Chapter XI. Another Coasting Party.
 

"This is the terrible Hunger Moon, the lean gray wolf can hardly bay," quoted Hinpoha, as she threw out a handful of crumbs for the birds. The ground was covered with ice and snow, and the wintry winds whistled through the bare trees in the yard, ruffling up the feathers of the poor little sparrows huddling on the branches.

Gladys stood beside Hinpoha, watching the hungry little winter citizens flying hastily down to their feast. "What is Mr. Bob barking at?" she asked, pausing to listen.

"I'll go and find out," said Hinpoha. From the porch she could see Mr. Bob standing under an evergreen tree in the back yard, barking up at it with all his might. Hinpoha came out to see what was the matter. "Hush, Mr. Bob," she commanded, throwing a snowball at him. She picked her way through the deep snow to the tree. "Oh, Gladys, come here," she called. Gladys came out and joined her.

"What is it?" she asked. Huddled up in the low branches of the tree was a great ghostly looking bird, white as the snow under their feet. Its eyes were closed and it was apparently asleep. Hinpoha stretched out her hand and touched its feathers. It woke up with a start and looked at her with great round eyes full of alarm.

"It's an owl!" said Hinpoha in amazement, "a snowy owl! It must have flown across the lake from Canada. They do sometimes when the food is scarce and the cold too intense up there." The owl blinked and closed his eyes again. The glare of the sun on the snow blinded him. He acted stupid and half frozen, and sat crouched close against the trunk of the tree, making no effort to fly away.

"How tame he is!" said Gladys. "He doesn't seem to mind us in the least." Hinpoha tried to stroke him but he jerked away and tumbled to the ground. One wing was apparently broken. Mr. Bob made a leap for the bird as he fell, but Hinpoha seized him by the collar and dragged him into the house. When she returned the owl was making desperate efforts to get up into the tree again by jumping, but without success. Hinpoha caught him easily in spite of his struggles and bore him into the house. There was an empty cage down in the cellar which had once housed a parrot, and into this the solemn-eyed creature was put.

"That wing will heal again, and then we can let him go," said Hinpoha.

"Hadn't it better be tied down?" suggested Gladys. "He flutters it so much." With infinite pains Hinpoha tied the broken wing down to the bird's side, using strips of gauze bandage for the purpose. The owl made no sound. They fixed a perch in the cage and he stepped decorously up on it and regarded them with an intense, mournful gaze. "Isn't he spooky looking?" said Gladys, shivering and turning away. "He gives me the creeps."

"What will we feed him?" asked Hinpoha.

"Do owls eat crumbs?" asked Gladys.

Hinpoha shook her head. "That isn't enough. I've always read that they catch mice and things like that to eat." She brightened up. "There are several mice in the trap now. I saw them when I brought up the cage." She sped down cellar and returned with three mice in a trap.

"Ugh," said Gladys in disgust, as Hinpoha pulled them out by the tails. She put them in the cage with the owl and he pecked at them hungrily. "What will your aunt say when she sees him?" asked Gladys.

"I don't know," said Hinpoha doubtfully. Aunt Phoebe was away for the afternoon and so had not been in a position to interfere thus far.

"Maybe I had better take the cage home with me," suggested Gladys.

"No," said Hinpoha firmly, "I want him myself. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll put the cage up in the attic and she'll never know I have him. I can slip up and feed him. It would be better for him up there, anyway. It's too warm for him downstairs. He's used to a cold climate." So "Snowy," as they had christened him, was established by a window under the eaves on the third floor, where he could look out at the trees for which he would be pining. Aunt Phoebe always took a nap after lunch, and this gave Hinpoha a chance to run up and look at her patient. She fed him on chicken feed and mice when there were any. Never did he show the slightest sign of friendliness or recognition when she hovered over him; but continued to stare sorrowfully at her with an unblinking eye. If he liked his new lodging under the cozy eaves he made no mention of it, and if he pined for his winter palace in the Canadian forest he was equally uncommunicative. Hinpoha longed to poke him in order to make him give some expression of feeling. But at all events, he did not struggle against his captivity, and Hinpoha reflected judicially that after all it was a good thing that he had such a stolid personality, for a calm frame of mind aids the recovery of the patient and he would not be likely to keep his wing from healing by dashing it against the side of the cage. It seemed almost as though he knew his presence in the house was a secret, and was in league with Hinpoha not to betray himself. So Aunt Phoebe lived downstairs in blissful ignorance of the feathered boarder in the attic.

She was suffering from a cold that week and was more than usually exacting. She finally took to her bed in an air-tight room with a mustard plaster and an electric heating pad, expressing her intention of staying there until her cold was cured. "But you ought to have some fresh air," protested Hinpoha, "you'll smother in there with all that heat."

"You leave that window shut," said Aunt Phoebe crossly. "All this foolishness about open windows makes me tired. It's a pity if a young girl has to tell her elders what's best for them. Now bring the History of the Presbyterian Church, and read that seventh chapter over again; my mind was preoccupied last night and I did not hear it distinctly." This was Aunt Phoebe's excuse for having fallen asleep during the reading. So poor Hinpoha had to sit in that stifling room and read until she thought she would faint. Aunt Phoebe fell asleep presently, however, to her great relief, and she stole out softly, leaving the door open behind her so that some air could get in from the hall.

Aunt Phoebe woke up in the middle of the night feeling decidedly uncomfortable. She was nearly baked with the heat that was being applied on all sides. She turned off the heating pad and threw back one of the covers, and as she grew more comfortable sleep began to hover near. She was just sinking off into a doze when she suddenly started up in terror. There was a presence in the room--something white was moving silently toward the bed. Aunt Phoebe was terribly superstitious and believed in ghosts as firmly as she believed in the gospel. She always expected to see a sheeted figure standing in the hall some night, its hand outstretched in solemn warning. But this ghost was more terrifying than any she had ever imagined. It was not in the form of a being at all--just a formless Thing that moved with strange jerks and starts, sometimes rising at least a foot in the air. The hair stood up straight on Aunt Phoebe's head, and her lips became so dry they cracked. Then her heart almost stopped beating altogether. The ghost rose in the air and stood on her bed, where it continued its uncanny movements. Aunt Phoebe folded her hands and began to pray. The ghost sailed upward once more and stood on the foot board of her bed. Aunt Phoebe prayed harder. "Hoot!" said the ghost. Aunt Phoebe moaned. "Hoot!" said the ghost. Aunt Phoebe tried to scream, but her throat was paralyzed. "Hoot!" said the ghost. Aunt Phoebe found her voice. "WOW-OW-OW-OW!" she screeched in tones that could have been heard a block.

Hinpoha jumped clear out of bed in one leap and reached Aunt Phoebe's room in one more. Visions of burglars and fire were in her mind. Hastily she turned on the light. Aunt Phoebe was sitting up in bed still screaming at the top of her lungs, and on the footboard of the bed sat Snowy, blinking in the sudden light. Hinpoha stood frozen to the spot. How had the bird gotten out? "Snowy!" she stammered. The owl looked at her with his old solemn stare, and then slowly he winked one eye. "Stop screaming, Aunt Phoebe," said Hinpoha; "it's nothing but an owl."

"An owl!" exclaimed Aunt Phoebe faintly. "How could an owl get in here with all the doors and windows shut?"

"But I left your door open when I went out," said Hinpoha, "and Snowy must have gotten out of his cage and come down the attic stairs."

"Must have gotten out of his cage!" echoed Aunt Phoebe. "Do you mean to tell me that you have an owl in a cage somewhere in this house?" There was no use denying the fact any more, as Snowy had given himself away so completely, and Hinpoha told about finding the snowy owl in the yard and putting it up in the cage. "What next!" gasped Aunt Phoebe. "I suppose I shall wake up some morning and find a boa constrictor in my bed."

"I'm sorry he frightened you so," said Hinpoha contritely, "but I'll see that he doesn't get out again. I may keep him until his wing heals, mayn't I?" she asked pleadingly.

"I suppose there's no getting around you," sighed Aunt Phoebe, sinking back on her pillow. "If it wasn't a bird you'd be having something else. Only keep him out of my sight!" Hinpoha caught the owl and carried him out with many flutters and pecks. The cage door stood open and the wires were bent out, showing where his powerful bill had pecked until he gained his freedom. Hinpoha fastened him in again and he stepped decorously up on his perch and sat there in such a dignified attitude that it was hard to believe him capable of breaking jail and entering a lady's bedroom.

Aunt Phoebe spent the next day in bed, recovering from her fright. This was the night of the Camp Fire meeting which Hinpoha had been given permission to attend. She had been in such a fever of anticipation all week that Aunt Phoebe was surprised when she came into her room after supper and sat down with the History of the Presbyterian Church. "Well, aren't you going to that precious meeting of yours?" she asked sharply.

"I think," said Hinpoha slowly, "that I had better stay at home with you."

"I won't die without you," said Aunt Phoebe drily. "I can ring for Mary if I want anything."

A mighty struggle was going on inside of Hinpoha. First she saw in her mind's eye her beloved Winnebagos, having a meeting at Nyoda's house, the place where she best loved to go to meetings, waiting to welcome her back into their midst with open arms; and then she saw this cross old woman, her aunt, sick and lonesome, left alone in the house with a maid who despised her. With the cup of enjoyment raised to her lips she set it down again. "I think I would rather stay with you, Aunt Phoebe," she said simply. And in the Desert of Waiting there blossomed a fragrant rose!

The deferred celebration for Hinpoha's return into the Winnebago fold was held the following week. With the joy of the returned pilgrim she took her place in the Council Circle, and once more joined in singing, "Burn, Fire, Burn," and "Mystic Fire," and this time when Nyoda called the roll and pronounced the name "Hinpoha," she was answered by a joyous "Kolah" instead of the sorrowful silence which had followed that name for so many weeks.

February froze, thawed, snowed and sleeted itself off the calendar, and March set in like a roaring lion, with a worse snowstorm than even the Snow Moon had produced. Venturesome treebuds, who loved the warm sun like Aunt Phoebe loved her heating pad, and who had crept out of their dark blankets one balmy day in February to be nearer the genial heat giver, shivered until their sap froze in their veins, and a drab-colored phoebe bird, who had nested under the eaves of the Bradford porch the year before, coming back to his summer residence according to the date marked on his calendar, huddled disconsolately beside the old nest, feeling sure that he would contract bronchitis before the wife of his bosom arrived to join him.

Hinpoha listened to his disgruntled "pewit phoebe, pewit phoebe," and made haste to throw him some crumbs. It seemed like a delicious joke to her that he should be calling so plaintively for his phoebe, not knowing that there was a Phoebe on the premises all the while. And one day the little mate came and both birds forgot the snow and cold in the joy of their reunion. Phoebes consider it extremely indecorous to travel in mixed company, (just like Aunt Phoebe, thought Hinpoha humorously,) so the females linger behind for several days after the males start north and join them in the seclusion of their own homes. Hinpoha's heart sang in sympathy with the joy of the reunited lovers.

Sahwah had come over to get her lessons with Hinpoha, and as she turned the leaves of her "Cicero" a little red heart dropped out on the floor. Hinpoha stooped to pick it up. "What's this?" she asked with interest. Sahwah blushed.

"Ned Roberts--you remember Ned Roberts up at camp--sent it to me for a valentine." Hinpoha went back in her thoughts to the dance at the Mountain Lake Camp the summer before, where she had had such a royal good time. How far removed that time seemed now!

"I wonder if Sherry ever writes to Nyoda," she said musingly.

"I don't believe he does," said Sahwah, "for Nyoda has never said anything." If they could have seen Nyoda at that very moment, reading a certain letter and thrusting it into her bureau drawer with a pile of others bearing the same post-mark, they would really have had something to gossip about.

"Did you ever see such a snowfall in March?" said Hinpoha, looking out the window at the white landscape.

"It must be perfectly grand coasting," said Sahwah, ever with an eye for sport. "Dick Albright promised he would take us out on his new bob the next time there was snow, and this is the next time, and will probably be the last time. Do you suppose you could come along?"

"I doubt it," said Hinpoha. "Aunt Phoebe thinks coasting is too rough. Did I ever tell you the time mother and I coasted down the walk and ran into Aunt Phoebe?" Sahwah laughed heartily over the story.

"Poor Aunt Phoebe!" she said, wiping the tears of laughter from her eyes. "She is bound to get all the shocks that flesh is heir to."

As she was walking home through the snow that afternoon some one came up behind her and took her books from her hand. It was Dick Albright. "Good afternoon, Miss Brewster," he said formally.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Albright," said Sahwah in the same tone, her eyes dancing in her head. Then she burst out, "Oh, Dick, won't you take us coasting to-morrow night? This is positively the last snow of the season."

"Sure," said Dick. "Take you to-night if you want to."

Sahwah shook her head. "'Strictly nothing doing,' to quote your own elegant phrase," she said. "I've a German test on to-morrow morning, and consequently have an engagement with my friend Wilhelm Tell to-night. I've simply got to get above eighty-five in this test or go below passing for the month. I got through last month without ever looking at it, but it won't work again this month."

"How did you do it?" asked Dick.

"Why," answered Sahwah, "when it came to the test and we were asked to tell the story of the book I simply wrote down, 'I can't tell you that one, but I can tell another just as good,' and I did. Old Prof. Fruehlingslied was so floored by my 'blooming cheek' that he passed me, but he has had a watchful eye on me ever since." Dick laughed outright.

"I never saw anything like you," he said, swinging her books around in his hand. The red heart fell out into the snow. Dick picked it up. "Who's your friend?" he said, deliberately reading the name, and immediately filled with jealous pangs. Dick liked Sahwah better than any girl in school. Her irrepressible, fun--loving nature held him fascinated. Sahwah liked Dick, too, but no better than she liked most of the boys in the class. Sahwah was a poor hand to regard a boy as a "beau." Boys were good things to skate with, or play ball or go rowing with; they came in handy when there were heavy things to lift, and all that; but in none of these things did one seem to have any advantage over the others, so it was immaterial to her which one she had a good time with. The good time was the main thing to her. Sahwah had a fifteen--year--old brother, and she knew what a boy was under his white collar and "boiled" shirt. There was no silly sentimentality in her spicy make-up. She was a royal good companion when there was any fun going on, but it was about as easy to "get soft" with her as with a stone fence post. She was a master hand at ridicule and the boys knew this and respected her accordingly. In spite of all this Dick's admiration of her remained steadfast, and he would have attempted to jump over the moon if she had dared him to do it. Hence the valentine signed "Ned Roberts" piqued him. Sahwah had ordered him not to send her one and he had meekly obeyed. It hurt him to think any one else had the right to do it.

"Who's your friend?" he repeated as he handed her the heart.

"Oh, somebody," said Sahwah, enjoying the opportunity of teasing him. And that was all he could get out of her, in spite of numerous questions.

"You'll surely go coasting to-morrow night?" he said as he left her in front of her house.

"I surely will,"' said Sahwah, flashing him a brilliant smile, "I wouldn't miss it for the world!" If ever a girl had the power to allure and torment a boy that girl was Sahwah.

       *       *       *       *       *

The house belonging to the Gardiners was now rented, together with the furnished room, and brought in thirty dollars a month, which made housekeeping much smoother sailing for Migwan, but the fact still remained that the money which was to have put her into college the next year was spent, and there was no present prospect of replacing it. Her mother was now home from the hospital and fully on the road to recovery, and Migwan tried to make her happiness over this fact overbalance her disappointment at her own loss. None of her stories or picture plays had been accepted, and of late she had had to give up writing, for with her mother sick most of the housework fell on her shoulders. Although she maintained a bright and cheery exterior, she went about mourning in secret for her lost career, as she called it, and the heart went out of her studying.

She was walking soberly through the hall at school one morning when she heard somebody call out, "Oh, Miss Gardiner, come here a minute." It was Professor Green, standing in the door of his class room. "There is something I want to tell you about," he said, smiling down at her when she came up to him. "You like to study History pretty well, don't you?" Migwan nodded. Next to Latin, history was her favorite study. "Well," resumed Professor Green, "here is a chance for you to do something with it. You remember that Professor Parsons who lectured to the school on various historical subjects last winter? You know he is a perfect crank on having boys and girls learn history. He has now offered a prize of $100 to the boy or girl in the graduating class of this High School who can pass the best examination in Ancient, Medieval and Modern History. You have had all three of those subjects, have you not?"

"Yes," said Migwan, eagerly.

"The examination is to take place the last week in April," continued Professor Green. "'A word to the wise is sufficient.' You are one of the best students of history in the class."

Migwan went away after thanking him for telling her about it, feeling as if she were treading on air. There was no doubt in her mind about her ability to learn history, as there was about geometry. She had an amazing memory for dates and events and in her imaginative mind the happenings of centuries ago took form and color and stood out as vividly as if she saw them passing by in review. Her heart beat violently when she thought that she had as good a chance, if not better than any one else in the class, of winning that $100 prize. This would pay her tuition in the local university for the first year. She resolved to throw her fruitless writing to the winds and put all her strength into her history. The world stretched out before her a blooming, sunny meadow, instead of a stagnant fen, and exultantly she sang to herself one of the pageant songs of the Camp Fire Girls:

  "Darkness behind us,
  Peace around us,
  Joy before us,
  White Flame forever!"

That morning the announcement of the prize examination was made to the whole class, and Abraham Goldstein also resolved that he would win that $100.

The snow lasted over another day and the next night Sahwah and Dick Albright and a half dozen other girls and boys went coasting. It was bright moonlight and the air was clear and crisp, just cold enough to keep the snow hard and not cold enough to chill them as they sat on the bob. The place where they went coasting was down the long lake drive in the park, an unbroken stretch of over half a mile. Halfway down the slope the land rose up in a "thank--you--marm," and when the bob struck this it shot into the air and came down again in the path with a thrilling leap which never failed to make the girls shriek. Migwan was there in the crowd, and Gladys, and one or two more of the Winnebagos. Dick Albright was in his element as he steered the bob down the long white lane, for Sahwah sat right behind him, shouting merry nonsense into his ear. "Now let me steer," she commanded, when they had gone down a couple of times.

"Don't you do it, Dick," said one of the other boys, "she'll never steer us around the bend." Dick hesitated. There was a sharp turn in the road, right near the bottom of the descent, and as the bob had acquired a high degree of speed by the time it reached this point, it required quick work to make the turn.

"If you don't let me steer just once I'll never speak to you again, Dick Albright," said Sahwah, with flashing eyes. Dick wavered. The chances were that Sahwah would land them safely at the bottom, and he thought it worth the risk of a possible spill to stay in her good graces.

"All right, go ahead," he said, "I believe you can do it all right. Be careful when you come to the turn, that's all." Sahwah slid in behind the steering wheel and they started off. The sled traveled faster than it did before, but Sahwah negotiated both the thank--you--marm and the turn with as much skill as Dick himself could have done it, and danced a triumphant war dance when she had brought the bob safely to a stop.

"There now, smarty," she said to the boy who had mistrusted her powers, "you see that a girl can do it as well as a boy."

"You certainly can," said Dick, no less pleased than she herself at her success, "and you may steer the bob the rest of the evening if you want to."

Sahwah engineered two or three more trips and then the excitement lost its tang for her as the element of danger was removed, for the turn had no difficulties for her. "Let's coast down the side of the hill once," she suggested.

"No, thanks," said Migwan, eyeing the steep slope that rose beside the drive.

"Oh, come on," pleaded Sahwah; "it's more fun to go down a steep hill. You go so much faster. It lands you in a snowbank at the bottom, but it's perfectly safe." None of the boys and girls appeared anxious to go. Sahwah jumped up and down with impatience. "Oh, you slowpokes!" she exclaimed, rather crossly. Then she turned to Dick Albright. "Dick," she said, "will you come with me even if the others won't?"

Dick shook his head. "It's dangerous," he answered.

"You're afraid," said Sahwah tauntingly.

"I'm not," said Dick hotly.

"You are too," said Sahwah. "All right if you're afraid, but I know some one who wouldn't be." Now Sahwah had no one definite in mind when she said this last, it was simply an effort to make Dick feel small, but Dick immediately took it as a reference to the unknown Ned Roberts who had sent her the valentine, and his jealousy got the better of his discretion.

"All right," he said, firmly determined to measure up to this pattern of dauntlessness, "come on if you want to. I'll go with you." The two climbed up the steep hill, dragging the bob after them. When Sahwah was sitting behind the steering wheel, poised at the top and ready to make the swift descent, she shuddered at the sight of the sharp incline. It looked so much worse from the top than from the bottom. She would have drawn back and given it up, but Sahwah had a stubborn pride that shrank from saying she was afraid to do anything she had undertaken.

"Shove off!" she commanded, gritting her chattering teeth together. The bob shot downward like a cannon ball. In spite of her terror Sahwah enjoyed the sensation. She held firmly on to the steering wheel and made for the great bank of snow which had been thrown up by the men cleaning the foot walks. At that moment an automobile turned into the lake drive, and its blinding lights shone full into Sahwah's eyes. Dazzled, she turned her head away, at the same time jerking the steering wheel to the right. The bob swerved sharply to one side and crashed into a tree. The force of the impact threw Dick clear of the sled and he rolled head over heels down the hill, landing in the snow at the bottom badly shaken, but otherwise unhurt. Sahwah lay motionless in the snow beside the wreck of the bob.