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   Chapter 17 WAITING

The Camp Fire Girls Solve a Mystery; Or, The Christmas Adventure at Carver House By Hildegard G. Frey Characters: 10779

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"How is Sylvia?" Katherine's voice was husky with anxiety.

Nyoda looked grave over the tray she was carrying down to the kitchen. "No better yet; a little worse this morning, if anything. Her fever has gone up one degree during the night and she is coughing more than ever."

"Is it going to be pneumonia?" asked Katherine steadily, her eyes searching Nyoda's face.

"Not if I can help it," replied Nyoda, in a tone of grim determination, the light of battle sparkling in her eyes. Nevertheless, there was a note of worry in her voice that struck cold fear into Katherine's heart, stoutly optimistic as she was. What if Sylvia should die before her father came back? The other Winnebagos, clustering around Nyoda to hear the latest news from Sylvia's bedside, stood hushed and solemn. Nyoda set the tray down on the table and leaned wearily against the door, her eyes heavy from lack of sleep. Instantly Migwan was at her side, all solicitude.

"Go, lie down and sleep awhile, Nyoda," she urged. "You've been up nearly all night. I can look after Sylvia for a few hours-I know how. Go to bed now and we'll bring some breakfast up to you, and then you can go to sleep." Putting her arm around Nyoda she led her upstairs and tucked her into bed, smoothing the covers over her with gentle, motherly hands, while the girls below prepared a dainty breakfast tray.

"Nice-child!" murmured Nyoda, from the depths of her pillow. "Nice-old-Migwan! Always-taking-care-of-someone!" Her voice trailed off in a tired whisper, and by the time the breakfast tray arrived she was sound asleep.

Sylvia also slept most of the time that Migwan watched beside her, a fitful slumber broken by many coughing spells and intervals of difficult breathing. Never had Sylvia seemed so beautiful and so princesslike to Migwan as when she lay there sleeping in the big four-poster bed, her shining curls spread out on the pillow and her fever-flushed cheeks glowing like roses. Lying there so still, with her delicate little white hand resting on top of the coverlet, she brought to Migwan's mind Goethe's description of the beautiful, dead Mignon, in whom the vivid tints of life had been counterfeited by skillful hands. To Migwan's lively imagination it seemed that Sylvia was another Mignon, this child of lofty birth and breeding also cast by accident among humble surroundings, and singing her way into the hearts of people. Would it be with her as it had been with Mignon; would she never be reunited in life with her own people? The resemblance between the two lives struck Migwan as a prophecy and her heart chilled with the conviction that Sylvia was going to die. Tears stole down her cheek as she saw, in her mind's eye, the father coming in just too late, and their beautiful, radiant Sylvia lying cold and still, her joyful song forever hushed.

Migwan's melancholy mood lasted all morning, even after Nyoda came back and sent her out of the sick-room, and she sat staring into the library fire in gloomy silence, quite unlike her busy, cheery self. The day crept by on leaden feet. The hands of the clock seemed to be suffering from paralysis; they stayed so long in one spot. Ordinarily clock hands at Carver House went whirling around their dials like pinwheels, and the chimes were continually striking the hour. Now each separate minute seemed to have brought its knitting and come to stay.

"No word from Sherry and Hercules yet!" sighed Sahwah impatiently, as the whistles blew half past eleven.

"Give them a chance," said Katherine, her voice proceeding in muffled tones from the depths of the music cabinet, which, in order to pass away the time, she had undertaken to set to rights.

"They've had plenty of chance by this time to get down on board the boat," returned Sahwah, getting up from her chair and pacing restlessly up and down the room. Sahwah was not equipped by nature to bear suspense calmly; under the stress of inaction she threatened to fly to pieces.

Katherine looked up with a faint smile from the heaps of sheet music lying on the floor around her.

"Come and help me sort this music," she advised mildly, "it'll settle your mind somewhat, besides giving me a lift. I'm afraid I've bitten off more than I can chew. This is one grand mess of pieces without covers and covers without pieces. You might get all the covers in order for me."

Sahwah gazed without enthusiasm upon the littered floor. "Sort music-ugh!" she said, with a grimace and a disgusted shrug of her shoulders. She picked her way to the other end of the library and stood staring restlessly out of the window.

It was a dreary, dull day. The Christmas snow had vanished in a thaw, and a chilly rain beat against the window panes with a dismal, melancholy sound. The three boys fidgeted from one end of the house to the other, but could not get up enough steam to go out for a hike. Slim and the Captain drummed chopsticks on the piano, and Justice tried to keep up with them on the harp, until Migwan ordered them to be quiet so Sylvia could sleep, after which they sat in preternatural silence before the library fire, listlessly turning over the pages of magazines which they did not even pretend to read. The atmosphere of the house got so on everybody's nerves that the snapping of a log in the fireplace almost caused a panic.

The clock struck twelve, and Migwan, rousin

g herself from her preoccupation, went out into the kitchen to prepare lunch, aided by Gladys and Hinpoha, while Sahwah continued to pace the floor and Katherine went on nervously fitting covers to pieces and pieces to covers, her ear ever on the alert for the sound of the telephone bell. Justice and Slim and the Captain, grown weary of their own company, trooped out into the kitchen after the girls, declaring they were going to get lunch, and it was not long before the inevitable reaction had set in, and pent-up spirits began to find vent in irrepressible hilarity.

Protests were useless. In vain Migwan flourished her big iron spoon and ordered them out. Justice calmly took her apron and cap away from her and announced that he was going to be Chief Cook. Tying the apron around him wrong side out, and setting the cap backward on his head, he held the spoon aloft like a Roman short-sword, and striking an attitude in imitation of Spartacus addressing the Gladiators, he declaimed feelingly:

"Ye call me Chef, and ye do well to call him Chef

Who for seven long years has camped in summertime,

And made his coffee out of rain when there was no spring water handy,

And mixed his biscuits in the wash-basin,

Because the baking-pan no longer was.

But I was not always thus, an unhired butcher,

A savage Chef of still more savage menus--"

The teakettle suddenly boiled over with a loud hissing and sizzling, and the impassioned orator jumped as though he had been shot; then, collecting himself, he rushed over and picked the kettle from the stove and stood holding it in his hand, uncertain what to do with it.

"Set it down on the back of the stove!" commanded Migwan. "A great cook you are! Even Slim would know enough to do that!"

"Thanks for the implied compliment," said Slim stiffly.

"Slim ought to be Chief Cook," said the Captain. "He's fat. Chief cooks are always fat."

"Right you are!" cried Justice, taking off the apron and tying it around Slim as far as it would go.

"But I can't cook!" protested Slim.

"That doesn't make any difference," replied Justice. "You look the part, and that's all that's needed. Looks are everything, these days."

He perched the cap rakishly on top of Slim's head and stood off a little distance to eye the effect critically.

"Nobody could tell the difference between you and the Chef of the Waldorf," was his verdict.

Indeed, Slim, with his full moon face shining out under the cap, and the apron tied around his extensive waistline, looked just like the pictured cooks in the spaghetti advertisements.

"Isn't he the perfect Chef, though?" continued Justice admiringly. "He must have been born with an iron spoon in his hand, instead of a gold one in his mouth." Then, turning to Slim and bowing low before him, he chanted solemnly, "Go forth, go forth, Lars Porsena, go forth, beloved of heaven! All the other cooks will drown themselves in their soup kettles in despair when they see you coming. All hail the Chief Cook!"

"But I can't cook!" repeated Slim helplessly.

"You don't have to," Justice reassured him. "Chief Cooks don't have to cook; they just direct the others. Behold, we stand ready to obey your lightest command."

"All right," said Slim, "suppose you pare the potatoes."

"Ask me anything but that!" Justice begged him. "I never get the eyes cut out, and then when they're on my plate they look up at me reproachfully, like this--"

Justice screwed up his face and rolled his eyes into a grimace that convulsed the girls.

"No, you pare the potatoes, Slim," he continued. "The Chief Cook always pares the potatoes himself. It's too delicate a job to entrust to a subordinate."

Slim had his mouth open to protest, and Sahwah and Katherine, who had just wandered out into the kitchen, were in a gale of merriment over Slim's costume, when the doorbell rang and a messengerboy passed in a telegram.

They all pressed around eagerly while Katherine read it. It was from Sherry:

"South America boat sailed yesterday. Dr. Phillips gone. Can get no clue. Coming home to-night."

A long, tragic "Oh-h-h!" from Hinpoha broke the stricken silence which had fallen on the group at the reading of the message.

"Tough luck," said the Captain feelingly, and Justice repeated, "Tough luck," like an echo.

The Winnebagos glanced uncertainly toward the stairway and looked at each other inquiringly.

"Somebody go up and call Nyoda," said Katherine.

Just at that moment the door of Sylvia's room opened and Nyoda came running downstairs with light, swift footsteps, her face wreathed in smiles.

"Sylvia's better," she called, before she was halfway down. "The fever left her while she was sleeping, and her temperature is normal. The danger of pneumonia is over. I'm so relieved." She skipped down the last of the stairs like a young girl.

Then she caught sight of the telegram in Katherine's hand, and sensed the atmosphere of depression that prevailed in the lower hall. She knew the truth before a word was spoken, and composed herself to meet it.

"They were too late?" she said quietly, as she joined the group, and held out her hand for the bit of yellow paper.

"Poor Sylvia!" she exclaimed huskily. "She would soon be well enough to hear the news-and now there is nothing to tell her. If we had only found that letter a day sooner!"

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