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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.


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