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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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