Chapter VI. A Camp Heroine
 

Mary Sylvester was gone. Sung to and wept over by her friends and admirers, who had risen at dawn to see her off, she had departed with Dr. Grayson in the camp launch just as the sun was beginning to gild the ripples on the surface of the river. She left behind her many grief stricken hearts.

"Camp won't be camp without Mary!" Bengal Virden had sobbed, trickling tearfully back to Ponemah with a long tress of black hair clutched tightly in her hand--a souvenir which she had begged from Mary at the moment of parting. Next to Pom-pom, Mary Sylvester was Bengal's greatest crush. "I'm going to put it under my pillow and sleep on it every night," Bengal had sniffed tearfully, displaying the tress to her tentmates.

"What utter nonsense!" Miss Peckham had remarked with a contemptuous sniff. Miss Peckham considered the fuss they were making over Mary's departure perfectly ridiculous, and was decidely cross because Bengal had awakened her with her lamenting before the bugle blew.

Migwan and Gladys, on the other hand, remembering their own early "crushes," managed not to smile at Bengal's sentimental foolishness about the lock of hair, and Gladys gravely gave her a hand-painted envelope to keep the precious tress in.

Completely tired out by the long tramp of the day before, Agony did not waken in time to see Mary off, and when the second bugle finally brought her to consciousness she discovered that she had a severe headache and did not want any breakfast. Miss Judy promptly bore her off to the "Infirmary," a tent set off by itself away from the noises of camp, and left her there to stay quietly by herself. In the quiet atmosphere of the "Infirmary" she soon fell asleep again, to waken at times, listen to the singing of the birds in the woods, feel the breezes stealing caressingly through her hair, and then to drop back once more into blissful drowsiness which erased from her mind all memory of yesterday's visit to Atlantis, and of Mary Sylvester's wonderful rescue of the robin. As yet no word of Mary's heroism had reached the ears of the camp; she had departed without the mead of praise that was due her.

Councilors and all felt depressed over Mary's untimely departure, especially Miss Judy, Tiny Armstrong and the Lone Wolf, with whom she had been particularly intimate, and with these three leading spirits cast down gloom was thick everywhere. Morning Sing went flat--the high tenors couldn't keep in tune without Mary to lead them, and nobody else could make the gestures for The Lone Fish Ball. It seemed strange, too, to see Dr. Grayson's chair empty, and to do without his jolly morning talk. Everyone who had gotten up early was full of yawns and out of sorts.

"What's the matter with everybody?" asked Katherine of Jean Lawrence, as they cleaned up Bedlam for tent inspection. "Camp looks like a funeral."

Jean's dimples were nowhere in evidence and her face looked unnaturally solemn as she bent over her bed to straighten the blankets.

"It feels like one, too," replied Jean, still grave. "With Bengal crying all over the place and Miss Judy looking so cut up it's enough to dampen everybody's spirits."

Talk lapsed between the two and each went on cleaning up her side of the tent. A moment later, however, Jean's dimples came back again when she came upon Katherine's toothbrush in one of her tennis shoes. That toothbrush had disappeared two days before and the tent had been turned upside down in a vain search for it.

Katherine pounced upon the truant toilet article gleefully. "Look in your other shoe," she begged Jean, "and see if you can find my fountain pen. That's missing too."

Jean obligingly shook out her shoe, but no pen came to light.

"There's something dark in the bottom of the water pitcher," announced Oh-Pshaw, who was setting the toilet table to rights. "Maybe that's it."

She bared her arm to the elbow and plunged it into the water, but withdrew it immediately with a shriek that caused Katherine and Jean to drop their bed-making in alarm.

"What's the matter?" asked Katherine.

"It's an animal, a horrid, dead animal!" Oh-Pshaw gasped shudderingly, backing precipitously away from the water pitcher. "It's furry, and soft, and--ugh! stiff!"

"What is it?" demanded Katherine, peering curiously into the pitcher, in whose slightly turbid depths she could see a dark object lying.

"Don't touch it!" begged Oh-Pshaw, as Katherine's hand went down into the water.

"Nonsense," scoffed Katherine, "a dead creature can't hurt you. See, it's only a little mouse that fell into the pitcher and got drowned. Poor little mousy, it's a shame he had to meet such a sad fate when he came to visit us."

"Katherine Adams, put that mouse away!" cried Oh-Pshaw, getting around behind the bed. "How can you bear to touch such a thing?"

"Doesn't he look pathetic, with his little paws held out that way?" continued Katherine, unmoved by Oh-Pshaw's expression of terrified disgust. "I don't doubt but what he was the father of a large family--or maybe the mother--and there will be great sorrow in the nest out in the field when he doesn't come home to supper."

"Throw it away!" commanded Oh-Pshaw.

"Let's have a funeral," suggested Jean. "Here, we can lay him out in the lid of my writing paper box."

"Grand idea," replied Katherine, carefully depositing the deceased on the floor beside her bed.

A few minutes later the Lone Wolf, coming along to inspect the tent, found a black middy tie hanging from the tent post, surmounted by a wreath of field daisies, while inside the mouse was laid out in state in the lid of Jean's writing paper box, surrounded by flowers and leaves.

Word of the tragedy that had taken place in Bedlam was all over camp in no time, and crowds came to gaze on the face of the departed one. A special edition of the camp paper was gotten out, with monstrous headlines, giving the details of the accident, and announcing the funeral for three o'clock.

Dr. Grayson returned to camp early in the afternoon, bringing with him a professor friend whom he had invited to spend the week-end at camp. As the two men stepped from the launch to the landing a sound of wailing greeted their ears; long drawn out moans, heartbroken sobs, despairing shrieks, blood-curdling cries.

"What can be the matter?" gasped the Doctor in consternation.

He raced up the path to the bungalow and stood frozen to the spot by the sight that greeted his eyes. Down the Alley came a procession headed by a wheelbarrow filled with field daisies and wild red lilies, all arranged around a pasteboard box in the center; behind the wheelbarrow came two girls with black middy ties around their heads, carrying spades in their hands; behind them marched, two and two, all the girls who lived in the Alley, each with a black square over her face and all wailing and sobbing and shrieking at the top of their voices. The procession came to a halt in front of the bungalow porch and Katherine Adams detached herself from the ranks. Mounting a rock, she broke out into an impassioned funeral oration that put Mark Anthony's considerably in the shade. She was waving her hands in an extravagant gesture to accompany an especially eloquent passage, when she suddenly caught sight of Dr. Grayson standing watching the proceedings.

The mourners saw her suddenly stand as if petrified, the gesture frozen in mid air, the word on her lips chopped off in the middle as with a knife. Following her startled glance the others also saw Dr. Grayson and the visitor. An indescribable sound rose from the funeral train; the transition noise of anguished wailing turning into uncontrollable laughter; then such a shout went up that the birds dozing in the trees overhead flew out in startled circles and went darting away with loud squawks of alarm.

"Go on, go on," urged Dr. Grayson, with twinkling eyes, "don't let me interrupt the flow of eloquence."

But Katherine, abashed and tongue-tied in his presence always, could not utter another word, and, blushing furiously, slid down off the rock and took refuge behind the daisy-covered bier. The procession, agitated by great waves of laughter, moved on toward the woods, where the mouse was duly interred with solemn ceremonies.

"Will your father think I'm dreadfully silly?" Katherine inquired anxiously of Miss Judy later in the afternoon.

"Not a bit," replied Miss Judy emphatically. "He thought that mouse funeral was the best impromptu stunt we've pulled off yet. That kind of thing was just what camp needed today. The novelty of it got everybody stirred up and made them hilarious. That funeral oration of yours was the funniest thing I ever heard. Miss Amesbury thought so too. She took it all down while you were delivering it."

"Daggers and dirks!" exclaimed Katherine, more abashed than ever.

"That made the first coup for the Alley," continued Miss Judy, exulting. "The Avenue is green with envy. They'll rack their brains now to get up something as clever."

"Jane Pratt didn't think it was clever," replied Katherine, trying not to look proud at Miss Judy's compliment. "She said it was the silliest thing she had ever seen."

"Oh,--Jane Pratt!" sniffed Miss Judy, with an expressive shrug of her shoulders. "Jane Pratt would have something sarcastic to say about an archangel. Don't you mind what Jane Pratt says."

From Avernus to Gitchee-Gummee the Alley rang with praises of Katharine's cleverness.

"What's the excitement?" asked Agony wonderingly as she returned to the bungalow in time for supper after resting quietly by herself all day.

"The best thing the Alley ever did!" replied Bengal Virden enthusiastically, and recounted the details for Agony's benefit.

At the same moment someone started a cheer for Katherine down at the other end of the table, and the response was actually deafening:

  You're the B-E-S-T, best,
  Of all the R-E-S-T, rest,
  O, I love you, I love you all the T-I-M-E, time!
  If you'll be M-I-N-E, mine,
  I'll be T-H-I-N-E, thine,
  O, I love you, I love you all the T-I-M-E, time!

Agony cheered with the others, but a little stab of envy went through her breast, a longing to have a cheer thundered at her by the assembled campers, to become prominent, and looked at, and sought after. Sewah had "arrived," and now also Katherine, while she herself was still merely "among those present."

Rather pensively she followed the Winnebagos into Mateka after supper for evening assembly, which had been called by Dr. Grayson. Usually there was no evening assembly; Morning Sing was the only time the whole camp came together in Mateka with the leaders, when all the announcements for the day were made. When there was something special to be announced, however, the bugle sometimes sounded another assembly call at sunset.

"I wonder what the special announcement is tonight?" Hinpoha asked, coming up with Sewah and Agony.

"I don't think it's an announcement at all," replied Sahwah. "I think the professor friend of Dr. Grayson's is going to make a speech. Miss Judy said he always did when he came to camp. He's a naturalist, or something like that."

Agony wrinkled her forehead into a slight frown. "I hope he doesn't," she sighed. "My head still aches and I don't feel like listening to a speech. I'd rather go canoeing up the river, as we had first planned."

She sat down in an inconspicuous corner where she could rest her head upon her drawn up knees, if she wished, without the professor's seeing her, and hoped that the speech would be a short one, and that there would still be time to go canoeing on the river after he had finished.

The professor, however, seemed to have no intention of making a speech. He took a chair beside the fireplace and settled himself in it with the air of one who intended to remain there for some time. It was Dr. Grayson himself who stood up to talk.

"I have called you together," he began, "to tell you about one of the finest actions that has ever been performed by a girl in this camp. I heard about it from the storekeeper at Green's Landing, who was told of it by a man who departed on one of the steamers this morning. This man, who was staying on a farm on the Atlantis Road, and who is suffering from blood-poison in his foot, was taken into the woods in a wheel chair yesterday afternoon and left by himself under a great pine tree at least a hundred feet high. In the topmost branches of this tree a mother robin became tangled up in a string which was caught in a twig, and she hung there by one foot, unable to free herself, fluttering herself to death. At this time two girls came through the path in the woods, took in the situation, and quick as thought one of them climbed the tree, swung herself out on the high branch, and cut the robin loose.

"The man who witnessed the act did not find out the names of the two girls, but the one who climbed the tree wore a Camp Keewaydin hat and a dark green bloomer suit. The other was dressed in brown. I don't think there is anyone who fails to recognize the girl who has done this heroic thing. There is only one green bloomer suit here in camp. Mrs. Grayson tells me that she gave Agnes Wing permission to go to Atlantis with Mary Sylvester yesterday afternoon. Where is she? Agnes Wing, stand up."

Agony stood up in her corner of the room, her lips opened to tell Dr. Grayson that it was Mary who happened to have on the green bloomer suit and had climbed the tree, but her words were drowned in a cheer that nearly raised the roof off the Craft House. Before she knew it Miss Judy and Tiny Armstrong had seized her, set her up on their shoulders, and were carrying her around the room, while the building fairly rocked with applause. Thrilled and intoxicated by the cheering, Agony began to listen to the voice of the tempter in her bosom. No one would ever know that it had not really been she who had done the brave deed; not a soul knew of her lending her suit to Mary because of the mishap in the springhouse. Mary Sylvester was gone; was on her way to Japan; she would never hear about it; and the only person who had witnessed the deed did not know their names; he had only remembered the green bloomer suit. The man himself was unknown, nobody at camp could ever ask him about the affair. He had gone from the neighborhood and would never come face to face with her and discover his mistake; the secret was safe in her heart.

In one bound she could become the most popular girl in camp; gain the favor of the Doctor and the councilors--especially of Miss Amesbury, whom she was most desirous of impressing. The sight of Miss Amesbury leaning forward with shining eyes decided the question for her. The words trembling on her lips were choked back; she hung her head and looked the picture of modest embarrassment, the ideal heroine.

Set down on the floor again by Tiny and Miss Judy, she hid her face on Miss Judy's shoulder and blushed at Dr. Grayson's long speech of praise, in which he spoke touchingly of the beauty of a nature which loved the wild dumb creatures of the woods and sought to protect them from harm; of the cool courage and splendid will power that had sent her out on the shaking branch when her very heart was in her mouth from fear; of the modesty which had kept her silent about the glorious act after she returned to camp. When he took both her hands in his and looked into her face with an expression of admiring regard in his fine, true eyes, she all but told the truth of the matter then and there; but cowardice held her silent and the moment passed.

"Let's have a canoe procession in her honor!" called Miss Judy, and there was a rush for the dock.

Agony was borne down in triumph upon the shoulders of Miss Judy and Tiny, with all the camp marching after, and was set down in the barge of honor, the first canoe behind the towing launch, while all the Alley drew straws for the privilege of riding with her. Still cheering Agony enthusiastically the procession started down the river in a wild, hilarious ride, and Agony thrilled with the joy of being the center of attraction.

"I have arrived at last," she whispered triumphantly to herself as she went to bed that night, and lay awake a long time in the darkness, thinking of the cheers that had rocked the Craft House and of the flattering attention with which Miss Amesbury had regarded her all evening.