The Camp Fire Girls Do Their Bit by Hildegard G. Frey
Chapter II. In the Train
Sahwah the Sunfish came tripping blithely down the Pullman aisle to rejoin the Winnebagos after a sojourn on the platform with the brakeman, whom she left exhausted with answering questions. When Sahwah traveled she traveled with all her might and there was nothing visible to the naked eye that she did not notice, inquire about, and store up for future reference. She observed down to the last nail wherein a Pullman differed from a day coach; she found out why the man ran along beside the train at the stations and hit the wheels with a hammer; why the cars had double windows; what the semaphore signals indicated; why the east-bound freight trains were so much more heavily loaded than the west-bound; she noticed that there were no large steamboats running on the Susquehanna, although it looked like a very large river; she counted the number of times they crossed the river on the run through the Alleghenies; she noticed the different varieties of trees that grew along the mountain sides; she scrutinized every passenger in the car and tried to guess who they were, what their business was and where they were going. Sahwah's mind was like a photographic plate; everything she looked at became imprinted there as upon a negative, accurate in every detail. Like the Elephant's Child, Sahwah was full of 'satiable curiosity, and her inquisitive trunk was always stretched out in a quivering search for information.
The brakeman, an amiable personage, was interested in her thirst for knowledge of railway affairs, and answered her innumerable questions in patient detail until his head began to buzz and he began to feel as though he were attached to a suction pump.
"Goodness gracious, child, what do you think I am, an encyclopedia?" he exploded at last, and sought refuge in the impenetrable regions at the forward end of the long train.
Sahwah, deprived of her source of information, turned to join her traveling companions, Gladys and Hinpoha and Migwan, up in the other end of the car. She stood for a moment at the water cooler, looking down the car at the people facing her and indulging in her favorite pastime of trying to read their faces. The car was crowded with all kinds of people, from the stately, judicial-looking man who sat in front of the Winnebagos to a negro couple on their honeymoon. There was a plentiful sprinkling of soldiers throughout the car and one or two sailors. Sahwah looked at them with eager interest and classified their different branches of service by the color of the cord on their hats. One Artillery, three Infantry, one Ambulance Corps and one Lieutenant of Aviation, she checked off, after a long and careful scrutiny of the last one, whose insignia puzzled her at first.
A porter brushed by her as she stood there with a glass of milk in his hand. Sahwah watched the progress of the milk idly, and the porter stopped beside the Lieutenant of Aviation with it. The lieutenant seemed to be asleep, for the porter had to shake him before he became aware of his existence. Just then Hinpoha caught Sahwah's eye and motioned her to come back to her seat, and Sahwah went tripping down the aisle to join her friends. She glanced casually at the young lieutenant as she passed him; he was staring fixedly at her and she dropped her eyes quickly. A little electric shock tingled through her as she met his eyes; he seemed to be about to speak to her. "Probably mistook me for someone else and thought he knew me," Sahwah thought to herself, and dismissed him from her mind.
"Where have you been all this while?" asked Hinpoha with a perspiring sigh, laboriously "knitting backward" across the length of the needle in vicious pursuit of a stitch that should have been eliminated in the process of decreasing for the heel turn.
"Pursuing knowledge," replied Sahwah merrily, settling herself in the seat beside Hinpoha, facing Migwan and Gladys.
The four girls were on their way to spend the summer vacation with their beloved Guardian, Nyoda, at her home in Oakwood, the little town in the hills of eastern Pennsylvania where she had lived since her marriage to Andrew Sheridan--"Sherry"--the summer before. Sherry was in France now with the Engineers, and Nyoda, lonesome in the huge old house to which she had fallen heir at the death of her last relative, old Uncle Jasper Carver, had invited the Winnebagos to come and spend the summer with her.
Vacation had begun inauspiciously for the Winnebagos. To their great disappointment Katherine wrote that she was not coming east after all; she was going to remain in Chicago with Miss Fairlee and help her with her settlement work there. They had rejoiced so at the first news of her coming and had so impatiently awaited the time of her arrival that the disappointment when it came was much harder to bear than if they had never looked forward to her coming. As Sahwah remarked, she had her appetite all fixed for Katherine, and nothing else would satisfy her. The news about Katherine had only been one of a series of disappointments.
Hinpoha had been called home the week before college closed officially, to attend the funeral of Dr. Hoffman, Aunt Phoebe's husband, whose strenuous work for his "boys" in the military camp during the past year had been too much for his already failing strength, and Aunt Phoebe, worn out with the strain of the last months, had announced her intention of closing the house and going to spend the summer with a girlhood friend on the Maine coast. Hinpoha had the choice of going with her or spending the summer with Aunt Grace, who had a fractured knee and was confined to an invalid's chair.
Migwan had come home from college with over-strained eyes and a weak chest and had been peremptorily forbidden to spend the vacation devouring volumes of Indian history as she had planned, and had a lost, aimless feeling in consequence.
Sahwah, thanks to the unceasing patriotic activities of Mrs. Osgood Harper during the previous winter, found herself unexpectedly in possession of a two months' vacation while her energetic employer recuperated from her season's labors in a famous sanatorium. As Sahwah had not expected a vacation and had made no plans, she found herself, as she expressed it, "all dressed up and no place to go."
For Gladys's father, head over heels in the manufacture of munitions, there would be no such glorious camping trip as there was the summer before, and Mrs. Evans refused to go away and leave him, so Gladys had the prospect of a summer in town, the first that she could recollect.
"I can't decide which I shall do," sighed Hinpoha plaintively to the other three, who had foregathered in the library of the Bradford home one afternoon at the beginning of the summer. "I know Aunt Phoebe would rather be alone with Miss Shirley, because her cottage is small, and it would be dreadfully dull for me besides; but Aunt Grace will be laid up all summer and she has a fright of a parrot that squawks from morning until night. Oh, dear, why can't things be as they were last year?"
Then had come Nyoda's letter:
Sahwah tumbled out of her chair with a shout that startled poor Mr. Bob from his slumbers at her feet and set him barking wildly with excitement; Migwan and Gladys fell on each other's necks in silent rapture, and Hinpoha began packing immediately. Just one week later they boarded the train and started on their journey to Oakwood.
Sahwah sat and looked at the soldiers in the car with unconcealed envy. Her ever-smouldering resentment against the fact that she was not a boy had since the war kindled into red rage at the unkindness of fate. She chafed under the restrictions with which her niche in the world hedged her in.
"I wish I were a man!" she exclaimed impatiently. "Then I could go to war and fight for my country and--and go over the top. The boys have all the glory and excitement of war and the girls have nothing but the stupid, commonplace things to do. It isn't fair!"
"But women are doing glorious things in the war," Migwan interrupted quickly. "They're going as nurses in the hospitals right at the front; they're working in the canteens and doing lots of other things right in the thick of the excitement."
"Oh, yes, women are," replied Sahwah, "but girls aren't. Long ago, in the days before the war, I used to think if there ever would be a war the Camp Fire Girls would surely do something great and glorious, but here we are, and the only thing we can do is knit, knit, knit, and fold bandages, and the babies in the kindergarten are doing that. We're too young to do anything big and splendid. We're just schoolgirls, and no one takes us seriously. We can't go as nurses without three years' training--we can't do anything. There might as well not be any war, for all I'm doing to help it. Boys seventeen years old can enlist, even sixteen-year-old ones, and go right to the front, but a girl sixteen years old isn't any better off than if she were sixteen months. I'm nearly nineteen, and I wanted to go as a stenographer, but they wouldn't consider me for a minute. Said I was too young." Sahwah threw out her hands in a tragic gesture and her brow darkened.
"It's a shame," Hinpoha agreed sympathetically. "In books young girls have no end of adventures in war time, girls no older than we; they catch spies and outwit the enemy and save their lovers' lives and carry important messages, but nothing like that will ever happen to us. All we'll ever do is just stay at home peacefully and knit."
Hinpoha gave an impatient jerk and the knitting fell into her lap with a protesting tinkle of needles, while the stitch which she was in the act of transferring slipped off and darted merrily away on an excursion up the length of the sock. Hinpoha threw up her hands in exasperation.
"That's the third time that's happened in an hour!" she exclaimed in a vexed tone. "I hope the soldiers appreciate how much trouble it is to keep their feet covered. I'd rather fight any day than knit," she finished emphatically.
"Here, let me pick up the dropped stitches for you," said Migwan soothingly, reaching over for the tangled mess of yarn. "You're getting all tired and hot," she continued, skilfully pursuing the agile and elusive dropped stitches down the grey woolen wake of the sock and bringing them triumphantly up to resume their place in the sun.
"It takes me an age to get a pair of socks done for the Red Cross," Hinpoha grumbled on, "and they're as cross as two sticks if you drop a single stitch! That woman down at headquarters made the biggest fuss about the last pair I brought in, just because I'd slipped a stitch in the wrong place--it hardly showed a bit--and because one sock was an inch longer than the other. War isn't a bit like I thought it would be," she sighed plaintively, with a vengeful poke at the knitting, which Migwan had just restored to her.
Poor romantic Hinpoha, trying to sail her ship of rosy fancies on a sea of stern reality, and finding it pretty hard sailing! Leaning back against the green plush of the train seat, which set off like an artist's background the burnished glory of her red curls, and dreaming regretfully of the vanished days when chivalry rode on fiery steeds and ladies fair led much more eventful lives than their emancipated great-granddaughters, it never occurred to her--nor to the rest of the Winnebagos either, for that matter--that romance might have become up to date along with science and the fashions, and that in these modern days of speed and efficiency High Adventure might purchase a ticket at the station window and go faring forth in a Pullman car. So Hinpoha dreamed dreams of the way she would like things to happen and built airy castles around the Winnebagos as heroines; but little did she suspect that another architect was also at work on those same castles, an architect whose lines are drawn with an indelible pencil, and whose finished work no man may reject.
Hinpoha did not resume her knitting again. She opened her hand bag and drew forth her mirror, and propping it up against her knee, proceeded to arrange the curls that had escaped from their imprisoning pins and were riding around her ears. Then she put the mirror back and drew out a bottle of hand lotion and examined the stopper. She slipped it in and out several times and then idly dropped a few violet petals from the bunch at her belt into the bottle, shaking it about to make them whirl, and then holding it still to watch them settle.
"It looks as though you were telling fortunes," remarked Sahwah, watching the petals alternately whirl and sink, "like tea leaves, you know."
Hinpoha brightened at once and animation came back into her face. Better than anything else under the sun, Hinpoha loved to tell fortunes.
"Do you want me to tell yours, Sahwah?" she asked eagerly.
Sahwah agreed amiably; she did not care two straws about fortune-telling herself, but she knew Hinpoha's hobby and willingly submitted to countless "readings" of her future, in various ways, by the ardent amateur seeress.
Hinpoha shook the bottle energetically, and then watched intently as the petals gradually ceased whirling and came to rest at the bottom of the bottle.
"There is a stranger coming into your life," she began impressively, "awfully thin, and light."
"Like the syrup we had on our pancakes in the station this morning," murmured Migwan.
Sahwah and Gladys giggled; Hinpoha frowned. "All right, if you're going to laugh at me," she began.
"Go on, we'll be good," said Migwan hastily.
"Tell us some more about the light-haired stranger. Please tell us when he is coming into her life, so we can be there to see."
"He has already come," announced Hinpoha, after thoughtfully squinting into the bottle.
"News to me," laughed Sahwah, amused at the seriousness with which Hinpoha delivered her revelations. "Oh, I know who it is," she continued, giggling. "It's the brakeman. He was a Swede, with the yellowest hair you ever saw. He was awfully skinny, too. He was very polite, and told me everything he knew, and then went away to find out some more."
Migwan and Gladys shouted; Hinpoha pouted and snatched up the bottle, shaking it with offended vigor, setting the petals whirling madly and breaking up the "cast" of Sahwah's fortune.
"There was another man, too," she announced, with a don't-you-wish-you'd-waited air, "but I won't tell you about him now. He was awfully queer, too; he was there twice, and once he was dark and once he was light!"
"How do you know it was the same one?" inquired Gladys curiously.
"Because it was," replied Hinpoha knowingly.
"Maybe he faded," suggested Sahwah, giggling again.
"No, he didn't," replied Hinpoha mysteriously, "because he was light first and dark afterward!"
Hinpoha's voice rang out like an oracle, and the judicial-looking man in the seat ahead of them turned around and surveyed the four with a smile of amusement on his face.
"That man's laughing at us," said Sahwah, feeling terribly foolish. "Quit telling fortunes, Hinpoha. It's all nonsense, anyhow."
"Maybe you think it's nonsense," returned Hinpoha in an offended tone, "but they do come true, lots of times. Do you remember, Gladys, the time I told you you were going to get a letter from a distance, and you got one from France the very next day?"
"Yes," replied Gladys, "and do you remember the time you predicted I was going to flunk math at midyears and I took the prize?"
"And do you remember the light man that came into your life, Hinpoha?" said Sahwah slily.
Hinpoha turned fiery red at this reference to Professor Knoblock and looked out of the window in confused silence. Sahwah realized that she was figure-skating on thin ice when she mentioned that subject and forebore to make any further remarks. A strained silence fell upon the four. Migwan cast about in her mind for a topic of conversation that would relieve the tension.
"Has anyone heard from Veronica lately?" she asked.
"I haven't heard from her for several months," replied Sahwah, "but I suppose she's still in New York. She must be doing great things with her music. She's given a concert already."
"It's queer about Veronica," continued Sahwah musingly. "Although she wasn't with us so much I seem to miss her more and more as time goes on. I often dream I hear her playing her violin." Sahwah's admiration for Veronica had never waned, although Veronica had never had what Sahwah described as a "real emotional case" on her.
"Veronica's an alien enemy now," said Gladys in an awed tone.
"Do you think she'll be interred?" asked Hinpoha anxiously.
Sahwah gave a little scream of laughter. "In-terned, not interred," she corrected. "I hope Veronica isn't ready to be buried yet."
"Well, interned, then," answered Hinpoha, a little piqued at Sahwah's raillery. "You don't need to call the attention of the whole car to the fact that I made a little mistake. Did you see that officer over there turn around and look when you laughed? He's looking yet, and he probably heard what you said, and is laughing at me in his mind."
Sahwah involuntarily turned around and her eyes met those of the slim, fair-haired youth in the uniform of a lieutenant of aviation, sitting several seats beyond them on the other side of the car. For some unaccountable reason she again felt suddenly shy and dropped her eyes, while a little feeling of wonder stole over her at her own embarrassment. Up until that moment, unexplained feelings had been totally unknown in Sahwah's wholesome and vigorous young life. There had been nothing bold or offensive about the stranger's glance, yet there was a certain curious intentness about it that filled Sahwah with a strange confusion, a vague stirring within her of something unfamiliar, something unknown. Outwardly there was nothing remarkable about him, nothing to distinguish him from the thousands of other lads in khaki that were to be seen everywhere one went, erect, trim, lovably conceited. Why, then, should the heart of Sahwah the Sunfish suddenly flutter at this casual meeting of the eyes with the man across the way, and why did she turn sharply around and look out of the window?
Then a curious thing happened. The sunlight, which was so bright it was making the others squint and draw the curtains, suddenly seemed to Sahwah to be darkened, while a nameless fear stole into her heart and oppressed her with a sense of lurking danger, of hovering calamity. Only for a minute it lasted, and then she was herself again and the sunshine struck into her eyes with intolerable splendor.
She shook herself slightly and turned her attention to Hinpoha, who was speaking.
"Wouldn't it be dreadful if Veronica were to be interned?" Hinpoha was saying.
"Veronica won't be interned," said Sahwah with an air of authority. "It's only the Germans who are being watched so carefully, and have to register with the police, and all that. Veronica isn't a German citizen, she's a Hungarian. She will be perfectly safe. Her uncle is an American citizen and is very patriotic; he was on the last Liberty Loan committee."
"I wonder how she feels about things?" said Gladys musingly. "Her father was in the Austrian army, you remember, and died fighting, and her mother died when their town was taken by the Russians, and Veronica just barely escaped with her own life. Their home was burned and they lost everything they had. Veronica would be very wealthy if it hadn't been for the war. It would be only natural for her to feel bitter toward the side that had brought suffering to her family."
"But that was in the early days of the war, before so many things had happened," said Sahwah, "and before Veronica had ever seen America. She's crazy about America. She certainly wouldn't feel bitter toward the Americans because the Russians burned their town and killed her father, would she?"
"Poor Veronica," said Gladys softly. "She's in a hard position and I don't envy her. I love her dearly, even if her country is our enemy."
"Shucks!" exclaimed Sahwah. "Veronica isn't to blame because her country is at war. She isn't our enemy. Anyway," she added, "I don't believe that the Hungarians are as bad as the Germans. They aren't spies like the Germans are. Why, lots of Hungarians are fighting right in our own army! Probably if Veronica's father had come to America years ago he would be doing the same thing now. Anyway, Veronica's here now, and she's glad she is here, and I don't think it's right to treat her coldly just because she's an 'alien enemy.'"
"Maybe she's still loyal to her own country, though," said Hinpoha, "and if the chance ever came to help Hungary's cause she'd feel in duty, bound to do it. She has such intense feelings about things, you know. She'd be quite willing to die for any cause she believed in."
"Shucks!" said Sahwah again. "Your romantic notions make me tired sometimes, Hinpoha. Veronica's not going to die for Hungary's cause, and she isn't likely to die for any other cause either, any more than we are."
"But we'd be willing to die for America's cause, wouldn't we?" demanded Hinpoha, with rising excitement.
"We certainly would!" replied Sahwah, with a fine flash from her brown eyes.
"Well, if we'd be perfectly willing to die for our country's cause, why wouldn't Veronica be willing to die for hers?" demanded Hinpoha triumphantly.
"What I meant mostly," said Sahwah, skillfully diverting a discussion that was becoming decidedly heated, "was that none of us are likely to get a chance to die for our country, and neither is Veronica going to get a chance to die for hers, or do anything else for it, even if she were willing to. She's just a schoolgirl like ourselves and nobody would think of asking her to do anything."
"That's the trouble," sighed Hinpoha discontentedly. "We're just girls, and the only thing we'll ever get to do is just knit, knit, knit, and there's no glory in that. That's the only 'bit' we'll ever be able to do."
The other three echoed her sigh and reflected sadly upon their circumscribed sphere, and Sahwah's dream of being another Joan of Arc flickered out into darkness. Then she brightened again as her thoughts took a new turn.
"Well, there's one thing we have to be thankful for," she said feelingly. "If we can't help to make history, we won't have to learn it, either. We're past the history part of school. But just think what the pupils will have to learn in the years to come--and the names of all those battles that are being fought every day now, and the unpronounceable names of all those cities in Europe, and all the different generals. It was hard enough to keep the Civil War generals straight, and there were only two sets of them--think of having to remember all the American and English and French and Italian and Russian ones, to say nothing of the German! Why, it will be such a chore to study history that the pupils won't have time to study anything else! People always look at little babies and say how fortunate they are; when they grow up the war will be over and everything lovely again, but I always think, 'Poor things, wait until they have to study history!' How lucky we are to be living through it instead of having to learn it out of books!"
All the while Sahwah was talking, Hinpoha had been watching with undisguised interest a man who sat in the seat directly across the aisle from them, who, with an artist's sketching pad on his knee, was drawing caricatures with a thick black pencil. Hinpoha, clever artist that she was herself, took a lively interest in anyone else who could draw, and from the glimpses she could get of the sketches being made across the aisle, she recognized the peculiar genius of the artist. She attracted the attention of the other three, and they too watched in wonder and with ever-growing interest. The artist finally looked up, saw the four eager pairs of eyes fastened on him, and nodding in a friendly way, handed his sketch-book across the aisle.
"Would you like to see them?" he asked genially, his eye lingering on Hinpoha's glory-crowned head with artistic appreciation.
He himself looked like the typical artist one sees in pictures. His hair was long and wavy and his blond beard was trimmed in Van Dyke fashion. Hinpoha nearly burst with admiration of him, and when he became aware of her existence and offered to show his sketches she was in a flutter of joy.
"Oh, may we?" she exclaimed delightedly, taking the book from his hand.
"Oh, lookee!" she squealed in rapture to the other girls. "Did you ever see anything so quaint?"
The others looked and also exclaimed in wonder and delight. There were pictures of trains running along on legs instead of wheels, of houses and barns whose windows and doors were cunningly arranged to form features, of buildings that sailed through the air with wings like birds'; of drawbridges with one end sticking up in the air while an enormously fat man sat on the other end; of ships walking along on stilts that reached clear to the bottom of the ocean!
"Oh, aren't they the most fascinating things you ever saw?" cried Sahwah, enraptured.
Utterly absorbed, she did not see the lieutenant of aviation gather up his things to leave the train at one of the way stations; was not aware that he paused on his way out and looked at her for a long, irresolute minute and then went hastily on.
The last page in the book of sketches had not been reached when the train came to a stop right out in the hills, between stations.
"What's the matter?" everybody was soon asking.
Heads were popped out of windows and there was a general rush for the platforms, as the sounds outside indicated excitement of some kind.
"Two freight trains collided on the bridge and broke it down," was the word that passed from mouth to mouth. "The train will be delayed for hours."
Dismayed at the long wait in store for them, the Winnebagos sat down in their seats again, prepared to make the best of it, when the judicial-looking gentleman who had been sitting in front of them came up and said, "Pardon me, but I couldn't help overhearing you girls talking about going to Oakwood. I am going to Oakwood myself--I live there--and I know how we can get there without waiting hours and hours for this train to go on. We are only about twenty miles from Oakwood now and right near an interurban car line. We can go in on the electric car and not lose much time. I will be glad to assist you in any way possible. My name is Wing, Mr. Ira B. Wing."
"Not Agony and Oh-Pshaw's father!" exclaimed Hinpoha. "I knew they lived in Oakwood, but----"
"The same," interrupted Mr. Wing, smiling broadly. "Are you acquainted with my girls?"
"Are we?" returned Hinpoha. "Ask them who roomed next to them this last year at Brownell! Do we know the Heavenly Twins! Isn't it perfectly wonderful that you should turn out to be their father! We were having a discussion a while ago as to whether you were a lawyer or a professor, and Sahwah--excuse me, this is Miss Brewster, Mr. Wing, another one of the Winnebagos, that the Twins don't know--yet--Sahwah insisted that you were a lawyer and I insisted you were a professor, and now Sahwah was right after all. You are a lawyer, aren't you? I believe Agony said you were."
"I am," replied Mr. Wing with a twinkle in his eye, "and I'm more than delighted to meet you. Come along, and we'll see if we can't get to Oakwood before dark."
Then the whimsical artist came up and addressed Mr. Wing. "Did I hear you say you could get to Oakwood on the electric?" he inquired. "I'm going there too. My name is Prince, Eugene Prince."
"Glad to meet you," replied Mr. Wing heartily. "Come along." He summoned the porter to carry out the various suitcases.
Before long the little party were aboard the electric car, and reached Oakwood almost as soon as they would have if the train had not been held up. The electric car went by the railway station and the Winnebagos got off, because Nyoda would be waiting for them there. Mr. Wing and the artist went on to the center of the town.