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Title: Blue Robin, the Girl Pioneer
Author: Halsey, Rena I.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: “What can I do for you? Are you in pain?”]

                              BLUE ROBIN,
                            THE GIRL PIONEER

                                   BY

                             RENA I. HALSEY

                 _ILLUSTRATED BY NANA FRENCH BICKFORD_

                                 BOSTON
                       LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO.



                         Published, March, 1917

                            Copyright, 1917
                     By Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co.

                         _All rights reserved_
                      BLUE ROBIN, THE GIRL PIONEER

                             Norwood Press
                          BERWICK & SMITH CO.
                             NORWOOD, MASS.
                                U. S. A.



                      BLUE ROBIN THE GIRL PIONEER
                                   IS
                        AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
                                   TO

                            MISS LINA BEARD

                                FOUNDER
                                  AND
                             CHIEF PIONEER
                                   OF
                       THE NATIONAL INCORPORATED
                      THE GIRL PIONEERS OF AMERICA



                       WHAT ARE “GIRL PIONEERS”?

The first public meeting of the National Organization of the Girl
Pioneers of America was held by the founder, Miss Lina Beard, in the
quaint old Pioneer meeting-house on Broadway, in Flushing, New York,
February 8, 1912.

The aim of the Organization of Girl Pioneers is: To cultivate in girls
the sterling qualities displayed by our early pioneer women; to create a
desire in them for a happy, broad, and useful life and to show them how
to attain it; to give them things to do that are interesting, wholesome,
and that will strengthen character; and to develop a love for
out-of-door life by showing them how to live it.

The watchword of the Girl Pioneer is, “I Can.”

The principles upon which the organization is founded are not simply
taught as precepts, they are found and practiced in all the delightful
activities of the movement. Outdoor life with its limitless avenues of
interest: camping, trailing, woodcraft, learning to know the wild life
of the open, its plants, its flowers, birds, common wild animals and
insects; the stars and the meaning of the shadows, the use of nature’s
material in handicraft; all these and many more are opened to the Girl
Pioneer, and by actual contact she is finding the beauty of truth and
the wonder of reality. By her membership in this large organization she
is learning to be less self-centered, learning to work with others and
for others, and to share her enjoyments with others. By the joyous
participation in field-sports, and such recreation as rowing, swimming,
fishing, riding, kite-flying, stilt-walking, and the more conventional
games, such as basket-ball, service-ball, tennis, and archery, she is
learning to play honestly and fairly, and _is building up bodily health
and strength_ to keep pace with the mental and moral health that is
being developed within her.

By her indoor life, lived as truly in the pioneer spirit as her life in
the open, she is bringing into play the faculties of resourcefulness, of
adaptability, of thoroughness, and the virtue of helpful kindness. She
learns to do all household tasks, to do them well, and to be interested
in them. She is taught in charming ways the use of her five senses, and
is delighted to find that she can develop them and consciously enjoy
them. She learns to care for the sick and the young children; she is
proud of being able to render “first aid” according to the latest and
best methods; she learns how to avoid accidents as well as what to do in
case of accidents. She has a system of signs for blazing the trail which
belongs solely to the Girl Pioneers, and she learns what to do in case
she is lost when camping or trailing. In short, the Girl Pioneer’s
teaching makes her efficient in all fields. The mind and imagination of
the Girl Pioneer are stimulated by true stories of heroism and the
adventures of the early pioneers. Her merit badges are given the names
of the women pioneers, including besides the early settlers those who
were in helpful work for humanity. Her honors are shown by stars worn on
the sleeve, which indicate the tests successfully passed and lead up to
the final merit badge.

The Girl Pioneer colors, red, white, and blue, not only signify that the
organization is national in extent but hold a still further meaning for
the Girl Pioneers; red standing for courage, white for purity, and blue
for truth. The graceful salute symbolizes a brave heart, an honest mind,
a resourceful hand. The motto of the Girl Pioneer is, “Brave, Honest,
Resourceful.”

The Girl Pioneers have their khaki uniform with red tie and red hatband,
which is practical, adaptable, and pleasing. They have their banners,
their Pioneer sign, their initiation, with its ceremony and membership
certificate; their rallies, field-days, and other general meetings
indoors and out. They have their Pioneer cheer, and each Band and each
group has a cheer of its own. There is the official song which all the
Pioneers sing, and there are songs composed by the Bands.

Each Band is under the leadership of a volunteer director who furnishes
acceptable credentials. The Band is composed of one group, or several
groups, of from six to ten girls in each. The name of an American wild
bird is chosen for the name of each group, and the Band is known by its
number. The bird cheers of the groups are very breezy and inspiring.

The Girl Pioneer ranks are open to all girls, and the work is very
helpful in Sunday-schools, public schools, private schools, camps, and
all large societies for girls, such as Young Women’s Christian
Association, Young Women’s Christian Temperance Union, playgrounds, etc.

The Daughters of the American Revolution, Colonial Dames, and like
organizations seek to preserve the historical records and objects
connected with the early life of our country, while the Girl Pioneers
seek to revive and perpetuate the spirit that dominated the invincible
men and women who made our nation possible.

The Girl Pioneer organization is governed by an Executive Board, of
which the Chief Pioneer, Lina Beard, is the head. There is also a
National Council composed of eminent and influential men and women
living in various parts of the United States, to be called upon when
needed.

The Pioneer folder will be sent upon application, and the Manual will be
sent upon receipt of price, thirty-five cents, and seven cents for
postage. For further information and for literature, address:

                 Secretary of Girl Pioneers of America,
                 Flushing, New York.



                                FOREWORD

A few summers ago I had the pleasure of being entertained by several
Bands of The Girl Pioneers of America, on the wooded shores of one of
Long Island’s noted bays, at Camp Laff-a-Lot. As I watched these
wholesome-looking, happy girls in their attractive uniforms, and saw
their bright, animated faces as they made merry in joyous sport under
God’s blue, and then turned to the more serious employment of making
bayberry candles, building camp fires, gathering wildflowers in their
study of Nature, or blazing the trail as they made the woodland resound
to their wonderful imitation of bird-notes, in the various calls of
their groups, my interest was awakened. Later, as I gathered with them
in the red glow of their Cheer Fire and heard their rousing Pioneer
cheer, and their inspiring Band songs, and saw how a love for history
and the true meaning of patriotism was engendered, while their minds and
imaginations were being stimulated by their stories of the heroism of
the women Pioneers, I realized that as our patriotic organizations were
seeking to honor the Founders of our Nation by preserving historical
records and objects, these Pioneer daughters were seeking to revive and
perpetuate the spirit that dominated the men and women who brought to
these shores, the grand principles of a civilization that has made our
Republic the greatest in the world! It was in recognition of the
nobleness of the aims of The Girl Pioneers of America, as well as in
appreciation of the worthy Founder’s efforts to bring out the best in
them, that inspired me to set forth if only in a limited way these many
truths, and so I was emboldened to write “Blue Robin, the Girl Pioneer!”

                                                         Rena I. Halsey.
                                                             _Brooklyn,_
                                                      _January 1, 1917._



                                CONTENTS

       CHAPTER                                                 PAGE
             I The Nest in the Old Cedar                         11
            II Her Next-door Neighbor                            27
           III Girl Pioneers                                     40
            IV Nathalie Is Asked to Become a Blue Robin          55
             V The Gray Stone House                              72
            VI Working into Harness                              90
           VII The Mayflower Feast                              108
          VIII The Motto, “I Can”                               126
            IX Searching for Rosy                               143
             X Nathalie as the Story Lady                       159
            XI The Princess in the Tower                        179
           XII The Wild-flower Hike                             194
          XIII Around the Cheer Fire                            213
           XIV Overcomes                                        230
            XV A Chapter of Surprises                           250
           XVI Pioneer Stunts                                   270
          XVII Liberty Banners                                  289
         XVIII The Princess Makes Two More Friends              308
           XIX The Fagot Party                                  330
            XX The Dutch _Kraeg_                                348
           XXI An Invitation                                    366
          XXII Camp Laff-a-Lot                                  385
         XXIII Miss Camphelia                                   403
          XXIV The Wireless Operator                            421
           XXV Good-by to Eagle Lake                            438



                             ILLUSTRATIONS

  “What can I do for you? Are you in pain?”             _Frontispiece_
  “Polly Green, her reel,” announced Helen                         122
  “Why, how did you get there?”                                    172
  “Oh, don’t be frightened!” exclaimed the princess,
  with a merry laugh                                               194
  The rope had broken in her grasp                                 228
  Up went two hands in pretended subjugation                       290
  With an unearthly shriek was flying across the lawn              338
  She dropped the ashes of Miss Dummy into the placid water        436



BLUE ROBIN, THE GIRL PIONEER



CHAPTER I—THE NEST IN THE OLD CEDAR


Nathalie came running up the steps of the veranda her brown eyes alight
with excitement as she cried, “Oh, Mother, what do you think? Down in
the old cedar-tree on the lawn is a nest of tiny blue robins—they’re
just the cutest things—do come and see them!”

“Blue robins?” quizzed her brother Dick from where he lay reading in the
hammock. “Who ever heard of blue robins?”

“I think she means bluebirds,” ventured Mrs. Page, looking up from the
morning paper and smiling at the earnest young face of her daughter.
Then her eyes dimmed, but she winked her lashes quickly as if to
restrain a sudden rush of tears, rose in answer to the note of appeal in
the girl’s voice, and stepped to her side.

A moment later they were strolling across the new-grown grass of the
lawn, the girl of sixteen supporting the slender, black-gowned figure of
her mother, whose delicate, high-bred face with its impress of recent
sorrow defined the youthful glow of the one that smiled upon her so
tenderly.

“Now, Mumsie, look!” whispered the girl as she pointed to a dark cavity
in the trunk of the cedar but a short distance from the ground; “see,
are they not robins?”

Mrs. Page’s tired eyes brightened as she watched with keen interest the
five bobbing heads with open bills, turweeing in hungry clamor, “Why no,
Nathalie,” she replied laughingly, “they are bluebirds.”

At this instant they spied the mother bird as she flitted excitedly
among the upper branches of the tree. Drawing her mother to one side,
Nathalie whispered tensely, “Oh, there’s the mother bird—she wants to
feed them! Let’s see what she will do!” Nathalie’s eyes sparkled
expectantly.

It was quite evident what Mrs. Bluebird was going to do, for she
immediately jumped to the edge of the nest and dropped a fat, squirming
worm into an open bill. As she poised over her nestlings she caught
sight of the two figures under the tree. In another instant she had set
up such a vigorous scolding that the interlopers were quite disturbed.
Seeing, however, that they did not offer to molest her little ones, Mrs.
Birdie finally subsided, cocked her head perkily on one side, and
watched them with eyes that shone like two fireflies.

Father bird now came flying up with another good-sized wriggler in his
beak, which mother bird, with an eye to business, hastily snatched and
dropped into a wide-open bill.

“Why, Mother,” commented Nathalie, “do you see that the father bird is
much the handsomer of the two, for he is of a deep blue color, while
mother bird’s feathers are grayish-blue.”

Her mother nodded as she answered, “Yes, and his beautiful coat is in
striking contrast to his throat and breast, which are reddish-brown.”

“And the white feathers below,” continued Nathalie, with keen eyes,
“look like a white apron.”

“But come, dear,” interposed her mother, “we must go back, for I hear
Dick whistling—he is getting impatient—I promised to get him a sofa
pillow for the hammock.”

As they stepped on the veranda, Dick inquired, with sarcastic
inflection, balancing himself on the edge of the hammock and pushing it
to and fro with his crutch, “Well, how many blue robins did you find?”

“We found five tiny bluebirds,” responded his mother with unwonted
animation as she seated herself in a low rocker, and then she continued
in lower tone as her daughter disappeared in quest of the pillow, “Oh,
Dick! I am so glad to see some color in Nathalie’s cheeks again, for she
has been looking very wan and pale. The poor child has not only suffered
the loss of her father, but she has had to give up so many things—the
very things, too, that a girl of her age longs for so much!” Mrs. Page
sighed drearily.

“Giving up college was the hardest,” added her son, his face expressing
the sympathy he hardly knew how to voice; “but she’s a corker, for she
has faced every disappointment like a little hero. I didn’t know she had
so much pluck in her.”

“She takes after her father, he was always so cheerful about facing the
inevitable—” His mother’s lips quivered; she paused as if to gain
control of her voice and then resumed brokenly, “Oh, Dick, to think he
has gone—it seems as if it could not be true—”

“True enough,” retorted Dick gruffly; and then he added, in a softer
voice, “but after all, Mother, every one has to have trouble. We’re
having ours just now—that’s all—and we’ve got to bear it. Things might
have been worse, I suppose—we’ve got enough left to live on—oh, if it
wasn’t for this confounded knee of mine—to be helpless when—”

“Hush, Dick, don’t say that,” cried his mother in a pained voice; “just
have patience, and you will be all right; have patience with me, too,
dear, because I am such a coward to allow myself to get so depressed.”
She made a brave attempt at a smile. “It will be as you say, all right
soon.”

Hearing Nathalie’s step, she hastily hid her tear-stained face behind
the paper; then, as that young woman threw the sofa pillow at Dick’s
head, she exclaimed, “I am so glad, Nathalie, to see you take an
interest in the new home. I think it is a lovely—”

“Doll’s house!” interposed the girl laughingly. “But, O dear, I must be
careful, for when I called it a doll’s house while Mrs. Morton was here
she looked rather queer, and then I remembered that her house is not
much bigger. But do you know, Mother,” she rattled on girlishly, “I
think we are going to be quite comfy in this little home—after a time of
course,” she hastened to add, “when we have become used to the
change—and all—” she stopped abruptly, for she, too, was thinking of the
dear father who had gone so suddenly—without even saying good-by, as she
had so often wailed in the darkness of night—leaving Mother with only a
meager income, and with poor Dick to take care of, and her and Dorothy,
who didn’t know enough to earn a penny!

A sudden slam of the door was heard, a “How are you, Auntie?” in a
sweet, assured voice, and then with smiling eyes a tall, graceful, young
woman, with shiny, fluffy hair came forward and kissed her aunt
caressingly.

“Oh, Lucille, what do you think?” broke from Nathalie impetuously; “I
found a nest of tiny bluebirds down in the old cedar-tree on the lawn!”

“Um-m, well, you are always finding something to enthuse over,” remarked
her cousin with careless indifference, “but I wish you would make that
all-round maid of yours do my room, I want to write a letter.” There was
spoiled impatience in the girl’s voice.

Mrs. Page looked up with a startled expression as she murmured
apologetically, “Oh, I forgot, Lucille. I will do it—I thought—”

“No, no, Mother,” came from Nathalie hurriedly, as with heightened color
and gentle insistence she forced her mother back to her seat. “I will do
it.”

Nathalie disappeared within the door. She had smiled sweetly for her
mother’s sake, but as she went up the stairs there was an upward lift to
her chin that showed that she had a will and a temper of some weight.
“Why is Lucille so mean,” she questioned mutinously, “as not to make her
own bed when she knows that now we shall have to get along with only one
maid? Mother is not going to wait on her!” Her eyes gleamed with angry
decision, and then the curves of her mouth softened as she struggled
silently with her jarring thoughts.

Yes, it must be borne, for was it not a part of the great change that
had come into her life with her first great sorrow? The shock of her
father’s death had dazed her, and she had suffered in a dulled,
uncomprehending way until she was aroused from her grief by the many
anxieties and disappointing changes that the financial tangle of her
father’s affairs had caused.

Leaving their beautiful city home, giving up the many luxuries and the
pleasures to which she had been accustomed, parting from her school
friends, and coming to the unknown suburban town were bitter
disappointments; the one that cut the deepest was giving up college, but
the hardest to bear was Dick’s accident!

The next moment the girl was hard at work picking up Lucille’s
disordered room, humming cheerily as she went about her task, for, after
all, her cousin was independent—she paid her board—and now they would
need every penny.

A resolute will and deft fingers can accomplish much in this workaday
world, and so Nathalie soon finished her new job, as she called it, and
sat on the veranda watching the robins as they hopped nimbly over the
lawn, ducking their heads every minute or so to reappear with fat,
dangling worms in their beaks.

Their cheerful twitter, the budding leaves on trees and bushes, and the
many reminders of the revival of life under the warmth and glow of the
spring sunshine thrilled her with exhilaration. Her depression vanished,
she felt happy again, but vaguely perhaps, scarcely comprehending that
the buoyancy of youth and the joy of life were compensations that dulled
the harrowing edge of grief.

With a long breath, as if to capture as much as possible of the spring
balminess, Nathalie turned to see her mother seated in the low chair,
with her basket of mending, wearing the same dazed, worried look on her
face that had haunted the girl ever since their sorrow. She became
keenly aware that her tireless mother, who had always stood ready to do
the thousand and one things that were constantly calling her, was
failing. Something swelled up in her throat, she fought valiantly a
moment, and then jumping up, she grabbed the half-darned sock from her
mother’s hand, pitched it into the basket, picked it up and carried it
over to her chair.

“Now, Mumsie,” she declared in answer to her mother’s startled look,
“you are not to darn any more stockings; henceforth your humble servant
is to be the champion mender.” Nathalie’s cheeks flushed, for as she
raised her eyes she encountered those of a young girl about her own age
who was just coming out of the adjoining house.

As her neighbor saw Nathalie, she smiled a cheery good-morning, showing
a row of strong, white teeth, and then strode down the walk with the
light step and easy swing of the athletic girl.

“Huh! what a queer rig,” commented Lucille, with a supercilious raising
of her eyebrows, as she noted that the girl wore a short brown khaki
skirt over bloomers, a middy with a Turkey red tie, and a broad-brimmed
hat banded with red. “Is that the Salvation Army’s summer apparel?” Then
seeing that the girl carried a strong staff in her hand, she added with
a giggle, “Or perhaps she is some aspiring member of the militants.”

“Why, I think the uniform—for I presume it is that—” interposed Mrs.
Page, “is very attractive, and most appropriate for a Girl Pioneer.”

“Why, Mother, how do you know she is a Girl Pioneer?” questioned
Nathalie with mild amazement.

“Ah, I forgot to tell you that her mother, Mrs. Dame, called the day you
were out walking. She told me that Helen, her only daughter, belongs to
‘The Girl Pioneers of America.’”

“The Girl Pioneers of America!” repeated her daughter; “why, I never
heard of them. Is it a patriotic society?”

“In a way I presume it is,” returned her mother, “as it is an
organization which trains girls to emulate the sterling qualities of the
early pioneer women.”

“I wonder what they do, and if it is anything like the Boy Scouts!”
continued Nathalie interestedly.

“I think from what Mrs. Dame told me that it must be a sister society to
that organization, for its object is to awaken within the girls a desire
for healthy, outdoor activities, as well as a broad and useful life
along many lines. I am sure in these days, when girls are so shallow and
artificial-looking, and have no higher thought than getting all the
pleasure they can out of life, that it is something which is sadly
needed.” Mrs. Page’s tones were expressive.

“Oh, Aunt Mary,” demurred Lucille, looking up with a frown from her
novel, “one would think that you expected girls to dress and act like
their grandmothers. I am sure one can be young but once, and if one
doesn’t have a good time then, what’s the use of living? And for putting
a little color on one’s face, why, the most fashionable people do it
nowadays.”

Mrs. Page’s face flushed slightly, but she replied with quiet dignity,
“I am surprised, Lucille, to hear you talk that way, brought up as you
have been, too. It is true,” she continued, “that there is no harm in
wanting a good time—as you call it—that is youth’s privilege, and no one
wishes to turn youth into age, but back of it all there should be common
sense and a desire for right living. As for putting artificial color on
a face that should represent the freshness and the natural bloom of
youth, why, to me it is demoralizing.”

Lucille frowned impatiently and resumed her reading.

“Mrs. Dame,” continued her aunt, turning towards Nathalie, “said her
daughter Helen was coming in to call on you; she will probably give you
all the information you want about the new organization. I hope you will
like her, dear, for she seems a pleasant, well-bred girl and surely will
prove companionable to you. We might as well, all of us, try to forget
our city life with its past pleasures, and see if we cannot adapt
ourselves to our surroundings.”

“Indeed I will try, Mumsie,” replied Nathalie with a slight catch in her
voice, as her thoughts turned back to her chums in the city, and she
wondered what they would think of her humble little home. “But really,
Mother,” she spoke aloud, “I think Miss Dame has an awfully bright face,
and I wish she would call, for I should like to know about the Girl
Pioneers.”

A few days after the finding of the bluebird’s nest, Nathalie, enlivened
by the desire to investigate her surroundings, and curious for new
experiences, set forth on a little exploring tour to the woods on the
outskirts of the town. She had tried to induce her cousin to join her,
but that young lady was absorbed in running over a new ragtime song. Her
sister Dorothy, aged twelve, had also declined on the score that she had
an engagement with a girl neighbor who lived in the big house down the
road.

Sunshine and youth are joy-bearers, and as Nathalie felt the air in
fragrant little whiffs against her cheeks, she thrilled with pleasure as
she strode briskly up the hill. A moment later, however, her shining
eyes shadowed, and she unconsciously shivered as she encountered a cold
glance from a lady, weirdly garbed in gray, who was just passing.

The color flashed to her cheeks; she felt as if some one had slapped her
as the haunting vision of that uncanny stare of aversion from two
steely-gray eyes penetrated her consciousness. Tempted by curiosity she
turned and watched the peculiar-looking figure as it glided with almost
specter-like swiftness down the hill.

“I wonder who she is and why she gave me such a harrowing glance,”
thought Nathalie. “Whew! she has frozen me stiff,” and then a laugh
brightened the brown eyes as she continued on her way. She had almost
reached the top of the hill when she saw a large brown card on the walk.
Picking it up she read, “Westport Library,” and then the written name,
“Elizabeth Van Vorst.” Not a great loss, to be sure, but likely to cause
inconvenience.

“Oh, I wonder if that lady didn’t drop it, she had a book under her
arm,” flashed into the girl’s mind. She hesitated—she did not want to
climb that long hill again—but the next second she had whirled about and
was running lightly down the slope in the direction of a Carnegie
building that glimmered picturesquely between green-boughed trees.

“Oh, I beg your pardon,” panted Nathalie as she held out the card to the
gray lady who had just emerged from the library and was looking vexedly
about on the walk in front of the building, “did you not lose your
library card?”

The lady turned sharply, stared suspiciously at the girl a moment, and
then, as her eyes fell upon the extended card, exclaimed coldly, “Oh,
did you find it? Thank you, I am much obliged!” With a haughty glance of
dismissal she turned and ascended the library steps.

Nathalie’s eyes gleamed angrily, but with a toss of her head she was off
on her second trudge up the slope. “Well, she is the limit—” she
muttered. “Of all hateful, disagreeable, peculiar, mysterious creatures,
she takes first rank.” But when the girl reached the woods where the
new-gowned trees and the white blossoms of the dogwood, which she had
spied the day before, riding in a trolley car, rustled softly in the
sunlight, as if in a spring greeting to the flower-seeker, the
unpleasant incident was forgotten.

With eager eyes and cheeks aglow she began to break off a sprig here and
there, lingering only to caress the snowy petals that tantalizingly
brushed her cheek.

“What a beauty!” she exclaimed as she suddenly halted; “it will be just
the spray to sketch.” Up went her arm—a little higher—and then something
went from under her; she tried to regain her footing, but slipped again
on the moist turf. She felt her foot turn, and then came a sharp twinge
that whitened her lips as she dropped, a helpless heap, on the ground.

For a few moments the girl forgot her dogwood blossoms, the slip, and
the pain, and then she opened her eyes to realize, with a pang of
dismay, that she must have fainted. Oh, she must have twisted her ankle,
for when she tried to stand she almost screamed with the knife-like
twinges.

She leaned her head against the tree with closed eyes, trying to think,
but her thoughts seemed to run around in a circle, for she could see no
way out of her dilemma. She was too far from the trolley line to hail a
car, or to beckon to any passer-by who might be on the road.

She thought ruefully of how worried her mother would be if she did not
return before dark. And who was there to look for her? Dick was helpless
with his crutch, Dorothy would not be home until late, and Lucille—well,
whoever heard of Lucille ever doing anything for any one but herself?

She screamed, but when her voice rang out with reverberating shrillness
she clapped her hands to her ears. She would sing; and her fresh young
voice broke forth into ragtime song.

But the ragtime quivered pathetically into a half-wail. What should she
do? At last in sheer desperation she began to sing hymns; but they
sounded so doleful in her nervous state that she desisted with a sound
that was half a sob and half a laugh. She was about to embrace
resignation to fate when she caught the glimmer of a brown skirt between
the low-hung branches of the trees near by. In a moment there was a
sharp crack of a twig, and Nathalie with a sudden exclamation of joy saw
a young girl coming quickly toward her, wearing the same kind of a brown
uniform she had perceived on her neighbor a few days ago.

“Oh, are you hurt?” asked the girl quickly, as she saw Nathalie’s white
face resting against the tree.

Nathalie, attempting to smile, told of her mishap, and then with
widening eyes saw the girl run a few steps into the open. Then the
short, staccato whistle of Bob White struck the air.

It was hardly a moment when, in response to this bird-call, several
girls appeared in the opening beyond. A few hurried words with the girl
who had signaled them, and they were around Nathalie, listening to the
story of her accident.

After expressing their sympathy, two of the taller girls quickly slipped
off their khaki skirts, unbuttoned them, and then, to the injured one’s
amazement, one of the girls pushed her staff through the belt of one
skirt and hem of the other, while her companion did the same with her
staff. They were improvising a stretcher, as neat and
comfortable-looking as if it had just been removed from an ambulance.

While the stretcher was being made, one of the girls had taken from her
knapsack a small black case from which she extracted a bottle. Hastily
kneeling on the ground, after Nathalie’s boot had been removed by her
assistant, she bathed the injured foot, then, as her companion handed
her a roll of white lint she bound it with a cotton compress, while
Nathalie, with much curiosity, watched her as she quickly and skillfully
performed the work of First Aid to the Injured. As she rose to her feet
and turned to direct her companions in the lifting of her patient on the
stretcher, Nathalie recognized her next-door neighbor, Helen Dame, the
Girl Pioneer!



CHAPTER II—HER NEXT-DOOR NEIGHBOR


If Nathalie was surprised at the deftness and resourcefulness of these
Girl Pioneers, she was amazed at the ease and comfort she experienced as
the four girls strode forward, two at the head and two at the foot of
the improvised stretcher.

Notwithstanding the sharp twinges in her foot, she felt as if she could
have dropped into a doze if a sudden, jarring thought had not caused her
to raise her head in search of her next-door neighbor. By the decision
of her voice and her methodical manner of directing her companions as
they prepared the “bed of ease,” Nathalie had recognized this girl as
the leader.

But Helen Dame was not to be seen. One of the girls, however, on seeing
Nathalie’s movement, commanded a halt and hastened to her side. “What
can I do for you?” she inquired in an anxious tone. “Are you in pain?”

Her ready sympathy brought the tears to Nathalie’s eyes, for her nerves
were somewhat under a strain, but she fought them bravely back, and
looking up with a reassuring smile replied, “Oh no, I am all right, but
I was looking for Miss Dame. I am afraid if Mother sees me on a
stretcher, she will think something very dreadful has happened.”

“Ah, Helen thought of that,” was the quick reply, “and she has gone
ahead to tell your mother that you have only hurt your foot, and to see
if she can get Dr. Morrow to come over and look at it.”

“Oh, how kind of her—and of you all—” there was a slight tremor in
Nathalie’s voice. “I am sure I do not know what would have become of me,
alone there in the woods, if you girls had not come to my rescue.”

As the girls walked slowly on with their burden, the one walking by the
side of the stretcher told Nathalie that they were a group of Girl
Pioneers, that they had been on a hike, and that her name was Grace
Tyson. As they chatted pleasantly, Nathalie told of her recent removal
from the city to Westport. With wise forethought she suppressed all
mention of her former wealth and the many luxuries she had been used to,
for fear that these suburban girls, not comprehending, might misjudge
her and think that she considered herself above them. She had learned
from the girls of her own set in school that when a newcomer took
particular care to advise them how rich she was, her mates usually
dubbed her a snob. So she only told of her great loss in the death of
her father, how Dick, her older brother, had injured his knee in an
accident and was an invalid, and how she liked her new home.

In the companionship of this new girl she scarcely realized how quickly
the time had passed until she saw her mother’s anxious face bending over
her, and heard a masculine voice say, “Well, is this the young lady who
reached too high?”

Nathalie looked quickly up and immediately her heart went out to this
big, bluff man with iron-gray hair and kindly blue eyes who picked her
up as if she had been a manikin, carried her into the hall, and laid her
on the couch. She recognized the face of the doctor who lived on the
opposite corner whom she had often envied as he went chugging down the
street in his automobile.

After the doctor had pressed her foot here and there with a touch as
soft as silk from the gentleness of trained fingers, he brought forth
some surgical plaster from a black case, and strapped the injured
member, remarking as he did so on the surgeon-like way in which Miss
Dame had bandaged it.

After the “exam,” as Dick called it, was over, the doctor explained the
case as a few strained ligaments, and said that with care his patient
would be able to walk in about a week.

“A week?” sprang from the young girl involuntarily. Dismay shone in her
eyes, but the doctor, with a fatherly pat, assured her that she had
great cause for gratitude, as it might have been much worse.

“The next time you go to gather dogwood blossoms, young lady,” he
advised jovially, “wear rubber heels, and then you won’t slip on
stones.”

As the doctor bade her good afternoon, promising to come again in a few
days to see how the foot was progressing, Nathalie thought of her
rescuers, and raising her head peered anxiously around.

“The girls have gone, but they left a good-by for you,” her mother
answered to her look of inquiry, “and Miss Dame says she will be in
to-morrow to see how you are.”

By to-morrow Nathalie had begun to think it was not at all unpleasant to
be a short-time invalid, and she jokingly requested her mother to see
that her head was not screwed around from sheer conceit at being the
recipient of so much attention.

Mrs. Morrow, the doctor’s young wife, had sent her a beautiful bunch of
yellow daffodils from the very garden that Nathalie had been admiring
all the week, while the little, silver-haired old lady next
door—Nathalie could have hugged her, she looked so grand-motherly—had
sent her a snow-frosted nut-cake. Lucille—an unheard-of thing—had
condescended to alight from her pedestal of self and had played and sung
Nathalie’s favorite selections all the morning. Even Dorothy, whose
engagement book was always brimming over, had darned stockings for her.
Of course, Nathalie knew that she would have to rip out every stitch,
but that was the child’s way of showing that she, too, wanted to be
sympathetic and kind.

The success of the day, however, was when Helen Dame’s dark eyes smiled
at her from the adjoining porch, and she asked if Nathalie felt like
chatting for a while.

“Indeed I do,” answered Nathalie animatedly, “I have been just dying to
talk with you ever since you were so kind.”

“Oh, how sweet you look!” exclaimed Helen a few moments later as she
shook hands with the patient, “with your pink ribbons—just the color of
your cheeks.” For the girl’s color had deepened as her visitor laid a
bunch of violets on her lap. “These are from the girls, the Girl
Pioneers—that is our Pioneer song,” she added laughingly.

“I just love violets!” Nathalie sniffed at the purple petals. “And the
girls, do you mean the ones who so kindly came to my aid the other day?
Oh, Miss Dame, I hardly know how to express my appreciation of your
kindness,” her voice trembled slightly, “in hurrying home to tell
Mother.”

“Oh, that was nothing,” replied Helen with assumed indifference,
although her eyes darkened in appreciation of Nathalie’s gratefulness,
“that was only courtesy; you know we are Girl Pioneers, and kindness is
one of the laws of the organization.”

“Do you know,” Nathalie broke in impulsively, “Mother thinks the girls
very clever in making that stretcher; do tell me about the Girl
Pioneers!” She hesitated for a moment. “Perhaps I am very ignorant, but
I never heard of them until your mother told mine that you were a Girl
Pioneer.”

Helen laughed with a gratified gleam in her eyes. “Oh, Mother!—she
thinks it just the dandiest thing going. Mrs. Morrow, our Director,
introduced the movement here. The founder is a friend of hers, so she is
steeped to her finger-tips with it.

“She started me going—enthusiasm is contagious, you know—and I organized
the first group. A group means six or eight girls; several groups form
what is called a band.”

“Do you mean Mrs. Morrow, the doctor’s wife?” inquired her companion.
“She must be lovely, for she looks so pretty flitting about the garden,”
turning wistful eyes toward the corner house with its flower beds and
green lawn. “I often watch her from my window.”

“Yes, she is a dear,” assented Helen, “and we girls adore her. Have you
seen the twins?”

“The kiddies who go about in khaki uniforms and carry little poles.”

“Yes, baby Boy Scouts. You should hear them call themselves ‘the twims’;
they both lisp. But there, I must tell you about the Pioneers—but I
don’t want to tire you,” she paused abruptly, “for Mother says there is
no end to me when I get talking on that subject.”

“But I want to hear about them!” pleaded Nathalie.

“Well, after I organized the group, the girls elected me leader, and
Grace Tyson—that’s the girl who walked beside you coming home—my
assistant. You see every group has to have a leader and an assistant
from the group, and then when a band is formed there is a Director. Any
one over twenty-one years of age can be a Director. After we formed our
group, we had to get busy and qualify.”

“Qualify?” repeated her hostess, “that sounds big.”

“Yes, every Girl Pioneer has to qualify, that is to pass several tests
to prove that she is competent to do the work. It is no end of fun
training a girl to qualify, for you know she has to recite the Girl
Pioneer pledge, and the Pioneer laws; she must give the names of the
President and Vice-President of the United States, the name of the
Governor of the State in which she lives, and then tell all about our
country’s flag. She must know how to sew a button on properly,” Helen
made a grimace, “to tie a square knot and to do several other things.
After a girl has passed these tests, she becomes a third-class Pioneer;
then after a month she can qualify for a second-class Pioneer, and
finally for a first-class Pioneer. We can win merit badges, too, for
proficiency in certain lines. Yes, you are right, it is a big thing to
be a Girl Pioneer, for every true Pioneer’s aim is to be courageous,
resourceful, and upright, under all circumstances and in all
emergencies.

“You know, we have to pledge ourselves to speak the truth at all times,
to be honest in all things, and to obey the Pioneer law.” Helen’s face
grew serious. “Yes, and our laws mean something, too, for they stand for
the doing of things that are worth while, the things that develop
nobility of character, for, as Mrs. Morrow tells us, it is character
that makes the great men and women of the world.

“But don’t think we are serious all the time,” she continued, her eyes
brightening, “for we have heaps of fun. We take hikes; sometimes just a
group go with their leader, but generally our Director takes the band.
On these hikes we study woodcraft; that means we study the birds, their
habits, and learn to know their songs and call-notes. We gather wild
flowers, ferns, and grasses, and each girl reads up about the particular
thing she finds and passes the information along. We study the trees,
and the animals also by tracking their footmarks—well, to sum it all up,
we study nature from growing things and living creatures.

“To read about things in a book is all right, Mrs. Morrow says, as it is
helpful in identification and suggestion, but we strive to know things
through personal experience. We are taught to find nature, too, in the
crowded cities. That’s big, isn’t it?”

“Big!” echoed Nathalie, “the word _big_ isn’t big enough to express it.
I should say it meant—well”—she held out her arms, “the universe.”

There was something so responsive in her words and attitude, although
they did not exactly express what she meant to convey, that Helen, with
almost boyish frankness, held out her hand, crying, “Good! let’s shake.
You are simply immense, Miss Page, or, in the words of our old French
professor at school, ‘you—haf—much com—pree—henshun!’” This was said in
mimic tone with laughing eyes, a shrug of the shoulders, and with
outspread hands.

“We have indoor rallies, or Pioneer circles, also, Miss Page, when our
Director gives us delightful little talks on ethical culture,—only ten
minutes—” she pleaded laughingly, “also on history, astronomy,—we call
them our star talks,—and other instructive subjects.

“You will be surprised, perhaps, but these talks are very interesting,
not at all tiresome. The girls listen with all their ears and we learn
an awful lot. One reason is that Mrs. Morrow loves young girls—for you
see, she isn’t so very much older than we are—and she knows just how to
talk to us, so that we don’t feel as if we were being preached at, or
having wisdom jammed down our throats. It is just dramatizing serious
things through play, so as to make us remember them as well as
entertaining us. Then we have spelling-contests, cooking-matches,—I call
them trials by fire,—sewing-bees, and all sorts of old-fashioned
things.”

“But you have outdoor sports, too, do you not?” asked her listener, who
was intensely interested.

“Indeed we do, any number of them: swimming, horseback-riding, rowing,
canoeing, basket-ball, tennis, dancing, stilt-walking,—we make our own
stilts,—kite-flying,—and we make our own kites, too. In fact, we do just
about everything that stands for healthful recreation and wholesome fun.
Isn’t that comprehensive enough?”

“How did you come to take the name ‘Pioneer’?”

“Well, you see it was this way; as the Boy Scouts strive to imitate the
chivalry and higher qualities of the knights of olden times, so we,
their sister organization, endeavor to emulate the sterling qualities of
the early pioneer women. They learned to be courageous, resourceful, and
efficient, as the home-makers of the brave men who founded this
Republic—”

“Do you mean the wives of the Puritans and Pilgrims?”

“Yes, we mean all those women, North, East, South, and West,” Helen
declared smilingly, “who helped their good men to build homes in the
wilderness, who mothered their children with Spartan-like denial, and
who—yes, who knew how to handle an old flintlock when they heard the cry
of the Indian. Oh, no, I’m not originating, I am only an echo of Mrs.
Morrow, who is way up on Colonial history.

“The Pioneer Girls,” she continued more seriously, “aim, by imitating
the many qualities of these splendid women, to be worthy wives and
mothers. Who knows?” she broke into a laugh, “the Girl Pioneers may be
the mothers of men like Washington, Lincoln—O dear,” she stopped
suddenly, “I am talking as if I had to speed a thousand words a minute!”

“Oh, go on!” cried Nathalie, inspired by her guest’s fervency, “I just
love to hear you talk.”

“It is very good of you to say that,” declared Helen with a slight
blush, “but I am almost ‘at the finish,’ as the boys say. But I must not
forget to tell you that we love to gather around the open fire, cheer
fires we call them, and tell stories. We generally try to make them
stories about the pioneers, or heroic women, and sometimes we run in a
story about some brave kiddie, for you know almost every one loves to
hear about brave little children. Ah, that reminds me, did you ever hear
about Mary Chilton? She was a real pioneer girl you know, for she came
over with the Pilgrims.” Helen nodded her head impressively.

“No, I have read about Lola Standish, and I believe—yes—I saw her
sampler once, and I am quite up on all the points of Priscilla’s
courtship, but—”

“Who isn’t?” replied Miss Dame, “for she was a dear. Mary Chilton was a
friend of hers. Why, don’t you remember she was the girl who made the
bet with John Alden—slow old John—that when the little shallop struck
Plymouth Rock (of course they never dreamed that they were going to make
that old rock immortal) that she would jump on the rock first; and sure
enough she did manage to land a second or so before John Alden.”

“Well, the Girl Pioneers aim high,” declared Nathalie, “and I certainly
think they must be worthwhile girls. I shall love to meet your Pioneer
friends—they cheered me up—” she added, “for they made me think of the
girls at school, especially Grace Tyson. Why, she is so much like my
chum that it almost seemed as if I were talking to her the other day!
Your friends all have such happy faces, and ‘it is such a relief to see
good red cheeks as made by Mother Nature,’ as Mother says. Some of the
girls one sees in the cities nowadays have such a made-up appearance,
especially those on the avenue Saturday afternoons in New York.”

“Yes, they have regular clown faces with their splashes of red, and
their powdered noses,” returned her neighbor laughingly. “I always feel
as if I wanted to tell them they had forgotten to rub the flour off. It
doesn’t seem possible that any well-bred girl could think she looks nice
all dabbed up in that way. But there, I am tiring you,” she added
hastily, “so I am going to say good-by. Oh, I came very near forgetting
to ask if you would like to have the girls call on you—I mean the girls
of our group?” she hesitated. “I think you would like them, although
they may not be as fashionable as your city friends.”

“Oh, but they are the kind of girls I like,” protested Nathalie
hurriedly, “for I do not care for girls who are nothing but fuss and
feathers. Please do bring your friends, for I know I shall like them,
and then, too, they may tell me more about the good times you have.”

“Indeed they will,” said Helen with decision; “they will be only too
pleased. When shall we come, will Thursday be a good day for you?”

“Yes, indeed; I shall be here—still in this old chair I presume; I shall
watch for them with great impatience, for you know,” she added a little
sadly, “they remind me of my schoolmates in the city. Oh, I have missed
them dreadfully! Now, be sure to come—all of you!”

She rose in her chair to wave a good-by to her new friend, who, as she
reached the gate, had turned and waved her hand.

Nathalie sank back in her chair with tear-dimmed eyes, for somehow that
friendly salute had brought it all back—the faces of her merry comrades,
and the happy care-free hours they had spent together. She swallowed
hard, for Helen had waved her hand just the way the girls used to do
when they came in afternoons for a chatty little visit, and then hurried
away with just such a parting salute.



CHAPTER III—GIRL PIONEERS


“Oh, I wish you would tell me something about your school life in New
York,” begged Helen wistfully; “I had a friend who used to go to one of
the high schools. I hear they are very fine.”

It was Thursday, the day the Girl Pioneers were to call on Nathalie, and
Helen Dame had run over a few moments before their arrival to have a
short chat with her new friend.

“Oh—I,” Nathalie hesitated with rising color, “I did not go to high
school. Yes, I know they are very fine, but I attended a private school
kept by Madame Chemidlin.”

An “oh!” escaped Helen involuntarily, as her eyes gloomed a little, but
her companion plunged recklessly on.

“It is considered one of the finest schools in the city, because, well,
for one thing, Madame is adorable, her father was one of the nobility, a
political refugee from France, and then because the girls who attend
come from the best families in New York. They were just dears—” with a
sigh of regret—“Nellie Blinton, she was my chummiest chum, she’s the one
I told you Miss Tyson reminded me of, she has the same kind of a face as
Nell, with big, dark eyes and the same gentle, ladylike way about her
that my friend has.

“Then there was Puss Davidson, she’s awfully clever. She writes stories,
and last year won a gold medal from St. Nicholas. She was Valedictorian
of our class last Spring. You know I graduated then, but took a
post-graduate course last winter and expected to enter college this
fall, but now, of course, things are different.” She spoke a little
sadly.

Helen could not help feeling somewhat disappointed as she heard about
these rich schoolmates of Nathalie’s; she had taken a great liking to
this girl with the daintily colored face with its rounding curves,
lighted by eyes that held you captive with their frank, direct gaze.
Although bright and clever-looking, this Girl Pioneer possessed no claim
to beauty, for, as she ruefully commented at times, she had a nose with
a knob on it. For that reason, perhaps, being free from that enviousness
that characterizes so many girls, she was a beauty-lover. Too often she
had made friends with girls just because they appealed to her love for
the beautiful, only to realize when it was too late that good looks do
not always mean pleasing traits of character. In fact, Helen was
somewhat tired of being disappointed, and had vowed to her mother that
she was never again going to care for a pretty girl. She was not sure
that Nathalie was a real beauty, but surely, with her lovely brown eyes
and the gracious little way she had, not at all self-conscious, but just
real “self,” she was in a fair way to become very popular with the
girls.

Her eyes clouded momentarily and something caused an unpleasant jar. No,
she was not jealous of Nathalie, for she was willing to have her know
and be liked by the other girls, but as she had been the first one to
know her, she wanted to be her special friend. But then if she had
always had so many high-toned schoolmates, perhaps she would not care to
be a friend to a girl who was learning to be a wage-earner. Helen had
always felt proud to think that some day she could be ranked among that
class of highly regarded women, but would Nathalie think as she did?

There was something so straightforward, however, so honest, about
Nathalie as she went on and told of her studies, her friends, and a few
of the incidents in her school life in the big city, that Helen forgot
her fears, and was compelled to believe that she would be doing her an
injustice in fearing that she would choose her companions for what they
had and not for what they were.

“Oh, here they come!” cried Nathalie at this moment as she caught a
glimpse of a group of girls in brown uniforms coming down the street.
She half rose from her chair and with sparkling eyes watched them as
they came, a dozen or more, perhaps, up the steps of the veranda. In
another second her eyes grew big as she saw each girl’s hand placed
quickly over her heart, then up to her forehead, and lastly held with
open palm at a level with the right shoulder. It was the Girl Pioneers’
salute to their leader, for Helen with a sudden straightening of the
shoulders had responded to the greeting with a similar movement.

Nathalie had already stepped forward, leaning on Dick’s crutch,—he had
been relegated to the couch in the hall,—and was crying, as her color
came and went in pink flushes, “Oh, I am so glad to see you!” extending
her hand to the foremost girl, Grace Tyson. “I think it’s just lovely
for you all to come to see me!” nodding towards the rest of the group,
with eyes that attested the cordiality of her welcome. She stopped
abruptly, for the girls had broken forth into

  “Hear! hear! hear! Girl Pioneer!
  Come, give a cheer, G-i-r-l Pi-o-neer!”

“And a cheer for our hostess!” added Grace Tyson, lifting up her hand as
she faced her companions. Before Nathalie could catch her breath there
came another ringing cheer as each girl with smiling eyes shouted,

  “Hear! hear! a cheer for Nathalie dear!
  Girl Pi-o-neer! Girl Pi-o-neer!”

If Nathalie’s color had been going and coming, it now flooded her face
as she laughingly held out her hand to each one in turn, giving a soft
little squeeze that made each girl vote her a comrade.

Grace and Helen now led Nathalie back to her chair, somewhat solicitous
as to the sprained foot; but she laughingly assured them that she was
all right. Then with animated eyes she bowed and smiled as Helen, who
was spokesman for the group, began to introduce each one of the Pioneers
in turn, in an offhand, half quizzing way that relieved the formality of
the ceremony.

“This is Miss Jessie Ford, our literary scribe and Editor-in-chief of
‘The Pioneer,’ a penny newspaper issued monthly, devoted to the news and
doings of the Girl Pioneers.”

Jessie, a wholesome-looking girl with golden hair worn in a coronet
braid, and with bright, keen eyes, shook hands pleasantly, half smiling
at the words of their leader. “Yes, she is clever, our Jess, and
progressive, too,” went on Helen, her eyes twinkling, “which means a lot
in these times.” There was the suspicion of laughter in her tone.

“That she’s progressive can’t be denied,” interposed Grace Tyson
laughingly, “for when we had a Pioneer party a short time ago, Jess
wasn’t going to be outdone by any newspaper reporter and wrote a
detailed description of each girl’s costume and sent it to the ‘Town
Journal.’ The paper appeared the afternoon of the ‘come-off,’ one of the
girls saw the article, and suggested as a joke that we all change
costumes. O dear, what a laugh we had on Jess!”

Miss Jessie, however, only smiled at all of this chaffing, as if proud
of this proof of her alertness and stepped to one side.

“And this bluebird—oh, Miss Page did I tell you that each Pioneer group
is named after a bird, and that ours is the Bluebird Group?” Helen had
forgotten her teasing tone in her eagerness to impart this information.

“What a pretty idea,” responded Nathalie, “and bluebird, the name of
your group!” thinking of the nest of bluebirds she had found down in the
old cedar.

Helen nodded with pleasure and then said, “This is Miss Kitty Corwin; we
call her our pot-boiler—that means that Kitty always manages to keep the
pot boiling not only by holding up her end of the line, but all the
other ends, too, when the derelict Girl Pioneers forget to do so.”

“And you might say she always carries all the pots and pans, too, when
there’s a hike,” interposed the newcomer, with a nervous laugh. She was
an awkward-looking girl about fourteen, all arms and elbows, but with a
rather winsome face lighted by big, serious eyes. There was such nervous
activity about her grip as she yanked Nathalie’s hand like a pump-handle
that that young lady had no doubts as to her surplus energy. As Kitty
tried to make her escape there was a suppressed howl, and then a
twitter, for alas, she had backed into one of her companions with such
force that the victim almost lost her balance.

The girls, each one smiling, but with a palpitating heart as if doubtful
what Helen would say when her turn came, all looked up expectantly as a
tall girl, somewhat older than the others, but with a certain dash about
her that added to her charm, came forward. She moved with willowy grace
and had an ease of manner that accentuated the Pot-Boiler’s embarrassed
movements.

“Miss Page, allow me to introduce you to Miss Lillie Bell.” There was a
certain emphasis in Helen’s tone as she presented this pretty,
attractive girl, that indicated her pride in one of the most popular
girls belonging to the group.

Miss Bell smiled in a self-assured manner as Helen introduced her, and
then greeted Nathalie with sweet graciousness as she waited expectantly
for her characterization to be given.

“Lillie is our story-teller,” continued Helen with a gleam of mischief
in her eyes, “a would-be thriller, for we all shiver with the creeps
when she begins her yellow-journal romances. Her specialty is ghost
tales, the kind that, as we sit in the dark around our cheer fire, its
glare (blood-red, please note), casting weird shadows over our pallid
faces—” Helen intoned in tragic burlesque, and then stopped with a
laugh.

Lillie Bell, however, did not appear at all annoyed at this banter, but
returned coolly, “I hope Miss Page, you will not believe all Helen says,
for she dotes on teasing, but we get even with her when the chance
comes.” From a certain gleam in the smiling gray eyes Nathalie did not
doubt her, but as her voice was musical, and her manner impressive,
bordering on the dramatic, she wished she could hear one of her
thrillers.

“Observe,” tantalized the spokesman as Lillie disappeared and her place
was taken by a young girl who looked as if she was all blood and muscle,
with ruddy cheeks, alert eyes, and the poise and bearing of one who was
a frequenter of the gym.

As Helen said, “This is Miss Edith Whiton,” she made an old-time curtsy,
“generally dubbed the Sport, as she is the champion knee-doubler,
arm-stretcher, toe-raiser, and all the rest of the ball-and-socket
team.”

With attempted nonchalance Edith twisted her shoulders and flashed Helen
a quick glance as much as to say, “Wait, my turn is coming later!” She
then stepped forward and shook Nathalie’s hand, smiling pleasantly down
at her with frank friendliness.

As she made her way back to her seat, a pale, studious-looking young
girl with a head that looked almost top-heavy with its black braids, and
who wore glasses, presented herself before Nathalie. She smiled
nervously as Helen began, “Oh, this owl-like individual is Barbara
Worth; she is very learned—she knows it all.”

“Oh, Helen!” came in pained expostulation from the girl, as her eyes
turned distressfully upon her hostess in shamed embarrassment.

“Oh, Barbara, don’t mind,” spoke up Lillie Bell kindly, “Helen is only
in fun.”

Barbara looked somewhat relieved at this brace to her injured feelings,
and then stood nervously clasping and unclasping her hands together.

“Yes,” went on Helen relentlessly, “we call her the Encyclopedia for
short. Wait until you want to know something in a hurry, she will help
you out, for she has the best heart in the world.” With a little ripple
of laughter Helen leaned forward and looking up at Barbara cried,
“There, did I say anything so dreadful?”

Barbara smiled gratefully and then said quietly, “Yes, Miss Page, I have
a fine library, it is grandfather’s, and I shall—” she drew a deep
breath—“always be glad to live up to my name.”

There was loud clapping at this brave remark and then she was gone, but
in her place stood a little lass who smiled bewitchingly at the girl in
the chair, showing a coy little dimple in one cheek, and then with a
slight frown waited for her executioner to behead her.

“This little damsel is Louise Gaynor,” introduced Helen; “she is the
Flower of the family—spelt both ways. We call her flower, because she
resembles one,” Louise bowed prettily with a surprised glance, “and then
because she is an expert manipulator of the flour bag; she makes most
edible flapjacks when we go on a hike. It is needless to say that we
always have indigestion afterwards.” There was a laugh at this, and then
as the Flower disappeared, Helen drew to her side a diminutive girl who
wore her flaxen hair in two large braids down her back. With her broad,
good-natured face and cornflower blue eyes she was a miniature Gretchen.

“This is Carol Tyke—we spell it T-i-k-e, because she is a tike and the
fag of the group as well.” The little girl, who was about eleven, but
small for her age, grinned at Nathalie and ducked her head. “She is a
Junior Pioneer, not yet twelve. But we have her in training and she is
taking tests daily, which doesn’t give her much leisure time, does it,
Tike?”

At last, much to Nathalie’s relief, the introductions were over, and
then she listened intently as the girls began to tell her of a hike they
had taken the week before, when one of their number had found a hundred
different leaf specimens.

“Yes, it was a leaf hike,” said Grace. “We all have our own note-books;
and make impressions from the leaves; that is, we print them in our
books, and then write the date of the hike, the name of the leaf, and
any other data we have gathered.”

“I should think it would be very interesting,” remarked her listener, as
she thought of the outings she and her schoolmates used to take on
Saturday mornings when they visited Bronx Park, and studied “cooped-up
nature” as one of the girls used to call it, when they eyed some fierce
monarch of the forest in his iron cage, or exclaimed over the beauties
of some hot-house flower.

“We are going to have a wild-flower hike soon,” volunteered the Tike,
smiling at Nathalie in a most friendly manner. “The Sport says there are
a lot of beautiful flowers in the woods near Edgemere, didn’t you,
Sport?”

“But I wish you would tell me something about your tests—is that what
you call them?” Nathalie asked. “I should think they would be no end of
fun if they mean making one do stunts, or anything in the hazing line?”

“Oh, we do not haze, or anything of that sort, for that would not be
kind, and kindness is one of the laws of the Girl Pioneer,” explained
Grace. “By tests we mean trying to see what a girl can do that is
useful, and if she can’t do it, we teach her. We have to sew, cook, and
know all the emergency things.”

“You mean the First Aid to the Injured methods,” corrected Helen;
“knowing what to do to revive a person when almost drowned, how to put
out a fire—”

“How to bathe and bandage a sprained foot—”

“You needn’t tell me you know that,” cried Nathalie with sparkling eyes,
“for I know by experience,” and then she told the girls what the doctor
had said about Helen’s skillful way of binding her foot—in spite of that
young lady’s blushes at this open praise—and how clever her mother
thought the girls were for the ready way in which they had made the
stretcher from their khaki skirts.

“Then we have to know how to restore a person who has fainted,” some one
volunteered.

“And learn the Fireman’s Lift,” added another girl.

“Oh, let’s tell things from the beginning!” interrupted some methodical
girl from the farther end of the porch.

“Oh, but I told Miss Page—” Helen stopped, for her hostess was looking
at her with beseeching eyes, clearly due to the formal title.

“Won’t you please call me Nathalie?” the owner of that name ventured
with a coaxing little smile.

“If you will say Helen,” replied the girl with evident delight.

The girls both laughed, shook hands on it, and then Helen continued.
“Yes, I told Nathalie all about the tests for the third-class Pioneer.
Well, to become a second-class Pioneer it is necessary to have been a
third-class Pioneer for at least a month. Then you have to know how to
cook a piece of meat properly—”

“Boil a potato as it should be done!” interrupted Lillie Bell. This was
impressively said, and followed by a chime of laughter from the girls.

“And make a coal fire in a cooking-stove—ye stars!” ejaculated Grace,
“when I made my first, I literally smoked every one in the house to a
ham—but when I made my first out-of-door fire—”

“You didn’t do any better,” cried Lillie Bell irrelevantly, “for you
sooted the whole bunch of us.”

“Oh, Lillie,” cried Grace in dismayed tone, “that wasn’t from making the
fire, for I was the only one who made it with a single match, but it was
from putting it out.”

“Now girls, don’t tell tales; for, as Mrs. Morrow says, we are all
breakable and no one should cast the first stone,” called out their
leader.

“Oh, the tests are all easy but the next one,” cried Edith Whiton, “that
is not a cinch by any means: how to remove a cinder from the eye—”

“Or any other foreign substance!”

“We have to know all the primary colors, too,” went on Edith.

“Pshaw, any kindergarten kid knows that,” spoke the Encyclopedia, who up
to this moment had taken no part in this flow of information, “but to
tie a bundle properly, that means hard labor.”

“Yes, indeed,” added Jessie Ford quickly, “one has to have an awful lot
of practice to do that. I worked so hard tying up bundles at home for
every one in the house that Father suggested I apply for a position as
bundle-wrapper at some department store. And I would have, just for a
joke, if I hadn’t succeeded in making every one for whom I tied a bundle
give me five cents—and I made a dollar.” Her eyes gleamed reminiscently.

“You have forgotten about the trees!” called out the Sport.

“Yes, we have to name three kinds of trees, three flowers and three
birds.”

“Easy!” chimed the girls in unison.

“But the hardest—that was for me—” exclaimed Grace (Nathalie bent
forward eagerly, for somehow she did like Grace), “was to earn or to
save fifty cents and put it in the bank.” There was a general shout at
this, for, as Helen explained in an aside to Nathalie, Grace was the
richest girl in the Pioneer group. She had a beautiful home, her own
automobile, her own allowance, and yet she was always hard up.

“She’s awfully generous, you know, and doesn’t know how to count her
pennies,” she added wisely, “the way we girls do, because we have to.
But she’s learning.”

But Helen’s whispered comments about her friend were not all heard by
Nathalie, who suddenly stiffened, and with a quick exclamation leaned
forward and stared curiously at a gray figure that was walking past the
house with strained, averted eyes, as if fearful that she might see the
group of merry girls on the veranda.

“Who is that lady all in gray?” she demanded, abruptly clutching Helen’s
arm as her eyes followed the gliding figure of the strange-appearing
woman whose library card she had found the day of her accident in the
woods.

Helen looked up quickly in response to Nathalie’s question, but before
she could answer, Kitty Corwin cried hastily, “Girls, look! there goes
‘The Mystic’!”



CHAPTER IV—NATHALIE IS ASKED TO BECOME A BLUE ROBIN


“The Mystic!” echoed Nathalie in mild amazement, while one or two of the
group turned and gazed curiously at the gray-shrouded figure hurrying
by.

“You needn’t ask me to look at her,” asserted the Sport with a scowl,
“after screwing up my courage as I did to ask her if we could use her
terraced lawn for one of our drills; why, the glance she gave me almost
froze me stiff!”

The girls laughed at Edith’s tragic tone, while Lillie Bell retorted
teasingly, “Well, she must be a chill-raiser, Edith, if she could freeze
the marrow in your spine.”

“Girls, you should not speak as you do about Mrs. Van Vorst,” admonished
Helen, “you know Mrs. Morrow says that she has suffered a great sorrow.”

“Pshaw, we all know that,” returned the Sport unfeelingly, “but that is
no reason why she should make every one else suffer, too.”

“Granted,” rejoined Helen, “but she has grown to look at things through
morbid eyes.”

“I should think the gray gown she wears would make any one morbid,”
suggested Lillie. “But what is the use of discussing her? I believe she
is just a crank with a fad,” she added.

“Who is she, and why does she go about in that queer gray gown?”
inquired Nathalie, insistently.

“She is Mrs. Van Vorst, the richest woman in town,” explained Grace.
“She lives in that big, gray house surrounded by the stone wall. Haven’t
you noticed it? It’s on Willow Street, up on the hill. You must have
seen it.”

“Oh, the big house with the beautiful Dutch garden,” exclaimed Nathalie,
“and the queer little house at one side of it?”

“Yes,” nodded Helen, “but that queer little house is an ancient
landmark—a Dutch homestead—built on a grant of land given by Governor
Stuyvesant to Janse Van Vorst way back in 1667. The Van Vorsts, or their
descendants, have lived on that place for hundreds of years. Billy Van
Vorst, the last of the line, married Betty Walton, a rich New York girl.
He died some years ago, and—well, I don’t know the exact story—” Helen
hesitated, “but they say Mrs. Van Vorst has an awful temper—oh, I hate
to tell it—and then it may not be true.”

“But it is true,” asserted Jessie Ford, “for Mother used to know Billy
and Betty, too. She said shortly after Billy’s death Mrs. Van Vorst
became angry with her little child—I don’t know whether it is a boy or
girl—and—”

“Whatever it is,” broke in Edith, “it is all distorted and twisted,
looks like a monster, for I saw it one day in the garden, the day I was
there. It is always muffled up so people can’t see it.”

“Well, anyway,” went on Jessie, “Mrs. Van Vorst got into a temper with
the child and shut it up in a dark room, and then went off to a
reception or something, and forgot all about it.”

“Oh, how could she?” ejaculated Nathalie with a shudder.

“Well, when she came home and remembered it—it wasn’t in the room—”

“And they found it all in a heap on the pavement in the yard,” again
interrupted Edith, anxious to forestall the climax; “I have heard all
about it, they say it was an awful sight.”

“Dead?” cried Nathalie in a shocked tone.

“No, not dead,” returned Jessie, “but it might as well have been. It had
become frightened in the dark, said some one was chasing it, and in
trying to escape climbed out on a shed and fell to the ground. Mrs. Van
Vorst was ill for a long time, almost lost her mind. Then she gave up
society and came down here and built this big house beside the
homestead. She has lived in it ever since, but keeps to herself; she
doesn’t seem to want to know people.”

“Oh, I don’t wonder she mourns in gray then!” exclaimed Nathalie. “I
feel sorry for her!”

“And so do I!” chimed Helen squeezing her new friend’s hand
responsively, “for she will have to suffer remorse all her life. Mother
says she is to be pitied.”

“Well, I should have more pity for her if she would let us have the lawn
back of her house for our flag drill,” remarked Lillie Bell, “or for one
of our demonstrations.”

“You can be sure I’ll never ask her again,” declared the Sport,
vehemently; “I believe she hates us just because we are young, and can
enjoy life when her child can’t.”

At this moment Grace arose and handed Nathalie a peculiar-looking
envelope of rough brown paper. “No, it won’t explode,” she giggled, as
she saw Nathalie handling the quaintly-folded envelope rather gingerly.

“You needn’t think it is the butcher’s bill, either,” laughed Helen,
“for it isn’t. It is simply an invitation to one of our group meetings,
or Pioneer Rallies, as we call them. We always use that kind of paper
when we invite guests, for it was the kind used in pioneer times.”

Reassured by Helen’s explanation, Nathalie opened the envelope, noting
the old-style script printed by hand in scarlet letters, evidently the
work of one of the Pioneers. Then she slowly read aloud:

  “They knew they were Pilgrims, and looked not much on those things,
  but lifted up their eyes to Heaven, their dearest country, and
  quieted their spirits within.”

                                                           — Bradford.

                   *       *       *       *       *

  Ye presence of ye young maide, Mistress Nathalie Page is enjoined to
  appear on ye 23rd of this month at ye Common House (Seton Hall) on
  ye corner of ye cross roades to Bergen Town, to join with ye maides
  of ye colony of Westport in a seemly diversion and Mayflower Feast.

  Postscript: Kindly come apparelled in ye meeting-house cloathes and
  behave as a young maide should so do.

  From the Girl Pioneers of America, ye Many-greated-grand-daughters
  of ye Mothers of ye Pilgrim Colony, who came to this new world in ye
  good sloop MAYFLOWER in 1620.

The expression of wonderment in Nathalie’s eyes changed to one of
amusement as she laughingly cried, “My, but you are the real article!”

“Yes, the scribe did that,” said Helen proudly; “I think it ought to be
put in a glass case.”

“Thank you!” promptly returned Jessie; “I accept your praise, but
suggest, as industry is one of the laws of the Pioneers, that I should
receive a special badge of merit, for if you could have seen me poking
into those musty documents at the library to get the thing right, you
would say I deserved it.”

“But what does it mean?” demanded Nathalie curiously. “What have you to
do with the Pilgrims?”

“Why, it means,” explained Helen, “that we girls, to freshen up our
minds on pioneer history, so that we may learn more about the women we
emulate, name each of our rallies after some one group of pioneers, or
some special pioneer woman, in memory of their service to us. Then we
all talk about them, each one telling what she knows.”

“Or what she doesn’t know, generally,” broke in Lillie, dryly.

“I guess you are about right, Lillie,” added Grace, “for we are awfully
rusty on pioneer history. It always seemed so stupid at school, but we
have learned a lot since we started naming our rallies after pioneer
things, and trying to see what we can cram. Why, girls,” she cried
suddenly, as if impelled by inspiration to tell the latest thing she had
learned, “do you know that there were almost thirty children who came
over with the Pilgrims in the _Mayflower_?”

“Well, I for one did not,” remarked Jessie candidly; “I didn’t know that
the Pilgrims had any children; supposed they were just a lot of
blue-nosed men who wore high ruffs and tall, round hats, and who went
about with long faces, telling people they would go to the devil if they
dared to smile.”

“There, Jess,” broke in Lillie Bell mischievously, “you needn’t get
profane over it.”

“Of course they were grim and forbidding-looking,” supplemented Kitty,
“and—”

“And sanctimonious,” added some one, “with their blue laws.”

“Girls, you are all wrong,” spoke up Helen, with a sort of call-you-down
air, “it was the Connecticut elders who made the blue laws. The Pilgrims
were sincere, earnest men. Remember what Mrs. Morrow said about them?”

There was a sudden silence for a moment, and then a faint voice was
heard from the other end of the veranda. Every one pricked up her ears
and craned her neck to see who was speaking.

“Ye Stars! it is the Flower of the Family,” whispered Edith; “what has
come to her?”

The sweet, low voice went on slowly, perhaps a trifle unsteadily, “God
sifted a whole nation that he might send choice grain into the
wilderness.”

“Hooray for the Flower!” shouted some one, and then of course they all
had to clap, while the editor-in-chief of the “Pioneer,” who was sitting
next to the speaker, jotted down this little saying with the air of an
expert reporter.

“Now, do you suppose,” went on Helen, “that these picked men—”

“This choice grain,” corrected the Sport softly, who was trying hard to
create a laugh.

“Edith, please be serious,” admonished Helen, looking at that young lady
with reproving eyes, but she was sitting with folded arms and eyes cast
down, the picture of innocent and bland decorum.

Helen, seeing she had subdued the Sport for the time being, continued:
“Yes, this choice grain was composed of not only sincere and courageous
men, as we know, but the most tolerant of any of the first settlers in
this country. But, of course, in serious, solemn times one is not apt to
be funny. They were not really sanctimonious, they just got that name
because they tried to live up to their convictions.”

“But they got it!” retorted the Sport, who was always hard to convince
in an argument. Helen flashed her eyes at her in rebuke, and then,
turning toward Nathalie, said, “We are not only going to tell what we
have learned about the Pilgrims at the rally, but we are to end with a
Mayflower Feast. We do not expect to eat the things the colonists did,
of course, but the table is to be decorated with May-flowers—that is
with all the flowers that grow in May—so you see, it will really be a
May-flower Feast.”

“The Boy Scouts are going to pick the flowers for us!” chimed the Tike,
her good-natured face beaming good-fellowship at Nathalie.

“Dr. Homer—he is Mrs. Morrow’s brother—” supplemented Grace, “is the
Scout Master of the Eagle Patrol, and as he is very anxious to make the
boys chivalrous, he likes to have them help us all they can.”

“But we are to have a great big entertainment,” exclaimed Carol
importantly, “very soon, and we’re to sell tickets so that we can make
money for the Camping Fund.”

“And we have such a bright idea for getting up something novel in the
way of entertainments,” spoke up Helen interestedly. “Each girl is to
put on her thinking-cap and get to work on an idea; it has to be
original, nothing borrowed, or that has been used before, and then turn
it in to our Director in proper shape to be carried out. All of these
novel ideas are to be kept secret until we have had all of the
entertainments, and then we shall vote for the one we think the best.
The winners will receive merit badges for their efficiency.”

“Oh, that will be great!” cried Nathalie, “but tell me, where are you
going camping?” she questioned animatedly, for her thoughts had
instantly reverted to a summer or so before when she and a party of
school girls had camped up in the woods of Maine.

“We don’t know yet,” was Helen’s practical rejoinder, “for we have got
to know how much money we shall have to spend. But come, girls, be
serious and tell Nathalie some of our sports and activities. We want to
show her that we can do things worth while, you know.”

“Oh, get Lillie Bell to tell us one of her stories!” cried the Sport,
who was a warm admirer of the story-teller.

“Oh, I can’t think of any now!” replied Lillie lazily. And then as a
chorus of voices seconded this plea, she cried, “Really girls, I can’t.
I was up half the night studying for exam. But,” her face brightened, “I
will tell you about the picked chicken if you like. As it has something
to do with our pioneer law, it will come in all right.”

“Oh, yes, do!” pleaded her hostess, who had been wishing that she might
hear one of the story-teller’s thrillers.

“It isn’t a blood-curdler this time, Miss Page,” apologized Lillie, “so
I cannot give you an exhibition of my reputed talent as a fictionizer.
It is simply that Mother had a headache, Father was going to bring home
a swell friend to dine with us, and as it happened, the butcher sent a
feathered fowl, and our little Dutch maid was ill.”

“Oh, it was maddening,” she sighed in dolorous reminiscence, “but there
was no way out of it, for we had to have that chick for dinner. So I set
to work; some people say that when you try to do right everything rises
up against you. So it proved to me, but I remembered our Pioneer motto,
‘I Can,’ and glued myself to that job. Verily, I thought that chicken
must be a relative to the goose that laid the golden egg, for every
feather I pulled, a dozen at least came to the funeral. But I won out,
and went to bed with a clear conscience, and that fowl—inside of me!”

“Hooray for the Pioneer laws!” called several voices hilariously, and
then at one and the same time, in their eagerness to give proof of
well-doing, each one started to relate some personal experience. The
effect of several story-tellers spinning yarns at the same time was so
ludicrously funny that all the stories ended in merry laughter.

“Oh, let’s vary the entertainment,” suggested Grace, “and sing our
Pioneer song for Miss Page.”

In another moment the fresh young voices, accompanied by a swing of
heads and a tap of feet, were singing, to the tune of “Oh, Maryland, My
Maryland”:

  “We laugh, we sing, we jump, we run,
    We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers!
  We’re always having lots of fun;
    We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers!
  The wild birds answer to our call,
  These feathered friends in trees so tall;
  We learn to know them one and all.
    We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers!

                Refrain.
    We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers!
    We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers!
  We will be brave, and kind, and true;
    We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers!”

Nathalie, who was enjoying this musical treat immensely, and longed to
join in, suddenly gave a start. She had heard a familiar hand strike the
keyboard of the piano, and then start in with the tune the girls were
singing, while a clear, high, soprano voice—one that the girl had never
heard before—took up the air, and in a moment was leading the girls in
their song, and as though accustomed to do it.

She saw one or two of the girls smile at another in a mysterious way,
and began to wonder what it all meant. As the last verse came to a
close, and there were three, Mrs. Page stepped through the low French
window from the living-room on the veranda, followed by a figure in
white and Dick, who was hobbling along on a broom turned upside down.

There was a silent moment, and then the Girl Pioneers had jumped to
their feet and were saluting the lady in white, for it was Mrs. Morrow,
their Director. No, they did not touch their shoulders as in the salute
to Helen, their group leader, but the forehead, in military salute.

Mrs. Morrow returned the salute, and then, as the girls broke into their
Pioneer yell, came over to Nathalie without waiting for an introduction.
But the young hostess had risen to her feet and was standing with
outstretched hand.

“Oh, my dear! you must sit down, or you may strain your foot!” cried
Mrs. Morrow anxiously, as she caught Nathalie’s hand in hers and smiled
down at her with luminous gray eyes, the kind that seem to radiate
hearty good-will and cheer. Her greeting was so gracious, and there was
such an undefinable charm in the bright face of the young matron, that
Nathalie surrendered immediately.

“I did not mean to intrude on your sport, girls,” cried Mrs. Morrow in a
moment, turning toward the group, still holding Nathalie’s hand, “but I
was as anxious as you all were to meet our new neighbor.”

The color deepened in Nathalie’s cheeks as she cried in her impulsive
way, “Oh, but you are not intruding at all, Mrs. Morrow; I am more than
anxious to meet you, for—” she stopped a moment, and then flashed, “the
girls all say you are lovely!”

There was a wild cheer at this, whereupon, the gray-blue eyes smiled at
Nathalie again. Then turning, the lady nodded to the compliments so
boisterously expressed by the girls. For a few moments it seemed as if
each girl was trying to outdo every other girl as to who should win in
this race for tongue speed, as they crowded around Nathalie and their
Director.

Presently Nathalie looked up and laughed, for Dick did look so funny as
he hobbled from one girl to another—he had always been a lover of
girls—on his broomstick. As if divining why she laughed, Dick, who had
heard her looked up. “Hello there, Blue Robin!” he cried teasingly,
“what have you got to say about it?”

“Blue Robin?” repeated Mrs. Morrow in puzzled query, turning towards
Nathalie, “why does he call you Blue Robin? That is the name of this
group.”

“But I thought the name of this group was Bluebird,” answered Nathalie
in some surprise.

“So it is,” returned Mrs. Morrow, “but you know, bluebird means blue
robin, too.”

“There, Dick! I was not so far wrong after all!” cried Nathalie
triumphantly, looking at her brother with convincing eyes. Then she
turned and quickly told how she had found the bluebird’s nest in the old
cedar, how she had called the birdlings blue robins, and how Dick—who
was a terrible tease—had plagued her about it ever since.

“But please inform me, Mrs. Morrow,” now spoke that young man, “why you
say bluebirds are blue robins?”

“Why, you know, the first bird seen by the Pilgrims when they came to
this land was a bluebird—our earliest songster. As it resembled the
robin so much, they wrote home to their friends and told of the
beautiful blue robins they had seen in the new land.”

“Oh, Nathalie,” cried Helen with joy in her voice, “do you know the
finding of the blue robin’s nest surely must be an omen for good! Keep
the name your brother has given you, and become a real bluebird, or blue
robin, by joining our group and becoming a Pioneer!”

“Oh, yes, Miss Page, do!” came quickly to Nathalie’s ears; “we should
love to have you one of us.”

“I’ll coach you in the tests!” sang out Helen, who was ready to dance
with pleasure to think that there was a prospect of her new friend
becoming a Pioneer.

“And I’ll help!” added Grace. “And so will I,” “And I!” chimed several
girlish voices.

Nathalie sat in embarrassed silence, hardly knowing what to answer to
these many cordial invitations to join, and offers to help her do the
tests. “I would love to be one of you,” she spoke hesitatingly, “but I
am not at all clever at doing things, for I can’t sew, or cook, or do
anything useful at all!” The girl’s voice was almost plaintive.

“Ah, you are just the one we want, then,” was Mrs. Morrow’s quick reply;
“we want girls who don’t know how, so we can teach and train them in the
right way.”

There was loud applause at this remark, and then as the hubbub subsided
somewhat, Mrs. Morrow held up her hand for silence. “Now, girls,” she
said, “give Miss Page time to think. Yes, we should be overjoyed to have
you join the group, Miss Page, for later, in the summer, one of our
bluebirds is to emigrate South for the winter, and we should love to
have you take her place. I agree with Helen that the finding of the
bluebird’s nest in the old cedar meant that you were to become a true
bluebird, or Blue Robin, as we shall have to call you.”

Nathalie looked at Dick, and then at her mother. Mrs. Page was smiling
at her so reassuringly that Nathalie understood that she gave her
consent, and joyfully signified her willingness to become a Pioneer.
With a bob of her head at Dick she declared, that she would become one
if only to show her brother that there was such a thing as a Blue Robin.

Mrs. Morrow then explained that they had selected the bluebird as their
mascot not only because it was the bird of pioneer days, but because the
word blue means true, and Girl Pioneers were to be true in word, and
thought, and deed. And then as a bird means swift, they were to be swift
to the truth.

“The bluebird is also noted for its cheerfulness,” she continued. “The
Pioneers are to be cheerful. It is a loyal bird; the Pioneers are to be
loyal to one another, to their pledges and laws, and to every one and to
all things that are right, good, and pure. The bird is also very gentle,
and we want the Pioneers to cultivate kindliness and gentleness.
Flower,” she called suddenly, “sing us that pretty little bluebird song
you know.”

In compliance with this request the Flower sang, in her sweet soprano, a
funny little song about a bluebird courting his lady love. Each verse
ended with the call-note, “Tru-al-lee,” which the girls caught up as a
refrain and sang with sweet, low tones, the Flower’s bird-like trill
rising high above the others.



CHAPTER V—THE GRAY STONE HOUSE


“Do you know, Helen,” exclaimed Nathalie, looking at her friend with
reminiscent eyes, “that it is only three weeks since I met you, but it
seems like three months.”

“That is because you have been on probation for a Pioneer,” retorted
Helen smilingly, “and are beginning to take life more seriously.”

“Not very seriously, I am afraid,” lamented Nathalie, “judging from the
bungle I made in trying to learn that square knot.”

“Oh, you will learn,” encouraged Helen, “but I must be off, for I have
some typing to do for to-morrow.” Yes, Helen’s new friend knew that she
was learning to be a stenographer. When that little fact had been
divulged in the natural course of events, Nathalie had listened with
great interest to Helen’s declaration of her life purpose—to be
independent—not only for the pleasure that independence would bring to
her, but because she wanted to earn money so that she could give her
mother little comforts and luxuries that Mrs. Dame had been denied
because her husband’s income was limited.

Instead of scorning her, as the girl had feared, Nathalie had wished her
great success, apparently appreciating the unselfish motive that
actuated her, while lamenting that she herself was not as clever.

“O dear,” she had impulsively declared, “I want to earn money, too; oh,
if I only had a purpose in life! I do not want to be a drone.” And then
on the impulse of the moment she had confided to Helen her many
disappointments, and how anxious they all were about her brother Dick,
fearful that he might never recover the use of his leg. To Helen it had
seemed that since these mutual confidences a closer friendship had grown
up between them, much to that young lady’s joy.

She had just finished hearing Nathalie recite the Pioneer Pledge and
laws, give the names of the Presidential party, as Nathalie called them,
adding the name of the governor of the State in which she lived,
describe the United States flag, sew a button on—as it should be done,
she had declared with solemn unction—and then exhibit her skill at tying
a square knot.

“After you become a Bluebird at the Pilgrim Rally to-morrow, I shall
begin to drill you in the tests necessary to make you a Second-Class
Pioneer,” Helen had declared when the lesson was over and she began to
gather up her sewing materials.

“Oh, will you?” cried Nathalie, “but when can I become one?”

“In a month,” was the reply, “if you pass the tests; but there, I shall
never get my work done if I stand here and talk,” and Helen started for
the steps.

“Yes, and I am in a hurry to hear what Dr. Morrow says about Dick’s
knee,” returned Nathalie as she followed her friend to the edge of the
veranda. “You know he was in this morning to examine it; I am so anxious
to hear what he had to say.”

“How did your brother injure his knee?” asked Helen as she paused at the
foot of the steps, “I have often wanted to ask.”

“Why, he slipped on the ice just two days after Father’s death,”
rejoined Nathalie, her eyes darkening sorrowfully. “The New York
physician said it was only sprained ligaments and would be all right
soon. But he has been growing worse—it pains him dreadfully
sometimes—oh, you don’t know how worried we are—” her voice quavered,
“suppose he should be lame for life!”

“Oh, don’t get nervous over it,” advised Helen cheerfully, “but hurry in
and see what Dr. Morrow said. To be sure he is only a one-horse-town
doctor, but it is claimed that he is an expert surgeon,” and then with a
smile and a wave of her hand she hastened toward the gate.

Nathalie watched her friend with brightening eyes as she hurried across
the lawn. Somehow the girl’s companionship had revived her drooping
spirits; the many little chats they had had about the Pioneers and the
tests, coupled with the anticipation of becoming one, had in a measure
brightened her life. To be sure, they could never take the place of her
friends of the city, but might perhaps dull the longing for the things
of the past and the desires that at times threatened to overwhelm her.
She realized that she was beginning to take a keener interest in her
surroundings, and felt that it was all owing to the Pioneers.

“Nathalie, I am here—in the sitting-room!” called her mother’s voice
faintly a few moments later as she heard the girl’s step in the hall. An
apprehensive pang seized Nathalie’s heart as she flew to her mother’s
side.

“What did the doctor say, Mumsie?” she demanded anxiously. “Will Dick be
lame?”

“I hope not, Nathalie, but there will have to be an operation—” her
mother’s voice sank to a whisper, “and oh, it will cost us several
hundred dollars.” Here Mrs. Page broke down, and burying her face on her
daughter’s shoulder wept silently. The girl gently patted the
gray-streaked head as she hugged the slender form closely, but with
intuitive divination she let her have her cry out, although she was
seething with impatience, for she knew it would prove a relief to the
mother heart.

“It is all right, I am just a coward.” Mrs. Page choked a moment, then
imprinted a wet kiss on the rounded cheek so close to her own as she
felt the comfort of her unspoken sympathy. “I am sure Dick will be all
right in time—but I am so worried—I have had bad news, too. It does seem
as if misfortunes never come singly, as they claim,” she said, thrusting
a crumpled sheet of paper into her daughter’s hand.

The girl’s eyes swept the type-written page, once, twice, then in a
tense tone she demanded, “Oh, Mother, do you mean that the Portland
cement bonds are in danger—why, I thought—”

“They are to stop paying interest while the company is being
reorganized; something has gone wrong. I was afraid of it, as they say
cement is being sold at a very low figure.”

“But perhaps it will only be for a time, you are crossing your bridges
before you get there as Father used to say,” Nathalie replied with
attempted cheerfulness, “but did you not say that they were first
mortgage bonds?”

“Yes, but child, we have got to live,” exclaimed her mother irritably;
“that money, the interest, is part of my income, and it is little
enough—expenses are so heavy. And where the money will come for Dick’s
operation I am sure I don’t know—but there, don’t worry—it will be all
right in time, I know.” She sank back in her chair and dabbed her
reddened eyelids with her moist handkerchief.

“But, Mumsie, tell me, why is it necessary for Dick to have an
operation?” questioned Nathalie insistently with anxious eyes.

“The doctor says there is a bone in his leg infected. It will have to be
removed, and a new bone put in.”

“A new bone put in!” ejaculated Nathalie, “why—”

“Yes, it is something new in surgery,” replied her mother. “Dr. Morrow
says thousands of cripples have been made well by this new method of
treating cases like Dick’s. He says—” a long sigh—“if Dick does not have
an operation, he will probably be lame, if he is ever able to walk at
all.” The tears began to glisten in Mrs. Page’s eyes again, as Nathalie,
with a sudden sharp realization what this would mean for Dick and all of
them, turned and rushed from the room with the dread that if she
remained a moment longer she too would fall to weeping.

She hastened up the attic stairs to her den; she wanted time to think.
Oh, suppose there should be no money for the operation, and Dick should
be lame all the rest of his life, Dick, who had always been so well and
robust, and who for his athletic prowess had won so many silver cups and
medals! She threw herself into the low rocker, and leaning her head on
her desk began to cry softly; she did not want Mother to hear.

Oh, why did they have so much trouble? How hard it was to lose her
father, her beautiful home and friends, to give up college, to have to
live in that poky old town—even the Pioneers could not compensate for
that—and then to have Dick lame because they had no money! Nathalie wept
on in woeful lamentation, feeling with the untriedness of youth that she
was a great martyr. Did not God’s world owe her happiness? Was it not
sinning against her in denying her right to its joys?

But even sorrow has its limit, and gradually her sobs died away to a
shiver, as her head dropped wearily on the back of her chair. Oh, if she
were not so helpless, if she could only earn money like Helen! But what
could she do? She couldn’t sew, she had no musical ability—like Lucille!
A Bob White whistle, followed by a “Tru-al-lee!” beneath her window
reminded her that she had promised to take a walk with Grace Tyson.

Yes, Nathalie knew that “Tru-al-lee!” for that young lady was the only
Pioneer who could so successfully imitate that little bird’s sweet
trill. She jumped up quickly, and then with the buoyancy of youth cast
all her dismal forebodings skyward and hurried down to the lower floor.

“I’ll be down in a moment,” she called out to Grace, who had just
entered the hall and was chatting with Dick, who had been reading on the
couch. She flew into the bath-room, scrubbed her face vigorously a
moment, and then flying into her room grabbed her hat from its peg in
the closet, and then hastened down the stairs humming blithely a new
ragtime song as she went.

“I want to say good-by to Mother,” she exclaimed as she nodded to Grace
and hurried into the sitting-room. But when she saw the big pile of
mending on the table in front of Mrs. Page, a sudden guilty pang
assailed her.

“Oh, Mumsie,” she cried, “don’t you do that mending. I will do it when I
come back. I meant to do it yesterday,” she excused herself lamely, “but
I forgot all about it.”

“Never mind, daughter, perhaps it will keep me from worrying,” was the
reply; “as ’tis said, there is nothing like work to keep up one’s
spirits.”

“Oh, Mumsie,” the girl cried impulsively, rubbing her hands caressingly
over her mother’s cheek, “don’t let’s worry any more. We’re just silly
to cry over what may not happen,” and then she added hopefully, “I’m
sure things will come out all right.”

Mrs. Page’s eyes filled as she bent forward and kissed her
would-be-comforter. “Yes, we are silly, no doubt,” she smiled through
her tears, “to waste time and strength worrying over what, after all,
may not happen.”

“But, Mother,” suddenly questioned the girl with uneasy eyes, “do—do you
think I ought to become a Pioneer?”

“Why not, Nathalie?” inquired Mrs. Page in surprise. “Perhaps it will
teach you some of the many things you should know, for if we are to be
poor, you may have to earn your own living. Resourcefulness, courage,
those will be the things—” her mother’s voice ceased abruptly.

Nathalie remained silent; there was a note in her mother’s voice that
seemed like reproof. A sudden depression seized her again as it came to
her with renewed force how helpless she was, what things Helen did to
help her mother, and the many useful things the Pioneer girls—plain
girls, too, who had never had the advantages that she had had—could do.

But mentally pushing these reproachful thoughts aside with the
rebellious feeling that she had never been brought up to do these
things, that she had been born a lady, she stooped and kissed her mother
hastily and hurriedly joined Grace on the veranda.

“Where shall we walk?” she asked that young girl, as they passed down
the street. She glanced up at the blue sky, where snowy clouds drifted
like rudderless ships at sea.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you, but Mrs. Morrow has asked me to deliver a
note to ‘The Mystic.’”

“‘The Mystic?’” echoed Nathalie in doubting amazement, “why I thought
she had never had anything to do—”

“To do with the people of the town,” finished Grace. “Well, she doesn’t
as a rule, but she is one of Dr. Morrow’s patients and had the grace to
return Mrs. Morrow’s call. I hate to go, as I know she dislikes young
people, but of course I could not say no to Mrs. Morrow, and then, too,
I rather think she is writing to ask her if we could have her lawn for
one of our demonstrations. We had a lovely idea for a May-Day
celebration, but we had to give it up, as we had no place to hold it.”

“What were you going to have?” inquired Nathalie, as the two girls
turned up the hill leading to the big gray house enclosed in its barrier
of gray wall.

“We were going to get some ox carts and decorate them with Mayflowers,
and parade to the grounds. There we were to choose a queen and dance
around the May-pole in welcome to the goddess of spring. Fred was to be
Robin Hood—O dear,” she suddenly ejaculated with a dismayed face, “I do
believe I left the note at home. What a ninny I am! Why, I pinned it to
the cushion so I wouldn’t forget it and then walked straight off and
left it.”

The girls stared blankly at one another a moment and then Grace cried,
“Come, we might as well go back for it; do you mind? It is only a few
blocks out of our way.”

On receiving Nathalie’s assent she added contentedly, “I’ll get Dorcas
to make us some lemonade to cool us off, and—why, I can show you my
Pioneer room!”

“Oh, I should just love to see it!” enthused Nathalie; “Helen told me
about it. She said she was going to suggest that the groups of the
Pioneer band have a Pioneer room.”

“Isn’t it old-timey?” she mused a half hour later, as Grace ushered her
into a low-ceiled room whose walls were flauntingly gay with a paper of
many-colored tulips, which, Grace proudly admitted, was decidedly Dutch
and for that reason had been selected.

Nathalie’s keen eyes were lured to the photographs, water-colors,
etchings, and cuts from magazines, all representative of pioneer days,
that peeped from between the gorgeous rows of tulips. An etching of New
Amsterdam dated 1650, with rows of one story houses, with their gable
ends notched like steps, and weather vanes surmounted with grotesque
designs of horses, lions, and geese, proved a great contrast in its
quaint simplicity to the New York of to-day.

Her eyes swept from this pictured history to the four-poster with its
dimity valance, and then on to the oval dressing table, resplendent with
silver candle-sticks, snuffers, and a curious little Dutch lamp with a
funny mite of a tinder-box by its side.

“But that clock is a dear!” she murmured as her gaze lingered admiringly
upon a tall grandfather’s clock in the corner, which returned her glance
with such old-time solemnity on its ivory-tinted face that Nathalie’s
brain became a movie screen, one scene after another presenting
themselves to her vivid imagination.

“Father gave that clock to me last birthday,” informed Grace with pride;
“it belonged to the Very Reverend Henricus Van Twiller, one of my
forebears. See, there’s his picture over the mantel,” pointing to a
seamed and dingy-looking canvass of said forebear, who looked down at
them with stolid complacency.

“Yes, it is very old,” continued Grace, “some unimaginative relative of
Papa was going to chop it up with Georgie’s little hatchet, but Father
rescued it just in time. But you must look at the spinning-wheel.
Grandmother gave it to me for being a thief.”

“Yes,” she rattled on, “I stole a satin bow from her old wedding gown
for a souvenir, and when she discovered what I had done, the old dear
not only forgave me, but added this spinning-wheel to my collection of
things ancient. See, here is the bow on the distaff. But come, let’s go
down and have the lemonade, I’m dying for a cooling drink.”

As the two girls sat sipping the beverage, Grace suddenly sprang up
crying, “Oh, there’s Fred! I want you to meet him!” She began to wave
and call frantically in the direction of the lawn, where a tall,
well-formed youth was striding, nonchalantly swinging his tennis-racket.

“Oh, I say, kid, what do you want? I’m in a hurry!” came in response a
moment later, as the youth stopped and eyed his sister impatiently,
vigorously mopping his face, for the day was warm.

But as he caught sight of Nathalie, his excuses suddenly ceased, and
with a few strides he reached the veranda and was eyeing the new girl’s
health-flushed face and sparkling brown eyes with much favor. After a
hearty shake of the hand in answer to his sister’s introduction, he
dropped into a chair by Nathalie’s side, and soon they were all chatting
and laughing merrily as Fred told of some Scout adventure that had
happened on their last hike.

“But you had an adventure, too, did you not?” he asked suddenly, looking
at the young girl by his side with a glint of mischief in his eyes, “the
day you were rescued by the Pioneers?”

“Oh, did you hear about that?” Nathalie cried, her face taking on a
deeper tinge of pink. She had always felt the least mite ashamed of that
mishap.

“Yes, and how about the blue robins?” he continued in a quizzing tone.

“Oh, Grace,” exclaimed Nathalie, “you have been telling tales!” and then
with a laugh, she told of finding the bluebird’s nest, excusing her
ignorance by the plea that she was a city-bred girl.

The conversation soon drifted to Boy Scouts, Fred being a Patrol Leader,
and greatly interested in the organization. Finding that Nathalie had
had some difficulty in learning knot-tying, he kindly volunteered to
give her a lesson in that intricate art. His pupil proved an apt
scholar, as it was not long before she had mastered the weaver’s, the
overhand, the reef, and had gained a fair insight into several other
knots. Before the lesson had ended Fred had asked if he might not come
up some evening with Grace, and give her another lesson and meet her
brother Dick.

Nathalie’s face dimpled; she hastened to assure him that she would be
pleased to welcome them at the house, and that she knew her brother
would be more than delighted to know a Westport lad. And then she told
him all about her brother’s misfortune, and how depressed he grew at
times without his chums to drop in and cheer him.

The clock had just struck four when the girls, escorted by Fred, who
claimed he was going their way, neared the high stone wall overtopped
with gray turrets and nodding trees that looked as if they yearned to
leap beyond their barrier.

“Wasn’t it a queer idea to build a beautiful house like this and then
fence it in like some old monastery?” questioned Grace. “See, here’s a
bell in the stone gate, the way they used to have it in olden times.”

“Ugh! I hate to go in—the place gives me the creeps!” she shivered
nervously. “Oh, Fred, do come in with us, we shall not be long.”

Fred took out his watch, and finding that he was not hurried for time
yielded to his sister’s entreaties and rang the bell. Presently the door
was opened by a stern-looking man in overalls, evidently a gardener.

He frowned unpleasantly when the girls asked to see Mrs. Van Vorst, but
when Grace produced her note and said she had been sent by Dr. Morrow’s
wife, he reluctantly held the gate open for them to enter.

Nathalie gazed eagerly down the garden path, with its old-time hedge and
tall pines that swayed gently to the rhythm of the May breezes, leading
to the handsome modern structure at the end. It was colonial in design,
with low French windows and overhanging Juliet balconies here and there.
A long veranda ran across the front, with high white pillars, and a
porte-cochère.

“This is the old Dutch shack,” remarked Fred irreverently a moment or so
later, as they stood in front of the weather-beaten landmark that clung
like some ugly parasite to the stately mansion which towered above it.

Nathalie’s eyes were awe-struck as her glance traveled over the sloping
roof with its red chimneys, where quaint dormer windows stood forth like
thrust out heads from its gray shingles. The long, low porch, only a
foot from the ground, was almost lost to view behind the vines of
honeysuckle and rambling roses screening the trellis. Bushes of
hollyhocks, white peonies and many old-time posies grew in a riotous
hedge around it.

Fred showed her the hatchet-scarred door-lintel, a memento of savage
ferocity, and told of the little Dutch maiden who, from a small window
above the door, fired on a group of redskins as they hammered against
it, killing two. In the rear of the homestead he pointed out a
grass-grown mound, where it was claimed an outhouse once stood, leading
to an underground passageway, where the settlers at times took refuge
when hearing the fiendish war-whoop.

As the girls nervously ascended the low steps leading to the
broad-floored veranda of the gray house, Fred turned back towards the
gate, promising to wait outside for them.

As the great door swung open in answer to their ring, and the butler’s
impassive face stared stonily at them, the girls were tempted to turn
tail and follow Fred as he went whistling down the path. But Grace
conquered the inclination, and with assumed boldness asked for Mrs. Van
Vorst.

For an instant Nathalie thought the man was going to shut the door in
their faces, but when Grace held out the note for confirmation of her
words his impassivity relaxed somewhat, and with stiff formality he
asked them to walk in. With hushed breath they gazed curiously about the
hall, while a stag’s head above a quaintly-carved table eyed them
glassily.

The rusty swords, the flint-locks, and many other curios that decorated
the casement, beneath faded canvasses of ancient dames and sires,
possessed a weird charm for the girl. She was particularly beguiled by
the wide oaken staircase with its daintily carved balustrade that rose
spiral-like to the floor above, and to her imaginative ear there came
the swish of a brocade gown as some haughty fair one, kin to the
canvassed beauties on the tapestried walls, came with tap of dainty heel
down the broad stairway.

But no romantic thing occurred as the butler, still retaining his
sphinx-like mask, ushered them into a little reception room opening from
the hall fitted up to simulate a Chinese pagoda. The girls seated
themselves on two teakwood chairs and stared silently at the many curios
that gleamed from cabinet and screen, each betraying some eccentric
custom of the land of the yellow peril.

“O dear, I feel as if I were a beggar!” observed Grace with an
apprehensive shiver. “Ugh, I should hate to have that grim-looking man
come back and tell me my company wasn’t wanted.”

Nathalie burst into a giggle, which was quickly suppressed in
sympathetic recognition of her companion’s mood. Her eye was caught by a
huge mandarin who grinned at her with a hideous leer, and she shivered,
half wondering if some of the many evil spirits believed to inhabit
China were not hidden behind his wrinkled brown skin, and were looking
at her through his bead-like eyes, trying to hypnotize her with his
sinister glare. Surely those glittering, shiny specks of eyes did
move—oh, what was that? She jumped to her feet, crouching all of a heap
in abject fear as she stared with horror-stricken eyes at the mandarin,
as if that weird, shrill scream that had suddenly broken the grim
silence had come from his mummy-like lips.

“Oh, what is it?” whispered Grace in a hoarse whisper, as she stared in
paralyzed appeal at Nathalie.

Before Nathalie could answer another cry, more piercing and, if could
be, more blood-curdling than the first, came echoing down the hall,
followed by a demoniacal laugh which assured Nathalie that the terror
was something more human than an old Chinese idol. Grace, with a frantic
scream of terror that almost equaled in its intensity the one that they
had heard sprang into the hall and rushed frenziedly toward the door!

Nathalie stood a moment in indecision, utterly at a loss to determine
whence came the horrible shrieks, but in another instant, as another one
rent the air with the same frenzied note of merriment, she hesitated no
longer. As fast as her fear-tied feet would allow her, she flew into the
hall, through the door that Grace had flung wide open, and with
terror-winged feet and thumping heart rushed pell-mell down the wide
steps and along the path after Grace!



CHAPTER VI—WORKING INTO HARNESS


A half-hour later the two girls stood on Mrs. Morrow’s veranda, and with
Fred’s mocking laughter still ringing in their ears told of their hasty
exit from the gray house. With shame-mantled face and downcast eyes
Grace handed Mrs. Morrow her note.

In answer to that lady’s surprised inquiries the story was told at
length, a few extra flourishes unconsciously added to plead for the
unexpected finale to their errand. But Mrs. Morrow was most kind, not at
all like Fred, and did not laugh at them for being “scare-babies” as he
had expressed it. She voiced her sympathy most generously, saying she
did not wonder they were frightened, as she was sure at their age she
would have done the same.

“I cannot imagine what it could have been,” she pondered, in much
perplexity. “I will ask the doctor. If he does not know he will probably
hear about it, if it was really anything serious.”

She smiled in a way that made Nathalie, whose intuitions were keen,
exclaim hastily, “Oh, indeed, Mrs. Morrow, we did not imagine it at all.
I am sure if you could have heard that terrible shriek—and that laugh!
Oh, I can hear it still!” Her brown eyes emphasized her words as they
darkened with the haunting terror that caused her to rush pell-mell
after Grace.

“But I do hope,” remarked Mrs. Morrow, “that Mrs. Van Vorst will never
know that the young girls who took such sudden flight from her house
were Pioneers, as Pioneers are supposed to be very courageous.” There
was a twinkle in her eyes as she spoke that partly atoned for the
implication as to the girls’ lack of courage.

They made no reply for a moment, and then Grace, as if to atone for her
delinquency, exclaimed contritely, “Oh, I’m so sorry, Mrs. Morrow, I was
frightened—but if you want me to—” her voice faltered, “I will take it
to her again.”

“No, indeed,” quickly rejoined that lady, “I could not be so cruel as to
send you there again, for no matter if the shriek was nothing, you were
really frightened. I did not mean to rebuke you; I only wanted to seize
this opportunity to show you what an important thing courage is—and how
we should cultivate it, even in small things. As for the note, I will
get the doctor to take it or send it by post. I will have to confess,
however, that I am disappointed, for I was so anxious to have Mrs. Van
Vorst see what well-behaved and pleasing young girls belonged to the
organization.”

“And you sent me!” wailed Grace. “Oh, thank you, Mrs. Morrow, but what
an arrant coward I have proved—and Nathalie of course would not have run
if I had not!” The tears welled up piteously in her blue eyes.

“Oh, no, Grace,” interposed Nathalie loyally, “I was just on the verge
of running away myself!” And then she told them about the mandarin with
the grinning mouth, and sinister, bead-like eyes, that she was sure had
blinked at her. This caused a laugh and cleared the atmosphere of the
unpleasantness that had been created by the morning’s adventure.

The Saturday of the Pilgrim Rally—the day that was to make Nathalie a
Pioneer—arrived. At an early hour of the morning the Pioneers of the
three bird groups—each one with a package—began to file into Seton Hall,
the little stone building used by the town for important meetings and
often for social functions. Out of deference to Nathalie the girls had
decided to bring their Pilgrim costumes with them—hence the mysterious
packages—and not don them until she had been admitted to the
organization.

With interested eyes Nathalie heard the Pioneers recite their pledge,
give the sign, the salute,—the three movements of the closed hand,
signifying a brave heart, an honest mind, and a resourceful hand,—and
give the rousing Girl Pioneer cheer. She felt a trifle shaky, she
confided to Helen who was seated next to her, dreading the ordeal of
being made prominent as most girls do, but she regained her nerve
somewhat as the Director arose and with a smiling nod of welcome began
to call the names.

Certainly it was a pretty fancy to have each member respond to her name
by giving the bird call of her group. The quick clear note of Bob White,
the “Chip! chip!” of the meadow sparrow, and the oriole’s greeting were
all inspiring, but it was the melodious “Tru-al-lee!” of the bluebird
group that held her with its sweet, low trill.

As Nathalie heard her name called when it came time to perform the
initiative ceremony of making her a Pioneer, her head began to whirl,
but setting her teeth determinedly, with squared shoulders and head
erect, she walked down the aisle, faced the Director, and in a clear
voice repeated her pledge. In answer to the question, would she remember
that the honor of a world-wide organization had been placed in her
hands, and that henceforth whatever she said or did was not done simply
as Nathalie Page, but as a Girl Pioneer, she answered gravely, “I will!”

The second question was now asked, if she would try to live in such a
way that through and by her example the words Girl Pioneer should come
to mean all that was honest, highest, best, and most efficient in the
girlhood of her country, she again replied with the solemn, “I will.”

The Director now stepped to her side, and taking her by the hand said,
“Nathalie Page, in the name of the Girl Pioneers of America, and by the
authority vested in me as a Director, I receive you into our
organization. You are now a Girl Pioneer of America. May you be a worthy
successor of those women, brave, honest, resourceful, from whom our name
is taken, and who in the early days of the country, standing side by
side with the men, faced hardships, privations, and dangers, and helped
to make possible the United States of America!”

Mrs. Morrow paused a moment, and then with one of her ready smiles took
Nathalie’s hand in hers and gave her a cordial welcome. Then turning
toward the Pioneers she said, “Let us welcome our new member.”

The girls sprang quickly but noiselessly on their feet, crying:

  “Whom have we here?
  A new Pioneer!
  Come give a cheer
  Girl Pi-o-neer
  Nathalie Page!”

The new Pioneer unconsciously heaved a deep sigh when the ceremony was
over and she was allowed to return to her seat. She was tempted to smile
at her palpitating heart when going through such a simple ceremony as
the initiation to an organization of girls; and yet she was vaguely
conscious that it was a momentous episode in her life, and she firmly
resolved that her vow should be a binding one, and that she would try
her best to become a worth-while Pioneer and a Blue Robin.

The seriousness of her act became even more apparent as she listened
with keen interest to Mrs. Morrow’s little talk, which was, in memory of
the day’s celebration, about the Pilgrims. It was the desire to do right
in the face of all difficulties which animated the Founders of this
great nation in their struggle for Freedom and Right, and which led
their wives, daughters, and sisters to forego the necessities of life,
to cross an unknown sea and to face the perils of the wilderness and to
aid them in their noble purpose.

It was this sacrifice of the things that made life endurable, and their
strict adherence to duty that gave rise to the sterling qualities of
unflinching determination, hardy courage, stern endurance, unrepining
cheerfulness, untiring loyalty, patient industry, and quick
resourcefulness that has gained the name of the Pioneer spirit, and made
these early women founders of our nation models of all that is pure and
best in womanhood.

Their Director then went on and told of the handicrafts of the Pilgrims,
such as baking, brewing, sewing, knitting, quilting, spinning, planting
the foodstuffs, carding wool, and the many industries that were
necessary to keep life in those pioneer days.

As the new Pioneer heard the gentle, persuasive voice, she began to see
life in a new aspect, and to understand something of what it meant to
emulate these noble women. “In your hikes, before your cheer fires, in
your camps, in your home and school life, as well as in the tests and
your outdoor and indoor activities, and in your sports and games, keep
these women as your cheer star,” said Mrs. Morrow earnestly, “so that
you, too, will be actuated by the qualities that ennobled them. And when
the call comes, be kindly, helpful, resourceful, pure, and upright in
the midst of all temptation and danger, and you will not only have the
name of Pioneer, but will be filled with the real pioneer spirit.”

Mrs. Morrow stood silent a moment and then repeated slowly:

      “Life is more than the breath and the quick round of blood,
      It is a great spirit and a busy heart.
      We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts, not breaths;
      In feelings, not figures on a dial.
      We should count time as heart throbs. He most lives
      Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.”
                                                         —Bailey.

The girls now seated themselves in a circle, and as Jessie read the news
from the monthly “Pioneer,” which reported a flower hike for the
Saturday two weeks hence, they took out their materials and set to work.
Some wove gay-colored yarn on small frames, others braided raffia
baskets, or made squares of plaited slips of paper, while Mrs. Morrow
told them something about the art of weaving.

After some time spent in learning this old-time craft, the Director
asked the girls how they could best apply this industry to a very common
fundamental of the home. There was a slight pause, and then some one
called out “To the carpet!” Another girl ventured to say “Our clothes.”
Mrs. Morrow smiled as she said they were all right in a sense, but the
particular craft she meant at that time was what Helen had timidly
suggested, and that was, darning stockings!

There was a ripple of laughter at this truism and then, to Nathalie’s
surprise, there was a stocking drill, every one hauling forth a stocking
from her basket and setting to work to practice this homely art. It was
indeed a trial by needle to Nathalie, and she suffered some
embarrassment when, after borrowing a stocking from her neighbor, and
trying her very best to do it well, it was returned to her from the
Director with the remark that she needed training in the science.

Later, when Mrs. Morrow came to her side and showed how neatly her
stocking hole appeared after weaving her thread back and forth, and made
Nathalie practice doing the same, the girl suddenly realized what a
braggart she had been. “Oh, I told Mother I was the champion mender,”
she thought remorsefully. “What a bungle I must have been making of
those stockings!” With the avowed purpose that she was going to make
darning her life-work for the next three weeks, she laid her work aside
and hurried with the girls into the adjoining dressing-room to get ready
for the real Pilgrimy time, when they were to represent the women of
Plymouth town.

“Do you always have an all-day meeting?” she asked Grace, who was
pinning a blue bird on Nathalie’s gown, for at Helen’s suggestion she
was to appear at this, her first Rally, as a Blue Robin, in memory of
the first songster that welcomed the Pilgrims.

“Oh, no, indeed,” answered Grace, “but we departed from our usual plan,
which is to meet in the afternoon only, unless we have a hike or
demonstration, as we wanted to make our luncheon the Mayflower Feast.
But, oh, Nathalie,” she ended enthusiastically, “you are a veritable
blue bird! Look, girls, isn’t she the dearest? That bluebird blue makes
her cheeks like pink roses!”

At this sudden thrust into notoriety the girl’s color grew more vivid as
she turned for the inspection of the girls. They grew very enthusiastic
over her bluebird costume with its bluish-gray slip with scalloped
edges, and bluebird cap edged with tiny blue wings, where a blue bird,
standing up in the front, poised with outspread wings “ready to fly,” as
one of the girls asserted.

“Oh, it’s only blue paper muslin,” explained the “flier,” as her mates
had called her, when they examined the Blue Robin gown. “Helen helped me
make it, and what a time we had making that birdie stick—hands off,” she
finished laughingly, as some too ardent admirer pressed her close, “or I
shall not fly away but fall to pieces.”

By this time, however, her admirers had found a new love in the Tike,
who came dancing before them all in white. She was literally a bower of
trailing arbutus, as sprays of that spring flower were fastened all over
her gown.

“I am the Pilgrim flower,” she piped pertly, “some call me the Mayflower
blossom.” And then catching up her skirts, with a low curtsey she
repeated softly:

  “Oh I’m the flower that never dies,
  ’Neath leaves so brown in bed so low.
  The arbutus, who in glad surprise
  Bloomed ‘Welcome’ from fields of snow
  To our Pilgrim sires of long ago.”

“Oh, here’s Lillie Bell!” called some one. “Isn’t she a duck of a dear!”
Simultaneously the girls forsook the Tike and flocked around Lillie,
who, gowned in pure white, with kerchief and lace cap, represented
Susannah White, the first bride of the colony.

“Yes, and I want you to note, girls,” she asserted impressively, with a
nonchalant nod to the welcome accorded her, “that I am not only the
first bride, but the first mother of the colony, for my little Peregrine
was born when the _Mayflower_ rode at anchor in Cape Cod Bay, and Mrs.
Morrow claims this is even a greater honor than to be the first bride.
But, girls—” she ended abruptly, dropping her matronly pose, “have you
seen Edith—she was to be Helen Billington—I never knew her to be so late
before?”

“There! that accounts for the aching void in my heart, I know I missed
some one,” cried Jessie half mockingly. “O dear, what will become of my
Pioneer article if the Sport does not appear?” The girls all laughed in
appreciation of Jessie’s serio-comic declaration, for it was generally
conceded that Edith was the most active spirit of the band, as her
sporting proclivities, her general good-nature, and her dashing
escapades always furnished plenty of “copy” when any of their various
hikes or demonstrations were in progress.

“Oh, don’t fret; a bad penny always turns up!” chimed in Kitty, who did
not particularly admire the Sport.

“I’ll bet you a cookie that she has been arrested for appearing in
disorderly apparel on the street,” observed Grace roguishly; “for she
told me she was going to dress at home.”

“Oh, girls, aren’t you ready?” at this instant asked Louise Gaynor,
suddenly appearing in the doorway leading to the room where Mrs. Morrow,
as Mistress Carver, the Governor’s lady, was waiting to receive them.

“Her Sweet Graciousness, Mistress Carver, waits for you without in the
Common House.”

  “Modest and simple and sweet, the very type of Priscilla,
  Priscilla, the Mayflower of Plymouth!”

Thus hummed Lillie as she walked around this winsome representation of
that Puritan maiden, surveying her critically, but with approving eye.

“Oh, you’re just too sweet for anything!” warbled another bluebird,
“you’re—”

“You’re too sweet to have to do your own proposing, methinks,” broke in
Jessie, touching one of the long golden braids that fell from beneath
the demure little cap of this first edition of women’s rights.

But at sweet Priscilla’s gentle reminder that the first lady of the land
should not be kept waiting, the merry girls ceased their chatter, did
their best to assume the decorous manners of the Puritan women, filed
into line, and were soon in the adjoining room.

Here they were greeted by Dame Brewster, the Elder’s wife, no other than
Helen, who, in ruffled cap and quaintly flowered gown, excelled even her
own aspirations to appear like that motherly dame, as in speech of
quaint wording she made each Mayflower damsel known to Mistress Carver.

After the greetings had been voiced, the first surprise came, and that
was when the Tike came bounding into the midst of the gentle dames and
informed them that a cheer fire was blazing on the grass-plot in the
rear of the Hall. The Pioneers in profound wonder—as they had not
expected to have a cheer fire—followed Mistress Carver to the garden,
where a circle was formed around this magic inspirer of cheer, whose
burning fagots snapped and crackled noisily, as if to do its share in
the old-time celebration. It was in memory, Grace declared, of the many
fires that had cheered the settlers in the cold and desolation of the
new world.

Murmurs of wonder and queries about this mysterious surprise were
silenced, as some one started a general clapping, a recognition often
accorded the Pioneers’ cheer star. Then, as they gathered around the
flaming light, some one suggested that perhaps the Governor’s lady could
tell as to who was the magic fire-maker.

The lady in question, although disclaiming that she knew who lighted the
magic inspirer, did finally admit that she could guess who had done it,
but as that was a privilege that every one had, she had nothing to tell.
However, the mystery remained unsolved, although some bright one
ventured to suggest that it might have been the Sport, who was still
missing, as she delighted to do the unexpected.

Immediately the missing Pioneer began to be eulogized for her clever and
mysterious absence, as these representatives of hundreds of years ago
circled about their emblem of cheer and romance. To usher in the first
ceremony, or, as the girls sometimes called it “the christening of the
blazer,” some one called for the story-teller to give one of her
thrillers. This cry was forthwith taken up by the little company, and
became so imperative that Lillie at last complied with the request, and
in a few moments was telling, in her usual impressive way, the story of
those pioneers, the Pilgrim men and women, who fought the first battle
for liberty and union on the shores of this land.

When Lillie’s story came to an end, she received her usual applause, for
every one had listened with the closest attention to the account of the
many pilgrimages of these simple folk from the northeastern countries of
England. In trying to serve God as they deemed right they had separated
themselves from the English church and had begun to hold little meetings
in the village of Scrooby. Hounded by the authorities they finally
sailed to the low countries, which at that time were considered a place
of refuge for the oppressed of all nations. They lived one year in
Amsterdam, meeting for worship near a convent, whose sweet chimes called
them to a low-ceiled room, where they sung their songs of praise and
read God’s word.

But their wanderings were not over, and a year later they sailed on one
of the great waterways of this Dutch land to Leyden. Here they remained
twelve years in twenty-three humble little homes, built on a plot of
ground known as the _Koltsteeg_, and called Bell Alley, just across the
way from the great dome of St. Peter’s church.

Here in this land of foreign tongue their children grew up, learned
their trades and, alas, many of the ways of these people, especially
their methods of keeping the Sabbath, which were contrary to the beliefs
of these God-loving people. It was for this reason as well as for
others, that they started forth on their wanderings again, and migrated
to the new land across the sea, sailing in the _Mayflower_ on the
twenty-second of July, 1620.

Nathalie was somewhat disappointed in the beginning, that she was not to
hear one of Lillie’s twentieth-century thrillers, but the story of the
Pilgrims was so interesting that she felt amply repaid for her
disappointment. Although familiar with their story in this land, she had
never heard much about the lives of these founders before they came to
America.

The tale of these ancient folk was rendered even more interesting by
various interruptions at intervals, as when Dame Brewster read, in
solemn tone, the Constitution formed by these people in the cabin of the
_Mayflower_, said to have been written on an old chest, and known as The
Compact, the first stone in the American Commonwealth.

The Governor’s lady enlivened the tedious voyage over by telling of
several little incidents that had occurred; one was when the _Mayflower_
during a severe storm was saved from going to the bottom by some one
wedging a _kracht_, or jackscrew, in a leak that had suddenly sprung
amidships.

Little Humility Cooper, one of the children of the _Mayflower_ voyagers,
an Oriole Pioneer, recited Mrs. Heman’s “Landing of the Pilgrims,” while
sprightly Mary Chilton told of her race with John Alden to be the first
one of the little company to step on Plymouth Rock. She added to the
interest of this recital by giving a short account of this historical
granite from the day it served as a foundation stone of her victory
until the present time.

A Bob White told about the first American washday, and the fun the
children had gathering sweet juniper boughs to build the fires, over
which hung the tripod from which was suspended the kettles of that
historic occasion.

Louise Gaynor, as Priscilla, recited parts of Longfellow’s poem, “The
Courtship of Myles Standish,” with its picturesque account of the most
romantic happening of the little town, while as Mistress Fuller, Barbara
described Fort Hill and told about Captain Standish and his sixteen
valiant men-at-arms who explored the hills and woods of the wilderness.

Kitty Corwin, as another Pilgrim dame, told of the erection of the seven
little houses with their thatched roofs, built in a row on First, or
Leyden Street, giving a rather exciting account of the many serious
accidents that happened to the Common House where the stores and
ammunition of the community were stored. And so, in picturesque detail,
each feature of the story was brought forth to form in the minds of
these twentieth century Pioneers a picture that would last through the
years that were to follow, and help them gain an insight into the
characters they were representing.

Elizabeth Winslow, the first wife of the first American statesman, one
of the first to pass away in the fatal sickness of that lonely winter;
Mrs. Hopkins, who won fame as the mother of the boy Oceanus, born on the
_Mayflower_; Bridget Fuller, the wife of the genial Dr. Fuller, and
others, were all impersonated by some one of the Pioneers.

Even the ghosts, as Grace dubbed them, were heard from: Myles Standish’s
first wife, known as the beautiful English Rose, who died soon after
reaching the new land, and Dorothy Bradford, the young wife of William
Bradford, who came to her death by falling overboard while her husband
was exploring the shores with Captain Standish and his men.

By the time the story with its variations had been told, the girls,
tired of posing with old-time stiffness and ceremony, were all laughing
merrily as some one of the band suddenly spied some comical or grotesque
aspect of the impersonator, when the Tike screamed shrilly, “Oh, who is
that?” pointing to a black-draped figure standing in the doorway of the
hall, with red, perspiring face, hat cocked on one side, and a generally
bedraggled appearance.

It was the missing Pioneer, Edith, who, after the hubbub had subsided as
to her untimely appearance and tardy arrival, pulled off her long black
cloak and threw herself on the grass by the side of Lillie. With gasps
and sundry emphasizing shrieks she told what had befallen her on the way
to the Rally.

“Father was ill last night, so the first thing this morning I had to go
for the doctor. Then as mother was busy attending to Father I had to get
the youngsters ready,—they were going to a May picnic, for of course,”
Edith added petulantly, “no matter what happened to me, Mother would not
have the kiddies disappointed.”

Catching Mrs. Morrow’s reproving eye, she stammered apologetically, “Of
course, I would not have them disappointed myself—they are dears—but it
lost me my morning; and then, just as I was hurrying by the gray
house,—oh, girls—” dropping her voice to a tense whisper, “what do you
think I heard?”



CHAPTER VII—THE MAYFLOWER FEAST


The tenseness of Edith’s tone, coupled with her mysterious manner, had
the desired effect, and the Pioneers all bent forward eagerly with
expectant eyes, anxious to hear what she had seen and heard, while some
too impetuous one called out, “Oh, do hurry and tell us what it was!”

“It was the most terrible shriek I ever heard,” answered Edith, with a
long-drawn sigh. Having succeeded in getting her audience where she
wanted them she was anxious to prolong her triumph. “Why, my heart
jumped into my mouth, and I—”

“Where did the noise come from?” inquired practical Helen impatiently,
who never wasted any time in getting wrought up, as she called it, by
the Sport’s yarns.

“It came from the garden of the gray house,” was the quick retort; and
then, crossly, “I do wish, Helen, you would wait—you’ll spoil the whole
thing if you don’t let me tell it properly.”

Grace, who had been listening intently to the Sport’s recital, looked up
quickly and encountered a glance from Nathalie’s eyes as she suddenly
turned from Edith and looked across the circle at Grace to see if she
had heard. But Grace, whose memory was still rankling with her adventure
at the gray house, was afraid that if the girls knew they would plague
her unmercifully for being a runaway, and hastily put her hand on her
lips in warning not to tell what had happened to them.

Nathalie nodded loyally and then turned to hear Edith repeat, “Yes, the
noise came from the garden of the gray house, I have always told you
there was something queer about that place. At first I started to run
away, and then I thought, ‘O pshaw! whatever it is, it won’t hurt me
behind those high walls.’ So I walked close up to the wall near one
corner to see if I could not manage to climb up in some way and look
into the garden. I had just spied a tiny hole in the lower part of the
wall—I guess some boys had made it, you know they are always spying
about that place, anyway—when I heard loud breathing. I looked up and
saw a man creeping stealthily around the corner of the wall, as if
dodging some one. Well, I just gave one look at him, he had great black,
burning kind of eyes, staring out of a face as white as a corpse. He
suddenly spied me, and by the uncanny glare he gave I knew right off he
was the one who had been shrieking, he was the crazy man who lives
there! Great guns! but I didn’t wait to take another look, I took to my
heels and flew. Then I heard steps thumping behind me—looked back—oh,
girls,” she shrieked hysterically, “he was chasing me, running after me
as hard as he could!”

She gulped, and then with a gasp continued, “Oh, for a moment I thought
I was doomed, but—well—you know I can run, and I did, for my life. I ran
every step of the way here—and—oh, I’m so hungry! Have you had the feast
yet?”

“What became of the man?” inquired Helen tersely.

“Oh, yes, what became of him?” added one or two others.

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” asserted Miss Edith carelessly. “All I
know is that he is as crazy as a loon, and that he lives in the gray
house.”

“Edith,” exclaimed Mrs. Morrow sharply, “as long as you did not see the
man come from the gray house do not say he lives there; and as for
saying he is crazy, that is absurd. That is just an idle report; do not
repeat it until you have proof that what you say is correct. He was
probably a tramp, and may have been chased from the garden by one of the
servants.” Mrs. Morrow’s face showed keenly her annoyance and disbelief
in Edith’s surmise.

“But what could the screams have been?” asked Helen, wonderingly, “if
they really came from the garden?”

“Oh, I am sure they did,” asserted the Sport positively, “for I have
heard other people say that they have heard queer noises coming from
that place. But girls,” she exclaimed, as if anxious to dismiss the
subject, “do tell me what you have been doing. Oh, I did so hate to miss
all the fun.”

“Yes, kiddie, it is too bad,” consoled Lillie, putting her arm around
her friend, “but we have not had the feast yet, we’ve just been
listening to little stories about the Pilgrims—you know you heard me
read my story the other day—” she stopped abruptly, for a sudden
rustling in a clump of trees back of the garden had caused every one to
turn and peer apprehensively over their shoulders.

“Oh,” shivered the Sport nervously, “perhaps it is the crazy man!” She
sprang to her feet and made as if to take to her heels again.

Every girl followed her example, and in another moment there would have
been a wild stampede to the shelter of the hall, if a loud voice had not
called out, “Welcome, Englishmen! Welcome!”

Simultaneously with these words a lithe form sprang into the midst of
the terrified girls, who clung to one another with wildly beating hearts
as with dilated eyes they glared at the intruder, a tall Indian youth,
resplendent with a feathered head-gear. He was clad in deerskin trousers
fringed at the seams, a string of hairy scalps hung at his belt, and he
held a bow and arrow in his hands as he stood and looked down at this
bevy of frightened colonial maids with a broad smile on his grease
besmeared face.

There was just a second’s pause, and then Helen shouted merrily, “Oh,
it’s Teddy Hart, and he’s Samoset! Oh, girls, don’t you remember? He was
the Indian who came and welcomed the Pilgrims!”

Of course they all remembered, for had not Lillie dealt at length upon
that very scene when telling her story? And Teddy Hart, why, he was a
Boy Scout, one of Fred Tyson’s patrol, which was known as the Eagle
patrol.

This was all that was needed to make the girls forget the crazy man and
the Sport’s harrowing tale, and they crowded about Teddy crying, “Oh,
Ted, where did you get the rig?” or, “What made you think of it?” and,
“Isn’t it the best ever?” This last was from the Tike who was hopping
about the new arrival examining the hairy scalps—which turned out to be
a few wigs borrowed from the village barber—with keen curiosity.

“Great Cæsar! give a fellow a chance to breathe, won’t you?” fired the
make-believe Samoset, as he mopped his face energetically. “Don’t riddle
me with questions; I’m not a target!”

Yes, this was the second surprise, or the forerunner of it, for before
Teddy was ready to surrender his place as the hero of the moment, the
beat of a drum was heard, and from the little bit of woodland where Ted
had been hiding issued a group of queer-looking individuals. They were
all attired in somber-colored clothes with broad white collars, high
conical-shaped hats, and all carried guns and had swords clanking at
their sides in good impersonation of the Fathers of their country. The
next moment they had formed in line and with well-simulated solemnity of
countenance, “as if going to meeting-house,” tittered Grace, these
sixteen men-at-arms, headed by Capt. Standish—who was no other than Fred
Tyson—marched valiantly down the street towards the garden.

It was the Sport after all who saved the day for the Pioneers, for as
they stood in dazed laughter wondering how to greet these unexpected
guests, the Sport’s hand shot up, and two seconds later the girls had
joined her in saluting their brother organization, as with one accord
they gave the Pioneer cheer.

In quick response to a signal from their leader, the Scouts came to a
halt, and as one man each Scout’s hand went up to his forehead in the
salute of three ringers held upright. This was followed by another
cheer, a rousing one this time, as each boy shouted lustily:

  “Ready! Ready! Scout! Scout! Scout!
  Good turn daily! Shout! Shout! Shout!”

The boys now fell into step again, and in a few moments had entered the
little wicker gate where they broke ranks as they were cordially
welcomed by the Governor’s lady and Dame Brewster. For a short space
following pandemonium reigned, as the boys tried to answer the many
queries propounded by the girls, each Pioneer, spying some one favorite
boy, singled him out with merry jest to answer as to the why and
wherefore of the unlooked for surprise.

Nathalie felt somewhat embarrassed and stood apart from the girls, not
having met any of the Scouts of the town. Perhaps she was a little
scornful, for in the city she had been wont to pass a khaki uniform with
scant approval, considering these emulators of chivalrous knights mere
boys. Not understanding the aims or purposes of the organization they
had failed to attract her.

But as she stood watching these tall, well-developed lads with heads
held high, squared shoulders, and with the ruddy glow of an active life
in the open on their bright faces, she reluctantly admitted that they
were interesting to look at, at least.

“Ah, Miss Nathalie, I see you have forgotten me!” spoke a voice at the
girl’s elbow. She turned quickly to see the laughing brown eyes of Fred
Tyson. Fred’s face was flushed with embarrassment as he felt somewhat
timorous as to this city girl’s greeting, since he had last seen her
walking away from him with flushed cheeks and angry mien as he teasingly
taunted, “Scare-babies! Scare-babies!”

But Nathalie had forgotten all about that trivial incident—perhaps
because she had a brother and knew the moods of boys and how they
delighted to tease and hark at the girls—and she dimpled with cordiality
as she returned his greeting.

She was soon sparkling with merriment as Fred told of the fun they had
in rigging up, and the sensation they created as they marched through
Main Street. By this time the explanations from the boys were over, and
the secret of the cheer fire was revealed. It had been made by the
Scouts at the suggestion of Dr. Homer, who was much interested in the
Pioneers and had planned the two surprises to give a little more tone to
the celebration and fun to the girls.

The girls now clamored that they were hungry, and at an intimation from
Mrs. Morrow the Scouts were invited to repair to one of the side rooms
in the hall, where their Mayflower Feast was to be held.

The invitation was accepted by Fred for the patrol, and the party of
merry-makers filed noisily into the hall. When the boys saw the Stars
and Stripes, and the yards of red, white, and blue bunting hanging in
graceful folds from the walls of the room, they broke into patriotic
song. “Red, White, and Blue” was first sung in compliment to the Girl
Pioneers’ colors, and was quickly succeeded by the “Battle Cry of
Freedom,” and “The Star-Spangled Banner,” in recognition of the starry
emblem that symbolizes—more than any design that floats to the wind—the
uplift of mankind, Liberty, and Union!

A cheery fire of pine knots blazed a greeting from the hearth, while two
long boards supported on trestles and covered with a shining damask
cloth, represented the table of Pioneer days. Odd bits of old-time ware,
such as silver porringers, queer-shaped jugs, or blackjacks, a number of
wooden bowls, a high-standing salt-cellar, and a pewter tankard, were
distributed about the table. But it was the flowers that lay in bunches
here and there—and all May ones, too, from the clusters of white
snowballs, lilacs, pink and yellow azaleas, to the big bowls filled with
sprigs of arbutus—that held Nathalie’s eyes.

But flags, antiques, and flowers soon became things of the past, as the
girls brought forth their lunch-baskets; each one had vied with the
other to bring some choice edible and with the help of the modern
knights, who declared that they had come for that purpose, the table was
loaded with goodies.

Just before the feast was served, Will Ditmas, a fair counterpart of
William Brewster, the ruling elder of Plymouth, suddenly stood up and,
after much throat-clearing, announced in a droning voice that if those
present were willing, for the furtherance of sobriety and seemly
behavior, he would read a few rules from “A Pretty Little Pocket Book.”

After stonily staring over a pair of goggles at a few irrepressible
gigglers the would-be Elder read: “Speak not until spoken to; break not
thy bread, nor bite into a whole slice; take not salt unless with a
clean knife, and throw no bones under the table.”

Those who were trying to keep their faces straight wavered in the
attempt and joined the irrepressible Tike in a few hysterical titters as
he continued: “Hold not thy fork upright, but sloping, lay it down at
the right hand of the plate, with the end of the blade on the table
plate, and look not earnestly at any person that is eating.”

This last was the final straw for the Tike, and she giggled so
unrestrainedly that she threatened hysteria, and Helen had to whack her
on the back so that she could get her breathing apparatus in working
order again. This ebullition was like a match to fire, and all those who
had been smothering their mirth now broke forth into loud laughter,
which threatened to become clamorous had not Mrs. Morrow held up her
restraining finger.

The signal was too well known not to be obeyed, and the too mirthful
ones were recalled to themselves. Then, too, they were all hungry; so
forgetting the old-time admonitions of their forebears, they were soon
occupied satisfying their hunger.

After the left-over goodies had been gathered into baskets to be
delivered to a poor family, and the place was set in order again, the
chivalrous knights and the emulating Pioneers swarmed merrily into the
dance hall, where they held high court to the light fantastic as Mrs.
Morrow, the one-piece orchestra, rattled off ragtime harmony for round
and square dances.

Nathalie by this time had met a number of the Scouts, and to her
surprise found that some of them danced as well as, and in some cases
better than her boy friends in the city. The would-be Elder, who had
droned the rules from the pocket book, proved not only a good dancer,
but most companionable, and finding that Nathalie was sadly ignorant as
to the aims and purposes of the Scout organization, he set forth to
enlighten her.

He took off his Scout badge, pointed out the eagle, and the stars and
shield, explaining that it was a trefoil badge and represented the three
points in the Scout oath. The curl-up at the end of the scroll was a
reminder to each Scout that the corners of his mouth should always be
turned up in a smile of cheerfulness. The knot in the loop was a
“conscience pricker,” as he expressed it, that a Scout was pledged to do
some one a good turn every day.

The next dance was Fred Tyson’s, and when it ended they seated
themselves in a corner of the hall to cool off, and as Nathalie fanned
herself with a much bedraggled handkerchief, they hit upon a topic that
proved most entertaining, and that was—college. Fred stated that he
expected to go to Dartmouth in the fall and was therefore looking
forward to it with much pleasure.

Nathalie, with sparkling eyes, told how she had dreamed and longed to go
to college, and then the golden lights in her eyes shadowed as she said
that since the death of her father she had decided to stop dreaming
about what was impossible for her, and to do something worth while, so
she had become a Pioneer.

“But don’t you think it worth while to go to college?” was Fred’s
puzzled query, “for surely there is nothing that will help a girl more
in life than to have—what is it—the higher education?”

“Yes, I know,” assented his companion, “that is all right, but when one
finds that they can’t have a thing—no matter how big or grand it is, or
how much they want it—if it is impossible, it ceases to be worth while;
that is, why spend time lamenting, or thinking about something that
can’t be accomplished?”

“Why, you are a regular little philosopher!” laughed Fred. But Nathalie
was not heeding, for suddenly looking across the room she perceived that
the dancers had retired from the floor, all but the Pioneers, who were
standing in two lines in the center of the room facing one another as if
about to dance the Virginia Reel.

“Oh, what are they going to do?” she cried, but before her companion
could answer Helen came running up.

“Come on, Nathalie, we are going to dance the Pioneer dance. It’s lots
of fun.”

“But I don’t know it,” objected the girl. “I am not going to make a show
of myself before all these boys.”

“Oh, but you won’t,” urged Helen, “for you can be my partner, and I will
tell you as we go along; and then its awfully simple, for we just go
through the motions of pioneer handcraft—”

“Pioneer handcraft?” echoed Nathalie more puzzled than before.

“Yes, don’t you remember what Mrs. Morrow told us about the handcrafts
of the Pioneer women? Well, she made up this dance to make these crafts
definite. Oh, come, it is easy!” In a moment, Nathalie’s objection being
overruled, she bade Fred good-by and was hurried by her partner to join
one of the two lines on the floor.

Only a few explanations were necessary, and Nathalie, who was quick to
learn, joined her voice to the girlish ones singing:

  “Singing, ringing thro’ the air
  Comes the song of Molly fair.
  Milking, milking Crumple Horn
  Down in the barn at early dawn.”

As the song ended, the closed right hand of every Girl Pioneer was held
out in front, elbow bent upward. Then came three movements up and down
in imitation of the act of churning. This was done three times, as in
chorus came:

  “Churning, turning, see it splash,
  This way, that way, with a dash.”

As the next two lines rang out:

  “Skimming skimming foamy white,
  Making the butter golden bright,”

the motions were changed to those of skimming milk, repeated three times
as in the previous movement, the girls emphasizing the end of each
movement by stamping the feet, using first one and then the other. They
ended this last motion by each girl placing her hands on her hips and
tripping in line with the others lightly down the room in time with the
music and then back to place.

A second of time, and each dancer was making the motion of holding a
baby in her encircled arms, and while swaying to and fro these words
were softly crooned:

  “Golden slumber kiss your eyes,
  Smiles awake you when you rise.
  Sleep pretty wantons, do not cry,
  And I will sing a lullabye.”

Another moment, and the arms had fallen, each girl faced her opposite
partner, and then linking hands together they were rocking a cradle as
they joyously warbled:

  “Baby is a sailor boy, swing, cradle, swing;
  Sailing is the sailor’s joy, swing, cradle, swing.”

Now the girls were waltzing gaily down the room and back again to place,
where this time they formed in rows of three in each line. A crash of
chords from the piano, and each girl stepped forward with outstretched
left hand, and made the motion of taking something with the right hand
from the closed left, and casting it on the ground, as they repeated
clearly and loudly:

  “Good flax and good hemp to have of her own,
  In May, a good housewife will see that it is sown.
  And afterwards trim it to serve in a need,
  The fimble to spin, the card from her reel.”

Yes, they were sowing hemp as their great-grand-mothers had done
hundreds of years ago—a sign of a thrifty housewife. Now came three
claps of the hand and again the girls swung into two facing lines. Each
performer now lightly put forward the right foot, poised on the ball of
the left one, while making the motion as of moving the treadle of a
spinning-wheel, as with lifted hands she twisted the flax, stopping
every moment to moisten one finger in an imaginary cup fastened to the
distaff.

[Illustration: “Polly Green, her reel,” announced Helen.]

“Polly Green, her reel,” announced Helen as leader of the dance, and
then came the old-fashioned couplet softly hummed:

  “Count your threads right,
  If you reel in the night
  When I am far away.”

Before Nathalie could decide whether the couplet meant only to count
your threads at night while Polly was far away, the dancers had swung
into place and were going through the minuet. With slow and stately
measure they moved, ending each turn with the dipping, sweeping curtsy
that has made that dance so graceful a reminder of the festivities of
early days.

Now they are singing:

  “Twice a year deplumed may they be
  In spryngen tyme and harvest tyme,”

as with swift motion each girl pretended to grab up something with her
left hand while the right flew up and down with noiseless
regularity—plucking a goose for dinner.

The next instant every alternate girl had put her hand over her mouth in
the form of a horn and was calling loudly, “Ho, Molly Gray! Hi, Crumple
Horn!” This call had barely ceased its musical reverberation when each
fair dancer caught up the hem of her apron and, bending forward, with
well-simulated deftness was gathering or picking up something from the
ground which was quickly thrust into her apron. Another flash of white
arms, and each girl had caught up the hem of her neighbor’s gown and
with a pretended switch was driving her forward while merrily singing:

  “Driving in twilight the waiting cows home,
  With arms full-laden with hemlock boughs,
  To be traced on a broom ere the coming day
  From its eastern chamber should dance away.”

As the songs and motions ended, the girls filed into line and marched
around the room as if carrying muskets, that is, women’s muskets,
brooms.

Once more in row, each girl pretended she was holding a card with one
hand, while drawing another card softly, but swiftly across the first.
This was done with a deft, catchy motion as the girls sing-songed:

  “Niddy-noddy, niddy-noddy
  Two heads on one body.”

“Now we are imitating the motions of carding wool,” Helen whispered
softly to Nathalie. “Niddy-noddy means the old-fashioned hand-reel used
in the days when there were no machines.”

The Pioneers had finished carding wool and were dancing the Virginia
Reel, spinning each other around with the vigor and vim of young hearts
as a prelude to the next dance. In this they simulated sewing, taking
their stitches with a precision and handiness that rivalled the little
maids of Puritan days. With a posture as of holding a wooden frame,
while in and out the needle flew, each damsel repeated slowly, with
quaint precision:

  “Lola Standish is my name.
  Lord, guide my heart that I may do thy will,
  And fill my Hands with such convenient skill
  As will conduce to Virtue void of shame,
  And I will give the Glory to thy name.”

Only a space of time and the samplers were dropped, and each girl grew
strangely still, with bent head and listening ears. With eyes flaming in
a fixed stare she poised an imaginary fowling-piece on her shoulder.
They stood for a moment in this pose as each one present grasped the
idea that they were doing the deed that many a Pioneer woman had bravely
done in those early days, in the absence of husband keeping guard over
the home from the relentless ravages of the red man!



CHAPTER VIII—THE MOTTO, “I CAN”


A few days after the Pilgrim Rally, as Nathalie lay in the hammock
dreaming day dreams as she was wont to do, her mother came and seated
herself in a low chair near by.

Nathalie turned, and then with a quick movement sat up as she asked
anxiously, “Oh, Mother, has anything happened?”

“I should say ‘anything’ has happened,” ejaculated Dick, who was
lounging near, ignoring his mother’s gesture to be silent, “for your
mother has been chief cook and bottle-washer all day!”

Nathalie, who had been off on a Pioneer demonstration most of the day,
showed her dismay as she exclaimed, “Oh, where is Ophelia?”

Mrs. Page’s worry lines deepened as she answered, “Oh, she is ill. She
has been complaining for some days, and when she begged to be allowed to
go home this morning I did not have the heart to refuse her. Poor thing!
she looked the embodiment of woe!”

“But isn’t she coming back?” inquired alarmed Nathalie.

“Not for several days,” was the answer, as Mrs. Page leaned wearily back
in her chair.

“But can’t we get some one to help us?” demanded her daughter
insistently.

“Dorothy went to the colored settlement, but could not get any one.
Colored people don’t like to work in warm weather, and I don’t blame
them,” her mother added in an undertone, “for standing over a fire in
this heat is terrible.”

“Oh, what shall we do?” thought Nathalie ruefully, as she saw a pile of
unwashed dishes confronting her. But a cheery “Hello?” caused her to
look up to see her friend, with dust-brush in hand, cleaning the window
shutters of the neighboring house. With gripping force she suddenly
realized how useful Helen was, and the numerous things she managed to do
to help her mother, notwithstanding the many hours she was compelled to
spend at the stenography school.

Nathalie twisted about in the hammock; somehow it did not seem as
comfortable as it did before her mother had come. Her sky visions had
departed, and in their place had come the thought that she ought to help
her mother. Oh, but dish-washing was degrading, such greasy work. She
glanced down at her slim, white hands as if they would aid her in this
argument with self.

“Oh, why do people have to do the very things they hate?” she questioned
rebelliously as she arose from her comfortable position and with a
long-drawn sigh started to enter the house.

“You have dropped your book!” exclaimed her mother as she stooped and
picked up the Pioneer manual that had fallen from Nathalie’s lap and
handed it to her.

“Thank you,” returned the girl and then, with a pang of regret as she
noted her mother’s weary eyes, she bent and kissed her.

“Oh, I’m so sorry you had to work so hard!” she cried impulsively.
“Isn’t there something I can do to help?” She almost wished her mother
would say no.

“Not now,” replied her mother with a brighter expression than she had
worn, “but perhaps you can help me later—when I get dinner.”

“All right,” returned her daughter with forced cheerfulness. As she
entered the hall her eyes were caught by the word “Pioneer” in big,
black letters on the manual. Reminded by the name that flaunted itself
so determinedly before her, she remembered that she was a Pioneer, that
she had taken vows upon herself, and that in order to keep these vows
she should do the very things, perhaps, that she hated to do. This new
thought jarred her uncomfortably as she hurried up to her room and began
to make herself cool and comfortable after a rather strenuous morning
spent in trying her hand at the many new interests that had come to her
as a Pioneer.

But somehow she was haunted, as it were, by the thought that she was not
making a good beginning as a Pioneer; oh, yes, being a Pioneer did not
mean all play, or even doing the things that were interesting, or that
one liked to do, those were the Director’s words that morning. The more
one gives up or overcomes in order to do and accomplish the demands made
upon her as a Pioneer, the greater the victory. She picked up the manual
from the bureau and began to turn its leaves aimlessly, and then she
halted, for two very small words held her eyes, “I can!” why, that was
the Pioneer motto—the one Lillie Bell had mentioned when she told of the
picked chicken. She would read the laws!

“A Girl Pioneer is trustworthy.” Oh, Nathalie was sure she was that.
“Helpful,” her conscience pricked sharply. Was she helpful if she didn’t
try and do all she could to help her mother? “O dear,” she ruminated, “I
am shying at the first ‘overcome.’” She remembered that Mrs. Morrow had
said all the disagreeable things that one didn’t want to do, but did in
the end, were “overcomes.”

“Kind—” she heaved a sigh, well, she was afraid she hadn’t been very
kind the other day when she had answered Lucille so sharply, but she was
trying, and the hasty retort would slip out; she would have to put a
button on her lips as her mother often told her.

“Reverent,” her religion taught her that. “Happy,” not always, for how
could one be happy when life had been full of disappointments? Her eyes
saddened as she thought of Dick, who was so patiently waiting for
something to turn up, so that he could have the operation on his knee.
Poor fellow! she had felt like crying the other day when she heard him
telling how he had written to a law firm in the city in the hope that he
could get some copying to do so that he could earn some money.

“Happiness does not always mean having what we want; it is being
contented with what we have,” that was another of Mrs. Morrow’s
interpretations of the Pioneer laws. “Cheerful,” here Nathalie broke
into a laugh, quite sure she was always cheerful when she had the things
she wanted. “There!” she cried aloud, “I am not going to read any more
of those laws, for if I am to—” she stooped, for the manual had fallen
to the floor. As she picked it up she again encountered the words, “I
can.”

“I can!” she repeated once or twice mechanically. Then her face lighted,
as if the meaning of the words had suddenly flashed themselves clear of
the thoughts that had been revolving in her mind.

“But what can I do?” she continued doubtingly.

“You can wash the dishes for your mother in the morning so that she can
read her morning paper,” some one seemed to whisper. She started. “And
you can get up and get breakfast the way Helen does when her mother is
not feeling well,” this time the some one spoke very loudly.

“Oh, but I can’t cook, nobody would eat my breakfast,” she thought,
still holding back.

“But if you are a Pioneer you should learn to do these things.” She
frowned as if to brush aside an unpleasant thought.

“Yes, I suppose I can do these things,” she reluctantly admitted after a
moment’s thought. “O dear—I have been lamenting that I had no purpose in
life, that I was just drifting. I cried the other day because Mother
said my talents were gilt-edged. ‘Yes, I Can,’” suddenly broke from her.
“I’m going to begin right now, too; I’ll show Mother that I am not a
gilt-edge drifter. I’ll learn to cook—oh, I’ll just make myself do those
horrible, horrible things—I’ll show you, Miss I Can, so there!” She
hastily wiped away the tears that would come, and then, as was her wont
after a mental conflict, she began to sing. A few moments later she was
down in the kitchen hustling about, seeing what there was for dinner.

A steak, oh, yes, she knew how to broil that—and potatoes—oh, they were
easy! The next minute she had seated herself before the kitchen table,
and as she peeled the potatoes she sang with unwonted animation:

  “We stick to work until it’s done
  We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers.
  We never from our duty run,
  We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers.
  We learn to cook, to sew, to mend
  To sweep, to dust, to clean, to tend,
  And always willing hands to lend.”

As she paused to think how she could manage the next vegetable, Mrs.
Page entered, showing amazement as she saw what her daughter was doing,
for full well she knew that Nathalie disliked anything in the way of
housework.

“Why, Nathalie!” she exclaimed, “you need not do that. I will get
dinner; there is not so much to do, for Felia made some pies yesterday,
and with a steak, thank goodness! there will not be much to cook.”

“Now, see here, Mumsie,” cried the new housewife, flourishing her knife
menacingly at her mother, “I am chief of this ranch. You have lamented
that I was just a gilt-edged doll, now I’m going to show you I’m not.
I’m a Pioneer, and I’m going to learn everything useful. Now be off!” As
her mother protested there ensued a little wrestling-match in which the
girl came off victor, and Mrs. Page, subdued into meekness, retired to
the veranda, somewhat relieved to think she could rest awhile.

As Nathalie snuggled down to sleep that night—she was so tired she could
hardly keep her eyes open—she felt supremely happy, for she had cooked
dinner all by herself. To be sure Dick had growled and claimed the steak
was burnt, and Lucille had volunteered the information that Felia never
mashed her potatoes that way, but it made no difference to the happy
Blue Robin—as Dick had called her—for she was pleased to think that for
once in her life she had helped. Of course, Mother had laughed at her
blunders, but it was in the old happy way that she used to do when Papa
had been with them.

Next morning Nathalie awoke with a start, she smiled drowsily at some
passing remembrance of the day before, and then turned over for a beauty
nap. Suddenly she sat up with eyes keen and alert; if she was to be maid
of all work that day she must get at her job. In fifteen minutes she was
creeping stealthily down the kitchen stairs with her shoes in her hands,
so as not to awaken her mother.

Oh! the fire was out; that was a difficulty she had not taken into
calculation. For a moment she was tempted to crawl up those stairs and
leave the fire to the next one who discovered it. Oh, but that would not
do at all. She didn’t know how to make a fire, but the words “I can,”
made her close her mouth determinedly, and in a few moments clouds of
rising smoke attested that she was learning. But alas, the smoke soon
drifted into space, and the blaze disappeared in a mass of black paper!

Nathalie’s tears came at this; oh, why would not that wood catch fire?
Tried to the soul, she went to the window and gazed through a mist of
tears at the dew sparkling on bush and grass. A low, sweet whistling
caused her to look up to see Helen, as fresh as a new-blown rose,
throwing open the shutters of her room.

Nathalie pursed up her lips and then broke into a “Tru-al-lee!”

Helen glanced down quickly, her eyes lighted, and then came a quick Bob
White call that sounded much like “More wet! More wet!” In another
instant she was down on the porch calling merrily to her friend, “Oh,
Nathalie, how are you this morning?”

Nathalie dimpled cheerily. “Oh, fine!” making a dab at her eyes, “but at
my wits’ end trying to make a fire. Will you tell me why it will insist
upon going out? It is maddening! I have lighted it six times.”

“What, you making a fire?” said Helen, and then, “Just wait a moment and
I will come over and see what is wrong.”

Under Helen’s nimble fingers the brown paper was taken out, the fire-pot
filled with loosely wrapped newspaper, small sticks laid crisscross, a
few larger ones on top, and then a match applied. Like magic the tiny
blue flame sputtered, caught hold of an edge of paper, and then in a few
moments a blazing fire was seething and swirling. Nathalie, in exuberant
joy, seized her friend and the two girls waltzed merrily around the
kitchen.

Of course Nathalie knew how to make toast, but when Helen showed her how
to hold it over the coals until it was a golden-brown, butter it while
hot, and then cut off the scraggly edges and a rim of crust, she
realized that toast-making was indeed a domestic science. Scrambled eggs
came next, simple, but deliciously done, as her friend showed her. Then
came putting the coffee in the percolator with the water heated beneath
by the tiny alcohol lamp, thus drawing from the beverage the most
nutritious qualities, Helen declared, without injuring one’s digestion.

But the grape-fruit—that was another new thing learned—was prepared the
way Helen said a trained nurse had taught her, one time when her mother
was ill. It was cut in half, the pulp dug out with a spoon into a cup or
saucer, and after the pith had been removed, chopped finely, returned to
shell, and then sugared and put on the ice. But perhaps the best part of
helping Mother that morning was when, after striking the Japanese gong
eight bells, Nathalie arrayed herself in Felia’s freshly laundered cap
and apron and stationed herself back of her mother’s chair to serve
breakfast.

How pleased and surprised her mother was! Dick “Blue Robined” her again,
while Lucille patronizingly exclaimed, “Oh, Nathalie, you make a swell
maid—and how smart you are getting!”

Just before dinner, Helen appeared again, and taught her how to make
soup from a few boiled bones and a chunk of meat, a few left-over
tomatoes, and a bit of onion and seasoning. She taught her to broil a
steak,—this time without a burnt speck—how to make white sauce for some
left-over fish, how to scrape new potatoes economically, and the right
way to cook peas. Then came a delicious dessert of stale pieces of cake
and canned peaches, laid in layers with beaten cream, and topped off
with little white pigs, as Nathalie called the tiny bits of egg froth
floating on its surface. Truly, it was a dinner fit for a king!

After dinner her sensitive soul rebelled at the pile of greasy dishes,
but the task grew lighter when Helen showed her how to make the water
hot and soapy, using a lot of dried bits of soap that Nathalie was going
to throw away, by sewing them in cheese-cloth bags. She washed the
glasses and silver first, then the china, and then—oh, horrors—the pots!
But when the new Pioneer saw how her friend put them on to boil, thus
doing away with so much grease, it was a revelation. And when the
dish-towels were washed and hung out in the sun to sweeten, and the sink
was scrubbed with a brush and a cleansing soap, Nathalie was again
forced to admit that she had mastered another household science.

Oh, no, it wasn’t all plain sailing—the world isn’t run that way—and the
new Pioneer’s back, eyes, and feet made themselves forcibly known before
she went to bed that night. Many a time she had had to grit her teeth,
summon Miss I Can to her side, and with forced determination go on with
the job; but after all, she declared, as she turned out the light, “I
have helped Mother!” and then sleep claimed the tired girl.

When Saturday morning came, however, and no Felia made her appearance
according to promise, Nathalie’s face grew somber, and she could not
help going to the door every few minutes to see if she were not in
sight, for she had planned to go on a bird-hike that morning with the
Pioneers to learn bird-calls. As the clock struck nine she dropped her
broom—she was sweeping the kitchen—and rushed to her room. Here she wept
copiously for a while in her clothes closet with her head buried in the
skirts of her dresses, so no one could hear, and then she heard her
mother calling her.

She dried her eyes guiltily, scrubbed her face to brush away all trace
of tears, and then answered blithely, “Here I am, Mumsie, I’m coming
right down to finish the kitchen.” When she came tearing down the stairs
she found the kitchen swept and garnished, and lo! there stood Mother
with big, surprised eyes pointing to Lucille, who, as she caught sight
of her cousin, bobbed her head and dropped a curtsy, crying, “Sure,
ma’am, it’s a new job I’m afther takin’ on meself, but do yez see the
loikes of it for the claneness?”

Nathalie gave one bewildered stare, and then a merry peal of laughter
broke from her, seconded with a minor note from her mother, and with a
bass accompaniment added by Dick, as he entered and sensed the
situation. Yes, Miss I Can must have caught Lucille in her meshes, too,
for that young lady, generally so dainty in her labor preferences, had
condescended to sweep the kitchen.

“Well,” she explained apologetically, “I was jealous of the praise
bestowed upon Nathalie, and thought I’d show you folks that people can
do things even if they are not Blue Robins.”

“Oh, Lucille, you aren’t a Blue Robin, you’re a duck of a dear,” bubbled
Nathalie as she hugged her cousin rapturously. “It was just lovely of
you. But Mother, did you know what she was doing?”

“No, I did not,” rejoined Mrs. Page; “I thought it was you working all
by yourself and came in to help, as I knew you wanted to go on the hike.
But before you go, dear,” she added anxiously, “I want you to go down to
Felia’s and see how she is. If she is not coming back by Monday you will
have to hunt around for a washerwoman; the clothes can’t go another
week.”

An hour later, Nathalie, delighted to think she could take a day off
with a clear conscience, hurried in the direction of Ophelia’s little
gray shanty; but to her surprise, as she came near the door she heard a
loud wailing and the confused hum of several voices.

As she entered the stuffy parlor hung with gay colored prints and
dingy-looking chromos, she found Ophelia seated in a rocking chair with
her face buried in a gingham apron, wailing and crying hysterically.
Pushing her way through the crowd of sympathizing friends, Nathalie
grabbed the arm of a colored woman who stood by Felia’s side crying,
“Oh, please, won’t you tell me what’s the matter?”

“Sure, Miss,” respectfully answered the woman, wiping a tear from her
eye. “It’s little Rosy, she’s lost—we can’t find her—ah, honey, don’t
take on so!” she ended, turning towards the grieving mother and giving
her a caressing pat on the shoulder. “Surely some one will find her.”

Nathalie now stepped to Felia’s side and pulled her gently by the
sleeve, determined to get some definite information about black Rosebud,
as Dick called the little pickaninny who had often come to the house
with her mother, and who, being a bright child, had become a prime
favorite. “Ophelia, please tell me about your trouble!” insisted the
girl. “Is Rosy surely lost?”

“She lost sure nuff, Missy, down at de bottom of de pond,” quavered
Felia’s mother dismally, an aged negress standing by the side of her
daughter, as she rolled up her eyes until the whites looked like saucers
on a shelf. “I’se gwine to tell you de trufe—dat chile is drowned. Oh, I
see her face a-shinin’ in de water—”

Her horrible prognostication as to Rosy’s woeful fate was terminated by
her daughter’s renewed wails of anguish, as she again began to rock
herself to and fro with redoubled force.

“Oh,” thought Nathalie, frowning angrily in the direction of the old
mammy, “I do wish she would stop.” Then she cried, “Oh, Felia, don’t cry
so—I am sure she will be found—perhaps she is at one of the neighbors’
houses, you know she is fond of visiting.”

There was such sympathetic concern in the girl’s voice that Felia
desisted from her lamentations long enough to cry, “Oh, Miss Natty, she
done go and get lost—she ain’t nowhere hereabouts!” Then in answer to
further questioning she said that the child had been seen just before
dark picking posies over in a meadow with several children, but when
bedtime came she could not be found.

“Has any one looked for her?” demanded Nathalie, turning towards the
group of colored women as poor Felia went back to her apron wailing
pitifully, “I’se gwine promise yo’, Lord, if yo’ bring my baby back,
I’ll never get mad with her again. I’ll promise sure—” but the rest of
Felia’s prayer was lost as the women crowded around Nathalie and eagerly
explained that Dan Washington, Paul Jones, and Abe Smith had searched
the town for her. They had been up all night, but when morning came had
to return to their jobs, and there was no one looking for her at that
time.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Felia!” sympathized Nathalie again to the weeping
mother. Then, after asking if the town authorities had been notified,
she decided to hasten home, knowing that she could not get any one to
promise to work for her at that time.

“Oh, it is too bad!” she lamented as she hurried down Main Street. “It
does seem as if some one ought to be searching for her now, why the poor
child may be injured or something!” Her too vivid imagination pictured
her, not down at the bottom of the pond, as mammy had done, but crying
piteously of fear and hunger in some lonely place. “I suppose the police
in this town will take some hours to get on to the job, as Dick says.”
She suddenly paused and her eyes shone with a bright light. She wrinkled
her brow thoughtfully a moment as if going over something in her mind,
and then with the glad cry, “Oh, I know we can do it—it will be just the
thing!” She broke into a run as if her sudden inspiration would escape
her if she did not hurry.

With good speed she soon reached the house, hurriedly told her mother
what had befallen Rosy and the condition she had found things in at the
negro settlement, and then, telling her she would be back in a few
moments, she flew post-haste across the road to Mrs. Morrow’s house.
Here the Pioneers with eager, expectant faces were all talking
animatedly, their brown uniforms, red ties, and broad-brimmed hats
suggestive of the good time in store for them.

“Oh, here she comes!” sang out Helen, as she spied Nathalie hastening up
the path towards the veranda. “Why, where have you been? We began to
think you were not coming.”

“I had to go on an errand for Mother!” Then with glowing eyes she told
them of the visit to the colored settlement and about the lost Rosy, the
grief of her mother, and how there was no one looking for the child.
“Oh, girls,” she ended in a quiver of excitement, “let’s give up the
bird-hike for to-day, and see if we cannot find little Rosy!”



CHAPTER IX—SEARCHING FOR ROSY


An oppressive silence followed, while each girl looked blankly at her
neighbor. The new Pioneer’s face flushed, and her eager, excited eyes
shadowed, as she quickly realized that in her eagerness to follow the
law of kindliness she had been too officious. She stood in dismayed
embarrassment, the chill of an unpleasant surprise benumbed her. With a
faint hope she turned her eyes appealingly towards Helen, surely her
level head and kind heart would prompt her to second her. Helen caught
the look and smiled faintly.

Edith, who was always the first one to either second or down a
proposition, broke the silence by exclaiming in an aggrieved tone, “Why,
the idea, Nathalie Page! we can’t give up the bird-hike, we’ve all
brought our lunches!”

“I should say not,” interposed Lillie Bell with flashing eyes. “Why, it
would take the whole morning, and there could be no hike for to-day, and
next week I can’t go, I—”

“Oh, they have probably found the child by this time!” ventured Barbara
North, to Nathalie’s surprise, as she had always found her of a kindly
nature.

“Well, _I_ for _one_ don’t think it is our place to look for the child,
anyway,” asserted Jessie, decisively. “Let the men of the town do it.
There are three policemen hanging around all day with nothing to do.”

Nathalie’s cheeks had lost their pink bloom; her face stiffened as she
retorted coolly, “Well, just as you please, I see I have made a
mistake.” She nerved herself. “I thought kindliness was one of the laws
of the organization, and it seemed to me that our pleasure was to take a
secondary place when we had an opportunity to do a kind act. If you had
seen the poor mother sobbing—”

“Oh, fiddle!” ejaculated Lillie, “those colored people are all emotion;
their sobs don’t count for much. I agree with Jessie that the
townspeople should send out a search party, and I for one refuse to give
up the hike. Who’s on my side?” she ended abruptly, turning and facing
the group.

“I!” and “I!” shouted several voices at once in answer.

Nathalie backed towards the edge of the veranda. “I seem to be in the
minority,” she said with assumed indifference, although her heart was
beating in double-quick time, for something had whispered, “They are
very rude, I would resign immediately.” But this suggestion was bravely
silenced by the thought, “No, I will not be as small as that, I will
show I do not care.”

“There must be some one who thinks as I do,” she ended resolutely,
wishing that she could run from this affront to her sensitiveness.

“I am with you, Nathalie!” suddenly cried Helen, walking towards her
friend and putting her arm around her.

Grace looked at the bevy of girls who had bunched together, then at the
faces of her two friends. In a faint voice she asserted lamely, “And I,
Nathalie, I didn’t stop to think—”

“And, Nathalie, you can count me on your side!” broke in a voice at this
moment. The girls, alert at the prospect of a division in the group,
turned quickly to see Mrs. Morrow place herself by the side of Nathalie,
taking her hand as she did so and giving it a cordial squeeze.

Nathalie’s color came racing back and her heart leaped with joy. Ah,
then she had not been too officious, after all! She turned to see the
girls standing in embarrassed silence with shamed eyes and uncertain
mien. But Lillie, who was generally the spokesman of the group when
Helen was on the opposite side, cried somewhat pertly, “Why, Mrs.
Morrow, do you think it is our place to go and hunt for that colored
child? I should think it was the duty of the townspeople to look after
those things.”

“That is not the question,” replied the Director coldly. “As Nathalie
said, kindliness is one of the basic laws of the organization. We should
be poor Pioneers indeed if we saw a man drowning and then stood and
argued as to whether it was our place to save him or not. Nathalie, I
commend you not only for your kind suggestion, but for having the real
pioneer courage in maintaining what you believed to be right. You have
shown yourself a true Blue Robin and I am proud of you. Now, girls, we
will put it to a vote. Those of you who want to go on the hike, up with
their hands.” Not a hand was raised.

Mrs. Morrow’s face brightened as she cried laughingly, “Now who wants to
join a search-party with Nathalie as captain, and see if they can find
little Rosebud?”

Every hand flew up, and there was a general cry of, “I do! I do!”

“Well, girls,” said Mrs. Morrow kindly, as her eyes traveled from face
to face, “I see you have repented of the error of your way. Let
Nathalie’s example inspire you!”

“Oh, I guess we just didn’t stop to think!” broke forth Barbara, with
shamed eyes.

“Well, when one has made up her mind to do a thing she would be a saint
to give it up without a fuss,” remarked Lillie. “Of course, Nathalie was
all right, but she had had time to think it all out and we hadn’t!”

“A good explanation, Lillie,” answered Mrs. Morrow, “but I hope you have
all learned a lesson. Now, Nathalie, make your suggestions and we’ll get
to work.”

The new Pioneer had already divided the girls into two sections, with
Helen as one leader, and Lillie Bell as the other. It did hurt a little
to give Lillie the first place after she had spoken as she had, but
Nathalie realized her worth, and then, too, she did not want to show any
resentment. “You see,” she explained, “I am only a dummy captain, for I
am not as familiar with the town as the rest of you are, and there will
be no time lost in making false moves.”

“That is a very sensible decision, Nathalie,” nodded Mrs. Morrow, “but
the question is where to look first!”

“Suppose we go down to the settlement, make a survey, and get our
bearings?” voiced Helen.

“Good, Helen, that is just the thing!” acquiesced the Director, as the
girls at her suggestion hurriedly deposited their lunch-boxes in the
hall, while Nathalie ran over to tell her mother her plans.

In a few moments the would-be searchers started, each girl equipped with
her staff, while the two leaders triumphantly displayed their whistles,
which they claimed would be of great help if any of the party got lost
and their voices did not carry.

It did not take long to reach Felia’s shanty, and as Nathalie ran in to
tell her that the Pioneers were going to hunt for Rosy, the rest of the
party gazed with quick, alert eyes first in one direction and then in
the other.

“I should not be surprised if the child had wandered away looking for
flowers,” remarked Mrs. Morrow, suddenly remembering what Nathalie had
said the child was doing when she was last seen.

“But where would she be apt to go?” inquired Nathalie, who had returned
in time to hear Mrs. Morrow’s remark.

“Why, to the woods!” retorted Helen quickly, and her eyes lighted in
sudden thought as they dwelt on a green belt of woodland that loomed
against the sky on the opposite side of the road.

“Don’t you think she might have strayed down the hill?” questioned
Nathalie, pointing to a pond shimmering in the sun at the bottom of a
knoll near-by. “Poor Mammy is quite sure she is drowned and lies at the
bottom of the pond.”

“Well, I’ll tell you what we can do,” spoke up Lillie, “I’ll take my
squad and search down by the pond, and Helen and the rest of you can go
over to the woods; somehow I’m with Mammy, for all children love to
paddle in the water.”

Lillie’s suggestion was a timely one, and as she, Grace, Jessie, and a
few Orioles disappeared over the slope of the hill, Helen and Nathalie,
as the advance guard, hurried across the road and into the cool recesses
of the woods. As they hastened onward every girl’s eyes were alert,
watchfully peering behind every bush and tree as they stumbled over
gnarled roots and broken stumps in their efforts to reach some shaded
nook, or lichen-covered rock dimly seen in the shadows of the trees.

Helen proved an efficient leader and did not hesitate to keep her
followers busy, as she sent first one and then the other to look here or
there, determined not to miss a nook or spot where the child might be
hidden. Every now and then some of the party would give a bird call, or
Helen’s whistle would reverberate sharply through the swaying pines.

But Mrs. Morrow, whose strength began to waver, finally suggested to
Nathalie and Edith, who had been acting as her body-guard, that they
rest for a few minutes. Spying a decayed tree-trunk that had fallen
across the damp, spongy earth a few feet away, they seated themselves
upon it.

“Oh, I’m really tired!” exclaimed Mrs. Morrow, for she had proved as
indefatigable as the girls in searching, thinking, she declared, of her
own two kiddies safe in the garden at home.

Nathalie, impressed by the solemn stillness about her, slowly fanned
herself with her hat, while Edith made frantic dabs at her red face,
from which beady drops were oozing. “Oh, I should just love to stay here
all day,” she cried, sniffing the air, redolent with the odors of pine,
spicy balsam, silver birch, and many other trees that loomed darkly in
the mysterious retreats of the forest.

“Hark!” cried Mrs. Morrow, suddenly putting up her hand for silence as
she peered up at the green boughs above her. “Taweel-ab, taweel-ab,
twil-ab, twil-ab!” came in a succession of weird, sweet trills.

“Wheew, whoit, wheew, whoit!” imitated the Sport with quick readiness.

“It is a hermit thrush!” explained Mrs. Morrow softly, and her hand
clutched Nathalie’s as she pointed to a brown bird that was scudding
swiftly over the fern a few feet away.

“Oh, isn’t it a dear?” whispered delighted Nathalie, for to her this
coming, as she called it, into the very heart of nature was a new
experience. She half regretted at times that they had been compelled to
forego the bird-hike, as she was so anxious to get in touch with the
feathered songsters of the wood and field. Then, too, suppose the
searching-party should fail of its purpose, she would feel that she had
been the means of leading them on a wild-goose chase!

As her eyes roamed here and there in the hope that she might see the
brown thrush again, she started, stared a moment, and then springing to
her feet dashed across to the clump of ferns where the bird had been
flying.

“I have found a clew!” she cried triumphantly a moment later, as she
returned and held up her hand. Between her thumb and forefinger was a
bit of red, which she was waving gleefully as she came towards them. As
the Sport and Mrs. Morrow hurried to her side they saw a loop of red
ribbon still with the knot in it by which it had evidently been recently
tied to some object.

“It is Rosy’s hair-ribbon!” cried Nathalie. “I found it clinging to one
of the ferns.”

“Oh, are you sure?” burst from Mrs. Morrow, her eyes eager with hope as
she bent over the little scarlet knot.

“Indeed I am sure,” answered the delighted girl, “for it is the very
ribbon I found in my work basket and tied on Rosy’s funny little topknot
the day she was at our house. See, here is the very cut in the edge—that
is the reason it was of no use to me—but Rosy was as happy as a lark
over it. Oh, isn’t this too lovely, for now I know the child is
somewhere near!”

With renewed hope they set forth again on the hunt, Nathalie running
ahead and calling “Tru-al-lee!” as loud as she could—it was the only
bird call she knew—to get in touch with the advance guard and tell them
the good news.

In answer to her Blue Robin call, in a few moments a Bob White whistle
was heard, rather faint, but there was no mistake as to that quick,
clear note. The Sport, a few yards behind, immediately responded by
giving a similar call, and then as they stood waiting to ascertain from
what direction the whistle had come, there sounded a sudden, sharp snap
of the underbrush near, and Kitty Corwin’s face emerged into view.
“Hurrah, girls!” she shouted jubilantly, “we have found her!”

“Oh, where? Where?” came in an instant from three throats as Kitty
leaned against a tree and panted.

“Down in a ravine, huddled close against a rock, asleep. Helen did not
want to waken her until Nathalie came, for fear she would be frightened
at the strange faces. Come on, quick!” she exclaimed excitedly, turning
and darting back the way she had come with light, fleet steps.

But the belated ones needed no urging, especially Nathalie, who dashed
ahead without regard to time or place, with a haste that left no doubt
as to her joy that her searching party had been a success. Overhanging
branches and dried twigs that blocked her way were ruthlessly brushed
aside, or run against, scratching and bruising her unmercifully as she
discovered later, but it made no difference to the happy girl.

It seemed but a moment when she emerged into a clearing, and close at
the heels of Kitty climbed down into a small ravine. It had evidently
been at one time the road-bed of a brook, but was now filled with
scraggy stones, dried underbrush, and fallen logs.

As Nathalie saw the little motionless figure cuddled in a heap against
the rock, her heart leaped with misgiving. “Oh, is she dead?” she asked
Helen, who stood guard by the side of the rock, every now and then
brushing away a gnat or a fly that descended with a loud buzz on the
smeared black face, which lay partly exposed to view as it rested on a
mite of an arm.

“Oh, no,” assured Helen, “she is all right, only asleep. I suppose she
wandered about for some time in the darkness and was tired out, poor
little tot!”

The little one looked so pathetically small as she lay there, just a
heap of bones, black skin, and woolly hair, with the tears still
glistening on the black lashes, that Nathalie’s heart was stirred with
pity.

Mrs. Morrow now came forward and quickly felt her pulse, crying as she
did so, “Oh, you poor little black baby! Yes, she is all right!” she
nodded assuringly, “but Helen, what is the matter with her leg?” Her
sharp glance noted that it lay rather limply on the ground.

“I am not sure,” said Helen with bent brows as she touched it softly,
“but I am afraid it is broken. That is why I waited for you and
Nathalie, I did not like to move her for fear of hurting her.”

“But we shall have to,” returned Mrs. Morrow as she finished examining
the injured limb, “for it is broken, and we must get her home as soon as
possible, for it will have to be set.”

As Helen and Mrs. Morrow attempted to take hold of the child to lift her
on the stretcher the girls had made, she opened her eyes wide into the
strange faces bending over her. Then she closed them quickly, and as the
little black face wrinkled in fear she let forth such a howl of absolute
despair that the girls were all on the verge of joining with her in
their keen sympathy.

“Oh, Rosy,” cried Nathalie springing hastily forward and taking the
child’s hand softly in hers, “see, it is Mrs. Page’s little girl. Don’t
you remember when you called me that—Mrs. Page’s little girl?” She
repeated softly as she saw the child had stopped her crying and was
staring up at her. But the black eyes closed again and the little form
shivered as a prolonged howl answered the questioner.

But Nathalie, who loved children, lifted up the little head with its
pigtails and laid it against her breast as she tried again. “There
dearie, don’t you want to go in the choo-choo cars to see Mamma?”

These words had the desired effect, and the howl was arrested as two big
black eyes stared with awakening interest while Nathalie caught hold of
the stretcher and choo-chooed it back and forth. “Come, Rosy!” she cried
in a third attempt, “and we will go in the choo-choo cars to see Mamma,
and—oh, yes, the little rag-dollie I made for you, don’t you remember
what a lovely time we had?”

The black eyes opened wide, stood still for a wee second, and then
twinkled into a smile as their owner cried, “Oh, yes, I knows youse;
youse de Story Lady!”

“Yes, I’m the Story Lady,” quickly answered Nathalie, her face breaking
into a smile; then as Rosy smiled back, “but how did you get here,
Rosebud, so far away from home?”

The little face screwed into a knot as she whimpered, “Oh, I got lost,
Story Lady. I picked daisies in de lot, and den Jacob he showed me de
blue flowers he got in de wood. So I runned to de wood, and oh, I got a
lot!” Her eyes gleamed with joy as she held up a few withered violets
still clutched in her tiny hand. “And den it grew all dark,” she moaned,
“and I couldn’t fin’ de road, and I fell and hurt my leg. Oh, I’se so
hungry!” she ended piteously.

But when she saw so many eyes watching her, she covered her tiny face
with her hand, shyly peeping out from between her fingers.

The girls all laughed merrily at her coquettishness, but their laughter
became almost a howl as the little black eyes began to play peek-a-boo
at them, and then danced in unison with their laughter, as if enjoying
the sensation she had created.

But time was precious, and so with the promise of candy and a story from
Nathalie the little one was lifted from the ground and carefully placed
in the stretcher, and the Pioneer search party, weary, and warm, but
jubilantly happy at their success, started for home.

“Some one of you girls ought to run ahead and get the doctor!” exclaimed
Mrs. Morrow as the rescuers plodded carefully but slowly up the ravine
with their burden, “for the child needs attention at once. I don’t
wonder she cries!” For, alas! the little one had begun to whimper
softly, although Nathalie was still playing choo-choo car as hard as she
could, so as to divert her mind from the pain and hunger pangs that had
now begun to assert themselves more forcibly.

“I will go!” cried Edith quickly, and then at a nod of assent from their
Director she disappeared in the shadowy gloom of the trees like a small
whirlwind. Barbara and Kitty were then despatched to hurry and tell
Rosebud’s mother that the lost was found.

As they reached the edge of the woods, Mrs. Morrow thought she heard the
throb of an automobile engine, and as it was followed in a moment by the
toot of a horn, she begged Nathalie to hurry to the road, just a few
feet beyond in the opening. “It sounds like the doctor’s car—perhaps he
will take little Rosy home—for, O dear, she is suffering so!”

Nathalie softly unfastened the little hands that were clinging to hers,
and with a few bounds reached the road where, sure enough, she saw a few
yards ahead an automobile that had just passed.

Yes, it was the doctor! Nathalie thought she recognized his car, and
with mad haste tore after it, shouting to the full extent of her lungs,
“Doctor! Doctor!”

The occupant of the car, who evidently was not driving at a very high
rate of speed, heard her shouts and in a moment brought his car to a
standstill. As he turned about and stared at the oncoming figure of
Nathalie, who, red-faced and bedraggled was speeding towards him, he
looked slightly surprised.

“Oh, Doctor,” began the girl. She paused, for the gentleman who was
looking at her with such a puzzled expression, coupled with slight
indignation at being stopped in this way, was a strange young man!

Nathalie halted abruptly as she discovered her error, feeling as if her
face would burst from the heat of her unwonted exercise and the fact
that she had been tagging in this tomboy style, after a strange man.

“Oh—I’m so sorry,” she panted apologetically, “but Mrs. Morrow thought
she heard an automobile, she was sure it was the doctor—”

“Mrs. Morrow!” exclaimed the young man, “why, is she anywhere about?” He
jumped from his car as he spoke and came towards her.

“Oh, yes,” cried the girl, with a gleam of hope that if this young man
knew their Director there was a chance for Rosy. “We have been looking
for a little colored girl who was lost—oh, I mean the Pioneers—we have
been searching in the woods,” she explained confusedly, the blood
surging furiously into her cheeks under the keen gray eyes that were
looking so searchingly down at her. “Oh, can’t you help us?” she burst
off appealingly. “Mrs. Morrow wants to get her home as soon as she can,
for she has a broken leg.”

“A broken leg?” echoed the young man, “why, of course I will help you,”
he continued heartily. “Where is Mrs. Morrow? And—oh, I see—” the gray
eyes gleamed pleasantly, “you are Blue Robin, the little girl who lives
across the way from us. I am Mrs. Morrow’s brother, Jack Homer!”



CHAPTER X—NATHALIE AS THE STORY LADY


Nathalie’s color flamed again as she heard that “little girl,” and she
drew herself up in momentary indignation. Oh, this was evidently the Dr.
Homer whom she had heard the girls talk so much about, and who had been
giving them lessons in First Aid to the Injured. But who could have told
him she was a little girl?

This affront to her dignity was forgotten, however, as she quickly
remembered the need of getting little Rosy home. “Mrs. Morrow is in the
woods—oh, there she is now!” she cried hastily, as she pointed to the
Director, who, with the Pioneers and their burden, had halted on the
edge of the woods and stood waiting for her. As Mrs. Morrow perceived
her brother she quickly beckoned to him.

A few steps, and Dr. Homer was at his sister’s side, listening to her
hurried recital of the preceding events and her anxiously expressed wish
that Rosy could be seen to as soon as possible.

“Why, if it isn’t little Rosebud!” said the doctor jovially as he turned
from his sister and looked down at the helpless mite of humanity, lying
so patient and still in the stretcher.

The child smiled shyly, and Nathalie, perceiving that he knew her, gave
a sigh of relief, for she felt that now everything would soon be all
right.

It did not take the doctor long to lift Rosy tenderly into the car and
to make her comfortable with her little black head on Mrs. Morrow’s lap.
As he was about to jump in himself an “I want my Story Lady! I want my
Story Lady!” came in a loud wail from the little patient, for Rosy’s
face had knotted up again as she pushed away Mrs. Morrow’s detaining
hand and tried to lift her head in search of Nathalie.

Nathalie hastened to the side of the car crying, “Oh, Rosy, it’s all
right. I’m going home to your mamma. I will be there almost as soon as
you—”

“Why, Nathalie, get in with us,” exclaimed Mrs. Morrow, “there is room
on the front seat with the doctor. Oh, I beg your pardon, Nathalie,
perhaps you have not met my brother. Jack, this is Miss Page, our new
Pioneer, and oh, Jack; if it had not been for her I don’t know when poor
little Rosy would have been found!”

“I am most pleased to meet you, Miss Page,” smiled the doctor with undue
emphasis on the Miss. Then, as he noted Nathalie’s stiff little bow, he
continued apologetically, with a humorous twinkle in his eye, “I have
heard so much about Blue Robin, that somehow I thought she was a little
girl.”

Nathalie smiled pleasantly, instantly recognizing that this frank-eyed
young man was doing his best to atone for his mistake of a few minutes
ago. But she must not keep him waiting, and a moment later she sprang
into the car. Although it was but a short ride to Felia’s house, there
was time enough for the doctor to chat pleasantly with the young girl,
so by the time they had reached their destination Nathalie understood
why Dr. Homer was such a favorite with the Pioneers.

Fortunately, Edith had caught Dr. Morrow just as he was about to set out
to call on a patient, so he soon arrived. In a short time he and Dr.
Homer had set the broken limb and made the child comfortable, who, with
a smile of content, received a bowl of bread and milk from Mammy, whose
black face was wreathed in smiles again as she saw that the little one
was not lying down at the bottom of the pond.

A half-hour later a group of girls straggled wearily along the main
street of the village, animatedly discussing first one and then another
detail of the morning’s hunt. As they were all tired, it was unanimously
decided to postpone the bird hike to another day.

When this decision was reached, Nathalie’s bright face clouded as she
exclaimed contritely, “Oh, girls, I’m awfully sorry I broke up the hike,
but I was so anxious to find Rosy.”

“Well, I for one am glad we gave it up,” asserted Kitty Corwin, “for
girls, it paid for the disappointment to see that poor mother’s joy when
she saw her child.”

“And the old black mammy—huh—she is a regular plantation coon,” chimed
in Edith; “did you hear her shout ‘Praise de Lord! Hallelujah!’? Oh, but
how her eyes did shine!”

“She was a black sunbeam, all right,” observed Helen, “and it’s all
owing to Nathalie!” putting her arm about her friend and giving her an
enthusiastic squeeze; “she ought to have a white star.”

“A white star,” ejaculated Nathalie, “what does that mean?”

“Why, it means that you should receive a badge of merit, but as a
Pioneer can’t receive a badge until she is a first-class member, Mrs.
Morrow gives white stars instead to the girls who deserve badges but are
not yet old enough to receive them,” explained Helen. “We keep our stars
and then sew them on a big United States flag we are making for our new
Pioneer room.”

“Oh, I should be pleased to have one!” cried Nathalie, “but it gives me
more pleasure to know that you do not think I spoiled your fun, and have
been so nice about it. I should just hate to have you think me
officious!”

“But we didn’t think that, Nathalie,” assured Lillie quickly. “In fact,
I guess we just didn’t think at all, we were so intent on having our own
selfish ways. We are all friends of yours, and as Pioneers and
personally,” she spoke warmly, “we are glad you won the victory over our
naughty, wicked selves.”

Several days later, Nathalie, who was still the maid of all work, stood
washing the breakfast dishes. Somehow, helping Mother seemed to have
lost its charm. She felt as if she and Miss I Can were not as good
friends as they were at the beginning of her kitchen campaign. O dear,
she did wish Rosy would get better so Felia could come back. She sighed
heavily, and then hastily wiped away a stray tear that was meandering
down her cheek—she had heard a step on the back stoop.

“Hello, Blue Robin!” was Helen’s cheery greeting as she entered,—she
usually came in by the back door in the morning—then she stopped, for
Nathalie’s usually smiling face wore such a look of woe that she
exclaimed anxiously, “Oh, Nathalie, what is the matter?”

But her only answer was a stifled sob as the girl flung herself into a
chair by the kitchen table, and dropping her head on her elbow gave way
to the pent up flood that had been gathering for the last few days.
Helen stood a moment, uncertain what to say or do, dreading that some
great calamity had overtaken the family. Then she stepped to her
friend’s side and lifting her head encircled her with her arm
caressingly. “Now,” she cried, softly patting the brown head, “tell
friend Helen all about it.”

Nathalie’s tears flowed unrestrainedly for a moment and then, feeling
somewhat better for the overflow, and a little ashamed of useless tears
as she always called them, she withdrew from the friendly shelter and
sat up. “Oh, it’s just nothing at all, Helen,” she cried in a choked
voice, “only that I’m a great baby—and then—I’m tired”—her voice
quavered. “I’m tired of washing dishes and sweeping—” a sniffle—“all the
time.”

“Of course you are tired, who wouldn’t be, Nat, with all the wonderful
things you’ve done this last week?” sympathized Helen; “considering,
too, that it’s all new to you. Why, Mother says you are going to make a
splendid Pioneer.”

“Oh, did she?” asked Nathalie, her eyes brightening. “It makes one feel
good to be praised, I have felt so discouraged,” with an intake of her
breath, “for I’ve tried so hard to do everything I could, and then
Mother, why she hasn’t said one word of praise since the first day.
Everybody just takes it all—all the work I do—just as if it was nothing,
and things drag so. Of course I don’t expect to be praised all the
time,” she hastened to add, “but oh, I don’t seem to feel as happy about
working as I did at first.”

“Oh, well, you’re tired,” replied Helen condolingly. “I know just how
you feel, for I used to feel the same way when I first began to help
Mother around the house. You see the enthusiasm and the glory have all
gone out of it.”

“The enthusiasm and the glory?” repeated Nathalie in puzzled inquiry.

“Yes, the novelty of doing something new is the enthusiasm that put you
on the job; and the praise you got for doing it—which made you feel as
if you were awfully good—that’s the glory. But when things get stale and
people stop saying how smart you are and so on, why then it will be just
plain duty all through. You know, the frosting always comes first before
we get to the cake.”

“Oh, I suppose that has something to do with it,” responded Nathalie
alertly, “when one comes to think of it. So from now on it will be just
plain duty, won’t it?” with a quiver of her chin, for somehow the
prospect was not an enjoyable one at that moment.

“Yes, that’s about the size of it,” was the practical answer. “But if
you keep right on doing what you ought to, you’ll get something better
than the sugary stuff. Just keep Miss I Can for your friend, and then
after a time you will find that you like to do the very things that at
first seemed so hard. Experience, Mother says, brings knowledge, and
knowledge puts you in the end where you want to be.”

“I wish it would,” exclaimed Nathalie, her eyes flashing with sudden
hope, “for oh, Helen, I do so want to know things, that is the useful
arts, for I am so eager to learn how to make money the way you are
doing! You know I have told you all about Dick, Helen,” she lowered her
voice, “I think it is just that, seeing the poor fellow striving to earn
a little money so he can be made well again, that makes me so
down-hearted, for I feel that I am not doing a thing to help him.”

“But you are helping him, and your mother, too, Nathalie,” said Helen.
“By the very work you are doing you are helping your mother to save
money, that ought to be something to comfort you.”

“Oh, but it’s mean kind of work,” emphasized Nathalie, “and then, too,
it’s only saving a mite; and it will take so much money for Dick’s
operation.”

“Now, see here, Nathalie,” exclaimed her friend, “let’s figure this
thing out.” Taking a pencil and pad that always hung by the table with
Nathalie’s list of edibles to be served at each meal, she drew a chair
up to the table and began to figure just how much Nathalie was saving
her mother by doing the work herself.

Nathalie bent over her shoulder and watched eagerly as she saw the line
of figures jotted down by Helen. Then she, too, put on her thinking-cap
and in a few minutes the two girls had figured out quite a sum that
Nathalie was actually saving in dollars and cents each week she did the
work.

As Nathalie realized this fact, demonstrated so clearly by her friend,
her eyes sparkled, and clapping her hands she cried, “Oh, Helen, I’m
going to get Mother to let me do the work all the time—of course, as you
say, the washing will have to be done out—but oh, I shall feel—”

“Now, Nathalie, don’t go off at a tangent; stop and consider before you
make this suggestion to your mother. You must think just what it will
cost you, that is, count what it will mean to suffer aches in your back
and feet, to have fire-scorched cheeks,—they say cooking ruins the
complexion,—red, sloppy hands, and all the rest of the penalties imposed
on one for doing housework. If you put your hand to the plow, you know,
once started you can’t look back.”

“Oh, yes, I know, Helen, it will be terrible to have to do these things,
but if it will help me to earn money, even the teeniest bit, now that I
know that it is to be done without the glory perhaps it won’t be so
hard. Oh, I know Miss I Can will help me!” Nathalie smiled through the
mist that would blur her eyes, “for I must help Dick.”

“Yes,” returned her friend, “if you feel that way, determined to help
Dick, go ahead; for that will serve as the glory, that is, the incentive
will help you through lots of hard things.”

Nathalie looked up at her friend’s grave face with wonder-lit eyes. “Oh,
Helen,” she said solemnly, “do you know you are going to be a great
woman? You are awfully wise for a girl of your age!”

Helen interrupted her with a merry laugh. “Oh, no, I’m not going to be a
great woman at all. I should love to be—that is my ambition,—but one’s
ambitions are not apt to materialize the way one expects them to, you
know. But I’ll tell you, Nathalie,” her face sobered, “I have a very
wise mother—she tells me these things. And then as I go about I find
from experience that what she has said comes true.”

“Yes, Helen, you will be great,” nodded Nathalie sagely. “Perhaps you
will not go about blowing a trumpet to let people know you are one of
the world’s great ones, but you will be all the same, even if you never
do a thing but live in this sleepy town and become a stenographer.”

“Well, it looks that way,” laughed Helen, “from the pile of typing that
awaits me. Yes, I am, as you say, in a fair way to become a
stenographer, but Ye Stars! if I do not become an expert one, I’ll—well
I’ll go hang myself, as the boys say, for I must succeed!”

“Oh, are you really going, friend comforter?” laughed Nathalie, as Helen
rose to go. “Yes, you are that, for you have given me lots of comfort
this morning; you put new life in me when the cause was almost lost. On
the strength of your calculations I’m going to lay my plans before
Mother, and then I’m going to get some books and trinkets and go to see
Rosy.”

“Oh, yes, how is she?” inquired Helen interestedly. “I was thinking
about her the other day.”

“She is getting along nicely, but it is awfully hard for the little
thing to lie there most of the time alone. I was down to see her
yesterday and told her some stories, and I promised to come again
to-day.”

“I wish I could help you! But see here, Nathalie, speak to Grace and
Lillie about the story-telling; perhaps they will help you at that.
Grace is a lady with plenty of leisure to waste, and Lillie Bell dotes
on yarns.”

“I did ask Lillie, but she said she was no good telling stories to
children, and Grace—why, she said she was busy getting her clothes ready
for the summer.”

“There’s Kitty. Ah, I expect to see her this afternoon. I’ll ask her to
lend you a hand, but I must go, so good-by and good luck to you, Story
Lady!”

“Oh, Mother, you are just a dear!” cried Nathalie a little later, as she
was about to set forth to see Rosy. Her mother had come down from the
attic with a couple of old picture-books, and handed them to her to give
to the little invalid.

“Gloriana! won’t they make her eyes shine!” exclaimed Nathalie as she
tucked them under her arm, picked up the basket of goodies she had
prepared, and hurried down the walk. As she knocked at the door of the
gray shanty she heard Rosy whimpering softly. “Poor kiddie,” she
thought, with a wave of pity. Receiving no answer she pushed open the
door, which was partly ajar, and entered. On the bed lay the little form
with its head buried in a pillow, emitting a series of feeble whines.

“Good morning!” said the smiling visitor as she touched the half-buried
shoulder.

At the sound of her voice the child’s woolly head rolled over, and a
smile of welcome radiated her tear-stained face.

“How is it that you are all alone?” asked Nathalie, taking out an orange
from the basket; “where are Mother and Mammy?”

“Mamma went to de town, and Mammy—she’s doin’ de wash,” and then her
eyes expanded with joy as she spied the orange.

The orange was soon demolished, and then, as Nathalie started to show
her the two picture-books, she realized that Miss I Can confronted her
again, for a sticky mouth and hands revealed the fact that she had an
unpleasant task to perform. For a moment she hesitated, but quickly
overcoming her disinclination, she plunged in, got a basin of water, and
finding no wash-cloth, dipped her own dainty handkerchief in it, and
amid sundry squeals and protests gave the little face and hands a good
scrubbing.

This performed, the picture-books were brought forth and she was soon
busy explaining the pictures to the pleased little girl. But this
diversion she soon tired of and then came the cry, “Oh, Story Lady,
won’t yo’ please tell me er story?”

“Why, I don’t think I know any now—” Nathalie had meant to look up a
fairy book so as to be prepared, but the pleading look in the black eyes
upturned to hers won its way and she said, “All right, I’ll see what I
know? How would ‘The Babes in the Woods’ do?”

As this title was mentioned, a cry of protest came from the child, “No,
I don’t want to hear about de woods. I’se afraid of de woods.”

“Of course you don’t, you poor little chickie,” answered Nathalie
contritely, and then her face lightened up as a streak of sunshine at
that moment glancing in the window proved an inspiration. So she began
to tell about Sunshine Polly, who had been told that if she could get
some sunshine in her heart she would always be happy, and how she
forthwith set out for this golden country, and after many adventures
found it. Indeed it proved to be a most beautiful place, with a king,
very round and bright, and a lot of sunshine fairies flying all about
throwing some of their sunny treasure into the eyes of every one they
saw.

By the bright eyes watching her, Nathalie knew that she had made a good
selection this time, and the story progressed. She told how Polly got
the sunbeams, with a breathing spell every now and then to think up some
more, and the cries, “Oh, dat’s a lubly story! Oh, I likes dat story!”
But at last Polly returned from the land of sunshine with a crown of
sunbeams on her head and a big bundle of it in her heart.

Nathalie smiled as she finished, for it seemed as if she too, had been
to the sunshine land and had put some of it into Rosy’s little heart.
“Ah, now I will get a chance to slip away,” she thought, picking up her
basket as a prelude to her departure.

But Rosy, surmising by her movement that she contemplated leaving, began
to wail plaintively, begging her so hard to tell just one more “lubly
story.” As Nathalie stood, trying her best to think of another story,
she heard a slight noise, and looked up to see three little black faces
with big shiny eyes staring at her from over the ledge of the window.

The girl broke into a merry laugh, for really it was funny to see those
three round faces—like a row of flower-pot saucers on a shelf. “Why, how
did you get there?” she cried and then again burst into laughter. The
laughter proved contagious, for the three little pickaninnies
immediately joined in her merriment, and then, evidently thinking this
was an invitation to come in, one after the other slid over the sill and
trotted up to the bed, to the great delight of Rosy. Here they climbed
up, sitting on the edge with their naked black feet hanging down,
looking for all the world like monkeys’ claws as they swung them to and
fro, anxiously waiting for the story to begin.

[Illustration: “Why, how did you get there?”]

“Oh, what shall I tell them?” worried Nathalie, but in a flash she
remembered, and was soon in the mysteries of that beloved of all fairy
tales, “Jack and the Bean Stalk.” The interested glow in four pairs of
eyes was inspiring, and amply repaid her for the time that she had so
reluctantly given the little hearers.

The tale was soon ended, and again Nathalie sprang to her feet, feeling
that now she must go, for there was that dessert she had to make for
dinner. She gathered up her basket and had just turned to say good-by to
her audience of four, when she saw Dr. Morrow, who was standing by the
door, smiling down at her with his kindly eyes.

“Oh, were you there all the time?” she asked in dismay. The doctor
nodded as he said, “Yes, Blue Robin, I have enjoyed your story very
much. You had such an appreciative audience,” smiling at the little
black faces, “that I was reluctant to disturb their bliss. Our little
friend Rosy has well named you, ‘The Story Lady.’”

He turned towards his patient, and then with a kindly word for each of
her little friends, he began to inquire as to how Rosy was. As Felia at
this moment entered the room, Nathalie waved a good-by to Rosy, and
surrounded by the three pickaninnies, each one eager to carry her
basket, hurried out of the room and into the sunshine she had been
telling about. The many comments made by her body-guard of three, showed
how eager they were for the joys of story-land—a rare treat to them.
Realizing how much can be taught a child through story-telling, as she
had found when she was a child, Nathalie fell to thinking. By the time
she reached home she had planned a story club—oh, it would be just the
thing—if the Pioneers would agree to it. They could take turns, only an
hour once or twice a week, in telling stories to these new friends of
hers, and who knows, if the class grew they might eventually do a great
deal of good? Still somewhat timid of taking the initiative, she planned
to lay it before Helen and let the suggestion come from her.

Nathalie was trilling softly to herself little snatches of song, for
somehow on that bright June day she felt very happy. She had started, as
she told Helen, on a new career. Of course her mother had objected at
first to her taking Felia’s place, but when she found that Nathalie was
determined, she had consented, feeling that perhaps it would not harm
her for a while. And then, too, she would learn many things she needed
to know, and this was her opportunity to learn them. So Nathalie had won
her consent, and with the help of Dorothy, who had been pressed into
service, and the few things she allowed her mother to do, she had found
her work slip along more easily than she had anticipated, and the
thought that she was earning a mite towards a great object, as Helen
said, had proved the glory.

And so she sang away, doing the week’s stint of darning, as the stocking
drill at the Pilgrim Rally had helped her wonderfully, and now she was
quite assured that her mother did not have to do her work over.

As she glanced up from her work to watch a tiny humming bird that was
flitting among the leaves of the honeysuckle trellis, she heard the
throb of an engine, and looked up to see Dr. Morrow’s car coming up the
road. To her surprise, instead of running his car in through his gate to
the garage, he brought it to a standstill in front of their house,
alighted, and a moment later was coming briskly up the path.

His cheery greeting broke in upon her surprise as he cried, “Well, Blue
Robin, so you are at home!” O dear! every one seemed to be calling her
that nowadays, the girl thought a little ruefully.

“Good morning,” she cried; then her face paled apprehensively. “Oh, have
you come about Dick—do you think his knee is worse?” she faltered,
suddenly remembering that her brother had complained quite a little the
last three days with the pain in his knee.

“No, I have not come about Dick,” was the reassuring answer. “I have
come to see you on important business. Dick is doing as well as can be
until he is operated on.”

Nathalie sighed, and then said, “Oh, Doctor, I do wish you would explain
to me about Dick’s operation! Mother told me a little, but you see I
don’t know much about these things.”

The doctor raised his eyebrows in pretended surprise and then he said in
a serious tone, “I should say not. Such things as operations are not for
little Blue Robins. They are supposed to trill little tru-al-lee songs,
or tell fairy tales to children, as I hear some of them have been doing
lately.”

The girl’s eyes grew bright. “Oh, we are all doing it. Has Mrs. Morrow
told you about the Pioneer Story Club we have formed? Helen suggested
it, in a way.” Nathalie was modest, for the suggestion had really come
from herself, and also the planning with the aid of Helen’s wise head.
“We go down to the colored settlement,” she continued, “every Saturday
morning and take turns in telling stories to the little children. Don’t
you think it a fine idea?” She spoke animatedly.

“Indeed I do, but now for the business.”

“Oh—but please tell me about the operation first!” Nathalie was afraid
the doctor intended to put her off. “Tell me, will Dick really be good
and strong again after he has the operation?”

The doctor gazed at her a moment with serious eyes and then said slowly,
“Yes, Miss Nathalie, I believe that if your brother could have that
operation he would be just as well as if this unfortunate accident had
not happened.”

“But what makes the operation necessary, and what would you do to him?”
she insistently demanded.

“Well, I am not going to tell you exactly what we would do to him. We
shall not make hash of him—”

“Oh, Doctor!” exclaimed Nathalie with a shiver.

“But we will remove an unhealthy bone in his leg and replace it with a
new one. I saw an infected finger joint removed the other day and
replaced with a joint taken from one of the patient’s toes.”

“Oh, Doctor Morrow,” cried the distressed girl, “you are kidding, as the
boys say.”

The doctor shook his head. “No, some years ago I might have been
indulging in a yarn, but surgery has made great strides these last few
decades, and cripples nowadays may be restored to health and strength by
transplanting entire bones with their joint surfaces. This discovery was
announced a short time ago by an eminent surgeon before the Philadelphia
Academy of Surgery. Tests were made on dogs first, and the results were
so satisfactory that the same methods have since been applied to the
human body with like results.

“Hitherto bone transplantation had been attended with great stiffness
and lack of power in the members treated, but now an infected hip joint
may be removed in the same way, and replaced by healthy bones, and the
functions work properly. But, young lady, I came here not to deliver a
lecture on the transplantation of bones, but to ask you to do something
for me.”



CHAPTER XI—THE PRINCESS IN THE TOWER


“Do something for you? Oh, Doctor, I should just love to!” Surprise and
pleasure caused Nathalie’s eyes to light expectantly. And then, “Do tell
me what it is; perhaps it is something I can’t do!” she said doubtfully.

“Oh, you can do it all right,” asserted the doctor confidently.
“Remember the old adage, ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way.’” His
eyes twinkled humorously as he watched the girl’s face. “But let’s get
at the beginning of things. The other day as I was hastening to my
little African friend, Rosy, I heard some one talking to her. I stood
still, for it was some one telling the fairy tale of Jack and the Bean
Stalk.

“Now when I was a wee laddie,” continued the doctor, “that fairy tale
was the star one to me, so I plead guilty, I was tempted and listened.
And then when I discovered that the Story Lady, as Rosy says, was a
sometime friend of mine, I found that old tale doubly interesting. A few
days ago, when talking to a patient, I happened to relate this little
incident in connection with something else I was telling, and then my
troubles began.”

The doctor pretended dismay. “That lady has a crippled child who rarely
goes out, never meets children of her own age, but is compelled a good
part of the time to lie on a couch suffering more or less pain. This
little girl was injured in an accident which her mother, poor creature,
believes was her fault.”

“Oh, how dreadfully she must suffer!” burst from Nathalie involuntarily.

“Yes, I sometimes think the poor mother suffers more than the child. Now
this mother, from a mistaken idea, believes it best to keep her child
secluded, thinking that the comments of strangers would hurt the child’s
feelings and cause more suffering. So you see what a miserable life the
little one leads. Well, I must cut my tale short—” taking out his watch
and glancing at it; “perhaps it was something I said, I don’t know, but
this lady asked me if I thought the young lady who was so good at
story-telling would be willing to come and amuse her child with stories.
You see I was in for it, but all I could do was to say I would ask her,”
the doctor’s eyes sobered, “for I believe that this Story Lady girl is
not only a worth while girl—is that the way my wife puts it when she
lectures you?” the doctor’s face had wrinkled into a smile again, “but
that she has one of the kindest hearts in the world.”

“Oh, Doctor, Mrs. Morrow never lectures,” answered Nathalie
enthusiastically; “she just talks to us in the sweetest way; we just
love to hear her. But, Doctor, why did you not tell the lady I would be
only too glad to tell her little girl stories, but if she suffers so
much it might tire her.” This was all said in one breath.

“Not so fast, Blue Robin. No, I did not tell her you would, for I did
not know how it would strike you,” rejoined the doctor gravely. “I only
told her what you could do.”

“Oh,” exclaimed his companion; “well then, please tell her the first
time you see her that I shall be delighted to do all I can for her
little girl.”

“When I see her—well, I’m going to see her now.” The doctor looked down
at Nathalie keenly. “If you are willing to give this pleasure suppose
you begin to-day?”

“To-day—you mean now—this morning?” exclaimed surprised Nathalie.

The doctor nodded gravely.

“Why, well, yes, I suppose I could go this morning.” Nathalie wrinkled
her brows; she was wondering about dinner. “All right,” she said in a
moment, “I’ll tell Mother and get my hat!” She started for the door.

“Just wait a moment!” commanded the doctor suddenly, taking Nathalie by
the arm and peering down into her face with intent eyes. “I forgot
something, for amusing this little girl means that you will have to
promise two things.”

“What are they?” asked the girl curiously.

“The first one is that you will have to promise—as a Girl Pioneer—” the
doctor’s eyes gleamed again “not to betray to a living soul that you are
telling stories to this child; there is a reason.”

“Oh, that is easy,” nodded Nathalie; “that is, if you except Mamma, for
I always tell everything to her.”

“Well, we’ll trust Mrs. Page as to secrecy, and the next thing—this is a
big promise, for it will not be so easy to keep—is that when you go to
this lady’s house you will consent to be blindfolded.” The doctor looked
relieved.

“Blindfolded?” repeated puzzled Nathalie. “Why, do you mean that I will
have to have my eyes covered up so I can’t see?”

Dr. Morrow nodded, his keen eyes watching the girl’s face intently.

There was a pause. “Am I to go with you?” inquired Nathalie. The
doctor’s gray head jerked again.

“Why, yes, I’m willing to be blinded—as long as you’re with me to lead
me about—but what a strange idea!”

“Yes, it is a strange idea, and I tried to reason the lady out of it. I
even refused at first—and again yesterday—to ask you to do this
ridiculous thing, but after thinking it over I have ventured. You know,
there is the little girl to be considered, and you will?”

“Of course I will!” was the quick reply. “It is a funny thing to do,
makes me think of the heroine of some detective tale. Blindfolded! Oh,
it will be fun, a real adventure, I do wish I could tell Helen about it,
I know she won’t tell.”

“No, not yet,” said the doctor, “just wait and see what happens. I’ll
predict that after you tell one or two of your exciting tales the
blindfold act will be out of it. Now get your hat.”

It was a glorious morning and Nathalie, in a merry chat with the doctor
as they glided down one street and up another, forgot to wonder where
they were going. But when they suddenly slowed up on a lonely road, the
doctor peered cautiously about and then with a flourish drew forth a big
black handkerchief, she remembered. She did indeed feel somewhat queer
as the doctor laughingly tied the black cap, as he called it, over her
eyes, and then, after seeing that it was not pressing too tightly,
started his car again.

This time the car went so swiftly that Nathalie caught her breath. O
dear, she was beginning to feel nervous. “It really seems as if you were
kidnaping me!” she cried, with an attempt at merriment.

“So I am,” replied the doctor glumly. Evidently this blindfolding
business was not to his liking.

As the car came to a standstill the doctor cried, “Now, Blue Robin, we
are about to perform the first act in our little drama, so get up your
nerve.”

“I hope you won’t let me fall!” exclaimed Nathalie cheerily. “I don’t
want to break my nose or anything just yet.”

What a weird feeling it gave her to be led along a stone walk, then up a
few steps guided by her companion’s strong arm, then evidently into a
hall, as Nathalie surmised by the polished floor covered with heavy
rugs. After being led stumblingly up the stairway—which she thought
would never come to an end—they crept slowly along for some distance;
she could not tell whether it was a hall or a room, and felt very
trembly as she afterwards told her mother, and she was brought to a
sudden halt by hearing, “Oh, Mamma, here she is!”

The voice did not belong to a small child and Nathalie, surprised, stood
still in embarrassed silence wondering what was coming next.

“Oh, Doctor, how kind you are!” cried another voice. “I had given you
up, how obstinate you must think me!” The voice faltered, and then
Nathalie felt a soft touch on her arm as it continued, “Oh, it was very
kind of you to consent to come and entertain my daughter, and to be
obliged to come this way, too. I feel guilty; I know how unpleasant it
must be to have something over your eyes.”

“Well, don’t worry over that now,” was the doctor’s terse admonition. “I
have complied with your requests—on second thought, and my young girl
friend has been most kind in agreeing to your wishes, for the present at
least. Later, I hope, you will change your mind about these blinders.”

“Please don’t scold,” cried the voice again, “I know it is foolish of
me. I will lead you to a chair!” the owner of the voice exclaimed as the
girl gropingly put out her hand as if afraid of falling. Then the same
soft touch led the blinded one across the room. “No, you are not going
to fall; there you are all right now,” she said, as Nathalie with a
sense of relief sank back in a chair.

“Now,” continued the voice, “I am going to be your eyes and tell you
what is before you.”

“That will be very nice,” interposed embarrassed Nathalie, feeling
somewhat foolish at having to sit in this queer way before people. She
was at a loss what to say, but had time to collect herself as the lady
went on talking rapidly. She described the room with its hangings, the
pictures on the wall, told where the doors and windows were, and—“Oh,
here is the couch—” she hesitated slightly, “and on it is my daughter,
her name is—”

“Oh, Mamma, if you don’t want the young lady to know my name, tell her
I’m the Princess in the Tower!” exclaimed the same sweet voice that had
called out when Nathalie first entered the room.

“That will be just the thing, ‘the Princess in the Tower,’” laughed the
lady lightly. “Now, Princess, I am going to leave you to entertain
Miss—”

“Nathalie Page,” interposed the girl quickly, who, reassured by the
laughing tone of the young girl on the couch, had begun to recover from
the awkwardness of her plight. Somehow the situation appealed to the
girl’s imagination and she began to enjoy it. “Oh, I ought to be the one
in the tower,” she merrily asserted, “for I feel as if I were a prisoner
with this funny thing over my eyes.”

“It is too bad,” cried her companion sympathetically, “but you know it
is a whim of Mamma’s. You see,” she explained, “I had an accident when I
was a child, and it has made me deformed—” there was a pathetic note in
her voice. “Mamma is so sensitive, she is afraid that if people see me
they will make unkind remarks.”

“Oh, how could any one be unkind?” exclaimed horrified Nathalie.

“Well, they are sometimes. I used to be sensitive myself, too, but I’m
getting used to it. I tell Mamma if I don’t mind she ought not to. Yes,”
she ended sadly, “I am indeed a prisoner shut up in these big gray
walls.”

“How hard it must be!” answered Nathalie. “But do you never go out?”

“Sometimes I go in the garden. I used to drive, but the people in this
town are so curious; they stare so. I believe they are worse than in the
city, where I suppose people are used to all kinds of strange sights.
But there, I’m doing all the talking, please tell me about yourself! I’m
so glad to know some one who comes from New York. The doctor told me you
were a New Yorker; he told me, too, that you were very clever, and that
you told stories beautifully.”

“Nonsense,” exclaimed Nathalie. “The doctor is a dear, but he natters
me; I am not clever, I wish I were. I studied hard at school and am
ready to enter college this fall, and as I am only sixteen people think
it very clever for a girl to accomplish, but I don’t see why a girl
can’t do it as well as a boy. But now I’m not going to have a chance to
show people whether I am really clever or not,” and then she briefly
told about her disappointment in having to give up college.

“But what are you going to do if you do not go to college? Please tell
me!” said the princess, as Nathalie hesitated. “I just love the sound of
your voice!” burst from the girl impulsively.

Nathalie laughed at this extravagant praise, wondering for a moment if
the young girl were not making fun of her. Loath to believe that she
could be so rude, however, she went on and told of her city life, her
schoolmates, about Dick’s accident, and how they came to settle in
Westport, and then she stopped. She had been on the verge of telling
about the Pioneers when she recollected that the doctor had said she was
to tell the child stories. “Oh, I must stop talking—I was to tell you
stories—what will your mother think of me?”

“That is all right,” promptly returned the girl, “you are here to
entertain me; that’s what she told the doctor, and if I would rather
have you talk than tell stories, it will be as I say.”

“Are you sure of that?” questioned conscience-stricken Nathalie. “The
doctor told me I was to tell you stories.”

“Of course he did, but because he said a thing doesn’t make it so; Mamma
told him that, I guess, but you are really to do as I say.”

There was a note of decision in the girl’s voice, which was an
intimation that she was used to having her own way. Nathalie somehow
felt awkward and uncertain as to what course to pursue, and became
suddenly silent, inwardly racking her brains, trying to think of some
story that would please a young girl of about the age she judged her
companion to be.

“Oh, aren’t you going to tell me about the Girl Pioneers?” was the
question that suddenly interrupted Nathalie’s train of thought.

“The Girl Pioneers!” echoed Nathalie, wondering how her companion came
to know about that organization.

“I want to tell you a secret,” the princess whispered at that moment.
Nathalie felt a slim hand touch her with a clinging pressure on the arm.
“Do you know the doctor and I are great friends, we have lots of jolly
talks together. Oh, I just love to hear his step; don’t tell, but
sometimes I make believe I’m suffering terribly so Mamma will send for
him!”

“But you shouldn’t do that!” cried Nathalie, rather shocked at the idea
of simulating pain, suddenly remembering a story she had heard of a
young girl who had finally come to suffer from the very disease she had
feigned.

“Oh, what difference does it make as long as it brings him?” retorted
the princess. “You see he tells me of the outside world, and makes me
laugh when I have pain, for I do have lots of it sometimes. One day when
I was having an awful time with my back he almost made me forget the
pain by telling me some of the funny things that have happened to the
Boy Scouts and to the Girl Pioneers.

“He told me all about you, too, how you sprained your foot and about
your brother Dick, and about your finding the blue robin’s nest in the
old cedar. He said you were pretty, too. I like pretty people. I wish
you didn’t have that horrible thing on your eyes, I want to see them.
Mother said I would have been pretty, too, if I had not had this
terrible hump—oh,” she cried abruptly, “I was not to tell you anything
about myself, for I’m a horrible thing to look at now.”

“Oh, no, you can’t be,” exclaimed Nathalie involuntarily, for by this
time the sweet girlish voice and soft clinging hand had stirred her
imagination, and the pictures presented had made the make-believe
princess a most beautiful creature.

“Oh, but I am,” persisted the girl in a resigned voice. “But then, do
tell me about the Pioneers!” Then noting Nathalie’s reluctance, she
called out in a high, shrill voice, “Mamma, come here, I want you!”

“What is it, darling?” answered her mother coming hastily from the
adjoining room, where she had been conversing with the doctor. “What
does my princess want?” remembering the rôle the girl had assumed.

“The princess wants to be obeyed,” answered that personage imperiously.
“Miss Page refuses to talk about herself or to tell me anything, because
she says you ordered her to tell me only stories.”

Nathalie’s face reddened under her black mask, “Oh, no,” she interposed
swiftly, “I did not say it that way. I said the doctor had asked me to
come here and tell you stories, but then I supposed you were a little
girl.”

“No, I am not a little girl,” replied the princess, “I am fourteen.”

“Miss Page, if you do not mind I shall be glad if you will do as
Ni—as—the princess desires,” said her mother pleadingly. “She is an
invalid, you know, and, I am afraid, sadly spoiled.”

“Very well,” rejoined Nathalie briefly, feeling somewhat relieved to
think she could talk about the Pioneers and not to have to think up a
story. Yet it did seem strange to ask her to come there and tell stories
and then ask her not to do so.

“Now that you have permission, please go right ahead and tell me
everything you know about the Pioneers!”

“That will be delightfully easy, I can assure you,” exclaimed Nathalie.
“Although I am a new Pioneer, I am beginning to be very enthusiastic. I
can’t tell you much about the hikes for I have never been on a long hike
yet. We were going on a bird hike the other day—” then she remembered
the search party and its results, and in a few words told about Rosebud
and the morning spent in searching for her.

“Oh, that was just fine of you,” cried the princess as Nathalie came to
the part where the Pioneers had acted as if they did not want to hunt
for the little girl. “And those girls! I think they were very selfish,
but go on and tell me some more about the Pioneers!”

Nathalie, thus pressed, told of the Pilgrim Rally, the coming of the Boy
Scouts, the Pioneer dance, and then lastly how she had accepted Miss I
Can, the motto of the organization, as a very dear friend, and how she
was trying to live up to it. The girl could not account for the feeling
that made her sacrifice her usual reserve in regard to her inner life,
and tell this make-believe princess about what she was trying to do. In
thinking it over when by herself, she concluded that perhaps it was the
lesson in this little motto that she had intuitively felt might help the
little prisoner in the tower.

“Oh, I wish you would get up a story club for me!” exclaimed the blood
royal, as Nathalie finally ended her Pioneer recital by telling about
the story club the girls had formed to tell stories to the little
children in the colored settlement.

“Wouldn’t it be just lovely! And they would all be real live girls, too,
not story-book people, for oh, Miss Page, I get so tired of book folks!
I want to meet just real every-day girls. That is why I coaxed my mother
to get the doctor to have you come here and tell me stories, but don’t
say another word about telling me stories,” she lowered her voice, “for
that was just a trick to get Mother to consent. When I want a thing I
just keep plaguing her and then she lets me have my way.”

“Oh, but you ought to tell your mother everything,” exclaimed her new
friend, somewhat repelled by this frank admission of deceit. “I always
tell my mother everything, why I could not sleep at night if I thought I
had deceived her.”

“Everything is fair in love and war, that’s what my governess used to
say, but she was a horrid thing,” the princess confessed candidly; “I
just hated her. She had a beau and I used to steal his letters and
pretend I had read them, just for the fun of seeing her get in a rage.
But go on, and tell me more about those girls.”

The last word had barely left her lips when a shriek, shrill and
terrifying, rang through the room. Nathalie jumped up in a spasm of
terror, but before she could ascertain what it was, another one, even
shriller and more prolonged than the first one, as it seemed to the
frightened girl, sounded right in her very ear. Her heart leaped to her
throat, a stifled cry escaped her as she dropped back in her chair
cowering with fear. Then came another cry, followed by weird, demoniacal
laughter. Nathalie put her hands up to her face determined to tear off
her bandage, for that blood-curdling shriek, that hideous laugh, she had
heard before—and then she remembered—oh, she was in the house of the
Mystic!



CHAPTER XII—THE WILD FLOWER HIKE


“Oh, it’s the crazy man!” came with a flash into Nathalie’s mind. What
should she do? If she could only take off that horrible bandage from her
eyes!

“Oh, don’t be frightened!” exclaimed the princess with a merry laugh as
she saw her companion cower in her chair. “It’s only Jimmie! Jimmie,
stop that racket!” she continued with a loud clap of her hands. But
Jimmie, whoever he was, only replied with another agonizing shriek. This
time the princess called angrily, “Mamma, come and make Jimmie stop his
shrieking. Miss Page is awfully frightened!”

Nathalie, as she heard the foregoing explanation, and realized that it
was not an insane person screaming, gave a hysterical gasp and turned
her head in the direction of the shrieks, but alas! her blinders, like a
black wall, barred her vision.

A few hurried steps, a scuffle evidently, accompanied by the loud
flapping of wings, and then a jumble of French, Spanish, and English,
jabbered in defiant rage, revealed that Jimmie was a cockatoo!

[Illustration: “Oh, don’t be frightened!” exclaimed the princess, with
a merry laugh.]

But Jimmie, determined not to be worsted in his fight to be heard, with
much loudness and clearness of note now broke into “In the Sweet Bye and
Bye.” This sudden transition from the terrestrial to the celestial
proved too much for Jimmie’s audience, and peals of laughter rang out,
in which Nathalie’s treble and the doctor’s deeper note mingled with the
cockatoo’s song. Jimmie, thinking he was winning an encore, started in
with “Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief—” but this time he was
summarily thrust from the room by an attendant—amid jabbering protests.

The doctor now reminded Nathalie that they must be going, as he had an
important case on hand; he had waited for her, he explained, knowing
that she would be unable to manage alone with her blinders, as he called
the handkerchief.

As Nathalie rose to go the princess seized her hand, crying, “No, you
shall not go. You have only been here a few moments!” Notwithstanding
her mother’s admonition that the doctor must not be detained, the
invalid persisted in clutching her new friend’s hand in a vise-like
grip, much to her embarrassment. Finding, however, that she was not to
have her way, the princess broke forth into a low whimpering.

Nathalie stood still, and then feeling ashamed that a girl of her age
should act the part of a child of five, endeavored to persuade her to
let her go, promising to come again soon. She met with no success, and
driven desperate by the command, “Come, Nathalie, we must go!” she
roughly pulled her hand away. Whereupon, the whimpering cries of the
princess degenerated into shrieks of rage, so prolonged and shrill that
Nathalie, with a thrill of surprise, immediately recognized from whom
Jimmie had learned his shrieks.

As the car sped swiftly along in the direction of home, after the black
handkerchief had been relegated to the doctor’s pocket again, Nathalie
suddenly reddened furiously, looked queer for a moment, and then burst
into stifled laughter, much to the doctor’s amusement, who was gravely
watching her.

“Hello!” he cried at length, “what’s up?” after his companion had made
one or two ineffectual efforts to control her risibility.

But at last she sobered, and with the tears still in her eyes told how
she and Grace had been sent by Mrs. Morrow a short time before—to
deliver a letter to Mrs. Van Vorst, and how when they were waiting in
the reception room they had heard those same terrible shrieks and
frenzied laughter that Jimmie had emitted that morning, and, thinking
that it was an insane person, they had run for their lives.

“O dear,” she gasped hysterically, “what a joke on Grace and me! To
think of our running away when it was only a cockatoo! Oh, what sillies
we were!”

“I agree with you,” returned the doctor so solemnly that the girl
flushed and looked at him quickly with shamed eyes, but his humorous
twinkle did not agree with his blunt assurance, so Nathalie’s
self-esteem suffered no wound.

“You know where you were then to-day?” questioned the doctor slowly
after a pause.

“Oh, yes, at the house of the Mystic!”

“The house of the Mystic?” with some astonishment.

“Oh, that is the name the girls have given Mrs. Van Vorst because she
acts so queerly. She has been very disagreeable to the Pioneers, they
claim, refusing to let them drill on the lawn in the rear of her house.
The girls say she hates young people, and then she always dresses so
queerly in gray, too. She has shrouded herself in mystery by shutting
herself up in that big gray house behind those walls. Edith Whiton
insists that there is an insane person in the house and that he chased
her the day of the Pilgrim Rally.”

“An insane person! There is no insane person in the house. That is
nonsense, and should not be repeated!” exclaimed the doctor in an
annoyed tone.

“Yes, I know, but the girls believe Edith, and so did I until to-day.
But Grace and I have never told a soul what we heard, only Mrs. Morrow.
But, oh, Doctor,” she cried impulsively, “can’t I tell Grace about the
cockatoo? I will tell her not to tell a living soul,” she ended
earnestly.

“No,” returned the doctor decidedly, “Miss Grace is all right, but she
might let it out in her sleep. No, you wait, and some time you girls can
have the best laugh ever, as my kiddies say.”

So the story of Nathalie’s visit to the princess in the tower was buried
deep within her heart, although it came very near being unearthed
several times when she was in the company of Grace or Helen, for really,
it was hard to keep it a secret when it was such a good joke.

Saturday, the day of the wild-flower hike, was warm and sunshiny, with
the balminess of summer in its gently wafting breezes. Every one present
was filled with the anticipation that they were going to have a “dandy
time.”

“Are we all here?” questioned Mrs. Morrow, as she stood on the veranda
steps, craning her neck from one side to the other in the endeavor to
see that her bird groups were all there. In her natty khaki suit, with
its red-banded sombrero and red tie, she looked as jaunty and young as
the Bluebirds, Bob Whites, and Orioles, who, with admiring eyes, watched
her as they stood lined up on the path with knapsacks, staffs, and all
the paraphernalia needed for the hike.

The several bird calls attested that the band were all on hand, and then
they filed up on the veranda before their Director as lunch-baskets were
opened for inspection, so that she could see that each one had been
properly prepared and was in a “relishy condition,” as Helen explained
to Nathalie.

In a few moments the inspection was over and the girls tripped merrily
down the walk and out of the gate, making such a hubbub with the clatter
of their tongues that the doctor, as he came hurriedly up the path,
teasingly put his fingers in his ears in intimation that they were
making undue clamor.

The Flower of the Family’s knapsack bulged with a package of Aunt
Jemima’s Pancake Flour, suggestive of the flapjacks to be, while the
Editor-in-chief, with a reporter-like air, carried a large note-book
under her arm so as to feature the affair in the forthcoming “Pioneer.”
The Encyclopedia was lumbered with two musty volumes on flower lore, she
explained, so as to be able to give all desired information on the
various specimens that were to be gathered by the hikers.

The Pot-Boiler’s knapsack was not only stuffed with several
mysterious-looking packages, but was glaringly conspicuous, that young
lady, true to her name, having pasted a paper advertisement of an iron
pot on its cover. The Sport carried a few garden implements: a small
shovel, a rake, and a hoe, with which to burrow in the ground for those
specimens that grew in a brook or in the mossy hollows in the woods. The
Tike, as the privileged fag, carried a basket to fill with wild-flowers
to be distributed to the shut-ins of the town hospital on their return.

Each Pioneer, besides her lunch-box, carried a self-made
note-book—Nathalie had spent several hours making hers—with a pencil
attached for her flower specimens, data, and so forth. Nathalie felt a
bit disappointed that she had not been able to buy a uniform, although
Helen had said that it made no difference, for she noticed to her dismay
that she was the only Pioneer minus that very desirable accessory, dear
to the heart of every hiker.

The girls had gone but half a block when a sudden cry of pleasure
rippled through the line. Then, as one Pioneer, the girls gave their
call in welcome to Dr. Homer, who, as Mrs. Morrow explained, was to take
the place usually occupied by her husband, when the Pioneers were on a
long hike.

The doctor responded by giving the Boy Scout salute as he stood a moment
with raised hat. When the girls filed by, to Nathalie’s surprise he
stepped to her side and asked, as he smiled in recognition, “May I have
the pleasure of hiking with you?”

Nathalie’s cheeks bloomed pink at the remembrance of their last meeting,
but her eyes brightened as she nodded an assent. Perhaps some of the
girls felt a little envious as they saw whom the doctor had selected for
the favor of his company, as he was a great favorite and had always
proved a delightful companion. But they quickly stifled any feeling that
jarred, as each one remembered that she had had her turn, and that now
it was Nathalie’s opportunity to have this pleasure as the new Pioneer.

And Nathalie’s turn added a zest and enjoyment to her first hike that
was long remembered, for through Dr. Homer’s kindness in imparting to
her many stray bits of knowledge she was able to hide her greenness in
wood-lore, bird-lore, and many of the activities in which the other
Pioneers were so proficient.

The Pioneers had barely reached the open when the Sport and one of the
Orioles were despatched by the Director to blaze a trail. In order to
give this advance corps a chance to get ahead, the rest of the company
rested on the road, sitting down on the grass, or on some decayed tree
trunk, while others practiced wall-scaling, among them Nathalie and the
doctor, the latter acting as their instructor.

This scaling feat meant stepping carefully upon the ledge of a stone
wall that skirted the road, and then springing down as quickly and
lightly as possible, so as not to dislodge stray stones and bring them
rattling after one. This forerunner of other feats to come led the
doctor to tell how a Scout practiced wall-scaling; sometimes by standing
on the shoulders of another Scout, and then climbing a high wooden
fence, which was claimed by many to be a more difficult performance than
scaling a stone wall. This, of course, proved an incentive for the girls
to do their best, especially Nathalie, who as a city-bred girl did not
want to prove a laggard.

A few minutes later, as they resumed their tramp, Nathalie’s face grew
radiant as she suddenly spied a tree near with a penknife notch on the
bark. “Oh, girls, here is the trail! Go this way!” she cried excitedly,
pointing as she spoke to the notched sign of a twig bent at the end,
making it look somewhat like the point of a broken arrow. As she was
coming to be a zealous student of the bent-twig signs, the trail-blazing
system invented for the Pioneers, she explained a number of these
bent-twig signs to the doctor, who was deeply interested and not only
told of the many signs used by the Scouts, but showed her the trees that
were the easiest to cut.

Chatting, laughing, and singing—for the girls vied with the birds in
their joyousness that summer morning—making bird calls, alternating with
notch-making and flower-gathering made the time pass swiftly. The new
Pioneer was amazed when Dr. Homer pulled out his watch and looking at
his pedometer said that they had walked four miles, and that in a short
time they would hit the wood trail, where they were to camp for dinner.

Nathalie’s flower-box was soon full of specimens that she had gathered
from the roadside and the meadow where her lesson in wall-scaling came
in handy. Perhaps this wild flower hunt proved but a small part of her
pleasure, for as she strolled along the doctor proved most companionable
as he coached her in hike knowledge.

Never walk over anything you can go around, he had told her, and never
step on anything you can step over, for every time you step on anything
you lift the weight of your body, which makes more to carry when
tramping. He also made her laugh heartily when he insisted upon
examining the footwear of the hikers, expounding as he did so upon the
foolishness of damsels in general, who would insist upon wearing shoes
either too big or too small for them. The small shoes, he said, crowded
the feet, and the big ones added extra weight, and made them road-weary
before the tramp was half over.

He also told her about the weather signs; a low cloud moving swiftly
indicated coolness; hard-edged clouds, wind; rolled or jagged clouds,
strong wind; and a mackerel sky, a whole day of fair weather. Nathalie,
perhaps to show this young man with the smiling gray eyes who looked at
you so fearlessly that she, too, did know just a tiny bit about weather
signs, sang softly:

  “Hark to the East Wind’s song from the sea,
  Blowing the misty clouds o’er lea;
  Shaking the sheaves of golden grain
  With the patter of the rain;
  Giving the earth a cooling drink,
  Washing the flow’rs a brighter pink.
  Hark to the West Wind’s song of cheer
  Bringing blue sky and weather clear;
  Driving away the clouds so gray
  Filling the earth with sunlight’s ray;
  Cheering the hearts of those who mourn,
  Filling the dark with golden dawn.”

When the little lecture had ended she had learned that when a slack rope
tightens, when smoke beats down, when the sun is red in the morning, or
when there is a yellowish or greenish sunset it means rain; how to tell
which way the wind blows by pulling blades of grass and then letting the
wind blow them, or to suck your thumb and let the wind blow around it,
the cool side telling the tale.

To be sure, they were all simple things to learn, but they were the
essentials of life, as the doctor said, who had a most jolly manner of
giving his stray bits of information, all the while making so much
sport, as he ambled on, that Nathalie was sure she would remember
everything he had told her.

When the girls reached the wood with its cool, damp shade, moss-grown
paths, and running brooklet, they set to work with renewed vigor to hunt
for specimens. The Sport, notwithstanding the fun the girls had made of
her garden implements, found that they were in great demand. For a time
she was the star hiker, as first one and another pleaded, “Oh, Edith,
just let me have that rake a minute!” or, “Oh, I see the dandiest little
blue flower here in this crevice!” and so on.

When they finally grew tired of flower-hunting they pushed their way to
a level space in the open on the edge of the woods, where knapsacks,
frying-pans, pots, and all such camping utensils were hastily thrown on
the grass, and the girls hied themselves to the spring to wash their
heated cheeks and rearrange their tangled tresses. Some, more
venturesome than the others, took off their shoes and stockings and
waded in the brook’s cooling flow, while the older ones, summoned by a
series of bird calls, hurried back to camp to prepare dinner.

To their delight, as the girls returned from the spring, they found that
Dr. Homer had built an Indian “wickiup,” that is a dome-shaped wigwam,
by sticking in the ground in a circle a number of limber poles. The ones
the doctor had used were willow wands, but almost any kind of a bough
would do, he claimed. He then showed the girls how he had bent the tops
of each pair of opposites or poles forward until they met. The ends were
then interlocked and tied firmly. Over this impromptu wigwam—for it had
been made with no tool but his strong penknife—he had thrown a blanket
shawl.

The girls were all much interested in the Indian wigwam for this was the
simplest way of making a tent, and they examined it eagerly. They were
especially interested when the doctor told them that one time when he
had lost his trail up in the Maine woods, he had made a dome-shaped
wigwam and had rested in its shelter, high and dry, during a severe
storm.

When the novelty of the wigwam had worn off, every girl declared herself
famished for something to eat, and the dinner committee hustled about
picking up small dry twigs, which were placed in a heap, lightly, so as
to draw the air. These were then covered with the heavier sticks until
the desired height for a campfire was reached. Several fires were to be
started, as no time was to be wasted in cooking the edibles.

When all was in readiness, there was a general call for Nathalie, who,
as the new Pioneer, was to take her first lesson in lighting a fire with
only one match. Every Pioneer, of course, was eager to show her how to
do this feat, but Mrs. Morrow silenced the clamor by assigning the task
to Helen.

“Oh, Mrs. Morrow—I think—” Nathalie stopped, a sudden roguish expression
flittered over her face, and then she meekly followed Helen to the
wood-pile and stood silent as she watched that young lady scratch her
match, hold it in the hollow of her hand, and then, with a soft puff,
kneel, and apply it to a twig.

The twig was obstinate, however, and Helen’s one match attempt was a
decided failure. The Sport now offered her services as instructor, but
Nathalie, feeling sorry for Helen, who with a crestfallen air had
retired to the ranks of onlookers, cried, “Oh, no, Mrs. Morrow, can’t I
try by myself?”

As the Director nodded an assent, while the doctor laughingly declared
she would have beginner’s luck, Nathalie took her match, examined it
carefully, and then scratched it on the box. A tiny blue flame quivered
in the air, which she carefully sheltered with her hand as she knelt
before the heap of twigs, and blew, oh, so softly. It must have been a
magic blow, for as she bent down and held it to the smallest twig she
could find, almost a wisp of straw, it spread itself to the air, caught
the twig in its flame, and in another moment drifting spurts of smoke
showed that Nathalie had lighted the fire with one match!

The doctor whistled softly as he saw that Nathalie had succeeded, but
before she could regain an upright position, the Pioneers had broken
forth into loud clapping, somewhat to her confusion as she stood with
the blackened match still in her hand.

Should she tell, she pondered, as her glance swept from face to face of
the applauding girls; then as she saw the amused look in the doctor’s
eyes, as he stood with folded arms leaning against a tree watching her,
she gave a little laugh. She opened her lips to speak, but when the
clapping continued, as if each Pioneer was bent on seeing who could clap
the loudest, she raised her hand as she had seen Mrs. Morrow and Helen
do sometimes.

This appeal had the desired effect, and as the clapping dwindled,
Nathalie, with a nervous laugh, cried, “Girls, please don’t clap me any
more, for I do not deserve it. This is not the first time I have lighted
a fire with a single match. A few summers ago I camped up in the Maine
woods. The second day at camp some one upset a pail of water on the box
with our match supply, and as only one dry box was left, and it was some
miles to the nearest settlement, we were compelled to economize, and
were allowed only one match to light a fire. I was going to tell you,”
she gave a little ripple of laughter, “but you were all so anxious to
show me I did not want to spoil your fun, and then as I have not
attempted the feat since that summer, I did not know whether I could do
it again or not.”

A circle of stones was now placed around the fires so as to prevent them
from spreading in case of a strong wind, and then the lunch-boxes were
opened. It was not long before the savory fumes of frying frankfurters,
boiling cocoa, and flapjacks signified that a camp dinner was in
progress.

The girls found a level rock on which they spread a cloth and small
board, and then the bread was cut and buttered in a way that showed that
they were experts at the task. Nathalie made the cocoa, counting noses
as she put in a teaspoonful of cocoa to every cup of boiling water,
letting it boil three minutes by the watch of the doctor, who had kindly
offered to help his little hike-mate, as he called her.

The hikers now seated themselves around the fires—for there were
three—and then something happened that held Nathalie with reverent awe
for she saw Mrs. Morrow’s face sober with a sweet seriousness, as she
gave the signal for silence. Every head was quickly lowered in response
to this signal, and then a timid voice—it belonged to the Flower—broke
the reverent stillness by softly chanting a blessing to the Giver of all
good.

Each girl had brought her own tin cup, plate, knife and fork, lump of
sugar, and napkin. Pats of butter were now distributed, followed by the
molasses jug, so as to be ready for the flapjacks that were now browning
to a turn. The “Ohs!” and “Ahs!” of delight that burst forth as the
cakes found their way around the circle amply repaid the baker for her
reddened face and hard labor over the burning fagots.

Of course there had to be mishaps; the first piece of bacon to grease
the griddle dropped into the fire instead of the pan, and a number of
cakes turned out failures and had to be consigned to the waste-heap. But
it was a regular hike spread, and meant lots and lots of fun, especially
when the pancake contest was started.

This was something new to Nathalie, and she quite enjoyed it as she
watched one girl after the other take her turn in making a flapjack. She
first poured the batter on the griddle in just the right quantity, and
then skillfully tossed it high in air as she turned it, so that it would
land in just the right place on the pan and finish to just the right
shade of brown.

All the party, even the doctor, tried their hands at this feat, all but
the new Pioneer, who shrank back, afraid to venture as she knew that
expertness came only with many trials. But the girls were persistent and
so good-natured in trying to show her that she felt a little ashamed,
especially when Mrs. Morrow, who was jotting down the names of the
experts for merit badges, repeated softly, “I can!”

Nathalie immediately sprang up, and although feeling that she would make
a perfect goose of herself at this new trial, took the little pitcher,
poured out the batter, and then with a quaking heart watched it darken.
Ah, she slipped the turner under, and was just about to give it the
magic toss when her hand slipped, and batter and turner fell into the
flames.

She was so disgusted with this dismal attempt that she would have liked
to disappear to parts unknown if the doctor had not cried, “Ah, just one
more trial, I know you will get it this time!” To her unutterable
astonishment the doctor’s prediction came true, and she really tossed a
flapjack with such success that her hike-mate declared it was “the best
ever,” and begged permission to eat it in memory of the plucky deed.

Of course Grace, Louise, and Helen each won a badge, as was discovered
when the contest was over. But even feasting has its limitations on a
warm day in June, and as the edibles disappeared the hike spread came to
an end. The Tike and one of the Bob Whites were now despatched to the
spring for some water, while the rest of the hikers—all but Mrs. Morrow,
who was escorted to the wigwam for a siesta—flew hither and thither,
filling the pots with water to boil off the grease, rubbing the griddle
with sand, and so on.

As Nathalie and the doctor were jabbing the knives in the dirt to clean
them, Helen came running up crying, “Oh, what do you suppose the
water-carriers are up to? They have been gone an awfully long time and
we have not a drop of water to wash the dishes?”

“I will go and see!” exclaimed the doctor, jumping up hastily, but he
had not gone more than a few steps when a shrill scream broke the
brooding silence of the woods. In another instant pots, pans, and dishes
were flung broadcast as every one made a wild rush in the direction of
the spring, headed by the doctor. As the doctor reached the spring,
however, and saw that the screams did not issue from that quarter he
turned, and with a few flying leaps reached the scene of disaster, some
distance down the stream.

The girls started to run after him, but in a moment his loud laughter
brought them to a standstill, for surely it could not be anything very
serious or he would not be indulging in such levity! Helen and the
Sport, however, who had rushed steadily on, were not far behind the
doctor, and as they swung around the bend of the trees, they beheld a
diminutive figure, sputtering and gasping, with rivulets of water
trickling from bedraggled garments and locks, being assisted up the bank
by the doctor’s strong arm!



CHAPTER XIII—AROUND THE CHEER FIRE


The sorry-looking object proved to be the Tike, who between sobs and
shivery shakes explained, as the party surrounded her, that tempted by
the mirror-like surface of a dark pool in the middle of the brook she
had stooped to see if she could see her face in it. Unfortunately, her
knee slipped on a loose stone, and she had tumbled in.

With much laughter and merriment the girls made a stretcher, tumbled the
somewhat subdued fag into it, and then set off for the wigwam, where
Miss Carol was speedily disrobed and her clothes hung out to dry, as the
girls merrily sang, “on a hickory limb!”

Bundled up in wraps after a few drops of stimulant had been administered
to prevent her taking cold, which made her drowsy, she was left to the
ministrations of the dream fairies, while the girls hurried off to wash
the dishes and finish cleaning up. While this was being performed, the
doctor showed Nathalie how to throw dirt or water on the fires—all but
one, which was left for a cheer fire—so as to be sure that they were all
out. The girls, he said, had learned a lesson last summer when they left
a fire smoldering when they struck camp. It soon burst into a blaze and
if it hadn’t been for a party of Scouts who had been off for a tramp the
woods would have been on fire.

Camp duties done, the cheer fire blazed a welcome and the girls hastily
circled around it, and were soon busily engaged in packing the roots of
their wild flowers with clay, wrapping them in big leaves and tying them
securely with sweet grasses or string. They were then placed in the
Tike’s basket to delight the heart of some shut-in, whose only outing
was from the window.

When this task was completed the flower specimens were laid in rows, and
then Helen as leader, gave the names of her specimens; each girl having
a like specimen laid it carefully between a sheet of blotting paper to
remove the moisture, and then pressed it deftly in her note-book, where
it was fastened with gummed paper across the stems and thick parts of
the plant. Under each flower was now written its botanical name, its
common name, the date of finding it, its habitat, and any other data
that could be obtained from the Encyclopedia, who, with flower books
spread before her, was kept busy supplying all the needed information.

Each odd specimen was passed around for inspection, and then the lucky
finder jubilantly placed it on record, while others wrote additional
information as to the insects that visit it, whether it is a
pollen-bearer, if it slept at night, or closed in the sun. The doctor
supplemented Barbara’s book lore by stray bits of knowledge that he had
picked up from actual experience in his many scout rambles. The girls
were only too pleased to listen, being particularly interested in his
account of the evolution of color in flowers.

When the time came for telling cheer fire stories, Mrs. Morrow suggested
that they should be flower stories, stipulating, however, that the
legends told should be about the specimens that had been found in that
day’s hike.

With this, the doctor, who was lying on the grass by the side of
Nathalie, pulled off his hat which she had decorated with a dandelion
wreath, and waving it high so every one could see it in its yellow
glory, said he would start the wheel of yarns by telling about the
maiden with the fluffy cobweb hair.

As he said “hair,” Lillie Bell rose, and in ready imitation of the
renowned Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm tragically intoned:

  “Robaire! Robaire!
  Let down your hair!”

The girls burst into peals of laughter, for even in the sleepy town of
Westport every one had seen the beloved Rebecca, and keenly appreciated
Lillie’s timely pose.

“But this slim bit of a girl,” smiled the doctor, “didn’t let down her
yellow tresses, they just flew with the wind, until Shawondassee—this is
an Indian legend—the South Wind saw her. Instead of seeking this
witching maiden, whom he admired so deeply, he was lulled to sleep by
the fragrance of the summer flowers and forgot all about her. The next
day he again spied his yellow charmer away off among the grasses of the
meadows, but after lazily wishing she would come to him he snoozed off
again. To his horror, the next day he found that the maiden’s tresses
were gone, and that in her place stood an old woman who looked as if
Jack Frost had sprinkled her with his silver dust.

“‘Ah,’ sighed Shawondassee, ‘my brother the North Wind has done this
wrong.’ So he hurriedly arose and blew his horn loud and fierce to the
whitened figure standing so forlornly out in the fields. But alas, as
his soft breezes whistled gently about the old woman, her snow-white
hair fell to the ground, and then she, too, soon disappeared, leaving
nothing but a few upright stems and a bunch of withered leaves. She was
the dandelion, whose petals turn to fluffy hair when touched by the
North Wind. This yellow maiden is said to be a symbol of the sun, and
has been named Dandelion because it is claimed that its petals resemble
a lion’s tooth.”

The common little field flower seemed to have gained in interest after
the legend, and was examined with greater curiosity, while the Scribe
hurriedly wrote the legend on a stray page of her copy-pad to feature it
in the “Pioneer.”

Lillie Bell, who had gathered a number of wild forget-me-nots, told a
pathetic German legend about that sweetheart flower, while Helen
explained that the marigold, instead of being such a common plant, was
in reality the bride of the sun. It was once a maiden named Caltha, who,
in reward for her faithfulness to the sun, was finally lost in his
golden rays, and on the spot where she used to stand and gaze at her
fiery lover the marigold grew.

Nathalie, who had been deeply interested in the legends, experienced
somewhat of a shock when Mrs. Morrow suddenly said, “Now, Nathalie, are
we not to hear a flower legend, or some kind of a story from you?”

“Oh, I am a poor hand at story-telling,” the girl speedily answered.

“Hear! hear! this is treason!” called Helen loudly, “for a Pioneer who
has won fame as a Story Lady!”

“Oh, that is different,” pleaded her friend in mild despair, “those were
only children’s stories.”

“To be able to tell stories to children, Nathalie, and to keep their
attention,” spoke Mrs. Morrow, “shows ability, and if we have so gifted
a Pioneer I think it is our due to hear from her.”

“And then, Nathalie,” urged Grace, “every Pioneer has to know how to
tell stories, and this is a good time to make a beginning.”

“Well, I see I am doomed, notwithstanding my protests,” said the girl
after a short pause. “I will try to tell one if you will let me put on
my thinking-cap for a moment.” As permission was accorded to this
request, Nathalie turned and glanced helplessly at the doctor, as if she
might find inspiration in his merry eyes, Helen laughingly declared.

Nathalie blushed as the doctor shook his head and said, “No, hike-mate,
I am at your service in everything but a story, for I ran dry when I
told mine. Then I know you have nerve and brains enough to do your own
thinking.”

“Oh, I know one!” the girl suddenly cried as her face lighted, and then
closing her eyes for a moment, as if to invoke the aid of some unknown
muse, she said, “I read it in a newspaper the other day. It is about a
flower, but I will let you guess its name.”

“It was in the spring,” she continued slowly, “and old Peboan sat alone
in his ragged tepee. His hair fell about his time-worn face like
glistening icicles as he shivered in his fur robes; oh, so cold, so weak
and hungry, for he had had no food for days. As he bent over to blow
upon the smoldering embers that glowed at his feet, he besought the
Great Spirit to come to his aid.

“As he thus prayed and lamented a handsome young girl stepped within the
tent. Her eyes were as blue as the summer sky and were filled with a
liquid light, while her golden hair floated gracefully with the wind.
Her cheeks were like apple blossoms and her gown was made of sweet
grasses and green leaves. In her arms she carried twigs of the
pussy-willow. Going softly to the old man, she cried in a voice as sweet
as the brook’s gentle flow, ‘Peboan, what can I do for thee?’

“The old man raised his head as he heard the maiden’s sweet voice, and
as he saw her in her spring glory he cried bitterly, ‘I am hungry and
cold. I have lost my power over nature, for the streams have refused to
stand still for me. My mantle disappears from the earth as rapidly as I
cover it, and the flowers are peeping from their brown beds, although I
have bidden them sleep.’

“‘Peboan,’ replied the maiden, ‘I am Seguin, the summer manitou; the
flowers are obeying me, for I have bidden them arise. The leaves are
budding on the trees, the pussies are out in all their furry finery, for
I, Seguin, now possess the earth. The snow and ice have disappeared, for
they have obeyed my voice, and your power is gone. All nature pays me
homage, for I am the Queen of the earth, the Goddess of spring!

“’Peboan, you are the winter manitou, and the Great Spirit calls you!
Now go!’ As Seguin said these words she gently waved her wand over the
old man’s head as it sank between his shoulders.

“The winter manitou made no reply, but drew his furs closer about his
shivering form, and then, as he heard the song of the spring birds, and
the rustling of the leaves in the sunshine, he sank to the ground.

“As a ray of the warm sun filtered through the top of the tepee and fell
upon the old man, who lay exhausted on the earth; Seguin again raised
her wand, and the winter manitou disappeared. His furs had turned to
dancing leaves; his tepee to a tall tree. Then Seguin stooped, and
gathering a handful of the leaves from the tree she breathed on
them—very softly—and then threw them on the earth. They immediately
stood upright, each holding forth a tiny pink flower, gay with a
delicate perfume.

“‘Grow and blossom,’ cried the spring maiden softly, ‘and bloom a
welcome to the hearts of those who are depressed by winter’s gales, for
you are a token that Peboan, the winter manitou is gone. You are the
first flower that comes in the spring.’ Now what is the name of it?”
ended Nathalie abruptly.

“Snowdrop!” called Helen quickly. Nathalie shook her head.

“Violet!” timidly ventured some one.

“Violet?” the Sport repeated scornfully. “Who ever heard of a pink
violet? Nathalie said this flower was pink.”

Mrs. Morrow broke the sudden silence that followed the Sport’s remark by
saying softly, “I think it is the arbutus!”

“That’s it!” cried Nathalie, and then to her bewilderment every one
began to clap again. As the clapping continued, the girls meanwhile,
watching her with sparkling eyes, Nathalie turned and whispered to the
doctor, “Why, what are they clapping for?”

But before he could reply the Sport shouted, “Hurrah for the Story
Lady!”

The cry was repeated again and again to Nathalie’s confusion. In a
moment, however, her wits asserted themselves, and springing to her
feet, with a low sweeping courtesy she cried, “Thank you, fellow
Pioneers, I am glad you liked my first cheer-fire story!”

The clapping now subsided, and after several had expressed their
admiration by saying that the story was the “best ever,” Mrs. Morrow
started a floral conundrum, which proved a thriller, the doctor claimed,
as he sat with humorous eyes and watched the girls, who all sat up and
took notice, as one after the other called out the name of a flower in
answer to the questions propounded by their Director.

When the questions had all been answered, it was discovered that the
names of the star actors in this little floral drama, the color of their
eyes, hair, and so on, as well as the musical instrument played by the
lover, the words of his proposal, the wedding, and even the time and
place of the honeymoon, had all been answered by the names of flowers.

Lillie Bell, at Mrs. Morrow’s request, took her mandolin, and after
thrumming it softly broke into a quaint low strain of melody, while
Louise sang in her sweet little soprano voice, “All in a Garden Fair,”
“Fortune My Foe,” and “Nymphs and Shepherds,” each number being one of a
group of old English songs dating as far back as 1555. After receiving
an encore, Louise favored them with “Polly Willis,” and “Golden Slumber
Kiss Your Eyes,” two more popular ballads of the seventeenth century.

These old-time songs were a surprise for Mrs. Morrow, who had often been
heard to remark that it was a pity, as they were Pioneers, that they did
not know some of the songs that used to be sung in those days, instead
of ragtime songs. But ragtime was not altogether displaced, for in a few
minutes the girls were singing “The Sweet Little Girl with the Quaint
Squeegee,” “Dry yo’ Eyes,” and “My Little Dream Girl,” with a verve and
gusto that made the woods resound to the ring of their girlish voices.

By this time cramped limbs and the joyousness of life asserted
themselves, and every one began to feel that they wanted to run, leap,
and jump, so at the doctor’s suggestion they played the Scout game of
“Stalking.” The doctor was the deer, not hiding, but standing and moving
a little now and then as he liked, while the girls vied with one another
in trying to touch him without being seen.

The doctor did his part so well that he was duly tantalizing, the
Pioneers declared, as they watched him with strained eyes, being unable
to catch him napping. When the doctor called “Time,” the game ended by
all the girls coming to a halt on the spot where they were standing when
the call sounded, the girl nearest the deer winning the game.

Prisoner’s Base was then started; the goals were marked off, the players
divided into two sections, one stationed in each goal, and then the fun
began. A girl would advance towards the opposite goal, and then run back
into safety, while one of her mates came to her rescue by chasing her
pursuer, who, in turn, was rescued by one of her own mates. The rushing
about gave health, glowing cheeks and sparkling eyes attesting that
muscles, limbs, and blood were being exercised to a good purpose. But
after the doctor had again defeated them by never getting caught, the
game was abandoned, the girls all vowing he was magic-limbed, for he was
so quick and agile on his feet.

After a short time spent in practicing bird calls, as it was nearing the
time to return home the hikers gathered up their belongings, packed
their knapsacks, and with staffs in hand started out on the homeward
hike. They all declared that they were not a bit fatigued by the day’s
activities, and jested merrily one with another, or happily sang
snatches of songs as they wended their way back to town.

By the time they had reached the cross-roads their spirits had subsided
somewhat, all but the Sport’s, who teasingly whisked off Barbara’s hat
and the next instant was whizzing down the road with it clutched in her
hand.

Barbara, notwithstanding her weighty nickname of the Encyclopedia, was
agile, and lost no time in flying after her, urged to speed by the
girls. Although inclined to poke fun sometimes at Barbara for her
absent-mindedness and love of books, the girls were her firm friends.
They loved her for her kindly heart and sincere efforts to help others.

There was a shout of victory when it was seen that the Encyclopedia had
captured her head-gear, and they were all clapping vociferously when an
automobile rounded the bend in the road. The car turned out to be the
doctor’s, whose chauffeur had promised to meet him near the cross-roads
as he had to be in his office by five that afternoon.

The doctor quickly assisted Mrs. Morrow into the car as she had decided
to ride, and then stood and waited while the Pioneers—two of whom had
been invited to join their Director—urged Kitty with her iron pot, and
the Flower with her griddle to accept the invitation.

The girls finally consented, and with many waves of the hands to the
pedestrians, and a loud honk, honk, the car glided down the road and out
of sight.

Helen, Nathalie, and Edith, as they lived near one another, bade their
mates good-by, and, as they had decided to take a short cut home, turned
down a side path. As they strolled slowly along a road running by a low
stone wall hedging a pasture, where a brook twisted like a silver cord
in the undulating grass, Edith asked her companions if they did not want
to walk to the Bluff, where they would have a fine view of the bay in
the distance.

“Oh, yes,” assented Helen, “it is a lovely view, Nathalie, and will only
be a step out of the way if we go by the brook.”

Nathalie, although feeling somewhat tired, was anxious to visit the
Bluff, and a minute later the three girls climbed the stone barricade
and were keeping pace with the brook’s windings as it leaped
boisterously over a bed of stones, or crept lingeringly, with murmuring
ripples, between grass-fringed banks.

Presently they wandered into the shade of the trees, where, to
Nathalie’s surprise, she found the old brook bed. Instead of being earth
and stones, however, it was green and flower-starred, overshadowed by
weeping willows and silver birches, their interlaced tops bending low as
if seeking their old-time friend with its murmuring song.

Lulled by the mossy dell and the fragrance of the woodland posies, the
girls loitered, and did not realize that the afternoon was waning until
they reached the Bluff. They raced to the top, where Nathalie’s joy at
being the fleetest was forgotten, as with stilled eyes she gazed upon
the fertile strip of valley below, its green specked by tiny white
cottages and washed by the waters of the bay that shone in the glow of
the setting sun like a sheet of brass.

The air was becoming chilled by the mist that was hovering in the
distance, and they turned and quickly made their way back to the road.
Whereupon, Edith insisted that they take the summit road, leading over a
small hill at one end of the town, which she declared would save time.

Her companions assented, and in a short space they were pantingly
trudging up the slope, and then, beginning to realize how tired they
were, they sat down on a rock near the edge of the summit to rest. Lured
by the changing colors of the afterglow they grew silent, awed, perhaps,
by the calm that hushes all nature when the light of day is fading into
the misty shadows of twilight.

Nathalie had turned from the mountains of pink foam that floated up from
the golden west, and was gazing down at the town, where little twinkling
lights were beginning to peep here and there between the tree-tops, when
Edith suddenly cried, “Oh, look at that smoke!” pointing to a street
just below the slope where black columns of smoke were rushing upward.

“Some one must be making a big bonfire,” answered Helen inertly, as her
eyes followed the direction of Edith’s finger.

“Why, Helen, that is not a bonfire,” was the Sport’s quick retort. “Oh,
I saw a flame shoot up!” she added excitedly.

“So did I!” exclaimed Nathalie, springing on her feet. “And oh, there’s
another.”

“Why, the church is on fire!” shouted Edith. “There—don’t you see—the
flames are coming out of the back!”

The girls with dazed eyes and beating hearts looked at the old Methodist
church, set back from a tree mantled road, within a few feet of a white
cottage, the parsonage, that nested like some white bird in the shelter
of the waving boughs of the trees.

“Oh, girls,” wailed the Sport, as she turned abruptly and gazed at them
with an awe-struck countenance; “it is the church—and the new organ—they
were to finish it to-day!” She wrung her hands frantically.

Her companions made no reply, their eyes were glued on the columns of
smoke that hurtled in dense masses up into the air.

“I don’t believe any one knows about it!” exclaimed Helen. “Oh, what
shall we do? It will be of no use to shout ‘Fire!’ we are too far away.”

“Oh, I know what we can do,” cried Edith heatedly. “We can run to the
fire-house and give the alarm!”

But Helen had already started forward, and Nathalie followed blindly,
not even knowing where the fire-house was. Edith, like the flash of a
flame, shot ahead of the two girls, and the next instant was tearing
like some wild thing down the hill. In a few moments she had turned up a
road and was speeding in the direction of a red house with a funny
little cupola that loomed up above the small cottages surrounding it.

“Fire!” yelled the Sport, as she tore frantically along. Helen took up
the cry, but Nathalie, although she tried to follow her example, only
succeeded in making a hoarse sound that died away almost as soon as it
left her whitened lips.

As her breath began to come in gasps she was half tempted to stop and
let the other two girls give the alarm. But something told her that
would not be the act of a Pioneer, and she struggled on until she
arrived in front of the old ramshackle building with the red cupola
which looked as if it had once done service as a barn.

“Oh, there is no one here!” panted Helen as she beat frenziedly with her
two hands on the big wooden door. “It is barred inside.”

But the Sport, like a whirlwind, had flown around to the rear of the
building, and the next moment was crawling through a window she had
found unfastened. It took but a moment’s time to speed across the floor,
give the bar a pull, and fling wide the door.

[Illustration: The rope had broken in her grasp.]

“We must ring the bell,” gasped Helen, as she glanced up at an old rope
that dangled in the center of the fire-house from a big bell which hung
motionless in the small tower above their heads.

The three girls sprang for the rope, but the Sport was the quickest and
caught the dangling rope in her hands. Summoning all her strength she
gave it a hard pull. The next instant, as the loud clang of the bell
rang out, the girls heard a sudden imprecation, and looked hastily down
to see the Sport with a rueful countenance sitting on the floor—the rope
had broken in her grasp!



CHAPTER XIV—OVERCOMES


The girls gazed in wide-eyed surprise at their prostrate companion, and
then, as they saw that she was not hurt, their sense of humor broke
bounds, and they burst into merry peals of laughter, for she did look so
comical sitting there with that “Where—am—I?” sort of look on her face.

But the Sport was too excited to mind bumps or laughter as she jumped up
and peered above her head. “The rope has broken!” she exclaimed
irritably. “Oh, if I could only get hold of that broken end up there,”
her eyes leaped quickly around the barn, “I could ring the bell again.
Oh, there’s a ladder!” With an alert spring she had grabbed it and then
began to drag it under the tower.

The girls by this time had recovered from their unwonted merriment, and,
feeling somewhat ashamed of leaving the Sport to work unaided, rushed to
her assistance. They soon had the ladder resting against a broad beam
that ran across the barn directly under the tower where the broken piece
of rope still swung.

Up the ladder climbed Edith, high to the top, but alas, she was just a
few inches short of touching the swaying rope, which she now perceived
was fastened to a chain that hung from the bell.

“Oh, what will you do?” cried Helen, as the two girls stretched their
necks almost off their shoulders to see if there was not some way out of
the difficulty.

“I know what I will do,” exclaimed the Sport suddenly. “I will climb up
on the beam, walk a few steps, and then I can reach it.”

“You will fall!” exclaimed Nathalie in nervous fear.

“Oh, no, she won’t,” called out Helen hastily. “You don’t know Edith;
that’s an easy feat for her, for she’s a regular acrobat. But, Edith, be
careful!” she finished, with sudden anxiety, as she saw the girl climb
up on the beam and then lift herself upright.

Nathalie, with her breath held, watched Edith for a moment, and then as
she saw her reach out to catch the dangling rope, she closed her eyes,
thrilled in every nerve with silent terror for fear she would miss her
footing.

But she didn’t, for when Nathalie opened her eyes just for a hurried
peep, she saw Edith with the rope in her hand. The next instant she had
bent to her task and a loud “Clang! Clang!” rang sharply out.

“One, two, three!” a moment’s pause, then, “One, two, three!” Twice this
was repeated as the girls stood waiting below with their eyes fixed on
the ringer’s every movement; Helen, fearful that she would become
reckless and reach too far, while Nathalie obeyed an impulse she could
not define and just watched in nervous tension.

Ah, she had dropped her arms and was looking down at the girls. “What
are you standing there for, ninnies?” she emphasized with a stamp of her
foot that sent a shiver of horror through Nathalie’s wildly beating
heart. “Why don’t you go and get the engine out?”

“Oh, so we can,” rejoined Helen quickly. “I never thought! Come, you
help me!” catching Nathalie by the arm.

Nathalie turned and followed Helen, who had swiftly run to the
fire-engine, a newly painted affair, a box on wheels, standing in the
rear of the fire-house. With an alert spring she was close at Helen’s
heels, and in a moment more had grabbed one of the two ropes tied to the
front axle. Helen, who stood with the other rope in her hand, now cried,
“Quick, let’s run it out to the road!”

It rolled easily, and the two girls were just about to wheel it through
the open door, when a man in a red shirt, leather hat, and his trousers
tucked into his rubber boots dashed hurriedly up to them.

“Where’s the fire?” he panted. With heated face and eyes bulging
excitement he seized the rope from Nathalie’s hand, and the next minute,
with Helen’s help, had run the engine out into the road.

“The Methodist church is on fire!” yelled the Sport from her high perch
on the beam, but there was no need to say more, for several other men
had arrived, all in red shirts and firemen’s helmets, while others were
seen racing from all directions towards the fire-house. In a few
moments’ time a crowd had collected, each one bent in lending a hand,
and all shouting with full vocal power as if they thought—so it seemed
to Nathalie—their shouts would put out the fire.

In the midst of this clamorous din, another rubber-booted individual
appeared, not only in fireman’s regalia, but with a big brass trumpet.
On this he blew a mighty blast, and then with much gesticulation
bellowed his orders to the men.

A final order from the chief, as the man with the trumpet proved to be,
and the six or eight men holding the ropes of the engine started at
breakneck speed down the hill. They were followed by a crowd of shouting
men, women, hooting boys, and crying children, each one frenzied with
excitement and with the avowed purpose of being first at the fire.

The girls, for by this time Edith had descended from her perilous perch,
stood silent and watched the engine whiz down the slope leading to the
town, the red-shirted firemen in front of it shouting angrily in their
endeavors to stop the rear men from pushing it down on their heels too
rapidly.

But Edith, who was never still two minutes if there was anything going
on, with a wild, “Hoopla, I’m going to see the fire!” started in the
wake of the hooting mob, running at a speed that soon made her one of
the rank and file that went plunging down the hill.

Helen’s eyes followed the flying figure, and then, with a “Come on,
don’t let the Sport outdo us!” she was racing after her. Nathalie,
bewildered by this strange and novel experience that had leaped into her
life, stood still, uncertain what to do. She felt a sudden abhorrence of
mingling with the fire-crazed crowd that surged before her. Brought up
to keep away from these spectacular affairs of the city, she felt she
would be transgressing all laws of decorum if she followed her friends.
But the impulse to do as the other Pioneers did spurred her on, and with
a quick leap forward she cast all conventionalities to the wind, and
started on a dead run to catch up with Helen.

The girls were too quick for her and she arrived in front of the church
only to make one more of a densely packed crowd of fire-seekers standing
opposite the burning building, wild-eyed and weirdly pale from the
reflection of the flaming tongues of red, which darted upward with a
licking greediness that made the wooden building crack and snap under
their devouring greed.

Spying Edith a few feet away, she hastily pushed through the jam of
people to her side, only to hear her scream frantically, “Look out,
Nathalie!” But the warning came too late, for a shower of water had
already struck her in the back with terrific force, almost bowling her
over. Ugh! it was running down her back with such icy spray that she
screamed aloud, and then shrank back as jeering laughter from those
standing by greeted her mishap.

But their merriment was short-lived, as the water deluge came again and
Nathalie saw the contortions that shot from face to face of her
neighbors as with shrill cries they tried to dodge to one side in their
frantic endeavors to escape. In the midst of the confusion some one
suddenly bellowed, “Run for your lives, the hose has burst!”

There were more shouts of dismay from the crowd of struggling, fighting
figures, and then they had scattered. Edith by this time had grabbed
Nathalie by the hand and in a moment or so she was safe on a neighboring
porch.

“O dear, what will they do?” lamented Edith. “That hose is the only one
in town!” For a few moments it looked as if not only the church but the
parsonage and the adjacent buildings were to fall victims to the blazing
flames that swept upward and outward with shooting jets between tall
columns of black rolling smoke.

“They are going to form a bucket brigade!” shouted Edith suddenly into
Nathalie’s ear. The words had barely passed her lips when she dropped
her companion’s cold fingers, and was racing with a crowd of men, women,
and boys towards a pond a short distance away.

Nathalie stood still and gazed with suppressed excitement at this new
development of the fire-crazed people. It seemed to her as if every one
in Westport must have owned a bucket from the number of people that
sped—as if magic swept—towards the pond, where a long line of human
beings, with a deftness and quickness that amazed her, were already
passing buckets from one to the other and then on to the firemen who
formed a line across the road in front of the church.

Each fireman would grab a bucket, pass it on to his mate, who in turn
passed it on to the next one, and so on, until its contents had been
splashed on the seething flames. Then just as quickly it was shoved by
way of another line back to the pond to be filled again and once more
hurried on its journey of rescue.

“Come, get busy!” some one suddenly yelled at this crisis. “They are
forming another line at the pump!” Nathalie swung about to see Fred
Tyson holding out to her an empty bucket. The unexpectedness of this new
demand upon her overwrought nerves tempted her to scurry to parts
unknown, as she backed away from Fred with the startled exclamation, “O
dear, no!”

Fred, realizing how she felt, looked down at her with a reassuring smile
as he answered, “Come, you must help; you are a Pioneer—it will be a
fine experience for you!” Nathalie, without a word, grabbed the bucket
and in another second was running swiftly by the side of this new friend
as he guided her to the pump.

An hour later Nathalie appeared at the corner of the street leading to
her home. Weary, bedraggled, sooted from head to foot, and with gleaming
beads of perspiration running over her face, she was still jubilant. She
had been to a real fire, and, what is more, had helped to put it out.
For the buckets had done their work, and although the church stood a
framework of glowing embers, the parsonage and other buildings had been
saved.

She was so glad when she saw she was nearing her home, that, as she
informed Fred, who had accompanied her, she felt like dancing a jig on
her head from sheer joy, although she was not only tired to the verge of
distraction, but faint from hunger.

“Oh, and there’s Mother! I guess she’s been almost worried to death,”
she exclaimed as she spied her mother standing on the veranda anxiously
peering down the path.

“Well, I guess she has been almost worried to death!” exclaimed a voice,
as a white-robed figure stepped out from the shadows of the trees on the
lawn.

It was Lucille. “If it hadn’t been for me, Nathalie Page,” she
emphasized with upheld finger, “your mother would have been down to the
fire herself. She was sure you were the first one burned to death. Why,
you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Nathalie Page!” she averred
indignantly.

But there was no need to lecture Nathalie further, for her heart had
been thumping violently in nervous dread all the way home, and she was
already scurrying up the walk to the stoop. “Oh, Mother,” she panted,
“did you think something dreadful had happened to me?”

“Well, I was quite nervous about you for a time,” replied her mother
rather cheerily for one who had been almost worried to death, as she put
her arm around the tired girl. “Lucille obligingly started to look for
you, and met Dr. Homer, who said you were all right, helping put the
fire out as a bucket maiden. But, my dear, you are all wet, and hungry,
too, I’ll warrant.”

“You just believe I am,” cried Nathalie. “But, oh, Mother, I have had
such an adventurous day! Do let me have something to eat, for I’m just
about starved, but, O dear, where’s Fred Tyson; he came home with me?”

Fred was all right, having the cosiest of chats with Lucille—whom all
men adored from youth to old age—as they walked up the path to the
veranda. Would he come in and have supper? Why, he guessed he would, for
he hadn’t had a mouthful since noon.

“By the Lord Harry, is that you, Blue Robin?” spoke a voice from the
couch as Nathalie ushered Fred into the hall. “Gee, but you are as black
as a colored ‘pusson,’” quoth Dick, as he rose from the couch and
hobbled towards her.

It was a most exciting supper, eagerly devoured by Fred and Nathalie, as
between bites, with glowing eyes, each one told of her or his
experience. Nathalie told of the ringing of the fire bell, the exploits
of the Sport, and how she did duty at the pump.

“Oh, Mother, it has just been a regular red-letter day!” she cried at
length, “and I’m never again going to despise Edith Whiton for being
sporty, for if it hadn’t been for her, I just believe the whole town
would have burned down!”

The second day after the fire was a Pioneer Rally day, a Camp Fund day
it had been called, for it was at this meeting that the Pioneers were to
decide upon the entertainments they proposed having in order to raise
the money to pay the cost of two or three weeks at camp that summer. One
or two affairs had been held during the winter and spring, so that a
small nucleus had been banked, but if this was not increased the hearts
of the Pioneers would be “wrung with woe,” as the Sport had put it.

After the usual formalities of the Rally were over, Mrs. Morrow called
the names of those who for some meritorious act or word were to receive
badges of merit. To Nathalie’s astonishment her name was called, and at
a shove from Helen the dazed girl went forward, and received three white
stars, one for suggesting the search-party and sticking to her colors in
the face of discouragement, another for telling stories to Rosy, and the
last for planning and getting up the Story Club. She received the stars,
Mrs. Morrow explained, as badges of merit were not given until a Pioneer
had passed all tests and was a member of the first order.

The Sport received two badges—being a first class Pioneer—one for
winning a contest in wigwagging, and another for ringing the bell for
the church fire. Helen was also the recipient of a badge for her
planning and excellent supervision of the Flower hike, while the Scribe
received one for her skill in editing the “Pioneer,” which had come to
be a journal not only of news, but of information.

“And now,” cried their Director, as she finished distributing the
badges, “I am going to talk about the Camping Fund. As you all know, we
must have one or two entertainments to raise money for that purpose.
Several ideas have been submitted in compliance with my request for
suggestions from the girls, but unfortunately, while a number are very
good, only a few will suit our purpose. There is one, however, that is
both patriotic and colonial, but it would require a large lawn and I am
at a loss what to say about it. I think you all understand that the
Pioneer who suggests the best entertainment, although her name is to be
kept secret until the end of the season, is to receive some kind of a
reward.”

“Could we not ask Mrs. Van Vorst again if she would let us have her
grounds?” ventured Louise Gaynor somewhat timidly, realizing that the
lady in question was not in favor with the Pioneers because of her
rather eccentric ways.

“Well, I should say not!” broke in Edith. “She has refused two or three
times already, and if there is an insane person there—” She stopped
abruptly, rebuked by a warning look from Mrs. Morrow.

“No, I do not think I would bother Mrs. Van Vorst again,” said that
lady. “But suppose I name a committee to see if they cannot scour the
town and find a lawn.” Helen, Louise, and Nathalie were then named to
perform this duty.

During this discussion Nathalie’s eyes had sparkled with suppressed
emotion as she remembered her visit to the gray house, accompanied by an
overwhelming desire to tell what she knew. Oh, wouldn’t it create a
sensation? But she had given her word, and like the Spartan boy,
although desire was gnawing at her vitals, she kept still and smiled in
evident ease.

“There is another entertainment that has been suggested,” continued the
Director. “It is an excellent idea for it will put you all to work
thinking. It is to be called Pioneer Stunts, which means that each one
of you is to be responsible for a recitation, a tableau, a song, a
playlet, in fact anything that is colonial or pioneer in character. Each
Pioneer is to work out her own idea, and all ideas are to be kept secret
until after the performance, when a vote will be taken as to the best
stunt—that is, the best idea, and the stunt acted the best—and then the
name of the author will be revealed.”

The girls received this notice with applause, and each one immediately
began to suggest one thing and another until warned by Mrs. Morrow again
that the ideas were to remain secrets. After some further discussion it
was decided to have the Pioneer Stunts the first part of June, at Seton
Hall, Mrs. Morrow suggesting that the girls make it a Rose party and
serve ice-cream and strawberries on the lawn.

Nathalie came home very enthusiastic about the Pioneer Stunt
entertainment, and immediately set to work to jot down the idea that had
come to her at the Rally. In the midst of writing her mother joined her
and sat down to sew.

“Oh, Mother,” exclaimed the girl happily, “I’m awfully busy.”

“And working very hard, I see,” interposed Mrs. Page, smiling at her
daughter’s animated face, as she patted the sunburned arm resting on the
table.

“Yes,” replied Nathalie, “I have an awful lot to do.” And then she told
about the entertainment, and what she was planning. With a long drawn
sigh she cried, “Oh, Mumsie, I’m learning a terrible lot of useful
things.”

“I see you are,” assented her mother, “and I am proud of you.”

“Oh, but they have not been a bit easy!” The girl’s face grew grave.
“Sometimes I have thought I would have to give right up, but I haven’t,”
she added with an emphatic little nod. And then for the first time she
told her mother about the motto, “I Can,” and what a great help she had
found it.

“Yes, Daughter, every little thing Miss I Can has helped you to do has
been an overcome.”

“Indeed they have been overcomes,” assented the girl with another
emphatic shake of her brown head. “Washing dishes—oh, how I used to hate
that job—now I don’t mind it so much; cooking, telling stories to Rosy,
going to the fire, yes, and even getting up the Story Club. I have just
braced up, and then the first thing I knew, presto! the job was done!

“Yes, they have all been overcomes,” repeated Nathalie, “but it will be
all right if I only manage to earn—” She paused abruptly, suddenly
remembering, as she saw the lines of worry about her mother’s mouth,
that she and Dick had pledged themselves not to talk about his
operation, or to hint that they were trying to save in any way for it.
They had both been troubled when they realized that when an anxiety was
mentioned her mother’s face lost its happy look and she became sad and
worried.

“Yes,” added Mrs. Page, not noticing Nathalie’s sudden pause, “I have
been watching you for some time grappling with these try-outs that have
come into your life, but I have said nothing, for I wanted to see if you
or they would conquer.”

“Oh, you dear Mumsie,” cried Nathalie joyously, jumping up and giving
her mother a good hug. “Do you know, I felt dreadfully the other day to
think you had not said one word of praise; not that I want to be praised
all the time, but still a word now and then comes in handy, you know;
makes one feel so goody-goody.” This was said laughingly.

Nathalie could not help feeling encouraged after this comforting talk
with her mother; she felt as if she had conquered the whole world, that
there was nothing she could not overcome. But the next morning such a
big overcome, or try-out, as her mother had expressed it, appeared, that
it sufficed to lessen the glory of her former victories.

Lucille was ill; she had retired to her bed with a fit of indigestion,
and the planning for the Pioneer Stunt, the survey work that Nathalie
and her committee were to do, all had to be laid aside as she was
instituted head nurse in her cousin’s room.

“Oh, Mother,” she moaned dolefully, as she kissed her mother good-night,
“Lucille has been dreadfully cross; nothing pleases her. It has been,
‘Oh, Nathalie, don’t let that wind blow on me! Didn’t I tell you I don’t
like rice pudding! Oh, you’re the slowest poke!’ Oh, Mother—” there was
a lump in the girl’s throat, “if I hadn’t felt so humiliated at being
spoken to in that way, I just believe I would have given her a good
shaking.”

“Never mind, Nathalie,” replied Mrs. Page consolingly, “just remember it
is another overcome and have patience. She will soon be herself again,
you know she has been terribly upset, as she expected to spend a few
days with her friend and she is disappointed.”

“Of course, no one ever had a disappointment but Lucille!” exclaimed
Nathalie irritably.

“Nathalie!” reproved her mother, with a quick glance at the girl.

“Oh, well, it’s so, Mumsie,” replied her daughter with the tears very
near the surface, and then with another kiss she hurried to her bed.

“Have you got your Stunt written?” inquired Helen a few days later from
her window as Nathalie sat writing on the veranda. She held her hand up
and flourished a couple of typewritten pages as she spoke.

“No, I’m discouraged,” Nathalie lowered her voice. “Lucille has been
ill, and I have been kept awfully busy waiting on her. Then when I
finally managed to get time to go to the library to get some dates, I
lost the whole thing.”

“What—the idea?”

“Yes, the idea, and everything. I had been in the library some time and
had just finished. I did not discover my loss until I was almost home,
so I hurried back, but the librarian knew nothing about it. I hunted
until I was distracted, and then I came home; so that is the end of
that. This morning I am trying to think up another one.”

“Couldn’t you remember it?” questioned Helen concernedly.

“No, I tried to, but I’ve been so busy it has just flown away.”

“Well, you are a lucky girl to have brains enough to have more than one
idea in your head to write up. You should have seen the Sport; she was
over here last night, the picture of unadulterated woe, for she could
not even scare up one idea. She hung around trying to get some
suggestions from me, but I just told her she would have to do her own
work. She’s the best ever when it comes to anything in the way of
sports, or any activity, but she will not use her brains. She has a few,
at least.”

“If she would spend more time reading instead of—” Nathalie stopped with
slightly reddened face, for here was another overcome to win. She was
thoughtless at times, never having been disciplined, and so, without
meaning any harm, she was apt to express her opinion too freely about
the people around her. “Oh, well,” she ended lamely, “she is a good
Sport; if it hadn’t been for her the other night the town would have
burned down.”

“That’s true,” laughed Helen good-naturedly, and then with a wave of her
typewritten pages she disappeared from the window, as Nathalie turned
and with a dimpling face greeted Dr. Morrow, who had just driven up to
visit Lucille.

“You haven’t come to see me this time,” she suggested archly.

“Oh, it’s half and half this time, Blue Robin, for I have come to
ask—oh, it is a message from the princess.” The doctor lowered his voice
cautiously as he noted Dick at the other end of the veranda. “She wants
to know if you will make her another visit.”

Nathalie’s bright face sobered and an embarrassed silence followed as
she vainly tried to think of something that would excuse her from the
unpleasantness of having her eyes blindfolded again.

“Why, yes, I would like to go, only you see I am very busy just now,
helping Mother and doing Pioneer work, and—”

“Yes, I see,” interrupted the doctor somewhat coldly, with a keen glance
at Nathalie’s downcast face. “Then I will tell her you are busy.”

“Oh, don’t say that,” cried the girl in desperation. “It
sounds—well—tell her I will come some time later.” She felt the blood
rush to her face.

“Oh, I’ll manage to make her understand somehow,” answered the doctor.
Nathalie sensed a note of disappointment in his voice, and then without
further parley he hurried up the stairs to Lucille.

“Mother,” questioned Nathalie a few minutes later, for she had confided
to her all about the adventure at the gray house, “do you think I ought
to visit the princess again?” She then told what had transpired between
her and the doctor.

“You must be your own judge, Nathalie,” replied Mrs. Page slowly. “I
agree with you that it is a foolish thing for the child’s mother to ask
you to visit her in this way, but perhaps she may be induced to change
her mind. But, after all, Nathalie, it is a small thing to
overcome”—Mrs. Page emphasized the word—“when you can give the little
girl so much pleasure by going.”

“O dear!” thought Nathalie, as she stood waiting for the doctor to come
down-stairs a moment or so later, “it does seem that since I have become
a Pioneer I am just overcoming things all the time. Funny, but these
things never troubled me before.” “Oh, Doctor,” she exclaimed eagerly,
as that gentleman’s genial face appeared in the doorway, “I have changed
my mind, and if you like I will go with you to see the princess.”

An hour later Nathalie was greeted with a cry of delight from her new
friend, who clapped her hands and called, “Oh, Mother, she has come!”
Nathalie, imprisoned behind the muffler, rejoiced at heart to think she
had won another overcome.

“How do you do?” spoke Mrs. Van Vorst’s low voice, and then the girl’s
hand was taken in a cordial clasp. “It is so good of you to come; oh, if
you could only realize the joy you have brought into my child’s life,
and mine, too!” she added quickly.

“I am very glad,” replied Nathalie simply, as Mrs. Van Vorst led her to
a seat by the couch.

“Here, sit by me—no, not on that chair,” commanded her Royal Highness.
Nathalie felt a tug at her skirt, she was jerked suddenly down, and then
two arms were thrown around her neck. A hand touched her face, softly at
first, and then with a loud, “There, you are not going to sit with that
horrid thing on your face again, I just hate it!” there came a sudden
wrench, something gave way, the blinders were on the floor, and Nathalie
was looking at the face of the princess with free, untrammeled eyes!



CHAPTER XV—A CHAPTER OF SURPRISES


Nathalie gave a gasp of relief. Oh, it was good to be rid of that
horrible black handkerchief! Then her blinders faded into the past as
she became aware of the eyes that were gazing into hers, blue ones with
violet shadows, fringed by long black lashes!

The eyes were set in the face of a girl about fourteen, that had,
notwithstanding the pain-tired mouth with its lines of petulance, a
winsome sweetness about it which partly atoned for a jagged crimson scar
running across one end of the forehead, partly hidden by short, curly
hair which was boyishly parted on one side.

But the blue eyes were gleeful just at this moment, as if their owner
was proud of her deftness in slipping off the handkerchief. She clapped
her hands and cried, “Oh, aren’t you glad to get rid of that horrid
black thing?”

Raising herself on her elbow she drew Nathalie’s face down to hers and
whispered, “Don’t say a word to Mother, but it was all arranged—the
doctor and I managed it—let Mother think it was an accident.” Before
Nathalie could remonstrate the princess called out with a merry trill in
her voice, “Oh, Mother! come quick, Miss Page’s blinders have fallen
off!”

Nathalie flushed in embarrassed silence as she heard Mrs. Van Vorst’s
step hurrying to the couch. O dear, what should she do? It certainly was
awkward to have to deceive her. Oh, if the doctor would—but as she
turned around to face the lady in question she saw that the doctor was
not there.

“The doctor has gone, he had an important call to make,” spoke Mrs. Van
Vorst hurriedly, as she came towards the girls and saw Nathalie’s look
of distress. “But never mind, Miss Page, it is all right,” she cried
reassuringly. “It was a shame to keep you muffled up like that—just for
a whim—but if you could understand!” She looked down at Nathalie
apologetically.

“I should say it was a whim,” broke in the princess, “and it just serves
you right, too, for making her do it. Now Miss Page will go away and
tell every one what a horrible-looking thing I am, and it will be all
your fault because you are so afraid any one will see me, just as if I
was a monster of some sort! Oh, Nathalie—can’t I call you Nathalie?—the
doctor told me your name, and then you know you are not so much older
than I am.”

“I’m sixteen,” answered Nathalie readily, glad to turn the conversation
from the blinders, for she saw that Mrs. Van Vorst was greatly
perturbed.

“Oh, Nita, don’t talk that way to Mother,” cried Mrs. Van Vorst in a
pained voice. “You know, dear, I only did what I thought was right, and
it was to save you, people talk so!”

“I don’t care if they do,” broke in Nita angrily. “I have as much right
in this world as they have, even if I am ugly-looking with this scar and
hump, they needn’t look at me!”

Nathalie started, for as the girl spoke she deliberately threw off a
soft white shawl that had been thrown about her shoulders. With a sudden
feeling of deep pity Nathalie recognized that the princess was a
hump-back!

“Oh, you won’t hate me now, will you?” pleaded Nita suddenly, as she saw
Nathalie’s start of surprise, “just because I’m humped like a camel.”
She caught the girl’s hand in hers and clung to it with piteous appeal
in her blue eyes.

“Oh, no,” returned shocked Nathalie. “Why, I think you are lovely, even
if you are—” But the word was left unsaid, as Nathalie, with sudden
impulse, stooped forward and kissed the red lips.

Before she could raise herself, frightened at her own boldness, two arms
were flung around her neck and Nathalie was squeezed so hard that she
thought she would smother. “Oh, I just love you!” said Nita’s stifled
voice from her shoulder, “and I’m going to keep you with me all the
time. Oh, Mother,” she wailed beseechingly, lifting her head, but still
keeping Nathalie a prisoner, “won’t you buy her?”

“Buy her!” repeated her mother, who during this affectionate outburst
had stood silently by, a pleased smile struggling with an expression of
dismay at the girl’s rudeness. “Why, Nita, she is not a horse to be
bought and sold.”

“Well, I wish she was then,” said the child, for she was but that,
dropping her arms from Nathalie’s neck and lying back with sudden
exhaustion.

“Oh, she is going to faint,” cried dismayed Nathalie, while the mother
rushed to the dresser for the smelling salts. But when she attempted to
hold the bottle to Nita’s nose, she pushed her mother’s hand away
crying, “Take that horrid thing away, and get out of the room; I want
Nathalie to myself!”

And the Mystic, the woman always shrouded in gray, who looked at her
neighbors with a cold, formal stare of aversion, meekly obeyed. She went
softly out of the room and closed the door after her in obedience to her
daughter’s sharp cry, “Do you hear? Shut the door!”

Something within Nathalie burst its bounds, she could not sit there
another minute and hear the girl talk like that to her mother. “Oh,
don’t speak to your mother like that, she is so good to you!” the girl’s
voice trembled.

“How do you know she is good?” retorted Nita, after a short pause of
surprise at this merited rebuke.

“Why—why—because her face shows it,” stammered Nathalie, “and then, why
she is your mother, and if I should talk to my mother like that, why—I
should expect her to die then and there.”

“Why?” persisted the voice.

“Because it would hurt her so,—” Nathalie labored, she hated to
preach—“to think I could be so disrespectful to her, and ill-bred.”

“Well, your mother isn’t my mother; your mother didn’t shut you up in a
dark room so that you tried to get away.”

“Nita!” came in a pain-stricken voice, “don’t talk that way!”

Nathalie turned to see Mrs. Van Vorst standing in the doorway, her face
drawn and lined. “I was coming in to ask—oh, Miss Page, will you come in
here a moment? I should like to speak to you.”

Nathalie arose quickly, her heart overflowing with pity for this poor
mother who was only too surely paying the penalty of neglect and anger.
“Oh, Mrs. Van Vorst,” she cried hastily, “do not mind your daughter, she
doesn’t mean to hurt you, she—I think she is just spoiled, you know.”

By this time Nathalie had followed Mrs. Van Vorst into the adjoining
room, a sun-parlor, whose glass windows looked down upon a terraced
garden, green with trees and gorgeous with multicolored flowers,
surrounded by low rolling hillocks or mounds.

Nita, as Nathalie left the room, began to vent her displeasure in
shrill, angry shrieks, but her mother, with set, rigid lips, closed the
door softly, and then turning towards Nathalie began to speak, brokenly,
between deep-drawn breaths.

“Oh, I have been foolish—I am afraid—in letting you come to see Nita,
but oh, it is so hard for her, shut up in this house, with only me and
the servants. So when the doctor was telling us about you, Nita pleaded
so to have you come, and I foolishly yielded. But oh, Miss Page, do not,
I beg of you, repeat what you have seen or heard, don’t mind what Nita
says about me, it is not true; as you said she does not mean all she
says.” The tears were rolling down Mrs. Van Vorst’s face.

“Oh, Mrs. Van Vorst,” exclaimed Nathalie, tears misting in her eyes in
sympathy with the lady’s grief, “I know how you feel, but it is all
right. I think you are both lovely, I am sure I have nothing to tell; of
course, I know that your daughter does not mean what she says, she’s
just spoiled.” A sudden thought came to the girl. “Don’t you think if
you were to let her see people—that is girls of her own age—that she
would be better? Oh, I am sure she would,” broke from the girl
impetuously, “and it would make her so happy!”

“Do you really think so?” inquired Mrs. Van Vorst with a note of hope in
her voice. “Would it not hurt her when people said rude things about
her?”

“But no one would say rude things about her,” persisted Nathalie
determinedly. “Every one would love her—she’s a dear, so
sweet-looking—and then she would soon get over her spoiled ways; she
would learn by seeing that other girls act differently.” Nathalie felt
that she had spoken incoherently, but oh, it did seem such a shame!

“I don’t know about that,” replied Mrs. Van Vorst, her face hardening
again to the same impenetrable mask that had puzzled Nathalie the first
time she met her. “Well, we will not discuss it now—we’ll see how things
turn out—only, Miss Page,” she grew stiff and formal, although a note in
her voice betrayed that she was battling with her emotion, “I should
like to ask you again to keep silent a little longer, not to tell—how
foolish I was—” she broke off suddenly, and then she added, “of course,
you have a right to tell; but let me explain that what Nita says is not
true, she likes to tease me into getting her way. Sit down—oh—she has
fallen asleep.” Mrs. Van Vorst opened the door softly and then closed
it. “She always does when she cries that way.”

“Yes, I have been foolish,” she reiterated, “but I am not a criminal,
and it is not altogether pride, because I have a deformed child, that
makes me keep her secluded. It is because I want to save her, I would
give my life for her happiness, but I can’t—” there was a hopeless wail
to her voice. “That is my punishment!” And then, as if reminded of what
she wanted to tell Nathalie, she continued more calmly, “It is true that
I shut Nita in a dark room. I punished her—she has always had those
temper spells—I never knew what to do with her. Some one told me I was
too easy with her, so I put her in the room and when she stopped crying
I thought she had fallen asleep, but oh, she tried to get out, she said
some one was chasing her, and climbed out on the shed and fell off the
roof! She broke—her back!” Mrs. Van Vorst buried her face in her hands,
but although no sounds came, Nathalie could see the convulsive shivers
that shook her frame.

The girl was dumb. What could she say? It was awful! Oh, but if she
didn’t say something she would be boo-hooing herself in a minute. “But
that was not your fault,” she cried with sudden inspiration. “It was
right for you to punish her. Oh, Mrs. Van Vorst, I should consider it
just an accident that you could not help.”

Mrs. Van Vorst lifted her face and gazed at the girl with wide,
appealing eyes. “Oh, do you think that? If I could be led to believe I
was not to blame! For years I have suffered the tortures of hell, doing
penance.”

“Yes, and making yourself and your daughter miserable!” Nathalie spoke
boldly, she couldn’t help it, the words came of themselves as it seemed
to her. “But, Mrs. Van Vorst, look at it in another way, perhaps I
should not speak this way to you, for I am just a girl, but I feel so
sorry for you, and Nita, it does seem such a shame to shut her off from
all pleasure just because an unfortunate thing happened. Why, Mrs.
Morrow says we should regard trouble like clouds that we can’t blow away
unless we fill the atmosphere with sunshine.” Nathalie came to a sudden
stop, afraid she had gone beyond her depth. But in a moment she added,
“Oh, if you would just think of it as an accident! Try to make Nita
happy, and then you will be happy, and forget all about it!”

Mrs. Van Vorst’s eyes grew moist as she cried impulsively, “Oh, you are
a dear girl to talk to me this way. I shall always remember it, always.
Yes, you are right, I have been miserable and have been making my poor
child so. Oh, I have been wrong!”

Before Nathalie could answer, Nita’s voice was heard shrilly crying,
“Mother, I want Nathalie!”

“I am coming,” cried the girl, hurrying into the room and up to the
couch. “Did you have a nice little nap?” she asked cheerily, as she
patted the girl’s hand that lay inertly on the coverlid.

“Oh, I just dropped off, I always get so tired when I cry.”

“But why do you cry then?” questioned practical Nathalie.

“Why—oh, I cried because Mamma took you away from me, and now you will
be going soon, and I won’t have had time to talk to you at all.”

“Oh, yes you will,” replied her companion, glancing at the clock. “It is
only eleven, I sha’n’t go for another hour, so start right in and talk.”

“But I don’t want to talk,” came the contrary answer. “I want to hear
you talk. Please tell me about the Girl Pioneers. Did you go on the
wild-flower hike?”

“Oh, yes!” was the answer; and then Nathalie’s tongue flew as she told
about the hike, the different things they did, how she had learned to
blaze a trail, what a delightful companion Dr. Homer had proved, how she
lighted the fire with only one match, about the Tike’s escapade, and the
flower legends.

“Oh, but the fire, I must tell you about the fire and the bucket
brigade!” she cried, and then followed that exciting story with all its
climaxes, and what fun it had proved, although, as the girl confessed,
she had been tempted to run away several times.

“I just wish I could have seen it all!” exclaimed Nita regretfully, as
Nathalie paused for a rest. “I should have liked to go on that flower
hike, and the flower legends, can’t you tell them to me? I just love
flowers!”

“Why yes, perhaps I can,” nodded the Story Lady. And then in a moment
she was animatedly telling about the Forget-me-not lover, the Dandelion
legend, and then last of all about the spring goddess who brought the
arbutus.

“What are you going to do next?” inquired her listener as Nathalie’s
flower stories ended.

“We are all busy now getting up entertainments; that is, we are thinking
up ideas for the Pioneer Stunts. You know, we are anxious to make money
for our Camp Fund, and—”

“Camp Fund! what is that?” inquired the girl interestedly.

“Why, the Pioneers, that is the Bluebirds, the Bob Whites, and the
Orioles, are going camping this summer, probably in August, or as soon
as we can raise the money. There are sixteen Pioneers going. Oh, I am
sure we shall have a dandy time! We are to sleep in tents, but there
will be a house or something for the dining room and kitchen, that is,
if we can get them.”

“Where are you going to get the tents to sleep in?”

“Helen and I are to make our own tent, Fred Tyson is going to help us.
It will take an awfully long time, we are to begin next week. The other
tents, well, some of the girls have their own and then we shall borrow
one or two. Of course, you know, each girl will have to pay her expenses
to camp and back, but all the other expenses are expected to come out of
the Fund, so you see we shall have a lot of work to do. We are to charge
admission to the Pioneer Stunts.” And then Nathalie told of the novel
way they were to get ideas, and how each girl was to keep her idea a
secret until after the vote had been taken as to the best Stunt the
night of the performance.

“Have you got your idea yet?” inquired Nita eagerly. “Oh, I just bet
your idea will be the best one of all!”

“Oh, no,” answered Nathalie modestly, “far from it! I am awfully worried
for fear it will be a terrible failure.” And then she told how she had
lost her idea and was writing up another one.

“Well, after you have the Stunts, what are you going to have?” demanded
Nita eagerly.

“We want to have a flag drill, that is, if we can get the ground for it,
as we want to have it in the open. Oh, it will be the loveliest thing!
The girls are to be Daughters of Liberty and carry banners, the little
flags used by the different States and soldiers before and during the
revolution, before we had the Stars and Stripes. Oh, did I tell you that
all of our entertainments have to be either colonial or patriotic, that
is, something that happened in or belonged to the early days of the
nation, when all the people were pioneers, or the children of pioneers?”

“When are you going to have the flag drill? Oh, how I should like to see
it!”

“I have rattled on so fast I forgot to say that—why—we are not sure
about that, for, you see, we have got to get a lawn, or grounds that
would be suitable.” Her face reddened, for she suddenly remembered that
it was Mrs. Van Vorst’s lawn that the girls had wanted, and that she had
refused to let them have it.

“You see,” she explained awkwardly, “we want a place where the people
can see us, and then we want to have booths decorated with our
colors—they are Red, White, and Blue, you know—so we can sell ice-cream.
Each table is to be named after one of the thirteen States; but there, I
don’t believe we can have it.”

“Mamma, come here quick,” called Nita imperiously, sitting up and
peering into the sun parlor where her mother was seated sewing, “I want
you to hear about the Flag Drill, and oh, Mother, won’t you let me see
it? Oh, please, Mother, I can go all muffled up, no one will see me,”
pleaded the girlish voice pathetically.

Mrs. Van Vorst bent over and softly stroked the golden head as she
cried, “Now dear, don’t get excited! Mother will do all she can for
you.”

“You tell _her_ about it!” broke from Nita hurriedly, as she pulled at
Nathalie’s gown. Then falling back on the couch she exclaimed with
determination, “But I’m going to see it, Mother, yes I am!”

Somewhat hesitatingly Nathalie began, but in a moment, perceiving that
her listener was much interested, she launched forth and told about the
Flag Drill in all its details.

“And you are going to use the money you make for your Camping Fund?”
inquired Nita’s mother as Nathalie finished.

Nathalie nodded, “That is, if we can get the right place to hold it—oh—”
she flushed again and then grew suddenly silent.

“Did not one of the Pioneers ask me if I would let them have my lawn in
the rear of the house?”

Before embarrassed Nathalie could answer, Nita interposed excitedly,
“Our lawn? Oh, let them have it, Mamma, let them have it, and then I can
see it from the window, and no one will see me, oh, say yes, Mamma!”

Nathalie’s eyes looked dismay as she heard Nita’s wailing request. Of
course Mrs. Van Vorst would refuse, but suppose she should think that
she had urged Nita to ask her?

“Why, I suppose they could,” answered Mrs. Van Vorst slowly. “Then, as
you say, you could see it from the window, Nita; yes the Pioneers can
have it!”

“Oh, do you really mean it?” exclaimed Nathalie, almost as excited as
Nita. “The girls will be just crazy with joy—and—oh, isn’t it funny? I
was one of a committee of three to find a place, and—”

“Well, you will not have to look any further,” replied Mrs. Van Vorst.
“If my lawn suits, take it, child. I am sure I am only too glad to do
anything for the brave girl who has been so kind to my Nita as to come
here and make her happy.”

“That is lovely of you,” rejoined the Pioneer, her eyes glowing, “and
can we have it this month, the fourteenth? That is Flag Day, you know,
and we wanted to have it then.”

“Have it whenever you like, my dear. I will tell Peter to have the grass
mowed, and if he can help you in any way in arranging the tables or
anything, I shall be delighted to let you have his services.”

“Oh, that will be the delightfulest thing!” The girl’s face radiated
sunshine. “It seems just too lovely to be true!”

But the surprise Nathalie held in store for the Pioneers was almost
forgotten in the surprise that awaited her when after saying good-by to
Nita, Mrs. Van Vorst met her at the foot of the staircase and asked if
she would not come into the reception-room a minute.

“I wanted to speak to you on a little matter of business,” the lady
explained somewhat hesitatingly. Nathalie, wondering what terrible thing
she had done or said, followed her silently into the room, where she
again spied her Chinese friend, the mandarin, grinning at her from the
cabinet.

“I have been thinking it over, Miss Page—”

“O dear,” thought poor Nathalie, “she is going to change her mind about
the drill!”

“And I wanted to know—of course this is a business proposition—” she
paused. “You have given so much pleasure to Nita, I thought perhaps you
might be willing to come regularly every day, say for a couple of
hours.”

“Oh, Mrs. Van Vorst,” cried relieved Nathalie, “that would be just fine!
I should be only too glad, but you know, I have things to do for Mother,
we haven’t any maid at present.”

“But would it not pay you to give up these things, or let some one else
do them? It would only be two hours in the morning,” there was a
persuasive note in her voice, “and of course I would pay you enough to
make it worth your while, and oh, I would give anything to bring joy
into—”

She stopped, for there was something in the girl’s wide opened eyes that
made her hesitate.

“Oh, I would not like to take money just for talking to Nita—that would
hardly be fair—” Nathalie floundered desperately, for something brought
Dick and his operation to her mind, and she did want so badly to earn
money. She caught her breath sharply, opened her mouth, and then said,
“Why, I don’t know, I will see what Mother says and let you know.”

“That will be just the thing,” was the reply. “You can drop me a note as
soon as you decide, for Nita will be anxious, and then we will want to
fix the days and times. If you can make up your mind to do this for me,
Miss Page, I shall feel so indebted to you!”

As Nathalie flew post-haste towards home she heard the chug of an
automobile and looked up in time to see Dr. Morrow sweep past in his
car. But he, too, had eyes, and a moment later had backed his car and
was asking Nathalie if she would like a ride home. The girl was only too
pleased to accept, as she was fairly brimming over with impatience to
tell some one her two surprises. They had not gone far before the story
was out, and the doctor had heard everything.

“Well now, I call that luck,” declared the doctor, “and of course you
said you would accept Mrs. Van Vorst’s offer?”

“Why, no,” answered the girl hesitatingly, “I should love to do it, but
I don’t know that I ought to take money for it.”

“And why not?” queried Dr. Morrow with some surprise. “Isn’t money as
much to you as to other people?”

“Oh, yes,” laughed honest Nathalie; “of course I would like the money, I
am just dying to earn money for Dick.” The girl stopped with frightened
eyes; oh, what was she going to tell? “But then it doesn’t seem exactly
right to take money just for talking, and I don’t know how Mother would
feel about it, she might feel badly.” Nathalie choked, and her eyes
filled with tears as she remembered how hard it was for her mother to
think of even Dick earning money when he was so helpless.

“You haven’t got to if you don’t want to, little Blue Robin,” declared
her friend, who perhaps suspected how things were. “But I tell you what,
friend Nathalie—” emphatically—“if I had a nice little voice like a
certain Robin I know, with big brown eyes, and knew how to use those big
eyes and that sweet little tru-al-lee of a voice by telling people
stories, or talking to them—it’s all the same—well, I’d waste no time in
accepting that offer. And then, too, see what pleasure it would bring
Nita and her mother, too, for that matter. Of course, I’m a man and look
at things from a commercial point of view; ah, here we are!” And then
with a cheery farewell the doctor helped the girl out of the car and
Nathalie walked slowly up the path.

To Nathalie’s surprise, her mother thought as the doctor did about the
matter. She was not hurt at all, but overjoyed to think that Nathalie
was clever enough to earn money that way.

“Why, Nathalie,” she mused, pleasantly, “you can do lots of things with
the money you earn. It probably won’t be much, but it will give you
pin-money, and a few necessities. Perhaps it will pay your way to camp!”

“Now, Mumsie,” laughed the girl with a trill of glee in her voice,
“remember about counting your chicks before they’re hatched!”

She turned and ran swiftly up-stairs, and after imparting her good news
to Dick, she sat down and penned her note to Mrs. Van Vorst, all her
doubts and fears at rest. And she knew what she would do with the money,
it came like a flash into her mind as she looked up and saw Dick
plodding through an official-looking document.

After the note was mailed, there were just a few minutes left to run
over and tell Mrs. Morrow what had transpired in regard to the lawn for
the Flag Drill, and to announce, with joy shining in every feature, that
they could have the drill on the fourteenth. Then came a few minutes at
Helen’s, where the news was also told, two surprises, Nathalie declared,
after she had unburdened herself to that young lady of the many things
she had been bottling up for the last few weeks.

But Nathalie’s day of surprises was to bear more fruit, for about five
o’clock the postman delivered a package by parcel post, a big box that
had a very mysterious look about it. “I don’t see what it can be?” she
soliloquized, as she looked at the address. And then, “Oh, Mother, do
you know where the scissors are?” as she found that her fingers were too
unsteady with haste to untie the string.

Dick, however, after hearing her excited outcry, had whipped out a
penknife. There was a zip, the string was off, the box slipped out of
the paper, and then the girl, with radiant, mystified eyes, was looking
down at a Pioneer uniform, a jaunty little affair, with its red tie and
red-banded hat to complete the outfit.

“Don’t stand there and gape at it any longer, Nathalie,” imperiously
voiced Dick, with an odd gleam in his eyes. “Look at the card and see
who sent it!”



CHAPTER XVI—PIONEER STUNTS


An exclamation escaped dazed Nathalie; and then a search was started,
resulting at last in finding the card in one of the pockets of the
skirt. Another cry issued from the finder as she read:

           “To Nathalie, my faithful little nurse and helper.
                                                   “Lucille.”

“O dear!” said the girl with a shamed glance into the faces surrounding
her, “I will never again say that Lucille is cross—oh, she is a duck of
a dear! It is the very thing I want, too. Now I shall not be the only
Pioneer without a uniform. I must run and tell Helen!” In another moment
she was racing with mad speed across the lawn, the uniform bulging out
of the half-opened box in her arms.

In a short space she came speeding back, crying, “Oh, Mother, where is
Lucille? I must go and thank her this very minute!”

“Up in her room, I think,” spoke up Dick, but Nathalie was already
half-way up the stairs.

“Lucille, it was just too lovely of you to think of me this way!” cried
the girl rapturously; and then before Lucille realized what was going to
happen, she was receiving a hug that threatened to demolish her
entirely. “There, Nathalie Page,” she cried, “that’s more than enough;
please leave just a wee bit of me, I’ll take your thanks for granted.”

“No, you won’t!” persisted Nathalie with another hug. “I’m here to give
them to you in person.” She loosened her hold so her cousin could
breathe and then began to kiss her softly on the cheek. “Oh, but,
Lucille, it was lovely of you to think of it,” she ended as she finally
freed her cousin, who ruefully began to twist up a few stray locks that
had been pulled down in the hugging process.

“Oh, pshaw, I don’t want any thanks,” Lucille responded as she finished
tucking up her hair. “As long as you are pleased, it’s all right.”

“But I’m serious, Lucille, for you have heaped coals of fire on my head,
I’ll have to ’fess that I was not a bit pleasant about waiting on you,
because, you see, I had so much to see to with the Pioneer Stunts, the
work, and everything, and then—”

“And then,” mimicked Lucille with a mischievous glint in her eyes, “I’m
an awful cross patient; is that it? But it’s all right, Nat, turn about
is fair play, and if you had felt as badly as I did those few days, to
miss it all, the anticipated good times at Bessie’s, well, you would
have been cross, too.”

“Oh, I know it, and I was worse than you were, for I should have
possessed my soul in patience, but it was perfectly dear of you to give
me the uniform, and then to be so nice about it.”

“Well, I’m glad I’m nice,” teased her cousin, “but run along, child, for
I have about forty-seven letters to get off by this mail.”

And Nathalie, with a heart brimful of joy at the many surprises of the
day, was very glad to hurry away and talk matters over with her mother.

“What shall I talk to Nita about?” she lamented the next morning as she
flew hither and thither, getting her work done in a jiffy so that she
could reach the gray house by ten-thirty, the hour set for the talk with
the princess, as Nathalie delighted to call her.

“Mother, can’t you suggest something?” she asked dolefully as she
stooped to kiss her mother good-by. “I do feel that it will not be right
for me to take money for just chattering nonsense, and Nita won’t let me
tell her stories.”

“Well, it does seem as if it was undue extravagance, but still, if Mrs.
Van Vorst thinks you are worth paying in order to help make her child’s
life more enjoyable, it seems to me I should not worry about it.”

“Yes, I know, but if I could only tell her stories,” rejoined the girl,
“perhaps I could help her more, for I could make my stories instructive,
about nature, history, or—”

“That is true,” was the answer. And then, as if reminded by the word
history, she said, “Why not tell her stories about the Pioneer women?
You say she is so interested in the Girl Pioneers. In that way you could
teach her American history.”

“Oh, Mumsie, you are a dear,” cried elated Nathalie. “That is just the
thing, how stupid I was not to think of it! I will stop at the library
on my way home this afternoon. What a help it will be to me, too, for we
are going to have a fagot party, sort of a good-by to Louise Gaynor.
Gloriana! I won’t have any reading to do for that, for I’ll be posted
from my talks with Nita.” Then she was off down the walk on her “way to
business,” as she laughingly told her mother.

“Oh, tell me all about the Pioneer Stunts!” exclaimed the princess as
Nathalie settled herself for a cozy chat after her cheery greeting to
her new pupil. Nita’s eyes were sparkling expectantly, and the
anticipated chat with her new friend had brought a tinge of color to her
usually pale face.

“We have not had that as yet; it is to take place to-morrow night—oh,
I’ll tell you all about it,” was the reply. And then, as Mrs. Van Vorst
entered the room with a pleasant good morning, Nathalie demanded, “Do
you not want me to tell stories to Nita?”

“That is for Nita to decide,” was the careless rejoinder. “I have asked
you here to please my daughter, and if she wants you here just to talk,
why, talk away.”

“But I feel as if I ought to instruct her in some way,” demurred
Nathalie.

“Do not worry,” returned Mrs. Van Vorst. “You will be worth all you earn
if you only succeed in making Nita happy for two hours, and give her
something to look forward to when you are not here. Of course, if you
could get something informative in once in a while, it would do good, no
doubt.”

“I don’t want any stories,” interrupted Miss Nita petulantly. “Miss
Stitt used to tell me stories by the yard and I have hated them ever
since.”

Nathalie made no reply; she was thinking how she could slip in a bit of
information without Nita’s realizing it. “Oh, I will tell you about the
flag drill!” she cried with sudden thought.

“Yes, do,” acquiesced Nita, readily falling into the trap. “I want to
know just everything about it.”

“Well, you shall,” promptly returned her delighted teacher, and
forthwith she set to define the meaning of the word liberty. “You know,
Nita, when the Pilgrims and Puritans settled America they came here to
build homes where they could have liberty of conscience, speech, and
action. Of course, you know all about how these first little settlements
grew, until there were thirteen of them that bade fair to become very
populous and wealthy. Well, the King of England, fearing perhaps that
they would grow into a great nation and take power from him, began to
deprive them of some of their rights and privileges.

“The people for a time submitted, but as his tyranny increased they
began to feel greatly depressed, for it looked as if the liberty that
they had been enjoying in the new land was going to be taken away from
them, and that they were going to be chained like slaves.

“Now the first scene in the flag drill represents liberty—as the Goddess
of course—lamenting that if she can live only at the price of slavery,
she would rather die. So we see her walking up and down the platform
repeating in great agitation the famous words of Patrick Henry, ‘Give me
Liberty, or give me death!’

“Just at this moment music is heard, and the Daughters of Liberty
enter—”

“The Daughters of Liberty—who are they?”

“Why, don’t you know that when King George tried to impose the Stamp Act
on the colonists they rebelled, and there was a great time. Bands of men
were organized all over the country, who called themselves the Sons of
Liberty, and refused to accept the Stamp Act, and—”

“Oh, yes, I know all that,” cried Nita impatiently, “but what did they
have to do with these girls who are to be in the Flag Drill?”

“Just you wait and you’ll see,” replied Nathalie somewhat abashed by
this practical question. “Well, these little patriotic bands acted like
a whirlwind of fire, spreading patriotism—the determination not to
submit to the king’s tyranny—all over the land, so that King George was
defeated for a time at least.”

“Oh, yes, I know all about him,” was the reply, “Miss Stitt just doted
on history, and she drilled me in American history until I just hated
it.”

“In 1776,” continued the Story Lady, “seventeen young girls met in
Providence at the house of Deacon Bowen, and formed themselves into one
of these Liberty Bands, only you see they were just girls like you and
me. They were very industrious and spun all day making homespun clothes,
for they had resolved that they would not wear any more clothes that had
been manufactured in England.

“It is claimed that the clothes worn by the first president of Brown
University in Providence, and the graduating class, too, on Commencement
Day were garments made by these girls. These young girls not only vowed
that they would not drink tea, because you see, it all had to come from
the mother country, but they would have nothing to do with any young men
who were not as patriotic as they were, and who were not willing to
follow their example. These bands of girls were formed all through the
colonies and became known as ‘The Daughters of Liberty.’”

“Oh, now I know, but do hurry and tell me what they did to the Goddess
of Liberty!”

“Well, in our Flag Drill music is heard; then the Daughters of Liberty
appear on the platform,—there are to be thirteen of them, to represent
the thirteen states,—all carrying banners.”

“What kind of banners?” burst from Nathalie’s auditor impatiently.

“All kinds,” was the answer. “You know, the first flag used in this
country was the English one, with the red cross of St. George; that was
the flag carried by the _Mayflower_. After a while it was used only for
special occasions, for the Red Ensign of Great Britain took its place.
But as time wore on, each little State came to have its own flag or
banner, so that when the Revolution came these State banners became
known as liberty banners.

“Some of them were very quaint and grotesque, with strange emblems and
designs—some had rattlesnakes or pine-trees—and queer inscriptions. A
flag from South Carolina had a silver crescent on it; another from New
York had a beaver; troops from Rhode Island floated a white ensign with
a blue anchor; while the New England flag bore a pine tree. But to go
back to the Daughters; as they march on the platform they form a
half-circle before the Goddess, who has retired to her throne, a chair
draped with red. In her hand she carries a green branch,—no, don’t ask
me why, for you will know when you hear the girls sing the ‘Liberty
Tree.’

“When they finish singing, each girl in turn steps before the Goddess
and tells the story of her flag, until a story has been told about each
of the thirteen flags. Of course, there were a number of these liberty
banners, but we use only thirteen of them.

“There! I said I would not tell you any more today, and I’m not going
to. Oh, did I tell you that I told Mrs. Morrow about your mother
consenting to let us have your lawn? She is perfectly delighted, and at
the next Rally the scribe will write a note to your mother for the
Pioneers, thanking her for her offer.”

And then—Nathalie could not remember what started the conversation in
this channel—she was telling about her brother Dick and his operation,
while Nita listened with big sympathetic eyes, for somehow she was very
much interested in this invalid brother of Nathalie’s.

“You see, it is this way,” rattled on Nathalie. “Dick must have the
operation as soon as possible—and—as it happens—well, you know Mother’s
income is limited since Father died and we have had to retrench a great
deal. Then to make matters worse, just at the present time some bonds
that Mother owns are not paying any interest and we feel dreadfully
about it, all on account of Dick. So we are all trying to be as
economical as possible; Dorothy and I have a little bank, and every odd
nickel we can scare up we drop it in, and oh! the money your mother is
going to give me for talking to you, why, that’s going in the bank, too!
Dorothy and I sometimes wish that some magic fairy would come along and
turn those stray cents and nickels into gold dollars, but there, I
should think your head would ache, my tongue has galloped so hard and
fast.” She paused, and with a merry laugh cried, “I should not wonder if
after a while your mother paid me not to come and talk to you, for you
will get so tired of me.”

“Indeed I won’t!” asserted the princess stoutly as she threw up her
arms. There was a mutual hug and then Nathalie was off, for she had to
get dinner and it would take her at least ten minutes to walk home.

A week later Nathalie was flying out of the gate of the big gray house
with something tightly clasped in her hand. It had been a week of hard
work, for O dear, she had grown tired of talking, and then too, she had
spent some little time in the library hunting up pioneer women. She had
been overjoyed that morning when Mrs. Van Vorst, who had been secretly
acquainted with the scheme of telling about these women founders of the
nation presented her with a new book from a New York publisher that gave
a number of interesting details about these dames of early times. She
and Nita had spent the two hours that morning reading about the New
Amsterdam vrouws. She laughed slyly as she hurried along to think how
adroitly she had managed in such a short time to tell her pupil not only
about the Pilgrim and Puritan dames, but other interesting historical
events of those early days.

As the girl ran swiftly up on the porch and spied her mother reading a
few feet away, she burst out with, “Oh, Mother, what do you think Mrs.
Van Vorst gave me for teach—talking, rather, to Nita for the week? And
I’m to have the same every week. Oh, Mumsie, just guess!”

Mrs. Page’s eyes smiled into Nathalie’s joyous ones as she said, “I’m
not a good guesser, I’m afraid, Daughter, but I’ll venture—five
dollars?”

“Five dollars!” repeated the girl disdainfully. “Oh, Mother, guess
again, it’s more than that,” she added encouragingly.

“Well, I’ll have to give it up,” replied her mother after a short pause,
with a regretful shake of her head. “I told you I was not a good
guesser.”

“Ten dollars!” burst from happy Nathalie. “Just think, a dollar an hour,
two dollars a day, and ten dollars for the week! And, Mother, it’s all
to be put away for Dick!”

The night of the entertainment arrived, and promised to be a howling
success, as Grace declared, who, with Nathalie, had been detailed to act
as an usher. They had been kept pretty busy seating the guests, who had
appeared in multicolored gowns, and gay flowered hats, with here and
there a dress coat of masculine gender which gave quite an air of
festivity to the occasion.

The program was opened by Lillie Bell. Attired in a very quaint colonial
gown, she tripped along the platform, and with well-simulated blushes
and much demureness of manner made an old-time curtsy. After being
greeted with an ovation from her many friends, she bashfully sidled up
to a rather puzzling-looking instrument on the platform, on which many
eyes had been focussed ever since the raising of the curtain, and seated
herself before it.

Upon this old-time spinet she played such ravishing strains of melody
that the hearts of her audience were captivated, and she was encored
again and again. Louise Gaynor, a dear little colonial dame, now
appeared, and in her tru-al-lee voice—as the girls often called it—sang
some old English ballads, “Annie Laurie,” “Robin Adair” and several of
similar character, whose celebrity had grown with the years.

The second Stunt was the renowned race for the Forefathers’ Rock, Kitty
Corwin as Mary Chilton, and Fred Tyson as the slow-footed John Alden. A
spinning contest followed, the fair spinners being colonial dames from
Plymouth town, New Amsterdam, Boston, and Jamestown. The fair maiden of
Plymouth, Priscilla, spun with such deftness and skill that she not only
won the plaudits of those assembled, but the prize. As she gracefully
bowed her acknowledgment to her friends’ loud clapping, she backed
hastily off the platform. Alas, she backed into John Alden, who at this
opportune moment had appeared on the stage, with such terrific force
that she almost bowled him over. John, however, to prove that he was not
as slow as the name he had gained, adroitly caught the falling maiden in
his arms and then led the blushing damsel, Jessie Ford, forward as his
captured prize.

Barbara Worth proved quite a heroine in her single-act comedy on Pioneer
craft, the plucking of a live goose. Mistress Goose, however, not
understanding her part of silent acquiescence, being a twentieth-century
goose and not a pioneer one, mutinied, and as Barbara came to the end of
the couplet,

  “Twice a year depluméd may they be,
  In spryngen tyme and harvest tyme,”

she escaped from her captor’s clutch and with a loud, “Quack! quack!” of
disapproval flew across the stage.

Barbara, dumb with fright for fear the goose would fly down among the
spectators, gave chase, and then ensued a regular “movie” as amid loud
calls urging her on in the race, and protestations voiced by the goose
in a clamorous quacking, she chased it about the platform. Just as
Barbara was about to capture her prey she tripped on a rug and measured
her five feet two on the floor. But Barbara was game, Fred Tyson
declared to Nathalie as they watched her, and jumping to her feet she
soon captured her featherless fowl, which, after being shown in its
deplumed condition, was borne from the scene of its torments by the
victor.

The curtain now rose on “The First American Wash Day,” a little playlet
representing the women of the Pilgrim colony, with arms bared to the
elbows, rubbing and scrubbing in tubs of foamy soap-suds, washing
clothes, for the noble sires of our nation.

Nathalie gave a quick start and her eyes leaped wide open as she
convulsively clutched Grace by the arm, and then she grew strangely
still as she watched the actors on the stage. The scene was a
distinctive one, as the children of the _Mayflower_ ran hither and
thither gathering boughs, make-believe sweet-smelling juniper, to place
under the tripod from which kettles of water were suspended over a small
fire that simulated a cheery blaze.

As these pioneer mothers washed, and then wrung out their clothes,
slashing them about in true washer woman’s fashion, some one in the rear
of the stage recited in a loud, clear voice:

                  “There did the Pilgrim fathers
                  With matchlock and ax well swung
                  Keep guard o’er the smoking kettles
                  That propped on the crotches hung.
                  For the earliest act of the heroes
                  Whose fame has a world-wide sway,
                  Was to fashion a crane for a kettle
                  And order a washing-day.”

                        “Pioneer Mothers of America.”
                                    By Hand W. Green.

The applause of the spectators testified to the merit of the
performance, and as the curtain dropped, Nathalie, whose eyes were
ashine with a strange fire, hastened out into the hall. “Oh, it was mean
of her! It is the same as stealing, she knew she had no right to use
it!” were the thoughts that flashed at white heat through her brain, for
the playlet that had just been enacted was the one she had lost in the
library!

And the one who had passed it off as her own, the one who had been the
head performer, and who had recited the verses, was Edith Whiton!

On rushed Nathalie straight towards the dressing room, determined to
tell Edith just what she thought of her, but the sight of a crowd of
girls of which Edith was the central figure brought her to a standstill.
“Of course, Edith, we all recognized you!” “It was a clever Stunt.”
“Well, you have shown you are a Pioneer, all right!” Many similar pæans
of praise came to Nathalie’s ears.

The girl stood still, inwardly raging with indignation, almost ready to
cry with the strife between her outraged sense of right, and a
commonplace little monitor who whispered, “It would be mean to accuse
Edith of a sneaking act in the very midst of her glorification. And
then, too,” continued the whisperer, “you are not really sure that Edith
has not some excuse to offer; there was no name on your paper.” Nathalie
swallowed hard, then her muscles relaxed, and the hard angry gleam
disappeared from her eyes. Well, Edith might be mean and small, but she
at least would be above her, she would say nothing!

With a certain pride that she had risen above doing what she would
undoubtedly have regretted afterwards, Nathalie hurried into the
dressing-room. A few minutes later as the curtain rose it displayed in
its completed form the second idea that she had spent so much time in
planning.

Around the hearthstone in a Dutch kitchen sat a _huys-moeder_, busily
undressing her two little kinderkins while she sang the crooning nursery
rhyme:[1]

             “Trip attroup attronjes,
             De vaarken in de boojes,
             De koejes in de klaver,
             De paarden in de haver,
             De kalver in de lang gras,
             De eenjes in de water plas,
             So grootmyn klein poppetje was.”
                         “_Colonial Days in Old New York._”
                                                     Earle.

Through a window in the back of the cozy kitchen a blanketed squaw was
seen dandling her swaddled papoose in her arms, as she peered hungrily
in at the glowing fire, and watched the _huys-moeder_ fill the warming
pan with coals, thrust it between the sheets of the little trundle-bed,
and then give her babies some mulled cider to drink.

The tiny figures in their _cosyntjes_, or nightcaps with long capes, had
just crawled into bed when “tap-toes” sounded, and the honest mynheer
and his good vrouw hastened to cover the still glowing embers with ashes
for the fire of the morrow. The Dutch curfew had sounded, which meant
that all good simple folk must hie to bed.

This fireside scene in old New York won its merited applause, and
Nathalie, who had been the Dutch mother, Mrs. Morrow’s kiddies, the
kinderkins, and Fred Tyson, the mynheer, were called before the curtain
to receive the plaudits of their friends.

As Nathalie was hurrying from the dressing-room, glad that she was
through her long-anticipated Stunt, and doubly glad that it had been a
success, her name was called. She turned to see Helen, who, with an
anxious face, was peering from the adjoining dressing room.

“Oh, has anything gone wrong?” demanded Nathalie hastening to the door.

“I should say!” exclaimed Helen with woebegone countenance, “I have left
my gun at home, and I must have it. Oh, I can’t imagine how I could have
been so careless! Can’t you get some one to go and get it for me? Tell
them to hurry, for my scene goes on in ten minutes.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry,” sympathized Nathalie, “tell me where to find it,
quick, and I’ll get some one.”

“It is in the hall just behind the rack! Do hurry, Nat, I’m just about
wild!”

Nathalie darted away; but alas, she could not find any one who could go
at that moment, every one had some important duty to perform just then
and there. Even the Scouts, who were always so ready to help the girls,
were missing. “Oh, it is too bad!” bemoaned the girl. Presently her eyes
lighted and in another instant she had flown up the stairs, seized her
long cloak in the dressing-room, and then sped down the steps into the
garden, and out into the street.

Ten minutes, that meant she would have to run every step of the way to
get that gun there in time. So with the lightness of a bird she darted
down one street, up another, and then—her heart gave a great leap as she
came to the long, lonely stretch of road skirting the cemetery of the
old Presbyterian church. But on she flew, hardly daring to cast her eyes
towards the tall tombstones that gleamed at her with ghostly whiteness
from the ghoulish shadows cast by the waving branches of the trees above
them.

No, she was not afraid of ghosts, but she suddenly remembered a story
she had heard as a little child, of a young girl who had been waylaid
and killed by a man in a cemetery one dark night. Fiddle! she was not
going to be afraid of a mere story, so with a snatch of melody on her
lips she kept bravely on and soon left behind her the marble records of
the dead. It did not take but a minute to ring the bell, tell Helen’s
aunt what she wanted, then grab the gun and start off on her return
journey.

Oh, she did hate to have to go by that old graveyard, she would take the
other way around; but no, that would take twice the time and she must
hurry! So nerving up her courage she ran on with the firm determination
to play soldier, and level her musket if any one assailed her.

As she neared the cemetery her breath gave out, and instead of running
by this danger post she had to walk every step. Determined not to look
in the direction of these ghostly reminders of the past, she pushed
resolutely on. She had almost reached the end of the long fence when the
sudden snap of a twig, followed by a rustling noise caused her heart to
pause in its beating. A scream escaped her quivering lips, for there in
the bright radiance that fell like a silver veil over all objects she
saw the figure of a man rise from one of the tombstones near the fence
and come towards her!

-----
[1]
  “From your throne on my knee,
  The pigs in the bean-patch see,
  The cows in the clover meet,
  The horses in the oat field eat.
  The ducks in the water pass
  The calves scamper through the grass.
  They love the baby on my knee
  And none there are as sweet as she.”



CHAPTER XVII—LIBERTY BANNERS


Nathalie’s eyes dilated with terror, and her heart pounded with such
leaping beats that it almost choked her. She attempted to run, but alas,
her limbs seemed tied with ropes, and then she remembered the gun!

Just an instant and she had raised it, and with trembling hands was
pointing it at the enemy, who by this time had lightly vaulted the
wooden fence and was coming towards her. Nathalie’s hand was feeling for
the trigger when, “Oh, don’t shoot!” cried a voice in serio-comic tone,
“I surrender!” Up went two hands in pretended subjugation.

The girl gasped, dropped the gun, and then broke into hysterical
laughter as she cried, “Oh—is—that you?”

“Yes, it is I; Fred Tyson in the flesh!” rejoined the supposed murderer
coolly, as with a stride he was at her side and, stooping picked up the
gun.

The reaction was so great that for a moment Nathalie feared she was
going to cry, but controlling herself by a strong effort she exclaimed,
“Oh, I was sure you were a tramp,” with a nervous giggle, “or a murderer
intent on killing me, and then hiding my body in the thicket yonder.”
She shuddered.

“Great guns!” Fred exclaimed as he looked the gun over. “It is lucky
this thing didn’t go off. By the Lord Harry, how did you come to be
carrying it?”

Nathalie, with a long breath of relief that all was well after her
fright, then told Fred how she came to be near the graveyard at that
time. Then suddenly remembering that she had not a minute to lose, she
cried hurriedly, “Oh, let us go on. I am afraid I am too late!”

“You’re all hunky,” returned Fred calmly. “You have plenty of time, for
I overheard Mrs. Morrow tell Helen to postpone her Stunt until one of
the last.”

“But how did you come to be here, may I ask?” queried Nathalie as they
turned to walk up.

“Oh, I was in the next room and heard Helen tell you to go and get
something at her house. I started out to offer my services, but some one
buttonholed me for the next Stunt; I had forgotten I was in it. As soon
as it was over I hurried out to find you, but you had skipped. I rushed
after you, missed you, and then remembering that you would return this
way as it is the shortest, sat down on one of the tombstones to wait for
you. But you’re the stuff, all right, Nathalie Page, you ought to have a
medal for bravery.”

[Illustration: Up went two hands in pretended subjugation.]

He suddenly pointed the gun and then pulled the trigger.

Nathalie gave a shrill scream in a spasm of apprehension, and jumped to
one side. “Oh, please, don’t do that, it might be loaded, you know!”

Fred threw his head back and burst into a hearty laugh. “Oh, ho, I see
you are not as nervy as I thought,” there was a mischievous glint in his
merry black eyes. And then as if ashamed of torturing the nerve-racked
girl he cried soothingly, “Don’t you fret, Miss Blue Robin; there isn’t
any guess with me, I don’t take chances. I saw it wasn’t loaded when I
first picked it up, but come, let’s hurry!”

“Please don’t tell any one I was afraid!” pleaded Nathalie, as they
hastened on under the swaying branches of the trees that cast weird,
fanciful designs on the moon-mantled path. “They will think me an awful
coward and tease me unmercifully.”

Fred assured her that he would keep mum, and added that she was not a
coward, but a very brave girl. Then, in response to a challenge to race
him to the Hall, they were off, Nathalie by this time having regained
her usual poise and nerve. She won the race, for Fred, desiring to be
gallant, dropped back a space or two just at the right time, and thus
allowed his partner to be the victor in this race of two blocks.

The gun was quickly delivered to Helen and then they hurried into the
hall in time to see the portraits of Henry Hudson, Edward Winslow,
William Penn, Governor Stuyvesant, and Captain Kidd and Henry Morgan,
two pirates of pioneer fame. These colonial portraits were produced by
their representatives standing behind a large wooden frame that had been
made by the Scouts, gilded by the Pioneers, and then placed in front of
a dark curtain.

Helen’s Stunt proved to be a canvas background on which was painted a
log cabin. At the door of this pioneer home stood Helen with a baby
clinging to her skirts, pointing a gun at a skulking savage just
disappearing beyond a very fair representation of a clump of trees. This
picture of a mother of the wilderness was loudly encored, as it was
significant of the hardy courage displayed by the women of those early
days.

The last Stunt showed the Pioneers in line, each one with a big red
letter pinned to the skirt of her uniform; the combination making the
word “Pioneer Women.” Giving bird-calls, building miniature log-cabins,
making camp fires, jumping, throwing the lifeline, as well as making the
motions of rowing and swimming, these and many other activities of the
organization were performed. The girls ended by falling into line again
and singing a farewell Pioneer song.

Mrs. Morrow now came forward, and after thanking the audience for their
kind attention and aid in helping make the affair a success by buying
tickets and by their presence, she announced that there would be another
entertainment, a Flag Drill, to take place on the fourteenth of that
month. It would be held in the rear of the home of Mrs. Van Vorst, that
lady having kindly offered her lawn for the affair.

The faces of the Pioneers, with the exception of Nathalie’s and Helen’s,
expressed unbounded surprise as they heard this announcement. As Fred
Tyson and two other Scouts passed slips of paper so that each one
present could write her or his opinion as to the best Stunt of the
evening, there was a merry clack of tongues as each girl queried how and
when this wonderful thing had come to pass.

Lillie Bell, who had been watching Nathalie, suddenly leaned forward
crying, “Nathalie Page, I just believe that you know all about it!”
Nathalie did her best to look bland and innocent when this accusation
was hurled at her, but the query was as a match to fire, and instantly
Nathalie was surrounded by a bevy of girls, all eagerly demanding that
she tell them how it came about.

“O dear, how should I know?” she demanded with seeming indignation.

“There, I told you she knew,” declared the Sport, who at that moment
joined the group. “Her face betrays her! And then she is on the
committee.”

Nathalie turned and flashed at Edith angrily, “Well, if I do know I am
not going to tell. If you want any information go and ask Mrs. Morrow.”
Then feeling that things were growing desperate and that she might
reveal what she had striven so hard to keep a secret, she broke from her
tormentors and hurried into the hall.

Seeing Helen at that moment she dashed up to her, and grabbing her by
the arm cried, “Helen, the girls are tormenting me to tell them about
the lawn party; oh, do keep them from asking me again, for I am in
mortal terror that I may tell something that should not be told just
yet.”

“All right,” soothed her friend, “don’t you bother about the girls
finding out, I’ll see to them. But here’s Fred, he wants you to vote. By
the way, have you heard that the Sport’s Stunt has so far the greatest
number of votes, and—”

But Helen had been carried off by one of the Scouts, and Nathalie turned
to find Fred at her side eagerly demanding her vote.

“Why don’t you vote for ‘The First American Wash-Day’?” demanded the
young man as he saw Nathalie hesitate and swing her pencil, lost in
abstraction. “It will win, I think, and it was a good Stunt, too; well
acted out. Edith deserves credit.”

“Do you think so?” flashed Nathalie. She colored angrily. “I do not
agree with you. I think—” She stopped, compressed her lips, and then
added coolly, “I shall vote for Helen, for I consider her Stunt the best
one of the evening.” She wrote the name of the Stunt hurriedly, signed
her name, and then handed the card to Fred, who was regarding her with a
puzzled expression on his face.

He took the card and turned to go, but seeing that the floor had been
cleared for dancing he stopped, and swinging about asked Nathalie if he
could have the next dance. Nathalie assented, although she did not feel
in the mood for dancing just at that moment.

“You won’t mind waiting a moment, will you?” asked Fred. “I have got to
turn in my cards. Then I see this is a square dance, and I want a waltz
with you. Are you angry with me?” he asked wonderingly as he saw that
Nathalie’s eyes still gleamed fire and that her cheeks were bright red.

The girl looked up at him absently and then, suddenly comprehending that
she was acting rather rudely towards this new friend, cried laughing,
“Angry with you? Indeed, no! I _am angry_ with—some one,” she added
bitterly, her glance suddenly falling on Edith. “But there, return your
cards and then we will dance.”

Five minutes later as Fred swung his partner lightly up and down the
hall to waltz time, Nathalie forgot all the unpleasant jars of the
evening in the enjoyment of the moment. But later, as they hurried out
on the veranda for a breath of fresh air, she remembered how rudely she
had acted and felt as if she ought to make some kind of an explanation
to Fred for her seeming rudeness. Then it suddenly came to her that
perhaps he might think she was jealous of Edith. Oh, no, she was not
jealous—she was willing Edith should win the highest number of votes,
only it did seem a bit hard to have to give all the glory up to some one
else, when it rightfully belonged to her, and then Edith _had been_ mean
about it.

“Please don’t think I didn’t want Edith to win,” she burst forth as they
seated themselves in a cozy corner where she could see the dancers in
the hall. “Only—you see it is this way, I—”

But before she could finish, the Tike came rushing up all of a whirl
crying, “Oh, Nathalie, your Stunt won! I’m awfully glad!” And she danced
up and down in her delight at Nathalie’s success.

“Oh, ‘The First American Wash-Day’ was Edith’s Stunt,” Nathalie hastened
to explain, resolved that she would be a martyr to her wounded pride
with a good grace.

“That didn’t win the highest vote, but your Stunt did,” retorted Carol
jubilantly; “the one with the old Dutchwoman putting the kiddies to bed.
And that Dutch lullaby—oh, Nathalie, where did you learn it?”

Before Nathalie could answer Carol had skipped away, leaving the girl
with a strange expression on her face as she stared at Fred with
mystified eyes. “Do you suppose I really won it?” she demanded after a
pause. “I thought you said Edith’s Stunt was the winner.”

“So I heard,” was Fred’s reply. “But then, Miss Nathalie, I am awfully
glad your Stunt won. It was a peach, I thought myself, but I heard—”

“Oh, I don’t care about that,” cried Nathalie. There was a quiver to her
voice. “I don’t deserve it; oh, I have been awfully mean, and yet I have
been calling Edith mean—” She stopped abruptly. How queerly it had
turned out!

Catching a rather strange look in her companion’s eyes she exclaimed,
“Oh, indeed I was willing that Edith should win—I don’t care a snap
about it myself—only, you see it was this way.” She floundered for a
moment and then with a sudden catch in her breath leaned towards Fred
crying, “If I tell you something, will you swear never to reveal it?”
Fred’s face brightened; he was delighted to think Nathalie considered
him worthy of her confidence, and lost no time in assuring her of this
fact. But the girl was thinking of only one thing, and that was that she
was going to break her silence in regard to Edith and unburden herself
of what had been causing her a good deal of discomfort all the evening.
Nathalie talked rapidly and in a few minutes Fred was in possession of
the facts about “The First American Wash-Day,” and how it had come about
that although the idea was Nathalie’s, Edith had won the glory of it
without the work.

“Say, but you’re game!” declared Fred admiringly, as Nathalie finished
her story. “It was a fine thing for you not to tell; I don’t blame you
for feeling mean about it. But the Sport had no right to use it—”

“Well, never mind now,” cried Nathalie, “it is all over with and I am
glad I didn’t tell any one but you, and you won’t break your word, will
you? The word of a Scout, you know,” added the girl archly.

Fred laughingly assured her that his word as a gentleman was sufficient
and as binding as that of a Scout. Then as they discussed the Scout
oath, its pledges, and so forth, Dr. Homer appeared and asked his little
hike-mate if he might have the pleasure of a dance with her.

Nathalie smilingly assured him she would be most happy and then with a
good-by to Fred, the quaint little figure in its queer Dutch cap and
flowered gown followed the doctor into the hall.

                   *       *       *       *       *

The long anticipated fourteenth of June had arrived, and the level
stretch of green grass with its circling hillocks in the rear of the
gray house was ablaze with color. Beneath a high arch festooned with the
red, white, and blue—the Pioneers’ color again—stood a number of merry
girls, each one gowned in white with a scarlet sash, and a red liberty
cap, and holding in her hand a flag or small banner.

Every eye as well as tongue was on duty, as each girl triumphantly
displayed her flag to her comrades, proudly claiming that it was an
exact copy of one of the liberty banners used by the colonies preceding
or during the Revolution.

“Hurrah for the Concord flag,” cried Kitty Corwin, as she hoisted up a
small maroon banner inscribed with the motto, “Conquer or Die.” “This is
one of the oldest flags in America, for it was the one carried when the
‘embattled farmers fired the shot heard round the world’”—she twirled it
high in air—“on the 19th of April, 1775, at the first battle of the
Revolution!”

“Oh, but your flag hasn’t the romance that mine has,” said Edith,
ostentatiously waving a crimson flag fringed at the ends, and with a
cord and tassel. “This is the Eutaw flag and was made by Miss Jane
Elliot. Col. William Washington—he was a relative or something of little
Georgie—when stationed at Charleston, South Carolina, fell in love with
Miss Jane. One night, after spending the evening with his lady love, as
he bade her good night, she said she hoped to hear good news of his flag
and fortune. Whereupon the poor colonel was forced to confess that his
corps had no flag. Upon hearing this the young lady pulled down one of
the portières, cut it to the right size, fringed it at the ends, stuck
it on a curtain pole, and then presented it to her gallant lover,
telling him to make it his standard. Of course after that it brought
good luck and won a great victory at Cowpens, January, 1781, and another
at Eutaw Springs the following September. Forty years later the flag was
presented by the hands that made it to the Washington Light Infantry of
Charleston, for the fair Jane married the colonel, all right.”

“Well, don’t you girls boast too much,” declared Jessie, “for if it
hadn’t been for my flag there wouldn’t have been any banners of liberty
to make you patriotic.” And Jessie held up a white flag barred with the
scarlet cross of St. George, the flag dear to Merrie Old England as the
flag of the people, and beloved by the colonists as the ensign that
floated from the little ship _Mayflower_.

As if to supplement Jessie’s declaration, an Oriole gayly flaunted the
Red Ensign of Great Britain with its canton quartered by the cross of
St. George and St. Andrew. “This is the flag that followed Jessie’s and
was necessarily adopted by the colonists as the flag of the mother
country. It was called the Union flag—the two crosses signifying the
union of Scotland and England, when King James of Scotland became
king—and remained in use in America until the beginning of the
Revolution.”

Grace, who had been impatiently waiting to float her flag, now cried,
“Away with your old Johnnie Bull flags! Mine is worth a hundred of those
old English rags, for it was the first distinctively American flag used
by the Colonies, ‘The Pine Tree Flag of New England.’”

“But it has the red cross on the white canton just the same,” ventured
Jessie, “and it is red, too.”

“Of course it has the cross on it,” quickly retorted Grace, “for at that
time the Colonies still belonged to England; but if you look, my lady,
you’ll see that pine in the first quarter of the canton, and that is
American all through, every pine on it. It meant that the colonists,
although they were English, had a right to representation in the mother
country and to a symbol of their own.”

“Well,” persisted Jessie, in whose veins flowed a goodly supply of
English blood, “your scrubby old pine was such a poor representation of
that noble tree that Charles II asked what it represented—and was told
it was an oak.”

“Come, Jessie,” laughed Helen, “that story is a back number. Every one
can guess without much effort that the man who told that yarn to the
king was a New Englander. He wanted to gain favor with Charles and
bluffed him a bit, trying to make out it was a model of the royal oak in
which his majesty took refuge after the battle of Worcester.”

“Oh, stop discussing the merits of that old pine and look at my banner,”
sang out Louise Gaynor, shaking her flag furiously to and fro so as to
get the attention of the girls. “This flag is the Crescent flag and
stands for the bravest of the brave. Now listen, and you will all
understand what true heroism means.”

The girls, impressed by the Flower’s declaration, grew silent, and gazed
curiously at a red banner with a white crescent in the upper corner near
the staff. “This flag was designed by Col. Moultrie of the Second
Carolina Infantry in 1775. During the siege of Charleston when the flag
was shot down, Sergeant William Jasper at the peril of his life
recovered it, and held it in place on the parapet until another staff
was found. In 1779, at the assault on Savannah, it was again shot from
its holdings. Two lieutenants sprang forward and held it in position
until they were killed by the enemy’s bullets. Jasper again sprang
forward and held the colors up until he, too, was riddled with bullets,
and fell into a ditch. As he was dying he seized the flag in his hands
and cried, ‘Tell Mrs. Elliot’—she was the wife of one of the
majors—‘that I lost my life supporting the colors she gave our
regiment.’”

Barbara, who was usually so placid and mild, now grew quite intense as
she pointed to her flag, the Cambridge flag, claiming that it was the
first flag on this side of the water to float the red and white bars. It
signified, she said, that although the colonists were willing to return
to the rule of the English, they were a body of armed men fighting for
just and equal rights with their brothers who had crossed the sea to
whip them into submission. “But they didn’t,” ended Barbara with
triumphant eyes. “And this flag, also known as the Union flag—meaning
that the colonists stood as a man in their desire for the right—was
displayed by Washington in his camp at Cambridge, January 2nd, 1776.”

“Now let me have a chance,” pleaded Nathalie, who had been impatiently
waiting to show her design for some time. “My flag has a story, too.”
She held up as high as she could a white flag with a rattlesnake in the
center. It bore in black letters the name, “The Culpeper Minute Men of
Virginia,” the snaky slogan, “Don’t Tread On Me,” and the famous words
of its commander, Patrick Henry, “Liberty or Death!”

“Do you see that rattlesnake?” continued Miss Nathalie, as she brought
her flag to a standstill and pointed to the snaky emblem. “That has a
story—”

“Pooh,” interposed Edith, who was jealously guarding her declaration
that her flag was the most beautiful because it had a story. “I don’t
see any story about that snaky old thing. Ugh, I never could understand
why so many flags had that design.”

“I will tell you why,” declared Nathalie, “because I have looked it up,
and—”

“But you are not the only one who has looked up flags,” chimed Jessie,
“for my eyes were just about ruined trying to get a merit badge for
proficiency in flag history—”

“And for deftness and skill in making our flags,” broke in a Pioneer
from the Bob White group.

“I beg your pardon, girls, I know you are all very wise on the subject
of flags this morning,” rejoined Nathalie good-naturedly, “but do you
know why the rattlesnake was chosen as an ensign?”

She waited a moment, but as no one seemed to know she went on. “The
rattlesnake is to be found only in America; my authority is Benjamin
Franklin. It is the wisest of the snake family, therefore a symbol of
wisdom. Its bright, lidless eyes never close, this signifies vigilance.
It never attacks without giving due notice, which meant that the
American colonies were on the square. Each rattle is perfect, while at
the same time it is so firmly attached to its fellows that it cannot be
separated without incurring the ruin of all; each colony was a complete
unit in itself, and yet it could not stand unless it had the support of
the others. As it ages, the rattles increase in numbers, which meant
that it was the fervent desire of the people that the colonies should
increase in numbers with the years.”

As Nathalie finished her little lecture, Helen, with a sudden movement,
shouldered her flag like a musket, and parting the group of girls,
marched jubilantly down the center, crying, “Oh, girls, you have had the
floor long enough to tell of the beauties and glories of your paltry
banners, but let me tell you, not a flag has won the honors and glories
that mine has. Hurrah, girls, for Old Glory!” she ended with a
triumphant wave of the Stars and Stripes above their heads.

As if inspired by the sight of the cheery banner so gallantly flung to
the breezes by their comrade, the girls with one accord broke into the
flag cheer:

  “Hear! hear; hear Girl Pioneer!
  For flag so dear give a cheer!
  For the bars that are white and red,
  And stars on blue overhead
  We honor thee with a cheer!
  Hurrah! Hurrah! Girl Pioneer!”

Before the echo of the cheer had died in the distance Nathalie cried,
“Oh, girls, the first signal!” Immediately these little patriotic
Daughters of that which every one holds dear fell into line, and with
flags upheld fastened their eyes on a small platform that had been
erected in the center of the lawn draped with the national colors, where
the Goddess of Liberty had just appeared. Holding up a green branch in
her hand she began to walk agitatedly up and down the stage, pausing
abruptly every moment or so to peer to the right or left, as if watching
for some one.

Suddenly she halted, and with the dramatic gestures of Lillie Bell—for
it was she—cried in mournful tone, “‘Is life so dear, or peace so sweet
as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it,
Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me,
give me liberty, or give me death!’”

As the tragic intonation of her voice ceased, the band—composed, by the
way, of a number of Scouts—burst forth with that old melody, “The
Wearing of the Green.” This was another signal, and the girls waiting
under the arch began to march slowly towards the stage, while the
Goddess in feigned mystification moved quickly from side to side with
her hand held to her ear, as if trying to ascertain whence came this
martial tune.

But on came the Daughters of Liberty with flashes of white and red, and
with banners of many designs and devices. They presented such a
brilliant showing that the audience seated in rows on the circling
mounds broke into loud applause, which burst into enthusiastic cheers of
greeting, as in the bright glare of the sunlight they perceived Old
Glory floating far above the heads of the banner bearers as they proudly
marched across the green.

When the Goddess perceived this procession of fair damsels she stood
apparently in a maze for a moment, and then slowly retreated backward
until she stood on the scarlet draped dais with its throne. As the
thirteen maids of freedom filed slowly on the platform, forming a half
circle before the Goddess, the band struck into that old-time air, “The
Liberty Tree,” and a second later every Daughter had chimed in and was
singing:

  “In a chariot of light from the regions of day
    The Goddess of Liberty came;
  Ten thousand celestials directed the way,
    And hither conducted the dame.
  A fair budding branch from the gardens above,
    Where millions and millions agree
  She brought in her hand as a pledge of her love,
    And the plant she named Liberty Tree.”



CHAPTER XVIII—THE PRINCESS MAKES TWO MORE FRIENDS


“And the plant she named Liberty Tree,” sang Nita blithely up in the
window of the sun parlor, where she sat with her mother and her old
Scotch nurse, Ellen, watching the brilliant scene being enacted down on
the lawn.

As the last verse ended—and there were four—Helen stepped before the
Goddess, and after saluting told in a few words how the brave pioneers
had brought to this land a tiny spark which had flamed into the sacred
fire of Liberty. As time wore on, trampled by the sons of Tyranny, it
was in danger of being stamped out, when the daughters of these pioneers
fled to its aid in their great fight for the right, and by their bravery
and heroic self-denial had revived the sacred fire. The ensigns now
floating before her were the signals of their success in making this
land, “The Land of the Free and Home of the Brave!”

An expression of regret flitted across Nita’s face as she realized that
she could not hear the words Helen was speaking, but in a moment,
remembering, she cried, “But I have them, Mamma, for Nathalie not only
taught me the words of the songs, but wrote down for me the speeches of
the girls. Ah, Helen is telling the Goddess how the Pilgrims came to
this land and planted the Liberty Tree. Of course they did not really
plant it, you know, only in their hearts, for they were determined to
have liberty of conscience, speech, and action.

“Oh, and there’s another daughter speaking to the Goddess. See, she
carries the flag that came over in the _Mayflower_ with the Pilgrims.”
Then Miss Nita, finding she had an appreciative audience in her mother
and Ellen, rattled on, highly pleased to think she was giving them such
good entertainment. She repeated the words of each fair daughter as she
displayed her trophy of liberty, and could clap as enthusiastically as
the spectators watching from the hillocks in the distance. Mrs. Van
Vorst, as she heard her daughter’s words and witnessed her joy, entering
with as much zest and spirit into the patriotic little drill as the
Pioneers smiled in attune with the invalid, showing more enjoyment than
she had done for years.

“There’s the flag of Bunker Hill; it is just like the Pine Tree flag,
only it is blue instead of red,” exclaimed Nita. “And, oh, Mother, see,
there’s the real Liberty Flag with its pine tree, and motto, ‘An Appeal
to Heaven.’ Look quick! that’s the Markoe flag! See, it is yellow and
has thirteen stripes of blue and silver. Nathalie said this flag was the
first one on land to float stripes, and that it was the flag carried by
the Philadelphia Troop of Light Horse when they escorted Washington to
New York. And that crimson silk flag is the Casimir flag; it belonged to
Count Casimir. He was the son of Pulaski, who perished in a dungeon for
advocating the cause of liberty. The Count came to America and organized
a corps of cavalry at Baltimore, and when the Moravian nuns heard of it
they presented him with that flag. But, oh, Mother, the poor Count died
after all; he was shot at the siege of Savannah in 1779.”

Ellen, the old Scotch nurse who adored her invalid charge, and who had
always taken care of her from the time she was a wee tot, was deeply
stirred as she saw how Nita entered into the new life that had suddenly
been opened up to her, and her face fairly beamed with gratified pride
as she heard her repeat the songs and speeches of the girls in the
playlet.

When the last speech ended, the strains of Yankee Doodle were heard, and
presently a Scout in the uniform of a Continental soldier appeared on
the platform carrying a draped flag. After saluting the mother of
Freedom he planted his pole in the center of the circle of Liberty
maidens, and the next instant each one had caught up one of the red,
blue, and white streamers that hung from it, and were swinging gayly
around, singing “The Red, White, and Blue.”

This song was followed by the “Battle Cry of Freedom,” and then the
soldier, saluting the Goddess again in a short speech, said he desired
to present to her an emblem, the outgrowth of the labors of the Sons and
Daughters of Liberty. The ensign that stands for everything that is
just, true, and progressive, the symbol of the sovereignty of
Civilization, the banner that had been unfurled in more movements for
the protection, the liberty, and the elevation of mankind, than any
ensign that ripples to the four winds of Heaven.

Oh, no, the little company up in the window didn’t hear all these words
from the lips of the soldier, but from Nita as she read them softly from
her paper. But they did see the signal given by the soldier, and clapped
with joy when each fair daughter pulled her streamer, the red drapings
fell from the pole, and Old Glory stood revealed. And as the colors
swayed softly in the gentle breeze they joined with patriotic fervor as
the girls and audience broke into “The Star Spangled Banner!”

The Flag Drill was over, and the girls, breaking ranks, were soon
scattered here and there over the lawn in groups, as they stood
receiving the congratulations of their friends on the success of the
entertainment. It was but a moment or so, however, and the girls had all
rushed back to duty, and each one with a scout was serving ice-cream and
cake to the buyers at the gayly festooned tables under the trees.

Nathalie, nerve and bone tired, was wishing that she could sit down if
only for a moment, when her eyes suddenly grew bright with thought, and
the next second she had darted across the grass crying, “Oh, Grace,
don’t you think it would be nice if we could take some cream and cake up
to Nita and her mother?”

“Nita?” repeated that young lady, who had never heard the name before.
“Why, what do you mean?”

Nathalie started. “Oh, why, to be sure, I forgot to tell you about her,
but Mrs. Morrow thought best to—”

Nathalie broke off in despair as she realized that Grace knew nothing
about the princess in the tower and the many other happenings at the
gray house, only that its owner had consented to allow the girls to use
her lawn.

“Why, you know Nita is Mrs. Van Vorst’s daughter; she was the one who
got her mother to let us have the lawn. She’s just lovely, I have been
going to see her every day for—”

At this moment Ellen, her face glowing with pleasure, touched Nathalie
on the arm as she cried, “Oh, Miss Nathalie, Mrs. Van Vorst has sent me
to ask you to come up and see Miss Nita, and to bring two of your
friends with you!”

Nathalie stared a moment as if not comprehending what Ellen had said,
and then, “Oh, Ellen, do you mean that Mrs. Van Vorst wants me to come
up to see Miss Nita and to—”

“Yes, that is just what I mean, Miss,” rejoined Ellen, evidently
enjoying Nathalie’s amazement. “Miss Nita wants to meet some of your
Pioneer friends. Bless the child, Miss Nathalie, but you and your
friends have brought real sunshine straight to the heart of my bairn.
Bless you for it!”

Nathalie smiled and nodded as she answered, “All right, Ellen, I’ll be
right up!” Then, as the old nurse disappeared among the throngs on the
lawn Nathalie turned to Grace, who was standing in open-mouthed
astonishment at this sudden turn in the day’s doings.

“Oh, Grace, will you go with me? Didn’t I tell you Nita was lovely?”
Then seizing the girl by the arm she swept her across the grass to where
Helen was standing talking to her brother.

“Helen,” she panted, “I want you to come with me to see Nita. Mrs. Van
Vorst has sent for me to come up and says for me to bring two of my
friends. Will you come?”

“Come!” exclaimed Helen, “of course I will. I have been on the point of
expiring with curiosity ever since you told me of your adventure at the
gray house.”

“Adventure?” repeated Grace. “Oh, Nathalie, you have not told me about
it!” in an aggrieved tone.

“But I’m going to! Oh, but I must hurry and get the cream ready or it
will be too late!” She started to run, but after a few steps turned
back, and waving her hand at the girls, called, “Helen, you tell her
while I am getting the tray.”

“But I’m coming to help you,” replied that young woman. “You come, too,”
she added, catching Grace by the arm. But to her surprise Grace pulled
away from her with the exclamation, “Oh, Helen! I wouldn’t go in that
house for a mint of money! Why didn’t you know? No, I’m not to tell,”
she ended mysteriously, “but you go,” she added, “that is if you are not
afraid.”

“Afraid?” echoed her companion in amazement, “why should I be afraid,
surely you don’t think any one could harm us as long as Nathalie has
been there and come away safely?”

“I don’t know,” hesitated Grace, “I!—”

“Oh, girls, I have the tray all ready, but you will have to help me
carry it. Do come on, for I do not want to keep Mrs. Van Vorst waiting
too long!” Nathalie was back again.

“Grace says she is afraid to go,” explained Helen.

“Afraid!” repeated Nathalie bewildered. “What are you afraid of?” she
demanded abruptly turning towards her friend.

“Why Nathalie, don’t you remember that day we—”

Nathalie continued to gaze at her blankly, and then her face broke into
a smile as she remembered the day she and Grace had run away from the
gray house afraid of the crazy man.

“Oh, Grace,” she cried with merry laughter, “that was the best joke on
you and me, for, O dear, why, Grace, it wasn’t any crazy man at all, it
was only a cockatoo!”

The long kept secret that had troubled Nathalie so much at first was out
at last, and she and Helen, who had been told about that when her
friend’s silence was first broken as far as she was concerned, broke
into prolonged laughter at the richness of the joke.

“A cockatoo?” exclaimed Grace incredulously, and then annoyed at the
girls’ merriment she added crossly, “Oh, I do wish you would explain
what is so funny, I think it real mean of you both to laugh that way!”

“Yes, it is mean,” added Nathalie, stifling her laughter as she saw the
irate expression on her friend’s face. “But, Grace, it was funny. I
would have told you all about it before—that is how I found out—only I
had sworn not to tell. But if you will promise not to reveal what I am
going to tell you—honor bright—” this in answer to the girl’s nod of
assent, “I will tell you the mystery of the gray house!”

It was not long now before Grace heard the long story of how Nathalie
had come to go to the house, how she had found out about the cockatoo,
the star part she had played with the princess, and the many other
happenings that had taken place within the last few weeks.

“But is the poor thing such a terrible monster?” demanded Grace in ready
sympathy.

“A monster?” ejaculated Nathalie in amazement. “Who said she was a
monster?”

“Why, don’t you remember? Edith—”

“Now, see here,” exclaimed Nathalie stamping her feet angrily, “don’t
tell me another word of what the Sport says. I am just beginning to hate
that girl, she is always saying and doing things she has no—” She
stopped suddenly as it came to her in a conscience-stricken flash that
Pioneers were never to say evil of any one.

Helen, seeing the strange expression in her eyes and noticing how her
color was coming and going in flashes, cried, “Oh, Nathalie, what is
it?”

“It is nothing,” replied the girl quickly in a choked voice, “I just
stopped—because—well, I remembered that one of the Pioneer laws is not
to speak evil of any one. I’m going to keep mum after this, but that
girl,” her eyes shadowed again, “does provoke me so!”

“Oh, Nathalie, you are a dear girl,” exclaimed Helen, putting her arm
around her friend and giving her a hug. “I wish we were all as careful
about keeping the Pioneer laws as you, but gracious, child, don’t repent
with such dire woe, for none of us are saints, and the Sport is trying,
the Lord knows. But explain to Grace about your friend.”

“No,” said Nathalie determinedly. “I am not going to say another thing,
only that Nita is not a monster, only a humpback, and—but there, if you
want to know about her, come and see her.”

“Well,” spoke up Helen, “if we are going to see the Princess in the
tower—how fairylike that sounds—we had better go. And then, as seeing is
believing, we’ll go and tell the Sport all about it, and stop that funny
little tongue of hers that creates so much trouble at times.”

“Oh, that will be just the thing; Helen, you are a dear!” cried
Nathalie. Then the three girls hurried to the ice-cream table for the
tray. Hastily taking it they pushed their way through the crowd, coming
and going about the tables, to the porch, where Ellen relieved them of
their burden and then conducted them to the sun parlor, where Mrs. Van
Vorst and Nita sat waiting to receive them.

“Oh, Mrs. Van Vorst,” cried Nathalie as she greeted that lady and her
daughter, “it was lovely of you to allow me to bring my two friends to
meet Nita. This is Miss Helen Dame,” she continued drawing Helen to her,
“and this is another Pioneer friend, Miss Grace Tyson.”

“I am very glad to meet you, Mrs. Van Vorst,” broke in Helen, “for I
feel that we are very much indebted to you for allowing us to use your
lawn.”

“Yes,” chimed Grace, as she shook the lady’s hand, “we all feel that you
have given us a lovely afternoon.”

“I think the indebtedness is on my side,” smiled the lady, looking down
with pleased eyes at the two girls, as they stood glancing shyly at her,
their white dresses and red caps making them appear unusually pretty.
“But let me make you acquainted with my daughter,” she added, leading
them to where Nita sat, her blue eyes almost black with the excitement
of meeting these two new Pioneers, while her cheeks, usually so pale,
were flushed with a delicate pinkness.

After the general hand-shaking was over and the little party had
gathered closer to the window to admire the gay-colored flags that
fluttered, one from each table, showing with unusual vividness between
the green foliage and light dresses of strollers across the lawn,
Nathalie asked Nita how she had liked the drill.

“Oh, Nathalie,” rejoined the princess enthusiastically, “it was just the
prettiest sight, and I told Ellen and Mamma every flag story, didn’t I?”
Then suddenly remembering the two strangers, she relapsed into a shy
silence and crouched back in the friendly shelter of her chair as if
with the sudden thought of her deformity and the fear that the girls
would see it.

But Grace and Helen were not thinking of the “awful hump” as Nathalie
had defined it, but of the pale sweet face with the lovely violet eyes
that were shining like bright stars.

“I am awfully glad you liked it,” said Helen, suddenly recalled to her
duties as the leader of one of the groups. “We tried to make it look as
festive as we could with Uncle Sam’s old liberty banners, but if it had
not been for the lawn we should not have been able to have the drill.”

“You are all very kind to thank me so prettily,” said Mrs. Van Vorst,
“but, as I said, I think you have given me and my little daughter more
pleasure than we have given you. The poor child sees so little of life,
as we are so secluded here behind these high walls.”

In a few moments, as Nita’s shyness began to wear off, the little group
was chatting in the most friendly way, talking over the incidents of the
drill, the Pioneers telling about the nice little sum they had made for
their camp expenses, while they all ate their cream and cake. Ellen,
like a good soul that she was, had hastened out to the lawn and brought
enough of those delicacies to provide for the whole group.

Helen’s remark about the Camping Fund started a new subject of
conversation and opened the way for Nita to ask many questions about
this summer dream of the Pioneers. “Oh,” she declared at length, “I just
wish you could come up to Eagle Lake and camp on its shores. We have a
bungalow up there, you know, and it is just a glorious place. But it
gets so lonely after a while, with nothing but the birds and squirrels
to talk to. Oh,” she ended suddenly with a little sigh, “if I was only
well and strong, then I would be a Pioneer, too.”

“Oh, but you—” interrupted Nathalie, and then she paused. She was going
to say “why you can be,” but the quick remembrance of the hump and the
delicate face of the girl caused her to halt. With quick readiness she
changed to, “Oh, but you would enjoy seeing one of our cheer fires; they
are an inspiration for all kinds of dreams with the burning logs and
glowing embers.”

“You ought to see the fagot party we are going to have Monday night,”
chimed in Grace. “It is to be a burning send-off to one of the girls who
is going South to live for a while.”

“A fagot party?” exclaimed Nita with interested eyes. “Oh, do tell all
about it; it sounds, well it sounds fagoty. What do you do?”

“Why, we use small fagots tied into bundles,” explained Helen, “that is,
after we have started a good blazing fire. Each girl has her fagot
bundle and as soon as one burns up she throws hers on—”

“Oh, but you haven’t told the best part,” broke in Grace. “While each
girl’s fagot bundle is burning she tells a story, which has to be ended
by the time her fagots are burned.”

“Does she have to stop on the very second?” questioned Nita.

“Yes, she begins as soon as she throws her bundle on the blaze, and
keeps on talking until it is all burned up and falls to a shower of
fiery sparks. But of course she has to keep a sharp look out on the
burning fagots, so as to end her tale with a good climax as the fagots
fall,” explained Helen.

“Where are you going to have it?” questioned Nita, a shade of
disappointment on her face as she thought how she would like to see this
fagot party.

“We haven’t found a place yet,” answered Grace, who was one of the
committee, “but we are working hard to have it down in Deacon Ditmas’s
lot, near the cross-roads.”

“Why can’t you have it on our lawn?” exclaimed Nita timidly, turning
appealing eyes towards her mother. “Oh, Mother, do say they can have it
here, and then I can see it.”

The girls were so amazed at this sudden and unexpected proposition that
they all remained silent, Nathalie in a spasm of dread for fear that
Mrs. Van Vorst would think that the Pioneers were a great nuisance being
thrust upon her hospitality in this abrupt manner. But she was quickly
undeceived as the lady rejoined hastily, “Why, I should be most pleased
to let the Pioneers have the lawn for the fagot party. It would give
Nita great pleasure, I am sure.”

“That will be just lovely!” cried her daughter, clapping her hands
delightedly. “And you will take it, won’t you?” she coaxed pleadingly,
suddenly stopping her demonstrations as if realizing that her plan might
not be pleasing to the girls.

“I think it would be dandy,” answered Grace. “What do you girls think?”
turning towards them as she spoke.

“Why, I think it would be fine,” added Helen, “and—”

“But oh, Mrs. Van Vorst, it will destroy the grass on the lawn,” spoke
up Nathalie doubtfully, “for our cheer fires always leave a blackened
burnt place on the ground.”

“That will not make any difference,” was the prompt rejoinder from that
lady. “Peter can rake it off and if necessary he can resod it. I shall
only be delighted if you young girls can use it, and the favor will all
be on my side—” her voice trembled slightly—“for it will give my little
daughter so much pleasure.”

“Oh, Nita! you are walking, you will fall and hurt yourself!” exclaimed
Nathalie excitedly, as she entered that young lady’s room the Monday
after the Flag Drill, and found her walking about with a coolness and
ease that she had never before seen her display.

Nita broke into merry laughter at the look of dismay on her friend’s
face. “Of course I’m walking, the doctor says I can, so there!” There
was a triumphant toss of her head at Nathalie.

“But you have never walked, that is not much since I have known you!”
cried the puzzled girl.

“And you thought I never could,” replied the little lady independently.
“Well, you are wrong. I used to walk when I felt able, sometimes quite a
little. Then a crank of a doctor frightened Mamma to death by telling
her I should always lie on my back or side, and for years I have been
nailed like a mast to a ship on that couch. But Dr. Morrow says if I
have the strength I should walk, and that my strength will come
gradually. Oh, who knows what I can do? Walk off this old hump, I hope!”

“Oh, you dear thing!” cried Nathalie, rushing to her friend and giving
her a squeeze. “Isn’t that just the loveliest thing? What nice times we
can have after a while if you can walk, and Dr. Morrow, I always knew he
was a dear!”

“There, don’t squeeze me to bits, but tell me all the things that have
happened since the Flag Drill, and oh, Nathalie, your friends are dears.
The one you call Grace is sweet, and the other one, why, she isn’t so
pretty, but she looks a good sort.”

“She is something more than a ‘good sort,’” answered Nathalie swiftly,
“she is a gem, she is so clever and sensible, and, oh, what a friend she
has proved to me! She has a wonderful way of helping you over the hard
places. But there, I will tell you what Grace said about you, she said
you were a sweet little cherub—and—”

“Just arrived from angel land I suppose, with wings all sprouting,”
ventured Nita sarcastically. “Well, she ought to see me when I’m mad.
Cherub indeed! What did the other one say?”

Nathalie hesitated; her face flushed, “Oh—why, she thought you were a
dear, but said you were a bit spoiled.”

Nita looked surprised for a minute; then her eyes flashed as she cried
with a defiant lift of her head. “Well, I guess if Miss Sensible had a
hump to carry about that could never be taken off, no matter how it
hurt, and had to be shut up behind walls with nothing to see or any one
to talk to, she’d be spoiled, too!” There was a quiver of the chin as
the red lips closed tightly in the effort not to cry.

“Oh, you poor little thing, I should not have told you that, for really,
Helen thought you were lovely!” Nathalie regretted with all her heart
the impulse that had prompted her to tell the truth to Nita. It seemed
unkind but it was really spoken in the hope of doing her little friend
good.

But Nita pushed her away, “Oh, don’t pet me!” as Nathalie attempted to
caress her, “I was only teasing. Yes, I know I’m spoiled, but there, do
tell me the news, for your face shows that you are just dying to tell me
something worth the hearing.”

“Well, yes, I have _some_ news—that’s slang, but O dear, it does mean so
much sometimes,” laughed Nathalie as she and Nita seated themselves on
the couch. “Saturday we had a Pioneer Rally. Judge Benson, a friend of
Dr. Morrow’s from the city, gave us a talk on self-government. He
explained the difference between natural, spiritual, and civic law. He
also explained the meaning of an ordinance, told us how justice was
administered in the different courts, and how self-government, or the
reform system is having its try-out in some of the prisons to-day. He
says it bids fair to make criminals—men hardened in sin and
crime—respectable members of a community.”

“Self-government?” queried mystified Nita, “why, the Pioneers are not
citizens or criminals; you don’t have to be governed!”

“Yes, we do,” asserted Nathalie stoutly, “and so does everybody. Civic,
natural, and spiritual laws are all right, but back of those laws is the
law of self-government, that is the something within each one of us that
makes us what we want to be, that makes us control ourselves even when
we are babies, when we get slapped for being naughty. If there was no
self-government in the world—for it is the government of self when we
make ourselves obey the laws of God and man, when we cease evil and do
the right—why, if there was no self-government we would all be savages
without law and order.

“Judge Benson told us how self-government came to be used in the schools
and prisons. Of course, as I said, we all have to govern ourselves in a
measure, but it is the applying of this self-government in a new way
that has done so much good.

“A very good man, he said, took some waifs from the poor settlements in
New York to the country and tried to better them physically and morally
by teaching them to be good. But of course, they would do wicked things
and have to be punished, and he became very much discouraged because the
punishments didn’t seem to do them any permanent good. So he thought for
a long time and then he formed a Junior Republic, made all the boys and
girls citizens, and then told them to appoint their own officials, that
is, their own lawyers, judges, officers, and so on. Then when any of
them did wrong they were haled into court and tried by their own
comrades. Of course, they all became so interested in this new system of
punishing—for you see, they all had a part in it—that they became
wonderfully good. You see, the boys and girls had to learn to control
themselves, for of course, they not only wanted to stand high in the
court and be lawyers and judges themselves, but they did not like to be
corrected and called down—that’s what the judge said—by their own
comrades. This venture at making boys and girls learn to control
themselves not only taught them self-denial, self-repression,
self-development, and the difference between right and wrong, and their
duty to themselves as well as to their companions, but it was the means
of introducing the same system into the public schools, and in time into
the prisons.”

“Yes, but I don’t understand how it interests you girls.”

“Why, Mrs. Morrow read so much about self-government and the good it did
that she introduced it into the Pioneer organization, and it has worked
wonderfully well there, Mrs. Morrow claims. Instead of a court we have a
senate, which is composed of two girls from each bird group, elected by
the girls. The Pioneers also elected a president, that’s Helen, and a
vice-president, she’s an Oriole girl and quite clever, too. Jessie Ford
is the secretary, and Mrs. Morrow is the Advisory Judge and has the
power to veto any ruling of the president, but she never has as yet.

“So you see what it does for the Pioneers, for if any member of the
organization breaks a law or does anything wrong she is brought before
the Senate. Every Pioneer served with an indictment to appear before the
Senate has, of course, the right to choose one of the girls as a
counsel, and when there are two girls implicated they both choose
counsel. Then after the witnesses are all heard the lawyers sum up, and
the case goes to the Senate, who act as a jury and vote by ballot. The
case can be appealed to the Advisory Judge; or an offender, by asking or
showing contrition, can have her sentence lightened. You don’t know what
fun it is, and then it helps to make us govern ourselves and teaches us
law, too, in a small way, of course.”

“Well, I wish they’d try to punish that hateful Sport for using your
idea, and to think she got all the credit for it! Why—”

“No, she didn’t,” laughed Nathalie with an odd little gleam in her eye,
“for she was tried before the Senate Saturday.”

“Oh, Nathalie, you don’t mean it! Oh, I’m so glad!” cried Nita clapping
her hands delightedly. “I do hope she got her deserts, the deceitful
thing!”

“Well, I am afraid she got all that was coming to her, as Dick said.”
Nathalie’s bright face sobered. “Nita, I was awfully sorry for her. It
was so humiliating to have to face that Senate, oh, the girls just hate
to be brought before it. I had to tell as a witness, about losing the
Stunt, the librarian told of helping me get data and then helping me to
look for it, and then how she saw Edith pick it up as it fell from under
a book on the table.”

“Do tell me what they did to her!” Nita bent forward in curious
excitement as she spoke.

“Poor thing! she had all her stars and badges of merit taken from her.
Just think, she will have to begin all over again to win them! At first
it was voted that she would have to go back and be a third-class Pioneer
again, but I was so sorry that I pleaded for clemency, and so the
sentence was lightened.

“You see, there is an awful lot of good in Edith, and I am never again
going to say anything against her, she has been punished enough. And oh,
Nita, Dorothy at the Rally received her third-class badge, and I
received my badge for a second-class Pioneer. I’m going to work awfully
hard while at camp, so as to qualify as a first-class Pioneer. But
there, it is getting late and we shall have to stop talking and take up
our reading on the ‘Pioneer Women of America.’”

Nita nodded, and in a few moments the two girls were busily engaged;
Nita listening with the keenest attention while Nathalie read about the
Dutch women who came from Holland and settled New York, little dreaming
as she read that this lesson was to culminate in an event of the utmost
importance to the Girl Pioneers of Westport.



CHAPTER XIX—THE FAGOT PARTY


“Oh, Mother, isn’t it just beautiful?” exclaimed the princess the night
of the fagot party, as she watched the flames leap and dance down on the
lawn.

“Yes; it is very suggestive, too,” answered Mrs. Van Vorst, “for it
makes one think of the witches in Macbeth, as they stood around the
cauldron watching their queer concoction ‘boil and bubble.’”

“O dear!” was Nita’s wail again, “it is lovely to see the fire and the
girls, but I do want to hear the stories they tell.”

“Perhaps Nathalie will come up later,” suggested her mother, “and tell
you some of the thrillers. Is that what she calls them?”

“There, they have stopped the witches’ dance and are forming a circle.
Oh, one of the girls has thrown on a bundle of fagots! Yes, it’s that
friend of Nathalie’s, Miss Sensible. Oh, Mother,” cried the little
shut-in with a woeful countenance, “I am sure I could walk down there.”
She stood up as she spoke and began to walk restlessly up and down the
room.

“Oh, Nita, be careful!” pleaded her mother. “You do not want to overdo
your walking, and you have been on your feet a good deal to-day.”
Notwithstanding Mrs. Van Vorst’s protest there was a note of hope in her
voice that betrayed that she had at last begun to see things as Nathalie
had predicted, that she had made a mistake in housing her daughter
behind high walls, and that the mingling with girls of her own age might
bring new life to her.

“Ah, there’s Grace,” went on the voice at the window. “She’s the other
girl who came with Nathalie. Oh, she’s throwing on her fagots!” The girl
turned from the window as she perceived that Ellen had entered the room
and was telling her mother that some one desired to see her in the
library.

As Mrs. Van Vorst arose to leave the room Nita demurred, “Oh, Mother, I
don’t want to be left here alone.”

“I will return as soon as possible, Nita, dear,” was the reply; “Ellen
will stay with you. You can tell her about the fagot party,” she added
hastily as she saw the cloud on the girl’s face. With a backward glance,
as she hurried from the room, she saw that her suggestion had been
followed and that Ellen had drawn her chair close to Nita’s, and was
eagerly listening as her daughter related the incidents leading up to
the demonstration down on the lawn.

Indeed it was not long before the faithful nurse, always interested in
anything to brighten the life of her young charge, was watching the
Pioneers and their doings as keenly as Nita, while wishing with her that
they could hear the stories the girls were telling.

Suddenly Nita, who had been unusually silent for some time, drew Ellen’s
head down to hers, and began to whisper softly in her ear.

“Oh, Ellen, will you?” she coaxed pleadingly, as she finished her
whispering of something that had brought a protest from the good woman.
Ellen looked dubious for a minute or so, and then the persuasive pleader
had her way, for Ellen had given her assent and Nita was clapping her
hands happily, as she thought of the fun in store for her later in the
evening.

Meanwhile, the girls on the lawn with tense expectancy kept their eyes
on Nathalie, who arose, walked towards the flaming pyre, and with a
quick toss landed another bundle of fagots on the leaping flames.

“Oh, Nathalie, you will have to hurry,” called Grace excitedly, as her
friend scurried back to her seat. “One of your fagots is already
ablaze.”

Nathalie needed no warning for she had already plunged into her tale,
and in short, concise sentences—she had practiced with Helen—was
describing in graphic tone a colonial wedding, the going away of the
bridal pair, the building of a log hut in the wilderness, the departure
of the young husband, and the loneliness of the young bride. She paused
a moment and drew a long breath as if to gather her forces for the
coming ordeal.

Then with her eyes fastened in a rigid stare on the twirling glare from
the flames—so as to bring her story to a proper climax when the fiery
fagots fell apart—she went on and told of the face of a redskin suddenly
being thrust into a window of the little cabin, of a shriek of terror,
of cruel, fiendish laughter, of the fair bride being carried on the back
of a tall savage, and of the final arrival at an Indian encampment,
where a paint-bedaubed warrior with flaunting head-gear tried to induce
the wailing bride to become his squaw.

Nathalie’s eyes, big in the flaming redness of the firelight, were
riveted on the seething flames as if she saw in the twist and curl of
their darting tongues the enactment of the story she was telling. The
girls all bent forward eagerly, for the fagots were getting ready to
burst apart as she told of the imprisonment of the bride, the making of
a big bonfire, the tying of the bride to the stake, the lighting of the
underbrush at her feet, and the whirling flames as they leaped up and
greedily licked the terror-stricken face.

But Nathalie, like a photo-play screen, had transported her listeners to
a sun-baked plain, where a white man was galloping in mad speed. A fagot
had leaped from its fellows. “Oh, Nathalie, hurry!” whispered Grace,
wringing her hands nervously. Ah, but Nathalie was on time, and as the
fagots gave a loud snap and fell into a shower of twinkling lights the
horseman came galloping into the street of the Indian encampment with a
troop of soldiers close at his heels, and leaped into the fiery embers
and cut—There was a loud clapping followed by cries of applause, for
there was no need to tell what happened after that leap into the fire,
every one knew.

“Now, Lillie, it is your turn!” shouted several voices as Nathalie,
exhausted by her strenuous race between words and flames, sank back
somewhat exhausted against her friend’s shoulder.

Lillie Bell, in response to her name, seized a bundle of fagots, and
with a few flourishes, which she declared to be an incantation for
success, threw it on the blazing pile. In a moment she was back in her
seat and had started her tale of romance.

“When Washington Irving’s headless horseman was the terror of the
Hudson, a party of young girls, who were wandering in the fields one
moonlight night, was chased by a huge and airy phantom to the banks of
the river. In order to escape their foe two of the girls darted into an
empty boat fastened near the bank and rowed out into the stream. The
phantom, a strange and weird object, pursued, swimming rapidly in the
wake of the canoe.

“Suddenly, to the horror of the girls crouched up against a rock on
shore they saw, in a broad band of moonlight shining on the water, that
the phantom was the headless one. Even as they gazed it had reached the
boat, and with one sweep of its mighty arm had grabbed one of the girls
from her sister’s clutch, and was swimming swiftly back to land.

“The girl in the boat rowed quickly back, only to see, with her
companions on shore, the phantom disappear into the woods. With
phenomenal courage she flew after the headless one, screaming with all
her strength. But alas, her speed and screams were of no avail, for she
ran after the phantom only to see it dash into an uninhabited mansion
that stood in a park thick with the gloom of forest trees.

“Horror-stricken, the girls hastened home and parties were sent in
pursuit of the stolen girl, but no trace of her was found, although the
empty mansion, dark with the forest gloom was searched from attic to
cellar.

“Time passed, and the maiden returned not to her home, nor was any trace
of her ever discovered, although every effort possible had been made. At
last her sister, loved by a young farmer, refused to marry him unless he
would visit the haunted mansion at midnight, to see if possibly he could
obtain any clew to her sister’s whereabouts, it being generally believed
that she had been murdered in the house and that her ghost haunted the
abode.

“Determined to win the girl, the young farmer with his revolver and a
few tapers secreted himself in the cellar of the house one day, just
before twilight. He was resolved to solve the mystery of the girl’s
disappearance and the reason why the house at night was filled with a
peculiar, bluish light, said to be the candle borne by the headless one
in his midnight tour of the premises.

“Just before midnight the farmer hastened to the upper floor and hid in
a closet, where, with quaking limbs and wildly beating heart he awaited
the magic hour. Unfortunately, weary with waiting, he fell asleep, but
was soon awakened by a peculiar, creeping sensation along his spine. He
crouched against the door holding it ajar with one hand and the pistol
in the other.

“All at once there was the swish of a garment against the door. He
scratched a match, lit his taper, and glared forth into the darkness.
Again he heard that swish. It was in the hall. Stealthily he tiptoed to
the hall door, opened it with trembling hand, and stepped forth into
dense blackness, when—”

“Oh, Lillie, hurry!” screamed the Sport. “Your logs will fall in a
minute!”

A strange smile flitted over Lillie’s face, but her voice went
thrillingly on. “When something huge and hairy spread over him like a
net, benumbing every nerve and muscle. He struggled, and finally
succeeded in getting free of the unknown thing and sprang for the door
leading to the open. He would get out of that house. No, he would lose
Kitty, he could not live without her! He turned—ah, what was that weird
flash at the top of the staircase? He heard the swish again—this time
very near—it was some one coming down the stairs! He crouched against
the wall and peered up; the rattling of a chain sounded on his ears;
again came that weird glare, and he saw—” the fagots fell with a loud
sputter, throwing forth a shower of fiery sparks. Lillie remained silent
a moment, each girl held her breath in paralyzed terror, and then, as
the last fagot dropped a shapeless heap on the grass, Lillie cried with
tragic emphasis, “Girls, I leave you to guess what he saw!”

A second of space, Lillie’s eyes shown in a mocking smile as she glanced
around the circle, and then, the smile froze on her lips, her eyes
dilated wildly, and she jumped to her feet crying in frenzied horror,
“What is that?” pointing as she spoke to a clump of trees on the lawn.
Another second and she had turned, and with an unearthly shriek was
flying across the lawn towards the house!

The girls, whose nerves had been wrought up to the highest pitch by
Lillie’s weird tale, remained dumb, thinking as they saw her strange
actions that it was a new thriller, and were uncertain whether to laugh
or cry, as they stared at her flying figure.

Jessie, who always disliked Lillie’s tragic tales, with a half laugh
sprang to her feet crying, “Well, if she isn’t the limit!” Her glance
had followed Lillie’s to the clump of trees with a curious stare; the
stare became fixed; she uttered a wild scream, and the next moment she,
too, was rushing in mad terror across the lawn in the wake of the
story-teller!

As the girls saw her glance and heard her cry, terror struck each one
like an electric shock, and the next second every girl present had
broken into a wild cry, and without waiting to see what was the cause of
the rush over the lawn, was speeding, helter-skelter towards the house!

Nathalie had run with the others, and then, swayed by some unknown
impulse, she had halted and glanced back in the direction she had seen
Lillie and Jessie look. She gave a low cry, started to flee again, and
then stood suddenly still, and with panting breath gazed again at the
clump of trees. She caught her breath, for under the swaying boughs
stood a weird, white object pointing a long white finger at her!

What was it? Could it be a Boy Scout trying to frighten them? She bent
forward with intent eyes, for as the white figure swayed slightly there
was something curiously familiar in its movements. The next instant
Nathalie had turned, and as if shot from a catapult was speeding towards
the white figure that still stood, uncannily waving its arms to and fro
in the moonlight.

[Illustration: With an unearthly shriek was flying across the lawn.]

“Oh, Nita!” burst from the girl, “how did you come here?“ Before the
white figure could answer, Ellen was seen running swiftly towards them.

“Oh, Miss Nita,” she wailed, “what a scare you have given me! Oh, you
naughty girl, you promised that you would not leave the lower porch!”

“Well,” flashed the girl, “I changed my mind!” Then seizing Nathalie,
who was still staring at her with big, frightened eyes, she began to
laugh hysterically. “Oh, wasn’t it funny, Nathalie? Did you see how she
ran? What a joke, when she was trying to scare the girls—and was scared
herself—O dear, it is so funny!”

But Nathalie, with a sober face was staring down at the grass. “Oh,
Nita,” she exclaimed with a sudden fear, “the grass is wet, and, Ellen,
she will take cold! Oh, how did she get here? Mrs. Van Vorst will be so
displeased!”

But at that instant Mrs. Van Vorst came running down the path followed
by Mrs. Morrow. “Oh, Nita! Nita!” she wailed, “how could you be so
foolish, you will surely take your death! Ellen, how did it happen?”

“Sure, there’s no harm done,” broke in Peter’s voice at this critical
moment. “I have her chair and we’ll soon get her in, marm. Sure, I saw
her stealing across the lawn all alone by herself, and I hurried after
the chair, thinking she would be tired before she had gone far.”

“Thank you, Peter,” cried Nita’s mother, “you are so good and
considerate. O dear, I hope she won’t take cold! It was such an
imprudent thing for her to do, but Ellen, how did it happen?” There was
a note of condemnation in the lady’s voice.

But before Ellen could answer, Nita, whom Peter had wrapped and placed
in her chair, cried, “Now, Mamma, don’t blame Ellen. It was all my
fault. I sent her to get my shawl and then I stole down here. I just
wanted to hear some of the stories. But when I got here that girl—the
Pioneers called her Lillie—was telling a story. She was trying to scare
the girls, and then—oh, Mother, it was so funny to see her run—why, I
thought I would scare her, and when she looked up, just as she had
worked the girls all to a fever, I waved my arm and pointed my finger at
her. Oh, Mother, if you could have heard her shriek!” Nita was again in
hysterical laughter.

By this time she had her audience laughing with her, especially Peter
and Ellen, who thought their young mistress had been most brilliant in
outwitting them, and in frightening the young lady who had been trying
so hard to frighten her companions.

“O dear,” exclaimed Mrs. Morrow, who proved to be the lady who was
visiting with Mrs. Van Vorst when Nita stole down to the lower porch, “I
am ashamed of my Pioneers; they are supposed to be very brave, but
to-night’s performance does not appear as if they were. Nathalie, how
was it you did not run with the others?”

“I did,” confessed Nathalie frankly, “but something brought me to a halt
and I turned and looked back. O dear, but Nita did look terrible waving
her white arms to and fro! And then it came to me that there was
something familiar about the figure, I stared a moment, and then I knew!
But, Mrs. Morrow, hadn’t I better look for the girls? Please do not
blame them, I am sure you would have run, too, if you could have seen
Nita in that sheet, pointing her finger at you.”

Then Nathalie was off, running swiftly over the lawn, peering first on
one side and then the other as she gave a Bob White whistle, then a
Tru-al-lee, ending with the shout, “Girls! Girls! where are you?” then
the Bob White whistle again.

Her cry was heard, and one by one the Pioneers sheepishly crawled from
their places of safety and joined Nathalie on the lawn. They listened
with shamed faces as she told them who and what it was that had caused
their sudden departure. They were reluctant to show themselves at first,
especially when they learned that Mrs. Morrow was there and had heard
all about their foolish flight. But with a bit of coaxing on Nathalie’s
part they returned, and in a few minutes were again in their cheer-fire
circle, with two additional guests, Mrs. Van Vorst and Nita, besides
Mrs. Morrow, who had thought when the girls first began to tell their
stories to slip in and thank Mrs. Van Vorst for her kindness, with the
result that she had been a witness to their lack of bravery, as she
termed it.

The rest of the evening passed quickly after one or two had told their
thrillers, to the great satisfaction of Nita, who enjoyed them
immensely. After the stories were told, there was a marshmallow roast,
which was entered into with zest, and then came the burning send-off to
Louise Gaynor, who, when her name was called, came shyly forward to
receive an enormous pie, from which hung streamers of gay colored
ribbons, each streamer being tied to a keepsake from one of the
Pioneers.

Mrs. Morrow now expressed the regret of the Pioneers at losing so good a
comrade and friend, with the added wish that she would always remember
them with love, and the assurance that they would carry her on their
hearts with devout wishes for her health and happiness. The streamers
were pulled one by one and the loving gifts were brought forth as a
tribute to the sweetest songster of the band.

The last streamer brought to light a Round Robin letter, which Louise
faithfully promised not to open until the dates set, as for each day in
the year of absence she would find a few words of cheer and love from
her comrades, the Girl Pioneers of America.

After a few songs from the girls, Louise sang one or two of her old
English songs, Lillie accompanying her on the mandolin, and then Mrs.
Morrow, in a neat little speech, commended Nathalie for her courage in
holding her ground when the others had taken to flight. As she ended
there was a moment’s silence and then each and every girl was shouting
as loud as she could:

  “Hear! hear! a brave Pioneer!
  Three cheers for Nathalie dear!”

This cheer was most embarrassing to Nathalie, who wiggled uneasily with
flushed cheeks as she tried to make the girls hear that she was not
brave at all. But her protests were drowned by the merry voices, as
after three cheers they broke into their Pioneer song of good-by to
Louise. This was followed by the song that every Pioneer loves to sing
and that was:

  “We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers!
  We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers!
  We will be brave, and kind and true;
  We’re Pioneers, Girl Pioneers!
      Hear! Hear! Hear!
      Girl Pioneer!
      Come, give a cheer!
      Girl Pi-o-neer!!!”

One bright morning two weeks after the fagot party, Helen with wondering
surprise mingled with pleasure read the following:

  “Madame Van Vorst presents her compliments to Mistress Helen Dame,
  and begs the pleasure of her company on the afternoon of the sixth
  of July, at a _Kraeg_, to meet her daughter, Mistress Anita Van
  Vorst, in the celebration of the two hundred and fiftieth
  anniversary of the building of the Van Vorst homestead. Mistress
  Helen is requested to appear in the costume of a ‘goede vrouw’ of
  Mana-ha-ta.”

“A _Kraeg_—what does that mean?” queried the girl, as with puzzled brows
she eyed the tiny picture of the “Homestead” surmounting the invitation,
with the dates, 1664-1914. “Ah, Nathalie will know!” The next moment the
girl was hurrying across the lawn to her neighbor’s veranda, where she
had spied her cosily ensconced in the hammock screened from observant
eyes by a bower of green leaves.

Nathalie looked up as she heard her step and trilled a soft tru-al-lee
in recognition, as Helen gave the brownish envelope in her hand a
flourish.

“I knew you would be wanting to know what that meant.” Nathalie smiled
happily at her friend as she pointed to the envelope.

“I understand the invitation all right,” was the quick retort, “and
congratulate you on your success in winning the madame to your views
that it was a shame to allow little Anita to bloom behind those high
walls. But—can you tell me what kind of a thing a _Kraeg_ is?”

“It means a Dutch house-warming! But there, I am not going to tell you
any more, wait until the sixth.”

“‘In the costume of a goede vrouw of Mana-ha-ta,’” read Helen slowly.
“May I deign to ask your Dutch Majesty to explain what this means?”

“You may,” nodded the occupant of the hammock, “for her Dutch Majesty
has spent many weary hours with Miss Anita studying just that part of
the program. You see, we want to have the real Dutch atmosphere of the
early period, so we decided to have each girl impersonate some woman
pioneer, and then tell who she was and what she did.”

“Well, I don’t imagine that the girls will care to get themselves up
like those old Dutch vrouws, as they were so terribly stolid and
uninteresting.”

“Oh, Helen,” exclaimed Nathalie sitting suddenly up in the hammock,
“those Dutch vrouws were anything but uninteresting. Nita and I have
read all about them in a book Mrs. Van Vorst bought for us in New York,
it has just been published and is very interesting. As a matter of fact,
the women who settled New York were the most efficient, the most
industrious, and the most capable of any of the early pioneer women of
that period.”

“I did not know that,” said Helen, raising her eyebrows; “I thought they
were just stolid Dutch peasant women with little ability to do anything
but knit, tend the cows, and so on.”

“A great many people seem to have that idea,” returned her friend, “but
the Dutch housewives were not mere stoical drudges. Holland at that
time, you know, was the only country that gave as good an education to
her girls as to her boys. They were not only educated to fill
responsible positions, but to have a love for literature as well as for
painting, music, and the arts. So these Dutch peasants, as you call
them, were better educated, better protected by the laws of the colony,
and held more important positions than any of their Southern or Northern
sisters.

“It is claimed,” she went on, warming to her subject, “that the Dutch
housewife was the manufacturer of the day, producing under her own roof
nearly all the necessities for the family use. Besides being proficient
in the art of cooking, she made perfumes from the flowers in her garden,
planted, gathered, dried, and brewed the hops. She culled simples and
herbs for medicine, thus becoming the physician of the household. She
taught her maids to card and weave wool for clothes; she spun the fine
thread of the flax, grown in her yard, for the linen, knit the socks,
oh, I could not begin to tell you her many industries!

“But besides all that,” continued the girl, “the goede vrouws had such
good sense and judgment, and such a fine eye for commercial values that
they not only owned real estate, but ofttimes carried on their own
business. The burgomasters of the town paid great deference to the Dutch
women’s shrewdness, judgment, and independence, so that they exerted no
little influence in the state affairs of New Amsterdam.”

“Well, I never!” laughed Helen teasingly. “If you haven’t become a
regular schoolma’am since you have been teaching the princess. Pray, how
much am I to pay you per word?”

Nathalie laughed merrily. “Yes, isn’t it funny? I started reading about
the Pioneer women to get Nita interested in something that would be
instructive as well as entertaining. And lo, she has not only become
absorbed in anything that pertains to the pioneers, but in many other
historical subjects as well. As for me, why, I have learned a great
deal, too, and that is how, when Mrs. Van Vorst said she would like to
entertain the Pioneers in return for amusing Nita by the drill and the
fagot party, we decided to have a _Kraeg_.”

“How will the girls know what characters they are to take, what they
did, and so on?”

“Oh, Mrs. Morrow and I arranged all that. Notices were sent—you’ll get
yours—telling the girls that all information would be furnished by
Annetje Jans—that’s I—gratis. I will arrange with each girl as to her
character and so on. Oh, there’s Grace! I’ll warrant you she has her
notice and is in a hurry for news. But, Helen, here is the book that
tells all about these Dutch women. I wish you would take it and look it
over, for I know I shall need lots of help.”



CHAPTER XX—THE DUTCH KRAEG


The sixth of July had arrived, and little Miss New York was fidgeting
nervously in her chair—draped with the Star Spangled Banner and the
flaunting colors of the Dutch Republic—placed in line with the hostess
and the receiving party of the day. She was a rather startling Miss New
York, arrayed as a Goddess of Liberty—she had claimed she was too modern
to be a vrouw—with her chair as well as her small person hung with
placards of well-known places, streets, and buildings of the metropolis.

By her side stood Madame New Amsterdam—Mrs. Van Vorst—whose
multitudinous skirts stood out from her figure with such amplitude that
she resembled the quaint little green pincushion that dangled from her
waist. Her neat white cap was tied under her chin with formal stiffness,
while a large silk apron completed a make-up that transformed the
slender, dignified Mrs. Van Vorst into a typical Dutch matron. She too,
like her daughter, was hung with tiny white signs from bodice to skirt,
which excited curiosity if not admiration.

“Oh, Mother, I do wish they would hurry and come!” cried Miss New York
impatiently, craning her neck to see if some one had not yet appeared on
the broad stairway leading to the main sitting-room. “Oh, somebody’s
coming!” and the little lady, with the weight of a city on her
shoulders, drew back as she clapped her hands with delight.

“Ah, here comes the Governor’s lady,” exclaimed Madame New Amsterdam as
Madame Stuyvesant—Mrs. Morrow—announced her coming by stopping on the
threshold of the low-ceiled room, and bowed with such stately formality
that Miss New York’s eyes suddenly stilled, as she stiffened with
similar dignity to receive the first guest.

The Governor’s lady was followed by Annetje Jans, her comely little
person looking like a blooming Dutch posy, arrayed in a bright green
petticoat and a blue waistcoat with yellow sleeves. The brown eyes,
ready smile, and brilliant cheeks of Miss Nathalie made her a fitting
representative of the little lady who formed so large a part of the
history of New Amsterdam, coming over in 1630 in the ship _Endracht_
with her husband and three children from Holland. After the death of her
husband, who left her a _bouwerie_ (farm) of sixty acres, a good part of
New York, she married Dominie Bogardus, thus becoming with her wealth
and influence a dominant character in the colony.

Annetje came a few steps forward, and then bobbed such a low curtsy that
the wings of her lace cap flapped out like the sails of a windmill in a
greeting to her hostesses. But in a second her old-time pose was
forgotten, as her eyes fell on the much “be-signed” person of the lady
of the house, and she flew to her aid, declaring that she was losing
some of her signs.

“This will never do,” she commented as she hurriedly pinned the sign
“Bouwerie” in its place. “Oh, and here’s another old place that’s gone
astray!” poking “Der Halle” on a straight line with its neighbor, “De
claver Waytie.”

“Will you please inform me why New Amsterdam is thus placarded?” It was
the voice of the Governor’s lady, who was curiously watching this
adjustment of signs.

“Why, these signs are the Dutch names of the different localities and
streets as named in the days of New Amsterdam,” explained Annetje
quickly. “See. Broad street means Broad way; _Kloch-Hoeck_ was the site
of the first village, as it was all covered with bits of clam and oyster
shells, the word means Shell Point. _De claver Waytie_ was a hill
leading to a spring covered with grass, where the young maidens used to
bleach their linen. The path they wore up the hill came to be known as
_Maadje-Paatje_, Maiden Lane. _Der Halle_ was the name of a tavern near
a big tree on the corner of Broad and Wall Street. It took the arms of
six men to go round _der groot_ tree.

“Here is _Cowfoot Hill_, the old cow-path up the hill, _Canoe Place_,
where the Indians used to tie their canoes, and _Catiemuts_ is the hill
where the Indians had built their castle. _Collect_ means a dear little
lake near-by, yes, and here’s the Boston Highway, here’s the
_Stadt-Huys_, the town hall. _Graft_ was a ditch crossed by a bridge;
_De Smits Vlye_ was an old blacksmith shop near the ferry to Long
Island. _Vlacke_ was the grazing ground for the cows, now the City Hall
Park. _De Schaape Waytie_ was the sheep pasture—”

“Annetje Jans,” exclaimed Madame Van Stuyvesant at this point, with a
solemn face, “do you expect me to remember all those Dutch names?
Verily, child, you have improved your time and twisted your tongue.” But
Annetje was off, for at that moment she spied another arrival, one of
the Orioles, and as the sprightly dominie’s widow was to act as mistress
of ceremonies, she was soon by her side, as she stood hesitatingly in
the doorway.

“How do you do, _Mutter_. Oh, but you do look fine!” cried Nathalie as
her keen eyes noted the broad appearing figure with hair pushed straight
back under a close fitting cap, short petticoat and gown displaying her
wooden sabots. The _mutter_ was knitting industriously, like a typical
Dutch vrouw, as she talked to Annetje and told of the woes that attended
the getting up of her make-up.

Annetje now led the new arrival to the line waiting to welcome her.
“Allow me to present to you Catalina de Trice, the _mutter_ of New York,
having been the first woman to land on that famous little isle.”

“Yes,” added the _mutter_ with a stiff little bow to the grand Dutch
dames receiving her with stately courtesy, “I came over in the first
ship, the _Unity_, sent by the West India Company to the settlement, and
I have the added distinction,” another quaint bob, “of being the mother
of the first white child born in New Amsterdam, Sara Rapelje.”

Catalina had no time to continue her family history for Annetje had
hurried her to Miss New York, a little lady in whom all the Pioneers
were greatly interested. She was next shown a table in the rear of Nita,
holding a ship encrusted with silver frosting to represent snow, and
bearing the words, “_Half-Moon_.” On the deck of this famous craft was
the miniature figure of a man, which Nathalie explained, was intended
for the discoverer who had named the river Hudson after himself. Back of
the ship were small sized rocks with the sign, “Great Rocks of
Wiehocken,” which Annetje declared needed no explanation.

A few feet away was a large windmill guarded by a demure little
serving-maid who was no other than Carol. With her flower-blue eyes and
corn-colored hair hanging in two braids from under her cute little cap
she was a miniature Dutch vrouw. Catalina was now invited to pull one of
a number of gay-colored streamers that flew with the windmill as it
buzzed rapidly around.

To the girl’s surprise, as she gave a quick pull to a ribbon, a card
dropped from one of the sails. It was painted with a gaudy red tulip
with an appropriate verse on Holland’s national posy. Catalina, on being
told to keep it, pinned it to her bodice, and then hurried with Annetje
to receive the guests standing at the door, the two girls being the
oldest representatives of the Dutch colony.

The new comer proved to be Tryntje Jonas, alias Barbara Worth. She was
made known to the hostess as the mother of Annetje, and as the first
nurse and woman doctor in the settlement. Her skirt was of true
linsey-woolsey, from which hung an immense pincushion. With her glasses
and her knitting-bag on her arm she looked duly professional as she paid
her respects to the Dutch vrouw with stately dignity.

A sweeping curtsy and Madame Kiersted, Annetje’s daughter, otherwise
Grace Tyson, was telling with pride of the part she had played as Indian
interpreter, when the officials of the town were making a treaty with
the Indians. She was well-versed in the Algonquin language, she
explained, as she had played with little Indian children from the time
she was a wee lassie.

She told, too, how she had signed a petition and presented it to the
councillors, begging that the good vrouws be permitted to hold a market
day. This petition was granted, and market day was held thenceforth on
Saturdays, when the dames of the colony were permitted to offer their
wares for sale on the Strand near her home. Furthermore, the Madame
stated she had a shed built in her back yard, so that the Indian squaws
could make brooms and string wampum, which they, too, sold on market
day. From a little bag she now produced a wampum belt, explaining that
it was made of twisted periwinkle shells strung on hemp. A blue
clam-shell was also brought forth, which had been punctured with holes
and which was called _sewant_; these two shells at that time
constituting the currency of the colony.

But the Indian’s friend had gone and in her place stood a _grande dame_,
the famous Madame Van Cortland, generally known in the olden days as
“the maker of a stone street.” Madame, when inquiry was made, said she
had been born in Holland, but came to the _dorp_ to marry her lover,
Captain Oloff Van Cortland. “We lived in a very grand house for those
times, for it was made of glazed brick and had a sloping roof with a
gable turned towards the street, after the manner of the ‘Patria,’” she
added with pompous gravity. “There were steps leading to the roof, too,
so when it rained or snowed the water could run into a hogshead in the
yard instead of on my neighbor’s sidewalk or head. The house was
furnished in a grand style, all the furniture came from Holland, and in
front of it was a little stoop with two side benches and a door with an
enormous brass knocker.”

“But the stone street, Madame?” inquired Madame New Amsterdam, who
seemed greatly interested in these little stories of the people and
doings of the city whose name she bore.

“Cobbles,” corrected Dame Van Cortland. “You see, it was this way. My
husband, the captain, resigned from the militia and went into the
brewing business. He built a brewery on Brower Street near the Fort, one
of the first lanes made by the settlers. But alas,” sighed Madame
ruefully, “when my husband’s brewery wagons made their way over the lane
they raised so much dust and dirt that I begged my better half to pave
it with stones. He laughed at me, as was his wont, and the dust and dirt
grew thicker on the lane. Driven desperate, I now marshaled my servants
to the lane, and we laid it with small, round cobblestones. I won my way
as well as fame, for the little stone street was the first of its kind
in the _dorp_, and was regarded with much curiosity by the burghers.”

Annetje, now spying two more comers, flew to welcome them and the grande
dame of Manhattan Isle was forgotten, as an ancient little lady appeared
with silver curls peeping from beneath a cap of rare old lace, a
rustling silk crossed with a kerchief, and a chatelaine hanging from her
girdle. She bowed with quaint grace before the ladies, as Madame
Killiaen Van Rensselaer, otherwise known as, “The Lady of the Thimble.”

“Yes,” spoke the little old lady, who by the way was a Bob White, and
who had studied her part with due diligence, “I was the first woman to
wear a gold thimble. I was seated at my work one day with an ivory
thimble, big and cumbersome, on my fingers, the kind ’tis claimed the
tailors use. A young friend of mine to whom I had rendered some slight
service was at work in his shop just across the lane. He spied my
thimble, and, being a goldsmith, then and there vowed that on my
birthday I should receive a gift. ’Tis needless to say that this vow was
fulfilled, for the young man presented me with a gold thimble on that
day, which he had made with the wish that I would wear his finger-hat as
a covering to a diligent and beautiful finger.”

A comely Dutch matron with bright eyes and ruddy cheeks was now bowing
in sprightly manner before the hostess. By her pose she was immediately
recognized as Lillie Bell, who indeed was just the one to personate the
fair and bewitching “Lady of Petticoat Lane,” alias Polly Spratt, Polly
Prevoorst, and Polly Alexander. The fair Polly was the recognized social
leader of New York in the days when coasting down _Flattenbarack Hill_,
or skating on the _Collect_ with a party of lads and lassies as merry as
herself gained her the name of a hoyden. Always the bonniest, the
merriest lass at a wedding or dance, the acknowledged leader of her set,
counting her suitors by the score, it was not to be wondered when she
became a matron at seventeen. As a widow of twenty-six she assumed
control of her husband’s business, building a row of offices in front of
her house. She, too, built a stone street, Marketfield Lane, thus
inciting her neighbors to do the same. Hence, the brick walks that now
came into fashion called _Strookes_.

The keeper of a shop, the maker of a stone lane, the owner of a
wonderful coach, Madame’s fame as a beauty and a social leader, added to
her shrewdness, her ingenuity, and sprightly intelligence, won her an
influence in the more weighty matters of the town, gaining her the title
of “My Lady of Petticoat Lane.” Undoubtedly it also won her another
husband, as when the _pinter_ flower was in bloom, pretty Polly married
Mr. James Alexander, one of the most distinguished gentlemen of the
times.

But on they came, the Pioneer Girls, as Dutch matrons or maidens,
impersonating those famous pioneer women, who not only were the bone and
sinew of old New York, but who were the progenitors of some of its most
distinguished men in the days that followed. Katrina de Brough, who
lived in a fine stone house on Hanover Square, was a most suitable
example of the housewife of the day. Her days were spent in planting her
garden, culling her simples, distilling her medicines, and many other
well-known crafts of the times.

Judith Varleth had gained the name of the “witch maiden,” having been
arrested and imprisoned in Hartford, Connecticut, when quite a young
girl. Whether her beauty or her Dutch tongue brought this dire calamity
upon her is not known, but the witch maiden was duly released and
returned to her home by her brother, and in a few years disposed of her
unfortunate name by marrying a gallant gentleman by the name of Col.
Nicholas Bayard.

Margaret Hardenbroeck not only won a husband, Captain Patrus de Vries, a
wealthy ship-owner, but won fame as well. On the death of her husband
she continued his business, and established a line of ships, the first
packet line that crossed the Atlantic. Her ability as a business woman
evidently won her not only fame, but a husband, for she soon married
again, a Mr. Frederick Phillipse, and in later days became the owner of
the Phillipse Manor, so well known during the days of the Revolution.

Cornelia Lubbetse became Mrs. Johannes de Beyster, while her daughter
Marie, the wife of three husbands, became known as the wealthiest woman
in the settlement. She was also noted for her industry, filling a great
_kos_ (chest) with beautiful linen tied in packages with colored tape
and marked by herself at the time of her first marriage. She also
carried on a thrifty business trading with ships between New Amsterdam,
Connecticut, and Virginia, as well as being the mother of “The Lady of
Petticoat Lane,” who married a younger brother of her third husband.

Anna Stuyvesant, Rachel Hartjers, and Madame Van Corlear were all in due
turn presented to the hostess, as well as Grietje Janssen, who was known
in the old days as a double-tongued woman, having won fame as being the
gossip of the burgh.

But the merry chatter and low-pitched laughter of these would-be
historic maidens was suddenly stilled, as a strange, grotesque figure
was seen in the doorway gazing at the assembled company with an odd
little smile on its bedaubed face.

A murmur of surprise and astonishment caused eyes and mouths to open in
curious wonder, as Annetje, although as bewildered as her neighbors,
made her way to the door to welcome the unknown intruder.

As Nathalie approached the uncouth, blanketed savage it emitted a
strange sound; some claimed it was a grunt, while others said it was a
groan. The girl stared a moment in startled inquiry and then a smile
parted her lips, which was quickly repressed as in a quick glance she
noted the eyes heavily underlined with black paint, the brown dyed skin,
the red patched cheeks much besmeared with grease, and the black
snake-like strings of hair that straggled from beneath a derby hat,
several sizes too small for the head.

As the redskin strode with measured gait to the ladies, the painted lips
opened, and an excellent imitation of an Indian warwhoop broke forth
with startling intensity. Little Miss New York jumped nervously, Madame
New Amsterdam started back in surprise, but Mrs. Morrow and Nathalie
burst into laughter as they both cried, “Why—it’s Edith!”

Yes, it was the Sport, who seeing she was the sensation of the moment
took off her derby hat and with a low bow to hostesses, in guttural tone
exclaimed, “No, me no Edith, me Indian squaw from Mana-ha-ta!”

This unexpected announcement created no little astonishment, and the
girls flocked around her with exclamations of wonder and surprise. As
they began to ply her with questions she cried triumphantly, “Ah, girls,
I fooled you that time, for I guess you had all forgotten about the
Indian women of Manhattan, who always wore their husband’s hats.”

“Oh, girls,” cried Nathalie quickly, “the joke is on me, for I had
forgotten, as Edith says, all about these Indian squaws.”

“Edith, it was clever of you to remember,” now interposed the Governor’s
lady, “and your get-up too, is very good.” She gazed with keen eyes at
the girl’s deerskin robe, fringed at the sides, with its embroidered
bodice, and the rows of colored beads that decorated her neck and her
brown bedaubed arms. “But Edith,” she continued, “can’t you tell us
something about these squaws?”

The girl looked somewhat dismayed for a moment; perhaps the sudden
recollection of the last time she had faced her companions, the shame
she had felt, and the punishment that had been meted out to her, caused
the flush that showed even beneath her paint and grease.

“Why—I—oh, I don’t think there is much to tell,” she faltered. But
encouraged by a nod from Mrs. Morrow she continued, “Lillie Bell lent me
Washington Irving’s History of New York. It tells how Peter Minuit
purchased the island from the Indians—the Dutch people called them
Wilden—and where the bargain was made. It was close to a little block
house inside a palisade of red cedars very near the traders’ hut in a
place called _Capsey_, the place of safe landing. Washington Irving
claimed that the name, ‘Manhattan,’ came from a tribe of Indians whose
squaws always wore their husband’s hats, but I never knew that Indians
wore hats, so I suppose it is just one of his jokes.”

There was a general laugh at Edith’s sally, and then the girls broke
into loud applause. Perhaps they, too, were doing a little thinking and
were anxious to show Edith that the deeds of the past were forgotten in
her well-doing.

Annetje, after marshaling her forces, now led the girls through the
quaint Dutch room to show them the many relics of past days. The
wide-throated fireplace with its gay-colored tiles—still in a state of
good preservation—with their queer scriptural figures, each picture with
the number of the text in the Bible that told its story, awakened great
interest.

Mahogany tables, queer little sideboards, and curiously carved chairs
next claimed their attention, while the _slaap-bauck_, a funny little
closet built in the side walls of the room, its shelf covered with a
mattress, and with folding doors to open at night for a guest bed, won
special favor.

A flowered tabby cloth, a foot-warmer, and an old chest called a _kos_,
and which Nathalie declared was similar to the one that the industrious
Marie de Peyster had filled with linen, was regarded with much awe. A
nutwood case, a wardrobe called a _kasten_—filled with old Dutch
costumes, grimy and moth-eaten—divided honors with a beautiful old
cupboard with glass doors, displaying rare old blue and white Delft,
said to have come from Holland years and years ago.

But curios pall in time, and so the girls were not at all reluctant to
follow their hostesses into the quaint old kitchen, gayly decorated with
the orange and blue of the Dutch Republic. Here, many exclamations of
admiration escaped them when they saw the long table in the center of
the room, with its bloom of hyacinths, gillyflowers, narcissus,
daffodils, and tulips, all reminders of the little beau-pots that
adorned the window sills, or peeped from the flower patches in front of
the gable-roofed houses in the days of the first settlers.

Embowered in this floral display was a huge silver bowl hung with tiny
silver spoons. This was the caudle dish, the inseparable accompaniment
of feast gatherings or when the _kinder_ were christened. From the hot,
spicy odor that emanated from this relic of Dutch festivity the girls
knew it held something good.

But there was no more time to admire, for it was now discovered that a
flower was tied with daintily colored ribbon to the back of each chair.
Recognizing that they were intended for place-cards, the girls flew
hurriedly around the table trying to find the flower that matched the
one on the cards they had received from the windmill.

Mrs. Van Vorst, typifying the first Dutch settlement in the New World,
now cordially welcomed her guests with a few appropriate words. She was
followed by Nita, who, standing on the platform of her chair, recited a
greeting in Dutch—a little thing that Nathalie had taught her—with
quaint precision, while her eyes twinkled humorously.

The edibles were now served, the little serving-maid being Carol
assisted by Peter attired as a herdsman in low-heeled shoes, brass
buckles, gray stockings, and with a twisted cow’s horn hanging from his
shoulder.

Roasted oysters served with hot split biscuits tempered with butter were
the first course. Then came salmon à la Hollandaise and patriotic crabs,
so called because the settlers declared that they were the color of the
flag of the Prince of Orange. Frankfurters now appeared, so deliciously
prepared that the Pioneers barely recognized their hike stand-by, served
with carrots and turnips garnished with parsley. Green salad now
followed with the caudle served from the silver bowl, each girl ladling
this particular Dutch dainty, piping hot, into her own china cup.

The goodies were jellies, custards, _oly krecks_—sometimes called
doughnuts because of the tiny nut in the center—krullers,
_izer-cookies_, or waffles, syllabubs, and many other toothsome sweets.
All of these viands were greatly enjoyed, not only because they were of
Dutch renown, but because they were eaten, as their Director declared in
memory of the _goede vrouven_ who helped their _goede_ men to lay the
first stones of the great city of New York.

Every one was at their merriest when Annetje Jans, who had suddenly
grown unduly restive, arose in her chair and holding her caudle cup high
proposed a toast to Madame New Amsterdam, Mrs. Van Vorst, their hostess!

Immediately glasses were touched to the lady so honored, who in return
proposed a like honor for Madame Stuyvesant, Mrs. Morrow, the Director
of the Girl Pioneers of America. Little Miss New York was now honored,
who, as she bowed in response to the loud clapping that followed her
name, passed the honor on to her friend, Miss Nathalie Page, in Dutch,
Madame Annetje Jans.

There was more applause in appreciation of Nita’s tribute, although her
voice was low and tremulous with timidity at speaking before so many.
But when Nathalie rose on her feet to reply, the clapping grew so
vociferous that the color deepened her cheeks to a more vivid pink.

But she stood her ground, and as the teasing girls wearied of clapping
she spoke. There was a slight tremor in her voice, but she went steadily
on, and after expressing in the name of the Pioneers the great pleasure
it had given them to meet the daughter of their hostess, voiced their
desires in asking Miss Nita to join with them in their endeavors to
imitate the sterling qualities of the early pioneer women, and to become
a Girl Pioneer of America!



CHAPTER XXI—AN INVITATION


As Nathalie sank back in her seat glad to think the ordeal—to her—of the
day was over, there was a moment’s silence, and then every Pioneer was
doing her best to second this invitation to the daughter of their
hostess by making as loud a demonstration as possible.

Nita, as she heard this invitation, grew white, speechless with
surprise, but only for a moment, as the next second, with joy shining in
her eyes, she leaned over crying in a tense whisper, “Oh, Mother, tell
them yes! Tell them yes!”

But Mrs. Van Vorst had already risen to her feet, eyes smiling but tear
dimmed as she gazed down at the bright expectant faces upturned to hers.
For a moment she stood, and then in a voice broken by emotion and
pleasure thanked the Pioneers for an invitation that she knew had been
prompted by kindness and that she appreciated more than she could
express. Her little daughter, as they all knew, was a shut-in. She would
be delighted to become one of a band of girls who had proved so worthy
of the name they bore, but, her face saddened, would she not prove a
burden to them, for would it not require too much patience to bear with
one who perhaps had been over indulged on account of her misfortune?

At this juncture Madame Stuyvesant stepped to her side crying, “Oh, Mrs.
Van Vorst, your little shut-in is just the one I want my girls to be
with, so that by the patience they will acquire in her companionship
they will become more gentle and considerate to others. And as for Miss
Nita, the mingling with healthy, active girls of her own age and the
exercise and aid she will derive from the sports, and industries—taken
lightly of course—I am sure will brighten her life in many ways.”

A few more words from Helen, Lillie, and one or two of the older girls,
and Mrs. Van Vorst’s consent was won, and Nita with bright, happy eyes
was clapping her hands very softly under the Starry Banner that fell in
folds across her chair.

Each girl in turn was then toasted, under the name of the pioneer she
impersonated, being required in response to tell something about
herself, as to who and what part she had played in the days of New
Amsterdam. When the name of Mrs. Polly Prevoorst was called, Lillie Bell
stood up, and had just begun with her usual dramatic gestures and
intonations to relate some little incident in the life of that noted
lady, when a shrill falsetto voice shrieked, “Pretty Polly! Pretty
Polly! Polly want a cobble?”

There was a sudden turning and twisting of heads and necks at this
unlooked for interruption, to see who was making sport of the fair lady,
but before the speaker could be seen, with a quick flutter of wings Mr.
Jimmie landed in the middle of the table. Surprise caused the girls to
exclaim and then laugh, as they watched the new guest cocking his head
from side to side as he winked at them with his red-rimmed eyes.

All at once his head stopped its restless motion, as with a quick glance
he seemed suddenly to spy Lillie Bell, who was still standing, waiting
for a chance to deliver her little speech. The girls ceased to giggle
and with observant eyes wondered what was going to happen. They did not
have to wait long for Jimmie, with another flash of his wings, screeched
shrilly, “Polly! Poor Polly! Polly want a petticoat—Polly—want a
petticoat?”

But Jimmie’s concern for the “Lady of Petticoat Lane” was drowned in
shouts of laughter, while Lillie Bell with a reddened, embarrassed face
sat down. Thus Jimmie became the beau of the afternoon, as each girl
vainly tried to coax him with a sweetie to notice her, but Jimmie
disdained their advances and, flying to the shoulder of Nathalie,
evinced his partiality for that young lady by chattering noisily, “Hell
Nat! Ah—Blue Robin, pretty Blue Robin!” And then a shrill Tru-al-lee,
tru-al-lee! rang through the room.

But this effort to do the wise thing ended Jimmie’s performance, for
suddenly noting the applause that greeted him, he set up such a hideous
shrieking, interspersed with fiendish laughter, that he was promptly
seized by Peter and carried from public sight to muse on his sins in the
privacy of his cage.

When Lillie’s tormentor disappeared she was able to act the part of the
fair Polly and relate the incident she had striven so vainly to tell. As
she finished, finding that all the notables had been duly honored, the
girls again turned to the rather novel menus that they had found in
front of their plates.

These were post-card holders, rather dainty little affairs of flowered
silk that had contained post-cards, one for each course that had been
served. One was a quaint little picture of New Amsterdam. Another was a
well-known building or landmark of old New York, while others portraits
of famous Dutch painters or authors, each one with an appropriate
inscription either in Dutch or English.

These cards had excited many comments of admiration, and as the girls’
attention was drawn to them again Edith suddenly exclaimed, “Oh, girls,
why see, my post-card holder has a tiny white envelope in it!” As she
began to tear it open each girl turned eagerly to hers and with renewed
interest began to inspect it again, while Mrs. Van Vorst and Nita with
smiling eyes watched the little by-play that was being enacted.

By this time Nathalie had read the contents of her envelope and with
eyes all alight was crying, “Oh, girls! my envelope contains an
invitation from Mrs. Van Vorst as a Pioneer to camp—”

“At Eagle Lake!” broke in a chorus from the girls as they excitedly
flourished the bits of white paper to and fro while watching Nathalie
intently.

Nathalie was too dazed to speak, but in a moment, as she realized that
each girl present had been honored with a similar invitation, she bent
forward and began to talk to Helen in low, hurried tones. When she
finished she was on her feet crying in tremulous voice, “Oh, Mrs. Van
Vorst—this seems too good to be true—O dear, how are we to thank you for
your kindness, it is too much for us to accept!”

But her hostess was ready with a reply, as with brightening eyes she
answered, “Girls, the invitations you have read I repeat, I want you
Girl Pioneers to spend the three weeks of your camp life at Eagle Lake.
I have a bungalow there and expect to leave for the Lake next week, and
shall be pleased to welcome you there whenever you think best to come.

“The Lake is very beautiful, surrounded by woods and within two or three
miles of a town. Of course, I have not accommodations for you all, but I
have an empty bungalow near mine, and a little log cabin that was once a
summer house, so that with a few tents I think you will find ample
accommodations for your three bird groups. And girls—” she spoke
earnestly, “I do not want you to thank me, for your thanks will be the
acceptance of this invitation and coming up to the Lake and having a
merry time. I am sure I stand ready, and my daughter Nita, to help you
towards that end.”

As Mrs. Van Vorst finished Helen arose, and on behalf of the Pioneers
thanked her for her kind invitation. “Indeed, Mrs. Van Vorst,” she
continued, “we shall be most pleased to camp at Eagle Lake—if our
Director is willing—and I hope that we shall be able to show you that we
are worthy the kindness you have seen fit to extend to us. Now, girls—”

  “Girl Pi-o-neers! Now give a cheer!
  For our hostess so kind and dear!
  Girl Pi-o-neers! again we cheer,
  This time for Miss Nita, the dear!”

As the cheering ceased Mrs. Van Vorst stood again, and in a few words
declared she felt impelled to say that the Pioneers should be very proud
of a young lady in their group who had so ably helped her in the
arrangements and the getting up of the afternoon’s festivity. She would
mention no names—Nathalie’s face was a full-blown rose—as they all knew
to whom she referred, but she would like it known that the invitation to
the Lake had been given not only to furnish pleasure to the Pioneers,
but in appreciation of the great kindness, sympathy, and aid that had
been given to her daughter and herself by that same Pioneer, a kindness
that she would always remember.

The girls, laughing and talking about the pleasure of the _Kraeg_, of
the joys and the future held in store for them at camp, now returned to
the sitting room. Here they were greeted with another surprise in the
shape of a huge, unwieldy figure in baggy knee-breeches, full skirted
coat, wide-brimmed hat and long white beard and locks, whom Mrs. Van
Vorst presented as Father Knickerbocker, although several declared that
he was the exact counterpart of the famous pictures of Rip Van Winkle.

Whomever he personated was a matter of indifference to the girls as long
as his identity was concealed, which was ably done behind a red-checked
mask, through the eye-holes of which two eyes glinted humorously in
merry jest or pleasantry as he joined the girls in a game of quoits or a
game of nine-pins which Peter had arranged on an old billiard table.

As Nathalie and Helen were doing their best to beat this strange
antagonist, and at the same time to provoke him to speech—as he would
persist in playing he was deaf and dumb—Peter led in an old darkey who,
with fiddle in hand, was soon squeaking away to the delight of the
girls. In a few moments old-time melodies were heard, and they went
flying over the floor in waltz, schottische, polka, and in many of the
long-forgotten dances.

When the dancing began the mysterious guest was seen to edge towards the
door, but Nathalie and Helen were too quick for him, and in a moment he
was surrounded by a bevy of girls, each one begging him to dance the
Virginia reel with her. Even these many honors failed to loosen the
strings of his tongue, but Nathalie did not despair.

Presently, as he had made this young lady his honored choice in the
dance, she was led up and down the room, or twirled about like a
pin-wheel. That he was nimble of foot was soon perceived as they all
spun round like a merry-go-round.

Suddenly Annetje was seen to whisper to her neighbor. The whisper spread
like a whirlwind, and all eyes were soon fastened on the whirling Father
as he chasséed to the right and left of the merry girls. Suddenly there
was a stampede to his side, and the next minute he was surrounded by a
cordon of slim young hands, while one of his assailants made a spring
towards him. Just another moment, and nose, beard, and locks were on the
floor, while his tormentors laughed and danced merrily around their
prisoner, a good friend who had eased many of their aches and pains, for
it was no other but Dr. Morrow!

Four weeks later Nathalie stood on the veranda with her arms around her
mother. “Oh, Mumsie,” she wailed, “I hate to go and leave you!” She
winked hard, she was determined not to get lachrymose. “I just wish I
wasn’t going, it does seem so mean to leave you here in this heat.”

“But, Daughter, I have Dick with me, and it is lovely and cool here on
the veranda. We shall not mind it at all, and then you know the nights
are generally comfortable in August,” Mrs. Page ended with a cheery
smile.

“Mumsie, you’re a dear—” rejoined Nathalie with another suppressed
sniffle. “You’re just trying to make the best of it, but—”

“There is no but about it,” answered her mother quickly, “for I am
afraid I am very selfish, but I shall have to confess that there has
been so much going on these last days, well, I shall enjoy the rest and
quiet. Felia is here, too, and I shall have nothing to do but to be—”

“Jolly!” broke in Dick at this moment, who for some mysterious reason
seemed unusually jubilant. He had received a letter a few days before;
Nathalie had caught him reading it, but he had slipped it hurriedly into
his pocket as he saw her, declaring in answer to her questioning that it
was nothing, but nevertheless, ever since that day he had seemed more
like his old self.

Did they really want to get rid of her? Was Mamma in earnest? How much
more cheerful she had seemed the last few days! These thoughts flashed
in quick succession through Nathalie’s brain. Somewhat puzzled, but
disarmed of her fears by these signs of cheer from her loved ones, the
girl bestowed a final kiss all round, notwithstanding Dick’s protests,
who declared that he had been slobbered over about fifty times already.
Then she flew down the path and into the automobile, where Mrs. Morrow,
the kiddies, and the doctor were waiting to drive her to the depot.

Seventeen happy girls, their hearts pulsating with joyful anticipation,
boarded the train at the New Jersey Central that August morning.
Notwithstanding the fact that the day was intensely warm, their tongues,
hands, and feet kept up a ceaseless activity as they disposed of their
bags, valises, and the impedimenta that they had found it impossible to
squeeze into their trunks, for it was rather tight packing when there
were two girls to a trunk.

Lillie Bell carried her mandolin, the Scribe her book for reporting the
many happenings that were to be, while Barbara was burdened with several
books on bird, flower, and wood lore, for camp was the place to study
nature. With tennis-rackets and golf-bags it certainly seemed as if
those seventeen girls and their belongings were going to fill the car.

Mrs. Morrow, who had a great dislike of annoying people, began to look
worried, but suddenly catching sight of the faces of several of the
passengers, all looking so smiling, so in sympathy with this young life
and its overflow of exuberance, as if they were enjoying the clamor and
bustle as much as the girls themselves, her face relaxed. She broke into
a smile of relief, although shaking her head at two of the girls who
were making the greatest noise.

They finally settled in their seats, but as hands and feet became more
quiet, alas, it seemed as if the clack of their tongues grew greater!
They fell to discussing their plans for the camp, the sports they would
have, and a thousand and one things that occupied their minds at the
present moment.

But even tongues need a rest, and the girls at last quieted down and
began to read, each one having provided herself with some book to while
away the hours. After a time, however, they all seemed to tire of
reading, and growing restive had just started an argument as to the
respective merits of their books, when the train dashed into a little
wooden station and the conductor yelled, “Eagle Lake!”

Bags, knapsacks, rackets, and all camping impedimenta were hastily
gathered up, and a few minutes later the merry girls were crowding into
an old-fashioned stage that Mrs. Van Vorst had hired for the occasion,
giving due honor to the doctor and his wife by sending her own
automobile for them.

It was a delightful ride to the lake, and thoroughly enjoyed by the
girls, who evinced their pleasure by being unusually silent. Eyes were
keenly alert, however, noting the rolling patches of green meadows with
their grazing cows, the rippling brook meandering from a hill near by,
and the somber foliage of a long range of low foothills in the distance
crowned with a misty haze. But the silence was broken when some one
spied a reddish gray chipmunk scurrying across the road in frantic
terror as he saw the many faces bearing down upon him, and heard their
hurried exclamations of eager delight at this, the girls’ first glimpse
of one of the green forest people of Eagle Lake.

It was not long before the sheen of silver water glimmered in the
distance, bordered with somber foliage, and then hearts beat quicker and
voices grew louder in excited hubbub as in a minute or so they could see
the cupola of Mrs. Van Vorst’s cottage against the green of its shores.

After a joyous welcome from Mrs. Van Vorst and Nita, seconded by Peter
and Ellen, who all stood awaiting them on the large veranda, the girls
ran riot. With swift steps they hurried—after first inspecting Mrs. Van
Vorst’s bungalow, so suggestive of luxury and cozy cheer—to the smaller
bungalow, where the Morrows were to abide, with its big living-room
abloom with golden-rod. This was to be used as an assembly room for the
Pioneer Rallies. Then they hastened to the little wooden shack, which
they dubbed the Grub House, as it was here that the camp cooking was to
be done.

After duly admiring the boat-house, which they all declared would make a
lovely place for a dance, they were conducted by Peter to the loft
above, where he stood silently enjoying their delight as they exclaimed
over this unexpected surprise. It had been turned into a good sized
bedroom with two bureaus, a center-table, a few odd chairs, and four
little white cots, looking so restful that the Sport declared she wanted
to go to bed that very second.

But their rhapsodies came to an abrupt end as Lillie Bell suddenly spied
the Lake from one of the windows. In a moment the girls were crowding
about her, gazing in hushed silence at the silver sheet of water—three
miles round Peter informed them—with its enticing little inlets, or
coves, and tiny islands running like a series of stepping-stones through
the center.

The Sport had caught sight of several newly painted boats and canoes
that bobbed cheerily at her, moored to the pier below, and a moment
later the girls were off like a cavalcade of young Indians to inspect
them, for did they not all have to be named on the morrow, when a
general christening of all camp tents, boats, and so on was to take
place?

But there were other things to claim a share of their hearts’ joy they
found, as Carol, who made the seventeenth camper, suddenly saw a large
tent on the edge of the woods to which they all made a mad rush. Here
they found the doctor and his wife, who said it was an army tent that
had been loaned, put up, and furnished by that good lady, Mrs. Van
Vorst. Lifting the flap the girls peeped in to see four more tiny cots,
a little book-case made from soap-boxes by Peter, and the usual camp
furniture staring at them invitingly.

A tiny log cabin was also inspected—Peter said it had once been a
summer-house—which contained two cots. But time was limited, and Dr.
Morrow—who was for the time being captain of the working squad—began to
issue his orders. All baggage and camp equipment had arrived the day
before and the girls were soon busily engaged in putting up tents. It
meant lots of work, but each one was at her cheeriest best as she
overhauled canvases, measured spaces, dug pole-holes, sewed on rings for
tape, tied ropes, and performed the various odd jobs necessary to have
the camp city in shape before night.

As Mrs. Van Vorst had generously provided so many sleeping
accommodations, there were only three tents to be erected, an old canvas
tent which the doctor had loaned, an Indian tepee belonging to the
brother of one of the Orioles, and a natty little affair made of heavy
cotton sheeting. It is needless to say that this was the pride of
Helen’s and Nathalie’s hearts, the tent they had wrestled with through
many toilsome hours on the rear lawn, with Fred Tyson doing duty as a
master tent-maker.

When the tents were erected with openings to the East, in a row by the
water, backed by a belt of woodland, whose pungent odors added a zest to
the girls’ ideals of the camp life, Nathalie and Helen hurried to their
tent to unpack. The big packing-box which had served as a trunk for two
was hastily turned on its narrowest side, with open side to the tent,
and then with hammer and nails converted into a combination arrangement
of book-case and dresser, the top having a piece of white shelf oilcloth
tacked on it.

Here pincushions, hair-pin trays, brushes, and various toilet articles,
with cologne, lotion, and medicine bottles—the last in case of need—were
hastily bestowed. On the upper shelf books were stored—for the story
hour—while the other shelves were quickly filled with all sorts of
knick-knacks, things they just had to have, even in the wilderness, as
Helen had affirmed.

Two ropes, one on each side of the tent, were fastened up so that each
girl could have a handy place to dispose of superfluous articles of
wearing apparel. There was also a smaller one near the soap-box with its
little tin pitcher and bowl, to serve as a towel-rack. After hanging a
mirror for mutual use and tacking on the floor between the cots a pink
and blue cotton rug—Mrs. Page’s idea and gift—they started on the beds.
These were real camping affairs, and would ordinarily have meant hard
labor, but Peter, who had been let into the secret before he left
Westport, had already cut eight logs, four to a bed frame, one on each
side of the tent, and had brought the dry evergreen boughs.

With the boughs the girls filled the frames, and after stuffing two
ticking bags with dry leaves and grass, they placed them on the beds,
and covered them with rubber sheets and blankets. They were then made up
with sheets and double blankets, and then after throwing a number of
sofa pillows about—to be used at night for pillows—the tent-makers were
ready to hold an impromptu reception to their Pioneer friends.

Nathalie now played the part of town crier and rushed hither and thither
inviting the guests to their camp nest in the woods. The girls quickly
gathered and, after due examination, expressed by cries of praise their
admiration of the handiness and deftness displayed by the two girls, and
the first tent feast was held. To be sure, it was only crackers and
fruit left from the girls’ lunch-boxes, but they filled the bill, so
that when the bugle sounded its clarion blast, as Lillie expressed it,
the pangs of hunger being appeased, the girls all hastened with joyful
steps to Mrs. Morrow’s bungalow to hold their first Pioneer Rally.

Mrs. Morrow, as presiding officer, in a short space of time was able to
despatch considerable camp business, the girls having had so many
discussions that their plans were matured and no time was lost in
needless talk. It was quickly settled to name the camp “Laff-a-Lot,” to
govern it as a city, with the girls as citizens with power to elect
their own officials, which meant a mayor, a board of aldermen, a justice
of the court as well as a clerk and an attorney in case of need, and the
squads.

Mrs. Morrow was immediately chosen mayor, and the squads elected. There
was the Coast Squad, composed of two Pioneers whose duty it was to sound
the bugle for taps at six, for a dip in the Lake at quarter past, the
call for breakfast at seven and the succeeding meals, for bathing drill
at eleven, and all other calls required by camp regulations. This squad
was also to see that the coast was kept clear of débrís, that the
bathers observed all rules, and was to give the alarm and act in command
of the rescue committee in times of danger.

The Tent Squad was to see that the girls kept their tents in regulation
order,—each girl to make her own bed and so on,—and that all sanitary
rules were carried out according to schedule.

The Grub Squad meant two cooks, a chief and an assistant, and two
helpers or waitresses. Each girl, of course, was required to bring her
own plate, cup, saucer, bowl, knife, and fork, and see that they were
washed, dried, and placed on the shelf, as well as to wash her own
drying-towel.

The Rally Squad was composed of one person—considered the most important
member of camp—to act as officer of the day by planning with the mayor
the day’s program, reporting this at breakfast, and seeing that all
notices, as well as the schedule for the day’s events, were duly written
on the bulletin each morning.

The Board of Aldermen was made up of the first member of each Squad. All
officials, with the exception of the mayor and court officers, were to
serve for three days only, and the members of all squads were to be
chosen according to their qualifications for the work as determined by
the number of merit badges.

As soon as the Rally was over, the girls made a rush for the Lake, as
every one was wild to go on its gleaming surface that shone under the
rays of the dipping sun like a silver shield, burnished with the golden
red of the West.

But Helen, who declared it was too late to enjoy that pleasure as it was
so near supper time, was rudely interrupted by Lillie Bell, who had been
peering with intent eyes across the water. Suddenly she gave a low cry
and pointed to a solitary figure on the opposite bank dragging a
row-boat from the water.

Instantly all eyes were riveted in that direction as each girl vainly
tried to decide whether the figure belonged to a man or a woman. “Oh, I
know!” screamed the Sport frantically after a short stare opposite.
“Girls, yes, it’s a Scout! See he has on a khaki suit, and his staff,
oh, where do you suppose he could have come from!” she said, looking up
at the girls with delighted inquiry in her sparkling eyes.



CHAPTER XXII—CAMP LAFF-A-LOT


“O fiddle!” exclaimed Lillie squelchingly. “You have got scouts on the
brain! Where would a scout come from up here in these wilds?”

But Edith was not to be gainsaid and had flown post-haste up to the
Morrows’ bungalow to reappear a few moments later with a field glass.
Raising it she began to yell triumphantly, “There, girls—I’m right—it is
a scout! a real scout!” In a moment she was surrounded by a bevy of
girls, each one begging for the loan of the glasses, but Edith was
whimsical, and refusing to comply handed the glasses to Helen, who,
after a calm survey of the bank on the other side of the Lake, declared
that Edith was right and that it was a scout.

“Oh, do you think—” exclaimed some one. But no one stopped to think, for
at that moment the clear notes of the bugle announced supper, driving
all thoughts of scouts from the heads of the famished girls as with a
cheer of delight they made a swift rush for cup, plate, saucer, and
headed for the dining-room.

It was a tired lot of girls who, with sharpened appetites but dismayed
faces, gazed at the slim array of eatables that confronted them at this,
their first camp meal. Nathalie made a wry face, but as she heard
Helen’s reminder that every one was to be satisfied even if she ate
tacks, she smiled in attempted contentment and started in on mush.

But tacks were not to be on the menu that night, for Peter suddenly
appeared, and with his best bow presented a big platter of cold chicken
with Mrs. Van Vorst’s compliments. Everything now went as merrily as a
wedding feast. Really, it was surprising how that chicken lasted, for
the girls had attacked it with grim determination. Nathalie half
suspected that Peter had a secret supply hidden under the table, for
every one had all she wanted and still there was more.

Supper was soon over and, then after each girl had washed her own
table-ware and laid it in its place, they hied themselves down to the
water’s edge. Here, in sweaters and caps—as the air was chilly—they
listened to the crooning melodies of nature, and watched for life on the
opposite shore—reminded again of that scout—and talked, well, just the
things that a lot of happy girls would discuss with the prospect of
three glorious weeks in the open before them.

A trill of song from a hermit thrush in the woods near-by stirred the
hearts of the music-lovers and soon the campers were singing, “Suwanee
River,” to Lillie’s thrumming accompaniment on the mandolin. Then came
“Tenting on the Old Camp Ground,” “Oh, My Darling Clementine,” and a
host of songs familiar and dear to the heart of youth.

As they ended the last line of “Bring Back My Bonnie to Me,” every one
suddenly sat up and took notice, while an impetuous one called out, “Oh,
what was that?”

“Some one is mocking us!” added another listener.

“Oh, nonsense,” laughed Helen, whose ear for music was not keen, “that’s
an echo!”

But it proved to be no echo, for as the girls started in again to sing
they found that if they stopped suddenly, the voices, which they now
recognized as coming from the other shore, would continue with the song.
This created no end of laughter among the girls, and their surprise and
amusement increased as they recognized that their friends on the other
side of the Lake laughed when they laughed, as if in mockery.

“I’ll tell you what we’ll do,” suggested Kitty, “let’s give the Pioneer
yell and see if they answer.” This was no sooner suggested than it was
done, but not a sound was heard, no, not even an echo in reply.

“Well, they can’t be scouts,” said an Oriole, “or they would answer in
some way.”

“Let’s sing, ‘We’re Pioneers,’ and then they’ll know who we are,
anyway,” some one proposed, a little more cheerily.

This proposition met with favor, and the girls were soon singing with a
zest and verve that deserved a reward, but as before a dead silence
greeted their efforts.

The campers felt inconsolable, for some of them had already begun to
dream of the fun they would have if there were some jolly scouts about,
especially if they proved as chivalrous and as manly as the scouts at
Westport. As the girls discussed ways and means of making these strange
neighbors reveal who they were, suddenly from the other shore came in
stentorian tones, evidently through a megaphone, “Be prepared!” This
startling announcement was immediately followed by a chorus of male
voices singing with hearty gusto, “Zing-a-Zing! Bom! Bom!” to the
accompaniment of a loud sound, as if every one was pounding on a tin
pan.

The girls sat stunned with surprise for a moment and then Edith cried,
“Why, they can’t be scouts after all, for that is not the salute used by
the Westport Scouts.”

“Huh! but that is just what they are—scouts,” cried one of the Orioles
quickly, “for that is the national salute. My brother has a Scout book
and I have seen their call.”

“Well, they’re not Westport Scouts, that’s one sure thing,” voiced one
of the girls who had been dreaming.

“What difference does that make,” cried Lillie, “as long as they are
scouts? But don’t you think we girls ought to make some return, hadn’t
we better sing our Pioneer—” But before the girls could answer they
heard the scout salute again. As they clapped an encore, the Sport
blowing the bugle to add to the demonstration of praise, their neighbors
broke into song.

“Oh, it is a song to us, a serenade!” ejaculated one of the girls; and
then as each one grew silent they heard:

  “Welcome! Welcome! sisters dear,
  As we round our fire’s cheer
  We wish you luck in camp so fine
  Sweet with birch and wooded pine.
  Pleasure and joy attend each day,
  As by the Lake you make your stay!”

“Oh, isn’t that just dandy?” “If we could only tell who they were!” But
these exclamations came to an end as Nathalie cried, “Girls, let’s shout
our new call, don’t you know the one we made up so as to salute the
scouts? Now, ready!” and with a “One! two! three!” the girls’ voices
rang out over the water as they chorused:

  “Ragglety! Pagglety! Rah! Rah! Rah!
  You’re welcome scouts with a Ha! Ha! Ha!
  Comrades and friends, we’ll make the woods hum
  When you to Camp Laff-a-Lot come.
  For your wishes we’ll give you three cheers,
  Hurrah for Scouts and Girl Pioneers!”

“Why, Nathalie, you changed the words!” cried one or two slow ones as
they perceived that the girl had substituted certain words that were
more appropriate to the occasion than the ones they had learned.

Nathalie only laughed, and waved her hand for silence as the little
company of merry, fun-loving girls listened to the noise their neighbors
were making. Certainly it was a medley of sounds, for it appeared as if
horns, tin pans, and just about everything capable of making a racket
had been called into service in their appreciation of the fair ones’
ready reply to their song.

Mrs. Morrow appeared at this moment with the announcement that it was
nine o’clock, and according to camp rules all Pioneers were to be in bed
by that hour, so the girls sounded a parting cheer and then hurried to
their tents. The few who loitered, as if reluctant to leave their
friends across the lake, heard an old-time good-night song with one or
two variations in words that added to its charms ring out clearly:

          “Good-night, campers,
          Good-night campers,
          Good-night campers,
          We’re going to leave you now!
  Merrily we roll along, roll along, roll along;
  Merrily we roll along, o’er the dark blue sea.”

A few moments before six the next morning Nathalie opened her eyes,
yawned drowsily, and then rolled over to see Helen staring at her from
the opposite bed with wide-open eyes.

“Oh, I have had such a delicious sleep,” she cried. “I don’t believe I
wakened from the time I touched the pillow. Helen, isn’t it just too
lovely up here in these woods? Did you hear that whippoorwill toot just
after we got into bed? And these bough beds, aren’t they the coziest—”

“Well, you’ll get coziest with a vengeance, Blue Robin,” was Helen’s
terse reply, “if you don’t get into your bathing-suit—” Helen ended with
a shrill scream as the bugle’s blast sounded with startling clearness in
the still morning air.

But Nathalie was already half-way into her suit. The last button was
caught. “There, I’m ready before you, Miss Poke!” she taunted gleefully,
as the second call sounded. The two girls tripped lightly across the
open space in front of the tents thickly strewn with pine needles and
thus on down to the boathouse pier.

Just a moment and a slim figure was seen leaping through the air, then
Nathalie arose like a mermaid from the sea, blowing and puffing the
water from her mouth as she floated for a moment on her back and swam
gracefully back to the bank. As she reached shallow water she stood up
and waved her hand to a group of shivering ones on the bank crying, “Oh,
come on, kiddies!

“Sure, it’s cold!” she nodded to a faint remonstrance from a timorous
one, “but you’ll get heated if you’ll take the plunge!”

Out from her dip, with the wish that it could have been longer, she
hurried to her tent; after a rub came the dressing, the picking up of
her clothes, the putting her bed to air, and then the call for
breakfast.

After this meal came the event of the day, the naming of the camp, the
tents, and the boats. Camp duties were soon disposed of and then there
was a general stampede to Mrs. Morrow’s bungalow, where the Sport, as
chairman of this committee, stood waving the Stars and Stripes on the
roof of the veranda.

A cheer arose a few moments later when its bright colors fluttered
gently to and fro in the morning wind from the flag staff that had been
hoisted over the Director’s abiding-place, and the girls, quickly
forming in line, gave the flag salute. The Star Spangled Banner was then
sung with a heartiness that found its echo in the woods, the very leaves
on the trees seeming to rustle in reverence to the country’s honored
emblem.

The campers now gathered before Mrs. Van Vorst’s bungalow, where, from a
high flagstaff erected by Peter, a white flag fluttered gracefully to
the breezes, disclosing in red letters the words, “Camp Laff-a-Lot.”
Beneath this flag curled a smaller one, also white, bearing in blue
letters, “The Girl Pioneers of America.”

Some one was just about to mount a ladder placed against the flagstaff
when Nathalie, with sudden thought, turned and whispered to Mrs. Morrow,
who immediately signaled to Helen. Helen nodded as she listened to her
Director, and then stepping forward stood before Nita who, with her
mother and Ellen, was a joyful spectator of this camp demonstration. A
sudden look of delight overspread her face as she heard what Helen had
to say, and then after a hurried assent from Mrs. Van Vorst, Nita with
the help of Peter had mounted the ladder, holding a bottle of water in
her hand.

A swing of the bottle, a crash of glass, a stream of water trickling
down the pole, and Nita in a voice somewhat faint at first, but that
grew louder as she caught Nathalie’s eye, cried, “Summer camp of the
Girl Pioneers of America, I name thee, Camp Laff-a-Lot!” Wild bursts of
applause now broke forth, even Ellen and Peter doing their share, the
former tearing off her apron and flapping it vigorously, while the
latter brandished his hat hilariously, stopping every moment or so to
rub the back of his hand across his eyes. “Sure,” as he afterwards
confessed to Nathalie, “it was enough to make any one weep with joy to
see Miss Nita spilling all over with happiness!”

As the Pioneers hastened to the boat-house they saw a diminutive figure
standing on the top of its little square cupola. With many flourishes of
her bottle Carol—who had been elected to this honor—chimed jubilantly,
“Boat-house, in memory of the ship that crossed the unknown sea to carry
the founders of this nation to its shores, I now name thee, ‘The
Mayflower’!”

And so the naming continued, the little log summer-house being honored
by the name of Ann Burras, a pioneer of the Jamestown colony, known as
the first white bride in America. The tent loaned by Mrs. Van Vorst was
dubbed “The Three Guardian Angels,” in appreciation of the services of
Ann Drummond, Sarah Cottin, and Mrs. Cheisman, also of the Jamestown
company, sometimes known as “The White Apron Brigade,” as during the
Bacon rebellion they were placed in front of a trench where Bacon’s men
were digging, to prevent Governor Berkeley from firing on the Fort.

The “Grub House” was to be known as the “Common House,” a most
appropriate name, the campers declared, as it contained their food and
ammunition, just as the little log hut known by that name held the
necessities to sustain and defend the lives of the Pilgrims in the
Plymouth settlement.

The doctor’s army tent was named the “Three Margarets,” to honor
Margaret Brent of Maryland, the first woman suffragist, Margaret Draper,
the first woman to publish a newspaper, and Margaret Duncan, the first
of her sex in the new world to engage in mercantile life. Helen and
Nathalie’s tent was to be known as the “Two Anns,” out of respect to Ann
Hutchinson, the first club woman, and Ann Bradstreet, the first American
poetess.

The boats were quickly honored with the names _Priscilla_, _Mary
Chilton_, _Annetje Jans_, and _Polly Prevoorst_, while shady retreats,
lofty trees, and rocky coves were named anew to do homage to those women
who helped their good sires build the foundation of this great Republic,
by being faithful, enduring wives and mothers.

At eleven o’clock the girls assembled on the shores of the Lake for a
life-saving drill. Forming in line at a given signal, each girl quickly
unfastened her red necktie, and turning swiftly to the right tied one
end of it in a square knot to her neighbor’s. This red life-line was
then thrown to the sinker—as the girls dubbed Edith, who was playing the
part of the person drowning. She hurriedly grabbed this necktie rope and
was drawn ashore by her comrades.

The girls found that this drill not only made them keen and alert,
training them to keep cool heads, but helped to give them reliance as
well as courage, and—heaps of fun.

The bathers were now lined up for a swimming contest, each girl at the
toot of the horn making a wild dash for the water, and swimming out as
far as she could to the stake-boat, manned by the doctor, anchored some
distance from shore. This contest was to determine not only who could
swim, and the best swimmers, but those who had the greatest amount of
strength and endurance, who would be able to train others not so
competent.

Nathalie, who had spent a number of summers at a seaside resort and
therefore was at home in the water, found to her surprise that she,
Helen, and Edith were the three best swimmers of the campers. This was
as much of a surprise to her as to the Pioneers, for, supposing that she
was a swimmer of only average skill, she had never even told that she
could swim.

Drills and contests being over, the girls were allowed to do as they
liked, and so were soon gambolling about in the water, having the
merriest time running races in the more shallow water, ducking one
another, or teaching some more timid one to swim or dive.

Nathalie and Helen had rowed out some distance from shore and were
practicing diving by jumping from the boat. “Now!” Helen would shout as
they stood poised in the center, “One! Two! Three!” The next instant
there would be a flash of pointed hands, a sweep of blue
bathing-suits—like bluebirds skimming through the air—a splash, and then
first one head would appear and then the other, each one blowing and
puffing water from her eyes and nose like a porpoise.

“O dear,” exclaimed Nathalie suddenly as the two girls sat sunning
themselves in the boat, “here comes the Sport. I wonder what she is up
to now!”

But it was all in a morning’s fun, and the three girls were soon having
fine sport as a diving team of three. Tired at last, they settled for a
short rest, Helen and Nathalie laughing merrily as they watched Lillie
Bell trying to induce Carol to do something more than wet her feet.
Suddenly there came a shove, and a second later the two girls went
splashing head-foremost into the water!

A few moments and they bobbed up, not at all serenely, as they sputtered
and gasped, struggling to eject the water from eyes and noses. Helen,
seeing Edith disporting herself some distance away, demanded with
flashing eyes, “What did you do that for?” while Nathalie, whose cheeks
were sea pink, sputtered between gasps, “Edith, I think you are just as
mean as you can be!”

But the Sport was off, waving her hand at them derisively as she swam
rapidly towards shore. The girls by this time had righted their
cockle-shell, which they found floating right side up with the tide, and
after clambering in Helen grabbed the oars, exclaiming wrathfully, “Oh,
how I would like to get even with her for that!”

“So would I!” echoed her friend. “It does seem as if the imp himself was
in that girl sometimes. But wait, I’ll get one on her yet, see if I
don’t.”

Full of the ozone of the forest and animated by that spirit of
exploration that always inspires one in a new place, directly after
lunch the Pioneers with staffs, knapsacks, and note-books, lined up for
an afternoon tramp. To vary the adventure it had been decided to name it
a salmagundi hike, which meant a tramp of observation, each girl aiming
to see how many things she could observe, birds, animals, flowers, or
leaves, in fact, anything that was to be seen in the field or woods.

Nathalie had prepared for the expedition in glad anticipation, being
particularly anxious to get in touch with so many things that she lacked
of nature’s many lores, but when she caught sight of the disappointed
face of Nita, who was not, as yet, equal to a hike her spirits sank to
zero.

Somehow her conscience would not be downed as it urged her to atone in
some way to Nita for the many things that she was forced to be deprived
of in her young girlhood. “No, I do not believe it is my place to stay
with her,” argued Nathalie’s naughty self, “for I have already given up
a great deal of time and fun in qualifying her to become a Pioneer. And
then if I once begin by staying with her she will want me to remain all
the time, and I shall never have a bit of fun.”

But after a short inward struggle Nathalie pleaded that she was tired,
and declared she was going to remain at home and have a good cozy chat
with Nita.

The joy that shown on Nita’s face at this declaration compensated her
for her sacrifice, and she was just trying to think what she could do to
make the time pass pleasantly for the girl when a sudden loud shout
sounded from the woods. Before the girls could question as to what it
was a chorus of boyish voices were heard shouting:

  “Ready! Ready! Scout! Scout! Scout!
  Good turn daily. Shout! Shout! Shout!”

For one moment the girls stared in dazed amazement, why—oh! that was the
salute call of the Westport Scouts! But all thought came to an end a
minute later as a troop of boys in brown suddenly appeared at a bend of
the road leading from the woods. As they spied the Pioneers they broke
into wild shouts and whistles, energetically waving handkerchiefs,
staffs, anything they could muster, while the foremost one, no other
than Dr. Homer, twirled his hat over his head hilariously.

In a few moments the scout mystery was solved as the girls stood
surrounded by the Eagle Patrol of Westport, every one talking eagerly,
some telling how they came to be there, while others were having great
sport as they teased the girls about how nicely they had fooled them. It
soon developed that the doctor and his wife were in the secret; in fact,
Mrs. Morrow said that the doctor had chuckled so when he saw how
mystified the girls were when they heard the calls from across the Lake,
that she feared he would spring the surprise before it was time.

Yes, the scouts of Westport, who had been thinking of a three weeks’
tramp in some place not too far from the city, after hearing how Mrs.
Van Vorst had invited the Pioneers to camp at Eagle Lake, had gone to
that lady, and after due inquiries had made their plans to camp at the
same time as the girls, only on the opposite shore of the Lake.

Finding that the girls were bound for a tramp, the scouts, through Dr.
Homer, begged permission to accompany them. The girls quickly gave their
assent, and in a short space the hikers set out for a survey of the
land, all but Fred Tyson, who lingered at Nathalie’s side as if waiting
for her to join them.

Seeing, however, that Nathalie made no attempt to follow the others, he
asked with puzzled eyes, “What’s the matter, Miss Blue Robin, aren’t you
going to hike?”

Nathalie choked for a moment, then gaining control of her emotions, with
an attempt at a smile returned, “Why, no, I’m tired, you know we have
been working awfully hard ever since we came—getting the camp in shape—”
she had caught a glimpse of Nita’s keen eyes—“so I thought I’d just stay
at home and rest with Nita. You know, she can’t stand a long walk.” This
was said in a lower tone.

Fred’s face showed disappointment, and then he cried boyishly, “Oh, I
say, Miss Nathalie, you’ll miss all the fun!” Then, as if half
suspecting what might be the cause of Nathalie’s staying at home, he
said, “As for Miss Nita, if she wants to come with us we’ll fix it so
she won’t have to walk a step!”

Putting his fingers to his mouth he emitted a sharp whistle, which two
scouts lagging in the rear heard and immediately turned about and
retraced their steps. “Here,” continued Fred, “you fellows improvise a
stretcher to carry Miss Nita so she can hike with us!”

Nita’s eyes began to gleam, but Mrs. Van Vorst approaching from the
other end of the veranda at this moment, and hearing of the proposed
plan of navigation, demurred, thanking the boys most graciously for
their kindness, but declining to let Nita go, claiming that it would be
too much for her that warm day.

Fred, thus forced to be content, after a lingering look of regret raised
his cap and then hurriedly joined the party who were already
disappearing in the winding path of the woods.

Nathalie, with an unconscious sigh, turned away. O dear, it did seem
mean to have to give up that walk. It had been hard enough to win the
first battle over the temptation to go, but this second one had seemed
even harder. But immediately seeing that she was a great baby to let a
little disappointment mar the pleasure of the beautiful day, she turned
with smiling eyes to the princess, and suggested that they have a nice
little row to one of the tiny islands in the center of the Lake.

This, Nita was very glad to do, and so with notebooks and pencils, and
with the remark that they could have a nice little salmagundi hike all
by their lone selves, they started for the boat-house.

And indeed, Nathalie and her little friend spent a most enjoyable
afternoon, for, as she afterwards declared to Helen, “It was lovely and
cool down on that little island with the green trees and shady coves.
And do you know,” she continued, “I was so surprised, for Nita is a most
observant little person. Why, she knows the names of many of the grasses
and wood flowers, and the birds—she knows their names, can tell what
birds are nesting in August and any number of interesting things about
nature. I am sure she will make a most wonderful little Pioneer, after
she becomes acquainted with the girls.”

Of course Helen had many things to tell about the salmagundi hike, and
the different objects they had seen and noted on their tramp. She had
taken notes and Nathalie was invited to take a peep at them some time,
Helen suggesting that she might find them of some help later on. The
scouts, she said, had been most kind and had told them lots of
interesting things, particularly about tracking the footprints of
animals.

“Well,” declared Nathalie as Helen finished telling of the good times
they had had, “I have had two good times, instead of your one, for I had
a fine time with Nita, and then I have had the coziest of chats with
you, which has proved almost as good as if I had been with you on the
hike.”



CHAPTER XXIII—MISS CAMPHELIA


A week had passed, and although the novelty of many of the activities
and pleasures of this life in the open had dulled, every moment proved
one of joy. Drills, contests, sports, hikes, and various entertainments
had merged so evenly, one into the other, that tasks had lost their
irksomeness and play had received an added zest.

To be sure, some unfortunate accidents had happened; Grace had cut her
hand when opening a can of tomatoes, Carol had been stung by some
mysterious insect so severely that even the doctor was puzzled, and one
of the Orioles had sprained her ankle. But these mishaps had been
received with true camp fortitude—the Pioneer spirit, Helen called
it—and had only served as object lessons in the First Aid to the Injured
talks given by Dr. Morrow, thus giving Helen and Kitty a chance to
display their expertness in the triangular, the four-tailed, and many
other kinds of bandages.

Hammers, saws, and hatchets were in great demand one morning—the girls
all busy making stilts, some to show their scout friends that they could
handle men’s tools, while others were qualifying for first-class
Pioneers—when Lillie appeared. With woebegone face she reported to
Nathalie, who was serving as her assistant on the Grub committee, that
there was no milk.

“No milk?” ejaculated the girl. “Why, wasn’t the milkman here this
morning?”

“Sure,” nodded Lillie, “but that Oriole girl—Nannie Plummer—dropped some
swill into the milk can. She mistook it for the garbage pail—” Lillie’s
eyes glinted humorously—“she was so busy expressing her admiration for
that Will Hopper, you know the scout with the languishing eyes, as Helen
calls them.”

Nathalie’s face expressed dismay. “Oh, what shall we do?” she almost
wailed; “we have got to have milk for that pudding, and—”

“To be sure,” laconically returned Lillie, “and you will have to go and
get some.”

“Get some?” echoed Nathalie faintly; “where?”

“At the farm-house, you know the place—with the red barn—on the road to
Boonton.”

“But there isn’t time for me to walk there and back before dinner,”
protested the girl somewhat wrathfully, “on this hot day, too!”

“No, but you can take Edith’s bicycle, and go and get back in no time.”

“Oh, but it is hot!” ejaculated Nathalie, some fifteen minutes later, as
with reddened, perspiring face she slowed up her wheel, and spying a
mossy bank overlooking a brook meandering beneath a group of willows,
jumped to the ground. As she was standing her wheel against a tree, a
woman with a reddish handkerchief tied over her head came up the bank.
She started when she saw Nathalie, but instantly averting her eyes
hurried on down the road in the direction of the farm-house where
Nathalie was to get the milk.

The girl had thrown herself on the grassy slope and was fanning
vigorously with her hat, when her eyes were arrested by something white
lying under an overhanging bush near the brook. Perhaps she would not
have stared so intently if she had not thought that she saw it move.
Just at that moment a low wailing cry came to her ears.

Assured beyond doubt that the cry came from the bundle, she hurried down
the slope, and a moment later was bending over a baby, who, on seeing
the wondering face, looked up with innocent appeal in its wide blue
eyes.

“Why, you dear,” cooed the girl, “how did you come here?” She looked up
expecting to see some one to whom the baby belonged, but as there was no
one in sight and she saw the little lip quiver pathetically, she
gathered it up in her arms and chucking the dimpled chin began to jabber
to it in baby language.

“Whom do you belong to, baby?” she questioned aloud, silently wondering
if that tramp woman who had come up the bank could have been its mother.
But that could hardly be, she pondered, for she looked like an Italian,
while the baby was fair with tiny wisps of golden hair straying from
beneath its neat white cap.

Reminded finally that the camp’s need of milk was urgent, she laid the
baby down and ran along the bank first in one direction, and then the
other, shouting and calling until her voice was hoarse. O dear, what
should she do? She could not leave that dear thing there alone! Ah, she
would take it with her to the farm-house, perhaps Mrs. Hansen might know
something about it.

Carrying her find with one arm and trundling her wheel with the other
hand, she arrived in a short space at her destination. But alas, she met
with no satisfaction. Mrs. Hansen declared that in all probability the
woman was a gypsy, as there was a settlement of them some miles beyond
the town and that she had purposely deserted the baby. She also informed
the girl in a most emphatic manner that she could not leave the child
there as she had enough of her own to look after.

“But this is a white baby,” persisted Nathalie, “see, it is very fair!”
showing the little puckered face, for by this time it had begun to
whimper quite loudly.

“Poor waif!” exclaimed the farmer’s wife, “it is hungry!” Hastily
getting a cup of milk she put it to the mouth of the little one, whose
fingers closed on it tightly as it drank greedily.

But feeding the baby did not soften Mrs. Hansen’s heart, and Nathalie
was forced to see that there was nothing else to do but to carry the
deserted one to camp with her. But how could she trundle a wheel, carry
a five-quart can of milk, and the baby all at the same time? Poor
Nathalie! she was in deep waters!

Mrs. Hansen, however, who was not unkindly, seeing the girl’s dilemma
called her boy Joe, and giving him the milk and wheel told him to hurry
with it to the camp, so that Nathalie would have her arms free to carry
her charge.

Some time after the dinner hour Nathalie, tired, hot, hungry, and every
muscle aching from weariness, arrived at the camp. She was immediately
surrounded by the girls, who besieged her with questions as to the why
and wherefore of her tardy appearance. But when their eyes lighted on
the blue-eyed cherub, who had been blissfully sleeping the greater part
of the girl’s three-mile tramp on a sunny road, they went wild with
excitement.

Mrs. Morrow presently arrived on the scene and promptly driving
Nathalie’s tormentors away, handed the infant to Ellen and Nita. Then
she made the girl lie down in the hammock to cool off, while Helen and
Grace rushed off to get her dinner.

As the girl, between bites, told of her strange adventure, she saw that
it was not to prove as disastrous as she feared, for the little stranger
had already captivated every member of the camp, even down to Peter,
also Rosy, Mrs. Van Vorst’s black cook. Indeed, it was petted, hugged,
and kissed so many times that Mrs. Morrow, fearing it would be brought
to evil by so many caressing hands, then and there made rules as to how
each girl should care for it.

They all declared that Nathalie’s finding that baby was providential,
for one of the Pioneers that very morning had expressed the wish that
they could find a baby in one of the farm-houses. They wanted to
practice bathing and dressing it, as these were some of the
qualifications necessary for a first-class Pioneer.

Although notices were posted in the post-offices of the towns, and also
sent to several newspapers, advertising the fact that a baby had been
found and was at Camp Laff-a-Lot, no one claimed it. The girls were
delighted as they were enamored of their new toy, each one secretly
hoping it could remain with them.

The girls had even begun to discuss the project of calling it the Girl
Pioneer baby, and were deep in plans to raise money so they could have
it taken care of and educated as such, when Mrs. Van Vorst avowed that
if no mother appeared to claim it she would adopt it as her own.

This of course took away the girls’ hopes of having the little one for
their own, as who could deny Mrs. Van Vorst and Nita what they so
eagerly desired and what they were so able to do? In the meantime, Miss
Camphelia—for so she had been christened—cooed, gurgled, and dimpled
with delight at each new mother who bathed and dressed her in silent
adoration of the tyrant of the camp.

                   *       *       *       *       *

Nathalie stirred restlessly, jumbled up her pillow, and then flopped
over with a sigh. O dear, why couldn’t she go to sleep? It was not near
time to get up!

“Nathalie Page, what ails you?” came in exasperated tone from the other
bed. “You have been wiggling, bouncing, jumping, and sighing like a
porpoise for half the night. For pity’s sake do go to sleep!”

Nathalie made no reply, assured that if she did she would betray what a
baby she was.

“What does ail you anyway?” persisted Helen in a softer tone. “Have you
been doing the green-apple act like Carol, and—”

“Oh, it’s just Nita,” replied the girl dolefully. “You see it is this
way, Helen. I told Mrs. Van Vorst that if Nita could mingle with girls
about her own age it would do her a world of good.” Nathalie sat up in
bed and began to hug her knees. “So, you see, I feel responsible in a
measure to see that she gets a good time, but dear me, she is just
having a horrible time!”

“How do you know?” questioned Helen, “she—”

“Oh, the poor little thing mopes and cries all the time. She won’t admit
it, but she doesn’t want me out of her sight. Really, Helen, I know it
is selfish when she is so afflicted—” Nathalie’s voice quavered, “but I
do want a bit of fun myself sometimes.”

“Well, I should say!” was Helen’s ejaculation. “But I wouldn’t worry
over it. She’s selfish, that’s all, and shouldn’t be encouraged. I have
noticed that she is terribly offish with the girls, and they are half
afraid to be pleasant with her.”

“Oh, she does not mean to be offish, as you say,” answered Nathalie
quickly, “she is shy, and sensitive. I think she imagines the girls do
not care for her because she is a humpback. If there was only some way
by which she could become better acquainted with the girls, and give
them a chance to know her better! She’s an awfully bright little thing,
and I know she would be a prime favorite, for there’s lots of fun in
her. She’s just pining—well—for love.”

“Humph!” came from Helen, “she gets enough of it from her mother and
Ellen; they spoil her.”

“Yes, I know, but that is what she doesn’t want—mother-coddling. What
she wants is to come out here and kick around as one of us in a rough
and tumble way. Then she would get over her sensitiveness, but somehow I
can’t seem to manage it.”

There was silence for a moment as both girls fell to thinking. All at
once Helen bounced up in bed crying, “There, Nathalie, I have nailed
it!”

“Nailed it?” repeated her companion. “Why—”

“Oh, you know what I mean, I mean about Nita. Now listen to Solon the
Wise. You get Nita to come and sleep in this tent—”

“Where, on the floor?” inquired Nathalie teasingly.

“You know what I mean—on my cot. I’ll take her room. Then you drill her
to take her part with the other girls, and so on, just as if she were
one of us. In three days I’ll come back and take my turn with her, and
you take my place. Then in three days again let Lillie take a turn, and
so on until the turns have gone the rounds, each girl being her
tent-mate for three days. In that way she will become acquainted and
have a chance to get in with us.”

“Oh, Helen, you are the brightest—but suppose she won’t come?”

“Won’t be your tent-mate? Why, she worships the ground you walk on!
That’s one thing that ails her, Nathalie, she’s jealous of the girls,
because in a way she is outside of it all. Get her into harness like the
rest of us and in ten days’ time she’ll be like another girl, or you can
shut me up for a lunatic.”

Nathalie, as soon as possible after the morning conference, had a little
talk with her Director, and finding that she agreed with Helen, sought
Mrs. Van Vorst and laid before her the new plan. Of course she found
that she had a number of objections to fight from that lady, but
eventually she won, and it was decided that for the rest of the time in
camp Nita Van Vorst was to be lost to her mother’s bungalow, for to her
unbounded joy she was to be one of the girls!

It was bathing hour, and Nathalie, with bugle in hand, was patroling the
beach, keeping her brain and eyes keenly alert, for some of the girls
were careless, and would swim out beyond the raft.

Carol was giving her considerable trouble, for having just mastered the
art of swimming she had become very daring, doing her best to “show off”
before the girls. Her companions had promised to keep an eye on her, but
Nathalie knew that when they were sporting about in the water they were
apt to forget their duty.

Her eyes swept from one group to the other. Ah, the Sport was swimming
out to the raft! How well she looked in that red cap, and what a
beautiful swimmer she was, so free and graceful in her movements!
Hearing a sudden cry, as she thought, Nathalie turned and glanced at
Carol. Good! she had stopped her antics of pretending she was sinking.
Her eyes again wandered to Edith, why where was she? There was her red
cap bobbing on the water, what new trick was she up to now? She had
thrown up her arms. Oh, was she screaming? Pshaw, she was just fooling
as usual, what a plague she was!

Nathalie strained her eyes, why, yes, she _was_ screaming! she had gone
down again! Just a moment, and then as Nathalie saw the red cap bob up
again and heard another piercing shriek, she realized that Edith was
drowning! Nathalie’s brain spun like a wheel—what should she do—she
glanced helplessly around. Where was Helen?

“Edith is drowning!” she tried to shriek, but her voice sounded faint,
as if far away. O God! and then she remembered. Up went her bugle and
two loud blasts—the danger signal that some one was drowning—rang
sharply over the water.

Just a moment, and then with a sudden swirl through the air, Nathalie
had leaped into the water, and with long, swift strokes swam towards the
spot where she had seen the red cap go down! Ah, she was almost there!
As Edith threw up her arms again with another frenzied scream, for help,
Nathalie grabbed her under the shoulders. But Edith, with a hysterical
cry, threw her arms around her neck. Oh, she was dragging her down!

Nathalie regained control of herself, and was frantically beating back
the clutching arms. She had swung her around; she tried to get a firmer
grip, but a nameless fear was pinching her heart. She felt her strength
was giving out! Then she heard Helen’s voice crying, “Don’t lose your
hold, Nathalie, we’re almost there!”

Edith was so heavy; Nathalie tried to tighten her grip; she was more
quiet now. Oh, could it be? She heard the purling of water and saw, but
dimly, something dark moving towards her. Oh, if they would only hurry?
Some one had caught hold of Edith and was dragging—

When Nathalie regained her consciousness it was to hear Mrs. Morrow’s
voice crying, “Poor little Blue Robin!” She opened her eyes to see the
doctor bending over her while Mrs. Morrow peeped over his shoulder with
a cheery smile. “Edith?” she gasped, making an attempt to rise.

“As snug as a bug in a rug,” rejoined the doctor promptly, “and you will
be, too, if you will drink this.”

Nathalie meekly obeyed. She was so tired, would she ever get rested? But
she did, and a few hours later was half sitting up on her cot supported
by pillows, surrounded by a group of sober-faced girls all eagerly
listening as she told how it came about. “If she hadn’t gripped me so
hard,” she ended as she sank back on the pillows, beginning to feel
tired again, “I could have managed.” Then suddenly a queer little smile
curved her mouth and drawing Helen down to her she whispered softly,
“Helen, do you remember the day Edith ducked us when we were off in the
boat, and how I declared I would get even?” Her friend nodded gravely.
“Well,” said Nathalie, still with that queer little smile, “I have got
one on her, haven’t I?”

A cheer fire was in progress, and a noisy one at that. The Pioneers had
spent the afternoon and evening of the previous day over at the camp
across the Lake at an entertainment called Scout Day, given in their
honor by their friends.

Certainly it had been a most wonderful Scout Day, for there had been
scouts saluting the colors, giving calls, making signals, lighting
fires, and building shacks, tepees, and miniature log huts. Scouts, too,
had engaged in all kinds of drills, contests, and races, such as tilting
jousts, hand-wrestling, spear fighting and sham battles. And the games!
They were a revelation to the girls in the uniqueness and cleverness of
the ideas displayed. They had found, too, that scouts knew how to cook
the very things dear to a camper’s heart, and sing—well, about every war
and camp song known.

The Camp Circus presented the ludicrous side of these knights of
chivalry, as they did clown stunts, causing the girls to laugh
immoderately. After supper had come a firefly dance, which made strong
appeal to the weird and mystic in every girl’s nature, as they watched
the scouts swing about the blazing light in strange and grotesque
evolution.

Perhaps the best was the scouts on the water, when, with a flotilla of
row-boats and canoes decorated with the figures of paper animals, and
brilliantly aglow with Japanese lights they glided over the water, the
motion of the boats making the lights look like fireflies dancing in the
air.

The jolly times given by the scouts must be returned! When, how, and
where, were the three questions causing no little agitation, when Carol,
with a white, frightened face, leaped into their midst crying, “Oh,
girls, the baby has a fit!”

On hearing this startling statement some of the girls began to cry,
others jumped up and wrung their hands frantically, while a few made a
wild dash for Mrs. Van Vorst’s bungalow. Helen fortunately kept cool,
and, perceiving that a panic would ensue, seized her bugle and blew it
quickly.

This halted the stampede, arrested the hysterical ones midway between a
sob and a cry, and caused a sudden quiet to fall, as she cried, in a
loud clear voice, “Girls, keep perfectly still. Nathalie Page, Edith
Whiton, and Lillie Bell, I appoint a committee of three to go and see if
Carol’s report is so, and whether our services are needed. And please,
Pioneers,” she called out as the three girls sprang on their feet, “one
of you girls come back and let us know how things are progressing, as we
shall all be anxious to know.”

The next moment the three girls were running swiftly after Carol, who,
immediately after delivering her news, had started to run back to the
bungalow.

“Now, girls,” continued Helen, “let us go on talking. Of course we are
all worried, for we just love that baby!” she paused for a second, “but
we can’t all help. Mrs. Morrow will let us know if we can do anything,
so in the meantime, let us go on thinking up ideas.”

A cheer greeted this speech as a tribute to their leader’s level head
and courage, for this was not the first time that she had preserved her
poise, and held the scales when unduly weighted on the wrong side.

Yes, it was true, little Camphelia was writhing in convulsions on Mrs.
Morrow’s lap, while Mrs. Van Vorst bent over her with agitated
movements, applying with Ellen’s help hot water, and mustard, and such
remedies as were available at the moment.

Nathalie touched Mrs. Van Vorst softly on the arm, “Is there anything we
girls can do?” Her eyes were big with anxious fear.

“Oh, I don’t know,” replied that lady distractedly; “if the doctor were
only here!”

“Blue Robin, is that you?” asked Mrs. Morrow quickly, as she heard
Nathalie’s voice. “Oh, we must have help! How unfortunate the doctor had
to go to the city to-day! But, Nathalie, can’t you send a wireless to
Dr. Homer? Tell him to come immediately, for the baby is very ill!”

But Nathalie was already out of the sound of her voice, as with quick,
light steps she ran to the girls who, with white distressed faces,
awaited her on the veranda. “Mrs. Morrow says to send a wireless to Dr.
Homer over at camp,” she explained hurriedly, “but I am afraid we won’t
get him, as the wireless hours are nine, twelve and eight, and it is not
eight yet.”

“Oh, yes it is,” returned Lillie, “five minutes to eight,” looking up
from her little wrist-watch in its leather bandlet. “I’m sure we shall
catch him.”

The girls hurried to the boat-house and climbed up to the little cupola,
where Dr. Morrow, on first coming to camp, had installed his wireless
apparatus. The Pioneers had been somewhat mystified by this procedure,
wondering of what use a wireless would be to him up there in those
woods. But the doctor had soon demonstrated that it was not only one of
the most useful things about camp, but one of the most entertaining.

He had not only been able to discuss with his fellow physician across
the lake many professional questions that he came across in his medical
books now and then, or letters from his colleague in Westport, who had
charge of some of his important cases, but at times had been able to
give valuable advice to the younger physician when dealing with some
refractory or eccentric scout.

But the doctor had done more than this, for he had gathered the four
older girls, Helen, Edith, Lillie, and Nathalie together, and given them
lessons in wireless telegraphy, so that they were soon glibly talking
about ether waves, spark-coils, condensers, tuners, keys, and so on, in
a way that proved his lessons had been well learned. They had, in fact,
not only learned the Morse code, so that they could “listen in” when the
doctor was “picking up” an S. O. S. call from some ship in distress, but
they had heard many a wireless message from some signal station, or from
some out-going or in-coming sea craft.

At first it had seemed quite odd that although their little amateur
apparatus could send messages only within a radius of five miles, it was
able to receive them from a distance of over a thousand. They became so
proficient in this click-clack language that they were soon sending
aerograms, or wireless messages, to the camp across the Lake for the
doctor. Sometimes, too, they sent messages to their scout friends, a
privilege only accorded after the messages had been read by their
Director, so as to avoid senseless talk or idle gossip.

As soon as the girls reached the little wooden table holding the
wireless, Lillie and Edith instinctively drew back, feeling that as
Nathalie was the one who had found the baby she had the prior right to
send this call for help. Seating herself, Nathalie quickly adjusted the
telephones over her ears and set to work. But to her surprise, as she
pressed the wireless key on the detector to close the circuit, she heard
no sharp crack, and saw no spark-gap. Again she tried with like result.
“Why, what is the matter with it?” she questioned turning towards the
girls in some trepidation.

“Let me try,” pleaded Lillie. But alas, she met with no better luck than
Nathalie, although she tried one experiment after the other. “I think it
is the strangest thing,” she commented staring helplessly before her;
“what can be the matter with the thing anyway?”

But Edith, who had dropped down on her hands and knees to examine the
battery under the wooden board, now rose to her feet crying, “There is
nothing the matter with the condenser, it must be that the aerial wires
are not right!”

As the girl made this announcement there was an ominous silence as they
stared with distressed, worried faces at one another. “Oh, what can we
do?” lamented Nathalie, “could we—”

“I know what we can do,” said Lillie suddenly; “we can row across the
Lake to the camp!”



CHAPTER XXIV—THE WIRELESS OPERATOR


“Yes, that is the only thing we can do,” said Nathalie quickly, “but
suppose the doctor is not there! You know the boys said they were going
on a two or three days’ tramp this week.”

“Well, I’ll tell you how we can settle that problem and make sure,”
replied Lillie, whose mind acted quickly. “Suppose we row over while
Edith goes on her wheel to Mrs. Hansen’s and telephones to Boonton.”

“What, go all that distance alone in the dark?” protested the Sport in
an appalled tone, “and then I don’t know what doctor to telephone to!”

“What, Edith, do you want us to think that you are really afraid?”
laughed Lillie; “_you_, the girl who has never shown the white feather
at any dare? Why, I—”

But Nathalie’s cheery voice, like oil on troubled waters, interposed
quickly, “Of course she is not afraid, but it is an unpleasant thing to
do to ride that distance alone at night. But we can’t take chances, and
we must have a doctor. And as to the one you telephone to, Edith,” she
cried, turning to that young lady, whose face had brightened somewhat,
“call Dr. McGill, he’s the little white-haired doctor who called on Dr.
Morrow the other day. He lives at Boonton.”

Without another protest Edith turned, and after running back to the
cheer fire circle to inform Helen what the girls were going to do, she
hurried after her wheel. A few minutes later, with the lantern fastened
to the front of it, flickering like a firefly as she sped through the
woods, she was on her way to the farm to telephone.

Lillie and Nathalie had hurried down to the boathouse, and in a flash of
time had unfastened one of the row boats. Springing quickly in, they
were soon out some distance from shore, rowing as rapidly as they could
towards the opposite bank. It was a weird night, the sky seemed hung
with heavy black curtains, the only light being that from the moon, as
at rare intervals she darted swiftly through some opening between the
clouds, or betrayed her presence by streaks of foamy silver on the edge
of some unusually inky cloud.

But the path across the Lake was a familiar one, and ten minutes later
the girls reached the opposite shores. “Why, it looks as if there wasn’t
a soul about,” exclaimed Lillie, as, after drawing in their oars, the
two girls stood up in the boat and peered anxiously through the bit of
woodland that led to the camp, whose signal lantern glimmered dimly
through the foliage of the trees.

“I guess you’re right, Nathalie, the boys must be on a tramp,” said
Lillie after several loud “Hellos!” the only reply to which had been a
faint echo from across the Lake.

Putting her fingers to her mouth Lillie emitted several sharp whistles,
but still no sign of life! “Huh, it looks as if it was a case of
Goldsmith’s ‘Deserted Village,’” she soliloquized dismally, but Nathalie
was busy giving the Pioneer yell. This evoked such a strange medley of
echoing sounds that the girls burst out laughing.

Nathalie’s face soon sobered, however, as she exclaimed dolefully, “O
dear, it does seem as if we were destined to have bad luck. I wonder if
they could have gone to bed!” burst from her in sudden thought.

“If they have, we’ll soon rout them out,” declared Lillie, jumping on
the bank. “Come on, let’s drag the boat up and then hike to camp.”

After slipping on pine needles, stumbling over gnarled roots and
blackened stumps, they finally found the path, devoutly thankful that
the moon had at last emerged from behind the clouds. Indeed, as they
stepped from the shadows of the woods and stood on the campus—as the
scouts called the level space in front of the tents—the moon was shining
with a brightness that equalled the day.

As the girls’ eyes traveled from the pots on the top pole suspended over
what had once been a camp fire to the rows of tents, whose open flaps
revealed that they were tenantless, Lillie uttered a sudden cry of
delighted surprise!

The next moment she had shot across the campus, for she had spied a
white paper fastened to one of the larger tents, directly under the
glare of the lantern above the door.

“Hurrah! we’re in luck,” she cried, wildly jubilant, pointing to the
white paper as Nathalie reached her side. “Read that!” The girl stepped
closer and slowly deciphered from the big black letters in charcoal
print:

            “Have gone to the Scout Council at the rooms of
            the Wolf Patrol at Boonton.
                                “G. A. Homer, Scoutmaster.”

“But that does not help us any!” Nathalie said when she finished reading
the notice, her face losing its eagerness as she faced her companion.

“Indeed it does, goosie,” replied Lillie stoutly, “for the doctor has a
wireless. So have the scouts at Boonton, for I heard one of the boys
tell of a message one of them had picked up the other night, the night
we had that awful thunder storm, don’t you remember? So don’t say we’re
not lucky, Nathalie Page, after finding that note. I’ll warrant you,
though, that some of the scouts did go on a tramp, and that the doctor
left that word in case they returned before he did. But let’s look for
that wireless!”

Surmising that the tent with the note pinned on the flap must be Dr.
Homer’s, the girls hastened in, and by the light from the lantern which
Nathalie had taken from the pole by standing on a couple of soap-boxes
she had found, it was soon discovered on a roughly-hewn table in a
corner of the tent.

This time the wireless key did its work; there was a sharp crack, the
amateur wireless operator had clicked off the R. Z., the camp’s private
call, and then with palpitating heart and expectant eyes sat waiting to
see if it had been picked up. Suddenly her face broke into a smile, for
as she “listened in,” she caught the wireless O. K. G. (go ahead). She
went ahead, and in a few moments had made the operator at the Patrol
rooms understand that Dr. Homer was wanted. There was a moment’s delay,
and then the doctor himself was sending a message through the air. It
took but a short space of time for Nathalie to click off why he was
wanted, and how the girls had come to wire him from the scout camp.

“Now let’s make tracks for home,” said Lillie as Nathalie hung up the
lantern on the pole again. “I am afraid it may rain, for I thought I
heard thunder.” But she must have been mistaken, for not a cloud
disturbed the soft silver haze that guided them across the Lake to Camp
Laff-a-Lot.

“Dear me,” ejaculated Nathalie an hour later as she and Helen were
undressing for bed, “what a lot of things have happened in the two weeks
we have been at camp! But how glad I am that Dr. Homer got here in time,
and that the baby is all right.”

“Well, it ought to be, with two doctors on the job,” retorted Helen with
her usual bluntness. “Isn’t that old Dr. McGill jolly?”

“Oh, yes, it was comical to see him look the baby over, and then declare
that there was nothing for him to do but to look wise, as Dr. Homer had
done all there was to be done. What a chummy confab they had too, after
it was all over! He was so pleased to meet Dr. Homer, he said, for he
had heard Dr. Morrow speak of him.”

“Well, one thing’s settled, Miss Blue Robin,” remarked Helen decidedly,
“and that is that Miss Camphelia is not to have any more sweets. I half
suspect that Carol tried to stuff her with a bite of green apple, for
she looked frightened to death when she saw that she was ill. Dr. Homer
said there had been too much mothering going on. I just knew it would
come to this, the way—”

“Stop your scolding, Lady Fuss,” laughed Nathalie, “for it seems to me
that I saw you trying to stuff the kiddie with a lollipop the other day.
But, anyway, the rules have been posted, ‘No one to feed, or to handle
Miss Camphelia without permission of the head nurse, Miss Ellen
Carmichael!’ I’m dead for sleep, so good night!”

                   *       *       *       *       *

The camp presented an appearance of unusual activity, with flags and
bunting rippling in the sunlit air, and girls, scouts, and village
guests in a state of restless progression, for it was the Pioneer Sport
Day. The girls were in a whirl as they flew hither and thither, seeing
that everything was in readiness for the anticipated fun, the visitors
curiously prying into the living arrangements of this girls’ camp, while
the scouts impatiently tramped about, waiting for the sports to begin.

Ah, there was the bugle call, the signal for a rush down to the shores
of the Lake to witness the aquatic feats of the young campers! “A
ghostly dive,” read Fred Tyson slowly from an imposing little program,
hand-printed in red, and tied to a birch-bark cover with sweet-grass.
“I’d like to know—” but his query was cut short as the bugle again
sounded to announce that the first race was to start.

Fred turned his eyes towards the pier and stared curiously at the little
figure in a khaki suit with red tie and hat, standing so proudly erect
on a small platform as the Pioneer announcer for the day. Could it be?
Yes it was Miss Anita Van Vorst, with her knapsack so adroitly arranged
that no one would have suspected she was the little humpback who had
once only taken an outing when wheeled in a chair.

A sudden scurry from the boat-house of two ghostly figures, a quick rush
up the plank leading to the barrel platform,—Peter’s diving-tower,—the
spectral habiliments suddenly flung away to float with the tide, and two
blue-suited forms had sped swiftly downward.

There was a splash, a shower of silvery spray, a few bubbles, and two
heads were bobbing about like floating corks. The next minute Kitty and
Edith were swimming swiftly back to the pier, Edith in the lead, and
Kitty a close second amid the noisy hurrahs from their friends on the
bank. Edith, of course, won the blue, and with a wave of her hand as an
acknowledgment to the cheering audience darted quickly back to the
boat-house.

A tennis match now followed, which proved to be Lillie and Jessie
arrayed in tennis-suits seated in wooden tubs with tennis-rackets for
paddles, paddling to the goal, an anchored raft some yards from shore.
Lillie was the winner this time, and, amid a general laugh received her
prize, a dime and pin, with radiant smiles from the bugler on the pier.

A pioneer race was engaged in by two Orioles, one in the costume of a
colonial maiden of Plymouth town, while the other closely resembled
pictures of that laggard in love, John Alden. The contestants swam to
the raft where they attempted in double-quick time to divest themselves
of their old-time clothes, the one, of course, who accomplished this
feat first having the best chance to win the race.

But shoes would stick, strings would knot, and buttons wouldn’t
unfasten. Nannie Plummer at last was free, and jumped back to the water.
But alas, her bonnet still clung to her; no, not to her head, but to one
of her feet, causing her audience to shout with merriment at her antics
to rid herself of this obstacle, while Johnnie the slow was still making
futile endeavors to rid herself of her undesirable trousers.

A Japanese race was applauded perhaps as much for its picturesqueness as
for the skill displayed, as two daintily gowned figures,—one in a pink
and one in a blue flowered kimono, with flowers and fans coquettishly
arranged à la Japanese in their hair—with mincing steps hied themselves
down to their boats. Here, each one holding an umbrella in one hand and
a palm-leaf fan in the other, they paddled out to the stake boat.

“Gee whiz! I’d like to know how they make those fans work!” exclaimed
Teddie Hart in puzzled tone, to the joy of a group of girls near by, who
giggled unrestrainedly as they saw that they had succeeded in mystifying
their scout friends. Perhaps Peter, if he had minded, could have
explained that a flat board to which the fans were nailed did the work.

A Silver Race was composed of teams of two, rowing out to the raft and
back, each girl holding a silver spoon in her mouth containing an egg.
The winners were Nathalie and Edith, who reached shore with their eggs
intact, while Lillie Bell and a Bob White raced back to land with
streams of yellow dripping from their faces and clothes, the race rules
requiring that each racer should return to the shore with what remained
of the egg.

The Trail of the Lonesome Pine created yells of laughter, as Helen
stepped gingerly along with bare feet on a peeled pine sapling suspended
over the shallow water near the shore. It was greased, of course, but
the red apple at its end proved an incentive as the girl slipped
cautiously towards it. Hurrah, she was almost there! Hadn’t she
practiced that feat for days? There was a sudden swerve to one side, the
supple figure tottered, and then Miss Helen plunged to her fate in the
water below. But she only laughed with the spectators as she wrung out
her skirts and scurried for the bank, while Barbara began her greasy
career.

Surely she had rosin on her feet! No, she didn’t, for the next moment
she too was clawing the air. She swayed for a minute like a reed in the
wind, and then went down, not into the water, but on the pole where she
gazed with a bewildered stare in her near-sighted eyes at the jeering
little prize that had proved so elusive.

The first number of the land sports was a contest in the air, the
performers walking on stilts while balancing potatoes on their heads. A
tilting joust also took place, and helped to prove that the time the
girls had spent in making and walking on the stilts had not been wasted.

The Up Against It Race, turned out to be an obstacle race, one of the
obstacles being twelve eggs to be picked up from the ground and placed
in a basket. The second obstacle was hailed with deafening shouts, for
it was no other than Miss Camphelia sitting on the race-track
contentedly sucking a lollipop. She was speedily seized by the
contestant and arrayed in a coat and hat, while gazing with wondering
eyes at this new red-faced mother. The girl who made the best time as an
egg-picker and baby-dresser proved to be an Oriole, and was duly
applauded for her speed and deftness.

In the Light that Failed contest the fair racers made a twenty-yard dash
carrying lighted candles and pails of water, one in each hand, at the
same time. All lights flickered out to be sure, but the one that lasted
the longest won the contest for its holder.

A fifty-yard dash won by Edith now followed, while one of the Bob Whites
broke the tape at a twenty-five yard dash. In a Ring the Bell
competition the girls were divided into teams, the team having the
greatest number of girls who threw a bean bag through a barrel-hoop with
a bell hung in its center without touching the bell were the jubilant
ones.

Lillie and Edith now gave an exhibition of wigwagging, using the Myers
code, in which nearly all the girls were proficient. Lillie, to her
delight, showed the most proficiency, although Edith had generally been
considered the greatest expert in this science. An Indian-club drill,
and a nail-driving contest not only showed the scouts what their sisters
could accomplish in the way of strength, and manual labor, but brought
the sports for the day to a close.

By this time pangs of hunger began to assail the jolly campers, and
Nita, with a strenuous toot of her horn, made known that a Grub
Contest—a hike for supper packages hidden in the woods, among the rocks
on the shore, or around the tents—would now take place. With much
laughter and jesting the girls lined up opposite the boys, and at three
blasts of the bugle they were off, flying in all directions, each one
bent on searching some one particular locality that he or she had in
mind. The fortunate ones were soon shouting hilariously; in fact even
the slow ones were keener than usual in this supper hike, and soon
bagged their game and cheered lustily as they returned to camp.

Every one now gathered around the dining-room table—appropriately
decorated for the occasion—and was soon dulling appetite with the choice
bits found in the packages that had been done up by the Pioneers but
hidden by Mrs. Morrow and Mrs. Van Vorst.

As they frolicked over the supper it was voted that every one present
contribute to the moment’s pleasure by telling a story, singing a song,
asking a conundrum, and so on. A ball was passed to Helen who
immediately told a funny story, and ended by tossing the ball to
Nathalie, the rule being that the reciter was to throw the ball to any
one he or she chose, which resulted in its being thrown to the more
timid or lazy ones, thus causing surprise and laughter.

Nathalie made a rhyme impromptu, then tossed the ball to one of the
boys, and so it kept going the rounds, not only bracing the timid or
nervous ones, but revealing latent talent that had never been suspected.

Teddy Hart, who had played the knight to the announcer of the day, Miss
Anita, spied her laughing at his antics when he was called to the front
and mischievously tossed the ball to her. The smile died on the girl’s
face and she gasped with a start of terror, but in a moment, with a
defiant toss of her head, she started in and recited some funny verses
so comically that she received an ovation of cheers and claps.

When Nathalie perceived this unexpected turn in the festivity, her heart
went pit-a-pat in sympathy with Nita’s unexpected ordeal, but when she
saw the upward toss of her head and the flash in her eyes, she knew the
girl would prove game. Indeed, she had been proving game for the last
ten days or more, for Helen’s plan of helping her to know the girls had
succeeded so well that Nita had lost much of her supersensitiveness in
regard to her deformity, by being made to forget it and by the
kindliness and deference shown her by both girls and boys.

The intimacy that had come from tenting with the different Pioneers had
not only shown her the need of correcting many of her own faults, but
had revealed the good points of her associates. Many of the girls she
had secretly vowed to Nathalie she would never care for, she had
accepted as the best of friends.

From being deemed an aristocrat of whom the girls stood slightly in awe,
thinking her proud and exclusive, she had proved to be most democratic,
entirely devoid of the many airs and graces they feared. In fact she had
become, as Nathalie said, a favorite with every one, and had nearly as
many adorers as Miss Camphelia, who at that moment was having a most
beautiful time eating bread and milk in the lap of Ellen, gurgling and
winking with baby joy at the gay colors and lights that held her eye.

Supper over, the campers hurried to the cheer fire circle where a tall,
uncouth-looking object covered with sheets towered specter-like in the
center. Helen, mounting a small platform, announced that the campers had
gathered to celebrate the burning of Miss Dummy, who represented the
evil spirits that had run riot during their stay at camp.

An Oriole girl now came to the fore as chairman of the spirit committee,
as it was called, and made known that a thorough investigation had
brought to light many evil spirits that had dominated certain members of
the camp at intervals, not only hindering the development of character,
but causing discomfort and a few heartaches among their mates.

The evil spirits of grouchiness, shiftlessness, dishonesty, and
selfishness, in a sense, had been tamed by the Pioneers’ laws and the
flames from their cheer fire so that they had not caused much havoc, but
there were a few evil ones not so familiar, perhaps, that had persisted
in doing their evil work. The principal ones, she claimed, were
forgetting each one’s own particular failing in the fun of ridiculing
the faults and eccentricities of her mates, the disloyalty to one’s self
by not trying to do one’s best, a habit of giggling when there was
nothing to giggle at, a desire to shirk responsibility by letting the
other one do work that was distasteful, and the weakness of letting
one’s nerves get the better of one on certain occasions instead of
getting the better of the nerves.

Of course this caused much laughter, although each girl recognized her
own particular fault, and then and there secretly swore that she would
subdue it or die in the attempt.

Helen now asked if there was any reason why the evil spirits just
mentioned should not be disposed of for good and all. Receiving a shout
that evidently meant a big “No!” she pulled a string, the ghostlike
garments fell to the ground, and Miss Dummy stood revealed, an effigy
arrayed in an old suit belonging to one of the Pioneers, even to the
staff and knapsack, surmounting a pile of dried twigs and brush.

“Miss Dummy,” solemnly continued Helen, with as straight a face as she
could muster as she confronted the ludicrous-looking evil one, who, with
hat awry, huge red nose, and goggle-eyes, stared at her with a leer, “I
consign to thee those evil spirits that have caused sorrow and
heartaches among the members of Camp Laff-a-Lot, to be burned until thou
art ashes, and then to be buried at the bottom of the lake to lie there
forever!”

As she ended there was a sudden scurry forward as each Pioneer made one
of a circle kneeling around Miss Dummy, and in an instant’s time had
struck her match and applied it to one of the twigs which served as a
pedestal for the evil one. As the firewood had been well oiled it caught
quickly from the blue sputterings of so many matches, and yellow flames
were soon shooting savagely upward to glow like strings of scarlet among
the twigs and briers, causing them to snap and crackle hilariously. In a
moment darting tongues were licking Miss Dummy’s red cheeks with fiery
greed and floated upward to circle about in wreaths of white and black
smoke.

[Illustration: She dropped the ashes of Miss Dummy into the placid
water.]

Some of the unduly imaginative girls turned away, declaring that the
effigy looked like some one of the girls in that suit in the reddened
glare of the flames. But the rest joined hands with the scouts and
leaped merrily about the blazing pyre, executing weird and strange
gyrations, which they termed a fire dance, as a last farewell to their
enemy, who finally, done to the death, tumbled to the ground a fiery
mass of scarlet embers. A pail of water soon quenched the last of the
spirits, when the ashes were gathered into a big pail and carried in a
procession to the shores of the lake.

Here Helen, holding the pail carefully in her hand, stepped into a
row-boat and was conveyed to the middle of the lake. By the light of the
moon just peeping above the horizon she dropped the ashes of Miss Dummy
into the placid water, and to the singing of a comic dirge, composed by
one of the Orioles, was rowed silently back to shore.



CHAPTER XXV—GOOD-BY TO EAGLE LAKE


After Miss Dummy had been disposed of there was a return to the cheer
fire circle, where the Sport performed the unusual feat of lighting
three fires with one match. The giving out of merit badges and stars for
the work performed during camp life and for the day’s sports now took
place. These rewards of merit were each accompanied by camp gifts, the
work of the girls done afternoons at their “trial by needle” hour, as
some of the girls called it, when raffia and bead work, candle making,
sewing, and many other crafts had occupied the Pioneers’ busy fingers,
while some expert read of heroic deeds, or the girls chatted pleasantly
of the pleasures that were, or that were to be.

Pioneer and Scout, each in turn, now told of some special good that had
come to them from the life in the open, which Mrs. Morrow said would be
food for thought on their return to the city. A rhyming contest made no
end of merriment, as well as the games of menagerie, gossip, animal,
blind man’s buff, and others of like character. The scout orchestra now
varied the entertainment with a few musical selections which started the
girls and boys dancing around the fire again, this time with the
graceful swing and motions of the modern dances.

But they tired at last, and, some one starting a song, they all fell in
and sang to their heart’s content one song after the other, rendering
the old-remembered one of “Juanita” with undue emphasis, in honor to
Miss Anita Van Vorst.

After Dr. Homer, with the assistance of a few scouts, had made a deal of
laughter by his comic shadowgraphs, done by a flash-lamp placed in the
rear of one of the big tents with the flaps closed, the time came to say
good-by. A few protested that it was still early, but when reminded by
Mrs. Morrow that they had already been allowed an hour longer than usual
and that they would have a lot of work to do in the morning as they were
to break camp to return to the city, the protests ended, and the
good-nights were said.

The last day was a busy one, any number of camp rules were broken but
the squads were lenient—they were still sleepy—so no reports were made,
and the work of pulling down tents, packing the camp equipment, and
making everything as clean and orderly as possible progressed.

In the midst of this confusion Carol, who had made her last trip to the
post-office, came rushing up to Nathalie with a letter. “Oh, it’s from
Dick!” cried the delighted girl as she tore it open.

“Oh, Helen,” she exclaimed in a moment to that young lady who was down
on her knees packing the big box, “it’s the funniest letter. Dick says
he’s having the time of his life—the jolliest ever—why, where can he
be?” stopping to glance at the envelope.

“Why, he must be in New York, or I wonder—yes,” she nodded in answer to
Helen’s inquiry, “he says Mamma is fine—says they have had a glorious
three weeks—well, I like that,” she grumbled with rueful face, “it looks
as if they had not missed me a bit and—” But the sound of voices at this
moment caused both of the girls to go to the tent door, to see Miss
Carol hurriedly heading a procession of men and women towards the tent.
She was screaming excitedly as she came, “Oh, Nathalie, where are you?”

Nathalie, somewhat alarmed by all this appearance of excitement, cried
quickly, “Oh, what is it, Carol? What is it?”

“Oh, Nathalie,” the girl screamed, “the baby’s mother has come!”

“The baby’s mother!” echoed the dazed girl with wide eyes. “Why, what
does she mean?” turning to Helen, who at that moment had picked up Miss
Camphelia, who had just awakened from a nap on one of the cots.

By this time the party of country folk, breathless and somewhat moist
from undue haste, with expectancy and delight beaming from every
feature, had arrived in front of the tent. Nathalie gave one glance at
the many faces, and then with a sudden cry rushed to the defense of what
she had come to consider as her own, and the next minute was seated on
the cot holding on to Miss Camphelia with a gripping clutch. She stared
defiantly at the intruders as they pushed and jostled one another in
their haste to enter the tent.

But a moment later her arms relaxed, as a faded-looking, worried-faced
little woman, with eyes as blue as the sea, and hair like corn-silk,
gave an inarticulate cry as she caught sight of the baby on the girl’s
lap. Dropping on her knees with outstretched arms she cried, “Oh, my
baby! My precious baby!”

Well, after that Nathalie could hold out no longer, especially when she
saw that the baby’s sweet smile and dimpling cheeks were counterparts of
those of the woman who claimed her as her own.

Then it was all explained. The child had been stolen by the gypsy woman
who, evidently, after a day or so of tramping from house to house
begging for money to reach the Gypsy settlement some distance from the
neighboring town, had decided to abandon it. Unfortunately the notice
that had been sent to be put up in the post-office had failed to reach
its destination, and if it had not been for Dr. McGill, the physician
who had been summoned by Edith when Camphelia was ill, the baby would
never have been found.

Dr. MCGill had been puzzled by the baby’s resemblance to some one he
knew, but supposing the little one belonged to some of the ladies at
camp he had thought no more about it. Afterwards, however, on
accidentally learning from Dr. Homer that it was a lost baby, he had
sent the mother to reclaim it.

Of course there were pangs of disappointment to be endured, but, as
Nathalie said, no one could be anything but glad to give the baby up
after witnessing the mother’s joy. After the mother had thanked them
all, from Mrs. Van Vorst down to Ellen, for their kindness and the care
they had given her baby, hoping that each one of the girls would some
day have one of her own to caress and fondle, they all kissed Camphelia
good-by, and the camp baby departed to return to its own home.

After a dirge had been composed by Jessie, who had bloomed into quite a
poetess, and any number of farewell letters and wishes had been written
for the good luck of the next campers at the Lake, these were buried in
the ground under a cairn of stones with a tiny American flag fastened at
the top. This was the girls’ memorial to the good times they had had, as
well as an expression of the sadness they felt on leaving the place
where they had spent three such happy weeks.

The sadness of parting with the friends they had made in Mrs. Van
Vorst’s household—not the least being our friend Jimmie—was somewhat
lessened when they learned that their hostess and her daughter were to
accompany them to New York to spend a day or so with Mrs. Morrow.

Going down in the car, although surrounded by a merry, chattering crowd,
Nathalie and Helen became unusually silent. Helen, perhaps, was thinking
of the new position she was to enter on her return to Westport, and
Nathalie,—well, she could not have told why, but soon she became aware
that her thoughts had jumped backward and she was reviewing her first
meeting with Helen and the Pioneers.

She half smiled as each one in turn presented herself to her as she
first appeared; Barbara, with her queer staring eyes, absent-minded
manner, and her frumpish clothes that always made Nathalie think of a
five-and-ten-cent store. How often she had been tempted to laugh until
she learned of the meanness of Barbara’s grandfather, for although he
was a rich man Barbara had to scrimp and haggle to get enough to eat, to
say nothing of clothes to cover her back. The tears came into her eyes
when she realized the kind heart that beat so loyally beneath the
despised apparel. After all, what were one’s clothes, mere externals
necessary of course, but in reality only of face value, for surely they
would never gain one an entrance into Heaven. And Helen, what would her
life have been in her new home without this neighbor friend—who had
taught her to master herself by helping her to overcome the many
problems that had confronted her when she had become a Pioneer?

Then she smiled again as she thought of Lillie Bell, with her thrillers
and dramatic poses. She had learned that they were but the frosting to
the solid worth beneath. Indeed, the thrillers in a way had proved an
incentive in the telling of her stories to Rosy, the opening wedge into
the good things that had followed, meeting Nita, making the money for
Dick, Mrs. Van Vorst’s asking the Pioneers to Eagle Lake, and so on.
Why, when she came to think of it, there was not a girl in her bird
group who had not helped her in some way, even Edith, who had taught her
to guard her tongue.

And from the Pioneer industries and crafts she had learned to be useful.
She thought of the first time she had tried to darn a stocking at the
Rally. Yes, and they had helped her to be happy, for they had given her
a purpose in life. As for the sports and activities, they had brought
her in closer touch with nature, giving her a keener interest in things
that had never appealed to her before. And the rules and laws, even the
good old-timey women had all done their share in making definite those
qualities which she now saw were necessary in order to be a success in
life.

She realized, but dimly, perhaps, that she had gotten nearer the hearts
of these people of the workaday world, not only Helen, but Edith and
Jessie, who were all to be wage-earners that fall, thus opening up to
her a new avenue of hopes and desires. Wasn’t it strange how she used to
dread the thought of having to earn her own living, and now she was
worrying as to how she could earn more money to add to what she had
earned already for Dick! Then a sudden thought jarred, oh, suppose Mrs.
Van Vorst, now that Nita had become so different with her sunburned
cheeks and merry ways from what she had been before she met the
Pioneers, should not want her any more! Oh, well, if that should be—ah,
they were getting into New York! She stooped and had begun to gather up
her belongings when some one spoke to her.

It was Mrs. Van Vorst, who, with her gracious little smile—how changed
she seemed from on that morning when Nathalie had handed her the card in
front of the library—said, “Nathalie, Nita and I are going to take a run
up to St. Luke’s Hospital to visit that sick friend—you know the one I
told you about, who just had an operation performed—and Nita wants you
to go with us.”

“Oh, but Mother will be waiting to see me!” exclaimed the girl blankly.
O dear, she didn’t want to go, for she was in such a hurry to see her
mother and Dick.

“Oh, that will be all right,” nodded her friend quickly. “Mrs. Morrow
will stop at the door, and you can tell her you will be along in the
next train, for we shall not be long at the hospital.”

Twenty minutes later the three ladies, each with a big bouquet which
Nita had insisted upon their taking, were entering a large, bare-looking
reception room. “Now, girls,” said Mrs. Van Vorst, “I will hurry up in
the elevator and see how the patient is, and then perhaps you can both
come and see him—her—” Mrs. Van Vorst’s face grew strangely red—she
turned abruptly and hurried from the room.

It was but a few moments when she was back again, and with a bright
little nod cried, “Come, Nathalie, my friend is fine this morning, and
very anxious to see visitors, so come along!”

“I wonder why the patient wants to see me,” soliloquized the girl in
puzzled query. “Isn’t Nita coming?” she cried aloud, seeing the girl
standing by the window with an odd little smile on her face.

“Oh, yes, later; only one at a time at present,” was the quick reply.

Nathalie was still thinking how strange it seemed and how smiling Mrs.
Van Vorst appeared, when they came to a halt in front of a door in an
upper corridor. “Here we are,” said her companion, “now run in and see
my friend!” She threw open the door as she spoke.

Nathalie took a step forward, stared a minute with puzzled brows, and
then with a loud cry flung herself with outstretched arms upon a figure
standing in the center of the room, for it was Dick!

“Oh, how did you get here and—” but the rest was lost, for Dick was
hugging her and kissing her in a way that more than astonished the girl,
for he had always declared he hated to kiss people. And then he held her
off and with shining eyes surveyed the suntanned cheeks of Nathalie
approvingly, as he cried, “So you’re back, Blue Robin—and—great guns, as
fat as a porpoise, too!”

“But what are you doing here?” inquired the still dazed girl slowly—“are
you the lady?”

“Lady!” echoed Dick. “I, a lady? Not on your life! What have you got
into your head now?” he quizzed teasingly.

“But Mrs. Van Vorst said I was to meet a lady—”

“Oh, she was just bluffing you, that’s all,” jeered Dick. “She wanted to
surprise you, for—” then Nathalie gave a loud scream, for Dick had begun
to walk towards the bureau, slowly, to be sure, for his muscles were
stiff, but he was straight as an arrow.

“Oh—why, Dick, where is your cane? You’ll fall—” and then something must
have whispered to the girl,—perhaps it was intuition for in a flash she
seemed to know.

“Dick,” she gasped, “you’ve had the operation, and you’re all right?”
This last was in a tense whisper.

“You bet I am,” returned Dick cheerily, “and in good shape, too. The
doctor says I can go home in a week.”

“But where did you get the money?” asked the girl, her eyes big with
wonder.

“From a check sent by Mrs. Van Vorst as a tribute to her little friend
and adviser, Nathalie Page,” read Dick slowly from a letter which he had
suddenly slipped from his pocket. As he glanced down at the girl and saw
her staring eyes he flicked the letter before them, laughing as if to
recall her to herself. Nathalie blinked, stepped back, and then a sudden
light flashed into her eyes, and with a swoop of her hand she snatched
the letter from her brother, crying, “Oh, Dick, isn’t she just the
dearest! Oh, I’m not worth so much money, I—” Then her eyes swept the
page before her.

“No, I don’t believe you are, Blue Robin,” teased Dick smilingly. And
then his voice grew more earnest, as he added, “Nathalie Page, you’re
the blood, all right. You captured her heart on sight, and this is the
result.” He started to walk slowly towards the bed, but the girl was at
his side, for she saw that he was beginning to feel a little tired.

“To be sure,” he cried apologetically as he leaned on her a little
heavily. “I’m not a speeder just yet, but wait a bit and you’ll see me
do a twenty-mile dash in no time.

“Yes,” explained Dick, after he was resting on the bed again, and Mrs.
Van Vorst’s kindness had been rehearsed in detail; “Mrs. Van Vorst sent
a letter to Mother expressing her love, admiration, and all the rest of
it, for you, and then begged to be allowed to give you this surprise.
She said we could consider the money a loan and pay it back when we
liked.”

“Oh, was that the letter that came just before I went away, that you
wouldn’t tell me about?”

Dick nodded, and then went on, “I was brought here the day after you
left for the Lake; operated on the day after, and have had the jolliest
time ever since. The nurses here are O. K. I have only been permitted to
stand on my feet the last few days, but the doctor says I’ll soon be
walking all right. But Blue Robin, how goes it with you? I hear you’re a
great sport since you left.”

But Nathalie’s thoughts were elsewhere. “Oh, Dick,” she exclaimed
presently, “when do you think we can pay Mrs. Van Vorst the money back?
I have some, you know—” her eyes grew bright—“fifty dollars, in the
bank!”

“And I have, well, I guess I have more than that,” said the boy proudly,
“from the various jobs I did. Oh, Nathalie, did I tell you I wrote a
little skit and sold it to ‘Life’ for fifty dollars?”

“You did?” ejaculated the girl. “Oh, I’m so glad! I always said you
could write funny things. Well, that will make—” but at this moment she
heard the door open. Oh, it was Mrs. Van Vorst—what should she say to
thank her?

But the question faded from her mind as with a cry of delight she sprang
into the outstretched arms of her mother.

Well, it seemed as if the three would never get through going over this
great joy that had come into their lives! Then, too, they were all
anxious to pay back as soon as possible Mrs. Van Vorst’s kind loan.

“Well,” said Nathalie at length, “I am sure if we all work hard we can
do it pretty soon. How much did you say it cost?”

But before Dick could answer Mrs. Page cried, taking a hand of each as
she spoke, “It will take time to be sure, but Mother is going to do her
share, for, children, the bonds are all right, I received my interest
yesterday, the usual six per cent.”

“Oh, isn’t that just too lovely!” exclaimed Nathalie. But before she
could say more the door opened and Mrs. Van Vorst and Nita entered, Nita
all shyness again as she bowed stiffly to Dick, whom she had always been
anxious to meet. And then the unexpected happened, for as Nathalie
turned to thank her kind benefactor she burst into tears and cried as if
her heart would break, to the dismay of every one present. Oh, what a
fool she did make of herself, she afterwards confessed with shamed eyes
to Helen.

But Mrs. Van Vorst had been a girl herself once, and so she understood
just how her young friend felt. She comforted Nathalie so sweetly that
the girl fell in love with her over again, her tears dried, and she was
soon her happy self.

In a short space the good-bys were said to Dick, and the four ladies
hurried to the taxi that was to whirl them to Westport. Of course there
was so much to tell and talk over during the journey that it was not
until Nathalie was undressing for bed that she heard that as soon as
Dick was able he and her mother were to spend two weeks at Eagle Lake
with Mrs. Van Vorst. Nathalie received this news with unfeigned joy, for
now her mother would have a change, and then she and Dick could see what
a lovely place the Lake was.

There had been so many unexpected bits of brightness to make Nathalie
happy that day that when she finally got into bed, although she was
terribly tired, her brain was in such a whirl she was sure she would
never go to sleep. But at last, with a drowsy sigh, she snuggled down on
her pillow with the happy thought that she was so glad she had found
that nest—of blue birds—and had become—a Girl Pioneer!

                                THE END



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12mo Cloth

Illustrated by F. T. MERRILL $1.35 _net_

The opening chapters introduce us to old Boston in England. Margaret
Sidney went there in 1907 and absorbed the atmosphere of Cotton Mather’s
“St. Botolph’s Town,” gathering for herself facts and traditions. Then
“St. Botolph’s Town” yields its scenic effects, and the setting of the
story is changed to Boston Town of New England.

The story is absorbing, graphic, and truly delightful, carrying one
along till it seems as if actual participation in the events had been
the lot of the reader. The same naturalness that is so conspicuous in
her famous “Pepper Books” marks this latest story of Margaret Sidney’s.
She makes characters live and speak for themselves.

  It is an inspiring, patriotic story for the young, and contains
  striking and realistic pictures of the times with which it
  deals.—_Sunday School Magazine, Nashville._

  The author presents a story, but she gives a veracious picture of
  conditions in the town of Boston during the Revolution. Parents who
  are seeking wholesome books can place this in the front tank with
  entire safety.—_Boston Globe._

  Surely Margaret Sidney deserves the gratitude of many a child, and
  grown-ups, too, for that matter, in telling in so charming, yet,
  withal, so simple a manner, of these early days in this
  country.—_Utica Observer._

  A really thrilling tale of the American Revolution. Interesting for
  both old and young.—_Minneapolis Journal._

_For sale by all booksellers or sent postpaid on receipt of price by the
publishers_

LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., Boston



JEAN CABOT SERIES

By GERTRUDE FISHER SCOTT

Illustrated by Arthur O. Scott 12mo Cloth

Price, Net, $1.25 each

Jean Cabot at Ashton

Here is the “real thing” in a girl’s college story. Older authors can
invent situations and supply excellently written general delineations of
character, but all lack the vital touch of this work of a bright young
recent graduate of a well-known college for women, who has lost none of
the enthusiasm felt as a student. Every activity of a popular girl’s
first year is woven into a narrative, photographic in its description of
a life that calls into play most attractive qualities, while at the same
time severely testing both character and ability.

Jean Cabot in the British Isles

This is a college story, although dealing with a summer vacation, and
full of college spirit. It begins with a Yale-Harvard boat race at New
London, but soon Jean and her room-mate sail for Great Britain under the
chaperonage of Miss Hooper, a favorite member of the faculty at Ashton
College. Their trip is full of the delight that comes to the traveler
first seeing the countries forming “our old home.”

Jean Cabot in Cap and Gown

Jean Cabot is a superb young woman, physically and mentally, but
thoroughly human and thus favored with many warm friendships. Her final
year at Ashton College is the culmination of a course in which study,
sport and exercise, and social matters have been well balanced.

Jean Cabot at the House With the Blue Shutters

Such a group as Jean and her most intimate friends could not scatter at
once, as do most college companions after graduation, and six of them
under the chaperonage of a married older graduate and member of the same
sorority spend a most eventful summer in a historic farm-house in Maine.

For sale by all booksellers, or sent postpaid on receipt of price by the
publishers



BRAVE HEART SERIES

By Adele E. Thompson

Illustrated 12mo Cloth _Net_ $1.25 each

Betty Seldon, Patriot

A book that is at the same time fascinating and noble. Historical events
are accurately traced leading up to the surrender of Cornwallis at
Yorktown, with reunion and happiness for all who deserve it.

Brave Heart Elizabeth

It is a story of the making of the Ohio frontier, much of it taken from
life, and the heroine one of the famous Zane family after which
Zanesville, O., takes its name. An accurate, pleasing, and yet at times
intensely thrilling picture of the stirring period of border settlement.

A Lassie of the Isles

This is the romantic story of Flora Macdonald, the lassie of Skye, who
aided in the escape of Charles Stuart, otherwise known as the “Young
Pretender.”

Polly of the Pines

The events of the story occur in the years 1775-82. Polly was an orphan
living with her mother’s family, who were Scotch Highlanders, and for
the most part intensely loyal to the Crown. Polly finds the glamor of
loyal adherence hard to resist, but her heart turns towards the patriots
and she does much to aid and encourage them.

American Patty

A Story of 1812

Patty is a brave, winsome girl of sixteen whose family have settled
across the Canadian border and are living in peace and prosperity, and
on the best of terms with the neighbors and friendly Indians. All this
is suddenly and entirely changed by the breaking out of war, and
unwillingness on the part of her father and brother to serve against
their native land brings distress and deadly peril.

_For sale by all booksellers, or sent postpaid on receipt of price to
the publishers_

LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., BOSTON



HEROES OF HISTORY SERIES

A newly grouped collection of standard favorites—the kind that never
grow old. In school and public libraries and intelligent homes these
books are recognized as outweighing any number of the trashy newer
juveniles so much in evidence, and for bright boys and girls they hold a
high interest. The pleasing new covers, at the same low price, give them
a renewed welcome.

Twenty titles by unsurpassed writers of history for the young: Towle,
Headley, Bogart, Watson, and Frost.

New cover design, with side titles. Illustrated. Price per volume, 60
cents.

By GEORGE M. TOWLE

   1. DRAKE; The Sea King of Devon.
   2. MAGELLAN; First Around the World.
   3. MARCO POLO; His Travels and Adventures.
   4. PIZARRO; His Adventures and Conquests.
   5. RALEGH; His Voyages and Adventures.
   6. VASCO DA GAMA; His Voyages and Adventures.
   7. HEROES AND MARTYRS OF INVENTION.

By P. C. HEADLEY

   8. FACING THE ENEMY; Life of Gen. W. T. Sherman.
   9. FIGHT IT OUT ON THIS LINE; Life of Gen. U. S. Grant.

By W. H. BOGART

  10. BORDER BOY; Life of Daniel Boone.

By HENRY C. WATSON

  11. FATHER OF HIS COUNTRY; Life of Washington.
  12. FRIEND OF WASHINGTON; Life of Lafayette.
  13. GREAT PEACEMAKER; Life of William Penn.
  14. POOR RICHARD’S STORY; Life of Franklin.

By JOHN FROST

  15. GREAT EXPOUNDER; Life of Daniel Webster
  16. LITTLE CORPORAL; Life of Napoleon.
  17. OLD HICKORY; Life of Andrew Jackson.
  18. OLD ROUGH AND READY; Life of Gen. Zachary Taylor.
  19. MILL BOY OF THE SLASHES; Life of Henry Clay.
  20. SWAMP FOX; Life of Gen. Francis Marion.

LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., BOSTON



Four Gordons

By EDNA A. BROWN

Illustrated Large 12mo Decorated Cover $1.35 _net_

Louise and her three brothers are the “Four Gordons,” and the story
relates their experiences at home and school during the absence of their
parents for a winter in Italy. There is plenty of fun and frolic, with
skating, coasting, dancing, and a jolly Christmas visit. The
conversation is bright and natural, the book presents no improbable
situations, its atmosphere is one of refinement, and it has the merit of
depicting simple and wholesome comradeship between boys and girls.

“The story and its telling are worthy of Miss Alcott. Young folks of
both sexes will enjoy it.”—_N.Y. Sun_.

“It is a hearty, wholesome story of youthful life in which the morals
are never explained but simply illustrated by logical
results.”—_Christian Register_.


Uncle David’s Boys

By EDNA A. BROWN

Illustrated by John Goss 12mo Cloth

Price $1.35 _net_

This tells how some young people whom circumstances brought together in
a little mountain village spent a summer vacation, full of good times,
but with some unexpected and rather mysterious occurrences. In the end,
more than one head was required to find out exactly what was going on.
The story is a wholesome one with a pleasant, well-bred atmosphere, and
though it holds the interest, it never approaches the sensational nor
passes the bounds of the probable.

“A story which will hold the attention of youthful readers from cover to
cover and prove not without its interest for older readers.”—_Evening
Wisconsin_.

“For those young people who like a lively story with some unmistakably
old fashioned characteristics, ‘Uncle David’s Boys,’ will have a strong
appeal.”—_Churchman_.

_For sale by all booksellers or sent postpaid on receipt of price by the
publishers_

LOTHROP, LEE & SHEPARD CO., BOSTON





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