Chapter VII. The Business of Being a Heroine
 

Agony awoke the next morning to find herself famous beyond her fondest dreams. Before she was dressed she saw two of the younger girls peeping into the tent for a glimpse of her; when she stood in line for flag raising she was conscious of eyes turned toward her from all directions while girls who had never noticed her before stopped to say good morning effusively, and seemed inclined to linger in her company; and at breakfast each table in turn sang a cheer for her. Jo Severance, who was one of the acknowledged camp leaders, and whose friendships were not lightly bestowed, ostensibly stopped and waited for Agony to catch up with her on the way over to Morning Sing and walked into Mateka with her arm around Agony's waist.

"Will you be my sleeping partner for the first overnight trip that we take?" she asked cordially.

"Certainly," Agony replied a little breathlessly, already well enough versed in camp customs to realize the extent of the tribute that was being paid her.

At Camp Keewaydin a girl never asked anyone but her dearest friend to be her sleeping partner on an overnight trip, to creep into her poncho sleeping bag with her and share the intimate experience of a night on the ground, heads together on the same pillow, warm bodies touching each other in the crowded nest inside the blankets. And Jo Severance had chosen her to take the place of Mary Sylvester, Jo's own adored Mary, who was to have been Jo's partner on all occasions!

Before Morning Sing was over Agony had received a dozen pressing invitations to share beds on that first camping trip, and the date of the trip was not even announced yet!

And to all this fuss and favor Agony responded like a prism placed in the sunlight. She sparkled, she glowed, she radiated, she brought to the surface with a rush all the wit and charm and talent that lay in her being. She beamed upon everyone right and left; she threw herself with ardor and enthusiasm into every plan that was suggested; she had a dozen brilliant ideas in as many minutes; she seemed absolutely inspired. Her deep voice came out so strongly that she was able to carry the alto in the singing against the whole camp; she improvised delightful harmonies that put a thrill into the commonest tune. She got up of her own accord and performed the gestures to "The Lone Fish Ball" better even than Mary Sylvester had done them, and on the spur of the moment she worked out another set to accompany "The Bulldog and the Bullfrog" that brought down the house. It took only the stimulating influence of the limelight to bring out and intensify every talent she had ever possessed. It worked upon her like a drug, quickening her faculties, spurring her on to one brilliant performance after the other, while the camp looked upon her in wonder as one gifted by the gods.

The same exalted mood possessed her during swimming hour, and she passed the test for Sharks with flying colors. Immediately afterward she completed the canoe test and joined that envied class who were allowed to take out a canoe on their own responsibility.

A dozen new admirers flocked around her as she walked back to Gitchee-Gummee at the close of the Swimming hour, all begging to be allowed to sew up the tear in her bathing suit, or offering to lend her the prettiest of their bathing caps. What touched Agony most, however, was the pride which the Winnebagos took in her exploit.

"We knew you would do something splendid sometime and bring honor to us," they told her exultingly, with shining faces.

"I'm going to write Nyoda about it this minute," said Migwan, after she had finished her words of praise. "What's the mater, Agony, have you a headache again?" she finished.

"No," replied Agony in a tone of forced carelessness.

"I thought maybe you had," continued Migwan solicitously. "Your forehead was all puckered up."

"The light is so bright on the river," murmured Agony, and walked thoughtfully away.

Days passed in pleasant succession; Mary Sylvester's name gradually ceased to be heard on all sides from her mourning cronies, who at first accompanied every camp activity with a plaintive chorus of, "Remember the way Mary used to do this," or "Oh, I wish Mary were here to enjoy this," or "Mary had planned to do this the first chance she got," and so on. Life in camp was so packed full of enjoyment for those who remained behind that it was impossible to go on missing the departed one indefinitely.

The first camping trip was a thing of the past. It had been a twenty-mile hike along the river to a curious group of rocks known as "Hercules' Library," from the resemblance which the granite blocks bore to shelves of books. Here, among these fantastic formations, the camp had spread its blankets and literally snored, if not actually upon, at least at the base of, the flint.

When bedtime came Katherine had found herself without a sleeping partner, for she had forgotten to ask someone herself, and it just happened that no one had asked her. She was philosophically trying to make her bed up for a single, by doubling the poncho over lengthwise into a cocoon effect, when she heard a sniffle coming out of the bushes beside her. Investigating, she found Carmen Chadwick sitting disconsolately upon a very much wrinkled poncho, her chin in her hands, the picture of woe.

"What's the matter, can't you make your bed?" asked Katherine, remembering Carmen's helplessness in that line upon a former occasion.

"I haven't any partner!" answered Carmen, with another sniffle. "I had one, but she's run away from me."

"Who was it?" asked Katherine.

"Jane Pratt," replied Carmen. "I asked her a long time ago if I might sleep with her on the first trip, and she said, certainly I might, and she would bring along enough blankets for the two of us, and I wouldn't need to bother bringing any. So I didn't bring any blankets; but when I asked her just now where we were going to sleep, she said she hadn't the faintest notion where I was going to sleep, but she was going to sleep alone in the woods, away from the rest of us. She laughed at me, and said she never intended to bring along enough blankets for the two of us, and that I should have known better than to believe her. What shall I do?" she wailed, beginning to weep in earnest.

Katherine gave vent to an exclamation that sent a nearby chipmunk scampering away in a panic. She looked around for Miss Judy, but Miss Judy was deep in the woods with the other councilors getting up a stunt to entertain the girls after supper. "Where's Jane Pratt?" asked Katherine.

"I don't know," sniffled Carmen.

"Didn't you bring any blankets at all?"

"No."

"Carmen, didn't it ever occur to you that Jane was making fun of you when she said she would bring blankets for two? Nobody ever does that, you know, they'd make too heavy a load to carry."

Carmen shook her head, and gulped afresh.

"No, I never thought of that. I wanted a sleeping partner so badly, and everyone I asked was already engaged, and when she said yes I was so happy."

"Of all the mean, contemptible tricks to play on a poor little creature like that!" Katherine exclaimed aloud.

"What's the matter?" asked Agony, appearing beside her.

Katherine told her.

Agony's eyes flashed. "I'm going to find Jane Pratt," she said in the calm tone which always indicated smouldering anger, "and make her share her blankets with Carmen."

Jane, who, with the practised eye of the old camper, had selected a smooth bit of ground thickly covered with pine needles and sloping gently upward toward the end for her head, and had arranged her two double blankets and her extra large sized poncho into an extremely comfortable bed for one, looked up from her labors to find Agony standing before her with flushed face and blazing eyes.

"Jane Pratt," Agony began without preliminary, "did you promise to sleep with Carmen Chadwick, and lead her to think she did not need to bring any blankets along on this trip?"

Jane returned Agony's gaze coolly, and gave a slight, disagreeable laugh. "Carmen's the biggest goose in camp," she said scornfully. "Anybody'd know I didn't mean--"

"Carmen didn't know you didn't mean it," Agony interrupted. "She thought you were sincere, and believed you, and now she's dreadfully hurt about it. You ought to be ashamed of yourself, hurting a poor little girl's feelings like that."

"If anybody's green enough to come on an overnight trip without any blankets and actually think someone else is going to bring them for her--"

"Well, as it happens, Carmen was green enough, and that's just the point. She's never been away from home and because she's so desperately homesick she's having a hard time making friends. If one person treats her like this it'll be hard for her ever to believe what people tell her and it'll be harder for her to get acquainted than ever."

Jane shrugged her shoulders. "What she believes or doesn't believe doesn't concern me."

"Why, Jane Pratt!"

Jane smiled amusedly at Agony's reproachful exclamation. "My dear," she said patronizingly, "I never sleep with anyone. There's no one I like well enough. I thought everyone in camp knew that."

"Then why did you tell Carmen you would sleep with her?"

"Because she's such a goose it was no end of fun taking her in."

"Then you deliberately deceived her?" asked Agony witheringly.

"Well, and what if I did?" retorted Jane.

"You have absolutely no sense of honor," Agony remarked contemptuously. "Deceiving people is just as bad as lying, or cheating."

Stung by Agony's tone, Jane flushed a little. "Well, what do you expect me to do about it?" she demanded. "What business is it of yours, anyway?"

"You're going to let Carmen take one of your blankets," replied Agony.

"I'll do no such thing," returned Jane flatly. "It's going to be cold here tonight and I'll need them both."

"And what about Carmen?"

"Bother Carmen! If she's such a goose to think that I meant what I said she deserves to be cold."

"Why, Jane Pratt!"

"Why don't you share your own blankets with her, if you're so concerned about her?"

"I'm perfectly willing to, and so are the rest of the girls, but we're giving you the opportunity to do it, to help right the mistake."

"I suppose you've told all the girls in camp about it and will run and tell Mrs. Grayson to come and make me give up my blankets."

"I'll do no such thing. If you aren't kind hearted enough yourself to want to make Carmen feel better it wouldn't mend matters any to have Mrs. Grayson make you do it. But I shall certainly let the girls know about it. I think they ought to know what an amiable disposition you have. I don't think you'll be bothered with any more overtures of friendship."

Jane yawned. "For goodness' sake, are you going to preach all night? That voice of yours sets my nerves on edge. Take a blanket and present it to Carmen with my love--and let me alone." She stripped the top blanket from her bed and threw it at Agony's feet; then walked off, calling over her shoulder as she went, "Good bye, Miss Champion of simple camp infants. Most courageous, most honorable!"

She did not see the sudden spasm that contorted Agony's face at the word "honorable." It suddenly came over Agony that she had no right to be calling other people cheats and liars and taking them to task about their sense of honor, she, who was enjoying honors that did not belong to her. The light of victory faded from her eyes; the angry flush died away on her cheek. Very quietly she stole back to Carmen and held the blanket out to her.

"Jane's sorry she can't sleep with you, because she never sleeps well and is apt to disturb people, but she's willing to let you take one of her blankets," she said gently.

"Oh, thank you!" said Carmen, much comforted. "I'm going to sleep with Katherine. With this blanket there'll be enough bedding to make a double. I'm glad I'm not going to sleep with Jane," she confided to Katherine. "I'm afraid of her. I would lots rather have had you for my partner from the beginning, but I was afraid to ask you because I was sure you were promised to somebody else."

"Motto," said Katherine, laughing. "Faint heart never won lanky lady. Don't ever hesitate to ask me anything again. Come on, let's get this bed made up in a hurry. I see the councilors coming back. That means their show is going to commence."

Of course, it was not long before Agony's little passage of arms with Jane Pratt in behalf of timid little Carmen was known all over camp, and Agony went up another point in popular favor as Jane Pratt went down. The councilors heard about it, too, for whatever Bengal Virden knew was promptly confided to Pom-pom. Miss Judy told it to Dr. Grayson, and he nodded his head approvingly.

"It's no more than you would expect from the girl who rescued that robin," he said warmly. "The champion of all weaker creatures. Diplomatic, too. Tried to save Carmen's feelings in the matter by not telling her the exact spirit in which Jane gave up the blanket. A good leader; another Mary Sylvester."

Then, turning to Mrs. Grayson, he asked plaintively: "Mother, why do we have to be afflicted with Jane Pratt year after year? She's been a thorn in our flesh for the past three summers."

"I have told you before," replied Mrs. Grayson resignedly, "that I only accept her because she is the daughter of my old friend Anne Dudley. I cannot offend Mrs. Pratt because I am under various obligations to her, so for the sake of her mother we must continue to be afflicted with Jane Pratt."

Dr. Grayson heaved a long sigh, and muttered something about "the fell clutch of circumstance."

"We seem rather plentifully saddled with 'obligations,'" he remarked a moment later.

"Meaning?" inquired Mrs. Grayson.

"Claudia Peckham," rejoined the Doctor. "Sweet Claudia Peckham: How she used to scrap with my little brothers when she came to visit us! She had a disposition like the bubonic plague when she was little, and by all the signs she doesn't seem to have mellowed any with age."

"Doctor!" exclaimed Mrs. Grayson reprovingly.

"Sad, but true," continued the Doctor, his eyes twinkling reminiscently. "When she came to visit us the cat used to hide her kittens under the porch, and the whole household went into a regular state of siege. By the way, how is she getting on? I've lived in fear of the explosion every minute. I never thought she'd last this long. Who has she in the tent with her?"

"That brown haired madonna you think is so sweet, and the pretty, golden haired girl who is her intimate friend," replied Mrs. Grayson. "Those two, and--Bengal Virden."

The Doctor gave vent to a long whistle. "Bengal Virden in the same tent with Claudia Peckham? And the tent is still standing?"

"Bengal doesn't sleep in the tent," admitted Mrs. Grayson. "She has moved underneath it, into a couch hammock. She thinks I don't know it, but under the circumstances I shall not interfere. We have to keep Cousin Claudia somewhere, and as long as they'll put up with her in Ponemah I don't care how they manage it. She would be a tent councilor."

"How do the other two get along with her?" asked the Doctor, "the two that have not moved underneath, as yet?"

"I don't know," replied Mrs. Grayson in a frankly puzzled tone. "They must be angels unaware, that's all I can say."