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The Underpup   By: (1885-1959)

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I. A. R. Wylie

The Penguins were always breaking out with something. Miss Thornton, who had run Camp Happy Warriors for years and still believed there was good in everyone, said it was merely their age. The Penguins were older than the Peewits, who still trailed attenuated clouds of glory; and were younger than the Pelicans, who were beginning to talk mysteriously about Life, Beaux, and Parties things so far removed from the Peewits that they weren't even interested, but near enough to the Penguins to exasperate them into having marvelous ideas of their own.

So the Penguins were wonderfully set up when they first realized that they had a Social Conscience. They felt that even Priscilla ("Prissy") Adams, their counselor, who generally thought their ideas dreadful, would have to admit that a Social Conscience was a good idea.

Clara VanSittart had brought it to camp with her, just as the previous summer she had brought the first pair of white mice. Clara was a fat, earnest child with spectacles, who would one day be chairman of a Women's Club. Her mother, who was several chairmen already, had discovered the Poor that winter rather to their consternation so that Clara knew that at the very moment when the Penguins were sitting round their campfire, surrounded by trees and stars and lakes, and faintly nauseated with toasted marshmallows, there were poor, half starved children literally gasping for air in New York City's crowded, stifling streets. There was even a place called Hell's Kitchen, it was so hot and awful. Clara knew all the best words like "underprivileged," and by the time the last marshmallow had been drawn from its prong the Penguins were in tears.

"But it's no use just crying," little Janet Cooper said. She was usually so afraid of everyone, including herself, that they all stared at her. "We ought to do something," she said. And dived back into the shadow like an alarmed young tadpole.

No one had ever accused the Penguins of inertia. They proceeded at once to do something. And the counselors wished afterward that it had been white mice again.

Thus it came about that one April morning the following year Pip Emma Binns sat at her desk by the classroom window and wrote an English composition called "Trees." Or rather she was not writing. She was chewing bits out of a wooden pen holder and balefully regarding the back of Vittoria Emanuella Perozzi, the class' champion essayist. Vittoria used words which Miss Perkins called metaphors and similes and which Pip Emma called baloney. If a person looked white, why not just say so? Why bring in sheets? However, Miss Perkins thought a lot of that sort of thing, and so, no doubt, would the dames who were giving a prize of two months' vacation in some swell kids' camp for the best description of trees.

What did a tree look like? In Pip Emma's opinion it looked like a tree. But she knew that wouldn't get her anywhere certainly not to Camp Happy Warriors, where Pop and Ma were hell bent on her going. She pulled her dark brows together. She wiped an inky hand over her black hair drawn back into a short defiant pigtail. Then inspiration struck her, too. Very carefully she wrote two sentences. "I can't describe trees. I haven't seen any." And signed it Emma Binns.

It was like a metaphor. It wasn't true. It was baloney. But to Mrs. VanSittart and her committee it was just too heart rending. No trees. Poor little Emma Binns! As for Vittoria Emanuella Perozzi, she had evidently seen so many trees so often and so beautifully that, in the committee's opinion, there was no urgent need for her to see any more of them.

The Happy Warriors were gathered with their counselors and under their respective banners in Grand Central Terminal, and Clara VanSittart inspected the Penguins like a colonel inspecting a regiment before battle. She gave last orders. After all, the Social Conscience had been her idea, and it had to go over with a bang so that even the Pelicans would be impressed... Continue reading book >>

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