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CHAPTER II PLAYGROUND PEACEMAKERS
The pianist had been helped from her cane perch by a grown-up girl, a young school-teacher who led the playground dances and who had run a close race with Sesooā to the rescue; although, as she frankly blurted out now, it was doubtful whether she would have had the courage and skill to stop the runaway in good form, as cleverly as the Camp Fire Girl had done.

It all hinged upon this, as Sally knew, that a black-maned, fifteen or sixteen hands high equine dancer, with a howling piano behind him, presents an infinitely more paralyzing spectacle to the maid, young or old, who has never come to close quarters with a horse in his stable than it would to one who had bridled and unbridled, harnessed and unharnessed him, fed, cared for and petted him intimately—even though the incentive to such laborious care might be partly a decorative one, the reward of another red honor-bead to string upon her Camp Fire Girl’s necklace.

There was one thing to which the orange-smocked maid had not become accustomed, however; that was to sterilizing the flame of her little tongue, lest it should materially hurt anybody, when hot fire was kindled within her from good cause.

“You ought to be shot,” she told the schoolboy driver who had deserted temporarily from the horse’s head; “you ought—ought to be shut up in jail for a month! What sort of stuff have you got in you”—breathlessly—“skedaddling off to a ball game, instead of looking after the cart and piano? Suppose he had killed her?” pointing to the shaken pianist who had sunk upon a bench beneath a beautiful, circular catalpa tree just bursting into flower.

“Oh, Kafoozalem! I didn’t think that old fire-horse would run even if there was a charging battery behind him; he’s as old as Methusaleh,” muttered the boy rather sulkily.

“What! did he once belong to the fire department?” Sesooā was stroking the black mane very gently just now.

“Yes, the city sold him to a livery stable when he got too old to hit the pace with the other horses when a fire alarm was turned in an’ when he was too worn-out to look spry in a hack, the liveryman bargained him back on to the city; now he’s playing the fool carting round a piano for ‘Pop Goes the Weasel!’” The youthful driver snorted between laughter and commiseration.

“Oh! the poor old fellow; perhaps he mistook the singing of the children—it was shrill enough to beat the band—and the popping music behind him for some new-fangled kind of alarm invented since his day; so he just bolted—and danced when he found he couldn’t make it—couldn’t climb the hill dragging the cart and piano, with the pianist playing still! There now! you old hero of a worn-out fire-horse, aren’t you glad you didn’t end your days in disgrace by killing somebody?” cooed the Camp Fire Girl to the aged rebel whose black nose was now nuzzling her waist in friendly fashion.

“Yes, I ought to have stopped playing directly he began to dance,” confessed the girl-musician, “but I simply lost presence of mind. It got on my nerves this morning driving round these poor parts of the city, perched up in front of the cart beside the driver, like an organ-grinder’s wife.”

“Well, you won’t have to do it after this week probably,” comforted the other schoolteacher who led the dances; “the supervisor of playgrounds says that he’s going to station a graphophone on every playground where there isn’t a piano in a schoolhouse close by. You see the playground system is only newly established here in Clevedon and they haven’t got it running very well yet. Hello! Jacob, so your ‘babee’ didn’t get hurt, eh; you’ll have to thank this lady for stopping the horse before he trampled the sand-pile where the tiny children were.” So she addressed the raven-haired small boy in a dingy little hanging blouse of red velvet, whose foreign cries had topped the tumult.

“How old are you, Jacob?” questioned the heroine of the moment, sparing the child and his broken English an attempt at compliance.

Jacob Kominski, Polish Jew, struck a dramatic attitude and blinked at her solemnly.

“‘Old’!” he echoed. “Yes’day I be s-six; next day to-mow-wow I be seven,” speculatively leaning his head to one side; “som’day to-day I’s five—I is all de olds in de world!” passionately.

“Somehow he looks it, doesn’t he?” broke in another girlish voice with a laugh in it and a tender note, too, tender as the dawn, a very morning-glory note, that came well from under the lavender Tam O’Shanter, as the girl in the silken smock frock, the subject of conversation earlier, linked her arm through Sally’s. “Come here, Jacob! Aren’t they ‘cunning,’ these playground children? We used to have such lots of fun with them last year—not here, of course! Oh, Sally, you’re the—bravest—thing!”

“Am I?” breathed Sally, nestling close to the lavender smock; the Glory-girl, as her Camp Fire Sisters had a trick of calling Jessica, was not only the oldest member of their organized circle, not only wore upon the little finger of her left hand the silver fagot ring, symbol of membership—as Sally did upon hers which had caught the horse’s reins—but she was on the verge of attaining higher rank in her society, of becoming a “Fire Maker”; in a word, she was regarded as the flower, not in name alone, of the Morning-Glory Camp Fire, the tribe that was her namesake, in a way.

“Oh! yes, indeed, you were very brave. However did you screw up courage to do it, to run beside the cart and catch the horse’s head? I’d have been afraid of being knocked down—trampled!”

“So would I! And I! Or of having the cart go over me!” Such was the duet of applause which followed on the heels of Jessica’s praise from still two other pairs of girlish lips; namely from the two girls in white who had been seated in the automobile against whom the little spitfire flame of Sally’s tongue had been launched, a little while ago, when she scathingly pronounced them “all fluff and stuff!”

The nobler flame which had burned in her during her late heroic act had altogether consumed petty jealousies and criticisms for the time being; she took their congratulations well and gratefully, while Arline, her dearest chum and Camp Fire Sister with whom she had exchanged memories under the Twins, fondled her upon the side that was not in possession of Jessica.

“The pianist is braver than I was, for, see there! she’s going to mount the cart and play again,” suggested Sesooā presently, growing a little tired of being “fussed over.” “She is gritty, if you like it!”

“So she is!” acquiesced the older of the two Deering girls who owned the luxurious motorcar in waiting upon the playground avenue; her name was Olive; to the unprejudiced eye she did not seem to be composed of super-light and “fluffy” stuff; at sixteen and a half, nearly the same age as Jessica, she was already a beauty, from the glossy, ringlet curl—as black as Jacob Kominski’s locks, but so silkily fine that it did not seem to belong to the same category of human hair—tucked behind her small ear, to the toe of her seven-dollar shoe. “And it must be so perfectly horrid driving round in front of that piano and cart!” added Olive of the blue-black curl, throwing a glance at the mounting pianist from her dark, girlishly dreamy, Southern eyes.

“You may be sure she doesn’t play organ-grinder for fun!” laughed Arline. “She’s a young school-teacher who has to support her mother, so the playground teacher who leads the dances says, and she adds to her salary by playing for the children’s singing games and folk-dances during the playground season. Now! if only one girl who’s a member of our Camp Fire were here—Ruth Marley, who aims at a musical career and plays for our Camp Fire songs and dances, how nicely she could help her out by mounting the cart and pounding away at ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ (I wonder if they’re going to begin that again?) instead of her.”

“Tooraloo! Somebody seems to be beginning something—stirring up a new fuss—over there!” suddenly suggested Sally, who was preening her orange and black plumage, anxiously smoothing it to make sure there was no mark where the penitent old fire-horse had caressed her. “Goody! what’s up now: a battle, an earthquake—or merely somebody drowning in that two-foot-and-a-half-deep bathing pool—or some other playground trifle?”

“It’s a—a fight, I think” quavered a new voice whose staid quality dripped sedately upon the laughing girlish sarcasm.

“A fight! A fight between two boys—two small boys! Where is it? Over there—d’you see—at the foot of the giant stride—beyond those seesawing teeter-ladders!” All the five maidens in summer Tams and Panamas were breathlessly exclaiming together, now, directing their gaze across half-an-acre of playground at a piece of athletic apparatus glittering rather like a tall steel gibbet against the blue and white sky, up whose skeleton ladders juvenile athletes were one by one climbing to try their prowess at sliding or jumping down; at the foot of this “giant stride” a ring of boys, with even one or two men among them, had sprung up as mysteriously as the growth of corn on a hot night.

“Yes, I’m sure it’s a fight between some of the playground children,” said the sedate voice again, coming from the middle-aged woman who had sat in the automobile with the two Deering girls before the escapade of the horse, whom Olive and Sybil—yes, and Jessica Holley, too—called Cousin Anne.

“A quarrel between two little boys who are pommeling each other black and blue, I suppose,” she went on with tremulous anxiety. “Where—where’s the playground teacher?”

“The one who leads the dances is comforting the shaken pianist before she begins to play again—telling the driver to move the cart and piano to a shady spot. Her back’s turned,” gasped Arline.

“Never mind! If it’s a fight between two little boys, I guess I can stop it—these foreign children, some of them, are dreadful for quarreling—I’ve settled playground fights before,” broke in a sudden, quivering cry from Morning-Glory, whose Indian name was Welatáwesit.

“Now, maybe, she’ll be pommeled herself; they may rain blows on her if she gets between them!” wailed Olive in a tone which showed her fondness for Jessica.

“Yes, and it seems so—so low-down to mix all up in a squealing fight between two dirty little foreigners!” Sybil Deering, two years younger than her sister, and rather fluffy in appearance from her present, superficial pout to her loose, light hair and diaphanous frills, wrinkled up a pert little nose that was inclined to point toward Heaven.

“Well! what would you have her do?” challenged Sesooā rather savagely; “let them fight on, until their eyes are all ‘bunged up’ and you could hardly tell their faces from a rubber ball, smeared with red paint, eh? There’s no fear of her!” Sally nodded toward the back of the lavender, flower-like figure making toward that mushroom ring of human applaudists which a fight, or the rumor of a fight, can collect quicker than anything else on this mortal earth. “You needn’t worry about her; she has received an honor for patriotism—a red, white, and blue honor-bead—for work she did on a public playground last year. I’m off to back her up!”

And Sesooā, again the orange-smocked flame, started in the wake of the lavender patriot, Arline, too, asking questions as they sped over the grass of a seven-year-old American boy who was not quite so keen about the pugilistic display as his companions.

“It’s Polie an’ Lithuish,” he not very lucidly explained. “Lithuish he was trying to climb the steel ladder of the ‘stride,’” pointing toward that giant piece of the apparatus of play. “Polie he pulled him down, an’ trod on his toe an’ Lithuish went for him. I guess the Polander boy, he’s the strongest; he’s got ‘Lithie’ down once a’ready!”

He had thrown him again as the girlish patriot in the lavender smock saw, when she darted through the loose ring of older boys, swelled by a bored loafer or two, arrived at so-called man’s estate, who were enjoying the fight and telling them to “Go to it!”

Pole and Lithuanian, sprigs of neighboring foreign races, dwelling next to each other in Europe, they were fighting like small wild things, tooth and claw! Polie of the flashing dark eyes, red lips and round seal-brown head had the better of it; he had flung the taller, fair Lithuanian boy into a bed of flowering canna, where his bleeding nose sowed an extra crop of ruddy blossoms.

“Oh! stop it!” cried the Morning-Glory chokingly, laying hold on Polie’s uplifted arm—although the spectacle was much more savage than she had dreamt of—and hanging on bravely, even, while he launched a sturdy nine-year-old kick at her white skirt and lavender ankle. “Oh! you older boys ought to be ashamed of yourselves—egging them on! Can’t—can’t somebody—stop—it?” for the blue-eyed Lithuanian boy was on his feet again, gory but unconquered.

“Well! I guess somebody will, little lady,” boomed a great voice behind her. “I’d have bore down upon this ‘scrap’ sooner, but for a busted spar!”

The Morning-Glory turned and looked up into a massive face which—thought being very nimble in moments like these—she silently likened all in one gasping instant to two words from a Camp Fire song: “Sheltering Flame!” It was tanned, weathered, and reddened to the florid hue of a red sunset, showing a narrow sky-line of blue, radiating protection, that corresponded to an eye-line.

From that sea-blue eye the girl’s glance involuntarily darted downward to the “busted spar,” a lame pillar of a right leg whose limp was painfully visible even as the newcomer took three hasty strides forward and dropped a powerful hand upon a shoulder of each of the small boys, holding them wide apart in a grip that they might as well try to lift a lighthouse as to break.

The stranger caught her glance and smiled. “Oh! it’s mended now, that damaged spar,” he said, answering her look; “and ’tisn’t a recent injury, anyway. Here, now! You two hop-o’-my-thumb rascals”—shaking the belligerents—“you ease off there an’ don’t get fiery again or, by my word, you’ll both march off this playground to the taste o’ the stick—sore and strong—see?”

There was nothing for them to do but to “see”—see reason—held in that mighty grip. Under a few scathing words from this peacemaker, who was physically, at any rate, a man of weight, for he must have tipped the scale at over two hundred pounds and was ruggedly tall, the ring of applauders melted away into the sunshine like an untimely frost.

“I wish I could ha’ got my hands on them at the same time and given ’em a shaking,” blurted out the flaming peacemaker. “Egging little chaps like these two on!” his gaze traveling back and forth between Polie’s swelling black eye and the nose of Lithuish. “Gosh! they did go at it hard, for young uns. But ’twas only a little sketch of a fight.”

“‘Sketch’? I should call it a—a sanguinary picture,” gasped the girl with a half-hysterical little laugh, pointing to the pug-nose of Lithuish.

“Good for you!” The stranger dropped a smiling look on her from under his bushy, gray eyebrows, pleased at her ready wit. “Well! I guess you can go back to your own folks now with an easy mind,” he suggested. “I’ll keep these butting kids in order,” with a roving glance at the waiting automobile and the group under the fragrant catalpa tree.

“Here’s a playground teacher coming, too,” said Morning-Glory, as a brawny young man, in a dripping khaki shirt and trousers that rained diamonds, approached, hugging a great, wet, white ball. “He’s been away over there evidently teaching some of the children to play water-polo in that shallow bathing-pool.”

She pointed to a broad, artificial sheet of water fed by city hydrants, with a rainbowed fountain in the center.

“Gee whiz! they’d need a score o’ teachers here to direct all these children’s play—it’s a large an’ crowded playground,” remarked the captor of Polie and Lithuish, now interposing his massive body between them. “An’ great kingdom!”—looking around him with a gust of laughter—“there’s more foreign spice on this playground than ever old King Solomon collected in his ships from the four quarters of the earth.”

“You mean that these little foreigners have lots of hot ‘pep’ in them, eh?” flashed Sally, who had just come up, liking to air a little slang.

“Sure, that’s what I do mean!” The lame peacemaker lifted a nautical-looking cap from his grizzled hair in fatherly farewell to the girls as they moved off. “So long!” he said kindly. “Maybe we’ll run across each other again.”

“Maybe we will!” Morning-Glory, otherwise Jessica, threw him a backward smile over her lavender shoulder. “I’m sure he’s a sea-captain—or was,” she said, retracing her way toward the catalpa tree between Sally and Arline. “I’m interested in sea-captains because my great-grandfather was one; I have a little old miniature of him painted on ivory which belonged to Mother; she—she left it to me,” with a catch of the breath. “He has brown hair an’ bluish eyes the color of mine; somewhere about seventy or eighty years ago he commanded a big ship and sailed out of Newburyport—the only Newburyport in the United States.... Oh, if only he could be alive now, then I’d really belong to somebody, not just be thrust on to people who aren’t any relatives at all, no matter how kind they are!” she added under her breath—so low that neither Sally nor Arline heard—with a passionate quiver of the lip and a glance at the Deering automobile flashing in gray and silver, with a faultless chauffeur on the front seat.

“Well! I’m a Camp Fire Girl, anyway.” So she silently caught herself up with a return of the morning-glory look, slightly bedewed. “And ‘Whoso standeth by that Fire, flame-fanned, shall never stand alone!’ What! that plucky pianist is really beginning on ‘Pop Goes the Weasel’ again,” she exclaimed, as renewed strains from the elevated piano floated over the playground.

“Let us hope the weasel will pop to a finish this time!” laughed Arline, as they reached the catalpa tree and stood once more, grouped with Olive, Sybil, and their chaperoning cousin, under its fanning, heart-shaped leaves. “Now! I wonder to what nationality that little girl in the coarse gray frock belongs?” went on the Rainbow, sweeping with her glance the sets of skipping children again being marshaled for the folk-dance.

“Do you mean the one with the big, patient, purple eyes—eyes like a wood anemone?” asked Jessica; she who had taken for her Camp Fire name a climbing flower loved flowers of all kinds, especially wild ones.

“Yes, and with a toe sticking out through her old shoe! And she can’t keep her mouth shut, although, apparently, no words come from it. I do believe it was her queer croaking gasps that I heard with the foreign babel and the shrill ‘Oh’s’ and ‘Ah’s’ of all the other children, when I ran to stop the horse!” bleated Sally.

“I wonder if there’s anything wrong with her; whether she’s—what-d’you-call-it—defective in any way?” came in languid speculation from Olive.

“Girls!” Cousin Anne sadly settled the question. “I believe she’s deaf and dumb.”

“Deaf and dumb! That explains her. Oh, poor tot!” The Morning-Glory, whose dance-loving feet had been keeping time to the popping music, unrhythmically swung one of them off at a sharp angle, as if a rude pebble had struck her ankle in its silken stocking, hurting it more than Polie’s kick. “Deaf and dumb! Then she can’t hear the music. And she’s so awkward, moves so slowly and clumsily, that the other children don’t want to dance with her!.... Oh! she almost makes one cry.” Jessica brushed the blue-gray eyes that, according to her, resembled her ancestor’s in the old miniature. “See her standing still in the middle of the fun, plucking at the gathers of her gray frock, looking up at the other children, trying to find out what they’re going to do next!”

“Yes, and one of those other children will take her hand as a partner when the teacher insists, then drop it directly she looks the other way! They don’t want to dance with her silent tongue and old, broken shoes,” said Olive Deering.

“Then I’m going to dance with her, if the teacher will let me. We’ll form a set of our own, we two, if we can’t fit in anywhere! You don’t mind keeping the auto waiting a little longer, do you, Cousin Anne?”

The last words were flashed back over Jessica’s smocked shoulder, with a tremulous tilt of her upper lip that hung between a laugh and a sob. Already she was mingling with the juvenile dancers, a tall purple and white Morning-Glory amid that garden of racial buds, of little children from every clime.

The dumb child’s hand was in hers, after a few low words to the playground teacher, who abstracted one odd child from the nearest set and installed the new couple in her place. Jessica’s foot in its patent-leather pump and lilac stocking was thrust forth side by side with the rusty, out-at-toe footwear, the Morning-Glory swaying upon its inner tendril, the yearning tendril of Love, teaching the grey, cramped bud beside her to sway and step—to glide and pirouette—too.

The glide was only a clumsy shuffle. But there grew a light in the dumb child’s eyes, those eyes of purple patience, so that those who watched its dawning flicker from under the catalpa tree felt their throats tickle.

It did not go out with the final popping of the long-suffering weasel. For, now, the pianist, quite herself again, had struck up the gay, frolicking music of a Vineyard Dance. And side by side those mismatched partners, the seventeen-year-old Camp Fire Girl, the eight-year-old deaf-mute, were scampering through it, enacting all the vineyard drama of growth,—Jessica by dumb show instructing, after a fashion, the child at her side.

Hand in hand they knelt on one knee on the playground grass, making gay pretense of planting grape-seeds in the warm ground. Step by step—stamp, stamp, stamp!—they circled round, with arms uplifted, with groping fingers plucking counterfeit grapes of sunshine from imaginary vines, that violet light growing in the dumb child’s eyes, while she strove to ape each gesture and movement of her companion, as if—transfigured—she peeped through the gates ajar of fairy-land, had her first real glimpse of the joy of childhood.

Suddenly, her feet lagged; she dragged upon Jessica’s hand. She stood still. Her big eyes were uplifted to the white cloud-foam drifting across the blue sea of the July sky. Then they dropped wonderingly to her partner’s face.

“Look! Look! Look!” cried Arline with a frank, glad sob. “I verily believe she thinks Heaven is short an angel to-day, one having dropped down from the clouds, especially to dance with her!”



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