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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Girls of the Morning-Glory Camp Fire » CHAPTER VI THE GREEN CROSS
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The next minute she knew.

The splashing cries which came from the feathered edges of the bathing-pool rushed toward her like a great water-wave tipped with foreign foam, about which there was nothing articulate until, presently, the spray of one clear shriek was tossed up: “’Becca! Rebecca!”

The Morning-Glory’s face was a very white flower now, all crumpled by fear, as was the flattened parcel she hugged, the parcel that was to have worked a metamorphosis.

“’Becca she—she go down, stay down, under de water. She haf eat de green apple—she sick—she down under de water—she not come up—eugh!” So the spray-like shriek spread itself out into a cloud of words as a little French girl of six or seven in a bathing-suit came flying, wild-eyed, toward the one tall figure she saw, the girl with shiny blue glass buttons on her blouse, who frantically hugged a small parcel.

“Where? Where? Show me where!” The figure dropped the parcel with a scream and seized the hand of the newsbearer. “Show me where!”

Down into the feathery ripples—the tiny ripples that broke so gently upon their earthy rim as if protesting that their shallow innocence couldn’t do any harm—they went together, barelegged child and skirted girl who didn’t even wait to toss off a shoe.

“’Becca she canno’ speak—no’ cry, like me—jus’ ketch her ‘tummy’ an’ fall—no’ come up!” The raving child vivaciously illustrated her meaning by pounding with a wet left fist upon her own little rounded stomach, rather full of unripe apples, too.

“Where? Where?” was all the girl could say. “Drowning! She must be drowning in two or three feet of water—lying on the bottom of the bathing-pool!” raged her thought, storming like a thunderclap in her ears.

The sheet-like pool was wide and wan, covering half an acre, no depth of color anywhere, except where the brilliant afternoon sun created an island sunburst in the water around the fountain and where near the pool’s edge it showed topsy-turvy, moving pictures, pink and yellow, of children standing or promenading on their heads, as if in fear.

Jessica’s agonized promenade was short and splashing. Now the water rose above her knees as she dragged herself and her clothing through it! “Where? Where?” was still all her seemingly water-logged tongue could say.

“I’ll t’ink some dere—dere she’ll go down,—’Becca!” answered, at last, the pluckily wading, little French child, who clung to her right hand, pointing to a rainbow-shaft from the fountain leveled downward, too, like an exploring finger.

And there the rainbow and Jessica found her—at the burnished point to which she in her dumb play had waded forth through two feet and a half of water to catch that rainbow—lying all dressed in the old grey frock and broken footwear beneath the island sunburst of the fountain.

Here the girl, looking down, saw a dark spot, a hair-fringed mound upon the pool’s bottom, barely covered by a glassy inch or two of ripples—head submerged!

With a choking cry she stooped and dragged it up, lifted it. She was strong and athletic for her seventeen years, but her whole girlish framework rocked and shuddered, almost collapsed, as she did so, bowed by an unexpected gust of weight.

The dumb child was eight years old, stout and chunky; now, unconscious, clogged by the leaden weight of water in her little clothing, swamped by green fruit, she would have made a taxing burden for a man.

“Father—Father in Heaven, give me strength—help me—strength to carry her out of the pool! Strength, Father—strength!”

Half-aloud, irrepressibly, the cry that ever comes first in dire need rocked between the young girl’s parted, gasping lips—she rocking with it, to the roots, like a sapling in flood.

The childish mound of weight and water sank again until it touched the glassy ripples, seeming as if it dragged her very flesh with it, while the French child, submerged to her wallowing armpits, moaned beside her.

Then the round, strained arm that flashed with the silver of the Fire Maker’s bracelet, aided by its fellow, managed, somehow, to gather up that leaden weight again, to hold it above the thin sheet of water, to start with it, staggering toward the earthen bank.

“Is she drowned—dead? How long did she lie there? How far can I carry her?” The questions spun like a water-worked wheel in Jessica’s brain, grinding out each staggering step. “Oh! isn’t it horrible? And we were going to dress her up! The frock I made her! Green apples! Cramp!... Oh, I’m letting her down! It’s too much. I—c-can’t!”

The girl’s dizzy gaze swam before her to the bank. She saw the catalpa tree—a hundred miles off! She saw strange, steely shapes of playground apparatus on another continent, as it were. Dimly she beheld the forms of other girls, her companions, who had come with her, wading through the light, crisp feathers of water to her help.

Then she saw something else. She heard a shout. Down the playground slope to the innocent looking pool’s edge, like an arrow launched from nowhere, tore a brown figure, coming at the rate of a hundred yards to a dozen seconds.

It was a knightly figure, tall, slimly erect, with green and red stripes, together with many rich, quivering points of color flashing in an embroidered jumble upon its right sleeve, the highest color-point green that gleamed like an emerald eye against a blood-red background as the flying water hit it.

And where she wore the silver of rank upon her braceleted arm, tortured in a half-fainting effort to struggle onward with her dripping burden, it showed a kindred gleam of silver in the eagle drooping from a red, white, and blue ribbon on its left breast.

“Hang on, just a second! Hold up—I’ll take her!” It seemed to be the American Eagle, dangling from the tricolored ribbon, that screamed the encouragement.

Another second, and the arm that wore the Fire Maker’s bracelet, typical of the fire at the heart that waters could not quench, had yielded its unconscious burden—swamping cargo of green apples and all—to that stronger right arm with the dancing specks of color upon the sleeve.

“Do you know how long she’s been under water? One of the children just told me what was going on here!” panted the newcomer with the silver eagle on his breast as he laid poor little Rebecca, silent forever, as it seemed, face downward, upon the nearest patch of playground grass where the sunbeams mocked her wet, weed-like hair and the broken old shoes, as full of water, now, as she was herself.

“I don’t know how long she lay there—on the bottom of the pool.” Involuntarily Jessica pressed her left hand to her heart which was doing strange “stunts,” while with her right she helped the tired French child to the bank.

“And I don’t know whether there’s life in her still or not!” The lad in khaki had breathlessly flung his broad, olive-green hat upon the grass and was stretching Rebecca’s limp arms out on either side of her head, not a quiver of which gave token that the torch of her dumb existence was still alight in some covert corner of her dripping body. He looked up at the other four girls, Jessica’s companions, who, wet about the ankles, were hovering, pale-faced, near. “One or two of you had better run to the nearest pay-station and telephone for a doctor,” he gasped, “if there isn’t a doctor’s office near. We may not be able to bring her to! It may take the pulmotor—I could use that if we had it. Turn her face a little to one side, so that she can get the air!” This to his fellow-worker, Jessica, who obeyed, her breath hissing between her teeth in long, shivering, yearning gasps.

“Who’d ever have thought of any child drowning in that toy pool—two feet an’ a half of water at deepest?” groaned the lad as he knelt astride of the prostrate little figure, now looking haggard and horrified.

“Two feet and a half of water—and green apples!” Jessica corrected him.

His hands were quickly finding the spaces between the rigid little limbs. Alternately he pressed with all the weight of his strong young shoulders upon them, then relaxed, setting up a bellows-like motion to expel the playground pool—as much of it as ’Becca had swallowed—from her air-passages and draw in fresh air.

“Could you get at my watch in my vest pocket and time this?”

Jessica obeyed.

“Two of the girls have gone to find a doctor,” she said, glancing at the disappearing forms of Sally and Betty. “Keep away; we mustn’t get too near”—this to the other two—“we mustn’t take the air from her.”

“You know something about first aid then; are you timing this work? It ought to be about a dozen strokes to a minute.” The bestriding lad directed his question to the first rescuer—the girl-rescuer—by the motion of an eyelid, the while his strong hands, tanned to the color of his khaki uniform, rose and fell rhythmically upon the framework of ’Becca’s dumb little heart, he trying so hard to breathe for her through those brown hands, to force artificial respiration.

The silver swooping eagle above his heaving heart shook and palpitated with his efforts.

A redness grew under his eyes, as under Jessica’s, where horror and anxiety laid their congesting fingers.

But the many rich points of color upon his khaki sleeve, yellow, green, red, white, each of them a little embroidered design in silk, mingled their merits with the sunbeams which wove of them a rich arabesque that flashed and played beneath the most noticeable of the badges, the emerald eye against a blood-red background which shone, green as hope, when he took the little victim of the bathing-pool from Jessica’s arms.

No peering eye, indeed, this merit badge, but the green cross of the first aid, awarded for proficiency in succor, hopeful still upon its red ground, enclosed in a green circle.

Suddenly that verdant hope of which it spoke blossomed! It thrilled and rioted through Jessica.

“Oh! perhaps we sha’n’t need a doctor—or the pulmotor. I saw her eyelids quiver. She may not have been three minutes under water.” The timing watch in the girl’s hand shook. “Keep off the other children, Olive—Arline—don’t let them get near, to draw the oxygen from her!”

Yes, slowly the breath of life was wavering back into its dumb tabernacle: through ’Becca’s blue, swollen lips came a slow, uncertain shiver, drawn from the hands working upon her, a quivering gasp.

“Oh! can’t I rub her a little now, toward the heart—to start it up—I know just how; I have a Red Cross diploma for first aid—I’m a Camp Fire Girl!” The sobbing, gurgling exclamation burst from Jessica; on the heels of the sob came a little whistling, thrush-like note like the beginning of a song, a song of succor.

“Yes, I think you might—now—while I ‘piece in’ her breathing.”

“Here, Olive, you hold the watch; it isn’t so important to time the pressures any more; she’s coming round—coming round all right!”

With the timepiece upon her palm ticking little Rebecca’s life back, measuring the intervals between her reviving gasps, Olive stood and watched.

Golden lad! Dripping girl, a year his junior! Camp Fire Girl! Eagle Scout! Together they worked and rubbed. And life, kindly life, so reluctant to quit even a dumb tabernacle, answered their call, stealing upon slow wings of returning circulation through the silent child’s body.

Suddenly the timepiece trembled in the hand that held it. That of which Olive had spoken in the library as swelling up so big in her at times; the nameless tide of a young girl’s ideals, of her rapture at beauty, her adoration of the Father’s Presence she saw in it, her dim drawings toward service and hero-worship; that impulsive tide rose so high in her now that it had to find a temporary outlet in the tears of agitation and relief stealing down her cheeks.

Only a temporary one! Olive had groped girlishly to find a channel of self-expression for that tide; she had tried to let it ooze out of her in rhyming, to work it off in painting—or attempts thereat.

But here she was quivering from head to foot with the sudden discovery that in the living picture before her, the prostrate child and those two kneeling figures upon the playground grass, there was something nobler than pen or paint-brush could depict, the highest form of self-expression.

And her heart surging up within her vaguely named that picture, “Succor.”

Succor was in the healing warmth of the sunlight that, now again, made its brightness felt.

Succor seemed waving its wings among the branches of the near-by willow-tree that brooded over the scene—not one helpless wing, but two: the Will to help and the trained Ability to do it.

Three hours later two girls sat one on each side of a cot in the children’s ward of a city hospital. Things had happened in the meantime. A doctor had arrived in an automobile and after some gentle soundings and poundings of ’Becca’s anatomy to locate the undigested fruit that swamped her, had carried her off to the hospital, declaring that her after treatment was important.

The after treatment she was receiving now was in the shape of a big waxen queen doll from Olive, a creature that could mechanically call upon its royal parents by the titles of “Papa” and “Mamma,” as its little human owner couldn’t.

“It seemed too bad that she shouldn’t have some present, seeing that we couldn’t dress her up to-day—or for many days to come,” remarked Olive Deering, looking across at Jessica who was holding the dumb child’s stubby little fingers. “I wish we knew the name of the Boy Scout who helped you to save her!”

“’Twas I who helped him; he worked over her until he brought her to. He was an Eagle Scout, too, the highest rank among the Scouts.”

“Think of it!”

“All those little colored designs embroidered on his sleeve were his twenty-one merit badges.”

Silence for a few minutes while ’Becca’s right hand fondled the doll.

“Glory!” In a low and thrilling voice Olive broke the stillness of the ward where most of the children slept, calling the other girl by the pet name of her childhood. “Glory! the ladder has dipped once for all toward the Sugarloaf; no, I don’t mean that; I mean that the Sugarloaf and Camp Morning-Glory and camping out with the girls of the Morning-Glory Camp Fire are all on top for me—and for Sybil, too, if I can make her; the hotel is nowhere!”

“Do you really mean it, that you want to become a Camp Fire Girl at last?”

“I want to do something worth while!” Olive’s lip quivered; she spoke passionately. “I want to do something with—with spice in it! I felt that, to-day, when I saw you working to bring ’Becca round—you and that boy.... I want to dance the Leaf Dance and, maybe, to inflict my rhymes on other girls without their laughing at me,” emotion dwindling down to laughter.

“But perhaps your father will wish you to go to that hotel, Sybil and you, with Cousin Anne.”

“Father, no! He approves of the Camp Fire movement; I’ve heard him say so. He thinks with Captain Andy”—laughingly—“that it’s a pretty good incubator for the growth of new wing-feathers—unusual power to do things.”

“Or power to do unusual things, eh?”

“Either will answer! I’m sure Cousin Anne would be delighted to get off on her own hook this summer, without any of us girls. And ’twill be lots better for Sybil than going to an hotel and lording it over half-a-dozen boys, whose parents are staying there, and who wait on her all the time—fight over her, maybe, as two of them did, last year—because they think she’s fairy-like and pretty.” There was a look of her beautiful mother in Olive’s eyes now.

“As for me, I’ve quite made up my mind; I’m not going to lose my hoot through not using it, like that poor old straw-eyed owl,” wound up the Camp Fire recruit. “I don’t care”—rising to a dramatic outburst—“if there should be a dozen tingling Penelopes and half-a-dozen witchetty nieces of Captain Andy’s, each with a pig for a pupil, in the camp, I’ll—what is it you say—I’ll ‘cleave to my Camp Fire Sisters whenever, wherever I find them!’”

Half laughing, half crying, she stretched her hand across the cot. Jessica grasped it. The pledge of sisterhood was made and ratified upon the heart of a dumb child.


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