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CHAPTER XI KULLIBíGAN

The Indian game of Kullibígan was in full swing.

Supper was over, a wonderful outdoor banquet, for which the high tide furnished the orchestra, the white sands the table linen, with the last rays of the dying sun showering bouquets upon its damask.

As if in answer to Captain Andy’s question earlier in the evening when he beheld the bevy of maidens in Indian dress upon the beach, there were two unexpected “braves” at the feast and hungry guests they were; Kenjo, who was entered upon the school-roll of his native town as Kenneth Jordan, bearing in mind that “A Scout is courteous,” the fifth point of the Scout Law, insisted on toasting fresh relays of bacon for the hungry girls and for the Astronomer, who ate enormously.

Captain Andy, in the absence of any severe symptoms of lead poisoning, had come to the conclusion that the tenderfoot was not going to share the fate of the chewink, that he, apparently, did not stand in need, even, of an antidote; still, as a precautionary measure, he flooded him inwardly with strong tea, beneficial in any case of poisoning, until the fat Astronomer declared that he could hear his final mouthfuls of cake splash as they went down.

The after-banquet songs were furnished by the hostesses who chanted their “Wohelo!” cheer, greatly to the edification of the Scouts, followed by their song, “Mystic Fire,” gracefully dramatized by the waving of fringed arms, the swaying of girlish forms around the camp fire upon the twilight sands, lending the final touch of romance to the white wildness of the Sugarloaf, moving the flame of admiration in Kenjo to flicker up into:

“Gee! I thought we Boy Scouts were the ‘whole show’ when it came to new stunts, but I guess it’s as Captain Andy says, ‘Skirts go ahead!’” with a boyish laugh.

“Well! you’ll show them something by ’n’ by, when it gets dark, when you signal with lanterns or an old broom dipped in kerosene to our camp on the dunes across the river to say we’re safe here, for Captain Andy says he won’t let us row back there to-night,” spoke up the now drowsy Astronomer. “He says we can sleep in his tent—a bully tent, divided up into rooms—at the foot of a sand-hill; he was going to have his niece there, but he says she can bunk with the girls.” Tommy waved a fat hand in the direction of Kitty.

“I don’t care; that’s what I want to do,” spoke up little Kitty, erstwhile of “the bleeding heart,” rejoicing in the freedom of her green bloomers. “Morning-Glory—I can’t pronounce her Indian name—says I can sleep with her,” shyly. “And we’ll wake up early and watch the dawn across the river and I may help her cook the breakfast—she’s to be one of the cooks to-morrow.”

“Indeed, you may, but don’t mistake me for Mary-Jane Peg in your sleep; I don’t want to be taken for a pig in a poke!” laughed Jessica, otherwise Welatáwesit. “And now for Kullibígan! What question shall we ask it first?”

“Who’ll be married first?” suggested the Astronomer. “That’s what girls always want to know, isn’t it?”

And then the excitement of the night began in earnest.

The great burnished top, painted by firelight, was set to spinning madly upon a flat stone set in the sand, surrounded by a ring of sitting girls; it revolved dizzily for many seconds, then fell over upon its broad head, as if bowing to Kitty.

The laughter that followed this exploit of the guessing-top made dunes and sea ring; Kitty was to be wedded first, instead of prematurely departing this life.

“Let us ask it something sensible, something that might have an answer in the near future,” suggested Betty Ayres—gay little Betty, whose Camp Fire name was Psuti, the Holly—after sundry other riddles had been propounded to the Kullibígan top for divination—questions as distant in speculation and wild in their answer as the lot which had fallen upon Kitty. “Let’s ask who’ll be the first to attain the highest rank among the Camp Fire Girls, and become a Torch Bearer!”

“Good!” approved Gheezies, the presiding Guardian of the Fire.

Psuti, with two little hands upon the broadest point of the tall top’s circumference, skilfully set it revolving upon the stone; as before, it seemed to have no sense of the fitness of things; it toppled toward her, as nearly as its falling direction—a wide point of debate—could be determined, she having swiftly resumed her seat in the circle.

“Pshaw! it doesn’t know much: Morning-Glory will be the first Torch Bearer; she’s a Fire Maker already,” burst impetuously from one or two of the girls. “And she’s going to do some work among little girls when we go back to the city, form a Nest of Blue Birds, as it’s called, among the poor children of that big playground which we visited, show them how to dress their dolls and so forth,” suggested Sesooā, “make them happy once a week for three months; that’s part of the test for becoming a Torch Bearer.”

“I suppose you’ll draw that little deaf-and-dumb girl whose life you saved into the nest—eh?” M?nkw?n turned inquiringly toward Morning-Glory. “Whew! I’ll never forget that day—the shock we all got!” The breast of Arline’s ceremonial dress, embroidered with her rainbow symbol, heaved; the many-colored honor-beads upon her neck shook. “Fancy! the poor child drowning, or next door to it, in two feet and a half of water!”

“Two feet and a half of water! Drowning! A deaf-and-dumb child!” Nobody had noticed the “shock” which Kenjo experienced as the Rainbow’s words fell upon his ear, reaching him where he squatted on the sands, just outside the circle of girls gathered round the fortune-telling top, now lying idle upon the flat stone.

“Is—is a Torch Bearer the highest rank among the Camp Fire Girls?” Kenjo went on to ask eagerly, thrusting the flame of his red head dangerously near to the Council Fire. “To be an Eagle Scout is the highest a fellow can go among the Boy Scouts—and mighty few ever get there! A Scout must have twenty-one merit badges for that! But we have an Eagle Scout in our camp,” proudly. “He’s a sort of Assistant Scoutmaster, directing the athletics. He saved a deaf-and-dumb child from drowning in shallow water this summer—dragged her out and brought her to, resuscitated her; a Camp Fire Girl helped him.”

“Helped him! He helped her, you mea-ean!” The excited challenge delivered in three girlish voices rose to a screaming trio. “Where did it happen? What’s his name?” followed in a minor key.

“Yes, where did it happen?” gasped the Blue Heron, Olive, bending excitedly forward from her place near the fire.

“In the city of Clevedon, I think. Stack comes from there or from some town near it; he was dressed for a big Boy Scout Rally at the Clevedon Armory and was taking a short cut across a public playground when he heard a lot of children yelling—girls shrieking——”

“We weren’t shrieking at all! There!” flung out Sesooā between her teeth. “If ‘Stack’ is the only name he’s got, I don’t think much of it.” The firefly in Sally’s eyes danced upon the twilight.

“That’s what we call him in camp; his name is Miles Stackpole.”

“That’s better,” came from Morning-Glory, Miles’s partner in that playground rescue.

“Stack said the girl who helped was a pippin.” Here the Astronomer who had been dozing upon the firelit sands suddenly awoke from a dream in which Penelope’s red cheek was a poisoned cherry and he a chewink pecking at it to his destruction. “He said she was a peach and could do something,” went on Tenderfoot Tommy; “that she wasn’t all fluff an’ stuff or frills an’ stuff, like most girls, afraid of a little wetting!”

“Oh! indeed? A lot he must know about girls!” Every voice in the feminine circle went to swell this sarcasm or something like it.

Each feminine soul there felt that life could not be all mystic motions and ceremonial dresses, their rich cream at present, nor yet bloomers and middy blouses; all looked forward to the pleasing variety of frilly hours again, with hearts, if only for the space of a short party-hour, correspondingly frivolous.

Meanwhile the Astronomer, with his gaze slanting upward from the sands and trained upon the feminine circle, was suffering at the hands of Kenjo who had tried to stifle his confidences.

“Oh! Won’t Stack just lick you when we get back to camp and he hears how you gave him away?” scolded the older Scout. “You go to sleep again; that’s the only time you’re safe, Fatty. We’re going to ask the Kullibígan top another question, something exciting, with real ‘pep’ in it, this time: ‘Who’s going to dig up a fortune from the sands?’ May I come in on the answer to this?” Ken appealed eagerly to the Guardian of the Camp Fire.

“Certainly. And may you come in on the fortune, too, if there is one!” Thus Gheezies gave her smiling consent, tagging it with a good wish.

“Oh! that’s too far-fetched to be exciting; nobody really believes in finding Captain Kidd’s treasure nowadays, although Captain Andy says that some of it was certainly hidden along the coast here, but that the tidal current must have sucked it out into the river long ago,” protested Betty, in a fringed flutter.

“And Stack says that he met a professor of something who was round here studying tides, and the prof said he didn’t believe that the current could do any such thing!” threw back Ken hotly.

“Oh! it’s such a hackneyed old question, anyway.” Thus Morning-Glory backed up Betty.

“A regular ‘chestnut,’” yawned Penelope, who was getting sleepy.

“Well! isn’t a ‘chestnut yarn’ the best kind to anchor to with a hope of its coming true?” Kenjo appealed to the Guardian with a fire that matched his ruddy hair. “At least”—muttering low—“I think I learned in high school that some old fellow said that.”

“He said a ‘platitude’ was; I’m not sure but that they’re one and the same thing,” replied Gheezies, with a smile.

“Ah, but we’ve something to anchor to besides a ‘chestnut’—Stack and I!” Kenneth Jordan, second-class Scout, thrust his fiery head close to Jessica’s and spoke in a hollow voice of mystery scarcely to be heard in the firelit twilight beyond her ear, although Sesooā, on the other side of him, caught crumbs of the confidence. “We said we wouldn’t tell anybody lest they’d laugh at us for digging.” The Scout became a husky shell for his secret. “But I guess, maybe, Stack won’t mind my telling you as you helped him save that dumb child. He an’ I”—the secret began to crack the shell—“he an’ I were down on the Neck yesterday,” jerking an elbow in the direction of the sand-bar at the river’s mouth, “and there was an old man there, hunting big hen-clams, at low tide; he told us he was over ninety; we asked him how long he expected to live an’ he said: ‘Down here, you live as long as you want to!’”

“Is that the secret?”

There was a shout from the girls. Ken’s voice had risen like the tide upon the old clam-hunter’s words. It sank mysteriously again.

“We asked him, too”—the secret was popping out now in Jessica’s favored ear—“whether he believed there was treasure hidden along that beach or among the dunes. He said, ‘Sure as a hen-clam hops there is!’ Then he put his face close to Stack’s—he hadn’t a tooth—and pointed to a certain spot among the dunes and said that a few years ago (we dug out of him that ’twas about thirty) a handful of old gold and silver coins had been picked up there. We pumped him further, but his mind wandered, he didn’t seem able to pin it long to anything, he only mumbled and shuffled off after a big hen-clam—surf-clam, you know—that tried to get away from him by hopping off on its one funny little leg that it thrust out of the shell. ’Twas the queerest thing you ever saw to watch him trying to rake it up with his iron fork.”

“Must ha’ been! A hopping clam!” This set Penny giggling, for the Scout’s voice had risen again upon the irrelevant matter of the aged clam-hunter’s raking among the treasures left by the last high tide.

Her paroxysm brought Kenjo to himself and to his manners, set him diffidently apologizing to the Guardian for daring to drop a secret within her magic ring, at the other end of her firelit circle.

“Stack’d go for me for doing such a thing,” he gasped. “I guess I put my foot in it, too, like Fatty! Well! here goes for pumping the guessing-top about that treasure!”

With a strong twist of his tanned hands he set the Kullibígan revolving; it spun itself dizzy and fell between Sally and Arline.

“Never mind; we’ll try again; best two out of three!” cried the Scout. “Now, then, old top, spin your durndest. Tell us who digs up a fortune from the sands!”

The Kullibígan answered his appeal, thrilled him with a half-superstitious tingle from neck to heel by sprawling over toward him.

“Again! Again! Once more!”

It fell precipitately toward Morning-Glory, turned a somersault and stood upon its head.

“Well! it has given me one chance to come in on the treasure, anyhow.” Thus Kenjo, crestfallen over its last dizzy feat, consoled himself. “Stack an’ I’ll dig; you bet we’ll dig; we’ll take Toiney into the secret. I believe he’d scent a coin as he scents a spring a mile off!”

“Who’s Toiney!” For the last minute the girls had sat very still, not a leather fringe stirring; now they spoke again.

“Toiney! Oh! he’s an Assistant Scoutmaster who gives us lessons in wood-lore and in tracking an’ trailing; he’s a French Canadian, with a strain of Indian in him. Well!” Kenjo heaved a long breath. “He’ll be organizing a search party to look for us—if he hasn’t done so already. He’s the stuff, although I guess you girls would call him queer stuff!”

“Are you going to try to signal to the opposite dunes to let them know you’re safe?” asked the Camp Fire Girl whose name meant Peace.

“I’m not going to ‘try.’ I’m going to do it, signal by semaphore code the word ‘Safe,’ if Captain Andy can let me have a couple of camp lanterns—that is, if I can make ’em see me at our camp, get their attention!”

“I guess I have only one lantern that’s strong enough to be seen at a distance,” responded the mariner.

“Well! if you have some kerosene oil and an old broom that you don’t mind being burned up?”

“Hurrah! we’ll furnish you with that,” cried the girls, all eager for the exhibition.

And, now, the Boy Scouts had their innings so far as a “showing-off stunt” was concerned.

Scaling a very high rock whose base was laved by the tide, pushing the corn broom for a burnt offering before him, Ken drew up the lantern and oil-can shoved aloft by the captain.

A ring of excited girls, with their Guardian, scattered to a little distance whence they could have a good view of the signaling Scout and his performance.

One minute, and the oil-soaked broom flamed, its blaze streaming forth, a mighty flare-up, to be seen miles off!

The Scout waved the burning besom to and fro, making strange, mysterious passes with it, before attempting to signal a message. “If I can only get their attention at our camp!” he muttered yearningly.

There were a few very anxious moments.

Then Captain Andy roared up to the signalman:

“It’s all right! You’ve got ’em! They see you. There’s a light showing upon a peak of those other dunes that wasn’t there before. Most likely they were out searching an’ watching for a signal from you. Go ahead with the message!”

Then Ken lowered the lantern with its strong reflector almost to his feet, his left arm held the blazing broom at arm’s length—sowing a hissing fire-crop in the sea—to form the letter S.

“Safe. Kenjo.” He spelled it out by the code, fiery letter by letter.

“Isn’t it wonderful—that fire-talk?” breathed little Kitty; Mary-Jane Peg and the orchard seemed very far away; she had not begun to live until now.

“Broom’s not burned out yet, Cap!” shouted down the Scout to Captain Andy. “Here’s for signaling a message that’ll keep ’em guessing all night!”

“What’s that?”

“‘Safe at Camp Morning-Glory’! Sounds as if we were camping on the sun’s trail. Here goes! Watch—me!”

The broom-handle, sprayed with oil, was sacrificed to Glory, the lingering flame of the besom, of the compressed corn fibre, having given out.

But if ever a camp broom perished gloriously, that one did.

Its waterside illumination set the sea aflame, lit up the brown, beaded figures of the girls, caused far distant lighthouses, with other nocturnal eyes gleaming from headland and hill up and down the opposite shore of the river, to pale and wink themselves out for the moment.

Ken tossed the handle into the river, a proud Scout having demonstrated that along every line it was not “Skirts go ahead—skirts take the lead!” even if they were ceremonial skirts.

“Well! I guess our Scoutmaster and Toiney will feel easy about us now; they surely got some of that message I flashed ’em,” he proclaimed sliding down the rock, feeling like a king-boy. “’Twas good of you girls to let me make a fire-stick an’ fiddlestick out o’ your camp broom,” laughing triumphantly. “We owe you a supper, too, Tommy an’ I—I hope you’ll let us pay it back some time!”

“Oh! yes, when we visit your camp—if we ever do. Boys can’t cook like girls, though!”

“Can’t they? Haw! Haw!” came in accents of cotton-wool irony from the Astronomer’s padded throat. “We’ll give you red-flannel hash, with frills to it. I say, Ken, let’s give ’em something now—let’s give a rousing Scout yell for them! She”—leveling a fat finger at Penelope—“first got me to thinking that I only thought I thought, she thought I was poisoned. Hey! that was the way of it, wasn’t it?” appealing to the convulsed Penny. “Now, then, rise to it, Kenjo!”

The youthful signalman fought shy of this ebullition at first, but on Captain Andy’s saying approvingly: “That’s the very caper! Good idea, Ken; go ahead an’ drive it!” he did drive the patriotic yell in honor of their girl-hostesses with all the might that was in him.

With his arm across the Astronomer’s fat back as the latter stood with cushioned legs wide apart upon the sands, Tommy’s arm, likewise, embracing his backbone, swaying together like double bellows, they pantingly drove that yell while the dune-breeze joined in and the sonorous gush of the high tide, too, seemed to proclaim that it was the “very caper,” a proper tribute, indeed.
“A-M-E-R-I-C-A
Boy Scouts!    Boy Scouts!
U. S. A.
Camp Fire Girls!    Camp Fire Girls!
Camp Fire Girls!”

“Oh-h!” It was a prolonged ejaculation; the girls’ eyes were wet and winking above the wreathing smiles upon their lips as the notes boomed off over the night-tide, setting the river a-roar.

“Oh, this has been a won-der-ful evening altogether,” said the Guardian, her face an illumination that beamed softly upon the final echo which seemed to strike those distant dunes upon the opposite side of the tidal-river.

“Aye! Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls!” chuckled Captain Andy meditatively. “Boy Scouts and Camp Fire Girls, theirs—theirs is the coming tide!”


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