THE PICNIC

In spite of all the excitement, it was good to be home again. It was
wonderful, thought Marjorie, and some of the others who went with her,
to get up early in the morning and help bring the horses in; to have
the free and easy companionship of these friendly people all day long;
to go on beautiful rides, and see the mountains in all their glory;
and, at the close of the day, to join in the games on the porch; or,
later, to go for a stroll in the moonlight.

It was only when the mail came in that Marjorie and Daisy felt a tinge
of unhappiness. Unconsciously, all the girls expected that in some way
the mystery about Daisy’s sister would be solved, and that the news of
it would come by letter. Unless, as Alice kept reminding them, they,
the Girl Scouts, should have a hand in unravelling it. If only they
might, Marjorie felt that it would be the crowning good turn to the
troop’s history.

Marjorie felt disconcerted, too, that she had heard nothing from
John Hadley. No doubt it was her own fault; the young man had written
courteously to her mother after the week-end at the seashore, and
probably expected her to regard that as a letter to herself. She
admitted that she missed him, but she could not make up her mind to
write immediately.

When the first Sunday of the scouts’ visit arrived, Mr. Hilton
announced that there would be no riding; but instead the whole party
would go in boats or canoes up the modest little stream not far from
the ranch, and have dinner and supper out-doors.

“A canoe trip!” cried Marjorie, her mind turning immediately to the
memories of the scouts’ own canoe trip two years previous. “How
wonderful!”

“Don’t you wish you had _The Scout_ here, Marj?” asked Lily, referring
to the first prize that had been awarded to Pansy troop, and which had
been won by Marjorie.

“Indeed I do!” replied the girl, heartily.

“But I’m sorry to have to tell you that it won’t be a canoe trip
for everybody,” said Mr. Hilton. “Unfortunately we have only five
small canoes, and the rest of the party will therefore have to go in
row-boats.”

“Is everybody going?” asked Bob.

“Naturally,” replied Kirk, in a matter-of-fact tone.

“So you think you’re everybody!” remarked Alice, turning to the young
man.

“Kirk’s right,” explained Bob. “Everybody else always goes to
everything, so if he decides to join the party, he knows everybody will
be there. But I say, Art, it’s pretty tough about ‘the rest’ going in
row-boats. I bet I know who the rest are!”

“Oh, it’s always punk to be the rancher’s son,” said Arthur,
carelessly. “You just have to lose out on everything, whether it’s a
matter of canoes, or pies, or girls–”

“Thank you!” interrupted Ethel. “Suppose we cancel that date for a walk
tonight!”

“Now Ethel!” pleaded Arthur. “My one stroke of luck–”

“Hush!” said Mr. Hilton. “We must begin to make arrangements for our
party. There are twenty-three of us, and places for ten in the canoes.
I’ll put some marks on papers, and everybody except our family can draw
to find out the name of their row-boat or canoe.”

Everyone seemed pleased with this idea except Marjorie, Alice and
Irene. Marjorie and Alice were each afraid that their lot might be cast
with Kirk Smith, and Irene was afraid that hers would not. As luck had
it, Marjorie drew the unpopular man. Irene, on the other hand, was
coupled with Clayton Jones, one of the Academy boys.

Marjorie frowned when the announcement was made, and Irene looked
tremendously disappointed. But neither girl said anything; each started
for her own cabin.

“Poor Marj!” sympathized Alice, as she took the girl’s arm; “I’m glad
I’m not in your boots!”

“It is hard luck,” said Marjorie. “But then, somebody had to draw him.
And I guess any of the girls would have been peeved.”

“Don’t forget Irene Judson!” said Alice. “She would probably have been
tickled to death.”

The idea brought Marjorie an inspiration: why should she not exchange
places with Irene, if it could be managed, and if the girl were
willing? She did not remember with whom the other girl was coupled, but
she knew she would prefer anyone else on the ranch to Kirk.

Accordingly she watched for her opportunity, and slipped over to
Irene’s cabin. Luckily she found the girl alone, but in low spirits.
She was sitting on her cot, looking most dejected, and making no
attempt to dress. She raised her head as Marjorie entered, wondering
resentfully what had brought her there. But before her visitor had a
chance to state her errand, she gave vent to her own feelings.

“You certainly are lucky!” she exclaimed, petulantly. “I don’t think
it’s fair! But if you’re mean enough to make a date with him to come
home–”

Although she was amazed at the girl’s words and manner, Marjorie was
delighted to learn so quickly that Irene would probably fall in with
her plans. She therefore hastened to put the proposition before her,
choosing to ignore the remark she had made.

“I came over, Irene,” she said, quietly, “to ask you whether you would
be willing to change partners with me, if it could be managed. I don’t
know whom you are going with, but–”

“One of those Academy babies!” interrupted the other girl. “Clayton
Jones! I don’t suppose you’d exactly enjoy his company.”

“I’d much prefer it to Kirk’s,” Marjorie assured her.

Irene sat up straight at these words, hardly able to believe that she
had heard correctly. It seemed incredible to her that any normal girl
could prefer the society of a boy like Clayton Jones to that of such a
distinguished-looking young man.

“Do you really mean it?” she cried. “You will actually swap?”

“I’d love to. Now–as to the method. Suppose I go down to the stream
early, and run off with Clayton. Then you’ll simply have to go with
Kirk because there won’t be any other place!”

“Wonderful!” exclaimed Irene. She jumped up impulsively. “Oh, Marj,
how can you be so generous?”

“But it isn’t generosity a bit! I’m just as well pleased as you are!”

“Well, I think it’s perfect–it will change my whole day for me.
Now–will you go and arrange it with Clayton?”

Marjorie turned about, and hurried to where the boys were still
standing. Drawing Clayton aside, she begged him to fall in with her
plans.

“But I don’t understand!” insisted the boy. “Girls always admire Kirk
Smith!”

“Well, I don’t!” said Marjorie, with conviction. “I can’t stand him,
and I’d love to get out of going with him. And Irene doesn’t mind.”

“But I bet Kirk will!” muttered the boy. “All right, I’m flattered.
I’ll be ready before ten.”

And so Marjorie found the excursion more delightful than she had
anticipated, with this pleasant companion. Clayton was a Boy Scout,
and he had spent several of his summers camping. It was surprising the
amount of knowledge he had of nature and her ways. They talked of many
things, delighted to discover that they had so much in common.

For the first mile of their trip, Marjorie kept turning around every
few minutes and looking back, fearful lest the party would catch her
and punish her–perhaps by a dipping–for running away from Kirk. But
none of the canoes appeared, and she hoped that they had forgotten what
partner she had drawn. And Kirk would never tell; he was probably too
indifferent to notice the change of canoe-mates.

But Marjorie was mistaken in this supposition. No sooner had the
Girl Scouts put in an appearance than Kirk began to ask everyone for
Marjorie. Irene watched his disturbance with annoyance, but she said
nothing. Instead, she began to look for Clayton.

“You’re sure Marjorie isn’t in her cabin?” Kirk asked Lily.

“No, she left quite early–it must have been nearly half an hour ago.”

“Oh, I saw her!” cried Bob, suddenly. “I saw a canoe go off about
twenty minutes ago, with a boy and a girl in it. Now that I think of
it, it must have been Marjorie and Clayton!”

“The scamp!” exclaimed Kirk, with more animation than usual. “She
evidently ran away from me.”

“You can’t blame her!” muttered Alice, to herself.

“No, I think there was something special Clayton wanted to show her
about handling a canoe,” said Lily, loyally coming to her chum’s
rescue. “I heard her talking to him last night.”

Irene shot Lily a grateful look, for which the latter could see no
reason. All the while she was edging up towards Kirk, in order to give
him the opportunity to ask her to go with him. The others were getting
into their boats; it would be too embarrassing if he did not ask her
soon.

“Well, Irene,” he said, to her immense relief, “we’re both deserted, so
we may as well patch it up together. What do you say?”

“Oh, thank you for coming to my rescue, Kirk,” she replied, gratefully.
“It’s so much worse for a girl to be left in the lurch than for a man.
But I’m afraid old ladies like me can’t expect to hold young men like
Clayton Jones.”

“But you’re no older than Marjorie!” protested Kirk.

“No, that’s true,” she admitted.

She stepped happily into the canoe, well pleased at the success of the
plan, and at the good-humored attitude of her companion. She resolved
to keep up his good spirits as long as possible. He seemed in a
talkative mood.

“Tell me what you think of this Marjorie Wilkinson,” he began.

Irene did not care to talk about other girls, but she felt she would
have to satisfy him as best she could.

“Why, she seems lovely to me,” she replied. “She is a very athletic
girl–lieutenant of the scout troop, and all that–and she doesn’t
appear to care much about men. Last night she told me she would rather
go with any of the Academy boys than anybody else, because they knew
so much about nature!” Irene studied Kirk’s face, as she added her
final remark: “I really think it was she who arranged to run away with
Clayton. She seems to like him a lot!”

“She’s not showing bad taste at that,” remarked her companion. “I
wouldn’t be adverse to a little trip with the kid myself.”

“Clayton, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“Not Marjorie? Are you–are you so awfully sorry you missed her
company?”

“Certainly not!” returned the young man, coolly. “She’s nothing to me!”

Irene felt relieved, but she was sorry not to evoke some warmer
expression of sentiment from her companion. She was sitting in the bow
of the boat, so she could not see him without turning around, and she
could not do that too often. So she hardly knew how to interpret his
last remark, or to know how much he was in earnest.

She tried other subjects, but Kirk made his answers so monosyllabic
that she finally abandoned all attempt at conversation, and gave
herself up to the enjoyment of the scenery, and of paddling. Kirk was
an experienced canoeist, and in spite of the fact that they were going
against the current, he made good headway. When they reached the picnic
spot, they found Marjorie and Clayton already there. They were seated
on the edge of the bank with their lines in the water. Two good sized
fish lay on the ground beside them.

“Marj can fish!” cried Clayton, triumphantly. He seemed proud to
exhibit her as his especial property.

“My brother taught me something about it, but I want to learn lots
more,” she explained.

Kirk threw himself upon the ground beside her, and watched her with
amusement. He, who was so indifferent to girls himself, was not used to
finding them indifferent to him.

“If you hadn’t run away from me,” he remarked, “I’d have been glad to
ask you to go fishing with me.”

Marjorie shot him a withering glance. He certainly seemed pleased with
himself!

“Clayton is perfectly willing to help me, and he says Pop Welsh, who
knows more about fishing than anybody else on the ranch, will be glad
to give me some instructions. So you see, Mr. Smith, I shall hardly
need your services!”

The rest of the party arrived, and soon everyone was busy with their
preparations for lunch. The boys made a fire, while Mrs. Hilton,
assisted by the girls, unpacked the food and spread it out on the
ground.

It was not until they were seated, and the meal in progress, that
the young people began to question Marjorie about her disappearance.
Clayton laughed, and Marjorie dismissed the matter with a shrug of the
shoulders. She had decided that in the presence of both Kirk and Irene
she would be absolutely non-committal.

“And are you going back the same way?” asked Lily.

“If Mr. Hilton will give us the permission,” replied Marjorie.

“But suppose I don’t agree!” put in Kirk.

Irene cast Marjorie an imploring look; surely she would not say
anything compromising.

“I’ll do whatever the most people want,” she answered, sweetly.

“Then I demand my rights!” said Kirk, and Marjorie nodded in silence.

That afternoon the whole party went fishing, and returned not only with
enough for supper, but with a supply to take home for breakfast as
well. Mrs. Hilton was more than pleased with the results.

As they gathered around the fire again for supper, Alice suddenly
noticed that Marjorie was missing.

“And so is Clayton!” cried Kirk, jumping to his feet. “If they’ve made
another escape–”

“Which they have!” announced Bob, from the bank of the stream. “One
canoe is gone!”

“Then I’m going to follow them!” said Kirk, starting for the boats.

“Without your supper?” demanded Mrs. Hilton.

“Yes–may I have a piece of bread? But come, somebody must go with me,
on account of the number of places in the boats. Daisy, would you–”

“Yes, indeed!” cried the girl, jumping up immediately. “Something might
have happened to them, and we really ought to trace them before it gets
dark.”

Mrs. Hilton thrust some bread and dried fruit into their hands, and
they were gone. The others turned their attention to supper.

“I do believe Kirk is crazy about Marjorie!” remarked Bob Hilton, when
the canoe was out of sight.

“No, I think it’s Daisy,” said his mother. “Marjorie has just got the
best of him, and he wants to conquer her.”

“Well, anyway,” concluded Tom Melville, “he takes more interest in
those two girls than in anything or anybody since he’s been out here.
And, by George, I’m glad to see it!”

Irene said nothing; she was too disappointed to think of anyone but
herself. But she no longer blamed Marjorie, or felt any resentment
against her; she only wished that she might adopt the same attitude
toward men that the other girl maintained. It seemed to be so entirely
successful.

When the party finally reached the ranch in the late dusk of the
evening, they found Kirk and Clayton on the porch. But the girls, they
said, had gone to bed.

“And did you catch Marjorie?” asked Alice, laughingly.

“No,” replied Kirk. “It takes someone as clever as Clayton to catch
her. Not that I really wanted to,” he yawned, “but I did enjoy the
chase.”

These last words sent Irene to bed a happier girl.