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The Three Midshipmen By William Henry Giles Kingston Characters: 17918

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


The clear, musical call, rising from the green tangle of the forest that fringed the bay, seemed to float lingeringly above the treetops and out over the wide stretch of gleaming water, to a girl in a green canoe, who listened intently until the last faint echo died away, then began paddling rapidly towards the wooded slope. The sun, just dropping below the horizon, flooded the western sky with a blaze of colour that turned the wide waters into a sea of gold, through which the little craft glided swiftly, scattering from its slender prow showers of shining drops.

"I'm going to find out what that means," the girl said under her breath. "It sounds like an Indian call, but I'm sure those were not Indian voices."

On and on, steadily, swiftly, swept the green canoe, until, rounding a wooded point, it slipped suddenly into a beautiful little cove where there was a floating dock with a small fleet of canoes and rowboats surrounding it, and steps leading up the slope. The girl smiled as she stepped lightly out on the dock, and fastened her canoe to one of the rings.

"A girls' camp it surely is," she said to herself. "I'm going to get a glimpse of it anyhow."

Running up the steps, she followed a well-trodden path through a pine grove, and in a few minutes, through the trees, she caught the gleam of white tents and stopped to reconnoitre. A dozen or more tents were set irregularly around an open space; also there was a large frame building with canvas instead of boarding on two sides, and adjoining this a small frame shack, evidently a kitchen-and girls were everywhere.

"O, I'm hungry for girls!" breathed the one peering through the green branches. "I wonder if I dare venture--" She broke off abruptly, staring in surprise at a group approaching her. Then she ran forward crying out, "Why, Anne Wentworth-to think of finding you here!"

"To think of finding you here, Laura Haven! Where did you drop from?" cried the other. The two were holding each other's hands and looking into each other's faces with eyes full of glad surprise.

"I? I didn't drop-I climbed-up the steps from the landing," Laura laughed. "I was out on the bay in my canoe-we came up yesterday in the yacht-and I heard that beautiful Indian call, and I just had to find out where it came from, and what it meant. I suspected a girls' camp, but of course I never dreamed of finding you here. Do tell me all about it. It is a camp, isn't it?"

"Yes, we are Camp Fire Girls," Anne Wentworth replied. She glanced behind her, but the others had disappeared. "They vanished for fear they might be in the way," she said. "O Laura, I'm so glad you're here, for this is the night for our Council Fire. You can stay to it, can't you-I'm sure you would be interested."

"Stay-how long? It's after sunset now."

"O, stay all night with me, and all day to-morrow. You must stay to the Council Fire to-night, anyhow."

"I'd love to dearly, but father won't know where I am." Laura's voice was full of regret.

"Why can't you go back and tell him? I'll go with you," Anne suggested.

"Will there be time before your Council Fire?"

"Yes, if we hurry-wait one minute." Anne called to the nearest girl, gave her a brief message, and turned again to her friend. "Come on, we've no time to lose, but I know how you can make a canoe fly," she said, and hand-in-hand the two went scurrying through the grove and down to the landing. Then while the canoe swept swiftly over the water, Anne Wentworth answered the eager questions of her friend.

"It's a new organisation-the Camp Fire Girls," she explained. "It is something like the Boy Scouts only, I think, planned on broader lines and with higher and finer ideals-at any rate it is better suited for girls. It aims to help them to be healthy, useful, trustworthy, and happy. Health-work-love-as shown in service-these are the ideals on which we try to build. We have three grades. First a girl becomes a Wood Gatherer; then after passing certain tests, a Fire Maker, then a Torch Bearer."

"And which are you?" Laura asked.

"I'm a Guardian-that is, I am the head of one of our city Camp Fires. Mrs. Royall is our Chief Guardian." She went on to explain about the work and play, the tests and rewards, ending with, "But you'll understand it all so much better after our Council Fire to-night."

Laura nodded. "What kind of girls is it for-poor girls-working girls?" she asked.

"It is for any kind of girls-just girls, you know. Of course we can't admit any bad ones, nothing else matters. Dorothy Groves is one of my twelve, and I've two dear little High School girls; all the rest are working girls. They can stay here at the camp only two weeks-some of them only ten days-the working girls, I mean, and it would make your heart ache to see how much those ten days mean to them, and how intensely they enjoy even the commonest pleasures of camping out."

"Who pays for them?" Laura demanded.

"They pay for themselves. It's no charity, and the charges are very low. They wouldn't come if it were charity."

Laura shook her head half impatiently. "It's so hard to get a chance really to help the ones who need help most," she said.

"Yes, it surely is," Anne agreed; and then they were alongside the big white yacht with its shining brass, and Judge Haven was helping them up the steps.

Fifteen minutes later they were on their way back to the camp, but this time in a boat rowed by two of the crew. The last golden gleam of the afterglow was fading slowly in the West as the two girls came again through the pines into the open space between the tents. Mrs. Royall met them and made Laura cordially welcome.

"She's just the right one-a real camp mother," Anne said, as she led her friend over to a group gathered on the grass before one of the tents. "And these are my own girls," she added, introducing each by name.

"At last a tiny puff of smoke arose"

"You've got to take me right in," Laura told them. "I can't help it if I am an odd number-I'm going to belong to this particular Camp Fire to-night."

"Of course we'll take you in, and love to. Aren't you Miss Anne's friend?" said one, as she snuggled down on the grass beside Laura. "It's so nice you came on our Council Fire night!"

Laura's eyes swept the group. "It must be nice-you all look so happy," she answered.

Anne Wentworth excused herself for a few minutes, and Laura settled back against a tree with a little sigh of content. "I've been abroad for a year," she said, "and it seems so good to be with girls again-American girls! Please, won't you forget that I am here and talk just as if I were not? I want to sit still and enjoy the place and you and-everything, for a bit, before your Council begins."

With ready courtesy they took her at her word, and chatted of camp plans and happenings until the talk was interrupted by a clear musical call that floated softly out of the gathering dusk.

"How beautiful! What is it?" Laura asked as all the girls started up.

"It's the bugle call to the Council," one explained, "and here comes Miss Anne."

Laura glanced curiously at her friend's dress. It was a long loose garment of dark brown, fringed at the bottom and the sleeves. A band of beadwork was fastened over her forehead, and she wore a long necklace of bright-coloured beads.

"What is it-a robe of state?" Laura inquired.

"Yes, the ceremonial dress," Anne told her, "but you can't see in this light how pretty it is. Come on, we must join the procession."

"What has become of your girls?" Laura asked. "They were here a moment ago."

"They have gone to get their necklaces," Anne returned. "My girls are all Wood Gatherers as yet-we've not been organised long, you know; but they've been working hard for honours, and for every honour they are entitled to add a bead to their necklaces."

"Yours then must represent a great many honours."

"Yes," Anne replied. "You see it incites the girls to work for honours when they see that their Guardians have worked and won them. The red beads show that the wearer has won health honours by keeping free from colds, headaches, etc., for a number of months, or by sleeping out of doors, or doing some sort of athletics-walking, swimming, rowing, and the like. The blue ones are for nature study, the black and gold for business, and so on. Each bead has a meaning for the girl-it tells a story-and the more she wins, the finer her record, of course."

"What a splendid idea! And how the girls will prize their necklaces by-and-by, and enjoy recalling the stories connected with them!"

"Yes," Anne agreed, "they will hand them down to their daughters as a new kind of heirloom, but--" with a laugh she added, "that's looking a long way ahead, isn't it?"

By this time the two were in the midst of a merry procession of girls from twelve to twenty, perhaps a third of them wearing the ceremon

ial dress.

"What a gay company they are!" Laura commented, as the procession followed a winding path through the woods, a few carrying lanterns. "Is there anything in the world, Anne, lovelier than a crowd of happy girls?"

"Nothing," her friend assented in a low tone. "And, Laura, if you could only see the difference a few days here make in some of the girls who have had all work and no play-like some of mine! It is so delightful to see them grow merry and glad day by day. But here we are. This is our Council Chamber."

"I want as many eyes as a spider so that I can look every way at once," Laura cried as the girls arranged themselves in a large circle. "What are those girls over there doing?"

"They are the Fire Makers. They were Wood Gatherers for over three months, and have met the requirements for the second class. Some of the others are to be made Fire Makers to-night. Watch Mary Walsh-the one rubbing two sticks. She will make fire without matches-or at least she will try to."

The girl, with one knee on the ground, was rubbing one stick briskly back and forth in the groove of another. A little group beside her watched her with eager interest, two of them holding lanterns, and Mrs. Royall stood near her, watch in hand. The talk and laughter had ceased as the circle formed, and now in silence, all eyes were centred on the girl. Faster and faster her hands moved to the accompaniment of a whining, scraping sound that rose at intervals to a shrill squeak. At last a tiny puff of smoke arose, and the girl blew carefully until she had a glowing spark, which she fed with tiny shreds of wood, until suddenly it blazed up brightly. Then, springing lightly to her feet, she stood erect, the flaming wood in her outstretched hand distinctly revealing her happy, triumphant face against the dark background of the pines.

There was a quick clamour of applause as Mrs. Royall announced, "Thirty seconds within the time limit, Mary. Well done! Now light the Council Fire."

The girl stepped forward and touched her flaming brand to the wood that had been made ready by the other Fire Makers, and soon the flames began to blaze and crackle, filling the air with a spicy fragrance, and sending a vivid glow across the circle of intent young faces. Laura caught her breath as she looked around the circle.

"What a picture!" she whispered. "It is lovely-lovely!"

At a signal from Mrs. Royall the girls now gathered closer about the fire and began to chant all together,


Wohelo means love.

We love love, for love is the heart of life.

It is light and joy and sweetness,

Comradeship and all dear kinship.

Love is the joy of service so deep

That self is forgotten.

Wohelo means love.'"

Then louder swelled the chorus,

"'Wohelo for aye,

Wohelo for aye,

Wohelo, wohelo, wohelo for aye.'"

The last note was followed by a moment of utter silence; then one side of the circle chanted,

"'Wohelo for work!'"

and the opposite side flung back,

"'Wohelo for health!'"

and all together they chorused exultantly,

"'Wohelo, wohelo, wohelo for love!'"

Then in unison, led by Anne Wentworth, the beautiful Fire Ode was repeated,

"'O Fire!

Long years ago when our fathers fought with great

animals you were their great protection.

When they fought the cold of the cruel winter you

saved them.

When they needed food you changed the flesh of beasts

into savoury meat for them.

During all the ages your mysterious flame has been

a symbol to them for Spirit.

So, to-night, we light our fire in grateful remembrance

of the Great Spirit who gave you to us.'"

In a few clear-cut sentences Mrs. Royall spoke of the Camp Fire symbolism-of fire as the living, renewing, all-pervading element-"Our brother the fire, bright and pleasant, and very mighty and strong," as being the underlying spirit-the heart of this new order of the girls of America, as the hearth-fire is the heart of the home. She spoke of the brown chevron with the crossed sticks, the symbol of the Wood Gatherer, the blue and orange symbol of the Fire Maker, and the complete insignia combining both of these with the touch of white representing smoke from the flame, worn by the Torch Bearer, trying to make clear and vivid the beautiful meaning of it all.

When the roll-call was read, each girl, as she answered to her name, gave also the number of honours she had earned since the last meeting. It was then that Laura, watching the absorbed faces, shook her head with a sigh as her eyes met Anne's; and Anne nodded with quick understanding.

"Yes," she whispered, "there is some rivalry. It isn't all love and harmony-yet. But we are working that way all the time."

There was a report of the last Council, written in rather limping rhyme, and then each girl told of some kind or gentle deed she had seen or heard of since the last meeting-things ranging all the way from hunting for a lost glove to going for the doctor at midnight when a girl was taken suddenly ill in camp. Only one had no kindness to tell. And when she reported "Nothing" it was as if a shadow fell for a moment over all the young faces turned towards her.

"Who is that? Her voice sounds so unhappy!" Laura said, and her friend answered, "I'll tell you about her afterwards. Her name is Olga Priest. There's a new member to be received to-night. Here she comes."

Laura watched the new member as she stepped out of the circle, and crossed over to the Chief Guardian.

"Soon the flames began to blaze and crackle, filling the air with a spicy fragrance"

"What is your desire?" Mrs. Royall asked, and the girl answered,

"I desire to become a Camp Fire Girl and to obey the law of the Camp Fire, which is to

"'Seek beauty,

Give service,

Pursue knowledge,

Hold on to health,

Glorify work,

Be happy.'

This law of the Camp Fire I will strive to follow."

Slowly and impressively, Mrs. Royall explained to her the law, phrase by phrase, and as she ceased speaking, the candidate repeated her promise to keep it, and instantly every girl in the circle, placing her right hand over her heart, chanted slowly,

"'This law of the fire I will strive to follow

With all the strength and endurance of my body,

The power of my will,

The keenness of my mind,

The warmth of my heart,

And the sincerity of my spirit.'"

And again after the last words-like a full stop in music-came the few seconds of utter silence.

It was broken by the Chief Guardian. "With this sign you become a Wood Gatherer," and she laid the fingers of her right hand across those of her left. The candidate made the same sign; then she held out her hand, and Mrs. Royall slipped on her finger the silver ring, which all Camp Fire Girls are entitled to wear, and as she did so she said,

"'As fagots are brought from the forest

Firmly held by the sinews which bind them,

So cleave to these others, your sisters,

Whenever, wherever you find them.

Be strong as the fagots are sturdy;

Be pure in your deepest desire;

Be true to the truth that is in you;

And-follow the law of the fire.'"

The girl returned to her place in the circle, and at a sign from Anne Wentworth, four of her girls followed her as she moved forward and stood before Mrs. Royall. From a paper in her hand she read the names of the four girls, and declared that they had all met the tests for the second grade.

The Chief Guardian turned to the four.

"What is your desire?" she asked, and together they repeated,

"'As fuel is brought to the fire

So I purpose to bring

My strength,

My ambition,

My heart's desire,

My joy,

And my sorrow

To the fire

Of humankind.

For I will tend

As my fathers have tended,

And my father's fathers

Since time began,

The fire that is called

The love of man for man,

The love of man for God.'"

As the young earnest voices repeated the beautiful words, Laura Haven's heart thrilled again with the solemn beauty of it all, and tears crowded to her eyes in the silence that followed-a silence broken only by the whispering of the night wind high in the treetops.

Then Mrs. Royall lifted her hand and soft and low the young voices chanted,

"'Lay me to sleep in sheltering flame,

O Master of the Hidden Fire;

Wash pure my heart, and cleanse for me

My soul's desire.

In flame of service bathe my mind,

O Master of the Hidden Fire,

That when I wake clear-eyed may be

My soul's desire.'"

It was over, and the circle broke again into laughing, chattering groups. Lanterns were lighted, every spark of the Council Fire carefully extinguished, and then back through the woods the procession wound, laughing, talking, sometimes breaking into snatches of song, the lanterns throwing strange wavering patches of light into the dense darkness of the woods on either side.

* * *

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