-five girls filed in and seated themselves on the floor, looking expectantly at Dr. Grayson, who stood before the fireplace. He was an imposing figure as he stood there, a man over six feet tall, with a great head of white hair like a lion's mane, which, emphasizing the ruddy complexion and clear blue eyes, contrived to make him look youthful instead of old.

In a beautiful speech, full of both wisdom and humor, he explained the ideals of camp life, and heartily welcomed the group before him into the family circle of Camp Keewaydin. He spoke of the girls who in past years had stood out from the others on account of their superior camp spirit, and led up to the subject of the Buffalo Robe, which at the end of the season would be awarded to the one who should be voted by her fellow campers as the most popular girl.

A solemn hush fell over the assembly as he spoke, and all eyes were fastened upon the Buffalo Robe, hanging over the fireplace. Agony's heart gave a leap at the sight of the beautiful trophy, and then sank as she saw innumerable eyes turn to rest upon Mary Sylvester, sitting on a low stool at Dr. Grayson's feet, gazing up at him with a look of worship in her expressive eyes.

When he had finished speaking of the Buffalo Robe Dr. Grayson announced that the first fire of the season was to be lighted in the House of Joyous Learning to dedicate it to this year's group of campers, and kneeling down on the hearth, he touched off the faggots laid ready in the fireplace, and the flames, leaping and snapping, rose up the chimney, sending a brilliant glow over the room, and causing the most homesick youngster to brighten up and feel immensely cheered.

The fire lighted, and the House of Joyous Learning dedicated to its present occupants, Dr. Grayson proceeded to introduce the camp leaders and councilors. Mrs. Grayson came first, as Camp Mother and Chief Councilor. She was a large woman, and seemed capable of mothering the whole world as she sat before the hearth, beaming down upon the girls clustered around her on the floor, and there was already a note of genuine affection in the voices of the new girls as they joined in the cheer which the old girls started in honor of the Camp Mother.

The cheer was not yet finished when there was a sound of footsteps on the porch outside and a new girl stood in the doorway. She carried a blanket over one arm and held a small traveling bag in her hand. Her face was flushed with exertion and her chest heaved as she stood there looking inquiringly about the room with merry eyes that seemed to be delighted with everything they looked upon. Her face was round; her little button mouth was round; the comical stub of a nose which perched above it gave the effect of being round, too, while the deep dimple that indented her chin was very, very round. Two still deeper dimples lurked in her cheeks, each one a silent chuckle, and the freckles that clustered thickly over her features all seemed to twinkle with a separate and individual hilarity.

An involuntary smile spread over the faces inside the bungalow as they looked at the newcomer, and one of the younger girls laughed aloud. That was the signal for a general laugh, and for a moment the room rang, and the strange girl in the doorway joined in heartily, and Dr. Grayson laughed, too, and everybody felt "wound up" and hilarious. Mrs. Grayson left her chair by the hearth and made her way through the group of girls on the floor to the newcomer, holding out her hand in welcome.

"You must be Jean Lawrence," she said, drawing the girl into the room. "You were to arrive by automobile at Green's Landing this noon, were you not, and come across the river in the mail boat? I have been wondering why you did not arrive on that boat."

"Our automobile broke down on that road that runs through the long woods beyond Green's Landing," replied Jean, "and when father found it could not be fixed on the road he decided to go back to the last town we had passed through and spend the night there; so I had to walk to Green's Landing. It was nearly nine miles and it took me all afternoon to get there. The mail boat had, of course, gone long ago, but a nice old grandpa man brought me over in a row boat."

"You walked nine miles to Green's Landing!" exclaimed Mrs. Grayson in astonishment. "But, my dear, why didn't you wait and let your father drive you down in the morning?"

"Oh, I wouldn't miss a single night in camp for anything in the world!" replied Jean. "I would have walked if it had been twenty-nine miles. I nearly died of impatience before I got here, as it was!"

Mrs. Grayson beamed on the enthusiastic camper; the old girls sang a lusty cheer to the new girl who was such a good sport; and, twinkling and beaming in all directions, Jean sat down on the floor with the others to hear the camp councilors introduced.

Dr. Grayson began by quoting humorously from the Proverbs: "Where no council is, the people fall, but in a multitude of councilors there is safety."

One by one he called the councilors up and introduced them, beginning with his daughter Judith, who was to be gymnastic director at the camp. Miss Judy got up and made a bow, and then prepared to sit down again, but her father would not let her off so easily. He demanded a demonstration of her profession for the benefit of the campers. Miss Judy promptly lined all the other councilors up and put them through a series of ridiculous exercises, such as "Tongues forward thrust!" "Hand on pocket place!" "Handkerchief take!" "Noses blow!"--performance which was greeted with riotous applause by the campers.

Miss Armstrong was called up next and introduced as "our little friend from Australia, the swimming teacher, who, on account of her diminutive size goes by the nickname of Tiny." Tiny was made to give her native Australian bush call of "Coo-ee! Coo-ee!" and was then told to rescue a drowning person in pantomime, which she did so realistically that the campers sat in shivering fascination. Tiny, still grave and unsmiling, sat down amid shouts for encore, and refused to repeat her performance, pretending to be overcome with bashfulness. Dr. Grayson then rose and said that since Tiny was too modest to appear in public herself, he would bring out her most cherished possession to respond to the encore, and held up the gaudy blanket that Katherine and Oh-Pshaw had already made merry over in the tent, explaining that Tiny always chose quiet, dull colors to match her retiring nature. With a teasing twinkle in his eyes he handed Tiny her blanket and then passed on to the next victim.

This was Pom-pom, the dancing teacher, who was obliged to do a dance on the piano stool to illustrate her art. Pom-pom received a perfect ovation, especially from the younger girls, and was called out half a dozen times.

"Oh, the sweet thing! The darling!" gushed Bengal Virden, going into a perfect ecstasy on the floor beside Gladys. "Don't you just adore her?"

"She's very pretty," replied Gladys sincerely.

"Pretty!" returned Bengal scornfully. "She's the most beautiful person on earth! Oh, I love her so, I don't know what to do!"

Gladys smiled indulgently at Bengal's gush, and turned away to see Jane Pratt's dull, unpleasant eyes gazing contemptuously upon Pom-pom's performance, and heard her whisper to her neighbor, "She's too stiff-legged to be really graceful."

The Lone Wolf from Labrador, summoned to stand up and show herself next, was a long, lean, mournful-looking young woman who, when introduced, explained in a lugubrious voice that she had no talents like the rest of the councilors and didn't know enough to be a teacher of anything; but she was very good and pious, and had been brought to camp solely for her moral effect upon the other councilors.

For a moment the camp girls looked at the Lone Wolf in silence, not knowing what to make of her; then Sahwah noticed that Mrs. Grayson was biting her lips, while her eyes twinkled; Dr. Grayson was looking at the girls with a quizzical expression on his face; Miss Judy had her face buried in her handkerchief. Sahwah looked back at the Lone Wolf, standing there with her hands folded angelically and her eyes fixed solemnly upon the ceiling, and she suddenly snorted out with laughter. Then everyone caught on and laughed, too, but the Lone Wolf never smiled; she stood looking at them with an infinitely sad, pained expression that almost convinced them that she had been in earnest.

The Lone Wolf, it appeared, was to be Tent Inspector, and when that announcement was made, the laughter of the old girls turned to groans of pretended aversion, which increased to a mighty chorus when Dr. Grayson added that her eye had never been known to miss a single detail of disorder in a tent.

Thus councilor after councilor was introduced in a humorous speech by Dr. Grayson, and made to do her particular stunt, or was rallied about her pet hobby. The two Arts and Crafts teachers were given lumps of clay and a can of house paint and ordered to produce a statue and a landscape respectively; the Sing Leader had to play "Darling, I Am Growing Old" on a pitch pipe, and all the plain "tent councilors" were called upon for a "few remarks."

All were cheered lustily, and all gave strong evidence of future popularity except Miss Peckham, who drew only a very scattered and perfunctory applause. Gladys and Migwan, who glanced at each other as Miss Peckham stepped forward, were surprised to hear that she was Dr. Grayson's cousin.

"That accounts for her being here," Gladys whispered, and Migwan whispered in return, "We'll just have to make the best of her."

Bengal glowered at Miss Peckham and made no pretense of applauding her, and Migwan saw her whispering to the group around her, and saw Bengal's expression of dislike swiftly reflected on the faces of her listeners. Thus, before Miss Peckham was fairly introduced, her unpopularity was already sealed. It takes very little to make a reputation at camp. Estimates are formed very swiftly, and great attachments and antipathies are formed at first sight. Young girls seem to scent, by some mysterious intuition, who is really in sympathy with them, and who is only pretending to be, and bestow or withhold their affections accordingly. In the code of the camp girl classifications are very simple; a camper is either a "peach" or a "prune." All the other councilors were "peaches"; that was the instantaneous verdict of the Keewaydin Campers during the introductions; Miss Peckham, regardless of the fact that she was Dr. Grayson's cousin, was a "prune."

The last councilor to be introduced was a handsome, white-haired woman named Miss Amesbury, who was introduced as the patron saint of the camp, the designer of the beautiful Mateka, the House of Joyous Learning. Miss Amesbury was neither an instructor nor a tent councilor; she had just come to be a friend and helper to the whole camp, and lived on the second story balcony of Mateka. Word had traveled around among the girls that she was a famous author, and a ripple of expectation agitated the ranks of the campers as she rose in answer to Dr. Grayson's summons. Migwan gazed upon her in mingled awe and veneration. A famous author--one who had realized the ambition that was also her cherished own! She almost stopped breathing in her emotion.

"Isn't she lovely?" breathed Hinpoha to Agony, her eye taking in the details of Miss Amesbury's camping suit, which, instead of being made of serge or khaki, like those of the other councilors, was of heavy Japanese silk, with a soft, flowered tie.

Smiling a smile which included every girl in the room, she cordially invited them all to come and visit her balcony and share the beautiful view which she had of the river and the gorge. Then she added a few humorous comments upon camp life, and sat down amid tumultuous applause.

Then Dr. Grayson asked her if she would play for the singing, and she rose graciously and took her place at the piano. The Sing leader stood up on a bench and directed with a wooden spoon from the craft table, and the first Sing-Out began. For half an hour the mingled voices were lifted in glee and round, in part song and ballad, until the roof rang. The new girls, spelling out the words in the song books by the rather pale lamplight, came out strongly in some parts and wobbly in others, producing some tone effects which caused the old girls to double up with merriment, but the new girls showed their good sportsmanship by singing on lustily no matter how many mistakes they made, a fact which caused Dr. Grayson to beam approvingly upon them. In the midst of a particularly hilarious song the bugle suddenly blew for going to bed, and the old girls, still singing, began to drift out of the house and make for the tents in groups of twos and threes, with their arms thrown around each other's shoulders. The new girls followed, some feeling shy and a bit homesick this first night away from home; others already perfectly at home, their arms around a new friend made in the short time since their arrival. One such was Jean Lawrence, who, upon being informed that she was to be "tenty" to Katherine and Oh-Pshaw in Bedlam, expressed herself as being unutterably delighted with her tent mates and walked off with them chattering as easily as though she had known them all her life.

There was more or less confusion this first night before everyone got settled, for many of the girls had never camped before and were unskilled in the art of undressing rapidly in the close quarters of a tent, and "Taps" sounded before a number were even undressed. The Lone Wolf was lenient this first night, however, and did not insist upon prompt lights out, an act of grace which added greatly to her popularity.

Sahwah's bed sagged somewhat in the middle and she was not able to adjust herself to its curves very well; consequently she did not fall asleep soon. Camp quieted down; the last rustle and whisper died away; silence enfolded the tents around. Sahwah, lying wide awake in the darkness, her senses alert, heard the sound of footsteps running at full speed along the top of the bluff and across the bare rocks at the edge. Here the footsteps seemed to come to a pause, and an instant later there came a sound like a loud splash in the water below. Filled both with curiosity and apprehension, Sahwah leaped from bed and raced for the edge of the bluff, where she stood peering down at the river. No unusual ripple appeared on the placid surface of the river; as far as she could see it lay calm and peaceful in the moonlight.

A footstep behind her startled her, and she turned to see Miss Judy coming toward her from the tent.

"What's the matter?" called Miss Judy, when she was within a few yards of Sahwah.

"It sounded as though someone jumped off the cliff," replied Sahwah. "I heard footsteps along the edge of the bluff, and then a splash, and I ran out to see what was going on, but I can't see anything."

To Sahwah's surprise, Miss Judith laughed aloud. "Oh," she said, "did you hear it?"

"What was it?" asked Sahwah, curiously.

"That," replied Miss Judy, "is what we call the Great Mystery Sound. We hear it off and on, but no one has ever been able to explain what causes it. Our 'diving ghost,' we call it. Father wore himself to a frazzle the first year we were here, trying to find out what it was. He used to sit up nights and watch, but although he often heard it he never could see anything that could produce the sound. Some people about here have told us that that sound has been heard for years and they say that there is an old legend connected with it to the effect that many years ago an Indian girl, pursued by an unwelcome suitor, jumped off this bluff and drowned herself to escape him, and that ever since that occurrence this strange sound has been noticeable. Of course, the people who tell the legend say that the ghost of the persecuted maiden haunts the scene of the tragedy at intervals and repeats the performance. Whatever it is, we have never been able to account for the sound naturally, and always refer to it as the Great Mystery Sound."

"What a strange thing!" exclaimed Sahwah in wonder. "Those footsteps certainly sounded real; and as for that splash! It actually made my flesh creep. I had a panicky feeling that one of the new girls had wandered too near the edge of the bluff and had fallen into the water."

"It used to have that effect upon us at first, too," replied Miss Judy. "We would all come racing down here with our hearts in our mouths, expecting we knew not what. It took a long time before we could believe it was a delusion.

"And now, come back to bed, or you'll be taking cold, standing out here in your nightgown."

Still looking back at the river and half expecting to see some agitation in its surface, Sahwah followed Miss Judy back to Gitchee-Gummee and returned to bed.