The Camp Fire Girls Amid the Snows

THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AMID THE SNOWS

by

MARGARET VANDERCOOK

Author of ”The Ranch Girls” Series, ”The Red Cross Girls” Series, etc.

Illustrated

PhiladelphiaThe John C. Winston Co.Publishers

Copyright, 1913, byThe John C. Winston Company

CONTENTS

CHAPTER PAGE

I. The Winter Manitou 7 II. ”Sunrise Cabin” 22 III. ”A Rose of the World” 38 IV. ”The Reason o' It” 50 V. Mollie's Suggestion 61 VI. A Black Sheep 69 VII. Turning the Tables 81 VIII. Possibilities 98 IX. Christmas Eve at the Cabin 110 X. Esther's Old Home 123 XI. Gifts 129 XII. The Camp Fire Play 137 XIII. An Indian Love Song 149 XIV. Mollie's Confidant 156 XV. A Boomerang 168 XVI. The Apology 183 XVII. General News 190 XVIII. Donna and Her Don 202 XIX. Memories 212 XX. The Explanation 223 XXI. Misfortune 234 XXII. Saying Farewell to the Cabin 242 XXIII. Future Plans 253

ILLUSTRATIONS

”Ach Gnaediges Fraeuleins, It Ist Not Possible” _Frontispiece_ PAGE ”Turn That Box Over to Me” 85 The Song Had a Plaintive Cadence 152 ”Do As I Tell You, Princess, Please” 218

The Camp Fire Girls Amid the Snows

CHAPTER I The Winter Manitou

The snow was falling in heavy slashing sheets, and a December snowstormin the New Hampshire hills means something more serious than a storm incity streets or even an equal downfall upon more level meadows andplains.

Yet on this winter afternoon, about an hour before twilight and along thebase of a hill where a rough road wandered between tall cedar and pinetrees and low bushes and shrubs, there sounded continually above thesnow's silencing two voices, sometimes laughing, occasionally singing abrief line or so, but more often talking. Accompanying them always was asteady jingling of bells.

”We simply can't get there to-night, Princess,” one of the voicesprotested, still with a questioning note as though hardly believing inits own assertion.

”We simply can't do anything else, my child” the other answeredteasingly. ”Have you ever thought how much harder it is to travelbackward in this world than forward, otherwise I suppose we should havehad eyes placed in the back of our heads and our feet would have turnedaround the other way? Don't be frightened, there really isn't the leastdanger.”

Then there was a sudden swish of a whip cutting the cold air and with afresh tinkling of bells the shaggy pony plunged ahead. Five minutesafterwards with an instinctive stiffening of his forelegs he startedsliding slowly down a steep embankment, where the road apparently ended,dragging his load behind him and only stopping on finally reaching thelow ground and finding his sleigh had overturned.

For a while the unusual stillness was oppressive. But a little laterthere followed a movement and then an unsteady voice calling, ”Steady,Fire Star,” as a tall girl in a gray hood and coat covered all over withsnow came crawling forth from the uppermost side of the sleigh andimmediately began pulling at it with trembling hands.

”Princess, Princess, please speak or move! Oh, it is all my fault. Ishould never have let you attempt it; I am the older and even----”

A little smothered sound and a slight disturbance under an immense furrug interrupted her: ”I can't speak, Esther, until I get some of thissnow out of my mouth and I can't move until this grocery store is liftedoff me. I'm--I'm the under side of things; there are ten pounds of sugarand a sack of flour and all the week's camping supplies between me andthe gay world.” A break in the cheerful tones ended these words and therewas no further stirring, but Esther Clark failed to notice this, as shefirst lifted the rug which had almost covered up Betty Ashton and thenhelped her to sit upright, looking more of a Snow Princess than even theweather justified. For all about her there were small mounds of sugar andflour white as the snow itself and dissolving like dew. While Betty'sseal cap and coat were encrusted in ice and the snow hung from her browsand lashes, indeed her face, usually so brilliantly colored, was nowalmost as pale.

Esther was again tugging at the overturned sleigh trying to set itupright, the pony waiting motionless except for turning his head as ifwith the suggestion that matters be hurried along.

”I could manage a great deal better, Betty, if you would help me,” Estherprotested a little indignantly. ”I know the girls at Sunrise cabin aregetting dreadfully worried over our being so late in arriving at home.”

Betty shivered. ”I am getting a bit worried myself,” she agreed, ”and Imight as well confess to you, Esther, that I haven't the faintest ideawhere we are, nor how far from the village or our camp. This snow hascompletely mixed me up; and I haven't sprained my ankle, of course, orbroken it or done anything _quite_ so silly, but my foot does hurt mostawfully and I know I never can stand up on it again and--and--if I wasn'ta Camp Fire girl about to be made a Torch Bearer I'd like to weep andweep until I melted away into a beautiful iceberg.” And then in spite ofher brave fooling Betty did blink and choke, but only for an instant, forthe sight of her companion's face made her smile again.

”The runner of our sleigh has snapped in two,” Esther next announced inaccents of despair after having partially dragged the sleigh upright,although one runner still remained imbedded several inches deeper thanthe other in the drift of snow which had caused their disaster.

Betty held up both hands. ”I believe it never rains but it pours,” shesaid a little mockingly; ”but what about the snow? I am sorry I was soobstinate, dear. It is nice to be sorry when the deed is done, isn't it?I suppose I should never have attempted driving back to Sunrise Hill onsuch an evening, but then we did need our groceries so terribly in campand I was afraid nobody would bring them to-morrow. And, well, as I havegotten you into this scrape I must get you out of it.”

So by clinging with both hands to Esther, Betty Ashton, by sheer force ofwill, did manage to rise on the one sound foot and then putting theinjured one on the ground she stood wavering for a second. ”I'm thinking,Esther, so please don't interrupt me for a moment,” she gasped as soon asshe found breath. ”I can't but feel that this is our first real emergencysince we started our camp fire in the woods this winter. If we only areable to get out of it successfully, why--why, won't Polly be envious?”

Betty Ashton was so plainly talking at the present instant to gain timethat the older girl did not pay the slightest attention to her; instead,she was thinking herself. Of course she or Betty could mount their ponyand ride off somewhere to look for help, but then Esther had no fancy forbeing left alone in a snow-storm in a part of the country which she didnot know in its present aspect and certainly under the circumstances shehad no intention of leaving Betty to the same fate.

Imagination, however, was never one of Esther Clark's strong points,although fortunately for them both now and in later years it was always agift of the other girl's.

”Better let me sit down again,” Betty suggested, letting go of her claspon her friend; ”and will you unhitch Fire Star and lead her here to me.Somehow I think it best for us to manage to get back on the road and findsome sort of shelter up there under the trees until the worst of thisstorm is past.”

With Betty to think and Esther to accomplish, things usually movedswiftly. So five minutes later, half leading and half being led by thepony, Esther climbed the embankment on foot with Betty riding andclinging with both arms about Fire Star's neck. Under a pine tree partlyprotected from the wind and snow by scrub pines growing only a few feetaway, the girls found a temporary refuge. There they remained shelteredby the fur rug which Esther brought back on her second trip. The ponysafely covered over with his own blanket stood hitched under another treea short distance away.

Nevertheless, half an hour of waiting found the two girls shiveringuncomfortably under their rug and losing courage with every passingmoment, for the storm had not abated in the least and Betty was reallysuffering agonies with her foot, although she had removed her shoe,bathed her ankle in snow and bound it up in her own and Esther's pockethandkerchiefs.

”Esther,” she said rather irritably, after a fresh paroxysm of pain hadleft her almost exhausted, ”don't you think that, as we have been CampFire girls living in the woods for the past six months, even thoughconditions do seem trying, we ought to _do_ something and not just sithere in this limp fashion and be snowed under?”

Esther nodded, but made no sort of suggestion. She was so cold andworried about Betty that she hadn't an idea in her mind save the hauntingfear that if they continued long in their present situation they mightactually be turned into icebergs.

However, Betty promptly gave her a pinch that was realistic enough to befelt in spite of all her frozenness. ”Wake up, Esther, dear, and if youare really so cold, child, just warm yourself by your nose, it certainlyis red enough. Now as you girls have always said I dearly loved to boss,please, won't you let me be general of this expedition and you do what Isay since I am too lame to help?”

Again Esther nodded. She generally had done whatever Betty Ashton hadasked of her since the day of her coming to the great Ashton homestead inWoodford a little more than half a year before. But as Betty outlined herplan Esther grew interested and in half a moment jumping up beganstamping her feet and swinging her arms to get the warmth and vigor backinto her body.

”Why, Betty Ashton, of course we can manage even to stay here in thewoods all night and not have such a horrid time! It won't be sodifficult, I'll have things fixed in the least little while.”

A short time afterwards and Esther had brought up from their brokensleigh a portion of the precious grocery supplies which she and Betty haddriven into Woodford early that afternoon to obtain--a can of coffee,crackers, a side of bacon and, most welcome of all, a bundle of kindlingtied as neatly together as toothpicks. For several weeks of having togather wood out of doors, oftentimes in the snow and rain, and thendrying it under cover, had made an occasional supply of kindling from theshops in town extremely grateful to the camp fire makers. Fortunately,Betty had filled the last remaining space in their sleigh with kindlingwood before starting back to camp.

And in Esther's several absences she had been diligently preparing aplace for a fire, first by scooping away the snow with her hands and thenby scraping it with a three-pronged stick which she had found nearby.

However, a fire in the snow was not easy to start even by a Camp Firegirl, so that fifteen minutes must have passed and an entire box ofmatches been consumed before the paper collected from about theirpackages had persuaded even the kindling to light. And then by infinitepatience and coaxing, wet pine twigs and cones were added to the fireuntil finally the larger logs, discovered under the surrounding trees,also blazed into heat and light.

And while Betty was cherishing the fire, Esther managed to make a partialcanopy over their heads with brushwood.

There are but few things in this world though that do not take a longertime to accomplish than we at first expect and require a longer patience.So that when the two girls had finally arranged their temporary wintershelter, the twilight had come down and both of them were extremelyweary. Nevertheless, the most wonderful coffee was made with melted snowin the tin can, bacon sliced and fried with the knife no Camp Fire girlfails to carry and the crackers toasted into a smoky but delicious brown.And then when supper was over Betty crept close to Esther under their rugresting her head on her shoulder.

”No one knows where we are to-night, Esther, so no one will worry. Thegirls will think we stayed in town on account of the storm and ourfriends in the village that we are now safe back in Sunrise cabin. So dolet us make the best of things,” she whispered. ”To-night, at least, weare real Camp Fire girls from necessity and not choice, and I believe Ican better understand why our ancestors once used to worship the fire asthe symbol of home. Then, too, I am glad we chose the pine trees for ourrefuge. I wonder if you know this legend? When Mary was in flight toEgypt to save our Lord from Herod, she stopped beneath a pine tree andrested there safe from her enemies in a green chamber filled with itsbalsamy fragrance, the tree proving its love for the Christ Child bylowering its limbs when Herod's soldiers passed by. And then when theBaby raised its hand to bless the tree, it so marked it that when thepine cone is cut lengthwise it shows the form of a hand--the hand ofChrist.”

With the telling of her story Betty's voice was sinking lower and lower,and as her cheeks were now so flushed with her nearness to the fire andwith fever from the pain in her foot, Esther hoped she might soon fallasleep. So she made no reply, but instead began singing the ”Good-NightSong” of the Camp Fire girls which has been set to the beautiful oldmelody ”Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes.” And though she began verysoftly, meaning her song to reach only Betty's ears, by and by forgettingherself in the pleasure her music always brought her, she let her voiceincrease in power, until the final notes could have been heard somedistance through the woods and even a little way up the hill which stoodlike a solid white wall before them. The snow had stopped falling and thewind had died down, but the coldness and the stillness were therefore themore profound.

”The sun is sinking in the west, The evening shadows fall; Across the silence of the lake We hear the loon's low call. So let us, too, the silence keep, And softly steal away, To rest and sleep until the morn Brings forth another day.”

”Betty, Betty!” Instead of allowing her friend to sleep Esther beganshaking her nervously only a few moments after the closing of her song.

And Betty started suddenly, giving a little cry of pain and surprise, forevidently she had been dreaming and found it hard to come back to sostrange a reality. Here she and Esther were alone in the winter woods notmany miles from shelter and yet unable to find it, while she had beendreaming of herself as a poor half-frozen waif somewhere out in a citystreet listening to strains of music, which were not of Esther's song butof some instrument. The girl rubbed her eyes and laughed.

”Dear me, Esther, it's too cold to sleep, isn't it? Let us put some morewood on our fire and stay awake and talk. I think the Winter Manitou,Peboan, must have been visiting me with the wind playing the strings ofhis harp, for I have just dreamed I was listening to music.”

”You didn't dream it; I wasn't asleep and I heard it also. There,listen!”

The two girls caught hold of one another's hands and silently they staredahead of them through the opening in their curious, Esquimaux-like tent.Could anything be more improbable and yet without doubt the notes of aviolin could be heard approaching nearer and nearer.

Transfixed with surprise and pleasure Esther kept still but Betty, who inspite of her whims was a really practical person, shook her head in asomewhat annoyed fashion. ”It is perfectly absurd you know, Esther, forany human being to be strolling through the New Hampshire woods on awinter's night playing the violin. We are not in Germany or the Alps orin a story book. But if it really is a person and not the Spirit ofWinter, as I still believe, why he might as well help us out of ourdifficulty. I don't feel so romantic as I did an hour or so ago.”

At this instant a dim figure did appear around a turn in the road wherethe girls had previously met disaster and putting her cold fingers to herlips Betty cried ”Halloo, Halloo,” in as loud a voice as possible and atthe same time seizing one of their burning logs she waved it as a signalof distress.