The Camp Fire Girls at School by Hildegard G. Frey
Chapter XIII. The Honor of the Winnebagos.
"For High Style use the Preterite, For Common use the Past, In compound verbal tenses Put the Participle last. The Perfect Tense with 'Avoir' With the Subject must agree (Or does this rule apply to the Auxiliary 'to be'?)."
Migwan, in high spirits, resolved the rules in her French grammar into poetry as she learned them. Regular lessons were gotten out of the way as quickly as possible these days to give more time to the study of history. And to Migwan studying history meant not merely the memorizing of a number of facts attached to dates which might or might not stay in her mind at the crucial time; it was the bringing to life of bygone races and people, and putting herself in their places, and living along with them the events described on the pages. Taking it in this way, Migwan had a very clear and vivid picture of the things she was learning, and her answers to questions showed such a thorough knowledge of her subject that she was regarded as a "grind" at history, while the truth was that she did less "grinding" than the rest of the class, who merely memorized figures and facts without calling in the aid of the imagination. So Migwan learned her new history and reviewed her old, and was as happy as the day was long.
As the time approached for the examination she felt more sure of herself every day. The long hours of patient study were about to be rewarded, and she would bring honor to the Winnebagos by winning the Parsons prize. That little point about bringing honor to the Winnebagos was keenly felt by Migwan. Ever since Sahwah had covered herself with undying glory in the game with the Carnegie Mechanics, Migwan felt a longing to distinguish herself in some way also. Sahwah's fame was widespread, and when any of the Winnebagos happened to mention that they belonged to that particular group, some one was sure to say, "The Winnebago Camp Fire? Oh, yes, it was one of your number who won the basketball championship for the school by making a record jump for the ball, wasn't it?" The whole group lived in the reflected glory of Sahwah the Sunfish. Now, thought Migwan resolutely, they would have something else to be proud about. In the future people would say, "The Winnebagos? Oh, yes, it was one of your girls who carried off the Parsons prize in history!"
Migwan thrilled with the joy of it, and plunged more deeply into the pages before her. She was a different girl nowadays from the pale, anxious-faced one who had sat up night after night during the winter, desperately trying to add something to the scanty income by the labor of pen and typewriter. Now she was always happy and sparkling, and performed her household tasks with such a will that her languid mother, lying and watching her, was likewise filled with an ambition to be up and doing. She was never cross with Betty these days, no matter how many fits of temper that young lady indulged in. Professor Green often stopped her in the hall to ask her how she was getting along in her preparation, and offered to lend her reference books which would help her in her study. Everybody seemed to be anxious for her to win the prize, and willing to give her all the help possible.
Migwan did not make the mistake of studying until late the night before the examination. She went to bed at nine o'clock, so as to be in fit condition. When she closed her books after the final study she knew all that was to be learned from them. The examination was held in the senior session room after the close of school. Five pupils participated. One was Abraham Goldstein, another was George Curtis, who liked Migwan very well and hated Abraham cordially; the other two were girls. They all sat in one row of seats; Migwan first, then George, then Abraham, and behind him the two girls. The lists of questions were given out. "I hardly need to say," said the teacher in attendance, "that the honor system will be in force during this examination."
Migwan made an effort to still the wild beating of her heart and read the questions through. They all appeared easy to her, as she had had such a thorough preparation. George Curtis groaned to himself as he looked them over, for there were two which he saw at a glance he would be unable to answer. Abraham read his and looked thoughtful. Migwan wrote rapidly with a sure and inspired pen until she came to the last question. There she halted in dismay. The question was in the Ancient History group and read, in part, "Who was the invader of Israel before Sennacherib?" For the life of her she could not think of the name of the Assyrian invader. Last night the whole thing had been as clear as crystal in her mind. She thought until the perspiration stood out on her forehead; she tried every method of suggestion that she knew, but all in vain; the name still eluded her. While she was trying so desperately to recall the name, George Curtis in the seat behind was watching her. By chance he had caught a glimpse of her paper, and saw the figure 10 followed by an empty space, so he knew that it was the tenth question she was having trouble with. This happened to be one he knew and he had just written it out in a bold, black hand. He was out of the race for the prize, for there were two whole questions left out on his sheet. By certain signs of distress from the two girls behind him he knew that they, too, were out, and it now lay between Migwan and Abraham. Abraham was not very well liked by the boys since the affair of the statue. George despised him utterly, and he could not bear to think of his winning that prize.
He watched his chance. It came at last. The teacher dropped her pencil behind her desk, and in the instant when she was picking it up he reached out and pulled Migwan's hair sharply. When she turned around in surprise he framed with his lips the name "Sargon." She understood it perfectly. Then came a mental struggle which matched Sahwah's terrific physical one that day in camp. On one side college stood with its doors wide open to welcome her; she heard the plaudits of her friends who expected and wanted her to win the prize; she saw the joy in her mother's face when she heard the news; she heard the heartfelt congratulations of Nyoda and the Winnebagos who would share in her glory. On the other hand she heard just five ugly words echoing in her ears. "You didn't win it honestly!" She tried to stifle the voice of science. "I knew it perfectly all the time," she said to herself, "and it only slipped my mind for an instant." "But you forgot," said the voice, "and if he hadn't told you you wouldn't have known."
Miserably she argued the question back and forth. It she didn't win the prize Abraham would, and he could well afford to go to college without the money. "He'd cheat if he had the chance," she told herself. "That doesn't help you any," pricked the accuser. "You talk about the honor of the Winnebagos. If you use that information you would be dishonoring the Winnebagos! You're a cheat, you're a cheat," it said tauntingly, and a little sparrow on the window sill outside took up the mocking refrain, "Cheat! Cheat!" Stung as though some one had pointed an accusing finger at her, Migwan flung down her pen in despair and resolutely blotted her paper. She handed in her examination with the last half of the last question unanswered, and fled from the room with unseeing eyes. And in the instant when George was trying to tell Migwan the answer, Abraham, who had also forgotten the name of Sargon, glanced over toward George's paper and saw it written out in his easily readable hand. Without a qualm he wrote it down on his own paper with a triumphant flourish.
There was great surprise throughout the school a few days later when the grades of the examination were made public: Elsie Gardiner, 95; Abraham Goldstein, 98, winner of the Parsons cash prize of $100.
Migwan felt like a wanderer on the face of the earth after losing that history prize. She shrank from meeting the friends who had so confidently expected her to win it, and her own thoughts were too painful to be left alone with. If Hinpoha had been wandering in the Desert of Waiting for the past few months, Migwan was sunk deep in the Slough of Despond. She was at the age when death seemed preferable to defeat, and she wished miserably that she would fall ill of some mortal disease, and never have to face the world again with failure written on her forehead. "Oh, why," she wailed in anguish of spirit, as has many an older and wiser person when confronted with this same unanswerable question, "why was I given this glimpse of Paradise only to have the gate slammed in my face?" That spectre of the winter before, the belief that success would never be hers, gripped her again with its icy hand. And was it any wonder? Twice now the means to enter college had been within her reach, and twice it had been swept away in a single day. But while Migwan was thus learning by hard experience that there is many a slip twixt the cup and the lip, she was also to learn from that same schoolmistress the truth of the old saying, "Three times and out." In the meantime, however, the skies were as gray as the wings of the Thunderbird, and life was like a jangling discord struck on a piano long out of tune.
But even if we would rather be dead than alive, as long as we are alive there remain certain duties which have to be performed regardless of the state of our emotional barometers, and Migwan discovered with a start one day that there were at least a dozen letters in her top bureau drawer waiting to be answered. "It's a shame," she said to herself, as she looked them over. "I haven't written to the Bartletts since last November." The Bartletts were the parents of the little boy who was traced by the aid of her timely snapshot. She opened Mrs. Bartlett's letter and glanced over it to put herself in the mood for answering it. She laughed sardonically as she read. Mrs. Bartlett, confident that Migwan was going to use the reward money to go to college, discussed the merits of different courses, and advised Migwan, above all things, with her talent for writing, to put the emphasis on literature and history. Migwan took a certain grim delight in telling Mrs. Bartlett what had happened to her ambition to go to college. She had a Homeric sense of humor that could see the point when the gods were playing pranks on helpless mortals. She told the story simply and frankly, without any "literary style," such as was usually present in her letters to a high degree; neither did she bewail her lot and seek sympathy, for Migwan was no craven.
Then, having told Mrs. Bartlett that she had made up her mind to give up thoughts of college for several years at least, as her duty to her mother came before her ambition, and had sealed and sent away the letter, it suddenly came over her that the writing she had done all winter and which she now considered a waste of time, had done something for her after all; it had taught her the use of the typewriter, a knowledge which she could turn to account during the summertime, and by working in an office somewhere, she could possibly earn enough money to enter college in the fall after all. And up went Migwan's spirits again, like a jack-in-the-box, and went soaring among the clouds like the swallows.