Margaret Vandercook.

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?"

Bettina laughed.

"That is exactly the question I was about to ask of you."

CHAPTER III
FUTURE PLANS

"We are spending the winter in New York; actually I have been intending to write you for weeks, Bettina, but have been too busy; Alice and I are taking special courses at Columbia and Sally is here keeping house for us," Vera Lagerloff answered.

"Have I talked so much, Tante, that you have had no opportunity to tell me so important a piece of news?" Bettina inquired.

After finding chairs for her guests, Mrs. Burton had seated herself on a couch beside Sally Ashton. She now shook her head.

"No, Bettina, I could not have told you, since I had no idea the girls were in New York. You see, they have never before been to see me or let me hear where they were. Have you been in town long?"

There was a short, uncomfortable silence.

"About a month; but please let me explain," Alice Ashton said, seeing that the other girls were waiting for her to assume the responsibility of a reply. "I realize this must seem strange to you, and I grant you it does look odd, as if we had lost all our affection and gratitude. And yet you can not believe this of us!"

"I have made no accusation," the Camp Fire guardian returned, yet in her tone and manner there was an unconscious accusation, which made it difficult for Alice to continue.

"I am afraid you are wounded, Tante; I am sorry," she added awkwardly and paused.

Guardian of the Sunrise Camp Fire girls for a number of years, Mrs. Richard Burton, whose professional name was Polly O'Neill Burton, had given up her career on the stage and traveled with the Camp Fire girls in the west. Later when the great war turned the world upside down she had gone with them to Europe accompanied by a wealthy and eccentric spinster, Miss Patricia Lord. After two years in France and a summer in England they had come back to their own country and on account of the Camp Fire guardian's health had spent the preceding winter in the Adirondacks.11
  See "Camp Fire Girls" Series.


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With the close of the winter Mrs. Burton had returned to the stage and the Camp Fire girls to their homes. There had been no meeting between them until to-day.

"Tante" was the title which the greater number of the Sunrise Camp Fire girls used in speaking to their guardian.

"Please don't behave as if you were too wounded to be angry," Sally Ashton remonstrated, moving closer to the older woman and slipping an arm about her. "And please remember that it is a good deal more of a trial for your Camp Fire girls to have been separated from you for all these months than for you to have had a brief rest from their society. Some of us at least realize that you have given too much of yourself to us for the last few years when a so much larger public needed you. I can't tell you how proud I am of your latest success. I have read dozen of notices in the papers and the critics all say that you are more wonderful than ever."

Mrs. Burton smiled.

"You are very complimentary, Sally dear, and of course I am immensely flattered. Nevertheless this does not explain why you girls have never come near me for a month, or taken the trouble to write or telephone. This would not have interfered seriously with the holiday which you seem to feel I have required."

Rising, Alice Ashton came over and stood before her guardian, her expression unusually gentle and affectionate. Ordinarily Alice was not tactful, although sincerity and a fine sense of honor were her ruling characteristics.

"See here, Tante, we are in an uncomfortable position and there is nothing to do save tell you the entire story and let you judge. You will say frankly whether you think we have been right or wrong. I feel sure that Sally and Vera have felt as I do, when I say there has scarcely been a day since our arrival in New York when we have not thought of you and longed to see you. We have been to your play several times."

"Why avoid me, dear? What can it be that you find so difficult to say? I prefer to know."

"Even if the reason will trouble you more than the fact? The truth is that Aunt Patricia would not agree to have us see you."

"So Aunt Patricia's influence is stronger than your feeling for me! Perhaps that is as it should be, but I can not altogether recognize what I have done which makes Aunt Patricia not only refuse to have anything to do with me herself, but wish to separate you Camp Fire girls from me as well. I suppose she fears I may affect you with the ingratitude and obstinacy I possess. As long as you were so compliant with Aunt Patricia's wish, Alice, why did you change? Aunt Patricia has not changed!"

"You are angry and hurt and I don't know how to go on," Alice returned, her gray blue eyes darkening, a flush coming into her cheeks.

"Then don't try, Alice," Sally interrupted. "Tante, please be sensible and don't make a tragedy over a situation that is uncomfortable enough for us all, goodness knows! I have no gift of words but at least I can speak plainly. Alice and Vera both feel under obligation to Aunt Patricia because she is paying their expenses in New York this winter. I have not been here so long as they have, in fact I only arrived a few days ago. Aunt Patricia has rented a lovely little apartment for us and is being generous as only she can be. So when she asked Alice and Vera not to come to see you, they considered that in a way they were obliged to do as she asked; I had no such feeling. Aunt Patricia has been spending a few days with us and this morning at breakfast, I had the matter out with her. I simply told her I was coming to call on you, that she of course must do as she liked, but that I had been caring for you all my life and had no idea of ever doing anything else. If she did not wish me to remain on at the apartment, she could of course send me home."

"Bravo, Sally!" Bettina Graham said softly under her breath.

"Of course," Sally added, "Alice and Vera have a different attitude toward Aunt Patricia. I have never been a favorite with her, as they have, or lived alone with her during their reconstruction work in France. My own opinion is that Aunt Patricia wants to see you so much herself that she is unwilling to have us see you, for fear we shall talk of you afterwards. She made it a stipulation this morning when she agreed we could come to see you that your name was not to be mentioned in her presence. I really am awfully sorry for her. She is very lonely this winter I am afraid, shut up in her big house near Boston. She cares for you more than any one in the world, and only comes to New York occasionally, I really believe to find out how you are, although no one of us has been able to discover if she has been to see you act."

During Sally Ashton's long speech neither her sister, Alice, nor Vera Lagerloff had appeared particularly serene.

Vera Lagerloff was an unusual looking girl; at Sally's words, her eyes narrowed, her skin paled slightly and her lips parted over her firm, white teeth. In all the years of their Camp Fire life together, no one of her companions had ever seen Vera seriously angry, although she always insisted that notwithstanding her American birth, she shared the Russian peculiarity.

She looked more aggrieved at this moment than was customary.

"Sally is making a good story so far as she is concerned, although not so fortunate a one for us," she commented. "Still the worst of it is, Mrs. Burton, that Alice and I cannot altogether deny the truth of what she has told you." (Vera was always more formal in her manner toward the Sunrise Camp Fire guardian than the other girls, and rarely used the title of "Tante.") "We do feel under obligation to Aunt Patricia; neither Alice nor I could have afforded the winter at Columbia save for her kindness. Yet she did not insist on our not coming to see you, or letting you hear from us. She merely asked it as a favor, and only for a limited length of time. One of the reasons she gave was that you had chosen to separate yourself from us in order to give your time and energy to your stage career and that we should not interfere. Alice and I were merely waiting to decide what was wisest and best."

"Very well, I understand; please let us not discuss the question any further. Of course, Vera, dear, I know Aunt Patricia also told you I would be an unfortunate influence, but you are perfectly right not to speak of this. Do tell me what you and Alice are studying at Columbia and whether you like New York and, oh, dozens of other things!"

The Camp Fire guardian's manner was sweet and friendly as her arm encircled Sally and she gave her an affectionate embrace.

Sally dimpled and smiled.

"You are a prophet, Tante. Aunt Patricia suggested only this morning that in order to have your own way, you disregarded every one's wishes. The implication was that I bore a slight, but unfortunate resemblance to you."

At this the other girls laughed and the atmosphere cleared.

"Alice is preparing to study medicine and I am taking a course in architecture and another in domestic science. Aunt Patricia talks sometimes of returning to France and spending the rest of her days over there at her home for French war orphans. She says if we wish and our parents agree she may take Alice and me with her."



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