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   Chapter 3 THE CAMP COWARD DARES

The Three Midshipmen By William Henry Giles Kingston Characters: 19412

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:02


Each girl at the camp was expected to make her own bed and keep her belongings in order. Each one also served her turn in setting tables, washing dishes, etc. Beyond this there were no obligatory tasks, but all the girls were working for honours, and most of them were trying to meet the requirements for higher rank. Some were making their official dresses. Girls who were skilful with the needle could secure beautiful and effective results with silks and beads, and of course every girl wanted a headband of beadwork and a necklace-all except Olga Priest. Olga was working on a basket of raffia, making it from a design of her own, when Ellen Grandis, her Guardian, came to her just after Anne Wentworth and Laura had left the camp.

"I've come to ask your help, Olga," Miss Grandis began.

The girl dropped the basket in her lap, and waited.

Miss Grandis went on, "It is something that will require much patience and kindness--"

"Then you'd better ask some one else, Miss Grandis. You know that I do not pretend to be kind," Olga interrupted, not rudely but with finality.

"But you are very patient and persevering, and-I don't know why, but I have a feeling that you could do more for this one girl than any one else here could. She is coming to take the only vacant place in our Camp Fire. Shall I tell you about her, Olga?"

"If you like." The girl's tone was politely indifferent.

With a little sigh Miss Grandis went on, "Her name is Elizabeth Page. She is about a year younger than you, and she has had a very hard life."

Olga's lips tightened and a shadow swept across her dark eyes.

Miss Grandis continued, "You have superb health-this girl has perhaps never been really well for a single day. You have a brain and hands that enable you to accomplish almost what you will. Poor Elizabeth can do so few things well that she has no confidence in herself: yet I believe she might do many things if only she could be made to believe in herself a little. She needs-O, everything that the Camp Fire can do for a girl. Olga, won't you help us to help her?"

"How can I?" There was no trace of sympathy in the cold voice, and suddenly the eager hopefulness faded out of Miss Grandis' face.

"How can you indeed, if you do not care. I am afraid I made a mistake in coming to you, after all," she said sadly. "I'm sorry, Olga-sorry even more on your account than on Elizabeth's."

With that she rose and went away, and Olga looked after her thoughtfully for a moment before she took up her work again.

A little later Myra Karr stood looking down at her with a curious expression in her wide blue eyes.

"I'm-I'm going to walk to Kent's Corners," she announced, with a little nervous catch in her voice.

"Well, what of it? You've been there before, haven't you?" Olga retorted.

"Yes, but this time I'm going all alone!"

Olga's only reply was a swift mocking smile.

"I am-Olga Priest!" repeated Myra, stamping her foot angrily. "You all think me a coward-I'll just show you!" and with that she whirled around and marched off, her chin up and her cheeks flushed.

As she passed a group of girls busy over beadwork, one of them called out, "What's the matter, Bunny?"

Myra paused and faced them. "I'm going to walk to Kent's Corners alone!" she cried defiantly.

A shout of incredulous laughter greeted that.

"Better give it up before you start, Bunny," said one.

Another, with a mischievous laugh, whisked out her handkerchief and in a flash had twisted it into a rabbit with flopping ears. "Bunny, bunny, bunny!" she called, making the rabbit hop across her lap.

Myra's blue eyes filled with angry tears. "You're horrid, Louise Johnson!" she cried out. "You're all horrid. But I'll show you!" and with a glance that swept the whole laughing group, she threw back her head and marched on.

The girls looked after her and then at each other.

"Believe she'll really do it?" one questioned doubtfully.

"Not she. Maybe she'll get as far as the village," replied another.

"She'd never dare pass Slabtown alone-never in the world," a third declared with decision.

"Poor Myra, I'm sorry for her. It must be awful to be scared at everything as she is!" This from Mary Hastings, a big blonde who did not know what fear was.

"Bunny certainly is the scariest girl in this camp," laughed Louise Johnson carelessly. "She's afraid of her own shadow."

"Then she ought to have more credit than the rest of us when she does do a brave thing," put in little Bess Carroll in her gentle way.

"We'll give her credit all right if she goes to Kent's Corners," retorted Louise.

Just then another girl ran up to the group and announced that a blueberry picnic had been arranged. Somebody had discovered a pasture where the bushes were loaded with luscious fruit. They would carry lunch, and bring back enough for a regular blueberry festival.

"All who want to go, get baskets or pails and come on," the girl ended.

In an instant the others were on their feet, work thrown aside, and five minutes later there was no one but the cook left in the camp.

A group of girls busy over beadwork

By that time Myra Karr was tramping steadily on towards Kent's Corners. Scarcely another girl in the camp would have minded that walk, but never before had she dared to take it alone; now in spite of her nervous fears, she felt a little thrill of incredulous pride in herself. So many times she had planned to do this thing, but always before her courage had failed. Now, now she was really doing it! And if she went all the way perhaps-O, perhaps the girls would stop calling her Bunny. How she hated that name! She hurried on, her heart beating hard, her hands tight-clenched, her eyes fearfully searching the long sunny road before her and the woods or fields that bordered it. It was not so bad the first part of the way-the mile and a half to the little village of East Bassett. To be sure, she had never before been even that far alone, but she had been many times with other girls. She passed slowly and lingeringly through the village. Should she turn back now? Before her flashed the face of Olga with that little cold mocking smile, and she saw again Louise Johnson hopping her handkerchief rabbit across her lap. The incredulous laughter with which the others had greeted her announcement rang still in her ears. She was walking very very slowly, but-but no, she wouldn't-she couldn't turn back. She forced her unwilling feet to go on-to go faster, faster until she was almost running. She was beyond the village now and another mile and a half would bring her to Slabtown. Slabtown! She had forgotten Slabtown. The colour died swiftly out of her face as she remembered it now. Even with a crowd of girls she had never passed the place without a fearful shrinking, and now alone-could she pass those ugly cabins swarming with rough, dirty men and slovenly women and rude, staring children? Her knees trembled under her even at the thought, and her newborn courage melted like wax. It was no use. She could not do it. She wavered, stopped, and turned slowly around. As she did so a grey rabbit with a white tail scurried across the road before her, his ears flattened against his head and his eyes bulging with terror. The sight of him suddenly steadied the girl. She stood still looking after the tiny grey streak flying across a wide green pasture, and a queer crooked smile was on her trembling lips.

"A bunny-another bunny," she said under her breath, "and just as scared as I am-at nothing. I won't be a bunny any longer! I won't be the camp coward-I won't, won't, won't!" she cried aloud, and turning, went on again swiftly with her head lifted. A bit of colour drifted back to her white cheeks, and her heart stopped its heavy thumping as she drew a long deep breath. She would not let herself think of Slabtown. She counted the trees she passed, named the birds that wheeled and circled about her, even repeated the multiplication table-anything to keep Slabtown out of her thoughts; but all the while the black dread of it was there in the back of her mind. When she caught sight of the sawmill where the Slabtown men earned their bread, her feet began to drag again.

"I can't-O, I can't!" she sobbed out, two big tears rolling down her cheeks. Then across her mind flashed a vision of the little cottontail streaking madly across the road before her, and again some strange new power within urged her on. She went on slowly, reluctantly, with dragging feet, but still she went on. There were no men about the place at this hour-they were at work-but untidy women sat on their doorsteps or rocked at the windows, and a horde of ragged barefooted children catching sight of the girl swarmed out into the road to stare at her. Some begged for pennies, and getting none, yelled after her and threw stones till she took to her heels and ran "just like the other bunny!" she told herself in miserable scorn, when once she was safely past the settlement. Well, there was no other such place to pass, but-she shivered as she remembered that she must pass this one again on the way back.

She went on swiftly now with only occasionally a fearful glance on either side when the road cut through the woods. Once a farmer going by offered her a ride; but she shook her head and plodded on. It was half-past eleven when, with a great throb of relief and joy, she came in sight of the Corners. A few minutes more and she was in the village street with its homey-looking white houses and flower gardens. She longed to stop and rest on one of the vine-shaded porches, but she was too shy to ask permission. At the store she did stop,

and rested a few minutes in one of the battered wooden chairs on the little porch, but it was sunny and hot there. Now for the first time she thought of lunch, but she had not a penny with her; she must go hungry until she got back to camp. A boy came up the steps munching a red apple, his pockets bulging with others. The storekeeper's little girl ran out on the porch with a big molasses cooky just out of the oven, and the warm spicy odour of it made Myra realise how hungry she was. She looked so longingly at the cooky that the child, seeming to read her thoughts, crowded it all hastily into her own mouth. Myra laughed a bit at that, and after a little rest, set off on her return. She was tired and hungry, but a strange new joy was throbbing at her heart. She had come all the way to Kent's Corners alone-they could not call her a coward now! That thought more than balanced her weariness and hunger. She had to walk all the way back-she had to pass Slabtown again. Yes, but now she was not afraid-not afraid! She drew herself up to her slender height, threw back her head, and laughed aloud in the joy of her deliverance from the fear that had held her in bondage all her life. She didn't understand in the least how it had happened, but she knew that at last she was free-free-like the other girls whom she had envied; and dimly she began to realise that this was a big thing-something that would make all her life different. She walked as if she were treading on air. The loneliness of the woods, of the long stretch of empty road, no longer filled her with trembling terror.

As for the second time she approached Slabtown, her heart began to beat a little faster, but the newborn courage did not fail her now. She found herself whistling a gay tune and laughed. Whistling to keep her courage up? Was that what she was doing? Never mind-the courage was up. The women still sat on their doorsteps or stared from their windows, but this time the children did not swarm around her. They stood by the roadside and stared, but none called after her or followed her. She did not realise how great was the difference between the girl who now walked by with shining eyes and lifted head, and the white-faced trembling little creature with terror writ large in every line of her face and figure that had scurried by earlier in the day. But the children realised it. Instinctively now they knew her unafraid, and they did not venture to badger her. She even smiled and waved her hand to them as she went by, and at that a youngster of a dozen years suddenly broke out, "Three cheers fer the girl-now, fellers!" And with the echo of the shrill response ringing in her ears, Myra passed on, proud and happy as never before in her life.

All the rest of the way she went with the new happy consciousness making music in her heart-the consciousness of victory won. The last mile or two her feet dragged, but it was from weariness and lack of food. As she drew near the camp her steps quickened, her head went up again, and her eyes began to shine; but when she came to the white tents, she stood looking about in blank amazement. There was not a girl anywhere in sight; even the cook was missing.

Myra stood for a moment wondering where they had all gone; then she walked slowly across the camp to a hammock swung behind a clump of low-growing pines. Dropping into the hammock, she tucked a cushion under her head and, with a long sigh of delicious content and restfulness her eyes closed and in two minutes she was sound asleep-so sound asleep that when, an hour later, the girls came straggling back with pails and baskets full of big luscious berries, the gay cries and laughter and chatter of many voices did not arouse her.

The girls trooped over to the kitchen and delivered up their spoil to the cook.

"Now, Katie," cried one, "you must make us some blueberry flapjacks for supper-lots and lots of 'em, too!"

"And blueberry gingerbread," added another.

"And pies-fat juicy pies," called a third.

"And rolypoly-blueberry rolypoly!" shouted yet another.

The cook, her arms on her hips, stood laughing into the sun-browned young faces before her.

"Sure ye're not askin' me to make all them things fer ye to-night!" she protested gaily.

"We-ell, not all maybe. We can wait till to-morrow for some of them. But heaps and heaps of flapjacks, Katie dear, if you love us, and you know you do," coaxed Louise Johnson.

"Love ye? Love ye, did ye say?" laughed the cook. "Be off wid ye now an' lave me in pace or ye'll not get a smirch of a flapjack to yer supper. Shoo!" and she waved them off with her apron.

As the laughing girls turned away from the kitchen, Mary Hastings came towards them from the other side of the camp.

"What's the matter, Molly? You look as sober as an owl!" cried Louise who never looked sober.

"It's Myra-she isn't here. Miss Grandis and I have hunted all over the camp for her," Mary answered. "You know she started for Kent's Corners before we went berrying."

"So she did," cried another girl, the merriment dying out of her eyes. "You don't suppose she really went there?"

"Myra Karr-alone-to Kent's Corners? Never in the world," Louise flung out carelessly. "She's somewhere about. Let's call her." She lifted her voice and called aloud, "Myra, Myra, My-raa!"

At the call Mrs. Royall came hastily towards them. "Where is Myra? Didn't she go berrying with us?" she inquired.

"No," Louise explained lightly. "Bunny got her back up this morning and said she was going alone to Kent's Corners, but of course she didn't. She's started that stunt half a dozen times and always backed out. She's just around somewhere."

But Mrs. Royall still looked troubled. "She must be found," she said with quick decision. "Get the megaphone, Louise, and call her with that."

Still laughing, Louise obeyed. Her clear voice carried well, and many keen young ears were strained for the response that did not come. In the silence that followed a second call, Mrs. Royall spoke to another girl.

"Edith, get your bugle and sound the recall. If that does not bring her, two of you must hurry over to the farm and harness Billy into the buggy; and I will drive to Kent's Corners at once."

The girls were no longer laughing. "You don't think anything could have happened to Myra, Mrs. Royall?" one of them questioned anxiously. "Almost all of us have walked over there. I went alone and so did Mary."

"I know, but Myra is such a timid little thing. She cannot do what most of you can."

Edith Rue came running back with her bugle, and in a moment the notes of the recall floated out on the still summer air. It was a rigid rule of the camp that the recall should be promptly answered by any girl within hearing, so when, in the silence that followed, no response was heard, Mrs. Royall sent the two girls for the horse and buggy.

"Have them here as quickly as possible," she called after them.

Before the messengers were out of sight, however, there was an outcry behind them.

"Why, there she is! There's Myra now!" and every face turned towards the small figure coming from the clump of evergreens, her eyes still half-dazed with sleep.

With an exclamation of relief, Mrs. Royall hurried to meet her.

"Where were you, child? Didn't you hear us calling you?" she asked.

"I-I-no. I heard the recall, and I came-I guess I was asleep," stammered Myra bewildered by something tense in the atmosphere, and the eyes all centred on her.

"Asleep!" echoed Louise Johnson with a chuckle. "What did I tell you, girls?"

But Mrs. Royall saw that Myra looked pale and tired, and she noticed the change that came over her face as Louise spoke. A quick wave of colour swept the pale cheeks and the small head was lifted with an air that was new and strange-in Myra Karr. Mrs. Royall spoke again, laying her hand gently on the girl's shoulder.

"Myra, how long have you been asleep? How long have you been back in camp?"

And Myra answered quietly, but with that new pride in her voice, "It was quarter of four by the kitchen clock when I came. There was nobody here-not even Katie--"

"I'd just run out a bit to see if anny of ye was comin'," put in the cook from the kitchen door where she stood, as much interested as any one else in what was going on.

"And did you go to Kent's Corners, my dear?" Mrs. Royall questioned gently.

It was Myra's hour of triumph. She forgot Louise Johnson's mocking laugh-forgot everything but her beautiful new freedom.

"O, I did-I did, Mrs. Royall!" she cried out. "I was awfully frightened at first, but coming home I wasn't one bit afraid, and, please, you won't let them call me Bunny any more, will you?"

"No, my child, no. You've won a new name and you shall have it at the next Council Fire. I'm so glad, Myra!" Mrs. Royall's face was almost as radiant as the girl's.

It was Louise Johnson who called out, "Three cheers for Myra Karr! She's a trump!"

The cheers were given with a will. Tears filled Myra's eyes, but they were happy tears, as the girls crowded around her with questions and exclamations, and Miss Grandis stood with a hand on her shoulder.

"That's what Camp Fire has done for one girl," Mrs. Royall said in a low tone to Laura Haven. "That child was afraid of the dark, afraid of the water, afraid to be alone a minute, when she came. It is a great triumph for her-a great victory."

"Yes," returned Laura thoughtfully, and Anne added,

"You've no idea how lonesome the camp looked when Laura and I came back and found you all gone. It was so still it seemed almost uncanny. Myra never would have dared to stay alone here before."

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