Margaret Vandercook.

The Camp Fire Girls by the Blue Lagoon



скачать книгу бесплатно

"Have you a name for your play? The title is so important. I hated the title of mine last winter, in spite of its Shakespearean significance it was too difficult to say, 'A Tide in the Affairs'."

"Yes, I think I have. Only the other night Miss Gilchrist, Gill, gave it to me by accident while we waited for the coming of morning by our Camp Fire. She spoke of flame as 'The Red Flower'. Do you like it, 'The Red Flower', as a title?"

Mrs. Burton uttered a little exclamation.

"Yes, I do, immensely. See here, Allan, would you like to compromise with me and allow me to read your play to myself. If I like it I shall tell you so; if I don't I shall say nothing, so as not to influence you. In any case I should prefer not having you read it aloud. Most persons read so poorly and if they don't, it is more confusing. I can get my own impression much better if I am alone and it is under my own eyes."

Allan gripped the mahogany post of the balustrade until the veins stood up on his hands.

"You mean you really will read it? Of course I should rather you would read it to yourself. I should be sure to make a wreck of it. Yet I ought not to be such a nuisance, and please don't think I expect you to say anything good of it."

Again Mrs. Burton laughed.

"Look here, Allan, I know the artistic temperament too well to be deceived by you. You don't mind being a nuisance one bit if you can have your own way, no one of us artists minds. And, my dear boy, of course you expect me to say your play is good; if you did not, you would never allow me to look at it. You expect this one moment and the next you are in utter despair because you are convinced it is the poorest play ever written or conceived.

"I'll do my best for you, only you must not worry if I am rather a time getting at it. I must rest and forget the theater for a little longer."

"I shall wait forever, if you desire and be everlastingly grateful always," Allan said so fervently that Polly Burton, recalling her own youth had an emotion of sympathy and determined not to keep him waiting for her judgment for any great length of time.

Bettina's sitting-room door was open and the moment after she went in and stood looking about the room.

Youth was always hard to understand, even if it understood itself, which it never does.

Here was Bettina's little apartment as exquisite as any girl could dream of, or desire. The rugs were of a wonderful blue, the color she loved best, the walls more lightly colored, the furniture not the massive mahogany of most old southern houses, but of an English design, the famous Chippendale. Outside her windows Bettina had a view of the blue lagoon and the wider bay beyond. Yet she preferred to leave all this beauty and luxury and spend her life in the slums.

"Well, life is only an expression of human personality, and if Bettina is in earnest, she has the right to do what she wishes," Mrs. Burton thought, as she picked up one of the prints Bettina had asked her to examine.

As she stood holding it in her hand she heard Alice Ashton and Vera Lagerloff talking together in the adjoining room with the door between partly open.

"Don't you think, Vera, that one or the other of us should go at once to Aunt Patricia? I know she said neither of us was to come, but that does not alter our responsibility.

She must need some one."

Mrs. Burton put down the picture she scarcely had seen and took a step forward, then paused.

"It is so impossible to think of Aunt Patricia as poor, isn't it? Ever since we have known her she has been lavishing her wealth in every direction, upon every one except herself. It is like her now to declare that she has paid the rent of our little New York apartment for a year and that we are not to think of making any changes before then. Don't you suppose we can persuade her to come and live with us for the present at least until she decides what she wishes to do permanently?" Vera suggested.

"Yes, but Aunt Patricia insists she is going to find work, that at last she is glad she never has had a gray hair. She seems really not to be so unhappy over the situation as we are for her. Her only fear apparently is that we shall take Tante into our confidence concerning her. And frankly this makes me uncomfortable! I think Tante should be told. But I shall leave you to talk the matter over with Aunt Betty. I am going to Boston in the morning. I shall see father and mother and ask them to go with me to Aunt Patricia's house, it is just outside of town. Then we can face the situation together."

"An excellent idea, Alice, but I shall go in your place. I have just overheard what you and Vera were saying. As you were speaking of Aunt Patricia and I think it my right to know of her, notwithstanding her attitude toward me, I made no effort not to hear.

"Now, please tell me in detail so far as you know what has occurred."

An instant Alice Ashton hesitated, but there was something in her Camp Fire guardian's manner and expression that commanded obedience. Very seldom in her life had she assumed this attitude, when she did, no one dreamed of opposing her.

"Why, yes, Tante, I'll tell you and am very glad to be relieved of the responsibility. This morning unexpectedly Vera and I received a long letter from Aunt Patricia. We had not heard in several weeks. In the letter she explains that she had been intending to write for some time, but was waiting until she understood more definitely what condition her affairs were in. She stated that she had known for some time that she had been spending too much money and had drawn upon her capital, as well as using her entire income. Her lawyer has told her several times that she must retrench, but being Aunt Patricia she had paid no attention to him. Well, the climax came when Aunt Patricia learned that the home she is erecting for war orphans in France is to cost double what she had expected it would cost. The fault has been chiefly her own; she has been adding all kinds of things, playgrounds and an outdoor school and a specially fitted-up hospital for the children in a separate building. You may know more than I do about it.

"When she went to her lawyers with the information that she required twice the sum she originally told them to raise, they declared this could not be accomplished without leaving her virtually penniless. She too had been buying oil stock like the rest of the world, hoping to gain more money for her orphans and the stock had turned out to be worthless.

"Aunt Patricia does not seem to care a great deal. She announces that she has secured the necessary money for her war orphans and the building will be completed with all the recent improvements. She apologizes because she will not have the money to allow Vera and me continue our college course when this year is over. Neither will she be able to keep up her place in Boston, but this is incidental."

"Oh, that will make no special difference to Aunt Patricia, as she never has been fond of the place. It was her brother's home and they were very different characters. She will live with me in the future."

Observing Vera and Alice exchange a glance, Mrs. Burton smiled.

"You don't believe she will consent to this, do you, considering the fact that she has declined to speak to me for nearly a year? Nevertheless I assure you she will. It is not worth while for you to accompany me, Alice; I prefer to go to Boston alone. I shall bring Aunt Patricia here until we make our summer plans. I must find Mrs. Graham now and learn whether Aunt Patricia has written her. Good-by."

A moment later the two friends met face to face.

"I have been looking for you in your own room, Polly. Come into my room, won't you? I have just received a surprising letter from Aunt Patricia in which she insists I am not to confide her misfortune to you. This is nonsense, when you are the one person in the world who can give her the affection and help she requires. I don't believe Aunt Patricia will care particularly for the loss of her fortune if the loss restores you to her."

"Thank you, Betty, dear, you need feel no anxiety. Now that I may be able to do something for Aunt Patricia, and not accept everything from her, I have not the least idea of permitting her to behave in her old, obstinate, absurd fashion. Thank goodness, we shall be friends soon again; no one dreams how much I have missed her during this past winter!"

"You don't think Aunt Patricia will refuse to see you?"

Polly Burton shook her head.

"I don't care in the least if she does refuse at first. There are occasions, Betty, dear, when you know I can be as obstinate a woman as Aunt Patricia Lord. I shall be away about five days. You will let me bring her back with me?"

CHAPTER XVI
THE DISAPPEARANCE

"Juliet Temple has not returned, Sally. Mother feels uneasy and told me to ask if you knew anything of her plans. We feel especially responsible now that Tante is away, as she made it a point that we were to look after Juliet while she was gone and see that she was not lonely."

"Why, what has happened, Bettina?" Sally inquired serenely. "I am sure you have been more than attentive for the past few days."

The long twilights were beginning and with dinner over, Sally and Dan were sitting in the hammock under the linden trees, one of Sally's favorite resorts.

The other members of the house party were in the garden, where already a few tiny spears were appearing from seeds planted but a brief time ago, so swift had been the arrival of the heat that of late there had been days more like summer than spring.

"Well, perhaps Juliet was so bored with my society that she has preferred to run away. She told mother this morning that she wished to go to the mainland on the early boat and would be away all day. Mother made a point of making her promise to return in the afternoon. But now the last boat has come and gone and there is no chance of her reaching the island until to-morrow, unless some friend brings her across, which does not seem probable. We might go over in the motor launch and search for her, but discovering her would be another matter."

"Didn't Juliet intend to spend the night away from the island?" Sally inquired. "Otherwise why did she take her suit case? I saw her starting off with it."

"She wished to bring back her purchases and said she thought this would be the simplest method of carrying them. I declare I don't know what we ought to do. I would not for a great deal have Juliet in any difficulty; the very fact that Tante thinks we do not like her would make me more uncomfortable if matters have gone wrong."

"Is there anything I can do to be useful?" Dan asked. "Tell Aunt Betty that of course I am at her service."

There was in Dan's manner a constraint that puzzled Bettina, while Sally continued to rock idly to and fro, Dan having risen on Bettina's arrival.

"You seem remarkably uninterested, Sally," she declared with unusual irritability, since ordinarily Bettina possessed a fine self-control.

"Sorry," Sally answered calmly, "but you see, my dear, I have a conviction that Juliet Temple is well able to take care of herself. Suppose we walk to the house, so that Dan may ask Aunt Betty if she wishes him to do anything in the matter.

"You and I might go up to Juliet's room and investigate. Endeavor to discover if she has taken any of her belongings which might give one the idea that she planned to be away over night."

"Oh, very well, Sally, although it seems unnecessary. If Juliet wished to remain away who would or could have objected, so what possible reason for secrecy? Being a determined person, however, perhaps I had best do as you say.

"Dan, you will find mother in the drawing-room. Ask her to take no steps until Sally and I report any discovery we may make. Has it ever occurred to you that Sally is under the impression she has a gift for detective work?"

Her speech was a perfectly idle one so Bettina was puzzled to observe Sally blush uncomfortably and lower her eyes, while Dan said "No" in an annoyed tone.

Ten minutes after, the two girls were standing facing each other in Juliet Temple's room, which adjoined Mrs. Burton's larger one.

"Really, Sally dear, I do not like to peer into Juliet's private closet or bureau drawers. Would you mind looking first, since after all I am her hostess and you are not."

Sally smiled the demure smile with which she covered a number of situations.

"So, Bettina, you wish me to do something you have an aversion to doing yourself? Never mind, I don't particularly object and you do. Besides, the suggestion originated with me and if I am right or wrong, I shall summon the courage to confess to Juliet, although I shall not enjoy it. I shall tell her that Aunt Betty was uneasy and we thought perhaps she had arranged to spend the night with friends and used this method to find out."

So saying, Sally drew forth the top drawer of the mahogany chest of drawers, then a second and a third drawer; each and every one was entirely empty.

Without comment the two girls walked across the room and together unfastened the closet door; not a dress or garment of any kind hung inside.

"Sally, Juliet does not intend to return! Why, I don't understand, we have done our best to be courteous and she might at least have said good-by. I presume she has gone to Tante's New York apartment. Do you think we should telegraph and say she is no longer here."

Sally shook her head.

"Not for the present, but of course we must tell Aunt Betty and Dan and learn their opinion. Wait another moment, please."

Returning to the empty drawers, Sally began searching diligently underneath the neatly folded papers lining each one. Finally she removed them.

"I thought it barely possible Juliet might have left a note for Tante. She understands that she is to return in another thirty-six hours and probably would wish to explain to her."

"Here is a letter, Sally, addressed to Mrs. Richard Burton and sealed with sealing wax!" Bettina exclaimed, having answered Sally's suggestion by entering the adjoining room and slipping her hand under one of the pillows of Mrs. Burton's bed.

"I presume this letter does inform Tante why Juliet found existence with the Camp Fire girls by the blue lagoon so disagreeable that she could not endure the experience during the week of her absence. Well, I am just as glad we discovered the letter and grateful to you, Sally, for the idea. I never have pretended that you do not understand human nature better than the rest of us, although no one would guess the fact except through long acquaintance with you. Juliet, I suppose, never dreamed that we would search Tante's bed for the concealed letter and so believed it would not be unearthed until her return. I don't know what gave me the inspiration to look there? Personally I wish Juliet had vanished from Tante's life for all time, rather than until the close of her visit to us. Let us go down to the drawing-room and make our report. I'll bear the letter with me and see if mother thinks we should dare open it."

"No, I do not consider it wise to open Polly's letter," Mrs. Graham stated ten minutes later. "She is so unnecessarily sensitive about the girl, I don't wish her to feel that we regard Juliet's behavior as more than ordinarily discourteous. I am relieved that she planned her disappearance, so she is not in any trouble. Polly will decide what is best when she learns what Juliet wishes her to know. Put the letter in Polly's room, please, Bettina, dear, not under her pillow, that seems to imply secrecy; lay it upon her desk where she will be apt to observe it soon after her arrival. Thank goodness, she will be at home after another day and two nights. She has been with me so little in the past years I begrudge the loss of each day."

Bettina sat down on the arm of her mother's chair.

"Is Aunt Patricia coming with Tante, mother, you have not said?"

"Yes, I think so, I have had a room made ready, although in Polly's last letter Aunt Patricia still seemed to be arguing the question. I never have had much doubt, however, that she finally would do what Polly insists upon.

"However, the battle will not be severe, as Aunt Patricia is longing to surrender."

CHAPTER XVII
THE RETURN

The entire house party was down at the landing to meet the little boat which was to bring the Camp Fire guardian back to the "House by the Blue Lagoon."

She was seen standing on the deck looking younger and slighter than ever with Miss Patricia Lord's tall, gaunt figure beside her.

The instant the boat reached the shore, after receiving an enthusiastic welcome, Alice Ashton and Vera Lagerloff took Miss Patricia by the arm in an effort to separate her from the others, while Bettina, Sally, Mary Gilchrist, Marguerite Arnot and the two younger girls, Elce and Maida, surrounded Mrs. Burton.

Mrs. Graham seized the opportunity to whisper as she kissed her friend.

"Hail, the conquering hero comes, Polly!" to have the other woman murmur:

"Oh, do be careful, please, Betty. I'll tell you everything when we are alone. You don't know what I have been through and how little like a conqueror I feel."

Then Mrs. Graham left her and supplanted Alice by Miss Patricia's side.

"Don't you think Polly is looking pretty well, Aunt Patricia?"

Pausing in her long strides, Miss Patricia frowned.

"Fairly well, better perhaps that I expected, but never so strong as we would have her, Betty. However, she is a wilful woman and it cannot be helped. It has nearly broken my heart, Betty, to have been separated from her so long, and the fault was altogether her own. Polly agrees that it was."

"Certainly, Aunt Patricia, if you and Polly feel this to be true, I have no thought of differing with you. Here is David Hale wanting to speak to you. Bettina and I gave our masculine guests the instruction this morning that they were to keep in the background until we were allowed to welcome you. You and David are such old friends he seems not to intend to wait his turn."

"I insist that Miss Patricia allow me to carry her bag. I have seen her decline to allow Miss Ashton or Miss Lagerloff to touch it, but whether it contains bonds or precious stones I will not run away with it, Aunt Patricia."

Entering her own room, followed by Mrs. Graham and Miss Lord, Mrs. Burton moved quickly across and opened the door of the room adjoining.

She then turned:

"Betty, where is Juliet? I wondered why she did not come to meet me with the other girls and now she is not in her room. Is anything the matter?"

Picking up the letter from the desk Mrs. Graham extended it toward her friend.

"I don't think so, Polly, although I scarcely know. Juliet Temple left here without telling me that she intended to leave; it was only a day or so ago and we decided it best to await your return. The letter she addressed to you will probably explain. We concluded that she was homesick without you here and has gone to your apartment."

"I am sorry, Betty, I am afraid Juliet has not been polite, when I especially asked your permission to allow her to join us.

"Juliet Temple has written me that she has forged my check for two thousand five hundred dollars and has gone with her brother to Canada. She is perfectly frank, poor child, and tells how and why. The fault is partly through my carelessness! A few days before I left Juliet asked me to sign a check for two hundred and fifty dollars for the rent of my New York apartment. I was in a hurry at the time and I believe took her word for it and did not look at the check. She tells me she had so arranged that she could change the amount, which she did at once.

"Her brother was in the army and stationed not far from here. She has been in the habit of seeing him since we have been on the island. Juliet has always insisted that he was the one person in the world she cared for and that he had given her nothing but sorrow. It seems that he has been committing a number of offences and expected to be court-martialed, but instead of submitting, had planned to desert. For his sake Juliet appears to have lost all sense of honor or duty toward me. She seems convinced that I will not prosecute her. She tells me she was leaving immediately for New York, where she will have the check cashed (she is in the habit of cashing my checks). Afterwards, she and her brother intend to make their home in Canada and never return to the United States! A pretty desperate situation, isn't it?"

"Yes, Polly, but I'll telegraph to Anthony in Washington and, if it can be accomplished, he will see that the girl is found and brought back. I am so distressed for you, it is such a large sum of money and you have trusted the girl so completely."

"Yes, Betty, but I don't want Juliet found and punished. I have no right to feel or behave like this and every one of you must say exactly what you like to me. I know I am absolutely wrong and that she ought to be made to suffer the legal penalty, but I simply haven't the force of character or the courage. I could not endure to think of a girl who has been so near me, who has lived as a member of my family and been good to me in many small ways, shut up in prison for the rest of her youth."



скачать книгу бесплатно

страницы: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11