Margaret Vandercook.

The Camp Fire Girls by the Blue Lagoon



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"Yes, Polly, I know, let us not talk of this now. Painful as it is, you cannot allow yourself to be so sentimental and cowardly, dear! Besides, the money is a great deal more than you and Richard can possibly afford to lose!"

"Goodness, I had forgotten that! It is not only more than we can afford to lose, it is nearly all the money we possess at present. Juliet must have known. We saved from the amount I earned last winter only what we thought sufficient to last through the summer, until I returned to work in the autumn; the rest Richard has devoted to the payments he and I feel called upon to make."

"Yes, and a nice time, Polly Burton, for you to assume the added responsibility of an old woman to support!" Miss Patricia said harshly.

"Do you think, Aunt Patricia, that this is the time for you to say unkind things to me? Don't you think I have a good deal to bear and that you might not make it harder?"

Too overcome to speak, Miss Patricia nodded and actually two tears rolled unchecked down her gaunt cheeks.

"I am afraid Richard will be terribly worried and annoyed over my carelessness," Mrs. Burton said childishly.

"Richard Burton! Let him dare utter a word! Who was it brought that unpleasant girl, whom I never liked at any time, into our home at Half Moon Lake? I remember his saying something or other about being a knight errant!" Miss Patricia snorted, and the girls, Polly Burton and Betty Graham broke into hysterical laughter that saved the situation.

"I fear that from the first Juliet Temple realized that I was an easy person to deceive. In her letter she also confides the fact that when she told me she had been wrongfully accused in her office in Washington, she did this in order that I might be impressed with the idea that she would not have confessed had she been guilty.77
  See "Camp Fire Girls at Half Moon Lake."


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Well, at least I rejoice that you girls were never deceived by her and that Juliet was never a member of our Sunrise Camp Fire. Let us speak of her as little as possible in the future."

"And Polly, you are not to worry over money; of course Anthony and I are not rich, but you may have anything that we possess. Why not make me the happiest of human beings and you and Aunt Patricia and Richard spend the summer here with me in the 'House by the Blue Lagoon'? You may do whatever you wish and we'll not trouble you," Mrs. Graham urged.

"You are an angel, Betty, but Aunt Patricia and Richard and I must hide somewhere where I can work and study, if I can find a play for next winter. Now may I lie down for a little while?"

A few moments later, in Miss Patricia's bedroom, she and her hostess continued the discussion.

"What do you think, Aunt Patricia? Ought we allow Polly to permit this girl to go free, in spite of her deceit and treachery?"

"I don't know what else is possible, Betty.

Polly is wrong, she nearly always is wrong, and yet to punish the girl would have a most disastrous effect upon her. There is a sweetness about her and a generosity; Polly has been most generous and sweet to me, Betty, when I have behaved very badly and so I would not care to influence her, if I could, to be severe upon any one else."

"Don't, Aunt Patricia, speak of yourself in any such connection! But about the money, Polly will never allow us to help her. She never would accept anything from anyone save you, and now you can no longer afford to help."

A moment Miss Patricia sat crumpling a large, masculine-looking handkerchief in her capable hands, while a flush spread over her face that amazed her companion.

"Betty Graham, I desire to make a confession to you and to request you to keep my secret until such time as I may be willing to speak of it myself. The truth is I am not so poor as I have allowed you and Polly and the Camp Fire girls to believe. I have lost money, my home for French orphans is costing twice the amount I had expected it would cost, and I have found it an excellent arrangement to rent my house near Boston and to live as economically as possible, but I am not a pauper. Now do use your intelligence and understand why I have wished you to be deceived.

"Apparently I had hopelessly estranged Polly and had reached a point where I could not any longer endure being apart from her. Some weeks ago she sent me word through Richard that never so long as she lived would she accept anything more at my hands and that she had entreated me to make friends with her for the last time. There are occasions you know when Polly can be singularly obstinate. So what was I to do? Appeal to her sympathy, make her believe there was something she could do for me. Mavourneen, I knew she would fly to my rescue. So I sent out the word and she came and now I shall be parted from her no more. But, Betty, my dear, Polly shall never suffer. Do not believe that I shall fail to keep sufficient money to see she has all she desires. For the present let us have our little house and our summer together and Polly the belief that she is caring for me. I shall dread the day when she learns what I have told you."

CHAPTER XVIII
THE ETERNAL WAY

 
The Eternal Way lies before him,
The Way that is made manifest in the Wise.
The Heart that loves reveals itself to man,
For now he draws nigh to the Source,
The night advances fast,
And lo! the moon shines bright.
 

"Will you come into the garden for a farewell talk with me, Bettina? You know, I leave for Washington in the morning."

"In a quarter of an hour, David. I must see that my two small girls are in bed before I join you. Suppose you wait for me on the beach near the sun dial."

The night was warm and instead of sitting down David Hale walked about, thinking of a very different garden where first he had met Bettina Graham, the "Queen's Secret Garden", near "The Little Trianon" in the great park at Versailles.

He remembered his own surprise upon discovering an American girl half asleep in the shadow of a group of statuary and startled into wakefulness by his unexpected approach.

So their acquaintance had begun in a romantic setting that David thought never to find repeated. To-night he was by no means sure the surroundings were not equally lovely.

The moon was rising before the afterglow had wholly faded. A light breeze made the delicate green leaves rustle on a hundred nearby trees, the magnolias were in bloom over the entire island, scenting the night air with their heavy, tropical fragrance.

In the moonlight and the last of the purple twilight, David Hale was devoting little attention to these details. He was thinking with the concentration over which he had a special mastery, of something he wished to say to Bettina Graham and of how he had best say it.

She waved a long blue scarf as she came running down the path toward him.

"I did not keep you waiting long, David, did I? I am sorry you must go to-morrow, but then the house party will break up in another week or ten days and I am returning to New York. After all, it is a shorter journey for you to come back to the 'House by the Blue Lagoon' than for me, and you know mother and Marguerite Arnot are always pleased to see you. I wish I could reach here so easily; for a number of reasons it is going to be very hard to leave the island, our island. I have a fashion of saying 'our island' over again to myself every now and then because it seems so incredible that we can own such an exquisite spot and that it is no farther away from the outside world. Why, except that it is not tropical, we might almost deceive ourselves into believing that we were on one of the south sea islands!"

"Then why do you go, Bettina, unless you wish? There certainly can be no other reason and your mother will be distressed at your departure. It is so impossible for me to understand your point of view. Your home is here and no other place can be so beautiful!"

"I know, David," Bettina answered gently, "and yet I have tried so often to explain to you and to other people: beautiful as this place is and loving it as I do, yet my work and life are no more here than your own. You are going back to Washington, David; you are very ambitious and some day intend to have a political career. Suppose this were your home instead of mine, would you stay here always? Would you give up your work and your ambition and your future to live in an island of dreams?

"No, of course you would not? Then why do you think I should? Oh, I know the answer, I have gone into the subject so many times-because I am a girl and there is no reason why I should devote myself to social work, when my father is a man of prominence and some wealth and my mother all that is sweet and charming and popular. I am not going to talk about myself, only you do know my reason and you could understand my point of view if you would make the effort. Instead of caring less for my work after a few months of effort and experience, I care more than at the beginning."

"I am sorry, Bettina."

Bettina laughed.

"Why should you be? Mother and father are becoming more reconciled."

She and David had not ceased walking now they stopped and Bettina leaned over the sun dial.

"I am glad our garden boasts a sun dial, as it would not be half so picturesque without, yet the inscription is curious and taken from an ancient Japanese poem, which would seem to make it a moon dial and appropriate to-night, David. I can repeat it because I think I know the poem by heart:

 
"The Eternal Way lies before him,
The Way that is made manifest in the Wise.
The Heart that loves reveals itself to man
For now he draws nigh to the Source,
The night advances fast,
And lo! the moon shines bright.
 

"See David, even in the poem the Way lies before him, not before her."

"There is only one way that I wish lay before you, Bettina, the way of learning to care for me. Please don't interrupt me, this cannot be altogether a surprise to you. I think I tried to make you see how I felt toward you at the beginning of our acquaintance, although I did my best to wait until your mother and father had learned to know something of me and until you were older. I would wait now if you were not becoming so absorbed in the work you have undertaken that I am afraid you will lose all interest in me. My dear Bettina, affection is the supreme thing and if you will only wait and have faith in me, some day I may be able to offer you a name and a future of which you may be proud."

Bettina shook her head.

"David, I am glad you said this to me, as I wish to be perfectly frank. No, I am not altogether surprised, yet I am going to sound as if I were unappreciative and unkind. I not only don't care for you in the way you desire, but I never could learn to care. I dread the whole thought of romance and sincerely hope it may never come into my life. I have my work and my family and friends and please never speak of this again."

"But if it should come, Bettina, when you are older and wiser and less self-absorbed, would I, could I have any chance with you then?"

"No, David Hale, never; from the first I have never wanted you to be anything but my friend. Please let me say good-by and good luck to you. There is some one else in the garden and I am afraid we might be overheard."

"Good-night, and good-by for a long time, Bettina. I am sorry to have troubled you."

As Bettina ran on, Robert Burton stepped in front of her.

"You are not going indoors on a night like this, Miss Graham! Why not stay and talk to me for a while? I don't know what the other fellow has done to make you in such haste, but I shall try to be more agreeable. You have been very kind to have asked me here, but I have seen less of my hostess than I counted on seeing.

"Remember when we are back in New York you have promised to take me to one of your settlement houses and make me useful, if it is possible that an idle fellow like I am can be useful to anyone."

"Yes, no, thank you, but I must go in," Bettina protested. "Nothing has happened, but I am in a good deal of a hurry. Why are you idle? Please understand I don't wish you to help with the settlement work on my account, not unless you feel a deep interest in the work itself."

"Yes? Well, that is one way of stating the case," Robert Burton answered. "Wasn't I a good Samaritan when you were lost in New York?"

Bettina did not answer, already having vanished up the path toward the house.

At the same moment that Bettina was escaping in one direction, Mary Gilchrist was hurrying down the front lawn toward the lagoon in search of Allan Drain.

She was a good deal excited and considerably out of breath.

Allan appeared extremely comfortable lying on the bottom of the anchored boat with his face upturned to the sky.

"Oh, Allan, I have the most wonderful news for you!" Gill exclaimed, giving a flying leap and landing in the bottom of the boat which rocked dangerously at her descent.

"If you have, Gill, I think it your duty not to attempt to drown me before I am able to hear it," Allan expostulated, straightening up and removing the sofa cushions upon which he had been resting and tossing one of them to Gill.

"Really, Gill, of late you have been returning to those boyish habits and manners which I found so reprehensible in you at the beginning of our acquaintance. After you have confided to me your thrilling information do you think you can sit calm and speechless in this boat for the next half hour?

"I had escaped from the others in order to enjoy a little peace and solitude, which is so difficult to attain upon a house party. You may not have intended it, but at the instant you plunged into this boat I am under the impression that you destroyed an immortal sonnet. I cannot recall a line at present, that is why I feel so convinced it was immortal."

"A thousand times I crave your pardon, Allan Drain. You know I have a fashion of banishing your poetic muse. However, return to your poetizing, I can sit here in silence for a half hour or more before telling you my wonderful news just as readily as after telling it to you."

Five minutes passed.

Finally Allan yawned.

"See here, Gill, I think you might confide what you came to say. I have an idea that it is of small importance-girls' secrets usually are-but it bores me to have you sit there with your lips tightly pressed together, as if the words would rush through otherwise, and your face white and your eyes shining. If any good fortune has come to you, Gill, please tell me. You know how glad I shall be."

"The good fortune is not mine, it is yours, only it is mine also because I am so glad for you."

"Then let me hear what it is. I know you too well to believe you would try to deceive me," Allan answered, as if he were fighting against a hope he dared not permit himself to hold.

"It cannot be possible that Mrs. Burton has a good word to say for my play!"

"More than that, Allan, she is very enthusiastic. Now do keep still and I shall tell you everything I know. The night of her return to the 'House by the Blue Lagoon', Mrs. Burton was feeling restless and unhappy over something that was troubling her a great deal, and so was unable to sleep. She rose up out of bed and wrote a letter to her husband; when she had finished, as your play was in her desk, she picked it up and began looking it over, with no thought of actually reading it at the time. Something interested her, a line, or a character, and she read on until she had finished. When she lay the play down and turned off the electric light dawn had come. Still she remained unable to sleep."

"You mean she was thinking of my play?"

"Yes, Allan, I do mean that, she was thinking of it, but she was distrusting her own judgment and determined to wait until a day or more had passed in order to read the play again before arriving at a decision or speaking to any one concerning it.

"This afternoon she read it for the second time and after dinner asked Mrs. Graham and Aunt Patricia and me to come into her sitting-room. She explained that she asked me rather than any one of the other Camp Fire girls, because of late we have appeared to be special friends and because accidentally I gave your play its title: 'The Red Flower'. She told me I was to come and tell you how much she liked it before she spoke to you herself, so that perhaps you would forgive me for the loss of your poems a year ago.

"Allan, why don't you say something? What is the matter? I simply go on talking in this stupid fashion because you won't speak."

"I can't, Gill, not for a moment, the wonder and surprise and happiness are too great. Now Mrs. Burton likes my play I shall be willing to consign it to the flames from whence it received its name."

"Foolish boy, do you suppose I believe you? I ought not to tell you this, because I was not given the right, although no one said I must not speak of it. Mrs. Burton wants to play 'The Red Flower' next winter, if her manager thinks the play half so fine as she thinks it. She is to telegraph him in the morning to come to the island and give her his opinion. If they agree she wants to remain here on the island in one of the small fishermen's cottages, which can be done over, and study and work for a part of the summer. There will probably be changes that must be made, so she wants you to spend a part of the time here if it is possible for you."

There was no reply, save that leaning over, Allan lifted the anchor. Then taking both oars he pulled rapidly out into the centre of the blue lagoon and onward toward the bay.

"Don't be frightened, Gill, I'll not get into a difficulty to-night. This is the greatest moment of my life and I cannot sit still and accept it calmly. I want to feel myself a part of all this, of the water and the sky and of creation itself. Don't laugh at me and don't trouble to understand, only thank you and know that I would rather you had shared this moment with me than any one else. We are friends now, Gill, for all time, whatever may seem to separate us in the future, we must both recall this hour and the beauty and peace of the Blue Lagoon!"

* * * * * * * *

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