The Camp Fire Girls at School by Hildegard G. Frey
Chapter II. A Sudden Misfortune.
As the day drew near for the return of her mother and father Hinpoha went all over the house from garret to cellar seeing that everything was put to rights. She and the other Winnebagos took a trip into the country for bittersweet to decorate the fireplace in the library and in her father's study upstairs. With pardonable pride she arranged a little exhibition of the Craft work she had done in camp and the sketches she had made of the lake and hills. On the table in her mother's room she placed a work basket she had made of reed and lined with silk.
"Gracious sakes, child," said her aunt, from her rocking chair by the front window of the living-room, "what a fuss you are going to! One would think it was your Aunt Phoebe who was coming instead of your mother and father. They'll be just as glad to see you if the house isn't as neat as a pin from top to bottom." And Aunt Grace resumed her rocking and her novel, as unconcerned about the imminent return of the travelers as if it were nothing more than the daily visit of the milkman. Nothing short of an earthquake would ever shake Aunt Grace out of her settled complacency.
Hinpoha went happily on, seeing that every tack and screw was in place, and arranging the books in the cases to correspond to her father's catalog, for they had become sadly mixed during his absence. She even took out a volume of his favorite essays and pored over them diligently so that she might discuss them with him and show that she had used some of her time to good advantage. She straightened out her bureau drawers and mended all her clothes and stockings. When everything was in order she viewed the result with a happy feeling at the pleasure it would give her mother when she saw it. Hinpoha's most prominent trait in times past had not been neatness.
Nyoda, who had been called in to make a final inspection before Hinpoha was satisfied, wondered if all the girls were "seeking beauty" as earnestly as Hinpoha was. She envied Hinpoha the homecoming of her mother from the bottom of her heart. This feeling was particularly strong one afternoon as she sat in the school room after the close of school, looking over some English papers. It was the anniversary of the death of her mother and she sat recalling little incidents of her childhood before this best of chums had been taken away. As she sat there half dreaming she heard voices in the hall before her door.
"Have you heard the latest?" asked one voice.
"No," said the second voice, "what is it?"
"Why, the Francona has gone down," answered the first voice. "Struck a mine in the ocean."
At the word "Francona" Nyoda started up. That was the boat Hinpoha's parents were coming on! She hurried out into the hall after the two teachers. "What did you say about the Francona?" she asked. They handed her the "extra" they had been reading and she saw with her own eyes the account of the disaster. The list of "saved" was pitifully small, and Hinpoha's parents were not among them. Soon she came to the notation, "Among the lost are Mr. and Mrs. Adam Bradford, prominent Cleveland lawyer and his wife. Mr. Bradford was the son of the late Judge Bradford and a well-known man about town." Of what little avail is "prominence" when calamity stretches out her cruel hands! "Well known" and obscure gave up their lives together and found a grave side by side.
"You look like a ghost, Miss Kent," said one of the teachers. "Any friends of yours on board?"
"Dorothy Bradford's mother and father," answered Nyoda, "one of the pupils here at school."
Leaving her work unfinished, she hastened to Hinpoha's house. The news had just been learned there. Aunt Grace had fainted and was being revived with salts. Hinpoha flung herself on Nyoda and clung to her like a drowning person. Between neighbors and friends coming to sympathize and reporters from the newspapers seeking interviews the house was a pandemonium. Nyoda saw that Hinpoha would never quiet down in those surroundings and took her away to her own apartment. Of all the friends who offered consolation Nyoda was the one to whom Hinpoha turned for comfort. Here the brilliant young college woman and the simple girl were on a level, for they shared a common experience, and each could comprehend the other's sorrow.
Poor Hinpoha! She had need of all the consolation that Nyoda could give her in the days that followed. Full of bitterness as her cup was, there was to be added yet one more drop--the drop that caused it to run over. Aunt Phoebe came to live with her and be the mistress of the Bradford house. At some time in the past Judge Bradford and his sister Phoebe had been named joint guardians of Hinpoha, but the Judge was now dead and Aunt Phoebe was the sole guardian. Aunt Phoebe was a spinster of the type usually described in books, tall and spare, with steely blue eyes. She was sixty years old, but she might have been a hundred and sixty, for all the sympathy she had with youth. She had been disappointed in love when she was twenty and had never thought kindly of any man since. From her earliest childhood Hinpoha had dreaded the very name of Aunt Phoebe. When she came to visit a restraint fell over the whole house. The usual lively chatter at the dinner table was hushed, and Aunt Phoebe held forth in solemn tones, generally berating some unfortunate person who nearly always happened to be a good friend of Mrs. Bradford's. Hinpoha would be called up for a minute examination of her clothes and manners and would invariably do something which was not right in her great aunt's eyes.
She had a vivid recollection of going tobogganing down the long front walk one winter day, her jolly mother on the sled with her, steering it adroitly around the corner and up the sidewalk for a distance after leaving the slope. Such fun they were having that they did not look to see if the road was clear, and went bumping into a female figure that was coming majestically along the street, knocking her off her feet and into a snowdrift. It was Aunt Phoebe, coming to make a formal afternoon call. She sat bolt upright in the snow and adjusted her lorgnette to see if by any chance her grandniece could be one of those rowdy children. When she discovered that it was not only Hinpoha, but her mother as well, frolicking so indecorously, she was speechless. Mrs. Bradford started to make an abject apology, but the sight of Aunt Phoebe sitting in the snowdrift with her lorgnette was too much for her and she went off into a peal of laughter, in which Hinpoha joined gleefully. It was weeks before Aunt Phoebe could be coaxed to make another visit. And this was the woman who was coming to take the place of Hinpoha's beloved mother!
Aunt Grace left the day she came. There was not enough room in one house for her and Aunt Phoebe. With Aunt Phoebe came "Silky," a wiggling, snapping Skye terrier. He gave one glance at genial Mr. Bob, who was rolling on his back before the fireplace, and with a growl fastened his teeth into his neck. Hinpoha rescued her pet and bore him away to her room, where she shed tears of despair while he licked her hand sympathetically. Aunt Phoebe's first act was to put Hinpoha into deep mourning. Hinpoha objected strenuously, but there was no help, and she went to school swathed from head to foot in black. Nyoda was wrathful at the sight, for if there was one point she felt strongly about it was putting children into mourning. Among the gaily dressed girls Hinpoha stood out like some dark spirit from the underworld, casting a gloom wherever she went.
"Where is that beautiful vase I brought your mother from the World's Fair?" asked Aunt Phoebe one day, suddenly missing it.
"It was accidently broken at our last Camp Fire meeting," answered Hinpoha, with a tightening around her heart when she thought of that last happy gathering.
"Camp Fire!" said Aunt Phoebe with a snort. "You don't mean to tell me that you are mixed up in any such foolishness as that?"
"I certainly am," said Hinpoha energetically, "and it isn't foolishness, either. I've learned more since I have been a Camp Fire Girl than I did in all the years before."
"Well, you may consider yourself graduated, then," said Aunt Phoebe, drily, "for I'll have no such nonsense about me. I can teach you all you need to know outside of what you learn in school."
"Camp Fire always had mother's fullest approval," said Hinpoha darkly.
"I dare say," returned her aunt. "But I want you to understand once for all that I won't have any girls holding 'meetings' here, to upset the house and break valuable ornaments."
"But you don't care if I go to them at other girls' houses, do you?" asked Hinpoha, the fear gripping her that she was to be denied the consolation of these weekly gatherings with the Winnebagos.
"I don't want you to have anything to do with that Camp Fire business," said Aunt Phoebe in a tone of finality, and Hinpoha left the room, her heart swelling with bitterness. She was too wise to argue the point with Aunt Phoebe, and resolved to depend on Nyoda to show her the way. She dried her tears and went down to the living room and began to play softly on the piano. It had been her mother's piano, the wedding gift of her father, and it seemed that her mother's spirit hovered over it. It was the first time she had touched the keys since that awful Wednesday when the world had been turned into chaos; she had had no heart to play, but to-day the sound of the music comforted her and her bitter resentment against her aunt lost some of its sting. She played on, lost in memories, when suddenly the sharp voice of her aunt brought her back to earth. "What does this mean?" cried Aunt Phoebe, "playing on the piano when your father and mother have just died! I never heard of such a thing! Come away immediately and don't open that piano again until our period of mourning is over." She closed the piano and locked it, putting the key into her bag.
Under Aunt Phoebe's management the house soon lost its look of inviting friendliness. The blinds were always kept drawn, so that even on the brightest days the rooms had a gloomy appearance. No more cheerful wood fires crackled and glowed in the grate. They made ashes on the rugs and were extravagant, as the house was heated by steam. The bookcases were locked and Hinpoha was forbidden to read fiction, as this was not proper when one was in mourning. "You will become acquainted with much pleasant literature reading to me while I crochet," she said when Hinpoha rose in revolt at this edict. The "pleasant literature" which Aunt Phoebe was just then perusing was a History of the Presbyterian Church in eleven volumes, which bored Hinpoha so it nearly gagged her.
Besides, Aunt Phoebe constantly found fault with Hinpoha's manner of reading. It was either too loud or not loud enough; either too fast or too slow, but it was never right. That reading aloud was the last straw to Hinpoha. After sitting still a whole afternoon getting her school lessons, she longed to move about after supper, but then Aunt Phoebe expected her to sit still the entire evening and entertain her with the activities of the Early Presbytery. After nearly a week of this deadly dullness Hinpoha was ready to fly. And yet Aunt Phoebe was not conscious that there was anything wrong in the way she was treating Hinpoha. She cared for her in her frozen way. She was merely trying to bring her up in the way she herself had been brought up by a maiden aunt, not taking into account that this was another day and age. In her time it was considered the proper thing to shut down on all lightheartedness after a death in the family, and she was adhering steadfastly to the old principles. She was yet to learn that she could not force obsolete customs upon a girl who had lived for sixteen years in the sunlight of modern ideas.
All Hinpoha's troubles were confided to Nyoda, who sympathized with her entirely, but bade her be of good cheer and hope for the time when Aunt Phoebe would see for herself that the new way was best; and above all to win the respect and liking of her aunt the first thing, as more could be accomplished in this way than by being antagonistic. "I don't suppose you could go for a long walk with me Sunday afternoon?" said Nyoda.
Hinpoha shook her head sadly. "We don't do anything like that on Sunday," she answered, with resentment flaming in her eye. "We go to church morning and evening and in the afternoon I am supposed to read the Bible or a book by a man named Thomas a Kempis." Nyoda turned her eyes inward with such a comical expression that Hinpoha forgot her troubles for a moment and laughed.
"The Bible and Thomas a Kempis," said Nyoda musingly; "where did I hear those two mentioned before? Oh, I have it! Did you ever read this anywhere, 'Commit to memory one hundred verses of the Bible or an equal amount of sacred literature, such as Thomas a Kempis'?"
Hinpoha hung her head, still smiling. "Why, Nyoda," she said, "there's a chance to earn an honor bead that I probably wouldn't have thought of otherwise!"
"Right-o," said Nyoda. "'It's an ill wind,' you know. And while you are doing so much Bible reading you will undoubtedly come across something about 'in the wilderness a cedar,' and will learn that most waste places can be turned into blooming gardens if we only know how."
"Thank you," said Hinpoha, "I always feel less forlorn after a talk with you." Her face brightened, but immediately fell again. "But what good will it do me to work for honors?" she said sadly. "Aunt Phoebe won't let me come to the meetings."
"Won't she really?" asked Nyoda in surprise. Hinpoha nodded, near to tears. "I must see about that," said Nyoda resolutely. "I think if I explain the mission and activities of Camp Fire she will not object to your belonging. She probably has a wrong idea of what it means."
Accordingly Nyoda came a-calling on Aunt Phoebe that very night. In addition to being very pretty Nyoda had a great deal of dignity, and when she put on her formal manner she looked very impressive indeed. She did not act as if she had come to see Hinpoha at all, but asked for "Miss Bradford," and said she had come to pay her respects to her new neighbor. She listened politely to Aunt Phoebe's account of her last siege of rheumatism, admired her crochet work, and hoped she liked this street as well as her former neighborhood. She said she had often seen Miss Bradford's name in the papers in connection with various charitable organizations and was very glad to have the honor of meeting the sister of the prominent Judge. Aunt Phoebe was pleased and flattered at the deference paid her. But when Nyoda announced herself as the leader of the club to which Hinpoha belonged and asked permission for her to attend the meetings, she refused. She was perfectly polite about it, and did not mention her antipathy to Camp Fire, and taking refuge behind her favorite excuse, that of being in mourning, stated that she did not wish Hinpoha to go out in society.
"But this isn't 'society'," broke in Hinpoha desperately.
"A meeting of a club partakes of a social nature," returned her aunt, "and is not to be thought of." And there the matter rested.
So Nyoda had to depart without accomplishing her mission. Hinpoha, utterly crushed, followed her to the door, and Nyoda gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "Don't despair, dear," she whispered hopefully; "she will come around to it eventually, but it will take time. Be patient. And in the meantime read this," and she slipped into her hand a tiny copy of "The Desert of Waiting." "Just be true to the Law, and see if you cannot find the roses among the thorns and from them distil the precious ointment that will open the door of the City of Your Desire later on."
Hinpoha thrust the little book into her blouse, and when she was safe in her own room read it from cover to cover. When she finished there was a song in her heart again and a light in her eyes. Resolutely she turned her face to the East and began her long sojourn in the Desert of Waiting.
Nyoda pondered the problem for a long while that night, and the next day she went to call on Gladys's mother. Mrs. Evans had taken a great liking to the popular young teacher of whom Gladys was so fond, and cordially invited her to spend as much time as she could at the house with the family. It was to her, then, that Nyoda appealed for advice in regard to Hinpoha. Mrs. Evans made a slight grimace when the facts were laid before her.
"If that isn't just like Phoebe Bradford," she exclaimed indignantly. "Trying to shut up that poor girl like a nun to conform to some moth-eaten ideas of hers! If the Judge were alive that house wouldn't look as if there was a perpetual funeral going on! I certainly will call and see if I can do anything to change her mind, although I doubt very much if that could be accomplished by human means."
The next day Aunt Phoebe was agreeably surprised to receive a call from Mrs. Evans, "All the best people in the neighborhood are making haste to call on the sister of Judge Bradford," she reflected complacently. Mrs. Evans made herself very agreeable, speaking of many friends they had in common, and finally led the conversation around to Hinpoha.
"The child looks very pale," she said. "I presume the death of her parents was a terrible shock to her?"
Aunt Phoebe dabbed her eyes with her black-bordered handkerchief. "The hand of misfortune has fallen heavily upon this house," she said mournfully.
"It has indeed!" thought Mrs. Evans. Aloud she said, "You must not let the girl grieve herself sick. Cheerful company is what she needs at this time. Make her go out with the Camp Fire Girls as much as possible."
Aunt Phoebe drew herself up rather stiffly. "I do not approve of the Camp Fire Girls," she said.
"Not approve of the Camp Fire Girls!" echoed Mrs. Evans in well-feigned astonishment; "why, what's wrong with them?"
Just what the great objection was Aunt Phoebe was not prepared to say, but she remarked that such nonsense had never been thought of in her day. "And, of course," she added, hiding behind her usual argument, "while we are in mourning my grandniece will not go out to any gatherings."
"Why, I wouldn't think of keeping Gladys home for that reason," said Mrs. Evans, seeing the subterfuge. "She went to a Camp Fire meeting the day after her grandfather's funeral. It's not like going to a social function, you know."
Aunt Phoebe shook her head, but her policy of seclusion for Hinpoha was getting shaky. Mrs. Homer Evans was a power in the community, and what she did set the fashion in a good many directions. Aunt Phoebe was very anxious to keep her as a permanent acquaintance, and if Mrs. Evans gave her sanction to this Camp Fire business, she wondered if she had not better swallow her prejudice--outwardly at least, for she declared inwardly that she had never heard of such foolishness in all her born days. When Mrs. Evans went home Aunt Phoebe had actually promised that after three months Hinpoha might attend the meetings as before. Those three months of mourning, however, were sacred to her, and on no account would she have consented to allow a single ray of cheer to enter the house during that period.