Margaret Vandercook.

The Camp Fire Girls by the Blue Lagoon



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"Mother!" there was a little rush as Bettina entered the room. An instant after her arms were about her mother and her cheek resting against her beautiful soft hair.

"I have been playing eavesdropper outside the door for the past ten minutes and so heard Tante villify my character and your defence of me. She isn't to be trusted, is she, dearest?"

Bettina glanced toward her Camp Fire guardian. There was a little flash of understanding between them.

Immediately Mrs. Burton rose from her chair.

"I am going into my room to dress for dinner, Betty. I don't know what Bettina's idea of you may be, but I am convinced that you are unreasonable and inconsiderate. I have merely seen your side of this question because of my affection for you. In return you tell me that I have no true appreciation of your daughter and that I have chosen a profession for which you feel not respect while Bettina's choice is altogether admirable."

Mrs. Burton's eyes were lowered and her cheeks flushed as she moved toward her own door.

"Polly dear, I haven't wounded you? Please don't be angry with me, you never have been in all these years."

There was no reply. Bettina whispered, "Don't mind Tante, mother. I think she really intended to force you to defend me. Certainly I am grateful to her. Besides, she needs your criticism this winter, now her play is such a success and she no longer has Aunt Patricia or her Camp Fire girls to keep her in order. As for all those foolish, delightful things you said about me, I shall remember them always, although of course they are not true. When are you going home? I want to go with you, I mean to be the most popular debutante in Washington this winter. The other foolish dream of mine can wait."

Mrs. Graham shook her head.

"No, Bettina, now I understand how you feel, I really don't desire you to do anything except what you wish. Don't leave us, please, Polly, not for a few moments, I want to talk to you. You can't be offended. Miss Merton suggests that Bettina take some special courses in social work this winter and that she come to her for practical experience in the work two or three times a week.

"I won't be lonely, I'll run over to New York frequently to see you both. And remember, Polly, that you promised me that you would come to me in the spring, no matter if your play is the greatest success in New York. You assured Richard and me that you would not try your strength by a too long engagement. Besides, you have never seen our 'House by the Blue Lagoon'. Bettina and I have given the place this title. It was Anthony's anniversary gift to me. The house is on an island in the sea, but there is an arm of water that has cut its way into the land that is blue as the Bay of Naples. You'll bring as many of your Sunrise Camp Fire girls with you as you can induce to come. This shall be my reward that you and Bettina both care more for what you are pleased to call your careers than for me.

I shall try to persuade Aunt Patricia to join us. She must have relented by that time."

Mrs. Burton shook her head.

"Never, dear! But of course I am coming to you. I lie awake at night and dream of the happy time we shall have together when the winter's work is past. 'The Blue Lagoon', the very name is magical."

CHAPTER VI
THE BOX PARTY

The group of people entered the box nearest the stage a few moments before the curtain was to ascend.

In the effort to find places there was the usual brief confusion; in the end the youngest of the girls was seated in the chair next the footlights, with two other girls in the adjoining chairs, the chaperon and a fourth girl behind them, while a little in the background were three young men.

"Mother, do take the outside chair; I am afraid you will not be able to see properly, Bettina Graham suggested.

"Besides, Mrs. Graham, we wish the handsomest member of our box party to occupy the most conspicuous place."

Betty Graham arose to change places with her daughter.

"Never mind, David, I am perfectly willing to allow you to talk to Bettina rather than to me, without such arrant flattery which is not apt to make you popular. Besides, as I have not seen Mrs. Burton's new play and am deeply interested, I do not wish to be interrupted. I am afraid you young persons may wish to talk."

"There will be little danger of conversation once the play is started," a third voice interposed, "I have seen it three times and found it as absorbing the last time as I did the first."

Bettina Graham turned toward the speaker.

"I am glad you were able to come with us to-night, Mr. Burton. Do you remember that you were the first person in New York to mention, 'A Tide in the Affairs' to me? In any event, mother, you need not fear we shall be guilty of such bad manners as to attempt to talk while the performance is going on even if we dared. It is odd that I don't know the story of the play, but then I have done my best not to find out so as not to affect my pleasure."

Dressed in a new evening gown of pale green chiffon, which had been her mother's gift since her arrival in New York, with a silver girdle and a fillet of silver wound about her fair hair, her cheeks flushed with excitement, Bettina Graham had never been more beautiful.

At least this was the impression she made upon two of the three young men who were members of the same party; the third was too absorbed in his own train of thought and in his excitement over seeing Mrs. Burton act for the first time to pay any particular attention to any one of the four girls. Such interest as Allan Drain had expressed had been for Mrs. Graham, who was his especial friend.

As Robert Burton had seen Bettina only four times before this evening, his opinion was hardly of the same critical value as David Hale's, whom Bettina had met and known intimately several years before in France.

Robert Burton, however, had never made any effort to find out why Bettina Graham had attracted him since the first moment of their unconventional meeting. To analyze his own wishes had never been his habit. Accepting her half laughing challenge, he straightway had gone to call upon the Mr. Richard Burton, who was her host, and discovered him to be the Captain Burton he had known in France.

Telling the story of his accidental meeting with Bettina he had asked to be properly introduced and Captain Burton had been glad to agree. He knew something of Lieutenant Robert Burton's war record and also that his father was a prominent New York lawyer; but particularly he liked the young fellow's straightforward fashion of setting out to accomplish his design.

Twice in the past week Robert Burton had called to see Bettina and been introduced to her mother and Mrs. Burton. This evening he had been invited to be a member of their theater party. For the same pleasure David Hale had come from Washington.

"Some night you hope to be sitting in the theater like this, Allan, and have Mrs. Burton produce your first play. I wish you luck. Suppose in the spring you make us a visit at my 'House by the Blue Lagoon'. Mrs. Burton will be with me, resting, and perhaps we may be able to persuade her to read the play you are working on this winter. I shall always feel responsible for the loss of your poems,33
  See "Camp Fire Girls at Half Moon Lake."


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although Mary Gilchrist was actually the guilty person," Mrs. Graham declared, leaning a little back in her chair and turning her head to speak to the young man behind her. "I still hope some day to make things up to you, or perhaps Mrs. Burton may."

Allan Drain flushed. He was a tall fellow with strong features and reddish gold hair which he wore fairly long. A student of medicine, he was in reality only interested in writing. He had met the Sunrise Camp Fire girls, their guardian and Mrs. Graham during the past winter which they had spent in the Adirondacks.

"You have fully repaid me for any loss by your friendship," he answered, with a slight huskiness of voice. "To hope that Polly O'Neill Burton will ever be interested in my poor efforts at play writing is too much to expect, yet if it is possible I shall come for the visit with the greatest pleasure. There is nothing I should so enjoy."

A hush at this moment preceded the raising of the curtain. Out of sight of the audience an orchestra began the strains of an Irish melody famous half a century ago.

A suppressed quiver of excitement passed through the small group of Camp Fire girls.

In her seat nearest the stage Sally Ashton bit her lips to hide their trembling, feeling her cheeks suddenly flame. She had been scarcely aware of the conversation going on about her, or that the eyes of a number of persons in the audience had been admiringly turned toward her. She wore a dress of rose-colored net with no trimming save a broad satin girdle of the same shade.

Vera and Alice Ashton were in white, Mrs. Graham in an amber satin with a string of topazes about her throat, her wonderful auburn hair exquisitely arranged, her skin of a beautiful warm clearness, was more lovely than the girl of years before.

Waiting to see the curtain rise she was the Betty Ashton of long ago, who had been one of the first persons to believe in the genius of the girl, Polly O'Neill, always her dearest friend.

"I have not seen Polly act for so long a time, Bettina, I am almost as excited as if this was her d?but night. Yet Polly is sure enough of her laurels these days!" Mrs. Graham whispered.

Then the curtain rose.

The first scene disclosed a small cabin set on a green hillside with a miniature lake in front.

A girl in a green skirt, a white blouse and a green velvet bodice is seen seated on the grass near the water. She is slowly crooning a love song with the words scarcely audible.

Finally becoming impatient, she rises and wanders about, a frown on her face, a pathetic droop to her slim figure.

"Mrs. Burton looks about sixteen, doesn't she? Younger than any one of you!" David Hale murmured.

Bettina paid not the slightest attention to his remark, and scarcely heard it, as at this moment a second figure entered the stage, a boy who is about to set forth on a journey; one recognizes this from his costume before any words are exchanged. He has come to say good-by.

The first act is devoted to their farewell. One learns that the girl is to be left behind with an old aunt who has been her foster mother, while the boy goes to the United States to seek a fortune for them both.

"Mother," Bettina said softly when the curtain had fallen, "don't you think Tante makes the parting between herself and her lover too tragic? It seems to me perfectly natural and there is no special reason for being unhappy, yet just because of her gift for expressing emotion she seems the most pathetic figure in the world as he goes away and leaves her."

Mrs. Graham smiled and shook her head, but made no effort to conceal the tears in her eyes.

"Perhaps you are right, Bettina, I don't know. Polly did not believe you Camp Fire girls would care for her play. It begins in a more sentimental age than the present one. Fifteen years elapse, remember, between the first and the second act. Perhaps the modern girl would not regard the separation from her lover so seriously; she has more interests, more occupations, and sometimes I wonder if love may not mean less to her; I am not sure.

"The girl whom Polly portrays is left utterly alone, save for the old woman, who, we have learned, is harsh and querulous. She has only her dream and her affection."

Talking to Bettina alone, Mrs. Graham discovered that, as the applause died away, the other members of the box party were listening to her little speech.

"I agree with Bettina," Alice Ashton interposed.

"See here, Mrs. Graham, if you believe in sentiment don't look for it among girls these days," Robert Burton protested. "If you want to know the kind of impression that parting scene of Mrs. Burton's inspires, ask any one of the three fellows in your party to-night. If I cared for a girl and was compelled to leave her for an indefinite length of time, I tell you I should expect her to feel as the heroine does in this play. If she didn't feel that way, I would not believe in her love."

Mrs. Graham arose.

"I'll leave you to argue the point without me. I want to speak to Mrs. Burton for a few moments and she asked that no one else come behind the scenes until the performance is over."

Immediately David Hale slipped into the chair beside Bettina, while Robert Burton moved forward to talk with Sally Ashton who seemed apart from the others. Allan Drain joined Alice and Vera.

"It cannot be possible, Bettina, that you are not returning to Washington to spend the winter," David Hale remarked in a low tone of voice. "Your mother spoke of it to me and then said perhaps you would explain to me yourself."

Bettina flushed, as the subject was not an altogether happy one and she was a little annoyed at its introduction at this instant.

"Why no, I believe not, anyhow not for some time. A group of the Sunrise Camp Fire girls has taken a little apartment together in New York and we are planning to work and study here. We are not to be with our Camp Fire guardian. In fact we are not even to have a chaperon with us permanently. You remember Miss Patricia Lord; one is not apt to forget Miss Patricia. She has a house near Boston and is to appear now and then to see how we are getting on. Alice Ashton and Sally, and Vera Lagerloff made the plan for the winter originally and are allowing my little English Camp Fire girl and me to join them. I am to do some studying, but what I shall like much more, I am to work in one of the settlement houses on the East Side. I shall try to organize new Camp Fire clubs, as I don't believe there are many of them in that neighborhood."

David Hale stared at his companion incredulously.

"You cannot mean you prefer a winter of this kind to making your d?but in Washington, where you would be invited everywhere! I don't suppose it occurs to you, or that it makes any difference, but I am bitterly disappointed?"

"Oh, you will have mother and Marguerite Arnot who will more than compensate for my absence. You know I long have hated the prospect of having to come out in society. I am too serious, I suppose, although I realize this is not an attractive trait of character. But, David Hale, do you recall how much you used to talk to me of your ambitions for the future in the days we knew each other in France? Well, I don't see why I am not allowed an ambition of my own even if I am not gifted. I have always been more interested in the Camp Fire organization than the other Sunrise Camp Fire girls. Now I see an opportunity to enlarge its influence along with other work I am undertaking. Mother did not approve at first, but she is an angel and has finally agreed. You see she was once upon a time a Camp Fire girl herself."

At Bettina's indifference to his point of view David frowned.

"Well, your mother is right; the new girl is hard to understand, even if one happens to belong to her generation; that is, hard for a fellow like me! I-"

Bettina was not paying a great deal of attention. In the alcove at the front of the box Sally Ashton and Robert Burton were laughing and talking together, Sally wearing her usual demure expression which could change to sudden gaiety. Evidently her companion admired her.

Her mother's return to her place and David Hale's vacating it, distracted Bettina's attention; moreover, the bell was ringing to announce the second act of the drama.

Fifteen years have gone by, but now for the first time the traveler, who had departed as a boy, is returning to the Irish village high up among the lakes and hills.

The report has come back that he has become wealthy and the village is preparing to welcome him. Hovering on the outskirts of the crowd one discovers the girl, no longer young, with whom he had parted many years before. She has not heard from him in a decade. Still she is interested and anxious to know if he will remember her, or if by any chance he may still care a little. She never has forgotten. Some misunderstanding may have divided them, which a few words, a touching of the hands, a meeting of the eyes may explain.

The hero returns. He has forgotten and even fails to recognize the girl who represented his youthful romance, is shocked by the change in her when she recalls herself to his memory.

At the close of the act she goes back to the little cabin and the lake and the green hillside, where she has lived alone these ten years, the old aunt having died.

The pathos of the years of waiting has departed. The meeting in the village has ended an old illusion.

In the third and last act the heroine has established herself in a picturesque little house in the town, where she has gathered about her many friends. She is witty and gay, her clothes are pretty and fashionable. In the lonely years she has read a great deal and has interested herself in politics. The friends and admirers she might have had, save for her faithfulness to a memory, are discovered around her, among them the man, who so easily had forgotten his plighted word. In the end he proposes a second time and is refused.

"Love has no value without faith and I have no faith in you;" with this line the drama closes.

"The play is delightful and Polly reveals all her gifts of laughter and tears, nevertheless it leaves one dissatisfied," Mrs. Graham insisted, as she allowed Allan Drain to help her with her coat. "Allan, in your new play give us a happier ending."

"My dear mother, what a sentimentalist you are! I could not imagine a more delicious climax. My sex is avenged!" Bettina replied. "Come, let us go back behind the scenes and offer our congratulations!"

CHAPTER VII
THE APARTMENT

The sitting-room was scrupulously clean. The Camp Fire candles, representing work, health and love were on the mantel, but unlighted; a small fire was burning in the grate.

At one side stood a tea table with the arrangements for tea-cups and saucers, the tea kettle and alcohol lamp. At the moment the room was empty.

Then a door swung open and a girl entered wearing a ceremonial Camp Fire costume, her strings of honor beads and insignia of the highest rank, but over her dress a blue apron which came up to her throat and down to her ankles.

Her hair was carefully arranged, parted at one side and drawn smoothly down, yet little tendrils of brown hair had escaped and her face was warmly Hushed.

Seating herself in a low chair she extended her feet toward the small blaze.

"The girls are late this afternoon, just because there was a particular reason why they should be early," she remarked in a maternal tone of voice, a little absurd in view of her appearance.

During the past few months Sally Ashton had been presiding over the small apartment in New York which sheltered a group of the Sunrise Camp Fire girls.

Getting up, she now walked over toward the window. In the distance one could catch a glimpse of the Columbia College buildings and in another direction the dome of the great, unfinished Cathedral. The winter afternoon was clear and cold.

Returning to her former place, after a glance at the clock, Sally drew a letter from the pocket of her blouse and began reading it. This must have been a second or third reading since the envelope had disappeared.

Nevertheless, the letter plainly occasioned her no happiness, for she frowned, bit her lips and looked as if only a severe determination against any display of weakness saved her from tears.

"I have not heard from Dan Webster in a month. Now he has written me exactly one page which says nothing at all except that he is so busy and so tired at the end of each day that any letter he could write would only bore me. He is kind enough to hope we may meet in the spring in the 'House by the Blue Lagoon.' And this when I was foolish enough to think that Dan actually cared for me when we were together last winter!"

"I do wish I were not one of the persons who cares for only a few people! No one understands, or believes this of me, save Tante, and she is too busy this winter to be disturbed by Camp Fire confidences, even though she remains our guardian. I wonder if she will be here this afternoon? As for Dan, I suppose I must stop thinking of him in spite of the fact that we are such old friends."

There was a little sound of a key scraping in a lock. Thrusting her letter inside her pocket, Sally arose hastily.

"Sally, are we first to return home?" Bettina Graham's voice inquired. "I was delayed at the Neighborhood House a quarter of an hour longer than usual. Then I had to make a special effort to persuade the children to allow Elce to come with me. We had been having a lecture on birds and she attempting to reproduce certain of the bird sounds and to teach them to the other children. I wish you had been with us. You have not been lonely?" Bettina observed an unaccustomed expression on the other girl's face.

As if slightly annoyed by the suggestion, Sally shook her head.

"No, certainly not; I am never lonely, I have had everything arranged for our Camp Fire meeting and for tea afterwards for so long that I am tired waiting."



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