The Camp Fire Girls at School by Hildegard G. Frey
Chapter XVII. Joy Before Us.
Aunt Phoebe and Hinpoha, armed with sharp meat knives, were cutting up suet in the kitchen. Hinpoha, as usual, under her aunt's eye, did nothing but make mistakes. "How awkward you are," said Aunt Phoebe impatiently. "You don't know how to do a thing properly. I wish that Camp Fire business of yours would teach you something worth while. Here, let me show you how to cut that suet." She took the knife from Hinpoha's hand and proceeded to demonstrate. The suet was hard, which was the reason Hinpoha had had no success in cutting it, and the knife in Aunt Phoebe's hand slipped and plunged into her wrist. The blood spurted high in the air. Aunt Phoebe screamed, "I'm bleeding to death!"
Hinpoha did not scream. She took a handkerchief and calmly made a tourniquet above the gash, twisting it tight with a lead pencil. Then she telephoned for Dr. Josephy, Aunt Phoebe's physician. He was out. Frantically she tried doctor after doctor, but not a single one was to be had at once. Dr. Hoffman she knew was at the hospital. One of the doctors she had telephoned was said to be making a call on the street where she lived, and she ran down there but he had already left. Running back toward the house, she collided sharply with a man on the street. It was Dr. Hoffman, who was obligingly coming up to deliver a message from Sahwah. "Come quickly," she cried, catching hold of his hand and starting to run, "Aunt Phoebe will bleed to death!"
Dr. Hoffman hurried to the spot and tied up the severed artery. "Who put on de tourniquet?" he asked.
"I did," replied Hinpoha.
"Good vork, good vork," said Dr. Hoffman approvingly, "if it had not ben for dat it vould haf been too late ven I came."
"Where did you learn to do that?" asked Aunt Phoebe.
"Camp Fire First Aid class," replied Hinpoha.
"Humph!" said Aunt Phoebe.
But she did some thinking nevertheless, and was fully aware that it was Hinpoha's prompt action which had saved her from bleeding to death. Her arm was tied up for some days afterward and she was unable to use it. Hinpoha waited on her with angelic patience. "I've changed my mind about this Camp Fire business," said Aunt Phoebe abruptly one day. "There's more sense to it than I thought. If you want to have meetings here I have no objection."
Hinpoha nearly swooned, but managed to say gratefully, "Thank you, Aunt Phoebe."
Hinpoha began to wonder, as she was thus thrown into closer contact with her aunt, whether Aunt Phoebe's austere tastes came from her having such a narrow nature, or because she had never known anything different. She could not help noticing that there were woefully few friends who came to see her during her indisposition. The daily visit of the doctor was about the only break in the monotony. From a fierce dislike Hinpoha's feelings changed to pity. "I wonder if Aunt Phoebe isn't ever lonesome," she thought. "I don't see how she can help being." A line of her fire song was ringing in her ears:
"Whose hand above this blaze is lifted Shall be with magic touch engifted To warm the hearts of lonely mortals----"
"I wonder if I couldn't bring something else into her life," thought Hinpoha. "At least, I'm going to try. Aunt Phoebe's never read anything but religious books all her life. I'd like to read her a corking good story once." Timidly she essayed it. "Wouldn't you like to have me read you something else before we begin the next volume?" she asked, when the third volume conveniently came to an end.
"Do as you like," said Aunt Phoebe, who was profoundly bored. Hinpoha accordingly brought out "The Count of Monte Cristo" which she had been reading when the ban went on fiction, and it was not long before Aunt Phoebe was as excited over the mystery as she was. Romance, long dead in her heart, began to show signs of coming to life.
Hinpoha, looking for a certain little shawl to put around Aunt Phoebe's shoulders one afternoon, opened up the big cedar chest that stood in her room. She had never seen inside of it before. The shawl was not there, but there were quantities of table and bed linens, all elaborately embroidered, and whole sets of undergarments, trimmed with the wonderfully fine crochet work at which Aunt Phoebe was a master hand. "What can all these things be?" wondered Hinpoha. "Aunt Phoebe certainly never uses them." A little further down she came upon a filmy white dress and a veil fastened onto a wreath. Then she knew. This was her aunt's wedding outfit--the garments she had fashioned in her girlhood in preparation for the marriage which was destined never to take place. A week before the wedding the bridegroom-to-be had run away with another girl. The pathos of Aunt Phoebe's blighted romance struck Hinpoha "amidships" as Sahwah would have expressed it, and she wept over the linens in the cedar chest. Poor Aunt Phoebe! No wonder she was sour and crabbed. Hinpoha forgave her all her crossness and tartness of manner, and thought of her only with pity. Her romantic nature thrilled at the thought of the blighted love affair and her aunt became a sort of heroine in her eyes. She yearned to comfort her and make her happy.
Downstairs Aunt Phoebe sat with a letter in her hand. It was from Aunt Grace, Hinpoha's mother's sister, out in California. Aunt Grace had no children and was lonely, and was asking if Hinpoha could come and live with her. Aunt Phoebe pondered. Of late there had been growing on her a conviction that she was not a suitable person to bring up a young girl. She certainly had not succeeded in making her grandniece love her. Aunt Phoebe really was lonely and she did care for Hinpoha, but she did not know how to make her care for her. Her experiment had been a failure. Well, she would send Hinpoha out to California with her Aunt Grace, whom Hinpoha adored, and she would live on by herself. The prospect suddenly seemed rather dismal and she confessed that Hinpoha had been a great deal of company for her, but she would not stand in the way of her happiness. Her mind was made up. She pictured the joy with which Hinpoha would receive the news and it brought her another pang.
At the supper table she told Hinpoha that after school was out she was to go West and live with Aunt Grace, and then sat cynically watching the unbelieving delight which flashed into her face at this announcement. But after the first flush of rapture Hinpoha reconsidered. In her mind's eye she saw Aunt Phoebe living on alone, unloving and unloved, to a lonesome old age. Again she saw the cedar chest with its pathetic wedding garments. Again the words of the fire song came into her mind.
"Do I have to go to Aunt Grace's?" she asked.
"Not unless you want to," said her aunt, wondering.
"Then I think I'd rather stay with you," said Hinpoha.
"Do you really mean it?" asked Aunt Phoebe incredulously. The ice was melting in her heart and something was beginning to sing. Hinpoha slipped out of her chair, and, going around behind Aunt Phoebe, put her arms around her neck. The gate of Aunt Phoebe's heart swung wide open. Reaching out her arms, she drew Hinpoha down into her lap. "My dear little girl," she said, "my dear little girl!"
And the Desert of Waiting suddenly blossomed with a thousand roses, and Hinpoha saw lying fair before her in the sunlight the City of her Heart's Desire.
Migwan was once more "in the dumps." The heavy strain under which she had been working all winter, coupled with the constant worry and disappointment, produced the inevitable result, and she broke down. She was chosen a Commencement speaker, and the added work of writing a graduating essay was the last straw. She might be able to attend the graduating exercises of her class, said the doctor, but she was not to go to school any more, and of course there was to be no speech prepared. He would not hear of her working in an office during the summer, so her last hope of going to college in the fall went glimmering. But really this last disappointment did not affect her as strongly as the others had done. She was getting used to having everything she touched crumble to dust, and besides, she felt too tired to care which way things went any more.
Thus the month of May brought widely different experiences to the various girls, and went on its way, giving them into the keeping of the Rose Moon. On one of the rarest of rare days that ever a poet dreamed of as belonging to June, the Winnebagos found themselves skimming over the country roads on a Saturday afternoon's frolic. There were three automobile loads altogether, for all the mothers were along, besides Aunt Phoebe and Dr. Hoffman. It was a double occasion for celebration, for besides being the Rose Moon Ceremonial Meeting, it was the day when Sahwah was to lay aside her crutches permanently. The cast had been removed several weeks before and the splintered joint was found to be as good as ever. And Migwan, although she did not know it yet, had more cause to celebrate than all the rest put together. Taken all in all, it would have been hard to find a merrier crowd than that which sped over the smooth yellow road on this perfect summer day, and many a bird, balancing himself on a blossoming twig, ceased his ecstatic outpouring of melody to listen to the blithe chorus of these earth birds, as they sang, "Hey Ho for Merry June," and "Let the Hills and Dales Resound," each machineful trying its best to outdo the others.
And when they came to a sunny hill thickly starred with snowy, golden-hearted daisies they stopped the automobiles and picked great armfuls of the blossoms, and Aunt Phoebe and Dr. Hoffman wandered off by themselves to the other side of the hill in search of larger and finer ones.
Migwan's mother, sitting on the hillside with the warm sweet breeze blowing in her face, felt the joy of health and strength returning with a rush. "Oh," she sighed blissfully to Mrs. Evans, who sat beside her, "I haven't had such a good time since we all went coasting that night. I declare I'm impatient for winter to return, so we can do it again."
"Who says we have to wait for winter before we can go coasting," said Hinpoha, who had overheard the remark. "You just watch this child." Climbing to the top of the hill she beat a path down the slope, and then sat calmly down with her feet stretched out before her and slid down as swiftly as if the hill had been covered with ice. She had no sooner accomplished the feat than all the Winnebagos were at the top of the hill, eager to try it. They came down all in a row, each with her hand on the shoulder of the girl ahead of her, so that it looked like a real toboggan. Then Mrs. Evans tried it, pulling with her stout Mrs. Brewster, who puffed like an engine and got stuck half way down and had to be pushed the rest of the way. Then Dr. Hoffman and Aunt Phoebe returned from their ramble and the mothers hastily collected their dignity and their hairpins, breathless but bubbling over with the fun of it. Whoever has not slid down a grassy hillside in June has certainly missed a joy out of his life.
They had frolicked so long in the daisy field that there was no time to go on to the place where they had intended to cook their supper, and they had to stay right there. Aunt Phoebe had her first taste of camp cookery on this occasion and was delighted beyond words with the experience, as was Doctor Hoffman. "Sometime you and I vill go camping and you vill make someting like dis, mein Liebchen?" he said to Aunt Phoebe, indicating the slumgullion. The group sat petrified at the term he had used in addressing her, and Aunt Phoebe blushed fiery red. Dr. Hoffman saw that the cat was out of the bag. Laughing sheepishly, he spoke. "Dis lady," he said, laying his hand on Aunt Phoebe's, "has promised to be mein vife."
Hinpoha dropped her plate in her surprise. "Aunt Phoebe!" she cried, incredulously, throwing her arms around her. Then her face fell. "You are going away and leave me?" she asked anxiously.
"No, dear," answered Aunt Phoebe, "the Doctor is going to make his home here and we will keep you with us always." And Hinpoha, though still dazed by the news she had just heard, breathed easy again.
When the last bit of slumgullion was eaten and Doctor Hoffman had scraped out the kettle, the Winnebagos retired to the other side of the hill to don their ceremonial costumes, and the rest of the company found comfortable seats on the ground from which to watch the coming performance. As Migwan was wriggling into her gown a letter fell to the ground. The mail man had handed it to her just as she was starting off with the crowd, and she had thrust it into her blouse to read later. Being dressed a few minutes ahead of the rest, she tore open the envelope while she was waiting for them. If the other girls had been watching her as she read it they would have seen her clasp her hands together suddenly and draw in her breath sharply. Just then Nyoda's clear Wohelo call sounded, and she went with the rest into the circle around the fire.
The Doctor noted with a thrill of artistic pleasure how each girl, as she came over the crest of the hill, stood silhouetted against the red line of the sun for an instant. A ripple of tender amusement went among the watchers as Althea was borne in, clad in her little ceremonial dress and headband.
As this was the big Council Meeting of the year it was more elaborately staged than the ordinary ceremonial meeting. Instead of a large fire being kindled in the center of the circle the first thing, four fires were laid, one in the center and three small ones around it in the form of a triangle. The girls were divided into three groups to represent Work, Health and Love. Each group in turn tried to light the big fire in the center, but in vain; it went out every time. Sorrowfully the groups returned to their own small woodpiles, which they did not think it worth while to light. Suddenly a little, bent old woman appeared from somewhere and stood beside the Work group, shivering with cold. "The stranger is cold," said one of the Work Maidens, "we must light our fire for her sake, even if it is not worth while for ourselves." The fire was lighted and the little old woman stretched out her hands to the cheerful blaze until she was warmed through. Then with a blessing on the Work Maidens she went her way.
Faint with hunger, she stopped beside the Health maidens and begged a bite of food. "We must light our fire and cook something for this hungry stranger," said one of the Health Maidens, "even if it is not worth lighting for ourselves." So they lit their fire and solemnly broiled a wiener which the little old lady devoured eagerly, and passed on, likewise giving them her blessing.
When she came to the Love group it was quite dark, and she begged a light from them that she might find her way up the mountain. So they lit their fire and handed her a torch, upon which she straightened up and threw off her poor cloak and revealed herself as a young and beautiful maiden, the good fairy who inhabited those parts. Holding her torch aloft, she began to dance in and out among the three fires as lightly as a wandering night breeze. Suddenly she stooped to the Health fire and picked up a burning brand; then darting to the Work fire, she picked up a burning brand; then running to the great pile of firewood in the center of the circle, she flung all three down together. The mingled Fires of Work, Health and Love kindled the Fire of Wohelo, which each one separately had failed to light, and as the flames mounted in the big fire the little fires were scattered and stamped out, and the girls sprang to their feet singing, "Burn, Fire, Burn." A round of applause followed this masterly presentation, and Nyoda, who had worked it out, was called on to make a speech. A fine little bit of by-play not planned for by Nyoda was staged when Sahwah dramatically cast her crutches into the Fire of Health.
Now this meeting was the time when the bead-band diaries were to be finished, and the most interesting looking one was to be interpreted if the girl was willing to do so. What tales were worked out in the bands belonging to Migwan, Hinpoha, Sahwah, Gladys and Nyoda! Nyoda hesitated a long time trying to decide which looked the most interesting, Hinpoha's or Migwan's, and finally decided on Migwan's. Nothing loth, Migwan told the story of her hard time during the winter, and the girls in the circle and the visitors alike were stirred by the account of the party dress and the family budget and the returned manuscripts and the vanishing college fund.
"There is one incident not yet recorded," she said, as she came to the end of the figures on the band, "and I really think this ought to be told with the rest." From the beaded pocket of her ceremonial gown she drew the letter which she had read while the girls were dressing. It was from Mrs. Bartlett, the mother of little Raymond, and read as follows:
"To say I was touched to the heart by your story of where the college money went, is putting it mildly. If any one ever put up a brave fight against circumstances, you have. I showed the letter to my husband and he was as much affected as I. And, curiously enough, a letter which we had received earlier in the day, and which had caused us much vexation, contained news of a certain state of affairs which is going to give us a chance to help you out of your difficulty.
"We own a small farm just outside of Cleveland, and for years this has been worked for us by a man and his wife. Just this week this man is leaving our employ to take up some other line of work, leaving the farm without a caretaker at a critical time when the spring vegetables are all up and need attention. Now, our proposition is this: believing that as a Camp Fire Girl you know a great deal about growing things, we are going to ask you to take charge of the place for the summer, and will gladly allow you whatever profit you may make from the sale of vegetables and small fruits if you will see that the peach crop is brought through in good shape and keep the trees from being destroyed by bugs. We will attend to the marketing of the peaches ourselves when the time comes. Good luck to you if you want to undertake the job.
"Your loving friend,
"MABEL E. BARTLETT."
"P.S. We have no objection if you wish to use the house for a Camp Fire Club House during the summer."
A rousing cheer burst from the group around the fire when they heard this solution of Migwan's problem.
By this time the full moon was climbing over the top of the hill and waking up the sleeping daisies, and the little company rose reluctantly and wandered back to the automobiles that stood by the roadside. Looking back at the peaceful hillside they had just left, it seemed that the nodding daisies and the murmuring brook and the rustling grasses all echoed the song the girls had sung around the fire just before the Council came to a close:
"Darkness behind us, Peace around us, Joy before us, Light, O Light!"
The next volume in this series is entitled, "The Camp Fire Girls at Onoway House; or, The Magic Garden."