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Title: The Camp Fire Girls at Driftwood Heights
Author: Sanderson, Margaret Love
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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                         Camp Fire Girls Series

                The Camp Fire Girls at Driftwood Heights

------------------------------------------------------------------------

[Illustration: “It’s the worst example of pure and unadulterated nerve
I’ve ever heard of,” cried Jane Pellew inelegantly.]

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                The Camp Fire Girls at Driftwood Heights

                                   BY

                        MARGARET LOVE SANDERSON

                             Illustrated by

                            Mildred Webster

                          The Reilly & Lee Co.

                                Chicago

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                            Copyright, 1918
                                   by
                        The Reilly & Britton Co.

                            Made in U. S. A.

                The Camp Fire Girls at Driftwood Heights

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                                CONTENTS

                I THE TORCH BEARER’S DESIRE
               II THE “GREAT FAVOR”
              III ALL FOR THE SAKE OF RUTH
               IV A HEART TO HEART TALK
                V THREE LETTERS
               VI A SUDDEN CHANGE OF PROGRAMME
              VII AN OFFENDED EAVESDROPPER
             VIII BLANCHE LIVES UP TO HER REPUTATION
               IX AN ENERGETIC INVALID
                X A HURRIED HOMEWARD HIKE
               XI THE REVOLT OF RUTH
              XII THE PROMISE
             XIII THE ARRIVAL OF BLUE WOLF
              XIV THE START
               XV BLUE WOLF DISTINGUISHES HIMSELF
              XVI A DISCOURAGED TORCH BEARER
             XVII RUTH DELIVERS HER ULTIMATUM
            XVIII A DISGRUNTLED EXPLORER
              XIX A PAIR OF INNOCENT MISCHIEF-MAKERS
               XX CAUGHT IN THE DARK
              XXI A NIGHT OF SUSPENSE
             XXII “UNITED WE FLOURISH”

------------------------------------------------------------------------

                The Camp Fire Girls at Driftwood Heights



                               CHAPTER I

                       THE TORCH BEARER’S DESIRE


                “That light which has been given to me,
                I desire to pass undimmed to others,”

recited Ruth Garnier in clear, purposeful tones.

For a brief instant following her spoken pledge, an eloquent silence
reigned over the circle of picturesque figures seated about the
brightly-blazing camp fire. Then a storm of acclamation rent the still
night air, echoing and re-echoing among the giant oaks that hemmed in
the company of ardent fire-worshippers. To hear Ruth Garnier repeat the
desire of the Torch Bearer was indeed sufficient reason for applause on
the part of her comrades of school and Camp Fire. No one of them was
more honestly deserving of that honor than sunny, self-reliant Ruth. It
was the highest to which she could attain as a Camp Fire Girl until the
passing of years should render her eligible to the post of Guardian.

Her cheeks flaming at this unexpected tribute to herself, Ruth resumed
her place in the wide circle of girls to the accompaniment of the
ringing vocal cheer, “Wo-he-lo for aye!”

She was feeling strangely humble and a bit overwhelmed at the ovation.
At no time vainglorious, she found it hard to conceive of why her
promotion to Torch Bearer should elicit such a lively clamor of
appreciation. As one in a dream, she listened to Miss Drexal, the
Guardian, as the latter proceeded to dwell flatteringly upon the new
Torch Bearer’s good qualities, expressing her pleasure at Ruth’s
advancement in the Camp Fire Association.

It was not until the chorus of fresh young voices had begun their
beautiful good-night song, “Now Our Camp Fire’s Burning Low,” that Ruth
emerged sufficiently from her trance of wondering happiness to join in
the singing. As she sang, a tender smile flickered about her mobile
lips. She knew that among those present a sextette of loyal friends was
impatiently longing for the Council Fire to end, so that they might
tender their more personal congratulations.

To the group of girls known as the Hillside Camp Fire belonged not only
Ruth, but her six chums, Betty Wyndham, Jane Pellew, Frances Bliss,
Sarah Manning, Anne Follett and Emmeline Cerrito. Brought into intimate
companionship during their first year at Miss Belaire’s Academy, the
seven young women had found much in common. In “THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT
HILLSIDE” the story of how they met, and one by one became interested in
the Camp Fire movement, has already been told.

Later, when the longed-for summer vacation brought them together again
for a month’s stay in the Catskills at a house party given by Betty
Wyndham, their Camp Fire zeal received fresh impetus. It was while they
were at Wanderer’s Roost, the Wyndhams’ cottage, that they came into the
real meaning of the word comradeship.

Strangely enough it was the eighth member of the house party, Marian
Selby, an unwelcome cousin of Ruth Garnier’s, who showed them the way.
Out of a series of dark misunderstandings, which bade fair to wreck that
promised month of unalloyed pleasure, rose the Equitable Eight, of whom
Marian eventually became the best-loved member. A complete record of
their eventful sojourn in the Catskills has been set down in “THE CAMP
FIRE GIRLS AT LOOKOUT PASS.”

And now their second year at Miss Belaire’s was rapidly drawing to a
close. So far as the seven Hillside members of the Equitable Eight were
concerned, it had been a year of concentrated endeavor, not only as
students, but as Camp Fire Girls as well. Devoted followers of the great
movement whose watchwords are, “Work, Health and Love,” they had labored
conscientiously to forward it at the academy. The Hillside Camp Fire, to
which they belonged, now boasted of its full quota of members. The
overflow of converts to it had formed themselves into a second group
known as the Drexal Camp Fire, named in honor of Miss Drexal, Guardian
of the Hillside group, who, with Ruth, had worked unceasingly to
organize this second branch.

On the balmy evening in June which marked the elevation of Ruth to Torch
Bearer, the two groups had joined forces in a grand Council Fire, as a
fitting wind-up to the meetings which had been regularly held during the
school year. Though each Camp Fire had its own particular out-door
rendezvous, the two groups had elected to hold their last Council Fire
at the Hillside meeting-place. It was an ideal spot, less than half a
mile from the Academy, and situated in a natural grove of magnificent
oaks.

Due to a long warm fall and an especially mild winter, the Hillside
group had made it a point to hold as few meetings as possible indoors by
candle light. Only in the case of severe storm had they reconciled
themselves to the lesser freedom of the house. To quote Ruth’s frequent
sturdy assertion: “Camp Fire Girls aren’t supposed to mind a little
thing like bad weather.” Her own enthusiasm in the movement always
bubbling over, it was not strange that the others in her group had
become gradually imbued with the same spirit. Neither was it to be
wondered at that those to whom she had been an inspiration to good works
were now unselfishly glad to see her thus publicly come into her own.

“Hurrah for our Ruth!” was the first jubilant exclamation that greeted
her ears, the instant the Council Fire had ended. Frances Bliss had
pounced upon Ruth with the joyous abandon of a playful bear-cub, and was
hugging her vigorously.

Free at last to express their individual gratification, her six intimate
friends now crowded about her, each one more eager than the next to make
herself heard.

“I’m so pleased and so proud of you, Ruth,” was Anne Follett’s
affectionate tribute, as Ruth emerged, rosy and laughing, from Frances’
devastating embrace.

“So are the rest of the Equitable Eight,” caroled Jane Pellew, her sharp
black eyes glowing. “I speak for Marian, too. It’s just what she’d say
if she were here.”

“You truly deserved the honor, Ruth,” chimed in Betty Wyndham. “It was
positively thrilling to hear you repeat the Torch Bearer’s Desire.”
Betty had been keenly alive to the dramatic value of the ceremony.

“It was just like a play, wasn’t it, Betty?” teased Sarah Manning.

“Certainly it was,” agreed Betty, calmly ignoring Sarah’s intent to
tease. “Still I can’t see that your remark is strictly in the nature of
a congratulation,” she added slyly.

“Oh, I hadn’t got that far yet,” was Sarah’s unabashed retort. “But here
goes. Most estimable and magnificent Ruth, deign to accept the humble
and heartfelt congratulations of your lowly admirer, Sarey. Profiting by
your unparalleled example, I shall live in the fond hope that sometime
during the next hundred years I shall be elevated to a like honor.”

“Fine!” applauded Frances. “Plain Jane and I will proceed to live in the
fond hope that we’ll be there to see it. We may be a trifle time-worn
and wobbly by that time, but nevertheless, we’ll be there.”

“You needn’t include me in your calculations,” cut in Jane scornfully.
“I shall grow old gracefully and never wobble.”

“You only think you won’t,” beamed Frances. “But never mind. No matter
what relentless fate Time may bring you, Plain Jane, I shall be on hand
to aid and sustain your tottering steps. I refuse to be deprived of my
chief pillar of argument.”

“Oh, dear, they’ve begun,” moaned Sarah. “Won’t somebody please stop
them?”

“I don’t understand you, Sarah.” Frances fixed a reproving eye on the
protestant. “Always try to say clearly what you mean, then we may
perhaps believe that you mean what you say.”

“I mean what I say _when_ I say that I don’t intend to argue with you,
Frances Bliss. It’s a waste of breath and I—”

“Be calm, children,” laughingly admonished Emmeline Cerrito. Her gaze
fixed intently on Ruth, Emmy had thus far remained silent. The very
expression of her dark eyes was more eloquent than speech. In reality
her light expostulation had cloaked a depth of emotion which she
jealously sought to conceal even from her chums. Their second year
together as roommates had served greatly to strengthen the bond between
herself and Ruth. A well-nigh perfect comradeship now existed between
them. Emmy’s happiness in the fulfillment of Ruth’s desire was second
only to that of the latter herself.

“I _am_ calm,” declared Frances. “’Tis the calm of inspiration. If you
don’t believe it, wait a little. I am on the verge of composing a great
epic poem in which Sarah, Plain Jane and little Frances are all sweetly
mingled. It begins, ‘Words, idle words, I know not what they mean!’
That’s as far as I’ve progressed. The rest of it will come to me later.”

“I hope it will be after you’ve gone to bed to-night. Then you can’t
inflict it upon me,” was Jane’s unappreciative comment.

“What a cruel, unfeeling person you are, Janie.” Frances’ wide smile
indicated small injury. “Never mind. Sarah can’t escape me. I’ll wait
until she is nicely asleep, then I’ll wake her up and recite it to her.”

“You’re quite capable of it,” giggled Sarah, “but ‘forewarned,’ you
know. You’ll wish you’d kept your great epic poem to yourself.”

“More idle words,” murmured Frances. “It’s not wise to take such vague
threats too seriously. I—”

Her further remarks on the subject were suddenly cut short by merry
cries of “Break away! Break away!” from a bevy of girls who had come up
to congratulate Ruth. Signally entertained by Frances’ nonsense, the
sextette still hemmed Ruth in. Now obligingly obeying the impetuous
demand, it broke up to give place to the newcomers. For at least fifteen
minutes an impromptu reception went on by the ruddy light of the fire
which Miss Drexal had purposely allowed to remain unextinguished for the
time being.

“Come girls. It is almost ten o’clock,” she presently reminded the knots
of busy chatterers. “We must put out the sacred flame and depart in a
hurry. Remember the ten-thirty bell. I am afraid as it is that there
will be a dolorous wail of ‘unprepared’ to-morrow morning. Betty and
Jane, will you please help me?”

“With pleasure,” responded both at once, halting only long enough to
solemnly join their little fingers and wish, by reason of having said
precisely the same thing in the same instant.

“Thumbs, Shakespeare, Knickerbocker, salt, pepper, vinegar,” mumbled
Betty glibly.

“Elbows, toes, Webster, Washington, ginger, catsup, paprika,” droned
Jane. Whereupon they hastily unlocked fingers, giggled and rushed to the
aid of the Guardian who had already begun to beat out the fire with a
long stick.

That important task efficiently accomplished, a long procession of
gay-voiced Camp Fire followers was soon wending a swinging course across
the moonlit fields toward the academy. Almost at its head walked Ruth
and Emmy, conversing in low, confidential tones.

“I can’t begin to tell you how sweet it was to hear you repeating the
Torch Bearer’s Desire,” Emmy was saying softly. “It made me feel so glad
and happy for your sake.”

“I knew you’d feel that way about it,” breathed Ruth. “You understood
better than anyone else exactly how much it meant—”

“I thought I’d never catch up with you,” broke in a cross voice, as a
tall, auburn-haired girl unceremoniously shattered the confidential
little session by shoving herself between the two, causing them to relax
their light hold on each other’s arms. In the white moonlight the face
of the intruder showed decided sulkiness. “Ever since the Council Fire
was over I’ve been trying to get in a word edgewise with Ruth. Much good
it did to try with the girls all crowding around her, talking at the top
of their lungs.”

“Well, here I am, Blanche. Sorry I happened to be so popular, for once.”
Ignoring the pettish inflection in the newcomer’s voice, Ruth spoke with
her usual sunny good humor. “Was it something special you had to tell
me?”

“Oh, no. I merely thought I’d like to congratulate you,” Blanche
answered in anything but a congratulatory tone.

“Thank you ever so much.” Privately, Ruth was at a loss to account for
this sudden interest in herself on Blanche Shirly’s part. Long since,
she had reached the rueful conclusion that she and Blanche had little in
common. It was only of late that the latter had begun to treat her with
condescending friendliness.

During her first year at Miss Belaire’s she had earnestly tried to find
under Blanche Shirly’s shallow, snobbish exterior some vein of intrinsic
worth. Toward the close of that memorable year, when the Camp Fire
spirit had begun to manifest itself strongly throughout the freshman
class, Ruth had had high hopes of Blanche’s conversion to a more earnest
scheme of life which offered loftier ideals than fine clothes, beaux,
theatres and dances, and Blanche had even gone so far as to express a
desire to be a Camp Fire Girl. Nevertheless she had not put her desire
into execution. She had merely made vague promises to join the
organization in the fall, before departing homeward on her summer
vacation.

Afterward, when the seven friends had chanced to encounter her at Haines
Falls, a summer resort in the Catskills, she had apparently changed her
mind. On the momentous occasion when Emmeline Cerrito’s perverse stand
was responsible for the call Blanche and her mother had paid Betty
Wyndham at Wanderer’s Roost, both mother and daughter had offered a most
unflattering opinion of the Camp Fire movement. Blanche expressed
herself loftily as having lost all interest in it.

Through the major part of her second year at Miss Belaire’s, she had
pointedly steered clear of the Equitable Eight. Later, for reasons best
known to herself, she had abruptly changed her tactics. Greatly to their
surprise she and Jeanette Hayes had recently joined the Drexal Camp Fire
and religiously attended the meetings.

Slightly mollified by Ruth’s cordial reception of herself, Blanche
marched serenely along between the two whom she had interrupted,
apparently oblivious to the fact that Emmy had said not a word to her.
Emmy was not only incensed by Blanche’s lack of ceremony, she was also
darkly considering the reason for the invasion. She had no illusions
concerning Blanche. Far from feeling jealous at this inexplicable
display of friendliness toward Ruth, she was nevertheless not favorably
impressed by it.

“What’s the matter with you, Emmy?” It had suddenly penetrated Blanche’s
somewhat obtuse brain that Emmy was not specially overjoyed at seeing
her. “Are you deep in one of your black moods? Anyone might think you
weren’t glad on Ruth’s account.”

In the darkness Emmy’s eyes flashed ominously. An angry reply leaped to
her lips. Forcing it back she merely said with acid sweetness: “What
reason have you for thinking that I’m not?”

“None at all,” Blanche hastily assured. “I was only fooling.” Warned by
Emmy’s tone that she had gone too far, Blanche continued nervously, “I
must go back to Jean. She will wonder what has become of me. See you
to-morrow.” Promptly beating a retreat, she left the danger spot and
returned to Jeanette with, “Thank goodness, that’s done. My, but
Emmeline Cerrito hates to have anyone say two words to Ruth Garnier! She
makes me tired. If it weren’t for certain reasons, I wouldn’t bother my
head about Ruth Garnier.”

Left alone, neither Emmy nor Ruth spoke for a moment. It was Emmy who
broke the silence. “Blanche has an axe to grind,” she burst forth. “I’ve
noticed for over a week now that she is trying her best to be sweet to
you, Ruth. Don’t think I’m jealous. I hope I’ve learned that jealousy
doesn’t pay. But I know Blanche. Jeanette is the only girl at Miss
Belaire’s that she really cares about. They are two of a kind. Mark what
I say. Blanche has thought of something that she wants you to do for
her.”

“Oh, I hardly think so.” Affection for Emmy kept Ruth from reminding her
that to discuss Blanche was not strictly in accordance with Camp Fire
ethics. To her alone Emmy spoke her mind freely. To others she was a
model of discreet reserve. “I am sure I am willing to help Blanche in
any way that I can.”

But in making this whole-hearted statement, Ruth had yet to learn that
the favor which Blanche intended presently to ask of her would be far
from easy to grant.



                               CHAPTER II

                           THE “GREAT FAVOR”


“Take my word for it, you’ll never be able to get yourself invited to
that wonderful reunion,” was Jeanette Hayes’ dampening assertion.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Blanche Shirly crested her auburn head with an air
of supreme confidence in her own ability to work miracles. “Once I’ve
won Ruth Garnier over to the point where she feels that it’s her duty to
invite me to the reunion, the others will have to give in, too. I’ve
thought of a way to do it. Of course, my scheme may not work. Still, I’m
going to try it.”

“What are you going to do?” queried Jeanette eagerly.

“Wait and see. If it works, I’ll tell you all about it. If it doesn’t, I
won’t.”

“It’s hateful in you not to tell me,” pouted Jeanette. “I hope I can
keep a secret.”

“I hope so,” came the aggravating retort. Blanche prudently refrained
from adding that she did not propose to become a subject for Jeanette’s
ridicule should her plan miss fire. To confide in her beforehand, and
then fail, would mean the supplying of Jeanette with a fund of caustic
darts to be used against herself in future quarrels. Though sworn allies
and roommates, Blanche and Jeanette led the proverbial cat and dog life.
It was on this very account that Blanche now forebore revealing her true
reason for secrecy. Kept in ignorance of it, Jeanette would merely pout.
Informed of it, an exchange of angry words would follow. For the
present, at least, Blanche was not anxious to roil her touchy chum.

With intent to placate, she patted her sulking roommate’s plump
shoulder. “Don’t be cross, Jean,” she cooed. “I _know_ you can keep a
secret. Just think of all the confidential things I’ve told you. It’s
only because I hate to brag and then, perhaps, be disappointed, that I’d
rather not say anything just yet. If my scheme works, you’ll be the
first and only one to hear about it.”

“Whatever you’re going to do, you’ll have to hurry. This is the last
week of school,” reminded Jeanette, her frowning face gradually
clearing.

“Leave that to me,” shrugged the plotter. “Now come on. We’ll both be
late for chapel. Then Miss Belaire will have a spasm. I promised her not
to be late again and I’ve broken my word twice since then. It will be a
joyful day for me when I see the last of Hillside—pokey old place.”

Filled, for once, with the laudable determination to be on time, the two
girls made a hurried exit from the house and set off across the campus
toward the chapel on the run. During the services, however, Blanche’s
mind strayed far afield. She was deep in the consideration of how and
when she could manage to see Ruth Garnier alone. To go boldly to Ruth’s
room after classes were over for the day was out of the question. She
would be almost sure to encounter Emmeline Cerrito there, who was
decidedly not included in her program of action. With Emmy on the scene,
she would stand small chance of gaining her point.

By the time the brief morning service was over, however, Blanche had
arrived at a definite decision. Without appearing to do so, she managed
to draw near to Ruth, keeping a little behind her as the lines of
students filed out of the chapel. Once outside, Fortune favored her. She
saw Ruth pause for an instant at the foot of the stone walk to exchange
a few words with Betty Wyndham and Emmy, then nod farewell and swing
briskly across the campus.

Noting that in one hand Ruth held several letters, Blanche instantly
guessed that she was heading for the mail-box at the extreme north end
of the campus. It was too good an opportunity to be lost. Promptly
seizing it, Blanche followed her at a leisurely walk, glancing
frequently over her shoulder to see if she had been observed. So far as
she could notice, no one was paying the slightest attention to her. The
major portion of the girls had already turned their faces toward the
main building, there to report for the first recitations of the morning.
Luckily for her, Jeanette was among them. Blanche had not confided to
her roommate her intention to trail Ruth, but had managed to slip
stealthily away the instant the morning exercises were over. She was
congratulating herself on the success of her plan.

Halfway back from the mailbox, pursuer and pursued met.

“Good morning, Blanche,” greeted Ruth pleasantly. “On your way to the
mail box? I’ve just been there. Night before last I wrote three letters,
then forgot to post them. Last night the Council Fire made me forget
them again. They’re on their way at last, thank goodness.” Ruth sighed
her relief.

“It’s you I was looking for; not the mailbox,” Blanche made abrupt
beginning. “I—that is—I’ve a great favor to ask of you, Ruth. I can’t
tell you about it now. It would take too long. It’s something very
important. I wonder if you would mind coming to my room this afternoon,
when recitations are over. No one will be there but just you and I.
And—that is—please don’t say to the girls that I’ve asked you.”

A bright flush rose to Ruth’s smooth cheeks as Blanche added this
somewhat lame and wholly unnecessary caution. “Certainly I won’t mention
it to the girls.” There was a hint of offense in the reply. “Have you
any reason to think I would?”

“Oh, no. Please don’t misunderstand me. I didn’t mean—I meant—”
stammered Blanche. “Of course, I know you wouldn’t. Will you come?” The
question held a note of suppressed eagerness.

“Let me see. What have I to do after classes?” Ruth knitted reflective
brows. “Yes, I’ll be there.”

“You’re a dear.” Blanche beamed patronizing thanks. Conversing as they
walked, the two had now reached the main building of the Academy which
contained the recitation rooms as well as the students’ dormitory. “I’ll
leave you here,” she continued as they entered. “I’m going to my room. I
have no first hour recitation, you know.”

“Good-bye.” Mechanically, Ruth uttered the words. Her mind had suddenly
reverted to Emmy’s warning of the previous evening. “Blanche has an axe
to grind,” rang in her ears. Almost gloomily she stood watching the
auburn-haired solicitor of mysterious favors, as she mounted the broad
staircase and disappeared down the hallway.

“What can she possibly want me to do for her?” soliloquized Ruth, half
aloud. Intent on trying to guess the nature of the “great favor” which
Blanche had emphasized as being “very important,” Ruth meandered
aimlessly down the long corridor, and covered herself with confusion by
opening the wrong door and calmly strolling into the French classroom
where the recitation had begun. Apologizing, she hastily withdrew her
obtrusive presence, giggling softly to herself as she closed the door.
Having once trespassed, she paid strict heed to her wandering feet and
made port in Physics II without further mishap.

In honor bound not to mention Blanche’s strange request to anyone, it
was a matter of satisfaction to her when her last afternoon recitation
was over. She was anxious to hold the interview with Blanche and dismiss
it from her mind. During the day it had troubled her not a little. The
more she thought of it, the less she could make of it. The very
contemplation of it filled her with a vague discomfort, which she could
not shake off.

“Come in,” drawled a languid voice when, at a few minutes past four, she
knocked on Blanche’s door.

Obeying the call, Ruth entered, closing the door behind her. “I’m
strictly on time,” she remarked with a gaiety she was far from feeling.

“So I see. Do sit in that comfy chair, Ruth.” Blanche was the acme of
cordiality. Drawing a chair opposite to Ruth’s she sat down, staring
pensively at her visitor. “I hardly know how to begin,” she sighed, with
an artful assumption of diffidence warranted to deceive her
straightforward caller. “It’s just like this. I’ve met with a dreadful
disappointment. I expected to go to Cape May for the summer, but Mamma
has been feeling so wretched of late, she has written me that her
physician has ordered her to a sanatorium. Papa is going West on a long
business trip, and it’s out of the question for me to go with him. I
simply can’t stand the idea of spending my whole vacation at that
horrible sanatorium. Besides, Mamma doesn’t wish me to be with her
there. She says I make her so nervous, and that I’ll have to stay at
home with our housekeeper and a stupid companion she intends to engage
to look after me. I’d make Jean take me home with her, but she is going
to Canada to visit her aunt, so she can’t entertain me.”

Blanche paused, her pale-blue eyes searching Ruth’s open features, as
though to discover the precise amount of sympathy her dolorous tale had
aroused. Her vis-a-vis appeared interested, and she thought the frank
brown eyes expressed concern.

“I am sorry to hear of your mother’s illness,” Ruth said gravely. She
was still cogitating as to what relation this news bore to the “great
favor.” She was also reflecting that Mrs. Shirly’s attitude toward her
daughter was rather unfeeling. She experienced a sudden excess of pity
toward the undesired Blanche.

“I _knew_ you would be,” returned Blanche with a deep positiveness
intended to be flattering. “You are so—so—sympathetic. I really feel
free to confide in you. I wouldn’t think of asking a favor of any of the
other girls. Somehow, you are _so_ different.”

A tiny pucker of impatience appeared between Ruth’s brows. Was Blanche
really sincere, or was she bent on making positive refusal of her
request a difficult matter? “Please tell me what you wish me to do for
you, Blanche,” she returned almost brusquely. This beating about the
bush was annoying, to say the least.

“I don’t like to ask you—you’ll think me presuming, I’m afraid,
but—well, I heard that you and a number of the Hillside Camp Fire Girls
were going to get together during August, and I wondered if you would
mind letting me join you. I know I belong to the Drexal group, but as
long as it is to be a Camp Fire affair I thought you wouldn’t object to
my making one of the crowd. I am really crazy about this Camp Fire
movement. I can’t see why I didn’t take it up last year. But now I’m
going to do my best to make up for lost time. It would help me so much
to be with the Hillside group and live outdoors and—and—commune with
Nature.” Blanche’s ideas on Nature communion were decidedly hazy. She
rather liked the sound of the phrase, however.

Ruth struggled to preserve an outward show of serenity, as she listened
to this amazing request. For the instant she was totally bereft of
reply. Having taken the sacred pledge of the Torch Bearer, it became her
duty to respond to Blanche’s appeal for help. Still, she could not see
her way clear to do so. Blanche had undoubtedly been misinformed. In
some inexplicable fashion she had been led to believe that the reunion
which the Equitable Eight were to hold at Ruth’s home during the month
of August, was to be a Camp Fire affair. Personally, Ruth felt that,
rather than refuse Blanche’s plea, she would be willing to invite her to
the reunion. There were others besides herself to be considered,
however. She was positive that her chums would raise strenuous
objections to any such arrangement on her part. Although she disliked to
shatter Blanche’s forlorn hope, all that remained to be done was frankly
to inform her of her mistake.

“Blanche,” she began, with brave gentleness, “I would like you to feel
always that I am ready to help you in any way I can. I hope you won’t be
hurt by what I am going to say, but—somehow—you’ve received a wrong
impression about this Camp Fire affair. It isn’t the Hillside group that
are to be together during August. It is only the eight girls who were at
Betty’s cottage last summer. I mean that is the only thing planned that
I know of. I haven’t heard that the Hillside Camp Fire has made any such
summer plan. If they had, surely I would have been told of it before
now.

“The Equitable Eight, as we call ourselves, are to be at my home during
August. So far as I am concerned, I’d be willing to invite you, too.”
Ruth could not honestly say that she would be _glad_ to do so. “As we
are a sort of informal organization, I couldn’t do it unless the others
were willing that you should join us. You see, it is—”

“Oh, dear, that settles it! I’m so sorry! I didn’t understand.” With a
doleful wail, Blanche’s auburn head went down on her arms.
“Those—girls—wouldn’t—have me!” she sobbed out brokenly. “Emmeline
Cerrito—hates—me. She—hardly—notices—me. How—could I—have—made—such a
mistake? It’s humiliating.” The last word trailed off into a
disconsolate gulp.

“Don’t cry, Blanche.” Springing to her feet Ruth laid a sympathetic hand
on the elaborately-coiffed head, bowed so forlornly forward.
Tender-hearted to a degree, she was touched by the other girl’s noisy
distress. Regardless of the fact that she was in no sense to blame for
Blanche’s mistake, nevertheless she was resolved to do her best to salve
the weeper’s wounded pride. “Don’t take it so to heart,” she comforted.
“I think it was fine in you to wish to join a Camp Fire party. You only
misunderstood. That’s all. Now brace up and listen to me. I am going to
have a talk with the girls to-night. We are to have a meeting in Betty’s
and Jane’s room. I shall tell them that I wish you to be my guest during
August. I hope you won’t mind if I explain things. It wouldn’t be quite
fair to them not to. If they don’t see things as I do, then will you
accept an invitation to spend July with me? That would help some,
wouldn’t it?”

“Oh, I couldn’t do that,” mumbled Blanche, half raising her head. “I’ll
have to be with Mamma until she goes to the sanatorium. She isn’t going
there until the last of July, after Papa leaves for the West.” Blanche
straightened up with a jerk as she delivered this dampening information.
She had not anticipated Ruth’s proposed method of thus solving her
difficulty, and it did not coincide with her views.

Her sudden ascent from the depths of woe caused a swift, unbidden
suspicion to flit across Ruth’s brain. What if Emmy were right in her
conviction? Immediately she discarded the thought as unworthy. Still,
she could not help wishing that Blanche had brought pride to her aid and
declined to allow her to lay the matter before her chums. On the other
hand, she could not forget that Blanche’s own mother was, to all
appearances, uninterested in her daughter’s welfare.

“Of course, Ruth, if you’d rather not—” Blanche broke off with an
ominous quaver in her voice. Reaching for her handkerchief she brought
it into pathetic play.

“I’ll speak to the girls this evening,” promised Ruth without
enthusiasm, “provided you will let me explain everything.” She was firm
on this one point, and intended to make sure of it before tackling a
task which she did not in the least relish.

“Tell them whatever you please,” agreed Blanche with a readiness that
was not wholly pleasing to Ruth. Her eyes meeting the latter’s searching
gaze, she hastily amended: “I mean, I wish you to tell them everything.”

“Very well, I will. Now I must go. If I don’t do my studying before
dinner, it won’t be done at all.” Ruth was halfway to the door as she
spoke. She had no desire to prolong her call. Already she was nervously
imagining the dire effect of the verbal bombshell she was preparing to
drop in the camp of the Equitable Eight.

“When will you let me know about it?” was Blanche’s eager question, as
Ruth opened the door.

“As soon as I can,” Ruth replied briefly and was gone.

Left to herself, Blanche strolled to her dressing table, complacently
viewing herself in the oval mirror. “I ought to go on the stage,” she
confided to her smiling reflection. “I can act all around that snippy
Betty Wyndham. Ruth Garnier is a simpleton. She believed everything I
said. She’ll have a lovely time making those girls believe it, though.
Still, I’m not afraid she can’t do it. Miss Shirly, you may consider
yourself as already invited to that wonderful reunion!”



                              CHAPTER III

                        ALL FOR THE SAKE OF RUTH


“It’s the worst example of pure and unadulterated nerve I’ve ever heard
of,” cried Jane Pellew inelegantly.

“It’s even worse,” agreed Sarah Manning with equal fervor.

“I, for one, refuse to consent to it,” coldly declared Emmeline Cerrito.

“Let’s hear Ruth out before we condemn her,” smiled peace-loving Anne
Follett.

“We’ve heard too much already,” grumbled Frances Bliss. For once her
merry face looked decidedly glum.

“I suppose I ought to have begun at the very beginning and gradually led
up to the awful revelation.” Ruth’s brown eyes roved wistfully from one
to the other of her belligerent chums. “It simply goes to show that I’m
no diplomat. But I thought I might as well say the worst first and do
most of my explaining afterward.”

“I can’t see that there’s much more to explain,” sputtered Jane. “You’ve
told us why Blanche Shirly has seen fit to invite herself to a strictly
private reunion, but I can’t see why we should martyr ourselves for a
whole month, just because Blanche’s mother has decided to go off to a
sanatorium and leave her darling daughter at home with the housekeeper
and a companion. I should say that her place is with her mother,
sanatorium or no sanatorium.”

“Blanche says her mother doesn’t wish her to go there with her,”
reminded Ruth patiently, “because Blanche makes her nervous.”

“Her mother appears to know Blanche almost as well as we do,” commented
Frances wickedly.

“So it would seem,” giggled Sarah.

“It’s quite out of the question, Ruth.” Emmy’s chilly accents conveyed
distinct displeasure. “You know what I said to you last night. I now say
it again. Blanche has an axe to grind. She is very shallow in some
respects and very deep in others. She isn’t in the least interested in
the Camp Fire movement. She has some other secret reason for—for—”

“Butting in,” cheerfully supplied Sarah.

“Exactly,” nodded Emmy, then cast a reproachful glance at the offender
whose ever-ready chuckle burst gleefully forth. Knowing Emmy’s horror of
slang, Sarah had slyly taken advantage of this glowing opportunity to
trap her.

“I forgive you, Sarah.” Emmy readily joined in the laugh at her expense.
“You said exactly what I meant. Slang appears to have its uses as well
as its abuses. To go on with what I was saying, Blanche has her own
reasons for this sudden change of heart. If we agree to let her come to
the reunion, she will surely do something to make us sorry we invited
her. She’s not to be trusted. She’s likely to do all sorts of foolish
things. Her head is filled with beaux and clothes. Do you suppose her
mother would engage a companion to look after Blanche while she is gone,
if she really trusted her?”

“I’m glad you said that, Emmy,” put in Ruth quietly. “It paves the way
for me. I’ve gone over almost the same things to myself. But it only
makes me feel all the more that we ought to have Blanche with us. As
Camp Fire Girls, we ought to be willing and ready to give her the
benefit of any doubts we may have of her sincerity. Suppose I go to her
to-morrow and say: ‘We don’t want you.’ How do you suppose she will
feel, if she is really in earnest? What will she think of us?”

“But she invited herself, and I am fairly certain she knew what she was
about, even if she did pretend that she had misunderstood about the
reunion,” maintained Emmy stubbornly.

“We can’t be certain of that,” asserted Anne gravely. “I think Ruth is
right in saying that we should take Blanche on faith.”

“Thank you, Anne.” Ruth cast her one supporter a grateful smile.
“There’s another thing I’d like to bring forward. It’s about my mother.
I’d love to have Blanche learn to know her. Mumsie will share our good
times, and I can’t help thinking that—that—well, that Mumsie could help
Blanche a great deal. Don’t you believe, too, that if we make this—I
must say it—little sacrifice, afterward we shall look back at it and say
that we are glad we made it? Blanche won’t interfere much with our
plans, if we don’t allow her to do so. Ever since that time when I was
so perfectly horrid about Marian, I’ve vowed always to try to make the
best of things and not run out to meet calamity. Of course, Anne and I
are two against five. The majority rules, I suppose.”

“Ruth, you make me feel ashamed of myself,” was Emmy’s penitent cry.
“After the hateful way I treated Marian last summer, I have no right to
object to Blanche Shirly or anyone else whom you may choose to invite to
your home. As our hostess-to-be, you are privileged to invite whom you
please. Go ahead and invite Blanche.” It had cost proud Emmy no little
effort to say this. Ruth’s sturdy avowal of past failings had brought
back to her the memory of her own lapses.

The sudden brightening of Ruth’s sober face, repaid Emmy for her
impulsively spoken words. “That’s sweet in you, Emmy,” she commended.
“Please believe, girls, that I wouldn’t take advantage of being hostess
to invite Blanche to the reunion. That has nothing to do with it. The
only way to look at the question is impersonally. It is the Equitable
Eight who has the only right to decide it; not Ruth Garnier.”

“All right, Ruth, I surrender,” smiled Betty Wyndham, “but only because
you wish it.”

“Three against four,” remarked Sarah reflectively, fixing a significant
eye on Jane.

         “Three lonely rebels, looking rather blue,
         One changed her stubborn mind, and then there were two,”

chanted Frances.

“Frances has poetically given up the ghost,” laughed Anne.

“I am nothing if not charitable,” grinned Frances. “I would that I could
say the same of others.”

“That’s us,” snickered Sarah, playfully prodding Jane with her elbow.
“Good-bye, Jane. I am going to leave you. I’ve decided to enlist in the
great Shirly reform movement.”

“Good-bye,” returned belligerent Jane unemotionally. “I intend to stay
where I am for the present. I never make up my mind in a hurry. Besides
Frances’ rhyme is away off. She didn’t count Marian.” Still inclined to
regard Blanche as an unnecessary affliction, Jane was bent on being
provoking.

“Humph!” ejaculated Frances. “You are laboring under a delusion, Plain
Jane. The first line of my—er—poem distinctly says ‘rebels.’ How do we
_know_ that Marian _is_ a rebel?”

“You never thought of that until I reminded you,” flung back Jane.

“I—Jane, I cannot tell a lie.” Frances put on an expression of
exaggerated nobility. “For once in your life you furnished me with
inspiration. All the rest of your days you may be proud of it. Although
your obstinacy grieves us deeply, Miss Pellew, we will graciously make
allowance for it, Miss Pellew. We cannot hope to follow the confused
meanderings of a contrary mind, Miss Pellew, we can only trust that as
the golden years glide by, Miss Pellew, time will soften your stony
heart and open your blind eyes, Miss Pellew, to the glorious
possibilities of reform.

               “Breathes there a Jane with soul so dead—
               She yet shall lift her stubborn head
               And shout: ‘Me for reform!’”

Frances’ impassioned ovation was hailed with a gust of mirth that
threatened to make itself heard outside the sacred precincts of the
council chamber. Even Jane had to laugh. Frances’ diverting burst of
eloquence was too entirely good-humored to arouse resentment.
Incidentally, it influenced prejudiced Jane to a broader perspective.

“I ought to be furiously angry with you, Frances Bliss, for orating on
my so-called stubbornness,” she said, with a futile effort toward
dignity, which ended in a laugh. “Just to show you that my contrary mind
isn’t quite so contrary as you are trying to make out, I’ll join the
reform movement now.”

“Hurrah!” exclaimed Anne and Emmy together.

“Good old Jane,” beamed Frances patronizingly. “Come to my room
to-morrow and I’ll decorate you. In the dim recesses of my trunk repose
a Grand Army badge, a suffragist button and a nice, crinkly, red paper
Christmas bell. You may wear them all.”

“Thank you,” Jane’s sharp chin elevated itself, “but I couldn’t bear to
deprive you of such treasures. Now stop teasing me. I want to ask Ruth
something.”

“Ask ahead,” invited Ruth, with an encouraging smile. Fully expecting
that of the six girls Emmy would be the hardest to convert, Jane’s
obstinate stand had surprised her considerably. She mentally offered a
vote of thanks to Frances for her timely oration.

“What are you going to do about Marian?” questioned Jane. “I think she
ought to have her say in the matter, too.”

“I’ll write her to-night,” promptly assured Ruth. “Blanche is anxious to
know her fate, but I didn’t promise when I would tell her. If she asks
me about it to-morrow, I will explain that we can’t answer until we hear
from Marian. If she should ask any one of you, please tell her the same.
I don’t imagine that she will, though.”

“It wouldn’t surprise _me_ if she did,” declared Jane. “She’ll be crazy
to know.”

“Having settled the question, suppose we give Blanche a rest,” suggested
tactful Betty. She had sensed a slight weariness in Ruth’s voice as she
gave her final direction, and realized that the valiant Torch Bearer
would welcome a change of subject.

“Jane and I are not going to send our guests away hungry,” she made
further cheerful announcement. “Hidden away in the bottom of the
wardrobe are eats—glorious eats. Come on, Jane, let’s spread the feast.
Which will you have, girls, tea or chocolate?”

Unanimous decision in favor of the latter sent Betty to her closet, the
top shelf of which harbored the necessary ingredients. Meanwhile, Jane
knelt before the open wardrobe, extracting numerous brown paper parcels
that smacked of delicatessen.

“Come here and make yourself useful, Frances,” she ordered. “Take this
stuff as I hand it to you, and be sure you put it on the table, right
side up with care.”

“I will cheerfully and skillfully perform my act of contrition. So glad
of the opportunity,” amiably avowed Frances as she proceeded to carry
out Jane’s directions with an exaggerated carefulness that was
irresistibly funny.

“We’ll have to hustle,” observed Jane, who had busied herself with the
laying out of the various comestibles, while Frances, under her
instruction, set the oblong center table with such dishes and cutlery as
were available. “It’s half past nine now. Ten-thirty will be here before
we know it.”

“Tell that to Betty,” retorted Frances. The table set, she had begun the
slicing of a loaf of brown bread. “Our part of the feast is almost
ready.”

“What’s that?” Hearing her name, Betty turned from her alert watch on
the chafing dish containing the chocolate.

“Jane was merely reminding me of the frenzied galloping of time,”
replied Frances. “She asked me to mention it to you.”

“The chocolate is ready, if that’s what she means,” smiled Betty, as she
neatly circumvented its bubbling attempt to leave the safe confines of
the chafing dish. “Bring me the chocolate-pot, please, Jane, and then
draw up that little table, that holds the cups, beside the big one. We
can manage to squeeze ourselves around the big one. Three strong-armed
ladies can haul my cedar chest up to it, and sit on that. With one girl
at each end and two on the other side we shall be all right.”

Laughingly complying with Betty’s directions, the seven friends gathered
about the table. A combination of pimento cheese, brown bread, pickles,
cold ham, olives, cocoanut layer cake and candy held for them no
terrors. Blessed with good digestions and the proverbial schoolgirl love
of spreads, they were quite ready to show their appreciation of the good
cheer provided for them.

Over the merry little repast the subject of Blanche Shirly remained
strictly taboo, though by no means forgotten. Secretly, each of the
seven experienced a slight sense of depression. It arose from the
knowledge that they had resolutely shoved something disagreeable into
the background which would remain there but temporarily. The unexpected
intrusion of Blanche Shirly into their plans for the coming reunion had
served to cast a damper over them all. Anne and Betty had supported
Ruth’s views for purely conscientious reasons. Remorse for past failings
had actuated Emmy’s acceptance of the situation. Sarah and Frances had
yielded partly from good nature, but largely because both adored Ruth
and respected her convictions. Jane had been reluctantly won by Frances’
oration. Of the seven girls, she alone actually detested Blanche Shirly.
While Emmy regarded Blanche with considerable contempt, Jane’s dislike
for the frivolous, self-seeking girl was deep-rooted.

At three minutes before half-past ten the party broke up in a general
rush for the door, punctuated by laughing goodnights. When the last
guest had departed, leaving Jane and Betty to clear away the remnants of
the spread, Jane spoke her mind to Betty.

“I think we are making a mistake,” she declared bluntly.

“About Blanche?” interrogated Betty quickly.

“Yes.” Jane wagged an emphatic brown head. “What we ought to do is to
tell her flatly that we don’t want her. It would be more honest and save
us a good lot of trouble later on. The longer I know Blanche, the less I
like her. We couldn’t make her see things differently in a hundred
years. I was surprised when Emmy gave in. She hasn’t any more faith in
Blanche than I have. We all agreed to Ruth’s plan for Ruth’s sake. No
one could stand out long against _her_ ideas of right. Now that we’ve
committed ourselves, we can only do our best. But remember what I say:
Our best will be lost on Blanche.”



                               CHAPTER IV

                         A HEART TO HEART TALK


True to her word, Ruth dutifully dashed off a short letter to Marian
Selby before retiring that night. The writing of it was after all a mere
formality. Ruth was certain that her cousin would offer no objection to
the presence of a ninth girl at the reunion. In the first place, Marian
would be sure to see matters as she saw them. Then, too, Marian would be
the last person in the world to bar another’s road to happiness.

Her duty done, it but remained to Ruth to inform Blanche that her case
was still under consideration pending the decision of the eighth member
of the Equitable Eight. The following morning she was rather taken aback
when, on going to her door in answer to a persistent rapping, she beheld
Blanche, kimono clad and smiling serene expectation.

“What did they say? Is it all right?” were her eager queries, just above
a whisper.

“Come in, Blanche.” Ruth was perfunctorily polite. She found it
difficult to mask her disapprobation of her early morning caller.

“Oh, I can’t.” Blanche drew back hastily. Knowing Emmy to be within, she
prudently kept to the hall. “I must hurry and dress. I was so worried! I
simply had to come and ask you about things. You see, it means so much
more to me than you can possibly understand,” she continued, simulating
a wistfulness which fell so far short of the mark as to be faintly
patronizing.

Blanche was quite unconscious of this. Ruth, however, sensed it keenly
and it annoyed her. “The girls are willing that you should spend August
with the Equitable Eight,” she made answer, “but we thought it fair to
write to Marian Selby, my cousin, about it. She belongs to the Equitable
Eight, too. I wrote her last night after the meeting. I am going to post
the letter as soon as I have had my breakfast. That is all I can say
until I hear from her.”

A decided frown darkened Blanche’s plump features as she listened to
Ruth. Thrown off her guard by this unlooked for news, she burst forth
pettishly. “I don’t see what difference—”

A flash in Ruth’s brown eyes warned her to caution. “Excuse me,” she
apologized. “It’s not my place to find fault with anything you girls
want to do. It’s sweet in you to go to so much trouble on my account.
When do you expect an answer from your cousin?” This last with scarcely
suppressed eagerness.

“Within three or four days,” replied Ruth briefly. “I’ll let you know as
soon as I hear from her.” Ruth hoped Blanche would take this last
assurance as a courteous protest against further quizzing.

“I am sure you will. I won’t bother you any more about it.” Blanche
sighed and looked meekly grateful. “Thank you ever so much.” She turned
and sped down the hall to her room, leaving Ruth to stare moodily after
her, wondering for the fortieth time, “Is she really sincere?”

Entering her room, her troubled eyes met Emmy’s quizzical glance. From
her position before the dressing table, Emmy had swung about in her
chair at the sound of the closing door. “Well?” she drawled.

“I don’t know whether it’s ‘well’ or not.” Still in her kimono, Ruth
seated herself on her bed, chin in hands. “Blanche didn’t like it at all
when I told her about Marian. She started to fuss, then turned around
and put on a humble face. Now, what made her do that? If she felt
queerly about Marian’s being a stranger to her, then that might explain
it. But it certainly looked as though she was peeved and tried to hide
it for fear of making me cross. I’d far rather she had been frank and
said what she started to say. I hate pretense.”

Emmy shrugged her shoulders. It was on her tongue to say, “Then steer
clear of Blanche Shirly.” Ruth’s dejection forbade it, however. She
realized that her chum was baring her troubled soul in a fashion quite
foreign to herself. It was not Ruth’s way to advocate a measure and then
renege. She understood, if Ruth did not, that the latter’s honest
nature, which bade her distrust Blanche, was warring against her belief
in living up to her obligations as a Torch Bearer.

“Don’t worry about it, Ruth,” Emmy sturdily put away her own doubts in
order to still her friend’s misgivings. “I’m sorry I said anything to
make you doubt Blanche. Let’s agree to believe her honest until she
proves herself a villain. She may give us all an agreeable surprise by
behaving beautifully every minute of the reunion.”

“I hope she will. I wish I could say, ‘I’m sure she will,’ but truly,
I’m not a bit sure of it. No one except you is ever going to know that,
though. It’s splendid in you to—to—” Ruth paused in sudden
embarrassment.

“To accept Blanche so peacefully after what I said the other night,”
supplemented Emmy, smiling.

“Well, yes,” admitted Ruth candidly. “I suppose that was what I really
meant. I didn’t intend to say it so bluntly, though. I might as well own
up that I was more afraid of you than of the others. It was Jane who
surprised me.”

Emmy laughed. “I knew Jane would be up in arms,” she asserted. “She
always takes things more seriously than Sarah or Frances. I wonder that
she ever forgave me for the hateful way I treated Marian. That’s the
reason,” Emmy’s beautiful eyes grew somber, “I am determined to do my
level best for Blanche. I owe it to you and to myself.”

“Aren’t you ever going to forget, Emmy!” Ruth asked almost appealingly.
It was the first time the painful subject had been brought up since that
eventful night at Wanderer’s Roost when Emmy had found her better self.

“No; I don’t think so. I hope not,” was the steady response. “If I did,
I might stumble again, especially if my good little roommate happened to
be far away from me. All year I’ve tried to follow your example and
consider others before myself. That’s the only way to keep out of
mischief.”

“Now it’s you, instead of Jane, who are taking things too seriously,”
cried Ruth, coloring under Emmy’s tribute to herself. “You’ve been a
perfect angel to all the girls here, Emmeline Cerrito. You’ve done all
sorts of kind things and everybody here adores you.”

“Nonsense.” Emmy made a deprecating gesture, as though to discount the
very idea of her own popularity at Hillside.

“It’s the truth,” was Ruth’s stout insistence.

It was indeed true that Emmy had returned to Hillside the previous fall,
a changed girl. Once she had shown merely a bored tolerance of her
fellow students. But she had long since dropped her provoking attitude
for one of kindly interest in her classmates. During the year so nearly
ended, more than one girl owed her a lasting debt of gratitude for some
favor graciously bestowed. There was still left in her enough of the
Emmy of old to draw the line at Blanche and Jeanette. She had never
succeeded in bringing herself to the point of being more than civil to
either, sometimes hardly that. Comparing them to Ruth, whom she made her
model, they were as dross to pure gold.

It was this very distrust and contempt for them which had leaped to the
surface to oppose Ruth when she made plea to her chums for Blanche. The
mere mention of Marian’s name had been sufficient to move Emmy to
withdraw that opposition.

“No breakfast for you and Emmy unless we end this complimentary session
and do a rapid-dressing stunt,” was all she vouchsafed to Ruth’s
emphatic assertion. “Observe the time, oh, noble Torch Bearer, and you
still languishing in your kimono!”

“I am observing it.” Ruth sprang to her feet. Slipping hastily out of
her kimono she proceeded to dress with a speed that quite outstripped
Emmy’s leisurely preparations for the day. “There, I beat you,” she
announced as she deftly fastened the last troublesome hook in place.
“It’s your turn to do a little observing. You still are minus your outer
garments, my dear Miss Cerrito.”

“Not now.” Emmy’s black head emerged triumphantly from the one piece
gown of navy blue broadcloth which she had slid over it, temporarily
eclipsing her lovely face. “Help me fasten my frock. There’s a dear.
Then we must run. The breakfast bell rang at least five minutes ago.”

Their minds now bent on breakfast, nothing further of a confidential
nature passed between them as they began an orderly rush down the
stairs. The little heart to heart talk had, however, done much toward
laying Ruth’s doubts to rest. She mentally reproached herself for having
allowed them to trouble her, and resolved that she would somehow make up
to Blanche for this brief season of distrust.



                               CHAPTER V

                             THREE LETTERS


“Here it is!” exclaimed Ruth Garnier as she bent an earnest scrutiny on
the bulletin board in the hall and triumphantly plucked from it the
fateful letter, addressed to herself in Marian’s familiar hand. Four
days had elapsed since the posting of Ruth’s letter to her cousin, and
the seven friends had been impatiently awaiting a reply.

            “Get you ready, there’s a meeting here to-night,
            Get you ready, there’s a meeting here to-night!”

joyously caroled Jane Pellew, who stood peering over Ruth’s shoulder. By
way of expressing further approbation, Jane executed a few fantastic
steps as she trilled.

“Sing the rest of it, Janie,” called mischievous Frances from the
stairs. “Then Miss Belaire will hear you and come out of her office to
compliment you on the sweetness and carrying power of your voice,
particularly the carrying power. May I ask if that is an original ditty?
If so, it is rather of a sameness. I suppose the third line is precisely
like the first and the second, etc.”

“No, it isn’t an original ditty,” mimicked Jane. “It’s a good old camp
meeting song that the darkies down home sing, and—”

“How interesting,” interrupted Frances blandly. “So glad you told me. I
had an idea it was a kind of vocal announcement that the Equitable Eight
would hold forth this evening.”

“Well, so it is.” Jane doggedly stuck to facts, refusing to be teased.
“Ruth has a letter from Marian. That means a meeting, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” agreed Frances, “provided Ruth says so.”

“No provided about it,” argued Jane. “If your memory was a trifle
longer, you’d remember what we said the other night about holding
another meeting when Marian’s answer came.”

“My memory is a great deal lengthier than you seem to think. My remark
about Ruth was merely a test to discover the precise length of _your_
memory, Plain Jane.”

“The very idea!” Jane glared, her indignation at this preposterous
statement. “Oh, what’s the use,” she groaned, turning her back upon the
fatuously smiling face peering at her over the banister.

“None whatever.” Frances made a reckless descent of the remaining stairs
and joined the two at the bulletin board.

“Why not hold the meeting now?” proposed Ruth. “It’s only half past
four. We’ll have plenty of time before dinner. Emmy is upstairs in our
room. We can hold it there as soon as we locate Betty, Anne and Sarah.”

“Betty and Anne haven’t come in yet. They had an errand to do in town,”
informed Jane. “They are likely to be here any minute, though. I don’t
know where Sarah is.”

“She’s upstairs. I’ll go and tell her the news. We’ll meet you in Ruth’s
room. One or both of you had better hang around down here and waylay
Betty and Anne,” directed Frances.

“I’ll play herald,” volunteered Jane. “Go on upstairs, Ruth, and wait
for us.”

“All right.” Ruth followed Frances, who had already reached the head of
the staircase. In her hand were two other letters, addressed to herself,
which she had extracted from the bulletin board along with Marian’s. All
three were as yet unopened. Her mind occupied for the moment with the
receipt of her cousin’s letter, she had paid no attention to the others,
beyond noting that they were for her. Now as she climbed the stairs, she
examined them, emitting a little cluck of surprise as she recognized the
script on one of them. Tearing open the envelope as she walked, she drew
forth a single sheet of heavy gray note paper and read:

    “DEAR RUTH:

    “Will you come to my room at eight o’clock this evening? I wish
    to discuss with you a matter of some importance.

                                                   “Sincerely yours,
                                                   “EVELYN DREXAL.”

“What can it be?” mused Ruth, half aloud. “Something about the Camp
Fire, perhaps.”

Arrived at her room, she entered, exclaiming: “Here’s Marian’s answer,
Emmy! I haven’t opened the letter yet. I thought I’d wait a little. I’ve
asked the girls to meet us here as soon as Betty and Anne come in. They
are out shopping. I ought to have consulted you first, though. I see you
are busy.”

“Only a letter.” Emmy glanced reassuringly up from her writing. “I’ll
finish it later. I can imagine what Marian has written. It is ‘yes,’ of
course.”

“I think so, too,” nodded Ruth. “We’ll soon see, at any rate. There come
Sarah and Frances. I can hear Sarah’s giggle.”

A succession of energetic thumps on the hapless panels proclaimed the
fact that Frances and Sarah had indeed arrived.

“We were afraid you might not hear us,” greeted Frances solicitously, as
Ruth opened the door to admit her clamorous guests.

“How thoughtful in you,” was her merry retort. “I suppose Jane is still
keeping a lonely watch downstairs.”

“She is. I was thoughtful enough to go to the head of the stairs and
call down a few encouraging words in passing.” Frances’ dancing eyes and
mischievous grin conveyed a fair idea of the quality of her encouraging
speeches.

“Sit down, girls,” invited Ruth. “I am going to ask you to let Emmy
entertain you, or vice versa, while I read a letter. It’s the last of
the three I took from the bulletin board, and I am rather curious to
know who it is from. It’s postmarked ‘New York,’ but I can’t recognize
the handwriting.”

“Read away. I give you my gracious permission,” acceded Frances, with a
profound bow. “Sarah and I will entertain Emmy. What is your favorite
form of diversion, my dear Miss Cerrito?”

“Listening to you and Jane argue,” laughed Emmy. “With Jane posted in
the hall, I don’t see how you can carry out the whole of your contract.”

“Nothing easier,” assured Frances airily. “_I_ will not only be myself
but Plain Jane, also. Let me see.” Frances immediately launched forth
into a spirited argument, supposedly carried on between herself and the
absent Jane, which had to do with whether or not it had rained on the
previous Thursday.

Ruth listened laughingly for a moment, then directed her attention to
her neglected letter. As she took it from its envelope, curiosity
impelled her to look first at the signature; a sharp ejaculation of
amazement burst from her lips. Hastily turning to the salutation she was
confronted with:

    “DEAR MISS GARNIER:

    “Blanche has written me that you have been so kind as to invite
    her to be your guest during the month of August. Since my
    physician ordered me to a sanatorium for the summer, I have been
    greatly concerned for my daughter’s welfare, as it is not
    advisable for her to be with me. She has no doubt explained
    matters to you. Your timely invitation has relieved my mind not
    a little. I am glad to grant her my permission to accept it, and
    wish to thank you for your thoughtfulness. I trust that she may
    prove an ideal guest. I am sure you cannot fail to be an ideal
    hostess. With best wishes, I remain,

                                              “Sincerely yours,
                                              “ALICE GRAHAM SHIRLY.”

“Oh!” Ruth’s second ejaculation stilled Frances’ flow of nonsense and
brought all eyes to bear on her.

“What is it, Ruth?” asked Emmy concernedly.

Before Ruth could make reply the murmur of voices outside the door
announced the arrival of the missing three.

“Wait a minute and I’ll tell you,” she answered briefly, stepping to the
door.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” began Betty, “but we couldn’t possibly
know—”

“Of course you couldn’t,” interrupted Frances. “So glad to find that
Janie stuck to her post. I did my best to inspire her to good work. A
helpful word shouted over the banister often acts as a stimulus to duty,
doesn’t it, Plain Jane?”

A withering glance at her tormentor was Jane’s only indication of having
heard the question. “Please read us Marian’s letter, Ruth?” she
requested, assuming an air of dignity that caused Frances to wriggle
with delight.

“I’ve another letter that I must first read you.” Ruth’s intonation was
distinctly dry. “Get comfy, girls, and I’ll proceed.”

“All ready,” signalled Betty, as she seated herself beside Frances and
Sarah, who were already occupying Ruth’s bed. Jane, Anne and Emmy drew
their chairs in line with it.

For an instant Ruth surveyed the row of girls without speaking. Then, in
the same dry tone she read them Mrs. Shirly’s letter. A murmur of
indignation swept the line as she finished. “Let us see what Marian has
to say,” she quickly continued, “before we discuss the letter I’ve just
read you.”

“I hope she says ‘no,’” muttered Jane.

    “DEAREST COUSIN,” Ruth’s clear voice was again heard. “Your
    letter came to me yesterday. I put off answering until to-day,
    because I wanted to think it over. Of course, I don’t mind Miss
    Shirly’s making one of our house party. Why should I? Just
    remember that last summer I was the intruder. Still, I don’t
    think it would be fair to her or to you girls to invite her on
    the strength of her mistake. If you do, both sides will probably
    be sorry later on. You must consider only whether or not you are
    really anxious to help her along as a Camp Fire Girl. I think
    that is the only right way to look at it. I imagine you must be
    of the same opinion. Whatever you decide, I shall be satisfied.
    Please forgive me for chopping off this letter. I am due in ten
    minutes at Winton Hall for a chemistry recitation. Will have to
    make giant strides across the campus to get there. With much
    love to you and the girls. Let me hear from you soon.

                                                    “Affectionately,
                                                    “MARIAN.”

“Remarks are in order.” Ruth folded the letter, her glance traveling
from one to another of her friends.

“The last county having been heard from, Blanche is now among the
elect,” stated Betty without enthusiasm.

“I’m not so sure of that,” contradicted Jane, her black eyes snapping.
“What about Mrs. Shirly’s letter?”

“Yes, what about it?” chimed in Sarah crossly. “What business had
Blanche to write to her mother that she had been invited to our reunion
before she knew whether or not she was? It’s what I should call a put-up
job, from start to finish.”

“I think we’d better do a little private investigating and find out
Blanche’s _real_ reason for all this,” hinted Jane darkly. “It’s
something quite different from the one we know, or my name’s not Jane
Pellew.”

“Don’t be so suspicious, Plain Jane,” reproved Frances, half bantering,
half serious. “Even if Blanche has something up her sleeve, her mother’s
letter is proof enough of what she told Ruth. As gentlemen, we can’t
unfeelingly blast the fond hope of a sick lady bound for a sanatorium.
Think of the everlasting debt of gratitude she will owe us for taking
the fair but unruly Blanche under our august wing!”

“Oh, let’s end the thing once and for all by inviting her.” Anne Follett
sprang impatiently to her feet. “Whatever Blanche has in her mind,
she’ll be better off with us than moping at home. We are eight against
one. We can afford to be generous.”

Anne’s impetuous proposal was ratified by four assenting voices. Sarah
and Jane alone remained dissenters. It took ten minutes’ spirited
persuasion to bring them to terms. Intrenching herself in her earlier
stubborn stand against Blanche, Jane proved provokingly obdurate. She
held out even after Sarah had deserted her, finally yielding with an
ungracious, “All right, I give in. But don’t expect me to act as though
I were delighted to have Blanche with us. I’ll treat her civilly but
that’s all.”

“That won’t be fair to her, Jane. Don’t you remember what Marian said in
her letter?” reminded Anne gently. “As Camp Fire Girls we must accept
her as one of us or not at all.”

“Oh, well, I might be a little bit nice to her if she behaves well,”
relented Jane.

“Then you are all of the same mind?” inquired Ruth. “You are willing to
take Blanche on the terms of Marian’s letter?”

“We are,” was the concerted answer. This time without a dissenting
voice. Blanche Shirly’s boast to Jeanette had not been an idle one.



                               CHAPTER VI

                      A SUDDEN CHANGE OF PROGRAMME


Promptly at eight o’clock that evening, Ruth was admitted to the
dormitory devoted to the members of the faculty. A frequent caller on
Miss Drexal, she steered a straight course toward the registrar’s room
and knocked lightly on the door.

“Good evening, Ruth. Prompt to the minute, I notice.” Miss Drexal nodded
smilingly to her caller, as she ushered her into the room and motioned
her to a particularly inviting arm chair. “I suppose you haven’t the
slightest notion of why you are here,” she continued. Drawing up a
willow rocker, she seated herself opposite the young girl, her blue eyes
twinkling.

“I thought it might be for Camp Fire reasons,” returned Ruth. “I
couldn’t believe that I was due to hear a lecture,” she added, laughing.

“Hardly,” was the reassuring response. “You are partly in the right in
your guess, though. It does concern the Camp Fire movement, or rather
several girls belonging to it.”

Ruth looked slightly mystified, but allowed Miss Drexal to continue
without interruption.

“My home, as you know, is in Duluth,” pursued the registrar, “but my
sister and I also own a cottage on Lake Superior not far from Duluth.
This property was willed to us by an uncle. When it first became ours,
we decided to sell it. After we had looked it over, we were so pleased
with it that we agreed to keep it and spend our vacation there. We had
the cottage repaired, refurnished, and it is now our summer home. Last
year we entertained three of our woman friends there and enjoyed
ourselves immensely. That was, as you know, my reason for not attending
Betty’s house party in the Catskills.

“This year my sister wishes to spend the summer with a woman friend in
Idaho, but does not like to leave me alone at the cottage with only
Martha, an old servant of ours, for company. So I am going to ask the
Equitable Eight to help us both. If I give a house party, it will solve
the problem. I would rather have you and your friends with me than any
others whom I know. Do you think the Equitable Eight could arrange to be
my guests during August and the early part of September? Would you like
it?”

Ruth drew a long rapturous breath. “Would we like it?” she cried out
impulsively. “It would be simply gorgeous!” Swept off her feet by the
glorious prospect outlined by Miss Drexal, for the moment she gave
herself up completely to it. Followed a swift rush of dismaying
recollection. “Oh, dear,” she wailed. “I forgot the reunion. I’ve
invited the Equitable Eight to spend August with _me_. I—that’s too bad.
I mean—” Ruth paused, divided between regret and embarrassment.

“I hardly know what to say,” she went on slowly. “We should all love to
visit you. But as I have already asked the girls to visit me, I don’t
know—Why couldn’t you come to our reunion at my home, Miss Drexal?”

“Why not compromise?” smiled Miss Drexal. “Couldn’t you girls arrange to
come to me for at least August? Then I might agree to spend the early
part of September with you. That is a fair proposal, isn’t it?”

“Splendid.” Ruth grew radiant as the beauty of the compromise dawned
upon her. “It will give us both a chance to be hostess, and we’ll all
have six weeks together instead of four.”

“I intend, of course, to call the girls together and invite them. I
thought I should like to speak to you beforehand. I had no idea that you
had already made your plans for a reunion in August. Suppose you ask the
girls to come to my room to-morrow evening to talk matters over. I will
write Marian, inviting her to my house party. She is such a delightful
girl. We had several interesting talks together when she visited you
last Thanksgiving.”

Mention of writing to her cousin caused Ruth to catch her breath in
consternation. It recalled her own letter to Marian and why she had
written it. It was all very well for Miss Drexal to wish to entertain
the Equitable Eight at her cottage, but what of Blanche Shirly? That the
registrar strongly disapproved of Blanche, Ruth knew only too well.
Neither did Blanche like Miss Drexal. During her two years at Miss
Belaire’s, she had been as a thorn in the registrar’s flesh. Twice she
had skirted dismissal by over-staying a holiday leave of absence. On
numerous other occasions she had lawlessly defied Miss Drexal, and when
called to account, had made light of reproof. Ruth’s dreams of long,
blissful hours spent on the sunlit shore of blue Lake Superior merged
into a disagreeable reality, wherein Blanche Shirly loomed a central
figure. What would Miss Drexal think of her if she immediately asked
permission to include Blanche in the invitation? Why was it that she
seemed continually fated to face such embarrassing situations?

Last year she had been obliged to write Betty Wyndham about Marian. Of
course that had been quite different. She had not expected that Betty
would invite Marian to her house party. She would never have dreamed of
_asking_ Betty to do so. Betty had acted of her own volition. If she
explained matters, Miss Drexal would be willing to invite Blanche. She
was sure of that. But was it fair to ask the registrar to entertain a
girl of whom she so thoroughly disapproved? Still the Equitable Eight
had pledged themselves to Blanche’s cause. Wherever they gathered during
August, Blanche must perforce be there also. If they were to refuse Miss
Drexal’s invitation on that account, then she would be disappointed.
Neither could they refuse it without explaining why. All this passed
with lightning speed through Ruth’s troubled brain.

“When you spoke of Marian it made me remember something I’d forgotten
for a minute,” she said, flushing. “I—you see—we have invited Blanche
Shirly to attend our reunion. Her mother is sick and has to go to a
sanatorium for the summer and so—she—we asked her to be our guest.” Ruth
stammered forth her explanation, magnanimously careful to remove all
shadow of opprobrium from Blanche.

Miss Drexal stared harder than ever at Ruth, as though endeavoring to
divine what lay behind the halting explanation. Only too thoroughly
acquainted with Blanche’s high-handed methods of obtaining whatever she
set out to gain, she had a shrewd suspicion as to the manner in which
this peculiar state of affairs had come about. She also read in the
brown eyes, so earnestly fixed on hers, a distinct appeal against too
close questioning.

“I think I understand your position, Ruth,” she said quietly. “We won’t
go into a discussion of it. Please ask Blanche to come here to-morrow
night with the others.” Affectionately she added, “You are beginning
well as a Torch Bearer, my dear.”

“Thank you, Miss Drexal.” Ruth spoke almost humbly. “I knew you’d
understand. I’ll see that the girls are here in good season to-morrow
evening. I won’t speak to them about it to-night, though. If I did, it
would surely be a case of ‘unprepared’ all round to-morrow. I must go. I
have a lot of studying to do.” Lingering for a few moments further chat
with Miss Drexal, Ruth took her leave, athrill with a pleasant flutter
of excitement. Mischievously, she decided not to go into detail
regarding the invitation to Miss Drexal’s room. She would merely deliver
it to the girls and leave them to guess its import.

The next morning before breakfast she went from door to door,
tantalizingly announcing the meeting to take place that evening in Miss
Drexal’s apartment. To curious inquiries, “What for?” and “Why does she
want us to come?” she laughingly replied, “Wait and see.”

Blanche Shirly, in particular, was avidly concerned to learn the whys
and wherefores of the summons: “Are you sure it hasn’t anything more to
do with me than the others?” she quizzed. “Miss Drexal can’t bear me,
you know. It would be just like her to invite me there and then say
something that would make me feel foolish before all those girls.”

“How can you say such a thing?” Ruth lost momentary hold on her
patience. “If you only knew—”

“But I don’t, and it doesn’t look as though I should,” retorted Blanche
with an asperity which brought a flush to Ruth’s cheeks.

“All I can say to you is just what I’ve said to the others,” Ruth
returned stiffly, and turned away, too vexed for further speech.

Blanche was not to be thus easily balked in her pursuit of knowledge.
Before the day was over she had managed to waylay the elect and make
inquiry among them; an inquiry which bore no fruit. No one of the six
girls knew why Miss Drexal wished to see them.

Believing that their professed ignorance had been assumed merely to
thwart her, Blanche became frankly sulky and went about all day looking
like a young thundercloud—a fact of which Jane Pellew took immediate
notice, causing her to remark wickedly to Sarah that Blanche was only
giving them a sample of the way she intended to behave at the reunion.

Not daring to quarrel openly with her long-suffering benefactors-to-be,
Blanche poured forth her grievances into the ever-ready ear of her one
confidante, Jeanette Hayes. “Ruth Garnier’s silly, mysterious airs make
me tired,” she grumbled when she had finished regaling Jeanette with the
little she knew concerning Miss Drexal’s summons. “I am sorry I ever got
myself invited to that tiresome reunion. You can imagine what a
delightful time I shall have among those babies. Thank goodness, I won’t
have to depend on them for amusement. Once I am far enough away from
home to do as I please, I shan’t let them interfere with me much. This
reunion is only the lesser of two evils.”

“You’ll have to be very careful,” cautioned Jeanette. “You’ll find you
can’t have your own way as easily as you think.”

“Just leave that to me,” boasted Blanche. “I can manage them.”

Although there was nothing especially amusing about this statement, both
girls went into fits of laughter over it.

“Clever little Blanche,” commended Jeanette. “I wish I were going with
you.”

“I wish you were.” Blanche looked briefly regretful. With all her
faults, Jeanette was a decided improvement on the girls upon whom she
had thrust herself. “I’ll tell you all about to-night as soon as I come
back from the great seance,” was the gracious promise.

“I shall _love_ to hear it.” Jeanette grew correspondingly affable. By
reason of certain confidences which Blanche had lately imparted to her,
the two had been on exceedingly amiable terms for several days.

“Oh, I dare say it is nothing wonderful after all.” Blanche’s shapely
shoulders went into contemptuous play. “Some new Camp Fire stunt,
perhaps. We’ll probably have to listen to a lecture on what to do if the
sky should fall in, or how to find oneself when lost in the woods, or
some other idiotic babble.” The two giggled in unison at this witticism.

“Let’s go down to Wyman’s for dinner,” proposed Jeanette. “It’s after
five o’clock now. I’m simply perishing for something good to eat. We’ll
have an extra gorgeous dessert to make up for the stupid rice puddings,
canned peaches and various other nursery treats we’ve had this week.”

“All right. I’ve a great mind not to go near Miss Drexal,” pouted
Blanche.

“You might be sorry if you didn’t,” counseled Jeanette. “You can’t
afford to tear down what you’ve had such hard work to build up. You must
go on playing your part. Well, you know why.”

“Yes, that’s so.” Blanche sighed. Her frowning face took on an
expression which a mere onlooker might have construed as “ridiculously
sentimental.” Quite the contrary, Jeanette gazed at her with respectful
admiration. She alone was privileged to read it aright, or so she
fatuously believed.

Arm in arm, their heads together, the congenial duo left the house,
proceeding in leisurely fashion across the campus and onto the main
highway that led past Wyman’s hospitable doors. Situated half way
between Miss Belaire’s Academy and the staid old town of Hillside, the
smart little restaurant was the Mecca toward which the academy girls
invariably gravitated when their monthly allowance checks arrived and
burned in their pockets. Within a reasonable distance of almost every
institution of learning for girls, there is sure to be one tea room or
confectioner’s shop in particular which flourishes by reason of the
united approval of its youthful patrons. Once they have set their seal
upon it, it becomes in time traditional. To the Hillside girls, Wyman’s
was in the nature of a necessity. They would hardly have known how to do
without it.

But while Blanche and Jeanette were cosily ensconced at a favorite
alcove table in the dainty gray and white tea-room, Ruth Garnier was
taking uneasy stock of their absence from the academy dining room. She
guessed naturally that Blanche was with Jeanette. Their dual absence
went to prove as much. Where they had gone, and when they would return,
was another matter. Blanche had given her no assurance that she would
attend the meeting in Miss Drexal’s room. It would be too provoking,
Ruth reflected, if Blanche were to stay away after all she had done in
her behalf.

When, at a quarter to eight o’clock, the seven girls made ready to go to
their appointment in a body, Blanche was still among the missing.

“Go on ahead,” Ruth directed. “I’ll stay and wait for Blanche. If she is
not here by a quarter past eight, I’ll not wait longer. It’s just
possible that you may find her at Miss Drexal’s when you arrive there.
If she is, don’t bother to telephone, for I shan’t be long behind you at
any rate.”

Accepting this decree, the sextette left the house to the tune of
energetic sputterings on Jane’s part relative to the absent Blanche.
Ruth’s vigil turned out to be short. From a window of the reception room
she saw her friends start off across the campus just in time to miss
encountering the dilatory object of her watch as she and Jeanette
rapidly traversed the wide stretch of green from an opposite direction.
Leaving her post at the window, she stepped into the hall and opened the
front door.

“I saw you coming across the campus. The girls have gone on ahead. I
stopped to wait for you, Blanche. Are you going to Miss Drexal’s?”
Ruth’s even tones held no hint of reproach. They contained a
businesslike quality, however, which admitted of no trifling.

“Of course I’m going. The girls needn’t have been in such a hurry. It’s
only five minutes to eight.” Blanche coolly consulted her wrist watch.
“So long, Jean, I’ll see you later. Sorry I kept you waiting.” This last
again to Ruth.

“I haven’t waited long,” responded Ruth good-naturedly enough. She did
not intend to show Blanche that she had been in the least annoyed.
During the short walk to the dormitory which housed the registrar, she
talked in her usual cheerful strain, purposely keeping well off the
subject which actuated their call on Miss Drexal.

It was the first time that Blanche Shirly had been honored with an
invitation to the registrar’s cozy apartment. If she felt any
embarrassment over the fact, she did not show it, although she was well
aware that something unusual must have occurred to call forth this
miracle. Whereas she and Jeanette had done their utmost to lessen all
possibility of friendship with the kindly woman, they laid the blame at
her door, privately nicknaming her “Stoneface,” and accusing her of
favoritism.

As it was, Blanche received the surprise of her life when Miss Drexal
took the floor and acquainted her interested listeners with the
hospitable proposal which Ruth had already heard. Needless to relate,
six of them received it with the same heartiness in which it was
offered. Youth has that lovely quality of flexibility which permits it
to adjust itself easily to change of programme, provided that programme
be equally pleasant to contemplate. As it stood, the Equitable Eight
were merely adding two weeks to their holiday together. Ruth’s sturdy
assertion that she didn’t mind postponing the honor of being hostess if
her friends didn’t, set all doubts on that score at rest. All seven
declared confidently that they were sure of the consent of their parents
regarding this important change of plan.

Blanche Shirly alone did not join in the discussion. She was wildly
speculating as to how she could successfully readjust her affairs to
meet this new situation. It had woefully upset certain of her pet plans,
known only to Jeanette. She was now wishing heartily that Miss Drexal
had minded her own affairs and let the Equitable Eight alone. Realizing
that for the present at least she must pretend pleasure, she forced
herself to smile and remark that she knew “Mamma would love to have her
visit Miss Drexal.”

Shortly afterward she made unstudied lessons an excuse for her
departure, leaving her companions engrossed in jubilant discussion of
the coming house party. It was an irate Blanche, however, who, fifteen
minutes later, poured forth her woes to the sympathetic Jeanette. Long
and earnest was their talk, during which Blanche wept copious tears of
rage and disappointment. Following it, she bathed her reddened eyelids
and settled herself to the writing of a lengthy letter. But that long
letter was not addressed to her mother.



                              CHAPTER VII

                        AN OFFENDED EAVESDROPPER


              “We are alone, the world my own,
              That holds but you and me, but you and me,”

hummed Emmeline Cerrito softly, her dark eyes fixed dreamily on the wide
expanse of rippling blue water, gleaming more dazzlingly blue in the
warm sunlight of a perfect August morning.

“That is exactly the way I feel, only I couldn’t express myself,”
remarked Ruth Garnier lazily, from her recumbent position on the white
sand. “Just to lie here and look out on this wonderful lake makes me
feel as though there was nothing except a world of water and sky with
you and me the only persons in it.”

Ruth and Emmy had crept silently from their beds at the first rays of
dawn. Stealing a march on the rest of the slumbering party, they had
donned their bathing suits and noiselessly made their escape from the
cottage for a morning plunge in the cool waters of the lake. They were
now idly lolling on the sand, in the midst of a delightful
_tête-à-tête_.

The previous afternoon had witnessed the tumultuous arrival of the
Equitable Eight at Driftwood Heights, as Miss Drexal had named her
cottage. Six weeks had followed one another in rapid succession since
the seven Hillside members had departed from Miss Belaire’s for their
respective homes. It had been agreed among them, and with Blanche
Shirly, who had declared her intention to join them shortly after Miss
Drexal had made her generous proposal, that the last of July should find
them bag and baggage under the Garniers’ hospitable roof, where Marian
was to meet them. Arrived at the Garniers’, the girls were to leave
there all excess luggage, and proceed as lightly burdened as possible to
the Heights. Adhering strictly to this program, they had arrived at
Lakeview, the nearest station to the Heights, and from there had, at
their own request, made the journey to the cottage on foot. The few
remaining hours of the afternoon had been spent by the Equitable Eight
in unpacking and in exploring the immediate environs of the Heights.

Ruth and Emmy had felt no fatigue from the long railroad journey of the
day before. The morning sun showered its welcome warmth upon them as
they lay on the sand, placidly enjoying the beauty of the prospect that
stretched before their eyes.

“Yes, it does give one the feeling of being cut off from the rest of the
world,” Emmy was saying. “It’s looking at the water that makes it seem
so. That’s what made me think of Tosti’s Venetian Song. Let me tell you
that we won’t be cut off from it long. Once the girls wake up and
discover that we are missing, our beautiful illusion will be rudely
shattered by wild yells from the rear.”

“Sad but true,” laughed Ruth. “With such lively persons as Jane Pellew
and Frances Bliss in the near background, no illusion is really safe.”

“It was worth getting into one’s bathing suit with the daylight and
sliding cat-footed out of the cottage, just to watch the sun come up
over the water,” declared Emmy warmly. “I was just thinking while lying
here in the sand what a different sort of person I’d grown to be. Don’t
you remember last year, when first I came to Wanderer’s Roost, I wasn’t
a bit interested in Nature. It was going camping that one week that woke
me up to the glory of the outdoors. Now I wonder how I could ever have
allowed myself to miss so much for so long.”

“I think I’ve always been a Nature lover,” mused Ruth. “When I was a
tiny girl I dearly loved to tear through the fields and tramp about in
the woods. Once when I was about ten years old, I packed my best doll,
six ginger cookies and half a loaf of bread in my doll carriage and went
off to the woods all by myself on a picnic. Of course, I didn’t ask
permission. It was to be a great adventure, and I felt quite equal to
it. I stayed in the woods all day and had a beautiful time. I played
Babes in the Wood and covered my doll with leaves, and impersonated
Robinson Crusoe, using the same good old doll for Friday.

“You can imagine what was happening at home while I was enjoying myself!
By the middle of the afternoon, half of Burton was out looking for me.
About five o’clock I began to get pretty hungry. I had eaten the ginger
cookies, but bread without butter didn’t look very good to me, so I had
broken it up and scattered it broadcast for the birds. I was serenely
trundling my doll carriage along the road home when I ran straight into
a search party headed by my father. I did a great deal of explaining,
but it wasn’t very satisfactory to either Father or Mother. My great
adventure ended in a scolding from both, and I wasn’t allowed to go out
of the yard for a whole week afterward. That almost broke my heart, but
it cured me of running away.” Ruth’s merry laugh rang out as she dwelt
upon the tragic ending of her great adventure.

Emmy smiled her amusement at the tale. Her lovely face sobered a trifle
as she said: “I never had a real childhood like yours. Mine was lived
among grown-ups in fashionable hotels all over the civilized world. Not
that Father and Mother neglected me. I’ve always been their chief
consideration. But we are unfortunate enough to belong to that portion
of society known as the ‘idle rich.’ Add to that, my father’s restless
temperament, and you can understand why we never take root in any
particular bit of soil. Until I came to Hillside, Paris was more like
home to me than any other place I ever lived in. We’ve spent several
winters there. I always had a governess except the one year I went to
boarding school near Paris.”

“It’s funny, but do you know I’ve never asked how you happened to pick
out Miss Belaire’s Academy,” commented Ruth, her bright eyes sending out
signals of belated curiosity.

“Oh, Mother and I were at Bar Harbor the summer before I came to
Hillside, and while we were there, we met a perfectly delightful woman,
an intimate friend of Miss Belaire. She recommended the academy at
Hillside for me. Just at that time, Mother was quite in favor of letting
me go to some good school in America. So she wrote to Miss Belaire, and
you know the rest. It was a lucky day for me when I landed at Hillside.”

“And for me,” echoed Ruth fervently. “It’s strange how things happen,
isn’t it?”

“Yes, I—” Emma sat up suddenly, her lovely face breaking into smiles.
“Discovered!” she exclaimed dramatically.

From the top of the steep bank, that rose to a height of perhaps
twenty-five feet behind the narrow strip of white beach, a shrill halloo
had split the enchanted silence. On the heights above, three figures in
bathing suits were prancing about, accompanying their gyrations with
triumphant shouts. Having succeeded in attracting the attention of the
recumbent pair on the sand, they charged recklessly down the narrow path
to the beach and landed tumultuously beside their quarry.

“Stole a march on us, didn’t you?” cried Jane Pellew, playfully shaking
Ruth by the shoulders. “Shall we duck them, girls?”

“Just try it,” challenged Ruth. Wriggling free of Jane’s hold, she sat
up in the sand, arms rigid, braced to withstand assault.

“Don’t be so demonstrative, young ladies.” Rising lazily to a sitting
posture, Emmy delivered her rebuke in exact imitation of Miss Melby, the
prim instructor in mathematics at Miss Belaire’s.

“Let’s duck Miss Melby in effigy,” proposed naughty Frances. “You shall
be the effigy, Emmy. Come on, Sarah.”

Amid shrieks of protest from the luckless effigy, she was hustled or
rather dragged across the sand and bundled into the water, where the
trio participated in a lively tussle. Ruth laughed so immoderately as to
relax her own grip on terra firma, and all but shared Emmy’s fate. Jane,
realizing her opportunity, promptly seized it, and a friendly conflict
ensued between the two that brought them to the water’s edge, breathless
and laughing.

“Just as I told you, Ruth,” declared Emmy, as she emerged dripping from
the shallows and proceeded to wring the water from her bathing suit. “We
were down here basking in a glorious sunshiny world of our own when—I
hate to be so brutally frank. Still, I believe I’d rather be brutally
frank than frankly brutal.”

“I wonder what she means,” giggled Sarah, in appreciation of Emmy’s
word-play.

“Her mind is evidently wandering. It’s not safe for us to go near her.
Let’s go swimming. When we come back she may be more rational.”

With a gay laugh, Frances ran into the water, Jane and Sarah following.

“I’ve thought of a lovely name for you,” announced Emmy, when, a little
later, the trio emerged from the lake and flung themselves down on the
sand. “Ruth, I call you to bear witness that we have with us this
morning the Terrible Three.”

“That’s a fine name,” shamelessly applauded Frances. “Come on, Janie and
Sarey, let’s go up to the cottage and introduce ourselves to the rest of
the crowd. Isn’t true appreciation a lovely thing?”

“By the way, where are they?” asked Ruth. “Certainly they must be awake
and stirring. No one could sleep with the Terrible Three abroad and
screaming.”

“They were all up when we started out to hunt you and Emmy. That is, all
except Blanche.” Jane’s accompanying shrug was eloquent of her feelings.

“Blanche hates to get up in the morning,” observed Emmy. “I’ve already
told you girls about what a time her mother used to have waking her when
we were at Silver Birch Inn last summer.”

“Very likely she is tired out,” excused Ruth considerately. “She’s not
used to long hikes like the one we took yesterday. We’ll have to give
her time, children, to grow into our ways.”

Ruth’s pertinent speech brought momentary pause in the conversation. In
the minds of all five girls rose a vision of Blanche as she had very
recently appeared to them. It was not a vision which carried
encouragement in its wake.

“Let’s hope she grows into them soon.” Uncharitable Jane broke the
little silence, which had fallen upon the group on the sands, with this
satirical comment on Blanche Shirly. Despite her promise to “be a little
bit nice to Blanche,” Jane could not resist this one fling at her.

“Leave it to Plain Jane to speak the epilogue,” jibed Frances. “Come on,
Equitable Five, let’s go up to the cottage. I am hungry as a hunter.
Lucky for us that Marian and Betty were detailed to help Martha with the
breakfast. While we are gaily gallivanting along the sands, they are
toiling in the kitchen.”

“I am glad we decided yesterday, when we first came, to divide the work.
It’s strictly Camp Fire procedure, and besides we wouldn’t feel right to
allow Miss Drexal and Martha to do all the housekeeping,” confided Ruth
to Emmy as they started up the steep path to the cottage.

“It will be a lark.” Emmy’s eyes sparkled. “Last year, when we went
camping, I played at being an ornament. This time I intend to get busy
and learn to do various useful things. I am going to earn a whole
collection of honor beads as soon as ever I can.”

“You’ve done very well, already,” praised Ruth. “I expect to see you a
Torch Bearer before long.”

“If only I can be some day!” Emmy’s impulsive answer betrayed her
intense yearning toward the honor.

The business of clambering up the narrow path precluded further
confidences. Sarah, Jane and Frances had already reached the top, there
to be met by Anne Follett, who had come in search of the missing
quintette. In her white middy blouse, and blue uniform skirt and
bloomers, Anne looked a typical Camp Fire girl.

“Hurry up, loiterers,” she urged gaily. “Such wet, bedraggled objects
can’t expect to eat breakfast in the company of the dry and suitably
clothed. Breakfast is almost ready, too.”

“Where’s Blanche?” demanded irrepressible Jane. “Is she up?”

“Perhaps. She wasn’t up yet when I came out here. Maybe she is now.” An
unconscious pucker appeared between Anne’s delicately-arched brows, as
she made reply. She had left Betty engaged in the difficult task of
rousing the slothful Blanche.

                 “For meals may come and meals may go,
                 But Blanche sleeps on forever,”

warbled Frances noisily.

“She won’t after that,” grimly predicted Sarah. “I don’t see how she
could help hearing you, even though she is such a sleepyhead.”

“Be good, Frances,” admonished Ruth, laughing a little in spite of
herself. She was reflecting that a few such shouted pleasantries would
send their proposed reform tumbling down in a hurry.

“I am good, gooder, goodest,” stoutly protested the warbler. “Also I
have an inspiration. It’s a how-to-be-helpful-to-Blanche stunt. In due
season I will reveal it to Jane. I can depend upon _her_ to help me
carry it out.”

“Not until I know what it is,” was Jane’s canny stipulation. “Tell me
now.”

“No, my child. We are of a too nearness to the cottage. We must observe
great caution, or our victim, I mean our candidate for helpfulness, may
overhear and thus forfeit a delightful surprise.”

As it happened, the aforesaid candidate had already heard. What Betty
had partially accomplished, Frances’ high-pitched lilt had perfectly
completed. Blanche had been in the act of lazily sitting up in her bed
when Frances’ clear tones had assailed her ears. The tuneful
announcement, “But Blanche sleeps on forever,” had acted upon the
displeased listener with dynamic force.

Hastily swinging her feet to the floor, she had pattered to the open
window where, concealed by the swaying folds of the white scrim curtain,
she had angrily listened to the ensuing remarks, which floated plainly
to her ears. With the muttered exclamation, “Deceitful things!” she
rushed from the window, and began to dress with an energy quite at
variance with her usual languor. So Frances Bliss and Jane Pellew were
planning to play some hateful trick on her! Very well. Forewarned was
forearmed. She would lose no time in showing them that they had best
leave her alone. Furthermore, she would impress it upon them in a
fashion they would not relish.



                              CHAPTER VIII

                   BLANCHE LIVES UP TO HER REPUTATION


Once the bathing party had retired to their rooms, they made short work
of discarding their wet suits for comfortable middy blouses, bloomers
and blue uniform skirts. Though Blanche had begun her dressing prior to
their return, they preceded her entrance into the dining room by several
minutes. As a matter of fact, the Equitable Eight and Miss Drexal were
patiently engaged in awaiting her coming, when she appeared among them,
head held high, the picture of offended dignity.

“Good morning, Blanche,” greeted Miss Drexal pleasantly. She calmly
ignored the signs of ill-humor, written large on the girl’s set
features.

“Good morning.” Nodding stiffly to her hostess, Blanche swept wrathfully
down upon Frances, who stood by a window talking to Anne Follett.

“How dare you make fun of me, Frances Bliss? You ought to be ashamed of
yourself for singing that hateful song about me at the top of your
voice.” Blanche’s own voice had achieved staccato heights. Her face was
an angry red; her eyes two belligerent blue sparks. “I heard every
single word you and Jane Pellew said about me while you were out in
front of the cottage, and just let me warn you that you’d better not try
to play any stupid tricks on me. I won’t stand it. Do you hear me?”

“Of course I hear you. I’m not deaf.” Stung to anger by the unexpected
attack, Frances brought mild sarcasm to her defense.

“I never said a word about you out there except to ask if you were up.”
Glaring her righteous indignation, Jane Pellew now entered the lists.

From their various positions about the room, where they had been
standing awaiting Blanche’s tardy arrival before sitting down to
breakfast, the listeners to the altercation viewed the instigator in
blank amazement.

“You said more than that,” hotly accused Blanche. Dislike of Jane caused
her to seize the opportunity to lay the burden of the offense at the
black-eyed girl’s door.

“What else did I say?” furiously challenged Jane.

“Jane said nothing whatever about you,” cut in Frances sharply. “I am
the only one that said anything, and I was only in fun. It is very
unjust in you—”

“That will do, girls.” Miss Drexal interrupted in her most registrarial
manner. “As hostess, it is not my place to rebuke my guests. As your
guardian and teacher, I must insist that you stop this quarreling.
Please take your places at table. After breakfast, we will hold court in
the living room, and go further into this matter.”

The prey of many emotions, eight girls slipped obediently into the
places they had occupied at dinner the previous evening. Blanche alone
made no move to obey the dignified request. For an instant she stood
stubbornly still, then flounced to her place with a toss of her auburn
head. Seating herself at the head of the table, Miss Drexal touched the
little silver bell beside her plate. The signal brought Martha from the
kitchen.

“We are ready for breakfast, Martha. Will you serve the canteloupe?” she
requested, with a show of placidity which she was far from feeling.

It was a somewhat uncommunicative company that presently began eating
the delicious pink canteloupe Martha set before them. The several
impersonal comments which one or another of them made fell rather flat.
The atmosphere was still charged with the constraint created by
Blanche’s outburst. Her lowered brows and pouting lips plainly indicated
the will to renew the conflict at the first possible opportunity. Jane,
also, showed signs of undiminished wrath. Frances’ merry features wore
the preternaturally solemn expression that she usually assumed when
trying to hold back her laughter. She was already beginning to see the
funny side of the affair. Betty, Anne and Marian looked frankly puzzled.
As faithful adherents to the kitchen, they were scatheless. Emmy’s
lovely face wore an expression of bored resignation to the inevitable.
Ruth’s eyes were full of grave concern. She had feared dire results when
Frances had raised her voice in mischievous paraphrase. Sarah was
industriously wondering whether Blanche had heard what _she_ had said.

“Here comes the sacred omelet,” Betty called out with forced gaiety, as
Martha appeared, bearing a large platter on which reposed a thick golden
omelet, crowned with an inch of frothy white, faintly browned on top.
“This is Marian’s and my work of art. I beat the eggs, and she did the
rest. We made two, knowing that one would never satisfy this hungry
horde.”

“Just wait until you see the bacon,” boasted Anne, “I’m responsible for
its perfection. I helped Martha with the toast, too.”

“Let us also be helpful and gobble up this glorious array of eats,”
beamed Frances as Martha reappeared with the bacon, made more crisply
tempting by a garnishing of parsley.

An audibly contemptuous sniff from Blanche caused a quick flush to mount
to Frances’ cheeks. The unfortunate allusion to being helpful had
aroused the injured one to fresh ire. Before she could fling a cutting
remark at Frances, Ruth tactfully headed her off.

“You all deserve to be decorated as chefs,” she said brightly.

“You mean chefesses,” amended Anne waggishly.

“Something like that,” returned Ruth, flashing her a grateful smile.

“Wait until Sarah and I take our turn in the kitchen. Then you’ll have
something really praiseworthy in the line of eats,” promised Frances.
“By the way, when are we to do our cooking stunt. I prefer trying my
hand at breakfast. I think breakfast should be a very simple meal,
though. Just fruit and coffee, and perhaps a little toast. Bread would
be better. I can slice bread beautifully. Sarah can tend to the fruit,
and we’ll let Martha make the coffee. It’s all just as simple as A. B.
C.”

“Entirely too simple,” jeered Jane. “It’s a plain case of you shirk and
we starve. I move that Frances be made to get the dinner to-night, all
by herself, from a bill of fare that we shall lay out for her. I believe
in a punishment that fits the crime.”

“You’ll find it an unlucky move for the Equitable Eight,” cheerfully
retorted Frances. “I won’t speak of myself.”

“Have a little mercy on the rest of us, Plain Jane. Leave Frances alone
in the kitchen to get the dinner, and we’ll all go hungry to bed. I
wouldn’t trust her to boil water. She’d let the tea-kettle go dry while
she composed an ode to the stove, or a sonnet dedicated to the frying
pan,” ended Sarah with a derisive chuckle.

The vision of Frances dashing off an inspiration to the hapless kitchen
range, while the tea-kettle bubbled merrily on to disaster, provoked a
ripple of mirth in which Blanche Shirly alone refused to join. She was
still darkly immersed in her own grievances. Nevertheless, this did not
deter her from eating a substantial breakfast. Now and then she loftily
addressed herself to Miss Drexal, at whose left she was seated, and who
courteously attended to her wants. Her girl companions, however, might
have been a thousand miles away for all the notice she took of them.

The meal, which had begun so unpropitiously, ended in a return of the
irrepressible jollity that usually attended the Equitable Eight. Under
the careless chatter and light laughter, there still lurked in each
youthful mind the disquieting recollection of the session yet to be held
in the living room. It was that, undoubtedly, which caused the
breakfasters to linger at the table. No one, except Blanche, was anxious
for that particular session to commence.

“Perhaps we had better go into the living room, girls.” There was an
almost imperceptible shade of annoyance in Miss Drexal’s reminder.
Rising, she led the way to the spacious, sunlit room, directly across
the short hallway from the dining room. It was an attractive apartment,
done in soft browns, and simply but very comfortably furnished with deep
willow and rope chairs. Aside from a broad willow settee, piled high
with gaily colored cushions, a book case, a cabinet phonograph and a
graceful willow stand heaped with current magazines, the room contained
little else in the way of furnishings.

“Line up your chairs with the settee,” requested the registrar, a half
smile curving her lips. “Blanche, I wish you to sit by me.” Miss Drexal
had already set her chair where it faced the row. Now she motioned
Blanche to one she had placed beside it. Seating herself she said with
the utmost gravity. “You girls must necessarily play the part of the
defendants. Blanche is of course the plaintiff. You also see before you
your stern judge. Now let us attack this disagreement heart and soul,
and see if we can’t settle it. We will first listen to the plaintiff.
What seems to be the trouble, Blanche?”

Blanche scowled vindictively at the row of girlish faces bent on her.
She did not approve of Miss Drexal’s straightforward methods. She was
convinced that the older woman was merely trying to place her in a
ridiculous light before the entire company. Shrugging her shoulders, she
said disdainfully, “I don’t think it is my place to speak first. You had
better ask these girls what they said about me.”

“According to law, you must state your own case,” declared Miss Drexal
evenly.

“Very well, then, I will.” Blanche cast a spiteful, sidelong glance at
the impassive disciple of the law, and proceeded to pour forth her tale
of woe in short, angry sentences which lengthened as she continued into
a veritable tirade, directly largely against Frances and the
unjustly-maligned Jane. “For girls who pretend to be followers of the
Camp Fire, I must say they act very queerly. I don’t believe back-biting
is included in the list for Camp Fire honors. If it is, I’ve never seen
it. When I have anything horrid to say to a girl, I say it to her face,
not behind her back,” was her scornful conclusion.

“You have all heard the plaintiff’s accusations,” Miss Drexal stated
quietly. “What have you to say, Frances?”

She was hardly in sympathy with Blanche, whom she guessed to have been
guilty of undue stress in her accusations. Neither did she approve of
the part Frances had played in the morning’s jangle.

“It’s all my fault,” Frances’ contrite apology shattered the hush that
had succeeded the formal statement and question. “But Blanche won’t
believe that I was only in fun. Besides, she didn’t hear Ruth say before
we climbed the hill that she was probably sleeping later than the rest
of us, because she wasn’t used to long hikes. Nobody said another word
about Blanche until Anne called to us to hurry and get ready for
breakfast. Jane asked if Blanche was up yet, and then I sang out that
silly paraphrase before I thought how it might sound. I am always making
rhymes about the girls, but _they_ don’t mind.

“Ruth told me then that I ought not to have sung it. Sarah said that
Blanche wouldn’t be able to sleep after I had made so much noise.”
Frances gallantly left out Sarah’s reference to Blanche as a
“sleepyhead,” for which the former was duly grateful. As Blanche had not
accused her directly of back-biting, she concluded that her
uncomplimentary appellation had passed unnoticed.

“Ruth said, ‘Be good, Frances,’” continued the defendant ruefully. “I
said I was good, gooder, goodest, and that I’d thought of a way to be
helpful to Blanche and asked Jane to help me. Jane was not a bit anxious
to, but asked me to tell her what it was. I said I wouldn’t tell her
just then because we were too near the cottage, and Blanche might hear
me and miss a delightful surprise. It did _sound_ rather horrid.” A
flush dyed her cheeks as she made this candid admission. “It wasn’t
anything dreadful, though.

“No one is to blame but myself. Marian and Betty weren’t even on the
scene. Anne and Emmy didn’t say a single word. What Jane, Ruth and Sarah
said didn’t amount to a row of pins. I am the real villain. Blanche, I
apologize most humbly for my sins. Please believe that I didn’t intend
to be ill-natured.” Frances made her apology with convincing sincerity.

“I shall not accept your apology unless you tell me the trick you said
you were going to play on me, and give me your word that you won’t play
it,” snapped Blanche.

“I am willing to promise not to trouble you with any of my jokes, but
that is all.” It was Frances who was angry now. “You may accept my
apology or not, just as you like.”

“I think you ought to make Frances tell me, Miss Drexal,” Blanche made
pettish appeal. “How can I know that she will keep her word?”

“Oh-h!” The exclamation burst angrily from Jane’s lips. No matter how
much she and Frances might argue, in time of stress she was a loyal
supporter.

“That is hardly fair, Blanche,” Miss Drexal gently rebuked. “I, for one,
will vouch for Frances’ word.” An affirmative murmur swept along the row
of shocked listeners. “As for the joke itself, I should advise both of
you to dismiss all thought of it. As your hostess, girls,” she
continued, addressing herself to the entire company, “it does not become
me to lecture you. As Camp Fire Girls, it does not become any one of you
to speak in a manner that may give offense to another. What may seem
merely fun to you may not be regarded as fun by someone else. We came
here with the intention of spending a happy season together. We must not
allow the slightest shadow of dissension to settle down upon us. I shall
make no further criticism upon this little rift in the lute. I shall
also appreciate it if you will refrain from all discussion of it with
one another. And now, let us forget it and talk of our plans for the
day. Sentence on the defendants is suspended, and court is dismissed,”
she concluded humorously.

While the registrar was speaking, Blanche stared fixedly at a spot high
on the opposite wall, her mouth set in sullen lines. The instant the
older woman had finished, she rose, and said with satirical politeness,
“_I_, at least, will try to follow your advice. May I be excused,
please? I have a very important letter to write. Whatever plans you may
make will be agreeable to me.” Without waiting for permission to retire,
she marched from the room, her elaborate, half-fitted negligee of pale
blue silk fairly fluttering her displeasure as she swished out of the
door and disappeared. If it had suddenly been gifted with the power of
speech, it would undoubtedly have expressed sentiments quite different
from those she had offered.



                               CHAPTER IX

                          AN ENERGETIC INVALID


“What is the pleasure of the Equitable Eight?” Hardly had Blanche’s
footsteps died away when Miss Drexal plunged briskly into the programme
for the day. It was with secret relief that the eight young women turned
their attention to a pleasanter subject. Though only one of them had
taken an active part in the disagreement with Blanche, they all felt
embarrassed that such a state of affairs had leaped up on their first
morning at the Heights.

“We are in the hands of our hostess.” Emmy made a graceful little
gesture of deference. “The question is, what would you like us to do,
Miss Drexal?”

“Suppose we go picnicking in the woods, just back of the cottage,”
proposed their hostess. “I wish you to begin early to get acquainted
with them. My sister and I have explored them for perhaps five miles in
a northerly direction. Now that we are strong in numbers, we can go
deeper into them. It will give us practice in trail blazing. We can pack
a luncheon, start in an hour from now, and spend the day as good
explorers, keeping in mind that we must start back in time to reach the
Heights by sunset.”

“That will be splendid,” glowed Ruth. “Ever since I first saw those
woods, I’ve been longing to go into them.”

“Is it perfectly safe for us to tackle them without a guide?” asked Anne
timidly. “I’ve read ever so many blood-curdling tales of people who got
hopelessly lost in northern forests, and had all sorts of horrible
adventures.”

“But we don’t intend to get lost,” stoutly declared venturesome Jane,
always ready for the unexplored. “All we have to do is to blaze a proper
trail, and keep together. When folks get lost in the woods, it’s
generally because they stray away from one another. It would be hard to
lose this noisy crowd.”

“These woods are not dense enough to warrant getting lost. In the past
few years, the lumbering business has served to cut away a great deal of
the timber up here. Later on, we shall take to the woods with an Indian
guide, whom I know, to look out for us. I have planned a trip to
Vermilion Lake. It lies about a hundred miles from here. We will go by
train to Tower, a town situated on the lake. Our guide will meet us
there, and show us some real forest country. We shall be away for at
least two weeks, and sleep under tents. Does that please you?”

The jubilant cries which arose at this announcement gave signal proof of
the pleasure of the eight girls. The alluring prospect of the trip was
doubly enhanced by the promise of a real Indian guide.

“What is the name of our guide, Miss Drexal?” eagerly inquired Ruth.

“His name is Blue Wolf. He is a Cheyenne, and his grandfather was a
famous Cheyenne chief. He lives in a lodge about twenty miles from here,
and spends most of his time hunting and trapping in Canada. He was a
firm friend of my father’s, who once nursed him through a long illness
when they were both young men. He swore allegiance then to my father,
and has ever since been a faithful friend to our family. He is a quaint
person, middle-aged but so strong and rugged he looks almost like a
young man. He is very proud, and dignified, with little to say. When he
does talk, his English is rather broken. He is quite easily offended, so
you had best treat him with a certain amount of respect. Taking a party
of girls on a camping trip will be a new experience for him. I had some
difficulty in persuading him to promise his services. It was only to
please a Drexal that he consented.”

“We shall have to practice beforehand,” asserted Frances gleefully.
“Jane, you may be Blue Wolf, and we will pose as your respectful
admirers. You can say ‘How’ when you are pleased with us, and ‘Ugh’ when
we don’t come up to your expectations. You can wear one of those striped
portieres, that hang in the living room door, for a blanket, and I will
thoughtfully pluck a few feathers from that big duster in the kitchen
and make you a head-piece. Won’t that be nice?” Frances was captivated
by the cleverness of her own idea, and smirked patronizingly at her
selected victim.

“I’ll do nothing of the kind,” balked Jane. “Wear your own blankets and
feather dusters! They’ll become you better than me.”

“I doubt it,” retorted Frances with a droll significance, that brought a
reluctant grin even to Jane’s face.

“If we are going on a hike this morning, we’d better be making ready,”
reminded practical Betty. Unconsciously, her eyes strayed to the
doorway, through which Blanche had lately disappeared.

Reading their expression aright, Miss Drexal rose from her chair. “I
will tell Blanche,” she said. “Ruth, will you go to the kitchen, and ask
Martha to pack the luncheon at once?”

“May I help her!” pleaded Marian. “That is, if you think she won’t
mind.”

“Oh, let me help, too!” cried Emmy.

“She will be glad of your help,” smiled the registrar, secretly pleased
both at Marian’s thoughtful request, and Emmy’s readiness to be of
service. Marian was a girl after her own heart. As for Emmy, she
marveled at the steady effort toward usefulness that the once indolent
French girl was daily putting forth. At no far distant date, she foresaw
that both young women could lay just claim to the high office of Torch
Bearer.

The session ended in a grand scurrying in all directions to make ready
for the hike. Miss Drexal climbed the stairs to the room, which she and
Blanche were occupying. She had taken Blanche under her wing for wise
reasons of her own. Betty, Anne and Jane shared one room; Emmy, Ruth and
Marian another. Sarah and Frances claimed a smaller sleeping chamber at
the end of the hall. As there were but four upstairs rooms in the
cottage, this had been the only possible arrangement. It was highly
satisfactory to all concerned, save Blanche Shirly. Privately, she
considered it a cross, rather than an honor, to share a room with Miss
Drexal. She would have preferred being with Ruth and Marian. To her,
they were the least to be feared of the eight girls. She flattered
herself that she could wind them around her finger.

Miss Drexal paused to rap at her own door, which was closed, and waited
until Blanche’s indifferent, “Come in” bade her enter. “We have decided
to go on a picnic in the woods,” she said. “We shall start as soon as
possible. Can you be ready within the next half hour?” Noting that
Blanche was still wearing her blue negligee, the registrar saw fit to
set a limit to the time of preparation.

Seated at a small desk, and evidently at work on the letter which had
formed her excuse for leaving the living room, Blanche swung about in
her chair, her glance not entirely friendly. Her tone, however, was
plaintively sweet as she said: “I am all tired out from walking so far
yesterday. Shall you mind if I don’t go with you to-day? Besides, I
really ought to finish this letter to Mamma. She will be _so_ worried
until she hears from me.”

“Do just as you think best, Blanche,” Miss Drexal said kindly. “I would
be glad to have you go, but shall not urge you to do so, against your
own wishes. Martha will be here, so you will have someone in the cottage
with you. When the man comes with the trunks, you can send your letter
to the village by him. Otherwise, you will have to walk to the nearest
house along the Rural Free Delivery Route, three miles from here. If you
have other letters to write, I would suggest that you write them, and
have them ready for him.”

“Thank you. I believe I will. There are one or two other letters I ought
to write. I am going to spend the day getting rested. I am anxious to go
bathing in the lake, and take long walks. But I have to be careful not
to overdo. I am not very strong.”

“What you need most of all, Blanche, is to begin at once to lead a free,
out-door life. A few more hikes, such as yesterday’s, and you will not
complain of feeling tired. It should not take you long to complete your
elective honors for becoming a Wood Gatherer.”

“Oh, I _expect_ to do that,” emphasized Blanche. “That was one reason I
was so glad to come up here.” Blanche neglected to state that it was a
minor reason.

“As soon as you have won them, I will call a Council Fire, and initiate
you as a Wood Gatherer.” Miss Drexal was determined on one point.
Blanche must be offered every chance for self-improvement. The recent
scene in the living room had shown her that, thus far, the Camp Fire
movement had done little for the arrogant, self-opinionated girl, who
had caused her so much annoyance while at Hillside.

“As I am ready for our walk, I will leave you,” she said pleasantly. “I
will speak to Martha about luncheon for you. We shall not be back until
sundown.”

Blanche made a face at the registrar’s trim, serge-clad back. She was
still pouting, because Miss Drexal had not taken sides with her against
Frances. Left alone, she hastily finished her letter, addressed an
envelope and prepared it for mailing. Then rising, she went to the door,
opened it an inch or so and listened intently. Running steps on the
stairs caused her to close it noiselessly. She was still within a foot
of it when someone knocked.

Tiptoeing to the middle of the room, she called a languid, “Come.”

Ruth entered with an impulsive, “I am sorry you’re not going on the
picnic, Blanche. Shall I stay here with you?”

“Oh, no, indeed! Don’t think of such a thing. Go ahead and enjoy
yourself. I’ll be all right.” Consternation prompted Blanche’s refusal
of Ruth’s companionship. Inspiration caused her to next say: “Ruth,
would you mind giving this letter to Martha? Tell her to ask the trunk
man to mail it in Lakeview. I’m thankful I had my trunk shipped straight
here from home. I won’t need to see the man, or be disturbed by having a
trunk banged into the room. Please tell Martha that I don’t care for any
luncheon. That will save her the trouble of getting it ready. I have a
headache. I am going to lie down and sleep, if I can. I just want to be
let alone. You are so nice about such things. You can explain to her,
without making her mad. You’d better speak to her just before you start,
or else she may tell Miss Drexal that I said I didn’t want any luncheon.
It will worry Miss Drexal, and I don’t care to do that. You see, I am
trying not to be a bother to anyone. You know how you’d feel about it
yourself.”

“Of course.” Blanche’s sudden thoughtfulness toward others rather
surprised Ruth. She wondered if, hitherto, she had misjudged the other
girl by privately believing her selfish. “I’ll speak to Martha,” she
promised. “It’s nice in you to be so thoughtful. You are sure you’d
rather I’d not stay with you?”

“Perfectly sure. I hope I’m not so selfish as to let you make a martyr
of yourself for me. It was sweet in you to offer to. Now run along, or
the girls will be coming up here. I’d rather not see them just now. I
was so hurt this morning. It has really made me feel ill.”

“I was sorry—” began Ruth.

“Please don’t.” Blanche held up a protesting hand. “I know _you_ weren’t
to blame. Let’s not talk of it.”

“Very well; we won’t,” assured Ruth. “I must go. Good-bye until
to-night.”

“Good-bye.” Blanche shrugged mocking shoulders as Ruth vanished.
Silently her lips formed the word “Goose!” Cautiously reopening the
door, she resumed her listening attitude. No one else came upstairs,
however, to express regret for leaving her at the cottage. Soon
afterward, the sound of gay voices outside the Heights notified her that
the picnickers were about to start on their jaunt. Slipping into the
hall, she went cat-footed to a window at its rear, and, concealed by the
curtain, watched them swing off toward the forest.

Before they were out of sight, she turned and ran lightly to her room.
Her languor dropping away like a cloak, she hastily pulled off her
negligee, and began getting into her Camp Fire uniform at top speed.
Sitting down on the edge of her couch bed, she made short work of
drawing on and lacing her high tan boots. Springing up, she snatched her
soft white felt hat from the wardrobe, and going to the mirror, set it
carefully on her thick auburn hair. Seizing a powder puff, she applied
it to her face, then picking up a tiny gold vanity case from the
dressing table, tucked it inside her blouse.

Silently leaving the room, she crept down the staircase, casting an
anxious glance down the hall toward the kitchen. From it floated
Martha’s deep voice, raised in cheerful song as she ambled about at her
work. Blanche made a noiseless dash out the front door, and ran like a
deer in the direction the party had taken from the village on the hike
of the previous day. For one who claimed the need for rest, Blanche
Shirly was behaving in a very peculiar fashion.



                               CHAPTER X

                        A HURRIED HOMEWARD HIKE


Not until she was well out of sight of the Heights did Blanche slacken
her pace. Panting from her mad dash down the road, which followed the
lake, though high above it, she came to a halt and paused to take
breath. After a moment or two of rest, she made for the side of it.
Extracting the vanity case from her blouse, she opened it and took from
it a bit of paper, which had been folded many times to fit into its
limited quarters. Spread out, it revealed itself as a sheet of extremely
thin note paper covered with writing. At the bottom of the sheet a small
diagram had been drawn, which Blanche studied intently, glancing from
time to time about her as though to verify the directions marked upon
it. Snapping the vanity case shut, she returned it to her blouse and,
paper in hand, started on down the road at a brisk trot which even
athletic Ruth Garnier could hardly have improved upon.

Meanwhile, the unsuspecting company of forest worshippers were blithely
tramping along through the woods, pausing frequently to exclaim over
some bit of woodland wonder that, for the moment, claimed their admiring
attention. Each was bent on identifying some tree, bush, bird or even
weed, peculiar to the locality, and hitherto known only to them through
books devoted to Nature study. Correct identifications of these forest
denizens meant a proud addition to honors already gained. As an
authority on the flora and fauna of that region, Miss Drexal was
continually appealed to for confirmation.

Noon found them perhaps three miles into the wilderness. They had
endeavored to steer a direct northerly course, frequently consulting the
compass Ruth carried, which still obligingly pointed due north. Their
progress had been most leisurely, for they were not concerned as to the
amount of ground they covered. With so many interesting sights to see,
they preferred to go slowly and thus miss nothing worth while.

The wrist watches, which most of the girls wore, showed half past twelve
when they halted for luncheon in a tiny natural open space between the
trees, within sight of a small but noisy brook which chattered
complainingly as it rushed along over the stones.

The site chosen was an ideal spot for loitering, and the amateur
foresters hailed it with shouts of gleeful acclamation.

“It seems good to see the sun again,” commented Sarah, squinting
gratefully up at the sunlight that poured generously down from between
the giant trees, which formed a leafy wall about the little enclosure.

“I love the sun, but oh, you eats!” trilled Frances, casting a loving
eye upon the hamper that Anne and Betty had just set upon a convenient
flat rock. It being their only burden, the Equitable Eight had taken
turns carrying it, having laughingly barred their hostess-guide from
playing porter.

“You think more about eating than about Nature study, Frances Bliss,”
accused Jane with a lofty indifference to the pangs of hunger, which
were at that very moment assailing her.

“Can you look me squarely in the eyes and say you are not starved, Jane
Pellew?” was the severe retort, as Frances marched over to her pet
diversion, thrusting her mischievous face within a few inches of Jane’s.

“No, I can’t, you ridiculous person,” Jane’s lofty expression vanished
in a half-vexed laugh. “Still, I am too polite to mention being starved
unless I’m forced to do it.”

“You _really_ mean that you lack simple frankness, Plain Jane,”
translated Frances gently. “You _may_ be polite, and occasionally frank.
I can readily recall several such occasions, though I prefer not to
dwell on them publicly. But _I_ am _always_ frank. It was my extreme
frankness as a mere infant which induced my fond parents to name me
Frances. Frankness and Frances are synonymous. Do you catch the beauty
of the synonym?”

“Take her away,” begged Jane of the laughing listeners. “She gives me
the headache.”

“Let’s condemn her to hard labor. Make her unpack the hamper,” sentenced
Betty, firmly seizing the talkative synonym of frankness by the arm.
Jane lost no time in grasping her tormentor’s other arm. Protesting
volubly, Frances was conducted to the hamper. Then the avenging duo
encountered a snag.

“You can drag an Equitable Eighter to a hamper, but you can’t make her
unpack it,” jeered the victim of force.

“Oh, yes we can,” confidently assured Jane. “You make one arm go, Betty,
and I’ll work the other.”

Thereupon followed a bit of by-play that sent the interested onlookers
into shrieks of laughter. Frances was possessed of not only a will of
her own, but corresponding strength as well. She put forth no effort to
free herself; her arms simply refused to move in accordance with the
will of her propellers. In fact, they flourished in every direction
except hamperward, causing those of her captors to flourish unwillingly
with them.

“No use, Jane,” gasped Betty. Weak with laughter she relaxed her hold.
“She’s a second Sandow. I’d rather unpack the hamper twice over than
keep this up.”

“The world is mine!” orated the triumphant conqueror, cheerfully waving
the arm that Betty gladly dropped. “I feel like the Brave Little Tailor
in Grimm’s Fairy Tales, who vanquished seven at one blow. Plain Jane,
you may spend the next week of your young life embroidering me a girdle
bearing that lovely legend.”

“You’re a brave little nuisance,” scathingly commented Jane. “You’ll
wait a long time for that girdle.”

“How can I win her approbation?” murmured Frances. “Ah, I have it! I
will unpack the eats and feed her a sandwich.”

“You will _not_.” Jane beat a prompt retreat as Frances made an
energetic attack upon the hamper. Snapping up the fateful sandwich, she
pursued the fleeing object of her mischievous intentions in and out
among the trees, leaving her amused companions to busy themselves with
the task she had begun only to abandon.

It was a very merry group that presently gathered about the tablecloth,
laid on the mossy ground, and covered with a variety of eatables, best
suited to picnicking. Frances’ nonsense had only served to heighten the
atmosphere of good humor which had prevailed from the starting out of
the expedition. Luncheon finished, they strolled over to the little
brook to watch its hurried progress over the greenish-brown stones, and
to dabble their hands in its clear waters.

“Why, what has become of the sun?” was Ruth’s cry. After loitering for
half an hour by the rock, they had returned to the spot where they had
lunched to recover the hamper and go forward again. Along the banks of
the little stream the trees grew thickly, seeming almost to arch
overhead. In consequence, they had failed to note Old Sol’s gradual
disappearance behind a bank of bluish-gray clouds until, back in the
open space, Ruth now called concerned attention to it.

Miss Drexal raised anxious eyes to the threatening cloud bank. “It
doesn’t look promising, girls,” she declared uneasily. “I am not sure
what those clouds mean. We sometimes have dreadful wind storms in this
region. We had best about-face and make for the cottage. These clouds
may pass; again they may not. It is almost three o’clock now. Should it
begin to rain and rain steadily, it would be anything but pleasant in
these woods.”

With no impeding luggage save the now light hamper, the return journey
through the forest was begun within three minutes after Miss Drexal had
sounded her warning call to march. This time there was no stopping by
the way. All realized the importance of reaching shelter before a storm
of either wind or rain or both should descend upon them. Thus far, there
was little wind, yet as they proceeded, a faint but ominous rustling of
leaves overhead told them that the wind was rising. The fact that it did
not increase as they hurried along served somewhat to still their fears.

Apprehension returned full force during the last half mile. The
portending rustle gradually grew into a profound sigh, as though the
very leaves on the trees had united in protest against the rough tactics
which the wind was rapidly adopting.

“We’re off our course,” called Ruth, consulting the compass. “Not much
but a little. We must have strayed through being in such a rush to get
home. We were going directly south when last I looked; about twenty
minutes ago.”

“Let me see.” Miss Drexal halted and scrutinized their surroundings.
“It’s all right,” she encouraged. “I know where we are. We shall come
out of the woods about a quarter of a mile below the Heights, on the
road to the village. Forward march, children. It won’t be long until we
are there. We must try to escape the rain.”

“Follow your leader,” ordered Ruth cheerfully, catching Emmy’s arm as
she rushed her playfully forward. Miss Drexal now ahead as guide, the
two girls swung along directly behind her.

“Hurrah!” Emmy sang out joyfully. Through the trees she had glimpsed the
road for which they were making.

“O-h-h!” a howl of anguish went up from the rear, causing the registrar
to whirl and hasten in the direction of the sound. It proceeded from
unlucky Jane, whose feet had unwarily wandered into the meshes of a
fondly-clinging vine. Her wail had ascended as she descended, full
force, upon her face.

Before Miss Drexal had reached her, she had regained her feet and stood
sputtering angrily at the unfeeling Frances who had laughed so hard as
to be unable to assist her fallen comrade.

Emmy turned and took a few steps toward Jane. Ruth was about to follow
her when the purr of an automobile, dashing along the near-by road,
attracted her attention. She obtained a good look at the driver, a dark,
thin-faced young man, bending far over the wheel. His companions she
merely glimpsed, as the machine flashed by, yet that one glimpse brought
a soft “Oh” of dismay to her lips. Glancing quickly about, she was
relieved to note that her friends had evidently paid no attention to the
passing of the automobile. They were still busy with Jane. By the time
they turned and came up with her, Jane still sputtering at the grinning
Frances, who was endeavoring to lead her along, the automobile had
disappeared around a curve in the road.

“Safe!” exclaimed Anne dramatically. “We are out of the woods at last.”

“Safe nothing,” disagreed Sarah. “I just felt a raindrop on my head.
There’s another!” she cried as a big drop splashed upon a broad-leafed
weed in front of her. “We’d better run for it.”

Her advice promptly heeded, the party set off pell-mell over the narrow
strip of weed-grown ground that sloped gently down to the road. Up the
road the race for shelter continued, Ruth and Frances well in the lead.

“Look out!” Ruth’s warning rang out just in time to scatter the runners
as the same automobile she had so recently seen tore down upon them.
This time the driver was alone. Like a flash he dashed by them, looking
neither to the right nor left.

Only the fact that the rain was now beginning to come down in earnest
deterred the ruffled hikers from holding forth wrathfully then and
there. Bottling their caustic opinions of reckless motorists until a
more convenient season, the homeward flight was continued. Rounding the
curve, beyond which stood the cottage, every pair of eyes picked up a
blue-clad figure fleeing across the lawn toward the front door.

“There’s Blanche!” called out Anne. “She has her hat on. She must have
gone walking and got caught in the rain.”

“Do her good,” muttered Jane.

Bent on gaining cover, no one else took time to comment upon the girl
just disappearing into the cottage. Nevertheless one of them had
received a most unpleasant shock, and that one was Ruth Garnier.



                               CHAPTER XI

                           THE REVOLT OF RUTH


“We certainly missed one grand ducking,” crowed Jane. “Just listen to
that!”

Gathered in the living room, the foresters had good reason for
self-congratulation. Not more than ten minutes had passed since their
run to cover, yet in that short interval, the shower had increased to
driving sheets of rain that lashed furiously against the window panes.
Above the beating of the rain, the wind whistled and roared about the
sturdy little cottage, as though determined to tear it from its
foundations.

“I’d hate to be back in the woods now with this storm going on,”
shuddered Betty. “That wind is strong enough to send the trees crashing
down.”

“We are lucky to have escaped it,” said Miss Drexal. “I would advise you
girls to go upstairs and change your damp clothing. Then you will run no
risk of catching cold. I am going to take my own advice and do so at
once.”

“I hope that horrid man that nearly ran us down gets a good wetting,”
grumbled Sarah.

“He wasn’t a man. He was only a crazy boy,” jeered Jane.

“I’d like to know where he came from so suddenly,” remarked Betty. “I
wonder if he lives somewhere near here.”

“He drove his car up the road just as we came out of the woods,”
informed Ruth. “Didn’t any of you see him then? It was at the very
minute when Jane fell down.”

“You couldn’t expect us to bother with a little thing like an automobile
when our Jane had come to grief,” smiled Anne. “I never even heard it.”

“Nor I,” chorused several voices.

For reasons best known to herself, Ruth was not sorry to hear this.

“He couldn’t have gone much further than the cottage, or he wouldn’t
have come back so soon,” argued Betty. “He certainly didn’t stop at the
Heights, or Martha would have mentioned it when she told us about the
drayman bringing our trunks.”

“I don’t see why he should stop here,” declared Jane. “We don’t know him
and he doesn’t know us.”

“The Mystery of the Mad Motorist; or Why, Where and When,” supplied
Frances gaily.

“Very likely he was afraid of the storm, and decided to turn back,”
suggested practical Betty, bent on clearing up the mystery.

“Why bother our heads over a silly boy who hasn’t any notion of speed
laws?” laughed Marian. “Let’s think of our own precious selves, and go
upstairs for a grand change of costume. Blanche has certainly beaten us
to it. She didn’t stop to compare notes with us.”

“That’s so. I’d forgotten about seeing her come in just ahead of us. I
wonder where _she_ had been.” Mention of Blanche had aroused Jane’s
curiosity. “She must have—” Jane stopped. She had been on the point of
saying that Blanche must have forgotten all about being tired.

Sarah giggled faintly. She had guessed the rest of the speech to be
satirical, hence Jane’s reason for chopping it off so abruptly. Ruth
cast the sharp-tongued girl an approving glance, which Jane caught and
understood.

“Come, girls.” Miss Drexal moved toward the hall.

Arrived in their rooms, the hikers lost no time in changing their
slightly damp clothing for simple house gowns, substituting pumps and
slippers for their cumbersome high tan boots.

The Guardian found Blanche, already arrayed in a pale blue linen gown,
seated before the dressing-table rearranging her auburn hair in the
elaborate coiffure she always affected.

“I thought I would go for a walk,” she began hurriedly, before Miss
Drexal had time to make a remark. “I had no idea it was going to storm.
I was hurrying for the cottage when you and the girls came up the road.
I was tired of just sitting around doing nothing,” she added, as though
feeling it incumbent upon her to explain her movements.

“I am glad you went. It was fortunate you didn’t walk far,” replied Miss
Drexal, smiling. She was secretly pleased to find that her languid guest
had been about and stirring. Her advice to Blanche, before starting on
the walk, had evidently borne fruit. At once busying herself with her
own dressing, she failed to observe the curious expression of relief
that lurked in Blanche’s eyes as she studied the other woman intently
for an instant, then turned to the mirror.

Before Miss Drexal had completed her change of gown, Blanche rose and
walked to the door. “I am going to Ruth’s room,” she announced. She was
bent on getting away, lest the registrar should ask questions which she
could not truthfully answer. She preferred not to commit herself to
anything which might afterward involve her in a mesh of difficulties.

Admitted to Ruth’s room by Emmy, she found the three girls had begun the
overhauling of their steamer trunks.

“It’s a good thing for us these trunks came,” congratulated Marian. From
a kneeling position before her own, she looked up and nodded brightly.
“What time did they get here, Blanche?”

This being one of the very questions Blanche was trying to evade, it
stumped her for an instant. Quickly rallying, she drawled, “I’m not
sure. While I was asleep, perhaps, or maybe while I was out walking. I
didn’t ask Martha. I—well—I haven’t seen her since this morning.”

“Didn’t you have any luncheon?” Emmy turned abruptly from the chiffonier
drawer, which she was filling with the soft silk blouses she usually
wore in preference to the heavy white middies.

“No. I didn’t want any. I—that is—Martha understood she needn’t get me
any luncheon.”

“You must be hungry by this time,” observed Marian. “Never mind, it will
soon be dinner time. Jane and Frances are the cooks to-night. I hope
Martha can hear herself think.”

“Will you sit down, Blanche?” Thus far Ruth had refused to look at the
caller. Her eyes fixed steadily on the tray of her trunk, she was
wondering dejectedly what she ought to do.

“No, thank you.” Deep in her own problem, Blanche failed to mark the
note of constraint in Ruth’s voice. “Would you mind coming to my room,
Ruth?” She had made a swift resolve to ask Ruth to find out from Martha
when the trunks had arrived; also if the latter had kept strictly away
from her door, and what she had said about the message Ruth had
delivered. It would be easy to further impress on Ruth that it was
necessary to know these things in order to keep secret her pretended
consideration toward Miss Drexal.

“I’ll be with you in a minute.” Unwittingly, Blanche had opened to Ruth
the way she dreaded and yet felt was the only right one. Her pleasant
face set in determined lines, Ruth turned from her trunk and followed
Blanche to the door.

Emmy shot a curiously speculative glance after the two as they
disappeared. She wondered what now ailed finicky Blanche. Marian
placidly continued her unpacking. She was not concerned by the request
for a private session with Ruth.

“Did you give Martha my message? What did she say?” They were hardly in
the hall when Blanche began her questioning.

“She didn’t like it very well.” Ruth had decided not to be too hasty. It
was just possible that Blanche intended to offer a satisfactory
explanation of what Ruth had privately observed. “She said she didn’t
like to go against Miss Drexal’s orders. I repeated what you said about
not caring to worry Miss Drexal, and saving extra work. Then she said,
‘All right,’ but that she would have to tell Miss Drexal to-night. I
said it wouldn’t matter then, because—”

“You shouldn’t have said that! It matters a good deal!” Vexation robbed
Blanche of caution. They had now reached her room and entered.

“Why?” Ruth swung the door shut, and faced her companion, her usually
placid features alive with accusation.

“I didn’t want her to know. That’s all. Why—what’s the—matter?” Blanche
began haughtily enough, but ended by stammering. Ruth’s stern expression
sent a chill to her heart.

“That is _not_ all,” Ruth grimly contradicted. “I’m glad you asked me to
come here. Still, I should have come anyway to ask you to explain a
number of things.”

“What do you mean?” Blanche tried to pretend amazement.

“You know very well what I mean.” Ruth made an impatient gesture. “Why
pretend that you don’t? You’ve deceived me from the very start, but you
can’t do it any longer. I saw you this afternoon in the automobile that
passed us—”

“Where were you when you—” With a gasp Blanche checked herself, looking
the picture of guilt.

“Where was I when I saw you?” Ruth smiled wryly. “I was standing at the
edge of the woods when the machine went along the road. We came out of
them about a quarter of a mile below the cottage. Jane fell down. The
rest of the girls and Miss Drexal went back to her. It was then I saw
you. No one else even noticed the automobile. Of course, we all saw you
running toward the cottage. The girls thought nothing of that. There’s
just this much about it, Blanche, you owe me a full explanation. You’ve
got to begin at the very first of this affair, and tell me every single
thing about it.”

A note of passionate resentment had crept into Ruth’s voice. The
humiliating knowledge that she had served as a cat’s-paw to Blanche had
struck deep. Her sturdy soul revolted against the very idea of it. Now
she was resolved to learn the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but
the truth. Further, she would not leave the room until she had learned
it.



                              CHAPTER XII

                              THE PROMISE


“You haven’t any right to pry into my affairs, and I shan’t tell you a
thing.” Secure in the knowledge that only Ruth had seen her in the
automobile, Blanche’s dismay changed to defiance. “Whatever I choose to
do is no concern of yours. Kindly mind your own business.”

“This happens to be my business.” Ruth was not to be shaken in her
purpose. “You were to be _my_ guest in the first place. When we changed
our plans, I included you in them. I was warned that you had an axe to
grind. I didn’t believe it. But that doesn’t matter now. What does
matter is that while you are Miss Drexal’s guest, you shan’t do again as
you did to-day. If you expect to go automobiling with a young man, then
you must do so openly, and with Miss Drexal’s consent.”

“I want you to distinctly understand that I am engaged to that young
man. I have a perfect right to accept his attentions, if I choose.”
Defense of her conduct wrung this admission from Blanche’s unwilling
lips.

“Not in the way you did to-day,” maintained Ruth. “What do you suppose
Miss Drexal would say if she knew this? She is not merely our hostess,
she is our guardian. She feels responsible for all of us. If, as you
say, he is your fiancé, then you should have announced your engagement
to her, and asked her if he might call on you openly.”

“You don’t understand things at all,” retorted Blanche hotly.

“But I intend to before I leave this room!” Ruth steadily assured. “You
will have to do one of two things, Blanche. Either you must explain the
whole affair to me, or else go to Miss Drexal and tell her.”

Blanche gasped angrily, but offered no reply. She glowered at Ruth for
an instant, then dropped her eyes. “If I did tell you, you’d go and tell
her anyway,” she muttered.

“Perhaps I wouldn’t. I’d rather not if we can settle things between
ourselves. That’s why I’m asking you to be frank with me.”

Something in the earnest words awoke Blanche to the fact that Ruth
really did wish to help her, rather than expose her folly. “I suppose
I’d better tell you,” she said sulkily. “My mother doesn’t know I’m
engaged, and I don’t want her to. She forbade me even to be friends with
Donald. She doesn’t allow him to call on me. That’s why I was anxious to
get away from home this summer. I thought if I went to visit you, he
could come to see me there and pretend to be my cousin. Then Miss Drexal
changed things all around and upset our plans. So he came up here, and
is staying in Lakeview.

“I thought I could see him once in a while and no one would know it. No
one would have, either, if that old storm hadn’t come up. I was going to
walk home from the place where I met him this morning. It’s about a mile
from here. We drove to Lakeview and had luncheon there at a hotel. We
left the machine there and walked all around the town. While we were
driving back, the sky began to get dark. He was afraid I’d get caught in
the storm, so he brought me almost home. I never thought you girls would
come back that way,” she ended in an aggrieved tone.

Ruth’s feelings, as she listened to this tale, were decidedly varied. So
this was the fabled axe that she had willingly turned the grindstone to
sharpen. She had often heard Emmy privately refer to Blanche as
“boy-struck.” It was also generally known among the Hillside girls that
Blanche preferred the reading of sentimental fiction to study. It now
appeared as though she had introduced Romance into her own life with a
vengeance. For a long moment Ruth silently regarded the pouting features
of the narrator.

“It seems to me,” she said slowly, “that it was a good thing we did come
back that way. I am glad that none of the others saw you, though. You
haven’t been fair with me, Blanche, but I’m going to give you a chance
to be fair now. I want you to promise me that you will write to this
young man to-night, telling him that you cannot see him again while you
are here at the cottage.”

“But I can’t do that!” was the protesting cry. “He’d think me—”

“It’s not so much what _he_ may think as what others will surely think
of your deception,” broke in Ruth a trifle sharply. “In the first place,
you have disobeyed your mother. Then, too, you owe it to Miss Drexal to
write that letter. If you will write it, then I will agree to say
nothing of this to anyone, provided you keep your word. You must see for
yourself that you can’t go on meeting this young man outside the Heights
without being found out by someone else in the cottage. Anyway, I
wouldn’t allow you to do it. It wouldn’t be fair to you, or your mother,
or Miss Drexal. After you leave here to go to your own home, you are
free to do as you choose, so far as Miss Drexal is concerned. But not
until then. Why don’t you turn around and try to be a Camp Fire Girl in
earnest, Blanche? You are too young to be thinking so much about love
and all that nonsense,” Ruth entreated with sudden energy. “You’re just
a schoolgirl like the rest of us.”

Blanche continued to scowl, but said nothing. She was not in the mood
for advice. She was trying to decide which would be the lesser of two
evils. Much as she disliked the idea of writing the letter Ruth
demanded, she stood in far greater awe of Miss Drexal’s sure
disapproval, should the registrar learn what Ruth had accidentally
stumbled upon. She was also forced to admit to herself that Ruth’s logic
was sound.

“If I promise not to see Donald again while I’m up here, will you
promise not to write to my mother?” she sullenly compromised, as she
glanced at Ruth’s set features.

“I hadn’t intended that. I think you ought to be the one to tell her,
but not now. Wait until you go home from the reunion, then go to her
frankly. If she still objects to your fiancé, it is your duty to break
your engagement. Undoubtedly she knows what is wisest for you. If you
wrote her about it now, it would upset her dreadfully. She would be
likely to send for you to come home. I’d rather you’d stay and be one of
us, share our good times, and win a lot of Camp Fire honors.”

Ruth had a shrewd idea that once cut off from association with the youth
Blanche claimed engagement to, her interest in him would soon wane. She
guessed that the engagement was a sentimental schoolgirl and boy affair,
which had risen out of pure defiance of Mrs. Shirly’s wishes. Blanche
was far too selfish to be in love with anyone except Blanche. Then and
there Ruth resolved that before they left the Heights, she would somehow
win Blanche over to be as she had advocated, “a Camp Fire Girl in
earnest.”

“I’ll write to Donald to-night.” The promise came most reluctantly.

“I’m glad of that.” Ruth breathed a little relieved sigh. “Let’s shake
hands and forget the disagreeable part.” Although quite aware that the
promise had been unwillingly given, and the reference to Mrs. Shirly and
the Camp Fire baldly ignored, she thought it best to make no further
allusion to either. She would bide her time.

Very half-heartedly, Blanche laid a limp hand in Ruth’s. “Remember,
you’ve promised not to tell,” she muttered.

“I shall keep my word,” Ruth gravely assured. She refrained from adding
that she hoped Blanche would also stick to her agreement. She was fairly
sure of it, however. She knew that Blanche stood in wholesome fear of
exposure. “I must go,” she said, turning abruptly toward the door. She
was sincerely glad to conclude the unpleasant interview.

Mutely, Blanche watched the door close on her accuser. Though she would
not have admitted it to Ruth, she was not entirely sorry at the way
things had turned out. Ever selfish of her own comfort, the day’s
deception had entailed altogether too much trouble and worry to suit
her. During her frantic dash for shelter, she had half resolved not to
repeat it. Had the stubborn stand she had at first taken with Ruth been
wholly genuine, she would not have yielded so tamely. Nevertheless, she
was furious with Ruth for having interfered in her personal affairs. “I
suppose she thinks she’s done something wonderful,” was her scornful
comment as she seated herself before her mirror and moodily viewed her
reflection. “She’s a snippy little goody-goody. A Camp Fire Girl in
earnest!” she mimicked. “She’ll wait a long time for that to happen!”



                              CHAPTER XIII

                        THE ARRIVAL OF BLUE WOLF


During the busy week that followed, Blanche Shirly showed small
enthusiasm for the joyous outdoor life in which the Equitable Eight
reveled. She moped about the cottage, stolidly refusing to join the gay
bathing parties that usually heralded the beginning of the long
pleasure-filled days. She accompanied the Equitable Eight and Miss
Drexal on the several excursions into the woods, but exerted little
effort to gain the honors she still lacked to make her a Wood Gatherer.
It had not taken her companions long to realize that, for some unknown
reason, Blanche was sulking. Not daring to exhibit her open dislike
toward Ruth, she entered the seven others in her black books and treated
them all with a lofty indifference bordering on disdain.

It may be set down to their credit that they good-naturedly ignored her
sullenness, and tried so far as they could to interest her in their
daily round of fun. As Sarah had confidentially remarked to Jane, “We
expected Blanche would act like this, and now you see we haven’t been
disappointed.”

Ruth alone knew the true cause of Blanche’s moroseness. On the afternoon
following their talk, the latter had coldly informed her that the
promised letter had been written and delivered to the postman of the
Rural Free Delivery Route, who brought the mail each morning. Since then
little conversation had passed between them. Finding her friendly
overtures coolly rebuffed, Ruth was careful to treat Blanche exactly as
though nothing had happened, when in the presence of the others. Aside
from that, she prudently let her alone. She did not wish her companions
to discover that she was the real object of Blanche’s animosity. She was
afraid it might lead to pointed questions. Refusal to answer them would
be quite as embarrassing as to do so. She was earnestly trying to
protect Blanche from the displeasure of her own friends, whom she felt
would instinctively resent any churlish treatment of herself on
Blanche’s part.

Naturally straightforward, even kindly pretense came hard for Ruth.
There were times when she heartily wished she had not made the unlucky
discovery. Again she was glad of it. She was convinced, however, that
she had done right in keeping it a secret. Nevertheless the strain irked
her. It took its toll of her usual zest for enjoyment. More than once,
she reflected resentfully that it was hardly fair in Blanche not to meet
her halfway. The end of the week saw the breach between the two steadily
widening through no fault of Ruth’s. Saturday morning’s mail had brought
Blanche a scathing letter from an indignant young man, who accused her
of the double crime of not knowing her own mind and spoiling his summer.

She had anticipated some such reply and it made her very angry. She
promptly retaliated with an equally scathing letter to him, in which she
expressed herself as thankful to have found out his true character in
time and hoped she would never see him again. All of which proved
conclusively that Blanche was merely a very foolish young girl. In
consequence, she was particularly thorny all day, and so far forgot
caution as to fling several ill-natured remarks directly at Ruth, whom
she could not forgive for having “pried into her affairs.”

“What ails Blanche Shirly, anyway?” asked Jane Pellew disgustedly of
Betty and Anne as the three girls met in their room, preparatory to
going downstairs to dinner. “Did you hear her snap at Ruth when we were
out on the veranda this afternoon? After all the trouble Ruth has taken
for her, too!”

“Yes, I noticed it.” Betty frowned. “Ruth didn’t seem to mind, though.
Blanche has hardly treated any of us civilly, of late. I suppose she
doesn’t care much for our way of doing things. She certainly doesn’t
seem interested in Camp Fire work.”

“Then why did she come up here?” demanded Jane tartly. “She makes me
tired. She might better have gone with her mother to the sanatorium.
She’s a regular wet-blanket.”

“Give her time, Janie,” smiled Anne, unconsciously repeating Ruth’s own
words. “You can’t expect her to see things as we do all in a minute.
We’ve just got to keep on pretending we don’t notice her glum looks.
It’s—well—it’s a kind of experiment. If it turns out well in the end,
think how glad we’ll all be! Sooner or later, something will happen to
make Blanche wake up.”

“That’s what Ruth says, too, but I don’t agree with either of you,”
retorted Jane. “It’s awfully aggravating when one person in a jolly
crowd like ours isn’t with us in our fun. If Blanche keeps on sulking as
she has, I’ll tell her what I think of her. See if I don’t!”

“You mustn’t.” Betty shook a positive head. “Ruth wouldn’t like it. Do
as Anne says and pay no attention to Blanche’s moods. You know how she’s
always acted at Hillside. She and Jeanette Hayes are chums, yet they
were on bad terms half the time last year.”

“Thank goodness we’ve been spared Jeanette, at least,” grumbled Jane.
“There!” she continued, with a final pat to her fluffy brown locks. “I’m
ready for dinner. I’m going down to the veranda. See you later.”

Running lightly down the stairs, Jane passed out to the veranda.

“Where’s everybody?” was her question as she spied Frances comfortably
ensconced in the big porch swing.

“Why ask for ‘everybody’ when I am here?” counter-questioned Frances
blandly.

Jane elevated her nose, then giggled. Advancing upon the swing with
intent to seat herself beside Frances, her eyes lighted upon a strange
figure just leaving the road and about to cross the lawn.

“Oh!” she ejaculated in a half-frightened tone, and turning, fled into
the house.

Frances’ first inclination was to do likewise. Then she laughed.
Slipping from the swing, she walked sedately forward to greet the
newcomer, who had now reached the steps. Having been brought up on a
ranch, she was quite accustomed to the sight of Indians. She immediately
recognized the caller as an unusually fine specimen. At least six feet
tall, with dark, piercing eyes and high cheek bones, his long black hair
hanging in two braids over his shoulders, he looked every inch a
warrior. Unlike the majority of Indians she had seen, his attire
differed from theirs in that he still clung to the fringed deerskin
leggings. These, together with his long black braids and a rifle slung
across one shoulder, gave him the picturesqueness of the red man of
earlier days.

“How do you do?” greeted Frances affably. “I am sure you must be Blue
Wolf!”

“How do,” grunted the caller, surveying Frances stolidly. “Me Blue
Wolf.”

“Come up on the veranda and sit down,” she invited. “Miss Drexal has
been expecting you. Excuse me while I find her. She will be so pleased
to see you.”

“Thank!” commented Blue Wolf unemotionally. Though he accepted the
invitation onto the veranda, he remained standing, the picture of
stoical indifference.

Stifling the chuckle that bubbled to her lips, Frances disappeared into
the house in search of Miss Drexal. She bumped squarely against her in
the hall, for Jane had already fled to the living room with the dire
news that a “regular Indian war chief was coming straight for the
house!”

“It’s Blue Wolf!” gasped Frances.

“I thought as much.” Miss Drexal smilingly stepped to the door and onto
the veranda. “Why, how do you do, Blue Wolf?”

The Guardian’s voice had a friendly note as she offered her hand to her
caller.

A swift gleam of pleasure shot into the Indian’s piercing eyes. “How
do,” he returned. Setting his rifle carefully against the porch rail, he
gravely shook hands. “You well?”

“Very well, indeed, thank you. I have been looking for you since Friday.
You are just in time for dinner.”

Blue Wolf’s stern features relaxed into the shadow of a grin at this
hospitable news.

“Hungry,” he admitted. “Come far. From Vermillon Lake. Next week, you
ready, go there? Know good place camp. Find man in Tower who rent tents.
After dinner we talk about?”

“We surely will. Now come into the kitchen, and Martha will take care of
you. It’s very nice to see you again. Have you been hunting? I see you
have your rifle.”

“Hunt little; no much get. Too much game law.”

“I see.” Miss Drexal led the way into the house, her strange guest
stalking in her wake. Turning him over to Martha, who had furnished him
with many a meal, the registrar returned to the living room where an
excited bevy of girls awaited her. Ruth and Emmy were not among them.
Detailed as first aids to Martha, they had already been presented to the
famous old guide by Miss Drexal, and were at that very moment engaged in
viewing him slyly at close range. So far as he was concerned, they might
as well not have been in the kitchen. After gingerly shaking hands with
them, he had taken a stiff stand at one end of the kitchen and
vouchsafed them not so much as a glance from his sharp black eyes.

“He gave me an awful fright,” confessed Jane, during a brief lull in the
eager questions the girls had hurled at their hostess. “Isn’t he really
a bit fierce or savage?”

“Not a bit,” laughed Miss Drexal. “He is a splendid man and not at all
like the average Indian of to-day. As I have already told you, his
grandfather was a great Cheyenne chief, and Blue Wolf can tell you all
the most interesting traditions of the Cheyennes. Just now, he is out of
his element. Wait until he gets used to the idea of you girls; then he
will talk to you and become quite friendly in his proud, silent way. He
is a dependable guide, too. After dinner I will ask him to come into the
living room. I don’t imagine he will stay long to-night. I shall have to
find out what arrangements he has made for us. Perhaps we shall be able
to start on our trip within a day or two.”

This information elicited a chorus of gleeful cries. Even Jane had so
far forgotten her recent fright as to inquire eagerly: “How shall we act
when we’re introduced to Blue Wolf? Do we shake hands or just bow, or
what?”

“You may offer him your hand,” replied Miss Drexal, “but don’t any of
you dare to giggle. If you do, you will offend him. Be strictly on your
dignity with him at first. He will like that.”

The appearance of Emmy in the doorway announcing dinner brought to an
end the discussion of the proper way to receive Blue Wolf.

“Someone ought to warn Blanche not to behave like a refrigerator when
she meets him,” Sarah whispered wickedly to Frances as the party trooped
into the dining room.

“Where is she? In the kitchen with Ruth?”

“Not she,” murmured Sarah. “She hasn’t helped with a single meal since
she came. She’s upstairs sulking, I suppose, about goodness knows what.”

Frances answered with a discreet pressure of Sarah’s arm. Her roving
eyes had glimpsed Blanche descending the last step of the stairway. The
forbidding expression of the latter’s face quite bore out Sarah’s
theory. Seated beside Miss Drexal at the table, she received the news of
the arrival of the guide with marked indifference. Her sole disgruntled
comment was, “I have always heard that Indians are thieves and not to be
trusted.”

“Then Blue Wolf is the great exception,” laughed Ruth. “He looks too
proud and splendid for that. Emmy and I were taking sly peeps at him all
the time we were in the kitchen. He never noticed us, though.”

“Really, I am surprised.” Blanche lifted satiric eye-brows. “I am sure I
hope you won’t be disappointed in him.”

“No danger of that.” Ruth forced herself to ignore the spitefulness of
the speech, replying to it as pleasantly as though Blanche had paid her
a compliment. “Is there, Miss Drexal?” she appealed smilingly to her
hostess.

An almost imperceptible shade of displeasure crossed Miss Drexal’s fine
face. Blanche’s frequent stabs at Ruth during the past few days had not
been lost on her. “None whatever,” she assured with a placidity that
nevertheless contained a hint of the authoritative. “Blanche’s statement
that Indians have a reputation for thieving is quite correct, however.
Almost anyone living up here will tell you that. But, as Ruth says, Blue
Wolf is indeed the ‘great exception.’”

Finding herself politely worsted, Blanche relapsed into moody silence.
Nor did anyone at the table attempt to draw her into the merry talk,
which her sarcastic fling at Ruth had halted for a moment. Dinner over,
she rose with the others, but did not go with them into the living room
to meet the quaint guest. Instead, she made a bee-line for the stairs.
Called to the kitchen by Martha, Miss Drexal was unaware of this fact
until, a little later, Blue Wolf in tow, she entered the living room. In
the midst of introducing him to those of her flock who had yet to make
his acquaintance, she discovered that Blanche was missing.

“Where is Blanche?” she inquired.

“I saw her go upstairs.” It was Marian who answered. “Shall I—”

“I’ll go and get her.” Ruth darted from the room and up the stairs. All
in an instant she had decided that she had something to say to Blanche.
Arriving at her door which stood slightly ajar, she knocked. “Who is
there?” challenged a pettish voice.

For answer, Ruth swung open the door and boldly entered. “I came to tell
you that Miss Drexal would like you to join us in the living room,” she
announced. “She wants you to meet Blue Wolf.”

“I don’t want to meet a silly, old Indian!” Blanche sprang to her feet,
slamming the book she had evidently been reading on the table. “Why
can’t you let me alone, Ruth Garnier?” she demanded crossly. “I simply
won’t stand your tagging me around! Haven’t you spied on me enough?”

For once Ruth’s sorely tried patience slipped its leash. “You have no
right to accuse me of any such thing!” she cried out heatedly. “Since
you have, just let me tell you this, Blanche, you are acting very
foolishly! You’ve been perfectly hateful to me ever since we had that
talk. I’ve tried to pass it off, simply to keep the girls from guessing
at anything that might make them ask questions I couldn’t answer. I’m
sorry you can’t understand that I want to be your friend. I know you
believe that I’m only pretending. I’m not, but as long as you _will_
think that, I can’t make you see it differently. It hurts me, naturally,
to have you say rude things to me, but it hurts you a good deal more in
the eyes of the others. For your own sake, I wish you’d stop it!”

Her color high, Ruth wheeled and marched from the room. Halfway down
stairs, she recalled that she had volunteered to escort belligerent
Blanche to the living room. She paused, then went bravely back. “I think
you had better come down now,” she said coolly, halting in the doorway.

Blanche eyed her for a second, then to Ruth’s intense surprise replied
almost civilly, “All right.” Unbeknown to Ruth, she had made an
astounding discovery. Ruth Garnier actually had a temper! As she
followed the other girl’s fleeing footsteps down the stairs, she felt a
certain grudging respect for her that had hitherto been quite absent in
her estimation of Ruth’s character. And though neither of them could
possibly know it, it was the first milestone along the road to Blanche’s
better self.



                              CHAPTER XIV

                               THE START


The visit of Blue Wolf marked the beginning of pleasantly exciting days
at the Heights. As a caller, he could hardly be classed a social
success. The very sight of the bevy of bright-faced girls with their
merry ways and eager questions filled him with intense embarrassment. No
one but himself was aware of this, however. Outwardly, he preserved a
wooden dignity that was admirable to behold. True to Miss Drexal’s
prediction, he soon shook the dust of the living room from his restless
feet, and strode majestically out of the Heights to be swallowed up in
the soft summer darkness.

He appeared again the next morning for breakfast. Afterward, he and Miss
Drexal entered into solemn conclave in the living room regarding the
details of the proposed trip. It was well toward noon when he took leave
of her, entrusted with the funds necessary to secure camping equipment,
and to hire horses and a vehicle sufficiently large to accommodate the
party on their journey from the town of Tower to the borders of
Vermilion Lake, where they were to make camp.

At luncheon that day little else was talked of save the coming excursion
into the wilderness. Even Blanche Shirly exerted herself to ask a
question or two regarding it.

“Do tell us all about Vermilion Lake, Miss Drexal,” begged Sarah. “I
never heard of such a lake until I came up here.”

“I’m afraid the noble study of geography has been wasted on Sarah,” put
in Frances slyly.

“Do _you_ know where it is?” challenged Sarah.

“Somewhere around here,” fenced Frances airily.

“That answer shows just how much you know about it, which isn’t any more
than I do,” retorted Sarah with a derisive chuckle.

Miss Drexal met this spirited exchange of comments with an indulgent
smile. “There is a great deal to be told of Vermilion Lake,” she began.
“It lies about a hundred miles north of Duluth in the very center of the
iron district. In fact, iron was first found in Minnesota in the town of
Tower, which is situated on the lake itself. That happened in 1880, and
Tower was nothing then but a straggling settlement. Long before that
time, it was a trading post of the famous Hudson Bay Company. The
Indians used to come there from the north by a series of small
waterways, in canoes, which were usually loaded with furs. From there
they would pack their loads on sleds drawn by dogs, and go south by the
Old Vermilion Trail to Fond du Lac, at the head of Lake Superior. At the
time when iron was discovered, the few inhabitants of Tower used to walk
to Duluth. It took them four days to make the trip, and they went by way
of what they called a ‘tote’ road, cut through the woods.”

“Glad I wasn’t living in Tower in those days,” put in the irrepressible
Frances. “It was a long way to Duluth, wasn’t it?”

“It was,” agreed Jane. “Don’t interrupt Miss Drexal,” she added
severely.

“After iron was found, mining was started at Tower and the village
grew,” resumed the registrar. “Later, mining operations were transferred
to Jasper Rock, about two miles from Tower. By the way, Jasper Peak is
the highest elevation in Minnesota. At that, it is nothing but a ragged,
round hill. With the taking away of the mining interest, Tower stood
still. It is only within the last few years that it has begun to prosper
again on account of the building of two very large saw mills on the
shores of Vermilion Lake. That is about all I can say of Tower.

“Vermilion Lake is much more interesting. It is only about thirty-five
miles long as the bird flies, but it has so many unexpected twists and
turns that it is said to have almost eight hundred miles of shore line.
Then, too, it is thickly dotted with islands. I have been told that
altogether there are three hundred and fifty-five of them. Some, of
course, are so small as to measure only a few square yards. Others
comprise several thousand acres of woodland. Along the shores, the woods
are not so thick, due to lumbering and also forest fires. Blue Wolf
tells me that the place he has selected for our camp is quite heavily
wooded, however. It is about ten miles from Tower and we shall go there
by wagon. He is going to arrange for us to have two canoes, too, so we
can paddle about among the nearby islands as much as we please.”

An ecstatic sigh swept the listeners at this last information.

“Won’t it be glorious?” breathed Ruth. “I do hope Blue Wolf will teach
us canoeing. I’ve always been crazy to learn it.”

“So have I,” declared Betty and Marian in concert.

“I can manage a canoe,” proudly asserted Jane. “It’s as easy as falling
off a log.”

“I think I could manage to upset one,” grinned Frances. “When we get to
Vermilion Lake, Plain Jane, you and I will go canoeing and see what
happens.”

“I wouldn’t risk my precious self in a canoe with you, Frances Bliss,
for anything in the world!” declined Jane loftily.

“_I_ wouldn’t set foot in a canoe.” It was Blanche who made this
emphatic assertion. “They are never safe. It takes only a touch to upset
one.”

“They’re safe enough if you don’t try to stand up in one, and know how
to step into it in the first place,” stoutly contested Jane.

“_You_ may think so, but _I_ don’t,” persisted Blanche tartly.

“I don’t _think_ so, I _know_ it.” Jane could never resist an
opportunity to oppose Blanche.

“I shall expect all of you to be very careful when on the water,”
cautioned Miss Drexal. “You must promise not to take the canoes out,
unless Blue Wolf is on hand to look after you. The passages between the
islands are very narrow and confusing. You are likely to get lost if you
try to go far alone. Now we had best decide about our luggage. We shall
wear our Camp Fire suits, and each carry a pack, containing only
strictly necessary articles. We will put all our extra clothing into a
large trunk of mine, and send it on to be put with our other equipment.
I would advise you to carry your sweaters along with your packs. We will
pack our ceremonial dresses in the trunk, in case we wish to hold a
Council Fire. We shall make our own bough-beds and cover them with
blankets.

“As this is Sunday, we will not do any packing. To-morrow morning we
will pack the trunk and also a box of cooking utensils. The blankets can
go in on top of them. I will ’phone to Lakeview for an expressman, and
have them shipped to Tower. Blue Wolf will be there when they arrive to
look after them, and see that they are put with the other equipment.
Everything will go ahead on a separate wagon to our camping site, and be
there before we arrive.

“My plan is to start at sunrise Wednesday morning and walk to Lakeview.
We will take our time, and eat an early luncheon on the way. From there
we can take the train to Duluth, spend the night there and go by railway
to Tower on Thursday morning. By that time, Blue Wolf will be ready for
us. We can lunch at a hotel and start by one o’clock for our camp,
reaching it before supper time.”

Miss Drexal’s outline of their journey met with noisy approval. Sunday
seemed a long day to the impatient girls. They were not sorry when nine
o’clock in the evening came round, and unanimously voted for an early
bed-time. Eager as they were to be off to pastures new, the next three
days were filled with a delightful stir of preparation that sent them
slipping by with incredible swiftness. Under Miss Drexal’s competent
direction, they made up the light packs each was to carry. Ruth, Marian
and Emmy proved themselves particularly adept at this. Jane, however,
packed and unpacked and repacked with much sputtering, while Sarah and
Frances looked on with derisive enjoyment.

Wednesday’s sun rose bright and hot on a sturdy little procession that
started jauntily down the road to Lakeview, waving frantic farewells to
Martha. She had stolidly refused to accompany them, declaring that
nothing could hire her to go tramping about through woods and swamps,
let alone sleeping on the damp ground. During their absence, she had
elected to visit a sister living in Lakeview, who was to come for her
with a horse and buggy at noon that day.

Yet, in that merry company, there was one face that did not reflect the
radiant happiness that shone from the eyes of her companions. Blanche
Shirly took the road to Lakeview, a most unsmiling hiker. Ever since
Ruth had so plainly outlined to her her position, she had been racking
her brain for some excuse to leave the Heights. After long and gloomy
consideration, she had been obliged to give up in despair. She was
fairly caught in a trap of her own making. Nor was she resourceful
enough to devise a way of release. Then, too, her conscience had begun
to trouble her a little. Something in Ruth’s ringing tones had lingered
in her ears, and given her a vague sense of her own failings, which was
entirely new to her and very disquieting. She had vowed to herself that
she would do nothing that might please Ruth, no matter what happened.
Ruth would have to learn that there was one person at least whom she
could not wind around her finger. Back of her resentment, however,
lurked a faint interest in the camping expedition which she could not
quite root out. Though she did not know it, she had a girl’s capacity
for enjoying the new and the unusual. After years of constant
artificiality, she was beginning to wonder dimly if, after all, these
girls, whom she scorned as babies, were not really getting more out of
life than she.



                               CHAPTER XV

                    BLUE WOLF DISTINGUISHES HIMSELF


“There it is! I see it!” rang out Sarah Manning’s triumphant cry, as she
pointed excitedly to a glimmer of white among the thick growth of spruce
trees. “I saw it first! Hurrah for me!”

Sarah’s modest proposal fell on deaf ears. For the past five minutes,
the load of cheery adventurers who packed the big buckboard wagon had
been keeping a vigilant watch on the narrow road ahead. Perched in state
beside the driver, Sarah had forestalled them by the merest second. Her
last words mingled unheard with the gleeful shout that rent the still
woodland air. The driver of the buckboard, a long, lean native of Tower,
grinned indulgently as the shout assailed his ears. “Ye’ll hev to git
out here, lady,” he informed Miss Drexal over one shoulder as he brought
his horses to a gradual standstill. “I can’t drive no nearer your camp
than this. It ain’t but a step to it.”

“Very well.” Before he had accomplished a leisurely descent from the
wagon, his lively freight was already piling out over its sides. After
ten miles of travel over a rough corduroy road in a swaying buckboard,
the end of the journey was most welcome. Despite the wild beauty of the
country through which they had been riding, the thought of reaching camp
had overtopped all else. The very fact that they were presently to come
upon the forest home already prepared for them by their Indian guide,
had kept the whole party in a flutter of eager anticipation from their
very start from Tower.

“Oh, there’s Blue Wolf! Hoo-oo!” Ruth’s clear halloo, accompanied by a
wild flourish of her arm, created a ripple of laughter. Drawn up in a
group beside the road, the girls stood impatiently waiting for Miss
Drexal, who was still busy talking to the driver.

“Oh, see!” gasped Jane. “He actually waved his hand to you, Ruth! He’s
not so wooden as he seems. Here he comes. He looks too fierce for
comfort, though. You’d think him a regular savage scalp hunter on the
war path.”

“Shh!” warned Frances. “Don’t laugh, girls, or he will think you are
making fun of him. Indians are awfully touchy.”

This bit of caution chased away the smiles evoked by Jane’s criticism.
By the time Blue Wolf reached them, they were ready to greet him with
due solemnity.

“Camp him ready,” he remarked after he had gravely shaken hands all
around. “Heap nice place.” His bright eyes fixed themselves on Ruth, as
though he were seeking her especial approval.

“I am sure it is,” Ruth smiled winningly. “You must have worked very
hard to get the tents up and everything in shape for us.”

“I work,” admitted Blue Wolf.

Having finished her business with the driver, who had already begun
backing his horses, preparatory to turning back to Tower, Miss Drexal
now joined the group, greeting the Indian in kindly fashion.

“You come now, see camp,” he invited after she had asked him a question
or two. Striding ahead, he led the campers across a few yards of ground,
well covered with trees and bushes, to a little natural clearing where
two good-sized tents stood out whitely against the tall spruces and
tamaracks that surrounded them on all sides.

“But where’s Vermilion Lake?” cried out Emmy wonderingly, as they came
to a halt in front of the tents.

“Over there. No very far. No can see him. Too much tree.” Blue Wolf
indicated the location of the lake with a sweep of his hand. “To-morrow,
I take you see him.”

“To-morrow will be time enough,” declared Miss Drexal. “It is after four
o’clock now. Remember, we are going to gather the boughs for our beds.
After that is done and we have made them, it will be supper time. First
of all, we must arrange about our tent quarters. How shall we divide the
party? There will be five of us to each tent. We will put the trunk of
clothing in one tent and the box of kitchen utensils in the other. When
the weather is good, we will eat our meals in the open. When it rains,
we shall have to use one of the tents.”

“As long as we are a just and equitable band, I don’t see that it makes
much difference how we are divided,” laughed Marian.

The others instantly agreeing with her, Miss Drexal proposed that Jane,
Frances, Sarah, Betty and Anne take one tent, leaving Ruth, Emmy,
Marian, Blanche and herself to occupy the other. “Blue Wolf tells me
that he has built himself a little shack of bark halfway between here
and the lake. At night, he will be within easy reach of us if we should
call out, and also be near the canoes,” she explained. “Now, girls,
suppose we take possession at once. Leave your packs in your tents, and
let us get to work on our beds. The sooner they are made, the earlier we
can have supper.”

“I could eat it right now,” sighed Sarah. “I’m almost starved.”

The long ride in the bracing air having had a similar effect on her
companions, the girls hastened to obey Miss Drexal’s directions. Fifteen
minutes later, they were following the Indian’s tireless feet through
the woods on a hunt for the necessary materials for their makeshift
couches. They had not traveled far when they stumbled upon a pleasant
surprise. With the nearest approach to a grin that his somber features
would permit, Blue Wolf stopped beside two huge heaps of fragrant green
pine and balsam boughs, which it had taken him the greater part of the
morning to secure.

“Plenty bed here,” he announced, a note of grim pride in his voice at
his own achievement.

“I should say so,” chuckled Frances. “There’s enough stuff on these two
piles for twenty beds. Talk about your busy little workers,” she added
under her breath to Ruth, “Blue Wolf is the star of them all.”

Amid exclamations of gratified delight, the foresters pounced avidly
upon the fruits of the Indian’s labor. Under his direction, they first
piled their arms with the spicy boughs and set off for the tents in high
spirits. Prior to their arrival, Blue Wolf had already laid the
foundations in the tents for the bough beds. These consisted of five
inch tree trunks about six feet in length. Each set of two had been laid
parallel about four feet apart. They ranged two on a side with only a
foot’s space between them, with one pair of logs at the back.

The art of building a bough bed was not an unfamiliar one to the
Equitable Eight. They had mastered it the previous summer when they had
camped for a week in the Catskills. They, therefore, set to work with a
will, breaking off the boughs to a suitable length and sticking them
into the soft earth, tops uppermost and as close together as possible.
The result of this process was a series of fragrant green mounds. On top
of these more boughs were placed, so carefully as to allow no sharp ends
to stand up. Covered by heavy blankets, folded double, they became
couches that were not only comfortable, but also sturdy enough to
warrant no breakdown.

Of the ten toilers, Blanche Shirly was the only one who failed to do
herself credit. She made a half-hearted attempt to follow Miss Drexal’s
instructions, then slumped in the middle of her task and looked
helplessly on while Marian and Anne, their own work completed,
good-naturedly rallied to her assistance and completed her bed for her.

Aside from the beds, the tents held nothing in the way of furniture
except the trunk, a huge box for food supplies, and the box of kitchen
things. Blue Wolf had thoughtfully pounded nails into the lower ridge
plate of the tents. On some of these the girls hung their packs,
reserving others on which to hang their clothing at night. They were
wholly content with their quarters, however. It quite accorded with
their ideas of living the primitive life. All except Blanche, of course.
She was inwardly wondering how she could manage to endure such
discomfort. She was also a wee bit abashed at her own helplessness. It
galled her to have to appear so entirely out of her element. Yet her
grudge against Ruth still forbade her to show the least inclination
toward a usefulness which Ruth might note and approve.

Their beds made, Emmy, Ruth and Marian devoted themselves to building a
low fire in which to roast potatoes. Miss Drexal and Anne commenced a
businesslike unpacking of cooking utensils. Sarah, Jane and Frances
delved among the supplies with much playful squabbling. To Betty fell
the work of selecting a level spot on which to lay the tablecloth, and
decking it with the necessary, but limited amount of dishes and cutlery.
To her had also been entrusted the coffee-making. Blue Wolf had already
set off for a nearby spring with the two water pails. Blanche alone
found nothing to do. After wandering aimlessly about without offering to
help anyone, she retired disgustedly to the tent and lay down on her
bed, anxiously waiting to be called to supper. Whatever might be her
failings, lack of appetite was not one of them.

Due to the length of time it had taken to get supper nicely started, it
was after six o’clock when the hungry band seated themselves Turk
fashion on the ground about the sylvan board, and hungrily devoured a
supper of white bread, roasted potatoes, crisp bacon, steaming coffee,
canned beans, warmed over, with canned peaches and fancy crackers by way
of dessert.

“What are we going to do when our bread gives out?” asked Sarah,
reflectively crumbling a cracker. “We had only six loaves to start with.
I know because I unpacked them.”

“Make corn cakes, of course,” was Jane’s prompt information. “Didn’t you
see that nice fat bag of corn meal? I’m going to bake some myself for
supper to-morrow night. I wasn’t brought up in the South for nothing.
Mayn’t I, Miss Drexal?”

“Yes, if you like. You and I will initiate the rest of the girls into
the corn cake mystery. We shall have to depend on our corn meal a good
deal. Blue Wolf will, of course, go to Tower twice a week, by canoe, for
supplies. Even so, we shan’t be able to keep much bread on hand. It
dries too quickly.”

“By the way, where is his majesty?” asked Emmy. “He certainly must be
good and hungry after all he’s done to-day.”

“He will eat his supper when we have finished. Nothing would induce him
to lend his august presence to this chattering crowd,” smiled Miss
Drexal. “I suppose he is down by the lake hovering about his beloved
canoes. He made both of them, and insisted that we should make use of
them.”

“Then we ought to do something nice for him,” declared Ruth. “Let’s
clean off the table and set a place for him. One of us can put his
supper on the table for him, while two of us go after him and escort him
to the feast. That is, unless you think he mightn’t like it.” She
glanced inquiringly at the Guardian.

“It would probably please him, though I doubt if he would show any
outward signs of it.” Miss Drexal looked mildly amused.

“I’ll go with you, Ruth,” volunteered Frances. “On the way I’ll think up
a polite little verse of invitation to hurl at him. Let me see. How
would this sound:

             “Blue Wolf, kind Blue Wolf,
             Your supper is spread
             With nice beans and bacon
             And peaches and bread.
             So run to the table as fast as you can,
             And gobble your eats like a good little man!”

“He’ll probably jump straight into the lake,” giggled Sarah. “If we hear
a grand splash, we’ll know what happened.”

“Wait till you hear it.” Frances scrambled to her feet. “Come on, Ruth.”

Amid a volley of teasing remarks, the two girls swung off in the
direction of Blue Wolf’s little shack. The last rays of the setting sun
made it still light enough in the woods for them to pick an easy course
in and out among the trees. Spying the Indian seated beside one of the
two graceful canoes, drawn up on the bank at the water’s edge, Ruth
steered a course directly toward him.

“Your supper is ready, Blue Wolf. We came on purpose to tell you,” she
announced cheerily.

The Indian straightened up with the suddenness of a jack-in-the-box,
then rose to his feet. Ruth thought she caught a fleeting gleam of
gratification in his black eyes. “Thank,” he muttered with a jerky
little nod. “You very good come tell me.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” Ruth briskly assured. “May we look at the
canoes? Aren’t they beautiful, graceful things, though?” Stepping over
to one of them, she passed an admiring hand along its rough bark side.
“You made them both, didn’t you? It’s perfectly wonderful, I think.”

“I teach you an’ you.” The final “you” was for Frances. “You make canoe,
too. I show,” offered the guide gravely.

This brought a little squeal of pure delight from the lips of both
girls.

“Could we really make one ourselves?” Ruth clasped her hands with joy of
the possibility.

“I help you make him,” repeated Blue Wolf positively. “To-morrow find
tree. Cut him down. You see.”

“It will be splendid,” beamed Ruth. “Now we must go back to the others.
You’d better come, too, while your supper’s still hot.”

Without a word the Indian followed sedately in their wake, as the two
turned back to camp. Recalling Sarah’s prediction of a “grand splash,”
Ruth smiled to herself. Far from launching her verse at Blue Wolf,
Frances had been mute, save for the single exclamation arising from the
guide’s offer.

Though she did not know it, Ruth had already risen to a high place in
the Indian’s esteem. From the first, her frank, sunshiny smile and
cheery voice had not been lost on the shrewd old man. Next to Miss
Drexal, he had singled her out as being particularly worthy of his
faithful service. Emmy and Anne he respectfully admired from afar, by
reason of their undeniable good looks. Next to Ruth, he approved of
Marian’s quiet, dependable ways. Betty’s eyeglasses and dignity awed
him. Jane, Frances and Sarah he did not understand in the least, while
for Blanche he had conceived instant dislike. He had been quick to pick
her out as a shirker, and the one discordant element in the otherwise
happy flock.

Crouched over his supper, his keen eyes frequently traveled from his
food to where the Equitable Eight were busily engaged in piling up the
fuel for a mammoth camp fire. By the time he had finished eating, they
had fanned it to a ruddy blaze and seated themselves in a circle about
it. Carefully piling up the empty dishes, he set off for the lake to
wash them. Returning, he placed them in a neat pile before one of the
tents, and seating himself in its shadow, curiously watched the animated
group about the fire. The steady murmur of young voices, broken by
continuous peals of laughter, brought a flicker of grim enjoyment to his
stolid features, though he had not the faintest idea of what it was all
about.

As it happened, Frances had decreed that each in turn should relate the
most ridiculous thing she had ever done. With every recital their mirth
grew wilder. Even Blanche Shirly so far forgot her grievances as to
contribute a really funny little account of having once misdirected her
Christmas gifts to the extent of mailing a lace breakfast cap to a
finicky uncle and a briarwood pipe to a dear old lady who was naturally
deeply offended. Happening to catch Ruth’s merry eye, Blanche at once
retired into her shell. For once she had been caught off her guard. She
had not intended to relax the bored pose she was so fond of assuming,
yet she was finding it harder to maintain with each hour spent in camp.

Spying Blue Wolf huddled in the shadows, Ruth whispered to Miss Drexal
to ask him to join the circle. Rather to the Guardian’s surprise, he
accepted the invitation and stalked silently into their midst, seating
himself beside Ruth. In the flickering glow of the firelight, he
presented the last picturesque touch needed. He seemed the very spirit
of the Camp Fire come to life for the occasion.

With a view toward entertaining him, the girls sang several of their
most tuneful Camp Fire songs. Later, Emmy thrilled them with the wonder
of her golden voice. She had just ended an exquisite little French song,
which was a particular favorite with her friends, when an astonishing
thing happened. Rising, the Indian announced with proud solemnity: “I
sing for you one song my people. We call him Aotzi No-otz. Long ago
Cheyenne fight. Slay many enemies. Their warriors come back, faces all
black ashes. Take heap scalps. Sing loud this to Indian he no fight.
Paint the face red. Stay behind.”

With this somewhat sketchy explanation, Blue Wolf raised a sudden weird
wailing cry of, “Ya he ya ye he—hai yai!” that echoed on the still night
air, and sent delicious creepy thrills up and down the spines of the
listeners. As he sang on, they could almost visualize the war party of
savages, their faces hideously blackened with ashes, the dripping scalps
of their enemies dangling at their belts, as they flung their bitter
taunt of victory in the faces of the cowards of their tribe. The chant
ended with a wild: “I hai yu hai yu!” that caused the spell-bound
audience to cast furtive glances toward the blackness of the brooding
forest, as though they half expected to see a band of blood-thirsty
Cheyennes come whooping from its depths and pounce upon them.

A deep silence reigned for a moment afterward. Then Blue Wolf was
assailed by eager pleas for another song. He could not be prevailed upon
to sing again, however, though he grunted the grudging promise, “Sing
him some day, mebbe.” Nor did he reseat himself before the fire, but
bidding them a brief good night, strode away through the darkness.

It was not long afterward until the circle broke up. After a vigorous
beating out of the fire there followed a willing march to bed. It had
been a strenuous day, and the tired foresters were quite ready to try
the virtue of their bough beds. Ruth had confessed to being dreadfully
sleepy, but once settled for the night, slumber refused to chain down
her eyelids. From where she lay, she could look out through the narrow
gap in the tent flaps and glimpse the outdoors as a dark shadowy mass.
Her mind reviewing the day’s events, Blanche Shirly’s one effort toward
amiability stood out so clearly as to cause her to breathe a soft sigh
of satisfaction. She wondered if it really heralded the dawn of
Blanche’s better self. It had been but a mere flash. Immediately
afterward she had dropped back into her old aggravating attitude, yet,
somehow, Ruth could not help feeling that Blanche _had_ taken a step
forward.



                              CHAPTER XVI

                       A DISCOURAGED TORCH BEARER


The first week at Wohelo Wigwam, as the girls had named their camp,
slipped by with incredible rapidity. Up with the dawn, they found the
long sunny days entirely too short for the countless pleasures to be
enjoyed in their woodland home. Vermilion Lake was a never-ending source
of joy to them. Every morning found them out in the canoes and paddling
up and down the portion of the lake nearest their camp. Under Blue
Wolf’s efficient instruction, they were becoming fairly skillful
canoeists.

With the second day in camp, Miss Drexal had wisely allotted to each
girl a certain amount of camp work to be performed. Six o’clock had been
the hour set for rising, and, promptly at six, the Guardian sounded the
reveille call on a bugle which she had brought along for that very
purpose. As she had been a bugler in one of the first Camp Fire groups
to spend a summer in the open, she was familiar with the various calls
used by the Army. Her flock hailed this bit of military procedure with
acclamation. According to Sarah, it was “positively thrilling” to hear
“Taps” fall sweetly on the summer air at ten o’clock each evening. She
agreed with Jane, however, that “reveille” was not half so inspiring.

Thus far, they had made only short jaunts through the adjoining woods,
content to keep fairly near to camp at first in order to explore their
immediate surroundings. On these occasions Wohelo Wigwam was left to
take care of itself. Owing to the fact that the canoes held comfortably
only three persons, the party took turns in making voyages to the
various nearby islands in the lake. With Blue Wolf as chief navigator,
from three to five girls usually accompanied him, leaving the rest in
camp. Ruth proving herself more adept at the paddle than her friends,
she was constantly in demand, although Marian was rapidly becoming a
close second.

True to his word, the Indian had ranged the woods for a suitable tree
from which to fashion a canoe. It had required considerable searching to
find one of sufficient size and straightness. His object was to secure,
if possible, a single strip of bark that would extend the entire length
of the canoe he purposed to make. The tree which he finally found was
admirably suited to his project. Whenever not required by Miss Drexal,
he was invariably to be seen squatted in front of his shack, his wiry
fingers engaged in skillfully stripping the bark from his prize. Eager
to do their part, Ruth and Frances also tried their hand at bark
stripping. Blue Wolf firmly declined, however, to allow them to
experiment on the tree he had chosen. Instead, he put them to work on a
smaller tree, bluntly informing them, “You try cut him little tree! You
spoil him, no matter. Heap more me get. Big tree you spoil, never I find
again ’nother mebbe.”

Determined to do credit to their teacher, the two girls devoted
themselves so industriously to their trial tree as to have the proud
pleasure of at least furnishing the extra strips of bark which had to be
added on each side to make the canoe sufficiently broad. Under his eagle
eye they also helped to sew the seams with balsam roots, and assisted in
daubing them with a black mixture of spruce gum and cedar ashes to
render them water tight.

Had the Indian devoted himself solely to the work of fashioning the
canoe, he could have finished it in five days. As it was, the end of
their second week in the woods was upon them before he pronounced it
ready for its first voyage. It was late on Friday afternoon, when a
jubilant group collected at the edge of the lake to watch its trial
trip. When the shapely canoe finally shot out on the placid water, under
the guide’s practical hands, he received the ovation of his life. After
thoroughly testing it, he brought it ashore and gravely invited Miss
Drexal to become his first passenger. When she returned, Ruth and
Frances were accorded the honor of the next trip and so on, until every
girl, even to Blanche, had tested its merits. Considering her recent
scathing denunciation of canoes in general, her companions were secretly
amused at her apparent willingness to trust herself in one of them.

Blanche had her own reasons, however, for her change of mind. She was
well aware that Blue Wolf took particular pains to keep out of her way.
If she addressed him, he answered briefly and with no show of interest.
With the others, he had grown quite friendly in his reserved, stately
fashion. The canoe having been the chief center of importance since he
had commenced its making, Blanche was not anxious to incur his fresh
disapproval by refusing to try it. She therefore told herself scornfully
she would at least show this “stupid Indian” that she was no coward.
Back of this was also a slowly growing desire to “be in things.” Far
removed from the artificial mode of living which she had ever held as
all-important, the magic spell of the great outdoors was beginning to
make itself felt.

She was no longer so entirely satisfied with herself as when she had
first come to the Heights. Her ignorance of wood lore placed her at a
decided disadvantage. Long accustomed to having her own way, it piqued
her not a little to be a mere follower rather than a leader. Dislike for
Ruth made her particularly envious of the former’s woodsman-like
qualities. Miss Drexal herself frequently consulted Ruth regarding their
various expeditions. This was as a thorn to Blanche’s flesh. It aroused
in her a desire to do something remarkable that would redound to her own
credit. To plod patiently along and win her honors for Wood Gatherer did
not appeal to her. That would merely please Ruth, whom she wished to
thwart whenever possible. She longed to do something especially clever
that would place her in the front rank of popularity at a single bound.

Though her motive was ignoble, it was at least ambitious. Under her
still languid pose, she began to keep an alert watch for the coveted
opportunity. Should a sudden emergency arise which called for quick
action or high courage, Blanche resolved that she would be first to
grasp it, if only to show her superiority over Ruth.

With the completion of the canoe, the campers immediately made plans to
explore in a body one of the larger islands of the lake, several miles
distant. Blue Wolf had spoken of it to Ruth, who, impressed by his terse
description of its beauty, had at once begged Miss Drexal that a
canoeing party be gotten up with it as an objective.

Half past seven o’clock, on a cloudless Saturday morning, saw the
dwellers of Wohelo Wig-wam setting jauntily off toward the lake, their
packs slung over their shoulders. They were in high spirits as they
tramped through the bit of woods to the lake shore, for the thought of
invading fresh territory had fired their enthusiasm. Miss Drexal had
demurred a little at leaving their camp with no one at home, but Blue
Wolf had phlegmatically assured her: “When come back, camp him here,
just same. No one see. No one steal. No one do nothing.”

In charge of the expedition, he was to pilot his crew to the island,
land and leave them there for the day, while he turned about and paddled
to Tower on his semi-weekly trip for supplies. In the late afternoon, a
little before sunset, he was to return for them and see them safely back
to camp. The problem of seating eleven persons in three canoes having
been thoroughly discussed on the previous evening, it had been decided
that for once a little crowding would be necessary. The canoe which the
Indian had made was large enough to hold four persons. Four squeezed
into one of the other two, and three in its mate, made a satisfactory
division.

“You had best place us as you think wise, Blue Wolf,” directed Miss
Drexal. “I would rather trust to your judgment. Girls, you must sit very
still. Crowded as we shall be, the least touch is likely to capsize the
canoes. Is the water very deep?” she asked, again addressing the Indian.

“Ugh! Heap deep, most way,” grunted the guide. His eyes roving
reflectively over the group on the shore, he pointed to Ruth. “You smart
girl. You paddle heap good. You take she an’ she an’ she.” He rapidly
designated Blanche, Frances and Jane. “I take she an’ she an’ she.” He
selected Emmy, Anne and Betty as his cargo. Marian was his choice of
commandant for the third canoe, which left Sarah and Miss Drexal to go
with her. He further selected Frances to help Ruth paddle, and accorded
Betty the proud honor of assisting himself. Miss Drexal was to be
Marian’s helper.

Reserving the launching of his own canoe until the last, he busied
himself with starting off first Marian’s and then Ruth’s. The first
principle of canoeing consists in knowing how to board one of the
too-easily swamped little boats. By light and careful stepping, the
girls managed to stow themselves into their limited quarters without
mishap. The last to shove off from shore, Blue Wolf sent his canoe ahead
of the others with a few practiced strokes of the paddle. Marian swung
in close behind him. Ruth brought up the rear, and the little procession
was soon well out of sight of the deserted camp and merrily following
their leader along the tortuous course which gives Vermilion Lake so
many miles of shore line.

So far as the old guide was concerned, he could not have selected a more
amiable trio of passengers. It was quite possible that he knew it. Urged
by Anne and Betty, it was not long before Emmy’s lovely voice was
sending its exquisite sweetness over the sunlit water.

“How beautiful Emmy’s singing sounds,” remarked Ruth, resting her paddle
for an instant to listen. Her glance falling on Blanche, who sat facing
her in the bottom of the canoe, she smiled brightly, hoping to dispel
the deep frown that had been in evidence on the other girl’s face since
they had started. Blanche merely stared at her. An involuntary word of
caution from Ruth as she had stepped into the canoe had added to her
resentment at being placed temporarily under Ruth’s charge. Refusing to
answer, she sulkily turned her head and began trailing one hand in the
water. Slight though the movement was it set the frail shell rocking a
trifle.

The smile faded from Ruth’s face as she resumed paddling. It was always
the same. No matter how pleasantly she tried to treat Blanche, she was
invariably rebuffed by cool or sullen glances. It was quite evident that
Blanche had not forgotten, nor would she ever forgive her.

“You’d better not do that, Blanche.” Jane’s crisp tones broke up Ruth’s
gloomy reverie.

“Do what?” Blanche made no effort to desist from her perilous pastime.
Instead she leaned toward the hand she was trailing with an angry little
jerk.

“Look out! You’ll have us all overboard!” Frances expostulated, raising
her paddle, in quick alarm. Seated in the end of the canoe that faced
Ruth, she cast the latter an appealing glance.

Ruth caught her breath sharply, then reluctantly added her plea of, “I’m
afraid it isn’t quite safe, Blanche. You see—”

“I see that you girls are simply trying to be horrid to me!” interrupted
Blanche furiously. Bringing up her hand from the lake with wrathful
force, she overbalanced herself and swung heavily to the opposite side.
Ruth’s sharp call, “Lean the other way!” alone saved them from disaster.
With a sudden lurch, the canoe righted itself.

“I told you so,” snapped Jane, thoroughly incensed. “Only for Ruth we’d
have gone straight into the lake. For goodness sake, sit still, Blanche,
the rest of the way. I’m not anxious for a ducking even if you are.”

“Don’t think for a minute you can order _me_ about, Jane Pellew!”
stormed Blanche. “I won’t stay here and be treated like a child. Put me
ashore,” she haughtily commanded Ruth. “I’ll find my way back to camp.”

“I can’t do that,” refused Ruth quietly. “Miss Drexal wouldn’t allow it.
Don’t be cross, Blanche,” she made impetuous appeal. “We mustn’t quarrel
this beautiful morning. As long as we weren’t upset—”

“I _said_ ‘put me ashore,’” reiterated Blanche icily. “Are you going to
do it?”

“No.” Ruth measured her angry vis-a-vis with a cool, level glance, then
sent the canoe forward with a will. Their near-accident had left them
some distance behind the others. Though she had kept her temper, Ruth’s
paddle dipped and rose with an almost fierce energy. Never, since
Blanche had joined them, had Ruth felt such exasperation against the
ill-natured guest. She was quite ready to wash her hands of the whole
reform movement.

Naturally, the disagreement put a damper on the quartette, as is always
the case when one of a number is bent on being unamiable. Following
Ruth’s “No!” Blanche had relapsed into formidable silence. Jane and
Frances still continued to chatter to each other and to Ruth, yet all
three were nettled over the fact that discord had arisen at the very
outset of their voyage.

The sun was high in the heavens when the flotilla made harbor on a
heavily-wooded shore of the island of their choice. Dark masses of
tamarack, pine and spruce trees rose, grim and majestic, almost to the
lake’s edge. This time they had truly reached the forest primeval. A
hush pervaded the island, that suddenly stilled the voices of the
landing party.

“It’s like an enchanted forest, isn’t it?” murmured Anne as, helped
ashore by the Indian, she breathed deeply of the spicy air.

“We’ll have to blaze our own trails, I guess,” declared Betty, peering
speculatively toward the unbroken ranks of forest kings, reigning long
undisturbed in their towering might.

“We won’t dare go very far inland without Blue Wolf,” demurred Emmy.
“We’d be likely to get lost. It’s too bad he can’t stay here to-day,
instead of having to leave us to the mercy of the wilds.”

“Here’s our chance to be good woodsmen,” laughed Anne. “This time we’ve
a real forest to practice in.”

“All safe ashore!” broke in Ruth’s cheery tones. Disdaining the Indian’s
hand, she had made a nimble spring to terra-firma, calling out just as
the guide landed Frances, the last to leave her canoe.

“It’s a wonder we are,” muttered Jane, who stood at her elbow.

“Don’t say anything about what happened to us,” warned Ruth in an
undertone.

“I won’t go back in the same canoe with her,” protested Jane in low,
vehement tones. “She spoiled our whole trip. We all made a big mistake
in not saying ‘No’ when she first wanted to come to our reunion.”

For once Ruth was tempted to concur with Jane. She was beginning to
believe that their kindly effort toward Blanche had been ill-advised.
They had not succeeded in helping her, and there seemed small prospect
that they ever would. The light that she had hoped to pass on undimmed
to Blanche seemed in a fair way to flicker out.



                              CHAPTER XVII

                      RUTH DELIVERS HER ULTIMATUM


“Do you think you can go to Tower and return here before sunset, Blue
Wolf?” There was a dubious inflection in Miss Drexal’s voice, as she
addressed her question to the guide.

“Go alone, go fast,” assured the Indian. “Come back plenty time ’fore
him sundown. You walk around island, any place. No ’fraid. You get lost,
me find. Me know him. Now go quick an’ come back.” Suiting the action to
the word, he made a lithe spring into his canoe and prepared to push off
from shore.

“We’ll all be here when you come for us,” predicted Ruth gaily. “Such
good foresters as we can be trusted to find our way anywhere.”

Blue Wolf met this sally with an approving “Ugh!” Then the canoe shot
through the placid water, alive under his practiced hands.

“We might as well eat luncheon and have it over with,” said Miss Drexal,
as the watchers on the bank lost sight of the guide around a bend.
“Shall we eat it here, or have it in the woods?”

“This seems to be a good enough place,” commented Marian. “We can gather
enough dry wood right around here for a fire to make the coffee. As long
as we haven’t brought much except sandwiches, sweet crackers and fruit,
it won’t take long to get it ready. Only one thing is needed—water.”

“There’s a little spring just back in the woods,” informed Emmy. “Blue
Wolf told us about it, didn’t he, Betty? He landed us here so we’d be
near it.”

“Let’s all go and look for it,” proposed Sarah. “I’m terribly thirsty.”

“Now that you mention it, Sarey, so am I,” beamed Frances. “Lead us to
it, Emmy, provided you know how. I’m going to leave my pack here, and
take only my drinking cup.”

Frances’ announcement caused a general shedding of packs. Each forester
being provided with the individual collapsible drinking cup, Emmy and
Betty headed the procession to the spring, Miss Drexal alone electing to
remain behind. Ruth brought up the rear with a good-sized white enamel
pitcher, which was to hold the water necessary to the coffee-making.

Less than a hundred yards straight into the woods from the point where
they had landed, they came upon the spring. Even that short distance
proved not especially easy going. From the shore of the lake the ground
was rough and rocky, and sloped gradually upward. There was also plenty
of dry underbrush, which crackled and snapped under their invading feet
as they went. The object of their search proved to be a mere trickle of
clear water, flowing from between rocks into a tiny natural hollow in
the earth.

Due to its aggravatingly-slow flow, it took some minutes to obtain
sufficient water to quench the thirst of the explorers, who impatiently
waited for each other’s cups to be filled.

“It will take all day to fill that pitcher,” observed Jane as Ruth held
it under the tiny crystal thread of water.

“Then go ahead and don’t wait for me. While I’m filling it, you can get
the firewood together and help Miss Drexal. I’ll stay here by my
lonesome and commune with Nature,” laughed Ruth. “There’s no danger of
my getting lost as long as I am within hearing of you noisy persons.”

“I was going to offer to stay and console you, but not after that cruel
cut,” asserted Frances. “I’d rather go with the crowd and be a ‘Wood
Gatherer.’ I’ll console Plain Jane instead. What shall I say to thee,
heart of my heart?” she inquired, peering languishingly at her usual
victim. “Dost wish to argue, Janie?”

“No, I don’t, you ridiculous goose,” retorted Jane.

“This pitcher will be full before you even make a start,” teased Ruth.

“Come on, she wants to get rid of us,” accused Sarah.

“How did you guess it?” dimpled Ruth. “Run along, children. I’ll be
right at your heels.”

With a parting shot from Jane, “Our room is better than our company,”
the girls left Ruth to herself. Though Blanche had accompanied them, she
had not once opened her lips. Stolidly mute, she had filled her cup,
drunk a little water and pettishly thrown the remainder of it into the
bushes. As she turned to leave the spring, she purposely dropped behind
the others, followed them a few steps, then swung about and went back to
Ruth.

Her eyes fixed on the nearly full pitcher, Ruth almost let it fall from
her hands when a tense voice assailed her surprised ears: “You talked
about me to Jane Pellew when we got out of the canoes! I saw you with
your heads together. Then she looked right at me. What did you tell her?
If you’ve said a word to her about—”

“I won’t answer your question.” The limit of Ruth’s endurance had been
reached. “It’s not worthy of an answer.”

“Then I shall make Jane tell me what you said to her.”

A faintly scornful smile touched Ruth’s firm lips. Very deliberately she
said: “You’re bent on quarreling with me, Blanche. I can see that. But
as _I_ don’t intend to quarrel with _you_, I think the less we have to
say to each other the better it will be for us both. That’s all.”

Whirling, she set off through the woods, with as much speed as the
carrying of the pitcher would permit. She could hear Blanche crashing
along behind her, and, determined to escape further talk with her, Ruth
quickened her steps. Having delivered her ultimatum, she would now stick
to it. Torch Bearer or not, she would not tamely submit to being accused
of having broken her word. Hurt pride whispered against it. She was glad
she had spoken so plainly. She would not let herself feel sorry
afterward, either. If, later, the others noticed the estrangement, she
would not deny it. Blanche had forced it upon her. Hereafter, she could
look out for herself. Ruth knew in her own heart that she could honestly
hold herself blameless.

Blanche, however, was overcome with dismay as she stumbled her way back
to the lake. Always fearful that Ruth might some day break her word, she
this time knew she had been too ready to take her to task. Unconsciously
judging Ruth’s standards of honor by her own, she reflected that Ruth
would probably now break her promise, purely for spite.

Returned to the group of busy workers, her gaze wandered from one to
another until it rested on Ruth. The latter’s calm face betrayed no hint
of displeasure. She was talking gaily to Emmy and Marian as she poured a
stream of water from the pitcher into the big coffee-pot.

“Here’s Blanche!” called out Sarah. “We didn’t miss you till we got back
here. Ruth said you were coming along just behind her. Did you put those
two boxes of cakes in your pack? We can’t find them.”

“Yes.” Picking up her pack from where she had deposited it on the
ground, Blanche fumbled in it. “Here they are,” she said shortly.
Without offering to assist in the preparations, she wandered aimlessly
along the shore away from the party, brooding darkly upon her fancied
wrong. So the girls had not even missed her. It simply went to show how
wrapped up in themselves they were.

It would serve them right if she were to slip quietly into the woods and
let them wonder what had become of her. She took an undecided step as
though about to put the thought into execution, then halted. She was
hungry and wanted her luncheon. She would wait until afterward. Once the
party were well started on their trip through the woods, she would drop
out and return to the lake shore. If they spent most of the afternoon
hunting her, she did not care. She hoped her disappearance would give
them all a good scare. Ten to one they wouldn’t miss her.

Somewhat cheered by this malicious plan of revenge, Blanche strolled
back to her companions, who were now putting the last touches to the
spread.

“Come and get it,” caroled Frances, wildly waving her arms. “That’s the
way an old man, who cooks for the sheep-men on our ranch, calls the boys
to their meals,” she laughingly explained to Miss Drexal. “Next summer I
hope you and the Equitable Eight will visit me. There are oceans of good
times to be had on a ranch.”

“I am sure of it,” concurred the Guardian heartily. “It will be well
worth looking forward to.”

“Please remember you’re not the only person who lives on a ranch,”
reminded Sarah, who had been listening. “I’ve just decided to hold the
reunion at our ranch.”

This announcement heralded a playfully spirited discussion between the
rival would-be hostesses. It continued energetically as the picnickers
seated themselves about the spread, and ended with Frances challenging
Sarah to a duel, with canoe-paddles as weapons, to decide the momentous
question.

Under cover of the general air of hilarity that pervaded the _al fresco_
meal, not one noticed that the wires of communication were down between
Ruth and Blanche. Thus far, Ruth was still unrelenting. If Blanche had
addressed a remark to her, it is doubtful if she would have replied to
it. Blanche knew better than to chance it. The very manner in which Ruth
ignored her, warned her not to try it.

Luncheon eaten, a hasty clearing-up ensued. The foresters were impatient
to start on their jaunt. With over half the day already sped, they had
no time to waste. It was their ambition to travel straight across the
island and back again.

“It is now ten minutes past one,” announced Miss Drexal. “We must be
back here not later than half-past five. At three o’clock we must
about-face, wherever we may happen to be. I am not sure that we shall be
able to cross the island by three o’clock. It will depend largely on the
going, also upon how much we play along the way. ‘Keep together’ must be
our watchword. There must be no strays in this flock. Marian, will you
take the lead with me and help me blaze the trail?”

“I’d love to.” Marian’s mild brown eyes sparkled as she stepped to the
Guardian’s side. The others fell in behind the pair, and the valorous
expedition sallied forth in high feather on what was destined to prove a
momentous wayfaring.



                             CHAPTER XVIII

                         A DISGRUNTLED EXPLORER


An hour of decidedly slow progress convinced the wayfarers that they
were not likely to accomplish the crossing of the island in a whole
afternoon, not to mention doing it by three o’clock. It was a rough and
rocky course that they had elected to travel, though the untamed beauty
which they encountered at every step fully repaid them for the effort it
entailed. Blazing their trail required continual stopping. Then, too,
there was so much to see and wonder at. Had Blue Wolf been with them,
his stoical patience would have been sorely tried. He would not have
relished halting his march every two minutes while his charges went into
raptures over what he had always taken for granted.

At half past two Miss Drexal called her flock together for a brief rest.
“We won’t have time to go any farther, girls. Suppose we take it easy
for fifteen minutes, then start back. We’ve done very well, I think, all
things considered.” She glanced smilingly about at the bevy of girls.
Each was carrying some trophy wrested from the woods. Anne and Emmy were
laden with huge bunches of long-fronded ferns. Betty had found a
deserted wasp’s nest—a queer, grayish looking affair. She had spied it
hanging to a low limb of a tree, and secured it by poking it down with a
long stick. Frances and Sarah had kept an open eye for fungi, of the
smooth, creamy sort, on which they proposed to draw pictures. Marian
rejoiced in the possession of a mammoth bunch of young wintergreens.
Jane had devoted herself to accumulating long trails of green squaw
berry-vines, dotted thickly with eatable scarlet berries. Ruth, however,
had captured the prize. Quite a way back, while wandering a little
distance off the trail, she had noticed a curious rock formation that
jutted straight out and overhung a little hollow about ten feet below.
About to go closer to examine it from above, she had prudently stopped
to survey the prospect before attempting it. Deciding that it would be
rather risky, she was about to turn away when she spied among a heap of
loose stones close to her feet a flint arrow-head. Elated by her find,
she snatched it up in a hurry, and ran back to show it to her friends,
who were much impressed by it.

Blanche alone was empty-handed. She had set herself strictly to trying
to carry out her unkind design, and had been given no opportunity to do
so. Miss Drexal’s injunction against straying had blocked her plan to
drop behind the others. Every few moments during the march, the
registrar had turned to cast an anxious eye over her charges to see that
none were missing.

In consequence, Blanche had been obliged to keep up with the others,
which did not suit her at all. She had not given up all hope, however,
of carrying out her plan. On the return trip, she would wait until they
came near to the outcropping rocks where Ruth had picked up the
arrowhead. She would lag behind under pretense of tying her shoe. By
watching her chance, she might be able to approach them from below,
crawl back under them and conceal herself. Perhaps Miss Drexal would be
too busy following the blazings on the trees to notice her absence.
Certainly, the girls wouldn’t trouble themselves about her. They cared
nothing for her, and she cared still less for them. If they did miss
her, then they would have the pleasure of hunting her until she chose to
reappear.

All in all, it was a very senseless proceeding, but Blanche was too
strongly bent on discomfiting others to realize the utter folly of it.
Stalking grimly along at the tail of the procession, she took a morbid
enjoyment in merely contemplating the trick she was about to play.

Fortune apparently decided to favor her. When at last the party reached
a spot a few rods to one side of the shelving rocks, Miss Drexal again
halted them for a breathing spell.

“Oh, look!” exclaimed Jane. “Right over there is the place where Ruth
found the arrow-head. I’m going to see if I can find one, too.”

“So am I,” declared Frances. “May we, Miss Drexal? We’ll come right
back.”

“Don’t be gone long, then,” stipulated the Guardian. Her consent was
hardly given when the two raced off to the left, where the top of the
ledge was just visible, rising above the surrounding green.

Frowningly, Blanche watched them go. As usual, Jane Pellew had
provokingly interfered with her plans. At that very moment, the sudden
upward flapping of a convention of crows startled by Frances and Jane,
set all eyes gazing after them in an opposite direction. Like a flash,
Blanche saw her chance and seized it. Making a swift, noiseless dash
toward a rioting clump of bushes, she crouched behind it. The group
still had their backs turned toward her. Bending low, she ran on down a
kind of natural path that wound around an elevation of which the
shelving rocks formed a part.

She had not made her escape unobserved. The first to take her gaze from
the flapping, wildly-cawing crows, Ruth had turned just in time to catch
a glimpse of an auburn head as it disappeared from view. The very fact
that Blanche had slipped away without saying a word pointed to but one
thing. Out of sheer perversity, she had chosen to disregard Miss
Drexal’s order, and started off alone to sulk in solitary grandeur. In
her present mood, she was likely to go on and on, and end by actually
getting lost. Alarmed by the possibility, Ruth’s conscience stabbed her
sharply. Unjust to herself, she felt that she was to blame for what had
happened at the spring. Now, all she could do was to steal away, and
coax Blanche to come back before her absence had been noticed. Ruth
worked her way quietly to the edge of the group gathered about the
registrar. The latter was deep in regaling her absorbed audience with
the tale of a pet crow which she had owned as a child.

“My father caught him and had his tongue slit, so that he was able to
talk quite a little. He could say many words and a few short sentences.
I named him Sambo and—”

At this point Ruth took noiseless leave, so stealthily and swiftly that
a darting backward glance showed her that she had made a successful
get-away. She would have preferred to say boldly that she was going.
That, however, would have called undue attention to Blanche’s peculiar
behavior—something which Ruth wished to avoid. If they returned very
shortly together, nothing would be said further than, “Where did you
go?” or a casual equivalent.

Now screened from sight by the surrounding green, Ruth sped along the
same path Blanche had taken. She presently rounded the base of the hill
and came abreast of the rocky ledge. Pausing for an instant, her glance
roved anxiously about in an effort to pick up the runaway. She was still
nowhere to be seen. Suddenly Ruth’s lips formed an “Oh!” Back under the
ledge, she had spied a gap in the rocks that much resembled a cave. For
the moment, curiosity blotted out the remembrance of her quest.
Approaching the aperture, she examined it wonderingly. It was easily
large enough for her to step into, provided she ducked her head on
entering. Fearlessly, Ruth poked her head inside it. How dark it was!
Did it end abruptly in a wall of solid rock? Perhaps it went on in an
underground passage. Possibly long ago, when the Indians warred against
the whites and each other, it had served as a refuge. She had often read
of such queer underground hiding places. A great longing to see more of
it overpowered her. With a soft little laugh, she stooped and stepped
into it.

“It’s certainly dark enough here,” she commented aloud. “I wonder—” Her
cogitations broke off in a sharp little scream as she stumbled against
something that drew away from her feet with a vigorous flop. In the same
instant, a cross voice cut the gloom of the cave: “Look out. You nearly
stepped on my hand!”

“Why, Blanche Shirly!” came the amazed cry. “I was just looking for you.
I didn’t expect to find you in here, though. I happened to notice this
hole in the rocks, and wondered if it was a cave. I suppose you noticed
it, too, and thought the same.”

“I don’t see why you should be looking for me,” was the acid response,
“especially after what you said this morning. Go away and let me alone!
Why I’m here is none of your business.” From a crouching position,
Blanche now sprang angrily erect.

“But you can’t stay here,” remonstrated Ruth. “Miss Drexal will wonder
already what has become of us. She doesn’t know I came after you. I am
truly sorry about this morning. I wish you’d forgive and forget it.
Can’t we begin over again? You can’t really believe that I told Jane
anything that I had promised you to keep secret.”

“I wouldn’t trust you as far as I could see you,” flashed Blanche, bent
on being obstinate. “Go on back to your dear friends, who think you are
so wonderful. Too bad they don’t know what a hateful, deceitful girl you
are! I’ll leave here when I get ready, and not before.”

“How can you—” Ruth’s expostulation was suddenly drowned by an ominous
rumble from above. Came a dull, reverberating roar, a pelting hail of
dirt and stones, a terrific, explosive crash; then utter blackness and
silence.



                              CHAPTER XIX

                   A PAIR OF INNOCENT MISCHIEF-MAKERS


Meanwhile, Jane and Frances had rushed gleefully off on their
arrow-hunting quest. Jane’s impetuous method of dashing into things,
coupled with Frances’ love of mischief, made them boon companions,
despite their readiness to argue on sight. Jane’s merry challenge, “I’ll
beat you to the ledge!” sent them crashing through brush and bush with a
will that carried them several yards past it.

Their mad dash ended in catastrophe for Frances. Close at Jane’s heels,
an avenging slap in the face from the recoiling branch of a stunted
sapling which Jane’s headlong flight had rudely set in motion, caused
Frances to stumble and pitch forward into a heap of brush. Her slam-bang
invasion resulted in dislodging a peaceful garter-snake, which wriggled
indignantly off almost across Jane’s feet, causing her to execute a wild
leap. “Ugh, a horrid snake!” she shrieked. “You did that, Frances
Bliss!”

“You snapped that limb in my face and made me fall,” counter-accused
Frances. Whereupon both girls burst into laughter.

“Come on. We’re clear past the ledge. If we don’t hurry, we won’t have
time to look for arrow-heads.” Jane reached forth a helping hand to haul
the still-chuckling Frances to her feet.

Still hand in hand, the two trotted toward the out-cropping rocky ledge.
Straight across it lay a fallen tree, scorched black and white by
lightning, the greater part of its dead length extending into space.
Stepping upon it, Frances ran fearlessly along toward the edge of the
rocks. At every step the dry, rotten wood gave forth a crunching sound,
accompanied by an ominous quivering of its entire length. Though she
could not know it, it was on this very account that Ruth had forborne
exploring the ledge.

“Look out!” Simultaneous with Jane’s warning cry, came a rattle of
stones. Frances made a wild backward spring for safety. Precariously
balanced, as was the tree across the ledge, Frances’ weight on it had
served to dislodge a crumbling bit of rock on which it had partially
rested. Down into the hollow below it catapulted, its brittle boughs,
snapping and splintering as it descended. The terrific thud, with which
it landed in the hollow, was echoed by a long, low rumble, a great
quivering of the ledge itself, then a second deafening crash.

Well back from the scene of disaster, Jane and Frances clung to each
other, speechless with terrified amazement.

It was Jane who first managed to gasp: “What—what was it?”

In spite of the fact that she had narrowly escaped accompanying the tree
on its downward career, Frances answered with a slightly hysterical
laugh. “You must have caused an earthquake, Plain Jane.”

“_I?_ You mean _you_! You started the tree, and I guess the tree did the
rest. Something besides that tree certainly dropped. Dare we go over and
see just what happened? Come on!”

Very gingerly the two went forward. To all appearance, the ledge of rock
was still intact. Securing a thick stick, Frances went cautiously
forward, striking the stony formation ahead of her with every step she
took. Where it jutted off into space she halted, and kneeling, peered
over. Emulating her bold example, Jane was soon kneeling beside her.

“All I can see is a great lot of stones and one big rock,” declared
Frances. “Maybe the tree jarred the under part of this rock loose. We’d
better move back. The rest of it might go. That second terrible crash
must have been caused by that big rock when it fell. The rest of the
folks must have heard it. Hark!”

A long shrill halloo assailed their ears. Again it sounded; this time
nearer.

“They heard. They’re calling. We’d better go.” Jane sprang to her feet
and set off through the woods, Frances following after.

Halfway to the spot where the party had stopped to rest, Jane and
Frances dashed into the midst of an excited sextette.

“What caused that frightful crash? Were you girls very close to it?
Where are Ruth and Blanche?” White-faced and anxious-eyed, Miss Drexal
fairly hurled her questions at the laggards.

“Ruth and Blanche?” Frances echoed, staring at the Guardian. “Why, I
don’t know. They weren’t with us!”

“We almost got caught in an earthquake. Frances declares it was one, and
that I caused it,” broke in Jane gaily. “Of course she’d—”

“This is not a time to joke,” interrupted Miss Drexal curtly. “The
question is, where are Ruth and Blanche. They were with us until a few
minutes ago. We were all standing together looking at a flock of crows.
I had been telling the girls about a pet crow I once owned. It was only
after I had finished that we noticed they were missing. Then we guessed
that they had gone to find you two. Tell me quickly what happened over
there.”

“That’s queer!” Jane’s gaiety had vanished. She now looked very solemn.
In a subdued voice, she recounted what had occurred at the ledge.

“You might both have been killed.” Miss Drexal looked uncompromisingly
stern. “I blame myself for allowing you to go. Now we must find the
girls. I can’t understand their running off in this strange fashion.
It’s not in the least like Ruth.”

“Oh, they can’t have gone far,” encouraged Anne. “Ruth wouldn’t dream of
straying away purposely after all you’ve said. Blanche—”

“Make up your mind Blanche is to blame,” asserted the too-candid Jane.
“She’s been sulking ever since she tried to upset the canoe this morning
and Ruth spoke to her about it. I promised Ruth not to mention it, but I
think I ought to tell you. They—well—Blanche may have said something
horrid to Ruth while you folks were watching those crows, then started
off into the woods just to be mean. Ruth is so—so—good. Of course, she’d
run after Blanche and try to put her in a good humor. Ruth has stood a
lot from her since we came up here. I don’t know why Blanche is so down
on her. I only know she is. I haven’t been blind,” was Jane’s energetic
conclusion.

“I must have been,” was the Guardian’s dry comment. “I had no idea such
a state of affairs existed. Later on, Jane, I shall ask you to tell me
all about what happened in the canoe. Just now we must devote ourselves
to finding the girls. We must cover the ground around here in all
directions, shouting their names together. As neither you nor Frances
saw them, we will first try an opposite direction from the ledge. It is
now almost four o’clock. We must work thoroughly but speedily. We can’t
risk being caught in this wilderness after dark. But I am sure they will
hear us and answer.” It seemed impossible to the Guardian that sturdy,
capable Ruth would remain long lost. She was competent to pilot both
herself and Blanche.

The search begun, for over an hour the anxious seekers tramped sturdily
over the portion of the island they sought to cover, stopping frequently
to send forth long, shrill halloos. As is usually the case in going it
blind, they expended their greatest effort in a wrong direction. By the
time they had returned to the spot from which they had started, the
shadows had commenced to thicken in the woods. The day had dawned with a
lavish display of sunshine, but by mid-afternoon considerable of its
glory had been obscured by banks of grayish clouds in the west. Though
no rain had fallen, the glimpses of sky which the foresters caught
between the trees were not encouraging. In them they read an early
twilight, followed possibly by storm. To go back to Wohelo Wigwam
without Ruth and Blanche was hardly to be considered. Neither was the
prospect of spending a night on the island, unsheltered, particularly
pleasant.

“What shall we do? Where can they be?” quavered Anne, when at a quarter
past five the searchers halted, despair written on every face.

“I think we’d do well to go straight to the lake shore before it gets
darker,” proposed Marian. “Blue Wolf will be there. He can find them. I
know he can. Don’t you remember, he said if any of us got lost he’d find
us? The sooner we see him and tell him, the sooner he’ll start to hunt
for them. We can’t do any good just staying here after dark.”

“It’s dreadful to think of leaving them behind to—” Betty’s voice broke.

“If any harm has come to Ruth, I’ll never forgive Blanche Shirly.” All
the pent-up emotion of Emmy’s Latin temperament vibrated in her tones.
“I don’t care much what happens to _her_.”

“Neither do I,” flared Jane hotly. “I despise her! She—”

“Girls, girls!” Miss Drexal held up her hand. “Remember you belong to
the Camp Fire. I cannot allow you to talk so of Blanche. You may live to
bitterly regret such harsh words. We can only hope that no harm has come
to either Ruth or Blanche. The safety of Blanche is as important as the
safety of Ruth. I am ashamed of both of you!”

“I’m sorry for what I said,” apologized Jane contritely.

Emmy, however, was silent. Love of Ruth made it very hard for her to
forgive one who had wronged her idol. In her own mind, she laid the
blame for the whole affair at Blanche’s door. Like Jane, she had not
been asleep to the churlish fashion in which Blanche had treated Ruth
all along.

“I think, with Marian, that our wisest plan will be to go straight to
the shore before dark. We shall hardly make it, at that.” Miss Drexal
endeavored to hide her own gloomy apprehensions. “I am confident that
Blue Wolf will succeed where we have failed. Forward march, now, and try
to keep up your spirits. We are doing the only sensible thing to be done
under the circumstances.”

It was a weary and heart-sick company that stumbled its way through the
growing twilight of the forest, finally arriving at the edge of the lake
almost a quarter of a mile below where they had landed. Out under the
open sky it was still fairly light, yet by the time they had plodded
sadly along the shore toward the point where the two canoes were moored,
the shadows of evening were closing down upon the island.

Fully expecting to see the Indian already there and waiting for them, it
was a crushing disappointment to all to come upon only the two canoes.
On him was based their one hope of finding the lost girls. He had
promised to return before sunset. Now it was almost dark and he, too,
was among the missing. Undoubtedly something had happened to delay him,
Miss Drexal assured. He was not one who would wilfully break his word.
He was likely to heave in sight at any moment.

At her suggestion, the dispirited party applied themselves to gathering
fuel for a fire while there was still a little light. The Guardian’s
patent anxiety that enough be secured to keep the fire going
indefinitely, hinted at the dire possibility that they might have to
remain on the island until late in the evening, perhaps all night. While
the fuel was being brought, she and Marian took the pitcher, which Ruth
had carried to the spring that morning, and went for water, guided only
by a small flash light which the Guardian carried. The fire having been
started in their absence, she went briskly to work to make coffee,
insisting, in spite of forlorn pleas of non-hunger, that the remaining
food in the packs should be eaten, reserving a portion against the
return of the missing girls. All in all, it was a dolorous meal they
managed to choke down, seated about the glowing Camp Fire. The coffee
alone was welcomed. Tired out, as the girls were, it put a little new
life into them. Seven, eight, nine o’clock came and went; yet Blue Wolf
did not appear. Fortunately for them, their fear of a storm had not been
verified. Conversation had long since languished among them, gradually
dying out almost entirely. The very sound of their own voices oppressed
them.

When at eleven o’clock there was still no sign of the guide, Miss Drexal
said quietly: “It looks as though we are in for spending the night here.
If Blue Wolf were to come now, we could not paddle back to the camp in
the dark, even if we wished to, which, of course, we don’t. As it is, we
shall have to keep the fire going, and sit around it until morning. We
have no blankets, and it would be unwise to think of lying on the
ground. It is too damp.”

An assenting murmur rose that quickly subsided into heavy silence. It
was shattered by a stifled sob from Emmy. “I—can’t—help—it!” she cried
out brokenly. “It’s—too—awful! Oh, Ruth, dear, where are—you?”

But only the voice of the night wind in the trees answered with a
mournful sigh. Somewhere in the blackness behind them, the unyielding
forest was jealously guarding its prey.



                               CHAPTER XX

                           CAUGHT IN THE DARK


Flung face downward on a rough, uneven floor of rock by that jarring
explosive crash, oblivion descended briefly upon Ruth Garnier. Brought
to consciousness by a sharp, stinging pain in her left wrist, her first
impression was that she had suddenly been stricken blind. Though her
eyes were open, all around her was impenetrable blackness. Where was
she? What had happened? She essayed to move her left hand, and moaned
with pain. Using her right, she groped feebly about in the Stygian dark,
her limp fingers coming in contact with what seemed to be solid rock,
she braced her hand against it and slowly raised herself to a sitting
posture.

Gradually she began to remember. First of all, that reverberating crash,
as though a cannon had been fired off within a few feet of her. And
before that? Now it was all coming back to her. She had gone to look for
Blanche. Then she had seen the opening in the rocks. She had stepped
into it, and found Blanche hiding there. She had tried to make Blanche
come away. Then something terrible had happened. But where was Blanche
now? How her head ached!

Still too greatly bewildered to reason out what had befallen her, Ruth
passed her uninjured hand across her forehead. It encountered a
good-sized lump near her right temple. The mere touching of it made her
wince. Next she felt gingerly of her left wrist. Pluckily continuing to
examine it, despite the pain it gave her, she decided that it was
sprained but not broken. She thought that she must have landed heavily
upon it when she fell forward. This much clear, her mind again reverted
to Blanche. They had been facing each other when that dreadful
thundering roar had begun. Now it seemed she was alone in the darkness
unless—

In the grip of a new fear, Ruth dropped to her knees. Feeling her way
with her sound hand she crawled slowly about in a little circle,
widening it as she went. She knew now that she was still in the cave;
that she was not blind. It was the light of outdoors, not her own
eyesight which had been mysteriously blotted out in a moment’s time. The
entrance to the cave was undoubtedly blocked by some huge object, hence
the impenetrable blackness.

A low sigh of horror welled to her lips as her investigating fingers
clutched a fold of wiry cloth. An instant and they had traveled upward
to an arm and on up to a face. She had found Blanche. With a little sob,
Ruth drew herself close to the motionless form and laid an ear against
Blanche’s heart. It was still beating. Groping for one of her
companion’s limp hands, she chafed it gently, calling out over and over
again, “Blanche! Blanche! It’s Ruth! Oh, you must come to yourself
soon!”

Hampered by her injured left hand, Ruth worked desperately over the
unconscious girl with her right, now rubbing first one wrist then the
other, now shaking her by the shoulders. A dash of cold water in her
face, or a whiff of pungent smelling salts would have easily restored
Blanche to consciousness. Ruth, however, had no remedy save that one
willing hand, coupled with desperate determination.

After what seemed hours, in reality minutes, a long, shuddering sigh
issued from Blanche’s lips. Ruth’s own heart almost skipped a beat when
a faint voice mumbled, “Wh-at—oh-h—” and trailed off into silence.
Creeping to Blanche’s head, Ruth raised it with difficulty, bracing it
against her right shoulder. “It’s Ruth, Blanche. Don’t you know me?” she
entreated.

“Y-es, Ruth.” Blanche’s voice was somewhat thick. Consciousness now
rapidly returning, she asked faintly: “What’s the matter? I can’t see.
It’s—so—dark. It’s night, isn’t it?”

“It’s night in here,” was the grim response. “It must be night outside,
too. You—I—well, we are in the cave that we found. Do you remember about
it?”

“What cave? No; I don’t remember it. There was something else; something
terrible. I can’t think. The back of my head hurts.” Unsteadily,
Blanche’s arm went up in a vain effort to locate her head.

“Lie still,” came the gentle command. “Don’t try to move or talk until
you feel a little better.” Ruth had decided that, for the present, she
would not try to inform Blanche of what had occurred. Time enough for
that later on.

Crouching there in the darkness, the full gravity of their situation was
borne upon her. Her brain now perfectly clear, she was of the conviction
that some natural disturbance of the rocky ledge above was responsible
for their imprisonment. For they were prisoners beyond a doubt. For how
long? Ruth shuddered. Only too plainly one woeful fact confronted her.
Both she and Blanche had slipped away from their friends without a word.
In all probability, no one had seen them go. They alone had discovered
the cave, and to their sorrow. She knew that long since, Miss Drexal
must have started a hunt for them. Undoubtedly, the terrific rumble of
falling rocks must have reached their ears. Yet how could they possibly
guess that the two missing girls were prisoned behind them?

Ruth’s confidence in the Guardian was such that she knew Miss Drexal
would insist on having every foot of the island explored in an effort to
find them. And there was Blue Wolf, too. Recollection of the intrepid
old Indian roused her to new hope. Had not the guide said that he knew
the island. “You get lost, me find,” rang like a clarion in her ears.
Perhaps _he_ knew of the existence of the cave. Surely he must know.

Mere meditating on that one possible source of rescue consoled her not a
little. It went far to alleviate the physical misery she was patiently
enduring. Her head still ached dully, and the throbbing pain in her
sprained wrist never stopped for an instant. Her whole body ached, too,
from sitting so still, while Blanche’s head was a heavy weight against
her shoulder. The latter had taken her advice, in that she had neither
moved nor spoken since Ruth had last addressed her.

Alarmed by the thought that Blanche might have again relapsed into
unconsciousness, Ruth was about to speak softly to her when a faint
far-off sound set her aquiver. Was she dreaming or had she really heard
it? Again it came, the distant ring of voices hallooing her name.
Shifting her burden to the floor of the cave, Ruth stumbled to her feet
and, moving quickly toward the blocked entrance, began to shout an
answer at the top of her lungs.

“What are you doing?” was the querulous question. “What is it? Stop
screaming. You hurt my head.”

Ruth paid no attention. Again and again, she repeated her frantic cries,
Blanche expostulating with every shout. Though she listened desperately
between calls, the welcome halloo she had just heard sounded only twice
more, each time more faintly. It told her that her own voice had not
been strong enough to penetrate the barrier that shut them in, and thus
reach the ears of the faithful searchers. Overcome by the bitterness of
her disappointment, Ruth dropped limply to the floor and sobbed aloud.

Her wild burst of tears did more toward bracing up Blanche than had all
her previous ministrations.

“What is it, Ruth? Please tell me everything. I’m all right now.”
Pulling herself together, Blanche crawled to where the other girl lay
huddled, guided by the sound of her sobs. One of her hands strayed until
it touched Ruth’s brown braids and rested there. “I know what’s happened
to us. We’ve been caught in the cave. It didn’t come to me until you
began to cry. Then I understood why you had shouted. Did you hear
someone call, or were you just trying to get help?”

“I heard the girls. I know I heard them.” Ruth stopped crying and sat
up. “I’m glad you are all right again, Blanche. It makes it easier for
me to tell you how things are with us. You remember the way the rocks
jutted out above this cave? Well, I think they just suddenly gave way.
Maybe for years they’ve been gradually getting ready to fall. You’ve
read about such things. You know I was walking around near that ledge
when I found the arrow-head. That might have started the whole thing,
though I don’t see how it could. Maybe Jane and Frances helped it along.
You see, they started for the ledge before you and I left the crowd. I
don’t believe anyone but myself saw you go. I’m afraid nobody saw me
follow you. I didn’t say anything when I went.” Not intending this as a
reproach, she continued hurriedly. “Those shouts we heard prove that
they are hunting us. I can’t believe that we’ll have to stay here long.
Surely Blue Wolf will find us. I’m putting my faith in him.”

“I—I—hope—so,” came the quavering response. For the first time in
her selfish life, Blanche felt the clutch of remorse. She alone
was responsible for the misfortune that had befallen them. Always
ready to blame others rather than herself, she had been convicted
at last by her own conscience. “How—how—you—must hate me,
Ruth,—for—bringing—this—on—you.” Her voice died to a sobbing
whisper.

“I don’t hate you at all,” was the prompt assurance. “I’d rather you
wouldn’t talk about—well—some things. Let’s both put our minds to work
to try to think what we’d best do. I was wondering when I first saw this
cave, if it went on underground and opened at some other place in the
woods. Looking in at it, I thought it went back quite a way. It might be
the beginning of a secret passage that the Indians used long ago to get
away from their enemies. For all we know, it might go clear across the
island and come out on the opposite shore of the lake.

“There’s plenty of air here. If the opening we came in at was the only
one, blocking it would shut off the air. I’ve felt a little draft ever
since I first sat up after the crash. What we must do is to find where
it comes from. Let’s stand up back to back and each walk ahead in
opposite directions until we touch the walls. We both know from what
little we saw of it that the cave’s not large. Then we’ll feel up and
down the walls, walking along till we meet. In that way we’ll manage to
get around the whole cave, and if there is an opening, we can’t miss
it.”

Blanche meekly agreeing, the two at once proceeded to follow out Ruth’s
plan. To go over every inch of the jagged walls as high as they could
reach was a tiresome labor, particularly to Ruth, who was obliged to
work single-handed. On entering the cave, she had judged it to be about
ten by eight feet, though she had not been able to see back into the
shadows. Now it seemed three times that size. Every few seconds she
would call out hopefully. “Have you found it?” only to be answered by a
discouraged “No.”

Gradually approaching each other, Ruth’s investigating hand suddenly
slid from rock to space. She felt air blowing strongly upon it, and
cried out sharply as she extended her well arm to its full length into
unmistakable vacancy. Sweeping it from right to left, she touched rock
on the right side. Another powerful swing and she had touched it on the
left. Next she took a bold step forward, prudently ducking her head.
Very slowly she raised her arm. A trifle above her head it collided with
something solid—a hard, rather smooth surface that had the moist, cool
feel of earth.

Hearing that cry, Blanche had stumbled toward it, calling as she came.
She bumped smartly into Ruth, who had stepped back again. “What—have you
found it?”

“Yes.” Ruth’s tones vibrated with eagerness. “It’s large enough to step
into standing up. Now the question is, ‘Dare we follow it in the dark?’
I don’t think we need be afraid of snakes. The only things that I see to
be afraid of are, if it went down suddenly into a deep hole, or if it
should get so narrow we’d be stuck, or so low we’d strike our heads.”

For a long moment Blanche made no reply. She dreaded the thought of
attempting this fearsome walk in the dark. She lacked the intrepid
spirit that urged Ruth on to seek release from their prison. She opened
her lips to protest, then in a flash she realized that at last she had
been given a chance to prove herself worthy to be a Camp Fire Girl.

“I’m not afraid,” she answered bravely. “I’m willing to try it.”

“Good! Then here we go. Get behind me, and take hold of my skirt with
your right hand. It’s going to be slow work. One very careful stop and
stop, then another and stop and so on. I’ll keep my right hand out and
above my head as we go. You feel for the wall on your left side. Then we
can tell if it’s getting low or narrow.”

Obediently, Blanche placed herself as Ruth had directed. “I’m ready,”
she signalled. “Go ahead.” Then the two forlorn adventurers went
cautiously forward on their hazardous undertaking. As Ruth had
predicted, it was indeed slow work. It meant constant vigilance of foot
and hand, for in the dense blackness their eyes were of small use to
them. Neither could they form any idea of their progress as to distance
or time.

“It must be hours since we started,” Blanche moaned at last. “I’m so
tired. Can’t we stop for a minute?”

“I don’t believe it’s even half an hour,” Ruth obligingly halted. She,
too, was feeling intense fatigue. “We are doing well, though. The air
seems to be getting fresher. I imagine the passage is about the same
height and width all the way.”

While they rested, Ruth forced herself to pretend cheerfulness. Still,
she made note of the fact that Blanche was behaving admirably.

“We’d better go on now,” she presently urged. “We are lucky to find the
ground under us fairly level,” she continued, as they moved forward
again. “If it weren’t—Oh-h-h!”

As Ruth screamed, she shot violently forward. Blanche felt the hand that
clutched her companion’s skirt jerking free of its hold. Clinging
frantically to it, she brought her other hand into lightning play, and
pulled Ruth so sharply backward as to lose her own footing and sit down
hard on the floor of the passage, dragging her companion with her.

Several seconds passed before either found breath to speak.
“You—saved—me—from—falling—into—something! I—don’t—know—what!” gasped
Ruth. Raising herself from Blanche’s lap, she clumsily got to her feet,
careful in spite of the jolt to still face the direction in which they
had been going. “I was almost over when you jerked me back.”

“I’m—g-g-l-l-ad I—caught—y-o-u!” Blanche’s teeth were clicking with the
terror of the narrowly averted calamity. Reaction setting in, she began
to cry. “We—can’t—go—on!” she wailed. “We’ll have to go back.
This—is—awful!”

“We will go back, Blanche,” soothed Ruth shakily. “Don’t cry. You’ve
done something for me that I never can forget. Now get up, dear. As soon
as you are on your feet, turn and face the other way. Tell me when
you’ve done so, then I’ll turn and take hold of your skirt. You’ll have
to lead going back, but it will be all right. We know it’s safe so we
can go faster.”

Facing once more the direction in which the cave lay, the dejected
adventurers plodded sadly back to their starting point. Returned to it
at last, they dropped wearily to the floor. In each anguished mind
brooded the same pertinent question, “How would it all end!”



                              CHAPTER XXI

                          A NIGHT OF SUSPENSE


It was half-past eleven o’clock when a long, echoing shout electrified
the weary circle about the fire, bringing them instantly to their feet.
Next they heard the steady dip, dip of a paddle, wielded with furious
haste. As one voice, their answer swelled frantically loud and clear on
the still night air.

“Blue Wolf at last!” Miss Drexal exclaimed with a fervent relief that
was echoed in every heart. Leaving the circle, she dashed toward the
edge of the lake, her charges at her heels. Through the gloom of the
night, they could dimly distinguish the familiar, upright figure in the
canoe. Here, indeed, was the blessed answer to more than one silent
prayer that had ascended during that torturing vigil about the fire.

“How!” saluted the guide as he drove the canoe to shore. “Much trouble.
Bad Indian steal canoe. Me hunt long time, find ’nother. Stop camp. Put
things quick. Think mebbe some come camp. Mebbe Missy Ruth go back get
rest. She know how paddle good. Me no find. Nobody there. Paddle here
quick.” His piercing glance ranging over the group, he demanded: “Where
Missy Ruth? Where other one?”

“They—they are lost somewhere—in the woods!” Miss Drexal’s tones were
unsteady. The strain of that despairing night watch was beginning to
tell on her. “We didn’t go clear across the island. We were coming back
when—they—disappeared. It was about four o’clock. We couldn’t have been
much more than a mile from here. We hunted them for another hour. We
didn’t dare stay in the woods longer. It had begun to get dark there.
Wherever they are, or whatever has happened to them, we depend on you to
find out. You must start at daybreak to look for them, Blue Wolf.”

“Start now,” declared the guide laconically. From his tone, it was
impossible to discern how much effect the dire news had had upon him.
“We make torch now.” With this, he brushed past the bevy of white-faced
women, and cantered off toward the edge of the woods. He was soon back
bearing an armful of thick dry branches, which his trained eyes and
fingers had enabled him to gather in the dark.

Helpless to aid him, the party could only watch with strained attention
as he flung down his burden beside the fire, and, squatting before it,
began a selection of such branches as would best serve his purpose.
Choosing six, he fished a piece of thin tough string from his pocket.
Five he bound together, leaving one for immediate use. With the free end
of the string, he lashed the little bundle across one shoulder. Catching
up the lone branch, he thrust one end of it into the fire, holding it
there until it blazed.

“Now,” he said, speaking for the first time since he had begun his work,
“you tell about place. Where you when Missy Ruth an’ other one get lost.
You tell everything.”

“It was near a lot of rocks, Blue Wolf,” volunteered Frances
impulsively. “Ruth found an arrow-head there. Then Jane and I went there
to see if we couldn’t find another. The rocks went straight out over a
little hollow below. There was a dead tree hung away across them. I
stepped on it, and it began to shake. Then it went smashing down. It
loosened a lot of rock and that went, too. I just missed going with the
tree. If I hadn’t jumped—”

A wild yell from the Indian cut short Frances’ narrative. Without a word
of explanation, Blue Wolf jerked the blazing branch from the fire, swung
it about his head, and loped off toward the dark mass behind them with
the speed of a hunted deer. In utter stupefaction, the watchers followed
his course for a moment by the swaying, flickering light that danced
among the trees.

As it disappeared, Betty found speech. It was merely a husky whisper.
“What—if the girls were underneath that ledge when the rocks fell? Why
didn’t we think and go there first of all?”

“If we had and—” Unable to finish, Emmy threw herself down by the fire
and buried her head in her hands.

“It’s all my fault,” moaned Frances. “If I hadn’t walked along that
tree—Oh, it can’t, it mustn’t be like that!” Completely unnerved, she
burst into tears. Breaking away from the group, she ran distractedly
along the shore for a little way, and dropped to the earth in a
disconsolate heap. Hysterically sobbing, she lay there, huddled on the
sand.

“This won’t do. Go and bring Frances back, Anne. You must be brave,
girls, and not give way to your fears. I can’t and won’t allow myself to
imagine for a minute that any such dreadful thing has happened to Ruth
and Blanche. It’s evident that Frances furnished Blue Wolf with an idea
as to where they may be, but we mustn’t take the way he ran off as a
sign of the worst. It may prove to be just the opposite. My advice to
all of you is to sit down quietly, and keep your minds free of horrors.”

Miss Drexal had taken hold of the situation just in time to avert a
wholesale collapse. When Anne returned, piloting a Frances whose drawn,
tear-stained face bore small resemblance to her usual genial
countenance, the others had followed the Guardian’s example and reseated
themselves about the fire. None, however, had the will to talk. They sat
in hushed silence and waited, listening for the first sound from the
forest that would herald the return of the guide, hoping with that
intensity of “hope deferred which maketh the heart sick” that he would
not return alone.

                  *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, Blue Wolf was tearing along through the black night utterly
impervious to the rough course he had elected to travel. Day or night,
the forest itself had no terrors for him. It was the information
supplied by Frances that now held him in a fearsome grip and lent wings
to his tireless feet. The faltering opinion that Betty had voiced was
partially his own. He knew of only one other thing that might have
happened, and on it he based his hope of finding both girls alive. With
the unerring faculty of the Indian for traveling sure-footedly the most
difficult territory in the dark, he crashed his speeding way through
brush and bramble, never halting for an instant.

At the break-neck pace he was going, it did not take him long to reach
the spot in the woods where the ledge was situated. Far from
investigating it from the top, he steered straight for the hollow below.
Reaching it, he delayed only long enough to light a fresh torch and
stamp out the old, then went confidently forward. Training his light
low, his first find was the dead tree lying in the midst of its
shattered branches. Up and down its length he moved, his eyes bent to
the earth. With a satisfied “Ugh!” he finally left it. Next he hurried
to a spot above which the flicker of his now upraised torch showed an
out-cropping rocky ledge. Straight to it he loped. Directly under it lay
a huge boulder. All around it quantities of fresh earth and splintered
rock told their own story. Here his investigations grew more minute. He
dropped on all fours and crawled round and round the boulder, his gaze
never leaving its base. Finally springing up, he laid his torch on a
nearby stone and began a veritable tussle with the rock itself. Exerting
his full strength, he tried to move it. It refused to budge. Over and
over again he attacked it, from various angles. It was there to stay.

Panting a little, he drew back from it, and lifting his voice in a
prolonged howl. Again and again the weird, mournful cry filled the
surrounding silence. Still it provoked no answer, save a sighing protest
from the trees, or the sleepy twitter of a bird, rudely disturbed from
sleep. Blue Wolf, however, was not to be thus dismayed. He had tried one
thing, and that had failed. He still had another resource. His second
torch on the point of failing, he stoically lighted another, and was
soon racing away from the hollow.

Deeper into the woods he went, following a comparatively straight line
from the ledge. Not more than a quarter of a mile from the ledge he
stopped again,—this time at the bottom of a fairly deep ditch that had
once been the bed of a stream. It was now fairly dry, as there had been
little rain during the summer. Its sloping sides were thickly covered
with green bushes, huge broad-leafed weeds and stunted trees. Traveling
the bottom of the dried-out water-course for a few yards, the guide
plunged straight into a thicket of bushes, breaking them down in his
haste. Suddenly he bent double, and disappeared into the greater
darkness of a good-sized gap in the slope, well concealed by the
luxuriant screen of living green.

Ruth Garnier had been wholly correct in thinking that there was a second
entrance to the underground passage which she and Blanche had essayed to
follow. Born and raised in the vicinity of Vermilion Lake, Blue Wolf had
explored this very passage when a boy. According to his grandfather, the
Cheyenne warrior chief, he had more than once used it as a means of
escape in times of peril. Undoubtedly it had existed long before the old
chief’s day. He had believed it to be the work of his ancestors,
excavated when the Indians claimed the vast northern forests as their
own.

At first mention of the ledge as near the point where the two girls had
disappeared, Blue Wolf had pricked up his ears. Learning of the rock
slide, he had been visited by the fear that Blanche and Ruth might have
been standing under the ledge when it occurred. It was more than
possible that they had seen the entrance to the cave and gone close to
it to examine it. It was this that had caused him to shout and race off
to the scene. He was in deadly fear that he would there discover only
their crushed, lifeless bodies. He knew of no other spot on the island
where self-reliant Ruth was likely to have come to grief. She was too
good a woodsman to be merely lost.

When a careful search revealed nothing of the sort, his one other
theory, that they might have entered the cave just before the rock fell,
seemed in keeping with his discovery that the entrance to the cave had
been effectually sealed by the boulder. Believing them to be on the
other side of it, he had tried to roll it away. Failing he had begun to
shout in the hope of making them hear him. This proving also fruitless,
he had promptly sought the other end of the passage, determined to
investigate every inch of it.

As he had not the slightest notion of the blood-curdling quality of his
wild yells, he could not then know the unspeakable terror they brought
to the two huddled together in the cave. Worn out with anxiety, pain and
fatigue, Ruth had finally dropped into fitful slumber, her head on
Blanche’s lap. Wide-awake, Blanche had heard them first, the intervening
barrier of rock deadening them just enough to make them sound like
nothing human. In her fright she attributed them to some prowling wild
animal, a wolf, or perhaps a panther, she shudderingly guessed, as she
listened. To Ruth, they came dimly as part of a fevered dream. The touch
of her companion’s hand on her shoulder, accompanied by a whispered,
“There’s a wild animal outside the cave!” woke her to their reality, her
drowsy faculties becoming alert just too late. By the time she was wide
enough awake to judge them, the yells had ceased.

“Are you sure it wasn’t a human voice?” she questioned anxiously. “Why
didn’t you wake me when it commenced? I must have heard them in my
sleep, for I was dreaming something about hearing someone call.”

“I thought it would be best if you didn’t hear it,” faltered Blanche. “I
wanted to save you as much as I could, but I got so scared I couldn’t
stand it. I knew whatever animal it was, it couldn’t get in here,
but—Oh, Ruth, do you suppose we’ll ever be found?”

“Yes, I think so.” Though she tried to reply heartily, Ruth’s answer was
faintly lacking in assurance. “Blanche,” she continued softly, “I want
to tell you that you’ve been the bravest girl ever since all this
happened. You’ve shown yourself to be a Camp Fire Girl in every way.
When we do get out of here, there will be a lot of honors waiting for
you.”

“I don’t deserve them,” Blanche answered very humbly. “Think how hateful
I’ve been to you, and of how I brought all this trouble on you! I’m not
worthy to be a Camp Fire Girl. But there is one thing I’m going to do if
I—if we—are found. I’m going to ask Miss Drexal to call a Council Fire.
Then I’m going to stand up, and confess how deceitful I’ve been and how
splendid you’ve been!”

“Never!” Ruth’s protest rang out sharply. “What’s past is past. Somehow,
I don’t believe either Miss Drexal or the girls would feel that you owed
it to them to do that. After all, it’s between you and me. Let’s keep it
so.”

“I shall tell my mother.” Blanche was bent on expiation. “I never told
you, but I broke my engagement right after what happened at the
Heights.”

“Yes, you ought to tell your mother. I’m glad you feel that you wish to.
I am glad, too, about the other. You could never have been happy to go
on with it without your mother’s approval. Now promise me that you won’t
ask Miss Drexal to call that Council Fire.”

“All right, I won’t, but only because you ask me. I’ll try to make up
for my faults in other ways. Will you help me, Ruth, and forgive me, and
be my friend for always?”

“For ever and always.” In the dark Ruth’s hand sought Blanche’s and
found it. A moment of sweet silence ensued.

“We talk as though we were perfectly sure of being rescued.” Blanche
laughed shakily.

“Never despair is our—”

Of a sudden the two clutched each other desperately. From the depths of
the passage came the long, terrifying howl that had so greatly unnerved
Blanche.

“It’s got in somehow! It’s coming after us!” shrieked Blanche.

“Shh!” warned Ruth. Bolt upright, she listened with all her might.

Again came the cry, this time a little louder. To Blanche’s amazement a
high clear call of “Hoo-oo!” burst from Ruth’s lips. Instantly it was
answered by the oncoming intruder.

“It’s—not an animal!” Ruth was half laughing, half crying. “It’s a man’s
voice. It’s good old Blue Wolf.” Ruth had leaped to her feet, and was
stumbling toward the direction from which the voice came. “Blu-e
W-o-l-f!” she shouted at the top of her lungs.

A patter of feet, a flare of light that hurt her eyes, and behind that
light the stalwart figure of the Indian. With a glad cry, Ruth forgot
dignity and catching him by the arm, clung to him joyfully.

“I knew you’d find us!” she repeated over and over. “You said you would,
you know, and now you have.”

“Me find.” For a brief instant, Blue Wolf also forgot his dignity. Very
lightly he laid his hand on Ruth’s brown head. “You Blue Wolf friend.
You lost, he feel bad. Now find, feel happy. You come both now. Go
quick. All wait by lake for you. You follow me close. Bad hole down
there.”

“I know it! I nearly fell into it!” exclaimed Ruth ruefully. “We found
the passage and went along all right till we got that far. We couldn’t
see a thing. I was ahead. Blanche pulled me back just as I was going
over. How deep is it, Blue Wolf?”

“Twelve feet, mebbe. Little room one side. You walk there all right, you
careful. Me show how walk.”

With this gracious offer, the guide marshalled his charges behind him,
and sweeping his torch from side to side, stepped into the passage, the
girls following. This time they went rapidly, halting only at the “bad
hole,” which was indeed a veritable pit. Whether it was due to natural
causes, or purposely dug by the Indians to foil pursuit, Blue Wolf did
not know. Afterward questioned by Ruth, he replied that, so far as he
knew, it had always been there. The light of the torch revealed,
however, a narrow foothold of earth on one side, not more than a foot in
width, and on this they walked safely across to feel the solid floor of
the passage again under their feet.

Soon afterward they emerged from it to feel the soft night wind blow
upon their faces and hear the blessed rustle of the leaves overhead. To
Ruth, it was the supreme moment of her life. As long as she lived, she
never forgot the sensation of reverent exultation that swept over her as
she paused for an instant to breathe deeply of the fragrant air, her
eyes lifted to where, far, far above, she glimpsed the faint twinkle of
the stars.

A gentle touching of her arm brought her to earth once more. “Come now
hurry,” urged the guide. “’Bout mile to lake. I go first. Torch he
light. You careful, no fall.”

“After what we’ve been through, a few tumbles won’t matter,” Blanche
commented with an alert cheerfulness that brought the guide’s black eyes
to bear on her. Thus far, he had accorded her small attention. He now
became aware of a curious change in the indolent, selfish girl of whom
he had so deeply disapproved. He stared harder than ever when she
faltered diffidently: “We can’t ever hope to repay you for what you’ve
done for us, Blue Wolf.”

The sincerity of the little speech struck a responsive chord. Very
gravely the guide held out his hand to Blanche. “Good words. Me like.
Remember long time. Now you my friend like Missy Ruth and Missy Drexal.”

Ruth looked smilingly on, happy at the way things were moving. Out of
their sorry adventure had come the awakening of Blanche’s “better self”
for which she had so earnestly hoped. It was well worth having endured
much.

Guided by the flickering light of Blue Wolf’s torch, the journey to the
lake shore was accomplished without event. Just as they emerged from the
woods, a wild, jubilant shout from shore thrilled the hearts of the
returned wanderers. The flare of the guide’s torch had shown the
watchers three figures instead of only one. Half way between the woods
and the lake’s edge, a reunion took place the memory of which lingered
in the minds of all concerned long after that joyful meeting.

When the first excitement had somewhat subsided, Ruth and Blanche were
affectionately conducted to the camp fire by a thankful bodyguard. Ever
practical, Miss Drexal went to work immediately to bandage Ruth’s wrist,
while thoughtful Marian soon had a fresh pot of steaming coffee ready.
With such comestibles as had been saved against their return, Blue Wolf
and the two heroines of the cave made a satisfactory repast. As it was
then after three o’clock, it was decided to wait for daybreak before
starting for Wohelo Wigwam. Absorbed as were all in listening to Ruth’s
story of that terrible adventure in the dark, the remaining hours until
daylight flew by on wings.

The first faint gray of dawn saw a flotilla of three canoes, burdened
with a weary but contented crew, gliding away from “Disaster Island,” as
Frances had lugubriously named it, shortly after Ruth and Blanche had
disappeared. Seated in the last canoe, Jane shook a vindictive fist at
the fast receding object of her grudge. “Good-bye, hateful old thing,”
she jeered. “You thought you’d cheat us, but we cheated you.”

The echo of her mocking taunt was flung back at her across the hush of
dawn, precisely as though Disaster Island had heard and had been stirred
to retaliation. A bend in the lake and it was lost to view, left behind
to brood in the solitary grandeur that had pervaded its forest depths
before the unlucky invasion of the Camp Fire Girls.



                              CHAPTER XXII

                          “UNITED WE FLOURISH”


The friendly moon peered inquisitively down through the trees at a
circle of veritable Indian maidens gathered about a blazing camp fire.
It was in distinct contrast to the group of weary-eyed watchers that
less than two weeks before, had huddled round another camp fire,
heartsick and discouraged. To-night every face wore a smile of pleasant
anticipation. Neither were there any vacant places in that fire-lit
circle. Clad in full ceremonial dress, they had gathered to see one of
their number honored. Blanche Shirly was at last to become a Wood
Gatherer.

As Miss Drexal rose and began the short but impressive ceremony by
asking the candidate to rise also, a sigh of pure satisfaction fluttered
up from those seated. Wearing the ceremonial robe she had worked so hard
to complete since that eventful trip to Disaster Island, her auburn hair
hanging far below her waist in two heavy braids, Blanche had never
appeared more attractive. The arrogant, self-satisfied expression of old
had entirely disappeared from her face, leaving it girlishly wistful as
she listened to the words of the Guardian, and made the necessary
replies. It was indeed a proud moment for her when Miss Drexal stepped
over to her, saying:

“As Guardian of the Fire, and in token of your having fulfilled the
requirements necessary for the rank of Wood Gatherer, I place on the
little finger of your left hand this ring with its design of seven
fagots symbolic of the seven points of the Law of the Fire, which you
have expressed your desire to follow, and of the three circles on either
side symbolic of the three watch-words of this organization, Work,
Health and Love.”

Familiar as they all were with this particular ceremony, the Equitable
Eight had never felt more impressed than when, at the Guardian’s
request, they rose and repeated:

               “As fagots are brought from the forest
               Firmly held by the sinews which bind them,
               So cleave to these others, your sisters,
               Wherever, whenever you find them.

               “Be strong as the fagots are sturdy,
               Be pure in your deepest desire,
               Be true to the truth that is in you,
               And—follow the Law of the Fire.”

Clearly and sweetly Blanche responded:

           “As fagots are brought from the forest
           Firmly held by the sinews which bind them,
           I will cleave to my Camp Fire sisters
           Wherever, whenever I find them.

           “I will strive to grow strong like the pine tree,
           To be pure in my deepest desire,
           To be true to the truth that is in me,
           And follow the Law of the Fire.”

The ringing vocal cheer that succeeded the pledge brought an approving
flash to the black eyes of the Indian guide. Blue Wolf, as the guest of
honor, squatted just outside the magic ring of fire-worshippers.

“You are now at liberty to congratulate Alsea, our new Wood Gatherer,”
announced the Guardian when Blanche had finished reciting.

“Just one minute!” Blanche appealed. “I have something to say first that
I wish you all to hear.” Meeting Ruth’s startled eyes, full of mute
protest, Blanche smiled reassuringly.

“I am sure you must understand just how glad I am to have become a Wood
Gatherer,” she continued, addressing the group. “It took me a long time
to get started on the right track. I thank you all for your interest and
help. You’ve been very patient with me. But I know you’ll agree with me
when I say that I owe a special debt of gratitude to Ruth Garnier. She
is the truest, finest, bravest girl I’ve ever known, and I hope always
to be worthy of her friendship.”

The sincere but unexpected tribute to Ruth received the ovation it
deserved. A moment later, Blanche was surrounded, eager hands
outstretched to grasp her own.

“It was dear in you, Blanche.” Ruth’s cheeks were rosy as she proffered
both hands to the smiling Wood Gatherer. “You shouldn’t have said it,
though. All I can do is to return the compliment.”

“A mutual admiration society,” beamed Frances. “I must join it.” Her
eyes lighting on Jane, she said effusively: “Mere words cannot express
my deep and respectful admiration for _you_, Plain Jane!”

“I certainly _am_ surprised,” remarked Jane unappreciatively. “I hope
you’ll remember that the next time you try to drag me into an argument.”

“You mean, the next time _you_ try to drag _me_ into one,” corrected
Frances.

“I don’t mean that at all. I—”

“They’ve begun,” groaned Anne. “The only way to stop them is to sing
them down. I propose we give the Song to our Guest, for Blue Wolf’s
benefit. Go and drag him into the circle, Ruth. He can’t resist you.”

Three minutes later, the group had formed again around the Camp Fire,
Blue Wolf seated in the circle between Miss Drexal and Ruth. His stoical
countenance seemed actually to soften as he listened to the fresh young
voices of the singers. Persuaded by Ruth, he finally consented to reply
to the song with one of his weird chants. Following it, at his earnest
request, the girls sang several other Camp Fire songs for him, ending
with the inevitable, “Now our Camp Fire’s burning low.”

The last rite, that of extinguishing the fire, having been performed,
the party strolled back in the moonlight to Wohelo Wigwam. The first
light of the morrow would find them up and preparing to leave the shores
of the beautiful little lake, where they had spent many happy and a few
unhappy hours.

“I hate to say good-bye to Vermilion Lake,” sighed Betty, as by common
consent the little band of Camp Fire enthusiasts tarried before the
tents for a last brief session in the moonlight. “I wonder if we’ll ever
see it again after to-morrow.”

“I hope so,” smiled Miss Drexal. “As long as I continue to spend my
summers at Driftwood Heights, you are all welcome to share it with me.
It’s not such a far cry from there to here, you know. Besides, you
mustn’t forget Blue Wolf. He confided to me to-night that you were ‘heap
nice girls,’ and looks forward to being guide for us again sometime.”

“We ought to make him an honorary member of our Camp Fire group,”
suggested Ruth gaily. “I’m going to propose it to him—”

“Not to-night,” cut in Jane. “He has gone to his shack. I saw him when
he went. He didn’t even stop to say good-night, how, ugh, or anything
else.”

“He’s a wise Indian. He knows what’s ahead of him to-morrow,” declared
Anne.

“And so do we,” reminded Miss Drexal slyly. “It’s time for ‘Taps,’
girls. We must make the most of our bough beds while we have them.
To-morrow night will find us sleeping in ordinary four-posters.”

“Just as soon as we get settled in the buckboard to-morrow for our ride
back to Tower, I am going to make you girls decide that the next reunion
is to be held at that incomparable hanging-out place of the Bliss
Family, known as ‘Sweet Water Ranch.’” It was Frances who made this bold
announcement.

“You won’t have a chance to say a word,” warned Sarah. “I shall do all
the talking in favor of Red Rock Ranch, the home of the hospitable
Mannings.”

“Don’t either of you be too sure. You may all find yourselves down in
old Kentuck next summer,” asserted Jane stoutly. “The Pellews are going
to have their chance at entertaining.”

During this lively controversy, Miss Drexal had slipped away from the
would-be entertainers and entered the tents. The mournfully sweet call
of “Lights Out” cut in two a spirited harangue to which Frances had been
moved by Jane’s entering the lists.

“To be continued in the buckboard,” laughed Emmy.

“I name Frances now as the winner,” predicted Marian. “She has the
original gift of gab uncommon strong.”

“But wherever we happen to be next summer, let’s hope that we’ll all be
together,” said Ruth softly.

“United we flourish, divided we languish!” supplied Frances.

Although she spoke in jest, sincere truth underlay her playful words.
Their second summer together had doubly proved to the Equitable Eight
the beauty of that splendid word “Comradeship.”

Where the next summer found them, and how they spent it, will be told in
“The Camp Fire Girls at Sweet Water Ranch.”

                                THE END





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