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CHAPTER IX WOOD GATHERERS AMONG THE DUNES
“Hullo! Maidens, have all the braves gone hunting?” Thus boomed Menokigábo, known before he entered upon this Sugarloaf life of glamor at the beck of a dozen Camp Fire Girls as Captain Andy and at the rooms of the Master Mariners’ Association as Captain Andrew Davis. “All the braves gone a-hunting, eh?”

“No braves around this camp except you, Capt’n Andy!” One or two of the answering voices sounded the least trifle disconsolate—or wistful.

So far as supplying the male element went, Captain Andy was massive, but not a mass!

His admiration, however, of the sunset picture upon the beach before him could hardly have been outdone by any male mass, juvenile or adult.

“My! but you Camp Fire Girls do make the world look ‘gallus,’” he burst forth in seaman’s phraseology.

“What does that mean?” Ten voices rose together in asking this question.

“Royal-looking.”

“Oh! goody! he says we look royal; we’re princesses, Indian princesses, for this evening.” Morning-Glory strutted along the flushed sands in all her fringed and beaded bravery of ceremonial attire, beaming like the purple and white morning-glory in her head-band as if she had never known a lonely moment.

“But where are the bows an’ arrows, maidens? Why! you haven’t even got a harpoon among you, in case a school of blackfish should come in,” bantered Menokigábo, named for his stature “Standing Tall,” named by the maidens, in jest, as they told him, so that he might fit in with the general atmosphere of their camp.

“We’ll bring the bows and arrows next time we come,” answered Gheezies, the Guardian of the Camp Fire tribe, with the yellow sun embroidered on her bosom, this being the meaning of her name and her own particular symbol as it was the general emblem of all Camp Fire tribes.

She was standing by a budding camp fire which had just begun to blossom in a nest of rocks upon the beach, eclipsed by the sun’s fading splendors.

Scattered around her were her maidens, all in ceremonial dress, with their long braids hanging, head-bands gleaming, moccasined feet spurning the sands in an evening ecstasy of dressing up. Daughters of the Sun! Children of Camp Morning-Glory! What wonder that the old sea-dog said they made the world look “royal.”

“Hullo! see, I’ve got the Kullibígan all ready.” He pointed to a foot-long top of spinning dimensions and silvery lustre in his hand. “’Tain’t painted yet, but I guess that won’t lessen the magic—’twill answer all your questions by an’ by just as well.”

“I’m going to paint it all over with symbols to-morrow,” burst forth Jessica, touching the carefully polished wood. “I’m going to paint the emblem of our Morning-Glory Camp Fire which is an ocean sunrise—the dawn coming up like a foam-chicken, as Captain Andy—I mean Menokigábo—says, and my own symbol, a morning-glory flower and all the symbols of my Camp Fire Sisters that I can crowd on to it.”

“Great guns! ’twill surely be ‘some top’ then,” ejaculated old “Standing Tall,” looming massive against the waning sunlight. “Why! Kitty.”

Some one had come sliding pell-mell down the nearest sand-peak and reaching him in a rush, flung her arms around him, or tried to. Well might he exclaim!

Kitty, not in Indian dress, although her hair hung in two chestnut braids down her back! But a Kitty in olive-green bloomers silvered with sand! Kitty in a middy blouse too large for her—her sleeves rolled up—with the brightest dancing eyes and a delicate pink flush burnishing the gold of the freckles on her cheeks!

“Don’t tell Mary-Jane Peg,” implored Kitty, quaintly, looking down at her bloomers; “she’d be shocked.”

“Oh, land!” The captain simply roared.

“Sybil lent me these—wasn’t it good of her?” The Doomed One thrust forward one bloomered leg, into whose bagginess her orchard scares had evidently run to hide and had lost themselves. “Sally lent me the blouse,” glancing at her companion, in ceremonial dress, who had slid down the sand-hill with her, and whose arms were full of fuel gathered among the dunes, dead, silvery limbs of juniper, with driftwood and wreckwood. “Oh, Uncle Andy, I’m having such a good time! I’ve made up my mind that I want to be a Camp Fire Girl; you can order the dress an’—an’ fixin’s for me any time you want to!” saucily.

“Good life! can I? You jumped to it pretty quickly, didn’t you?” as if he were addressing the dancing minnow in Kitty’s eyes.

“It’s not surprising that she should swallow the new bait so quickly,” he muttered in an aside to the Guardian of the Camp Fire whose tender eyes rested upon this new recruit’s transformed face. “There are no children in the two families living nearest to her father’s old-fashioned farmhouse with the gambrel roof and T-shaped chimney. And those that she went to school with she didn’t take to—though she ought to have been forced to do so—these girls have made her take to them; they’ve burned up her shyness, somehow.”

“Kitty is learning that ‘it is the discovery of ourselves outside ourselves which makes us glad,’” quoted Gheezies the gracious Guardian, with the little feathery rings of grey hair, light as thistle-fluff among her dark locks, playing about her pearly head-band. “She sees herself reflected in each one of these girls with whom she has come in contact under circumstances novel enough to open her eyes to the reflection and already she’s a new Kitty. Already she’s sharing the team spirit, the joy of doing things together!” looking down on the slender, withered arms of juniper which Kitty had been gathering, too, among the sand-hills and had flung down in her rush upon her great-uncle.

Not one frowning face left a mote on that shining mirror of girlhood in which Kitty saw her own heart, its natural aims and desires, not Penelope’s even; Penelope had been rather quiet ever since she hid her laugh, her graceless tongue and flaming cheeks in the water.

“I’m going up among the dunes to gather some more wood,” she announced now. “We haven’t nearly enough to make a good fire to cook our supper and have it burn on and on in a jolly Council Fire afterward,” looking at the wigwam-like heap of fuel already piled upon the sands.

“Lovely!” responded Olive, meaning the idea, not the setter-forth thereof, although Penelope looked a very different Pen from the gaudy tomboy of the gate; no human hurricane could be a hurricane in ceremonial dress; there was a poetry about the leather fringes, the soft hue of the brown khaki, the shimmering head-band and embroidered moccasins which chastened the commonness of Penny’s speech.

To-night her clothes did not “talk” to you afar off; they thrilled you with a sense of some romance recovered which the world had lost a while.

And no setting for them could have been more perfect than the white beach and sand-hills, gleaming like lesser Alps, of the Sugarloaf Peninsula, flushed pink by the sunset.

“Oh! isn’t it all too beautiful?” breathed Olive who had a chord in her heart that vibrated with a joy as of heaven to Nature’s beauty, as she linked her fringed arm through Penelope’s, feeling a twinge of regret for the silent rebuff which the latter’s rude tongue had brought upon her earlier in the day; this feeling it was which prompted Olive to be her wood-gathering companion now, in collecting juniper and driftage from among the burnished dunes.

She might have had a worse companion than Penelope, for the tingling Penny, though her junior, was much the better climber of the two, and it was toilsome work, ploughing up well-nigh perpendicular sand-peaks, sometimes, through a jungle of vegetation that snared one’s every step.

“Don’t get into that thatch-grass, Cask!” warned Penelope; “I did the other day and was bitten by a thatch-spider; it poisoned me something aw-ful!”

“Spiders! Thatch-spiders! Ugh-h.” Olive shuddered at the rank dull-green thatch of one sand-hill, whose ungainliness seemed to have something in common with Penelope’s speech. “You don’t pronounce my Camp Fire name properly,” she said after a minute during which she had given the spider-breeding thatch-grass a wide berth. “You call me ‘Cask’: the a ought to be longer and softer in Kask; that’s the Indian for Blue Heron, the Penobscot Indian.”

“I think it’s a star name, Cask,” murmured Penelope, giving the title exactly the same intonation as before. “And you’ve got your symbolic name nailed onto you all right, Olive, because you’ve already been initiated as a Wood Gatherer and taken rank among the Camp Fire Girls,” glancing at the fagot ring on Olive’s little finger. “I haven’t; I’m only on probation, although they don’t ‘stump’ from wearing the ceremonial dress and being called by the Indian name that I’ve chosen: Awatawéssu; that’s Penobscot, too.”

The poetry of the name which even Pen’s pronunciation could not mar was so at variance with Penelope’s slangy speech that the Blue Heron, poised on a white sand-peak, her fringed arms outspread in their loose sleeves, as if she were about to take wing through the joy-filled universe, had to laugh.

“Oh! Penny, you’re too funny,” she said. “Yours is really a star name,” dreamily, “for it means ‘a star,’ doesn’t it?”

“Yes, getting down to bed-rock, as the boys say, it means ‘A creature far above!’” Suddenly the younger girl’s mood changed. Her moccasined foot kicked the fine sand into the air as if she were starting it off on a rainbowed quest to find the Star, her namesake, along a climbing trail where she knew she would find it hard to follow. “A—Creature—Far—Above!” she repeated slowly. “I guess that’s what I need to be! Since—since I’ve taken that name”—scarcely above a whisper—“I feel, somehow, low-down, because I’m always ‘putting my foot in it’; I did this morning, laughing at that little orchard Kitty directly she got here. An’ I’m too slangy. Mother doesn’t hear me, you know, or she’d correct me.... And there’s so much to be done for the boys, where a girl has three brothers younger than herself, that it didn’t seem to matter how I spoke—or much what I wore—so long’s I could get things—done.”

A silvery star peeping out as the sun declined, peering down at the sand-hills, saw her namesake’s eyes full of sore tears.

Olive stared a minute. Then her arms went round Penelope.

“Oh! you dear,” she gasped. “Oh! you dear!” wetly, too.

They had come out to gather dead juniper; they found the living fire-wood, the magic fuel of deep sympathy, mutual girlish comprehension.

It doubled their joy in a minute or two. For Penelope’s pangs were evanescent. They danced in the snowy sand-valleys, gathering up the khaki skirts of their ceremonial dresses into puckered bags for their driftwood fagots—brine-whitened chunks, some of them easily splintered and rendered portable, which had been swept in by the garnering tide from many a distant shore—together with withered limbs of basswood and juniper, native to the dunes.

They tried vainly to drag along in their train a very ancient captive, a bleached, branching cedar-stump, driftwood, too, which gleamed like a white marble monument amid the sands that had alternately covered and uncovered it for many hundreds of years.

Olive scraped its surface with her Camp Fire Girl’s pocket-knife and was delighted that she could tell by the flesh-pink of the wood underneath that it was cedar; one of the first flights which Blue Heron had made about the camp into the fairy-land of unacquired knowledge was the learning from Captain Andy to tell one kind of wood from another, whether it was alive and growing or merely dead driftage.

“It makes one love trees all the more when you can tell how they differ in their wood as well as in their branches and leaves,” she murmured, now, as the girls wandered on, picking here a wild rose, there a lacy blossom of thoroughwort or of the everlasting white—blossoming spirit of these white dunes—which Olive stuck into her black braid of hair.

“Well, we’ve got about all the wood we want, now; don’t you think so?” suggested Penelope, at last. “And it’s time we got back to the beach and our camp fire; Sesooā and M?nkw?n, Sally and Arline, will be cooking supper; they’re cooks to-day, you know; they’re going to toast bacon on twigs and Arline has made a blackberry shortcake with those blackberries that we found yesterday in the woods up the river.”

“Here’s hoping that ’twill taste better than my apple-shortcake, which Captain Andy said was ‘chunky’ when I took a piece over to his tent! But I’ll do better next time. See if I don’t!” laughed Blue Heron, dropping her fuel and flapping her winged sleeves as if for a new flight. “Oh! Pen, I simply can’t go back—yet,” she quavered; “not if they begin supper without us. I don’t believe we’ll ever have another evening—another sunset—quite so lovely as this. I want to climb that tall peak and see the view; I will, too, if I never taste another mouthful!”

They capered up the lower, easy slope of the hill, fringes waving, just in that mood when feet would wither if they didn’t dance and the heart must burst if it couldn’t worship.

“Oh! how near it brings one to—to Things—like the altar rails at Confirmation,” whispered Olive, half to herself, her gasping breath a shrine for panting feeling when, with slower steps, she had mastered the summit of this hundred-feet snow-peak and looked down upon lesser dunes, creamily piled, sown with sunset roses, upon a crystalline hollow like a mimic glacier where fairies skated and away at the sundown glories crowning the snow-drift dunes of the opposite shore beyond the tidal river’s blue.

There all heaven seemed let loose, the heaven that lives in color; the elder girl’s soul was steeped in it; with cords woven of every hue in the spectrum it linked each holy moment of her life and wove it into the present minute: again, across the gulf of a year, she felt the touch of consecrating hands upon her head, heard the prayer: “Defend, oh, Lord, this Thy child with Thy Heavenly grace...!”

It was no far-away Lord of grace and glory now; the sunset made a highway to His Presence.

“That she may daily increase in Thy Holy Spirit more and more...!”

What better translation of that than the Camp Fire spirit: the quest of beauty, truth, service, health, happiness, love?

Olive’s lips quivered as, with a loving, expanding desire for human contact, she again put an arm around Penelope. Penelope nestled close to her. They clung together upon the white apex of that peak, the apex of girlish feeling, in such a moment as should ever prevent outward differences from separating them again.

Penelope stirred uneasily. “I’ve got the dune-fever,” she said. “You set me going, Olive! I just can’t go back to camp with our fagots until I climb that other peak, just beyond this one, to see how the sunset looks from there!”

“All right! Let’s!” responded Olive recklessly. “Our Guardian or Captain Andy will be coming out to look for us, though! Well! it won’t take very long. We really will go back then. Oh! wait for me, Pen!” as Penelope, scarlet of cheek, sturdy of foot, panting in breath, ploughed up that still farther peak, like a brown goat, her braids and fringes waving.
“Stay, Sweetheart, stay!
Stay, till I ketch thee!”

panted Olive, as she neared the top, making the sand-dunes ring with the merry hail of an old song.
“Hey ding a ding a ding!
This ketching is a pretty thing!”

“Is it, though?” sarcastically inquired a voice. “I don’t think it’s a ‘very pretty thing!’” in the sourest of masculine voices that ever planted a sting in a girlish paradise. “Oh, jiggaroo! I don’t think ‘ketching’s’ pretty: I’m caught—an’ I don’t like it!”

Both girls jumped. The grumbling shout came from a sandy shoulder of the peak on which they were standing, a peak whose shoulder-blade stood out, clad in dark, olive-green basswood. Was it a goblin voice?

Beneath one glossy shrub showed a yellow-brown mound—a huddled, abject mound—a shade lighter in hue than their own ceremonial dresses.

Under the waning gold of the sunset it looked jaundiced. Jaundiced, truly, yellow-green with despair, if tones suggest color, and surly—the surliest ever—was the renewed shout that came from it, flung up from the olive-green clump of basswood into the teeth of the girls, the lips that launched the grumble being hidden.

“Oh, guree!” so it sullenly ran. “If that isn’t like girls! If they must sing on a trail, why can’t they sing something sensible! ‘Ketching!’ ‘Sweetheart!’ Stuff to make a fellow sick—sicker’n he is already! Oh-h-h! Ouch!”

The despondent groan in which the complaint ended seemed to rock the very sand-hill to its shifty foundations.


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