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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.


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