The Camp Fire Girls by the Blue Lagoon
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"Come and sit down beside me, dear, you look so tall and old towering above me. And suppose we do not presume in the beginning that we are going to misunderstand each other. You want to confide in me and I am glad you do; now go on and I shall not interrupt."
At the change in her Camp Fire guardian's manner, Bettina's face softened, she seemed younger and gentler. Sitting down on a low chair she leaned forward, placing her clasped hands in the older woman's lap and gazing directly at her with eyes that were clear and gallant, even if they were a little obstinate and cold.
Mrs. Burton experienced a sensation of relief. In Bettina's opposition to her mother there could be nothing seriously wrong.
She began to speak at once:
"Perhaps my confession is not so dreadful as you fear, Tante. The unfortunate thing is that mother and I cannot seem to agree and that we have argued the question so many times until of late we have not only argued but quarreled. Well, I shall begin at the beginning! When we said good-by to one another at Tahawus cabin,[*] I remained at home in Washington for only a few weeks and then mother and I opened our summer house. We both wrote you that she and father and Tony and Marguerite Arnot and I spent several perfect months together motoring and sailing and swimming with one another and with the people who came to see us. David Hale came now and then, and Tony's college friends, besides Washington friends and Sally and Alice Ashton for a few days. There was only one small difficulty. I became intimate with an older woman who was boarding not far away. Mother did not consider her particularly desirable. She was polite to her as she is to most people and did not really object to Miss Merton until she began to feel that she was having more influence over me than she liked. Miss Merton is a settlement worker and used to tell me of her life and the people she is thrown with and the help she is able to give them. I found the account of her work very fascinating, until mother began to feel I was neglecting my family and preferring Miss Merton's society. This was not true; I did not care so much for Miss Merton herself, although I do admire her. It was her experiences among the poor which interested me so keenly; the clubs and classes and the nursing and the effort to teach our immigrants more of the spirit and opportunities of the United States."
[*] See "Camp Fire Girls at Half Moon Lake".
"Yes, I know, my dear, social settlement work is not a new discovery. Was it to you? What in the world can this have to do with you? Surely your mother did not oppose your friendship with this Miss Merton to such an extent that you have made a tragedy of it!"
"No, of course not. What happened was just this. I became so interested in social settlement work that I have decided it is the work to which I wish to devote my life. I thought over the question for weeks and then I spoke to mother. I told her that I could not possibly do what she desired for me and make my d?but in Washington society this winter.The very idea makes me wretched! I assured her she could not realize what an utter waste of time a society life appears to me. Besides, I am not in any way fitted for it. I asked her to allow me to spend this winter studying social settlement work. Then if I found I could be useful I would choose it as my life work. You know I never have felt that I wished to marry and for the last two years, when we were not busy with the reconstruction work in France I have been more restless than any one realized. I must find my own road, yet I did not know in what direction it lay."
"Yes, well, go on, Bettina," Mrs. Burton urged, smiling a little inwardly and yet conscious of Bettina's immense seriousness, which made her egotism pardonable.
"Well, mother at first simply declined to pay any attention to what I told her. Afterwards when she began to see that I was in earnest she declined to have me mention the subject to her again. She announced that her plans were made; I was to make my d?but early in October and to spend the winter at home. She declared that social settlement work should be left to older people and to girls who had fewer opportunities. She said other things of course, but the important fact is that she refuses to permit me the choice of my own life. Because she cares for society and people and being beautiful and admired is no reason why I should care for the same things. If I were older I should do as I like. Miss Merton has charge of a settlement house on the east side in New York and would take me in to live with her."
Bettina put up her hands to her flushed cheeks.
"I suppose this sounds as if I did not care in the least for what mother wishes, and yet I do. I am sorry to disappoint her; I wish I had been what she desired. Yet I cannot for that reason change my own nature and my own inclinations. Do please say something, Tante; it is not like you to remain silent so long."
"I did not wish to interrupt you and I am feeling sorry for Betty."
"Sorry for mother? Of course I expected you would be; everybody is sorry for her. They always have been sorry that she should have a daughter who has neither her beauty, nor charm, nor sweetness; the fact that I am a failure in society and wish to lead my own life is only one thing more. You need not for a moment suppose that the sympathy is not all with mother. I regret having troubled you. I thought when you were a girl your family and friends were bitterly opposed to your going on the stage and that regardless of them you did the thing you wished. But you are a genius and have proved your right to do as you like. I understand that makes all the difference in the world. It even justifies sacrificing other people."
Hurt and angry, and not sure of her own position, Bettina felt the common impulse to strike at some one else. The moment after her final speech she was sorry to have made it.
"Have I sacrificed other people to have my own way, Bettina? I wonder? If you mean that I returned to the stage in opposition to Aunt Patricia's wish, it is true," Mrs. Burton answered.
"You would not have referred to this had you known how unhappy it has made me. Since we parted at Tahawus cabin Aunt Patricia has never spoken to me or answered one of my letters. She has not allowed me to see her, although I have been twice to Boston for no other purpose. Yet, Bettina, are the circumstances the same? I do not wish to hurt Aunt Patricia, but I am not a girl by many years, and I chose my profession long ago. I explained that my husband and I needed the money I am able to make and could not continue to accept Aunt Patricia's generosity. She has no real objection to my return to the stage except the mistaken notion that I'm not strong enough and the fact that she cannot allow me to do what her will opposes. Dear Aunt Patricia is nothing, if not an autocrat! Still there are hours when I miss her so much, when it hurts to have her believe me ungrateful, until I almost regret what I have done, pleased as I am at the success of my new play. I often wish I had tried more persuasion with Aunt Patricia. But, Bettina, I never claimed to be a model person, and as you seem to feel I have no right to judge you, suppose we do not discuss your difficulty."
Flushing Bettina bit her lips and lowered her lids over her grey eyes.
"I don't wonder you say that, Tante, and I deserve it. To be rude to you does not help my cause, does it? Certainly it would not with mother. Besides you know I thoroughly approved of your return to the stage and think Aunt Patricia utterly unreasonable. There isn't any likeness between my position and yours in this instance. What I want you to do is to try and think how you felt when you were a girl and all your family and friends opposed your going on the stage. Didn't they tell you that you were selfish and unreasonable and breaking people's hearts from sheer obstinacy? I don't wish to be disagreeable, I have no great talent as you have, I just want you to try to feel a little sympathy for me, even if you feel more for mother."
The Camp Fire guardian smiled and shook her head, yet laid her hand on Bettina's.
"My dear, you are making a more difficult request than you realize. It is so hard to go back to one's past that most of us only understand our own generation. You Camp Fire girls should have taught me more wisdom! Of course I sympathize with you if you are unhappy, Bettina, and feel yourself in the wrong place, yet I am sorrier for your mother, because you cannot possibly realize how much you are hurting her. She never has believed you cared for her deeply and now that you are not willing to spend even one season with her in doing what she wishes, she is the more firmly convinced that you have no affection for her. You talk a great deal of not having your mother's beauty and charm; well, perhaps not in the same degree; but Betty, I know, is very proud of you and thinks you are infinitely cleverer than she and that you feel this yourself."
"Tante, you are not fair," Bettina interrupted.
"Then perhaps you would rather I would not go on."
"Yes, I want to know what you think, only what you have said is absurd. Mother never has been proud of me, although this is scarcely her fault. She agrees with me that I am not a success in society, only she insists that this is because I won't try to make myself popular."
"Do you try?"
"Well, no, not especially, but why should I? If I were allowed to do what I like, to give all my energy and the little knowledge I possess to help people less fortunate than I am, I should try as I have never tried to accomplish anything in my life."
"You are not willing to make any effort to fulfill your mother's wish. Suppose we do not discuss the subject, Bettina, any further at present. We are both tired. I telegraphed your mother last night and am writing to-day to ask if you may make me a visit."
There was a knock at the door and Mrs. Burton arose.
"I told you I did not wish to be disturbed," she protested when the door opened and another girl entered.
This girl possessed an apparently colorless manner and personality, she had ash-brown hair and eyes and the question of her appearance would scarcely occur to any one who knew her but slightly. Juliet Temple was not a member of the Sunrise Camp Fire. She had been introduced to the Camp Fire guardian and the group of girls by Mrs. Burton's husband during the winter they had spent together in the Adirondacks.
Not popular with the rest of the household, Juliet Temple had continued to live with Mrs. Burton in a position a little difficult to describe. Treated as a member of the family, she was useful to Mrs. Burton in a variety of ways, in fact she had come to depend upon her far more than she appreciated.
"Yes, I understood that you did not desire to be disturbed, but I think when you know who wishes to see you that you will feel differently," Juliet said quietly.
Accepting the cards that were offered her, Mrs. Burton exclaimed:
"Bettina, you cannot guess who has arrived, unless you have arranged to surprise me! Not to have seen one of you Camp Fire girls in all these months and now to have four of you appear at the same time scarcely seems accidental."
Bettina got up.
"I don't know what you mean!"
The Camp Fire guardian disappeared.
A moment later, returning to her sitting-room she was accompanied by three girls, one of them a tall girl with dusky black hair and eyes and a foreign appearance in spite of the fact that she was an American.
The other two girls were sisters, although utterly unlike in appearance; one of them was tall and slightly angular with gray eyes and reddish hair. The younger girl had golden brown hair and eyes, was small and softly rounded. Her expression at the moment was one of demure happiness.
"Vera Lagerloff, Alice Ashton and Sally Ashton, at your service, Bettina," the Sunrise Camp Fire guardian announced with a curtsey.
"But, Bettina Graham, how in the world do you happen to be in New York at this time?"
"That is exactly the question I was about to ask of you."