Margaret Vandercook.

The Camp Fire Girls by the Blue Lagoon



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CHAPTER I
THE CITY OF TOWERS

One afternoon in October two girls were walking down Fifth Avenue. They were strangers in New York. One of them, a tall, fair girl, dressed in a dark blue tailor suit, furs, and a close-fitting velvet hat, was several years older than her companion, who was small with dark eyes, a sallow skin and an oddly unconventional appearance which seemed to accord with her costume, a brown serge cape, a gown of the same material and an old-fashioned poke bonnet of flowered silk.

In another hour the shops would close and the crowds come pouring forth into the streets.

"Are you tired, Elce? I had forgotten you were never in New York save the one day when you landed. The hotel is only a few blocks further on, yet perhaps it might have been wiser not to have attempted to walk from the station."

Bettina Graham, who was carrying a small suitcase, made an effort to slacken her pace, her companion with quicker, shorter steps keeping close beside her.

"No, I am not tired," she answered, "it is only the noise that confuses me. I never could have imagined anything like it. Yet I think I once dreamed of a city like this, of tall towers and streets that are ravines between high cliffs, with the same bright blue sky overhead."

The older girl smiled.

"You are a fanciful person, but dreaming in New York is a dangerous pastime, where one must watch every foot of the way."

The afternoon was warm and brilliant, with only a faint suggestion of frost, the shop windows filled with brilliant displays, the streets crowded with automobiles.

Bettina's expression changed, her eyes shone, her lips parted slightly as the color swept into her cheeks.

"New York is fascinating, isn't it? One forgets how fascinating even when one has been away only a short time. I do hope I may be able to spend the winter here! But for you, Elce, who have lived almost your entire life in the country, it must be a wholly new experience. Well, we are both runaways this afternoon!

"There is Mrs. Burton's hotel just around the corner of the next block. At this hour, between five and six o'clock, she must be at home."

Unconsciously Bettina began to move more rapidly, with the appearance of a runner whose goal is nearly in sight.

"I'll send up our cards and she will see us at once. I am sorry our train was two hours late. I presume I ought to have telegraphed. One does not enjoy the idea of being alone in New York." Bettina laughed. "Don't be troubled, there is not the faintest chance of such a disaster. Now that our Camp Fire guardian has returned to the stage and her play become one of the greatest successes of the winter, I suppose she does have to excuse herself to a good many persons, yet she will scarcely decline to see us."

Not talking to her companion so much as to herself, Bettina at the same time was studying the faces of the passers-by, divided between her interest in New York, the contagion of the brilliant autumn day and her undoubted nervousness over some personal problem.

Reaching the desired hotel, after an instant's hesitation, the two girls entered, Bettina feeling an unaccustomed awkwardness and embarrassment.

Notwithstanding the fact that she had traveled many miles in the past few years in her own country and in Europe, this was the first occasion when she had been without a chaperon.

Declining to surrender her suitcase, Bettina asked the clerk to announce her arrival to Mr. and Mrs. Richard Burton. In a measure she felt prepared to have her request refused, as Mrs. Burton would probably wish to be excused to visitors at this hour. She meant to be insistent, even if necessary to telephone her own name.

The clerk shook his head.

"Sorry, miss, but Captain and Mrs. Burton are not in; they left this hotel four or five days ago and took an apartment of their own."

"You don't mean they are no longer living here?"

To her own ears Bettina's voice sounded more startled than it should. "Then will you be kind enough to give me their new address, as I wish to find them at once."

She thought she saw a faint look of sympathy and regret on the clerk's face.

"Sorry again, but Captain Burton left strict orders their new address was to be given to no one. They do not wish to see strangers. Their friends they intend notifying themselves. Perhaps you want Mrs. Burton to help you to go on the stage, so many young women call on her for this purpose and she has been giving up so much time to them, Captain Burton does not wish her to be disturbed in the future."

Bettina flushed and frowned.

"No, I am not looking for work and I am not a stranger to Mrs. Burton. She and Captain Burton would wish you to tell me where they are living. Mrs. Burton is a kind of relative, or at least she is an intimate friend."

The clerk smiled.

"That is what everyone says. I regret not being able to oblige you, but orders are orders."

As if Bettina were no longer demanding his attention he turned to some one who had been waiting and was now inquiring for a room.

Wishing to discuss a question of great importance to her own happiness with her Camp Fire guardian, Bettina had run away from home. The act was not premeditated. When she made her sudden decision her mother and father chanced to be spending a few days away from Washington. Nor would they have objected to her journey, save to prefer that she have an older companion than the little English girl, Elce, originally known as Chitty, whom the Camp Fire girls had known during the summer in "Merrie England."

Bettina had not seen her Camp Fire guardian in six months, not since their parting at Half Moon Lake. Of late, not once, but many times her mother had announced that she would like the benefit of Polly Burton's advice on the question which divided them.

So Bettina suddenly had set out on her pilgrimage to New York with this end in view. To arrive unheralded and not find Mrs. Burton, to be compelled to spend the night with Elce as her only companion would but deepen her mother's impression that she possessed neither the judgment nor experience necessary for the independence she desired.

Nothing would be gained by looking inside her pocket book. She knew exactly the amount of money it contained.

After paying for her own and Elce's tickets and an expensive lunch on the train she had counted it carefully. Seven dollars and forty cents then had seemed a sufficient amount when she expected to be with her Camp Fire guardian in a few hours; it was woefully insufficient to meet the expenses of two persons in New York.

There was one friend to whom she might appeal, but this would make her present difficulty with her mother the greater. Surely there must be some method of discovering her Camp Fire guardian, if only she were not so stupid that she had no idea what to do next. In any case she would not remain longer in the lobby of the hotel and she declined to question the clerk a third time. In the street she would receive fresh inspiration.

She and Elce left the hotel.

Outdoors no new idea immediately occurred to her. It seemed strange that her mother had not mentioned Mrs. Burton's change of address: as they never failed to write each other once a week, undoubtedly she must know. Then Bettina recalled the fact that she and her mother had had but little to say to each other of late, since no matter upon what subject they started to talk, always the conversation veered to the difference between them.

"Don't be worried, dear, I shall be able to think what to do in a few moments," Bettina remarked, with more courage than conviction. "It was ridiculous for the hotel management to decline to give me Tante's change of address. She and Captain Burton will both be annoyed; the clerk should have known they might wish some exception to be made to their order."

Elce nodded, regretting that she was unable to offer any advice and yet perfectly content to abide by Bettina's judgment. In a strange and unfamiliar world, Bettina was her one anchor. Sent to a boarding school, from loneliness and longing for the outdoors, Elce had fallen ill, and unable to continue at school, Bettina's home had been her refuge.

At present the younger girl was finding it difficult to keep her attention concentrated upon the object of their quest, the city noises so excited and confused her. With her strange musical gift she long had been able to reproduce the country sounds, the singing of certain birds, the wind in the trees, now she seemed faintly aware of some hidden harmony amid the thousand discords of the city streets.

Again her companion brought her back from her day dreaming.

"I believe I will look in the telephone book, as it is just possible Tante may have kept her former telephone number and had it transferred to her new address. If you do not mind waiting, here is a public telephone booth."

Five minutes later with her expression a little more cheerful, Bettina rejoined the younger girl.

"I have discovered an apartment in Fifth Avenue which may be Tante's. At least it is occupied by a Mr. and Mrs. Richard Burton. As no one answered the telephone, suppose we take the Fifth Avenue bus and see if by a stroke of good fortune we have located the right place. I do hope so. If not, I suppose we can find a quiet hotel and spend the night there, or if not go to a Y.W.C.A. and explain our difficulty. In the morning I fear we must return to Washington and there humbly inquire for Tante's address. I might telegraph of course, but as mother and father are not at home, to find we have vanished before they receive the letter I left for them, will annoy and frighten them. Heigh-ho, it is a puzzling world, Elce dear; when I thought I was attempting a simple journey for a good cause here I am in an entirely unexpected tangle!"

In spite of her uncertainty, for she had but little assurance of finding her guardian, Bettina could not fail to enjoy the ride up Fifth Avenue in the crowded bus. Not yet dark, still here and there lights were shining in the office buildings, while the throngs of people hurrying home grew constantly larger. The bus passed the low, classic stone building she recognized as the New York Public Library, then a group of magnificent houses and hotels and the entrance to Central Park.

At Sixty-first Street and Fifth Avenue Bettina and her companion dismounted.

Half a block further on they entered a handsome apartment building.

"Will you telephone up and ask either Mr. or Mrs. Richard Burton to see Miss Bettina Graham," Bettina asked the elevator boy. "I won't give your name, Elce; it is better that I explain later and the two names might be confusing," she whispered, more uneasy than she cared to confess even to herself.

The reply brought a flush of color to Bettina's cheeks. She was to "come up at once."

"I am afraid I am a good deal relieved. In truth I am so tired I shall tumble into bed as soon as dinner is over and not try to have a long talk with Tante before morning. Probably she would prefer me to wait, as she will soon be leaving for the theater. I hope her apartment is not very small, but in any case she will have to find room for us to-night," Bettina managed to confide on the way up to the fifth floor.

The moment she had rung the bell, the door opened.

Bettina and Elce found themselves confronting a young man of about eighteen or nineteen years of age.

"Won't you come in? I believe you wish to see my mother. I did not catch your name, but she will be at home in a few moments. The apartment has been deserted all afternoon, but I am sure she won't be much longer away."

An absurd instant Bettina forgot her dignity and the number of her years and suffered an impulse to shed tears. She was tired and it was late. She felt the responsibility for her companion. Of course she should not have rushed to New York in this impetuous fashion without her mother's knowledge, or informing her Camp Fire guardian of her intention.

"You are very kind. I am sorry to have troubled you, but it is not your mother I am looking for. I was afraid I was making a mistake. I am seeking for another Mrs. Richard Burton and merely hoped that this might prove to be her address."

"You are convinced it is not." The young fellow's manner was so kind that Bettina felt slightly less depressed. "Suppose you tell me something of the Mrs. Burton you do wish to find, give me some kind of a clue and I may be able to help you."

"Well, I scarcely know how to explain. I came to New York under the impression that Mr. and Mrs. Burton were at a hotel where I know they have been for a number of months and unexpectedly learned they had moved."

"Surely you could have inquired where they have gone!"

Scarcely conscious of how cross and tired she appeared, Bettina frowned.

"Oh, of course I inquired, but the hotel clerk refused to inform me. Mrs. Burton's play this winter is a great success and I suppose so many people have called on her that she felt obliged to refuse to permit her address to be given to strangers, and I was unable to convince the clerk I was an old friend."

Bettina and Elce were about to turn away.

"Do you mean you are trying to discover the Mrs. Burton who is Polly O'Neill Burton, and is acting in the new play known as 'A Tide in the Affairs'? I saw it only a few nights ago. Why do you not go to her theater and inquire where she lives. The theater is at Forty-seventh and Broadway. If you do not receive the information you could wait until Mrs. Burton arrives. I wish you would allow my mother to go with you. If I were only another girl I might be useful. As I am not, I don't dare propose to accompany you. But there are two of you, so I suppose you will be all right, although I don't like the idea of your going to a theater at this hour alone."

Bettina smiled, forgetting in her evident relief to be as conventional as was usual with her.

"I am very much obliged to you. I don't see why I did not think of your suggestion myself. There is no reason to trouble you any further. Of course yours is the proper solution of our difficulty, I knew there must be one if I could only discover it. Good-by and thank you."

An hour later Bettina Graham and Elce were entering an old house in Gramercy Park which recently had been made over into apartments. And within a few moments Mrs. Burton's arms were about Bettina.

"My dear, how lovely it is to see you after so long! But what has brought you here at this hour without letting me know? Surely nothing has happened to Betty or to you! You have not come to tell me your mother is ill and wants me?"

Bettina shook her head.

"No, dear, there is no reason to be uneasy. I simply wish to talk over a question with you, partly because you are my Camp Fire guardian, but more I suppose because you are yourself. I left Washington suddenly and did not think it worth while to telegraph. You see I did not dream you had moved, or that I would have any difficulty in discovering you. But let me tell you the whole story in the morning. Elce and I are tired and hungry. Can you find a place for us?"

"Don't be absurd, Bettina. Think, dear, I have not seen one of my Camp Fire girls in six months! Come and let us find Richard, he is in the drawing-room; then we will have dinner as I must be off to the theater soon afterwards. We can have a long, uninterrupted talk after breakfast tomorrow."

CHAPTER II
THE GENERATIONS

At ten o'clock the next morning Bettina and Mrs. Burton were in her small sitting-room with the door closed.

The room was characteristic of its owner-filled with warm, soft colors in shades of rose and blue, a few beautiful pieces of furniture, a few photographs, two exquisite paintings on the wall.

In a large chair before the fire, with a small table drawn up beside her, Mrs. Burton had just finished breakfast and was reading her mail, while Bettina wandered about examining the rosewood desk, the pictures, dipping her nose into a blue bowl filled with violets which had arrived not a quarter of an hour before and which Bettina herself had arranged.

"I have a letter from your mother, Princess; she is not writing from Washington and has not yet heard you are with me. However, she says she wishes that we could have a talk together," Mrs. Burton remarked, dropping into the fanciful title the Camp Fire girls had bestowed upon Bettina Graham years before, and which they now only used occasionally.

"Come and make your confession, dear, for besides being by nature curious I can't help being troubled. Surely, Bettina, you have not been falling in love with some one whom your mother does not approve! If so, I am going to be equally difficult. When I became your Camp Fire guardian long ago, and you were all small girls, I never considered the responsibilities that your growing up would thrust upon me, and have often thought of resigning the honor since."

Bettina came and stood before the fire with her hands clasped in front of her and looking down at the older woman, who was gazing up at her half smiling and half frowning.

"I don't see what especial difference your resigning as our Camp Fire guardian would make, Tante. We would all continue to come to you with our problems and you would be wounded and offended should we choose any one else. It is true most of us are growing rather old for the Camp Fire, and yet it has become so important a part of our lives no one of us would dream of giving it up. By the way, you are looking wonderfully well, as if your work were agreeing with you better than I thought possible."

"Yes, I am well, thank you. Is it so difficult to confide what you came to New York to tell me? I don't like to think of your search for me yesterday and the possibility that you might not have found me. When Captain Burton, believing I was seeing too many people, left the order at the hotel I was afraid that some one might come seeking me whom I should regret missing. Won't you sit down?"

Bettina shook her head.

"No, I would rather not. Somehow it is harder to begin my story than I dreamed! You see, I want so much to have you feel as I do about what I am going to tell you, since it means my whole life, and yet I am dreadfully afraid you won't. As you know, mother and I have disagreed about many small matters since I was a little girl. I was obstinate, I suppose, and she never has wholly recovered from her disappointment that I am so unlike her in my disposition and tastes. In the past father and I have seemed to understand each other, until now when he too is not in sympathy with me. Oh, I realize I am coming to my point slowly, but you must let me try and tell you in my own fashion. You care so much for mother I fear your affection for her may prejudice you against me."

"Isn't that a strange speech, Bettina, as if I did not care for you as well, and as if there could be any division of interest between your mother and you?"

The Camp Fire guardian spoke slowly, studying Bettina closely. More than she realized, in the past six months Bettina had changed; she looked older and more serious and did not appear in especially good health. She had grown thinner. Under her eyes were shadows and about her lips discontented lines.

With the first suggestion of criticism her manner had altered.

Years before when Bettina was much younger, during the first months as Sunrise Camp Fire guardian, Mrs. Burton had not understood Bettina's reserve, the little coldness which made her apparently express less affection than the other girls. Later, when this proved to be more shyness than coldness, she had come to believe that, although Bettina did not care for many persons, her affections were deep and abiding and that between them lay a friendship as strong as was possible between a girl and a so much older woman.

"Yes, Bettina has altered more than I dreamed," she reflected.

"I am sorry to hear you say, Tante, that mother and I cannot have an interest apart, because that is exactly what has occurred," Bettina announced. "We have differed, we do still differ upon a question of such importance that I doubt if our old relation can ever be exactly the same. Of course I care for mother as much as I ever cared, although she declines to believe it. She already has said that her affection for me is not the same."

"Nonsense, Bettina," Mrs. Burton answered. "Please tell me what you mean more clearly and be prepared to have me frank with you. If you feel you will be angry unless I agree with you, my opinion will not be of value."

"Oh, I am accustomed to everybody's being frank in their disapproval of me whenever they hear what I wish to do. I do not expect you to agree with me, Tante, but I did hope you would listen to my side of the question and not think me altogether selfish and inconsiderate, which is the family point of view at present."

In Bettina's manner there was a subtle change, her tone less self-assured, her expression showing more appeal and less challenge.

In the same instant Mrs. Burton appreciated that to fail Bettina now was to fail Bettina's mother as well, even to end the long friendship upon which they both depended. Beneath Bettina's assumption of hardness and wilfulness, she was sincerely troubled. Moreover, she was facing some decision vital to her future.



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