Nell Speed.

The Carter Girls' Week-End Camp





CHAPTER XI
THE BIRD


Softly a winged thing
Floats across the sky,
And earth from slumber waketh
And looketh up on high,
Sees it is only a bird
A great white bird
That floating thro the darkness undisturbed
Floats on, and on, and on.

Late sleeping in a tent is rather a difficult feat as the morning sun seems to spy out the sleepers eyes and there is no way to escape him. Some of the campers tied black ribbons around their eyes and some even used black stockings, but the first rays of the sun always found Nan stirring. It was not that she was especially energetic, she was indeed rather lazy, according to her more vigorous sisters, but the charm of the early morning was so wonderful that she hated to miss it lying in bed. It was also such a splendid time to be alone. The camp was a bustling, noisy place when everyone was up, and early morning was about the only time the girl had for that communing with herself which was very precious to one of her poetic temperament.

She slept in a tent, not only with her sisters but with Lil Tate and Tillie Wingo, now that the week-enders had swarmed in on them at such a rate, stretching their sleeping accommodations to the utmost. Of course it was great fun to sleep in a tent but there were times when Nan longed for a room with four walls and a door that she could lock. The next best thing to a door she could lock was the top of the mountain in the early morning. Unless some enthusiastic nature-lover had got up a sunrise party she was sure to have the top of the mountain to herself.

Mr. Tucker had divulged to her the night before that her mother had abandoned the designs she had been entertaining for Douglas, and she in turn had been able to pass on the good news to Douglas. Mrs. Carter had not told her daughter herself but was evidently going to take her own good time to do so. Their mothers being a bit cattish was not worrying either Douglas or Nan. They were too happy over the abandonment of the plan. Of course they could not help feeling that since the plan was abandoned, it would have been sweet of their mother to let Douglas know immediately since she was well aware of the fact that the idea was far from pleasing to her daughter. And since it would have been sweet of her to let her know the moment she had abandoned the plan, it was on the other hand slightly cattish of her to conceal the fact. Of course the girls did not call it cattish even in their own minds just thoughtlessness. Douglas had no idea of how the change had come about, and Nan held her counsel. It was Mr. Tuckers and her secret.

As she crept out of the cot on that morning, before the sun was up, she glanced at her elder sister and a feeling of intense satisfaction filled her heart to see how peacefully Douglas was sleeping. Her beautiful hair, in a great golden red rope, was trailing from the low cot along the floor of the tent; her face that had looked so tired and anxious lately had lost its worried expression she looked so young hardly any older than Lucy, who lay in the next bed.

Thank goodness, the poor dear is no longer worried, thought Nan devoutly as she slipped on her clothes and crept noiselessly out of the tent.

What a morning it was! The sun was not quite up and there was a silver gray haze over everything.

The neighboring mountains were lost, as were the valleys. The air had a freshness and sweetness that is peculiar to dawn. The innocent brightness of a new-born day is lovely yet, quoted Nan. If I can only get to the top of the mountain before the sun is up! She hurried along the path, stopping a moment at the spring to drink a deep draft of water and to splash the clear water on her face and hands. She held her face down in the water a moment and came up shaking the drops off her black hair, which curled in innumerable little rings from the wetting. She laughed aloud in glee. Life was surely worth living, everything was so beautiful.

The sides of the mountain were thickly wooded but at the top there was a smooth plateau with neither tree nor bush. One great rock right in the middle of this clearing Nan used as a throne whereon she could view the world if not the world, at least a good part of Albemarle county and even into Nelson on one hand and Orange on the other. Sometimes she thought of this stone as an altar and of herself as a sun-worshipper.

On that morning she clambered up the rock just a moment before the sun peeped through a crack in the mist. She stood with arms outstretched facing the sun. The mists were rolling away and down in the valley she could distinguish the apple orchards and now a fence, and now a haystack. There a mountain cabin emerged from the veil and soon a spiral of thin blue smoke could be spied rising from its chimney.

I wonder what they are going to have for breakfast! exclaimed the wood nymph, and then she took herself to task for thinking of food when everything was so poetical. Just as she was wondering what the mountaineers who lived in that tiny cabin were going to cook on the fire whose smoke she saw rising in that thin blue reek the sun came up. A wonderful sight, but the sun has been rising for so many ?ons that we have become accustomed to it. Something else happened at that moment, something we are not quite accustomed to even yet: Far off over the crest of a mountain Nan thought she saw an eagle. The first rays of the sun glinted on the great white wings. For a moment it was lost to view as it passed behind a cloud and then it appeared again flying rapidly.

It is coming this way, a great white bird! I am almost afraid it might pick me up in its huge talons and carry me off, carry me way up in the air I almost hope it will it would be so glorious to fly!

She stood up on her throne and stretched her arms out, crying an invocation to the winged thing.

She heeded not the buzzing of the aeroplane as it approached. To her it was a great white bird and she only awakened from her trance when the machine had actually landed on her plateau.

The humming had stopped and it glided along the grass, kept closely cropped by Josephus, as this was his grazing ground when he was not busy pulling the cart. Nan stood as though petrified, a graceful little figure in her camp-fire girls dress. Her arms were still outstretched as when she cried her invocation to the great white bird.

The machine came to a standstill quite close to her altar and a young man in aviators costume sprang from it. Taking off his helmet and goggles, he made a low bow to Nan.

Oh, mountain nymph, may a traveler land in your domain?

Welcome, stranger!

And may I ask what is this enchanted land?

This is Helicon and you who are you?

I am Bellerophon and yonder winged steed is Pegasus. Maid, will you fly with me?

He held out his hand and Nan, with no more thought of the proprieties than a real mountain nymph would have had, let him help her into his machine. He wrapped a great coat around her, remarking that even nymphs might get cold, and seemingly with no more concern than Bill Tinsley felt over starting the mountain goat, he touched some buttons and turned some wheels and in a moment the aeroplane was gliding over the plateau and then floating in the air, mounting slowly over the tree tops. Up, up they went and then began making beautiful circles in the air. Nan sighed.

Are you scared? and the aviator looked anxiously at his little companion. He had not resumed his helmet and goggles and his eyes were so kind and so merry that Nan felt as though she had known him all her life.

Scared! Of course not! I am just so happy.

Have you ever flown before?

Not in reality but it is just as I have dreamed it.

You dream then a great deal?

Yes! In a dream all day I wander only half awake. I am sure I must be dreaming now.

I, too! But then the best of life is the dreams, the greatest men are the dreamers. If it had not been for a dreamer, we could not have had this machine. Look! Isnt that wonderful?

Nan was looking with all eyes at the panorama spread out below them. The sun was up now in good earnest and the mountains had shaken off the mist as sleepers newly aroused might throw off their coverlids. The orchards in the valleys looked like cabbage beds and the great mansions that adorn the hills and are the pride and boast of the county seemed no larger than doll houses. From every chimney in the valley smoke was arising. Nan was disgusted with herself that again the thought came to her:

What are all of these people going to have for breakfast?

They dipped and floated and curvetted. Nan thought of Hawthornes description of Pegasus in the Chim?ra and the very first opportunity she had later on she got the book and reread the following passage:

Oh, how fine a thing it is to be a winged horse! Sleeping at night, as he did, on a lofty mountain-top, and passing the greater part of the day in the air, Pegasus seemed hardly to be a creature of the earth. Whenever he was seen, up very high above peoples heads, with the sunshine on his silvery wings, you would have thought that he belonged to the sky, and that, skimming a little too low, he had got astray among our mists and vapors, and was seeking his way back again. It was very pretty to behold him plunge into the fleecy bosom of a bright cloud, and be lost in it for a moment or two, and then break forth from the other side.

Once they went through a low-hanging cloud. Nan felt the drops of water on her face.

Why, it is raining! she cried.

No, that was a cloud we dipped through, laughed her companion. Are you cold?

Cold? I dont know! I have no sensation but joy.

The young man smiled. There was something about Nans drawl that made persons want to smile anyhow.

You forgot your hat and goggles, she said as she noticed his blue eyes and the closely cropped brown hair that looked as though it had to be very closely cropped to keep it from curling.

Thats so! Some day maybe I shall go back after them. Now shall we fly to Frisco? How about High Olympus? Remember we are on Pegasus now and he can take us wherever we want to go.

Breakfast first, drawled Nan. Come with me and I can feed you on nectar and ambrosia.

Oh what a wonderful wood nymph! She understands that mortal man cannot feed on poetry alone.

They glided to the plateau and landed again by the great rock.

This is a wonderful place to light, said the birdman. And now, fair mountain nymph, please tell me who you are when you are not a nymph and what you are doing on the top of a lonely mountain before the sun is up.

Nan Carter! And if you think this is a lonely mountain, you ought to try to get by yourself for a few minutes on it. Before sunrise, on the tip top point, is the only place where one can be alone a minute

And then great creatures come swooping down out of the clouds and carry you off. It was very kind of you to go with me.

Kind of me! Oh, Mr. Bellerophon, I never can thank you enough for taking me. I have never been so happy in all my life. It is perfect, all but the noise I do wish it wouldnt click and buzz so. I know Pegasus did not make such a fuss only the swish of his wings could be heard and sometimes, as the maiden said, the brisk and melodious neigh.

Dont you want to know my name, too, Miss Nan Carter? I have a name I use sometimes when I am not mounted on Pegasus.

I dont want to know it at all, but perhaps my mother, who is chaperoning the camp and who is rather particular, might think Mr. Bellerophon sounded rather wily Greekish.

The young man laughed. Such a nice laugh it was that Nan could not help thinking it sounded rather like a melodious neigh. He was possessed of very even white teeth and a Greek profile, at least it started out to be Greek but changed its mind when it got to the tip of his nose which certainly turned up a bit. On the whole he was a very pleasant, agreeable-looking young man, tall and broad-shouldered, clean-limbed and athletic-looking. What Nan liked most about him were his eyes and his hands.

I hate to tell you my name, wood nymph. It sounds so commonplace after what we have done this morning. I am afraid when you hear it you will simply knock on one of these great oak trees and a door will open and you will disappear from my eyes forever.

Not before breakfast, drawled Nan. But you must tell me your name before breakfast because I shall have to introduce you to the others.

What others? Not more wood nymphs!

More Carters and week-enders!

You dont mean I have actually landed at Week-End Camp? Why, that is what I have been looking for, but I had no idea of striking it the first thing, right out of the blue, as it were. I heard about the camp at the University, and want to come board there for a while.

Well, I am the one to apply to, said Nan primly.

Apply to a wood nymph for board! Absurd!

Not at all! Of course, I cant take you to board without knowing your name and er number.

Well, if you must, you must Tom Smith is my name as for my number there is only one of me.

I mean by your number, where you live.

Oh, I live in the air mostly. Sometimes I come down to have some washing done and to vote at least, I came down once to vote that was last June, but as no elections were going on just then and as my having arrived at the age of twenty-one did not seem to make them hurry, I went up in the air again. When I do vote, though, it will be out in Louisville, Kentucky. Thats where I have my washing done. You dont say what you think of such a name as Tom Smith.

It is not very romantic, but it must have been a nice name to go to school with.

Great! There were so many of us that the lickings didnt go round.

The girl was leading the way down the mountain path and they came to the spring where she had performed her ablutions earlier.

This is the fountain of Pirene.

Ah! I fancied we would come to it soon, and he stooped and drank his fill, shaking the drops from his crisp curls as he got up.

I love to drink that way, cried Nan. I had a big deep drink as I went up the mountain.

Of course you drink that way! How else could a wood nymph drink? You might make a cup of your little brown hand, but even that is almost too modern. Ah, there is the camp! How jolly it looks! Are there any people there? It looks so quiet.

Any people there? Quiet! It is running over with people. They are all asleep now, that is the reason it is so quiet. There will be noise enough later.

As she spoke there were shouts from the shower bath where some of the youths from the camp had assembled for a community shower, and as the cold mountain water struck them they certainly made the welkin ring.

There is father! Come, and Ill introduce you.

Mr. Carter was coming from the kitchen bearing a cup of coffee for his wife, who stuck to the New Orleans habit of black coffee the first thing in the morning, and Mr. Carter loved to be the one to take it to her bedside.

Father, this is Mr. Bel Smith. He flew over here this morning, and Nan suddenly remembered that she was not a wood nymph and that this mountain in Albemarle was not Helicon. Also that it was not a very usual thing for well-brought-up young ladies to go flying with strange young men before breakfast, even if strange young men did almost have Greek profiles. For the first time that morning Nan blushed. Her shyness returned. She could hardly believe that it was she, Nan Carter, who had been so bold. Her Bellerophon was plain Tom Smith and Pegasus was a very modern flying machine lying up in Josephuss pasture, that pasture on top of a prosaic mountain in Albemarle County and not Mount Helicon. The fountain of Pirene was nothing but the spring that fed the reservoir from which they got the water supply for the shower bath where those boys were making such an unearthly racket. She was not a wood nymph there were no wood nymphs but just a sentimental little girl of sixteen who no doubt needed a good talking to and a reprimand for being so very imprudent. What would her mother say to such an escapade?

With all of Mrs. Carters delicate spirituelle appearance there was nothing poetical in her make-up. She would never understand this talk of forgetting that one was not a wood nymph. There was more chance of the fathers sympathy. Nan took the bull by the horns and plunged into her confession.

Father, I have been up in Mr. Bel Smiths flying machine. I dont know what made me do it except I just it was so early I I forgot it wasnt a flying horse.

Mr. Carter looked at his little daughter with a smile of extreme tenderness. He had taken flights on Pegasus himself in days gone by. He seldom mounted him now the burden of making a living had almost made him forget that Pegasus was not a plough horse not quite, however, and now as his little girl stood in front of him, her hair all ruffled by her flight, her cheeks flushed and in her great brown eyes the shadow of her dream, he understood.

It is still early in the morning, honey, for you no doubt the aeroplane is Pegasus. I envy you the experience. Everyone might not see it as I do, however, so you and Mr. Belsmith and I had better keep it to ourselves, and he shook the birdmans hand.

Smith is my name Tom Smith, and the young man smiled into the eyes of the older man.

I am very glad to see you, and just as soon as I take this coffee to my wife, I will come and do the honors of the camp, and Robert Carter hastened off, thinking what a boon it would be to be young again in this day of flying machines.

Nan found her tent about as she had left it. The inmates were still asleep. How strange, she said to herself, that I should have been to the top of Helicon and taken flight with Bellerophon on Pegasus while these girls have slept on not knowing a thing about it! I wonder where their astral bodies have been! Douglas looks so happy, poor dear, I fancy hers has been in heaven.

Aloud she cried: Get up, girls! Wake up! It is awfully late the camp is stirring and there is a lot to do. I have found a new boarder! He dropped from the clouds and is starved to death.

CHAPTER XII
PLEASE REMIT

Of course everyone was vastly interested in Mr. Tom Smith and his aeroplane. That young man, however, exhibited a modest demeanor which was very pleasant to members of his sex. He promised to take any and all of the campers flying if his machine was in good order. He thought it needed a little tinkering, however, as he had noticed a little clicking sound above the usual clack and hum of the motor.

How on earth did you happen to land here? asked someone.

Airmans instinct, I reckon. I was looking for the camp and had heard there was a mountain with a smooth plateau around here somewhere. A place to land is our biggest problem. The time will come when there will be landing stations for flyers just as they have tea houses for automobilists now. There is great danger of becoming entangled in trees and telegraph wires. A place looks pretty good for lighting when you are up in the clouds and then when you get down you find what seemed to be a smooth, grassy plain is perhaps the top of a scrub oak forest.

After breakfast the whole camp of week-enders marched to the top of the mountain to view the great bird, but the Carter girls had to stay behind to prepare for the picnic. Many sandwiches must be made and the baskets packed. Nan had her usual bowl of mayonnaise to stir. She looked very demure in her great apron but her eyes were dancing with the remembrance of her mornings escapade.

You look very perky this morning, honey, said Douglas, as she packed a basket of turnovers and cheese cakes with great care not to crush those wonders of culinary art.

You look tolerable perky yourself, retorted her sister. Just as the sophomores and seniors of a college seem to fraternize, so it is often the case with the first and third members of a family. Douglas and Nan hit it off better with one another than they did with either Helen or Lucy.

I feel like flying! declared Douglas. I dont mean in an aeroplane but just of my own accord. I am so happy that mother has given up that terrible plan for me, given it up without fathers knowing anything about it. I wish I knew who had persuaded her or how it came about. She is rather well, not exactly cold with me but not exactly chummy. She has not told me yet, but if you say it is so, I know it is so. I went to her room this morning so she could tell me if she wanted to, but she didnt say a thing about it. She got a lot of letters from New York by the early mail. I am mighty afraid they are bills.

Pretty apt to be, sighed Nan. I hope she wont give them to father.

Oh, she mustnt do that. I shall have to ask her for them. I hate to do it. She thinks I am so stern.

Let me do it, said Nan magnanimously. I wonder how much they amount to.

Oh, Nan! Would you mind asking for them?





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