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CHAPTER XVIII THE TORCH BEARER
“That light which has been given to me
I desire to pass undimmed to others!”

The voice which repeated this high desire, the purest the human heart can know, was Jessica’s.

It was a voice which thrilled and trembled just as it had done over six months before when, by the lakeside Council Fire, Morning-Glory had given her girlish pledge to tend, even as her fathers and fathers’ fathers had tended, the sacred heart-fire of humanity—kernel of its hearth fire, too—the love of man for man, the love of man for God.

That she had been tending it in lowly places where, otherwise, that flame would have been a feeble flicker, where in one case it would have been hidden under the heavy bushel of a deaf ear and silent tongue in a child’s head, was shown by the presence of four little girls whom she had made happy once a week for three months, thus meeting one of the requirements for gaining the highest rank among Camp Fire Girls.

This group of children, aged about eight or nine years, was known by the beautiful name of a Bluebird Nest, called after the azure harbinger-bird whose appearance in spring, as a great naturalist says, is the signal for sky and earth to meet, as their hues do in his plumage, in other words a call for them to cease their winter strife and prepare for summer.

And these little human Bluebirds, now in the early spring of life, were preparing for the summer of being Camp Fire Girls; that is three of them were; the fourth, the deaf-and-dumb Rebecca of the city playground, was so handicapped and retarded by her affliction that nobody could prophesy what her future would be; suffice it that, at present, she was happy!

There was a sparkle in those patient, purple eyes of hers which held no ray when the girls first saw her on the public playground, lacking a little partner in the folk-dance. Of all the lights which the new Torch Bearer, Jessica, whose Camp Fire name was Morning-Glory, might pass on undimmed to others from the happy glow within herself and from the lamp of those Ideals which, like a wise virgin of the parable, she kept trimmed and burning, none would be more heavenly than that torch first kindled in a dumb lamb’s heart.

“But, do you know, I don’t believe that little ’Becca is going to be dumb always,” remarked M?nkw?n, Arline, arching the future with her rainbow symbol, when the ceremony of initiating one member of the Morning-Glory Camp Fire into the highest rank was over, when the girls were seated in a semicircle on the floor, before a blazing Council Fire. “You may remember,” addressing the crescent company, “how the playground teacher said that, once, when the children were all yelling ‘Swing! Swing!’ at the tops of their voices—and those foreign children can scream both in their own language and every other—Rebecca seemed to catch some sound or vibration and said ‘swing’ plainly, too!”

“Oh! even if she remains deaf, she can, no doubt, be taught to speak, later on, by means of the oral method or lip-reading,” suggested Gheezies, the Guardian of the Camp Fire.

“Yes,” Arline spoke passionately, “this evening, before the signal came for us to march in, and take our places round the Council Fire, I knelt beside her for five minutes saying ‘Glory’ over and over, forming it big, with my lips close to her face; I want that to be the first word she says, if she ever does begin to speak, in honor of Welatáwesit, our Morning-Glory,” with a moist glance at Jessica, “who rescued her from drowning and kept the torch of life in her little body!”

“Yes, and who first:
“Called the Bluebird through her window
To sing its song within that dumb heart,”

quoted Gheezies. “Does M?nkw?n remember the blank verse effusion in which she celebrated that playground incident?”

“Of course I do! But nobody has yet got sufficient poetic steam up”—Arline laughed—“as to write a really dramatic poem telling how she was saved from drowning in two feet and a half of water by a Camp Fire Girl and Eagle Scout.”

“Oh! we’ll leave that to the future airy flights of Kask, the Blue Heron,” chimed in Betty, smiling at Olive who sat facing her in this Council Fire crescent, grouped indoors upon a January night, around a ruddy hearth. “Blue Heron will surely try out her poetic pin-feathers, some day; it was the fear of losing them, I think, of being reduced to hissing instead of hooting, like that poor captive owl, which first induced her to become a Camp Fire Girl.”

“That may be—partly!” laughed Olive. “But all last summer while we were camping on those white, fairy Sugarloaf dunes, I was too much taken up with exercising my wings in other directions to think about little rhyming flights. And”—gasping slightly—“since we’ve been back in the city I’ve had plenty to do, too—with my father’s marriage and all that!”

Blue Heron, as she gazed into the fire, at the red velvet of its blazing, hickory back-log, was thinking dreamily of the pure wing-power for which she had prayed on that evening, more than six months before, when she sat, as a spectator, at a lakeside Council Fire, that she might soar into likeness to her mother. Of late, with a few human tumbles, she had been winging upward on pinions of tact and unselfishness that brooded gracefully over the crisis in her home life when her father gave a new mistress to the household where she had hoped to reign in that mother’s stead. Thus she helped Sybil to adjust herself, too.

In consequence, Olive already loved her stepmother whom, prior to the marriage, she hardly knew, all the more because the new wife evinced a cordial desire that Cousin Anne and Jessica should remain members of the family even after the latter graduated from high school, that is if the education in art which she was to pay for out of her wonderfully discovered legacy could be carried on in the city of Clevedon.

And what was the new Torch Bearer, who had been initiated as a Fire Maker a little over six months before, thinking of as she, too, gazed into the velvety red of blazing hickory and birch logs, topped by a blue crest of rippling flame, a delicate fluorescence?

Chiefly she, Morning-Glory, was dwelling on that old, saving deed of her great-grandfather’s which had arisen out of the past to bless her (to justify the feeling of her lonely hours that, somehow, in some way, he lived to companion her), to enable her to follow in her father’s footsteps, by and by, as a designer of stained-glass glories, this bringing her in feeling nearer to him, too.

Already Jessica, or Welatáwesit, wore upon her fringed sleeve a Shuta National honor (Shuta meaning to create) awarded her by the highest council of the Camp Fire Girls for her design—crudely imperfect as yet—for a beautiful stained-glass window, representing the figure and ideals of a Camp Fire Girl. A window which, at some future golden date, might filter and glorify the daylight as it streamed into a National Temple dedicated to American girlhood, to its desire to preserve a romantic savor of its predecessor upon this soil, the Indian girlhood, whose poetic folk-lore, dress and customs seemed in danger of vanishing until the Camp Fire Girl stepped upon the scene to unite in her captivating person the poetry of the past, the progress of the present!

From the honor emblem upon her khaki sleeve Jessica’s young gaze wandered back to her beaded leather necklace and to the large silver coin, stamped with a sunburst which she still, upon certain occasions, wore round her neck, the ancient sun-dollar with her monogram minutely engraved beneath the radiating rays, which had been so instrumental in linking her with her ancestor’s life-saving deed.

“Won’t it go beautifully with your Torch Bearer’s pin which has a rising sun as part of the design on it?” suggested Penelope who, to-night, as she dreamed by the Council Fire in ceremonial dress which had a “poetizing” effect on her, as Sally said, looked transformed from the Penelope of the restless gate, creating a tingling atmosphere about her that, according to Betty, could be felt a mile off.

“Yes, I feel like a true child of the Sun, wearing both of them! And isn’t it a strange coincidence that the old coin found by a Camp Fire Girl—or first spied by her—should be stamped with a sunburst?” Morning-Glory fingered the sun-dollar, silver-gilt in the firelight. “I have been reading up about Peruvian coinage,” she went on reflectively, “and I find that the sunburst stamp with those funny little black dots representing a grotesque sun-face in the center is a relic of the sun-worship of the old Incas, former inhabitants of Peru, who carved the sun’s face on everything.”

“I’ll never forget that lawyer’s expression when it dawned on him that the date of this year and a girl’s initials on the sun-dollar, which at first he regarded as an insult to its stately inscription and ancient stamp, were actually proving a clue for him to find an heir to one of the old legacies for which he was looking up claimants.” This amused remark came from Gheezies, Guardian of the Fire, who sat on the right of the blazing logs. “I’m sure that Morning-Glory will go down to history in that part of the country as the heroine in the case of the most remarkable legacy that ever a girl fell heir to!”

“Yes, and think of the wild excitement of the Twin-Light Tribe over having such a dramatic scene take place at their party!” gasped Ruth Marley, whose Camp Fire name signified Music and who had the G clef in her head-band. “Why! their Christmas letter to us was full of it. I’d like to hear that sisterly epistle again.”

“So would I! And I! And I! Also the letter from Captain Andy—our ‘Standing Tall’—in which he speaks of the present he’s sending us!” came in tones of laughter from one and another of the fourteen beaded maidens seated round the Council Fire, while the four Bluebirds, nestling near, played happily with their dolls, which Morning-Glory, in her one afternoon a week spent with them in the room of a Children’s Friend Society, had taught them how to dress.

“Oh! Captain Andy used to feel badly because we had no bows and arrows last summer (we’ll have to practice archery before we ever camp out with him again) to go with our Indian dress and not even a harpoon, as he used to say jokingly, in case ‘a school of blackfish came in,’” laughed Sesooā. “And so he’s sending us a spear, the sword of a swordfish which he killed himself and polished up—I mean he polished the sword and polished off the poor fish. He says we can harpoon hearts with it!”

“It will go well with our painted ‘buffalo robe’ bearing the figure of a Camp Fire Girl; we’ll hang it on the wall, then it will make our room like an Indian lodge, with hunting weapons,” romanced Morning-Glory, gazing round the pretty, firelit meeting-room in the Guardian’s house, dedicated to the use of the Morning-Glory Camp Fire which bore none but the slenderest resemblance to a red man’s lodge, with its pretty window-curtains made, embroidered and hung by the girls’ own hands, its leather table-cover, sofa pillows and Record Book bound in sheepskin.

Into almost every article in that room, with the bare exception of the furniture, had been woven the personality of some member of the Morning-Glory Tribe who met there, who had helped to make or decorate it—that girlish tribe being likewise responsible for keeping the room swept, garnished and in order.

“There—there is another letter which I want to read to you, as it’s connected with our camping days—and with the worst adventure I ever had in my life!” went on Jessica breathlessly, after a minute or two. “Or, rather, I think I’ll let Gheezies, our Guardian, read it!” The girl’s face was “swept,” now, by a variety of expressions ranging from a sunny gust of amusement to the dark semblance of a shudder wafted by memory across its buoyant brightness.

Gheezies, holding a candle near to the page, smudged, blurred and strangely covered with a scrawl of handwriting, read slowly and with difficulty, mentally supplying punctuation and other conventional marks:

“Chère Mad’selle, dear Frien’:

“It gif me grate plaisir to rote you dese line. Yes’day w’en I go on top o’ post-office w’at you t’ink I see, heem littel box. Ciel! I am so glad I feel lak’ cry. Ach! la jolie montre—de silvare—I haf not de word—I am so fool....”

Here the queer scrawl broke off indefinitely.

Underneath the letter was continued, as follows, in a fine bold hand over several pages:

“Toiney sent me this ‘specimen scribble’ in which he has tried to thank you for the silver watch you sent him in memory of the day when he pulled you out of a patch of horrible quicksands while I revolved on one leg, unable to get to you.

“I’m so glad you remembered him with it, at Christmas—the watch came out of the legacy, I suppose—and you may bet he was tickled when he went ‘on top of post-office,’ meaning into it, and was presented with the registered box! I don’t know how he got so far with his letter, some one must have helped him, for I didn’t think he knew enough English to say Boo! straight....”

Here the reading was interrupted by a gasp that was almost a sob from Jessica; straight English had not been necessary to translate the fire of the woodsman’s arm which forced the “devil quicksands” to relax their sucking grip upon her body.

“He sent me the letter, asking me to fix it up with lots of paint—my expression, of course—excuse slang!...”

“That means all the nice speeches you can think of!” interjected Penelope explanatorily.

“So here goes; I enclose ’dese line’ from him and add my comments—and sundries!

“I have been plugging away for dear life at Tech and working through the Christmas holidays. It means a stiff grind for the next four years if I’m to take my B.C.E. degree—Bachelor of Civil Engineering—at the end of that time.

“Have you decided yet in what School of Design you’re going to learn how to paint Saints’ heads on glass? More power to the legacy!

“Gracious! when I think of how that ripping sou’westerly squall which swept you in the dory on to the Neck made the sand-hill ‘cough up’ that old sun-dollar and of all that it brought you, I want to yell and yell, like a madman. I’ll wager that Kenjo does, too! And didn’t the Astronomer play up at the party when he thought you were going to faint or cry? Good for Tenderfoot Tommy!

“Thank you for the help which you Camp Fire Girls are giving us by selling tickets for our big Boy Scout Rally which takes place this month!

“Hoping to see you soon,
“Your friend,
Miles Stackpole.”

“That’s a nice letter from the Eagle Scout,” commented Gheezies, handing the sheets back to Morning-Glory, “and Toiney’s mongrel scrawl is worth keeping. Now for the best letter of all which I have kept for the last on this our first meeting after Christmas when, as we agreed, we are talking over our camping experiences, remembering absent friends and dwelling on the messages they sent us! This is from Kitty—Kitty Sill—our Camp Fire Sister!” The Guardian jubilantly waved an envelope. “In it she tells of how she, little chicken-hearted, orchard Kitty, who——”

“Who, as Captain Andy used to say, was ‘shy as a long-billed curlew’!” interjected Olive in low, laughing tones. “I beg your pardon, Gheezies, for interrupting!”

“Yes, how ‘shy’ Kitty has been instrumental in starting another Camp Fire group among the girls of her scattered neighborhood and has induced their school-teacher to act as Guardian. Now, what do you suppose they’re going to call this new Camp Fire?”

“’Twouldn’t be Kitty if it wasn’t original,” chuckled Morning-Glory. “It’s altogether too bad that they can’t enroll Mary-Jane Peg!”

“They’ve decided to call it the Five-Smoke Camp Fire after the old farmhouse in which Kitty lives because that house is still sometimes described in their locality as the house of the big chimney or the farm of the five smokes owing, no doubt, to the fact that in early days after the house was built about two hundred years ago, Kitty’s ancestors could afford five fires going together, while other families of the settlers had only one.”

“The ‘Five-Smoke Camp Fire’? Isn’t it a great name? A dandy name!” burst from one and another of the crescent-group applaudingly.

“It is. And as there’s no smoke without fire, let us hope that it will kindle a five-pointed blaze in the world in honor of Wohelo: Work, Health, Love. Now, I’ll read you Kitty’s letter!

“You see, she says that they, the members of this new Camp Fire circle, have just received their Charter from Headquarters,” added the Guardian softly when the reading was finished. “It seems to me that it would draw us near to them, to our Camp Fire Sisters everywhere, if we were to unite in repeating the beautiful words of that Charter which hangs, framed, upon our wall.”

“Yes! Oh, yes! Let us!” One girlish face after another was uplifted to a glint of framed glass above them through which the leaping flame of their Council Fire picked out, here and there, a colored capital.

Like a rolling wave that begins with a murmur and rises to a mountain, their voices broke in unison upon the shores of the fire island:
“This is your Charter. Make it live,
And find here hidden within its page
The Deeper Meaning—
The right to join the Circle’s Sisterhood,
Your Hearts to beat in touch and tune with theirs;
The right to kindle at their Flaming Fire
Your own, and see within its Glow
The Spirit-Flame of Work, Love-ordered....”

Higher soared the crest of the Council Fire, illumining many a fair young face, unlocking with its key of flame the circle of individual hearts until, awed, it penetrated even to that hidden Light of Life in which all were one, while there broke upon the illumination like a holy challenge the crowning right for which the Camp Fire stands:
“The Right to live the Exultant Life
That grows akin to Nature’s Throbbing Heart;
The Right to dream, and dreaming,
Know the Deep, Primal Things,
The Soul of Beauty and the Heart of Truth.”

THE END


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