LITTLE ADVENTURES OF CAMP LIFE

“Yes, dear Mother, you were right when you supposed that we are having
a good time. It is not only good, but gorgeous.” So Jean Gordon’s
letter began.

“The committee on supplies and communications, as we call Billy and
Jimmy, whom Billy so adores, brought me your note and will take this,
to mail it Saturday. I’m glad that you and Dad are to have that fine
trip. No, I’m not disappointed not to go along and thanks for the
invitation, if I would really prefer to go. I couldn’t leave the girls
and I’ll probably get East some day.

“Billy told me a lot of things about the boys’ camp, and said that
Jimmy put in a lot of money that he has made along, at the office,
reporting, doing some press work, whatever that is, and everything. His
father pays him. But the boys are only borrowing of him and I think
that they are having as great a time as we are. They are in the lake
about half the time. At least we always see them when we go out. Billy
offered to take me in his canoe, but Grace won’t let me go until I
learn to swim better, for canoes are ‘not so safe,’ she says. I can
float, though, and swim a little. I’m so mad at myself to think that I
never wanted to swim,–and all my life near the lakes! Disgusting! Fran
and Bess are like fish in the water, and even Molly can do better than
I can. Just wait, though, till this summer is over. Tell my father,
by the way, that we all appreciate this little bay that the fathers
chose for us. We can wade out and swim in the shallower water without
worrying Grace, and the boys have rigged up a diving place, whatever
you call it, just like what they have.

“Grace is catching up in sleep and feels fine. She makes us all take an
early dip and have setting up exercises, for every camp that amounts to
anything does that, she says. Then we can plan our day ourselves, and
you ought to see the fish we catch _and cook_, if you please. It was so
cold that we made a big fire in the range yesterday and used a little
of that coal, too, though mostly we burn wood, and we baked biscuit
that turned out all right and had maple molasses with them. Yes, the
coal-oil stove works all right and we are careful. Grace usually
oversees our efforts to cook. We have had fires outdoors, too, right
on what beach we have, and we do everything that careful woodsmen–and
woodswomen–do. So don’t have a worry while you are gone. We lock up
every night and everything.

“You ought to see our pantry! The cans look fine, all in a row on one
shelf. The sack of flour stands in a box with white paper in it to
catch what we spill. We tacked up a little curtain of what was left of
our peacock stuff over the shelf that has our precious dishes. But we
have been tearing around outdoors so much that we haven’t used them
but once. Then we’re still painting our chairs off and on. The yellow
paint we got turned out all right. Molly and Phoebe are chief artists,
but I always knew that I was artistic even if I couldn’t draw, you
know! House-painting and furniture will be my specialty, and we think
it safer to put on the bright pictures by–let’s see, decalcomania,
they call it, I think. Some kind of mania, anyhow, I think. But Phoebe
has drawn a line that we make that golden-brown, which gives a nice
contrast with the yellow, after we get that on. The only trouble is
that we need the chairs to use, so progress is slow, doing about two at
a time.

“Mr. Lockhart sent the most wonderful binoculars out for Fran. She was
so surprised and pleased! Some of us get out pretty early to see what
is singing over our heads and we have enough glasses now to get our
identifications of even the little birds pretty sure. We are glad that
we brought all our nature books along. And we have found a girl who
lives near the lake and knows where different birds nest. She took me
to see a wood thrush’s nest, such a pretty, or odd one, only yesterday.
I’ll have to tell you about her. She’s a sort of mystery.

“I nearly ran into her the day we brought everything out and went to
housekeeping. Oh, it was the greatest fun, Mother, to move into our own
playhouse, so to speak! But you have listened to me rave about that
before.

“I was scampering through the trees with something from the truck when
lo and behold, here, in the midst of some spruces, was this girl. Just
imagine a thin face with big brown eyes and a scared look when she
saw me, an old fuzzy black sweater that was whole but looked awful, a
patched old purple skirt, faded, and dipping up here and down there, no
stockings at all and some old shoes that were tied on. I suppose she
wore them to save her feet going through the woods. Her hair was short
and just the curly kind that I’ve always wished mine was, but it was
brushed straight back from her face, as if she’d tried to get the curl
out.

“I asked her if she wanted to see us and she seemed to be more scared
than ever and sort of apologized. She said that she just happened on
the house and when we came we seemed to be having so much fun that
she just waited a minute,–something like that. Grace called me and I
didn’t see her any more, though I told Grace and she said that we would
lock up well. Nobody knew who might be around.

“Next thing, Fran made a remark that she has hated herself for ever
since. We were exploring real early one morning, led on by a bird we
couldn’t locate, and we came to the prettiest spot where there is a big
willow tree, the kind that you want right away to climb into. Well,
we climbed, and there, high up, the funniest bathing suit you ever saw
was hanging. It looked like a sack and was made of pieces of different
colored cloth.

“‘Well, look at this!’ Fran exclaimed. ‘Here’s the last word in bathing
suits. It reminds me of Joseph’s coat of many colors; and notice the
combination, will you? Whoever put such a thing as that together? It’s
all wet, so somebody has actually worn it!’

“Fran had no idea that anybody would hear her, for we had been all over
the place, we thought, but she had hardly gotten the words out of her
mouth when we saw a girl hurrying away from a clump of bushes. It was
the same girl that I’d seen near our camp. She turned and looked back,
and I saw that she was crying a little, but she whisked her head around
and got some trees between us in a jiffy. ‘Oh!’ said Fran, ‘wasn’t that
awful? Was that the girl you saw, Jean? And I’ve broken her heart by
laughing at her bathing suit. I never thought!’

“None of us said a word to make Fran feel any worse about it, but I got
to thinking. Of course she had to have something to wear in the lake,
and that was all she could put together. They must be awfully poor or
something. But she couldn’t have been really mad about it, for she came
to camp with a basket of vegetables from their garden, she said, and
asked if we wanted to buy any. Fran was there and saw her. She rushed
out and said at once that we’d take all she would let us have. Fran
was real cordial; and sober as she is, I saw a funny twinkle come into
the girl’s eyes when she looked at Fran, who was digging into her big
purse. She thanked us very politely and went away at once. She had on a
real respectable gingham dress this time, though it was a funny plaid
and made in a terribly old-fashioned way.

“I asked her if her folks had any eggs to sell and she said they did
sometimes. So she brought us eggs and the next time we had an early
bird hunt we saw her in the woods and I went with her to see the wood
thrush’s nest. Her name is Greta Klein. Nan is going to ask Jimmy if he
ever heard of the Kleins. The name is German, you see, but her English
is as good as ours,–oh, I hear you laugh at that. It isn’t saying very
much for it, I know. Still, there is a difference when you really can
talk correctly, even if you do not always do it.

“We are taking turns at the cooking, as we said we should. So far we
have not let Grace do one thing except superintend. The cooks submit
the menus to her to see if they have a ‘balanced meal.’ But sometimes
if we have a long hike and everybody is tired, we just all pitch in and
get up what there is double quick. It is so beautiful here, Mother, and
we all love it!”

With a little more Jean ended the long letter to her mother. Greta
could have verified what was said about her. She had, indeed, been hurt
at Fran’s remark, though the tears had been from a rare breakdown and
discouragement, when she had found a place in the bushes to cry it out
after her morning swim. A great scolding she had had after the day in
the woods. Her mother had asked her if she had gone crazy and Greta had
replied that she would have to have a rest once in a while if she had
so much to do. “Either that, Mother, or I shall go away to work,” she
had said firmly.

Mrs. Klein grew very angry and kept after her constantly with more to
do than ever, telling her that she would teach her if she could go
off for a whole day with washings to do and cooking and feeding and
children under foot. She threatened to beat Greta, but Greta said, “Why
can’t you work more with me and not put most of the hard work on me?
I’ll work gladly to help earn some money for us; but if Jacob Klein
amounted to anything as a farmer we wouldn’t be so poor.”




This enraged Mrs. Klein more than ever. She advanced threateningly
toward the girl, till Greta ran out of the house and her mother
called to her to come back and iron the clothes for Mrs. Smith. Greta
returned, warily, but Mrs. Klein told her to sprinkle the clothes and
then mix the bread while she went to see where the children were.

Such was the state of things, with Greta thinking more and more that
there was something strange about her relations with the man and woman
who had called themselves her parents. Flashes of memory returned, or
what she hoped was memory, though dim. She had always recalled some
clothing that she had thought was hers as she came back to life after
the fever, but she saw the dress being made over for the little boy,
then in dresses. How could she ever find out about anything?

The presence of the girls at their camp was one source of pleasure, if
somewhat tantalizing. She told her mother about a camp at that end of
the lake and asked if she might not sell their eggs and vegetables to
them. To this Mrs. Klein agreed, more readily than ever after the sale
to Fran and the good price that she paid. Long evenings in the garden
Greta spent, plying a busy hoe against the weeds. That the campers were
girls she did not mention, but their bright faces were often before
her. They led a different life, a life that had something ahead of it,
for she saw them with their books and field glasses, or taking their
early dip and rowing about the lake. Sometimes she swam nearly to the
little bay when she thought that she had time.

Then she met them on the unfortunate occasion of Fran’s remark and
again when she fell in with Jean on a very early stroll toward their
camp. By that time Jean had heard from Jimmy that the Klein house was
across the lake from the Wizards’ shack and that Jacob Klein was a
lazy ne’er-do-well, who drank and abused his family. “Poor Greta!”
thought Jean.

It happened next that Jean, Molly and Nan took a longer hike than they
had intended and found themselves coming out of the woods upon a narrow
road that led to the lake, as they could see. At a little distance they
saw a house and decided to stop and ask for a drink of water.