Margaret Vandercook.

The Camp Fire Girls by the Blue Lagoon



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"Very well, Elce and I will change into our Camp Fire costumes and be with you in a few moments. I am surprised Vera and Alice are so late! I hoped Tante and Juliet Temple would have arrived. By the way, Sally, what do you think of admitting Juliet into our Sunrise Camp Fire? We have known her so many months that I am convinced she and Tante must both expect it, although they have not said so definitely. If we have an opportunity before they arrive, suppose we discuss the question."

Bettina Graham's conversation had been continued from inside her own bedroom, with the door opening into the sitting-room which adjoined it. In fact the six-room apartment the Sunrise Camp Fire girls were sharing for the winter, was so built that the three bedrooms and kitchen opened into a single large room. This served as their dining-room, sitting-room and reception room. A small room, apart from the others, Miss Patricia Lord's room, could be used as a study the greater portion of the time, since Miss Patricia was rarely in New York.

Only twice in the last few months had she appeared unexpectedly. Confessing herself as satisfied with the life the girls were leading and the work they were accomplishing, almost immediately she had returned to her home near Boston, never at any time mentioning Mrs. Burton's name, even to make an inquiry concerning her health.

The little apartment was comfortable. There were no signs of the wealth and luxury with which in the past, during the periods when their guardian was with them, Miss Patricia had surrounded the Sunrise Camp Fire. This, Miss Patricia explained, was due to two reasons. The erection of a home for French war orphans in one of the devastated regions of France was absorbing more of her capital than she had anticipated; moreover, she wished the girls to live simply and to resist the temptation of the worldliness of the city she professed to abhor.

The front door of the little apartment now opened a second time. Carrying several books under her arm and a package in her hand, Vera entered.

"Sorry to have been delayed, Sally, but I had to go several places before I could find the kind of cake you said you wished for tea. I wanted to help you get things ready; you seem to do so much more work these days than the rest of us in spite of our classes and Bettina's social settlement."

"You are not the last, Vera. Where is Alice? I thought you would come home together."

Vera smiled; there was a unique quality in her appearance which made her interesting always, even if she were handsome to only a few persons. In her large eyes with their heavy lashes, her wide mouth and irregular nose there was a charm of character and intelligence more marked than conventional beauty.

"Alice and I said farewell half an hour ago and she was to hurry home. I saw her stop to speak to her cousin, Philip Stead, for a moment and I suppose they have not been able to separate. Dear me, I hoped that Alice and I were to remain eternal friends without masculine interference, but these last few weeks Alice is failing me! She insists that she is only friendly with Philip Stead because he is her cousin and a stranger in New York, and lonely."

"Never mind, Vera, you may have me to take Alice's place.

I shall never desert you. I am through with all masculine friendships forever, besides their being through with me!" Sally Ashton returned, thinking of the letter she had just finished re-reading. At the same time she extended her hand for the package.

"Thanks for the cake, but I did find time to make the kind Tante specially likes! However, we will manage to get through with both. You girls are becoming so learned as college students that I try to cling to the few useful feminine arts which represent my only talents."

"And the greatest of us is Sally!" Bettina Graham exclaimed, coming into the sitting-room, clad in her Camp Fire costume. "There is Alice at the door. Suppose we light our candles and begin our Camp Fire meeting, while she slips into her Camp Fire dress. Tante told us not to await her arrival. She is too uncertain of coming. And besides I hope we may have an opportunity to discuss the addition of Juliet Temple to our Sunrise Camp Fire club. We have had this in mind for some time. Is it our duty to add to our old group now so many of the original group have vanished? Juliet Temple has lived in the same house with us and is at present living with our Camp Fire guardian, so she seems the most natural person to invite."

A few moments later, when the business had been disposed of, Alice Ashton, continuing the subject Bettina had introduced, said slowly, with the seriousness characteristic of her:

"I feel as you girls do about Juliet Temple. I never have really liked her, although it would be difficult to say why. Perhaps it is because she has been so reticent about her past history and revealed so little interest in us. I feel that she does not especially desire to become a member of our Sunrise Camp Fire. She only wishes it because Tante wishes it and is our guardian. Possibly you girls may not agree with me, but now and then I have been afraid that my own distrust is largely jealousy. Juliet seems to have been able to make herself useful to Tante in ways none of us has succeeded in doing. Of late she depends upon her for a great variety of things."

Sally Ashton smiled.

"Good old Alice, of course we realize that we are jealous of Juliet Temple! Are you actually only beginning to be conscious of the fact? Now I for one am in favor of asking her to become one of our Camp Fire girls for certain reasons I do not care to divulge at present. As I am more candid than the rest of you, besides having a less agreeable disposition, I want to say frankly that I shall be glad when for any cause Juliet and Tante separate. Aunt Patricia has always disliked her and believes she has interfered with their devoted relation. I think she remains one of the reasons why Aunt Patricia refuses to be even friendly with Tante, when she is eating her heart out with loneliness and hurt pride. But goodness, there is the door bell and doubtless Juliet is outside! A reflection on our Camp Fire to be caught gossiping! Now if Tante suggests our inviting Juliet Temple to join our Sunrise Camp Fire group, and if Juliet wishes it and can pass the requisite tests, I see no reason we can offer for not including her. For a good many reasons I think it may be wiser to learn to know her better. Please put fresh wood on the fire, I'll open the door."

The following moment the Camp Fire guardian entered the room, followed by Sally Ashton, Juliet Temple and a third girl.

CHAPTER VIII
THE ENIGMA

Half an hour after, seated at the tea table, Sally Ashton was presiding over the serving of tea. She had agreed to relieve the Sunrise Camp Fire guardian of the responsibility in order that she might be able to talk more freely.

A few feet away, surrounded by the other girls, Mrs. Burton was occasionally drinking her tea, but more frequently answering or asking questions. Her custom was to devote one afternoon each week to the ceremonial meeting of the Sunrise Camp Fire. Now and then her visits were interrupted and until to-day she had not been present in several weeks at one of the councils.

Dressed in exquisite taste in olive green, trimmed in an odd, oriental embroidery of green and gold, her dark hair simply dressed, her health entirely restored, the Camp Fire guardian appeared not more than ten years older than the oldest of her group of girls.

"I can't tell you how glad I am that you came directly to us, Gill, without even waiting to telegraph," she was saying at this instant, speaking to the third girl who had entered the little apartment with her only a short time before. She was in deep mourning.

"You will stay on here with us at least until you can make some arrangement you like better," Bettina Graham added, slipping her hand inside her companion's and looking at her with an expression of sympathy and affection.

For the first time in their acquaintance Mary Gilchrist's eyes filled with tears.

"I knew no one else would be so kind, or give me such help, so, as soon after my father's death as I could arrange my affairs I started east. But I did write and gave the letter to one of the men on the place to mail. We are several miles from a post-office and I wanted it to go at once. He must have forgotten, so the letter will probably arrive later.

"I have scarcely any relatives. My father left the farm in Kansas to me. Some day I shall go back and try to become a successful farmer, but when that time arrives I hope to take all the Sunrise Camp Fire home with me. At present I felt that I could not live on in the big empty house alone, so I left one of our men in charge and came to you. I know I failed to live up to the ideals of our Camp Fire when we were together last winter at Half Moon Lake, yet I believe you realize I shall try not to fail again."

"My dear Gill," Sally announced from her place of honor at the tea table, "you have always taken the attitude that no one of us ever committed a fault in our Camp Fire life together until you failed to confess last winter to Allan Drain that accidentally you had thrown away the manuscripts of his poems. You did confess finally so why not forget the whole occurrence! Certainly you are to live here with us this winter and occupy the room with me; Vera and Alice are together and Bettina and Elce, so I have been alone. Tante is so occupied with her work you will be less lonely with us and Miss Patricia I know will be delighted."

"Nevertheless, Sally, don't you think Gill had best be with me for a few weeks, or a few months, until she has rested?" the Camp Fire guardian protested glancing at the girl in whom the past few months had wrought such changes.

Gill's former air of almost boyish strength and vigor had vanished. Her cheeks were sunken, her eyes had lost their gaiety, even the characteristic light sprinkling of freckles, due to her constant outdoor life, were gone.

Many weeks Mary Gilchrist had nursed her father with a completeness of devotion that had left no opportunity for an hour away from him.

"No, certainly not, Tante; Gill will be a great deal better off here with us. I am sure she would be lonely with you; you are so busy these days and have so many strange people calling on you. There would be no one with whom Gill could talk, or who would look after her as I shall. I believe she needs being taken care of for a time."

Mrs. Burton glanced toward Sally, frowning.

"You forget, Sally, Juliet Temple lives with me, and Gill would not have to be alone when I cannot be with her. Juliet takes wonderfully good care of me and I am sure would enjoy transferring her services to some one who has a better right to them. I am afraid I am growing lazy with Juliet looking after my business affairs, writing my notes and seeing that I am punctual for my engagements. In spite of my being a Camp Fire guardian and struggling to conquer all my faults of character in order to be a proper example to you girls, I am afraid punctuality remains an effort. But Gill of course must do what she likes. I only wish her to realize I want to have her, if she chooses to be with Juliet and me. Juliet is not a member of the Sunrise Camp Fire, but may be some day."

The grating of a key in the front door lock prevented further conversation at the moment.

Sally arose from the tea table.

"I wonder who that can be? No one has a key to our apartment except our own family and no one is away from home!"

The instant later a familiar step was heard in the hall and then a tall, spare figure entered the sitting-room.

"Aunt Patricia Lord, who dreamed you were in New York and how glad we are to see you! Come and sit down and let me give you your tea at once, I know it is tea you always wish after a journey!" Sally exclaimed, putting her arms about the elderly spinster and embracing her.

"Sure and I do, my dear," Miss Patricia agreed, relaxing into a mild Irish brogue, which with her was always a sign of especial satisfaction. "And glad I am to arrive at a Camp Fire meeting. Perhaps it was my duty to have let you know of my coming, but of a sudden I grew so lonely I could not wait to see what mischief you were up to at present. If my little room is occupied I'll go to a hotel to-night and come to see you to-morrow."

Her usual sternness relaxed, Miss Patricia looked from one member of the little group to the other. Suddenly her face stiffened and hardened.

The Camp Fire guardian had risen and was moving toward her with both hands outstretched in a lovely, pleading gesture.

"Dear Aunt Patricia, surely you will speak to me? What have I done to offend you so deeply? Do you realize that you have not replied to one of my letters or allowed me to see you since we parted at Half Moon Lake?"

"I realize it perfectly, Polly, and I refuse to speak to no one. How do you do. You may give my love to your husband. Sally, if it is not too much trouble I prefer to go to my room and have my tea there. Gill, is that you? Come and kiss me, I was sorry to hear of your loss."

Miss Patricia was turning away when the Camp Fire guardian spoke a second time.

"Don't go, Aunt Patricia, on my account. I will leave at once. Our Camp Fire meeting is over and the girls will wish to talk with you. I wonder if you know how it hurts me for you to be unwilling to remain in the same room with me? Once I thought you cared for me-a little."

Without replying the gaunt figure moved away, Sally following her.

Bettina Graham put her arm about the younger woman.

"You are not to go, Tante, we will not allow it. Aunt Patricia is too absurd and unkind! It would be difficult to forgive her, if one did not appreciate that she is suffering more than any one else. Besides, you promised to recite for us before you left."

Mrs. Burton made a swift gesture

"Please release me from my promise, I don't feel that I can just now. Aunt Patricia's attitude toward me makes me more unhappy than any one knows. Juliet, I prefer to go home alone and I wish to walk. Will you stay and talk to the girls about becoming a member of their Sunrise Camp Fire. If they are willing and you will conform to the Camp Fire requirements I should like it very much."

With Bettina's assistance putting on her hat and coat, Mrs. Burton lingered a moment longer.

"Will you really be disappointed if I do not recite for you? I don't wish to be selfish and shall keep Aunt Patricia away from you only a few moments more.

"The other day I came across this poem written by an old friend of mine. I shall only repeat a part of it, I don't suppose if Aunt Patricia is in her room that I shall annoy her. I'll speak quietly."

If Mrs. Burton's tone was low, her voice held the quality that no one who heard it ever forgot.

The little Camp Fire sitting-room was now in shadow with only the light of the dying fire and the flickering candles.

 
"Be with us, Beauty, through the toil of life,
Through youth and through the everlasting years,
That we may live unwearied by the strife
Knowing the wisdom of laughter and tears.
 
 
"Be with us, Duty, while we seek the goal,
Honor and fame, courage and high desire,
Sister of Beauty, as the mortal soul
Kindles the body with her sacred fire."
 

There was a moment of silence as Mrs. Burton ended. Then with a wave of her hand and a few words of farewell, she went quickly away.

Immediately after Sally returned.

"I am sorry not to have been able to say good-by to Tante, but Aunt Patricia kept me standing in the hall while she listened hungrily to her every word. She then shut me out of her room. I never knew any one who was behaving more foolishly, and I should tell her so, if I dared."

"Juliet Temple, now that we have an opportunity, would you care to discuss becoming a member of our Camp Fire? We have never understood whether you really wished it."

At Sally's words the other girls resumed their positions on their ceremonial cushions, which left the one girl an outsider. She remained standing, facing them.

"Won't you please be seated," Bettina invited, acting as spokesman for her Camp Fire group which was her usual task.

"You know of course that our guardian desires you to become a member of our Camp Fire and what her wish and influence mean, but the fact remains that you have never shown any interest in the organization or suggested in any way that you would care to join us. After spending several months with us at Half Moon Lake you know something of our requirements and our ideals. Will you please be perfectly candid?"

At Bettina's request, Juliet Temple had not sat down.

Instead she stood looking down at the six girls as if slightly amused by Bettina's speech.

Never at any time in her memory had she cared for intimate girl friends. Never had she cared less for one than at the present time. Among the girls before her of varying tastes and temperaments not one attracted her.

"You are very kind and I am sure Mrs. Burton intends being equally so and yet I feel it best I should not become a member of your Sunrise Camp Fire. You know nothing of my history, little of my disposition and tastes and I might prove entirely uncongenial to you. I appreciate that you are inviting me, not on my account, but on Mrs. Burton's and yet I am none the less grateful. There are certain obligations in the Camp Fire, certain promises I do not feel willing to make. I am going to ask one favor. Please do not speak of this to Mrs. Burton; allow me to explain my position to her. She may be disappointed and her friendship means a great deal to me, more than any one of you can realize."

"Why can't we realize it? I think I do better than you imagine," Sally Ashton returned, looking closely at the girl who had just finished speaking. "I don't mean to be unkind and naturally we don't wish you to join our Camp Fire circle unless it would give you a great deal of pleasure and be a help to you as well. I do understand, however, that you wish to gain a great deal from your association with our Camp Fire guardian and to separate her from us as much as possible. We are not really so stupid as you consider us. But there, I am extremely sorry to have been rude to you, and Mrs. Burton would be angry," Sally confessed.

Alice Ashton rose and slipped her arm through the other girl's.

It was dark outside and twilight in the little room.

"Will you forgive Sally? No one of us agrees with her and come and see us whenever you have time. Then we shall learn to understand one another better and you may change your mind about our Camp Fire."

"Sally, it was you who suggested that we invite Juliet Temple to join our Camp Fire group. I cannot understand your behavior," Bettina Graham said reproachfully when the unwelcome visitor had disappeared.

Sally looked uncommonly penitent.

"I wanted to ask her simply because I felt sure she would decline. She has some reason for not desiring any of us to know her too intimately. I am sure I regret being rude to her. Unexpectedly I seem to have lost my temper."

"Undoubtedly you did, Sally, and she was our guest," Bettina protested.

She was interrupted by the re-entrance of Miss Patricia into the room. Vera switched on the electric light and Miss Patricia gave a sigh of relief.

"I am glad that girl has gone; I don't trust her for some reason. But there, I suppose I resent Polly's affection and dependence upon her. It is very odd. At first she appeared to have no force of character, but she is cleverer than I gave her credit for; I sometimes fear she is cleverer than any one of us. Without her being aware of it, from the first moment of their acquaintance she has flattered Polly, when I employed too much the other method. Well, I am glad she is apparently so devoted to her interests. Polly no longer has any sense of affection or of duty toward me."

Bettina rose and placed her arm about the older woman, drawing her down into the most comfortable chair.

"Nonsense, Aunt Patricia, nothing separates you from Tante save your own obstinacy and self-will. Forgive me, but I must say it. Juliet Temple is only an excuse. Tante has no special affection for her. Juliet has her own living to make and few friends, and Tante finds her fairly useful and wishes to be kind. But she is devoted to you and your unkindness to her is her one sorrow in her happy and successful winter. Certainly she deserves her success, after so long a sacrifice of her time and talent to us."

"We will not discuss my relation with Polly, Bettina. Girls, change your costumes and let us go out for dinner. It is too late to prepare anything at home."



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