The Camp Fire Girls by the Blue Lagoon
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In a hammock swung by chains in a small grove of linden trees, Dan and Sally sat down.
The April night was surprisingly warm with a breath of summer that comes now and then in the southern spring. The tiny blooms of the trees made a shower of fragrant gold about them. From beyond blew the salt breath of the sea.
Sally remained quiet a moment before replying.
"You are very kind, Dan, I am sorry you have noticed that I have gone away once or twice alone. I have not been in the slightest danger and had a definite reason for going. I can't tell you what this is, probably it is not of any consequence, yet I must ask you under no circumstances to follow me."
"And I decline to make you such a promise, Sally, in fact I forbid your wandering about the island alone. If there is any mystery connected with your behavior, I thought you hated mysteries; in fact you assured me that after your experience in caring for Lieutenant Fleury55
"There is no especial mystery in what I am interested in at present, Dan, at least nothing of importance. Indeed, I am indulging in a whim, and as I am doing no one any harm I think I have the right. Perhaps I shall not keep up my quest very long, only a few days until I make a discovery," she added, feeling a stiffening of the figure beside her and appreciating, without having to behold the firm line of the lips. She and Dan Webster had known each other so many years that there were traits of his character she thoroughly understood.
"Besides," she protested, as an afterthought, "you have not the faintest right to forbid my doing anything I wish."
"No, I suppose not," Dan returned, not looking toward Sally, but at the old house a short distance away, shadowy and stately under the stars. "I presume I never shall have that right, even if you come to care for me some day as I hope you may care. Indeed, I almost believed you would when we parted last, but now I see what an ass I was. I told you then I would not speak of this until you were older and I had made something of myself. I never will amount to much, Sally, I see that pretty plainly here in comparison with only a small group of other fellows. David Hale is the real thing, brilliant and ambitious and knows what an educated man should know. Allan Drain is the artist with his writing of poetry and plays. He talks in a way that makes you sit up now and then, even when you do not agree with him or get all he means. Philip Stead is a student and will end by being a professor. Robert Burton I don't understand so well, although he has something none of the rest of us have, not just good looks and good manners, while I-well, Sally, I only want to make things grow, to watch the wheat ripen and turn gold, the cows on the old New Hampshire hillsides feeding beside their calves.The farm is double the size it was once and I intend it shall be four times larger. I mean to gather men about me interested in making agriculture what it should be and farmers' lives the most independent and worth while. When I am rich, rich as ever I am apt to be, I plan to found an agricultural school and to give the land and the benefit of the experience I have had and my father and grandfather before me. Don't think I fail to realize how dull this sounds; when I speak of it most people yawn or struggle to appear polite and change the subject. I don't care, it is only how you feel, Sally, that matters. You have had so much experience and this past winter in New York has changed you more even than the years abroad. Once upon a time you would have granted the small favor I just asked you, now you won't even do this for me."
"Dan, you are stupid; I wonder sometimes if I shall ever make you understand how dull you are on one particular subject. At present I'd rather you would not know. As for doing the favor you asked, I won't because I have a reason which I believe justifies my refusing. You know how obstinate I am, everybody who knows me is of the same opinion on the subject. Why not try to trust me? As to the effect the past winter has had, I do feel older and more self-reliant. Mary Gilchrist was ill almost the entire winter and I had the care of her, then I was the housekeeper for the Camp Fire girls. Never apologize to me for your stupidity, Dan, dear, which I don't think is apparent to any one save you. Among the Sunrise Camp Fire, no one even thinks of disputing the recognized fact that I am the least clever of all the girls. I do not even mind especially. I find life interesting and after all one cannot make oneself over altogether!"
For the first time in the interview Dan laughed, a good natured, boyish laugh, full of strength and sweetness.
"If you are stupid, Sally, then I am proud to be in the same company with you. I should like to know what Tante thinks of you! You may be less interested in books and more in human beings."
In the half darkness Sally smiled.
A lantern in one of the trees overhead swung and tilted so that the light shone down on her face.
Sally wore her rose-colored net and had a scarf of the same rose color about her shoulders. Tucked under her brown coil of hair in the fashion of the women who had danced in this old southern house and paraded its lawns a century ago, was a pink rose, a little crumpled now and faded.
Dan put up his hand and touched the rose gently, one could scarcely have thought there could be such gentleness in the strong fingers.
"Give me your rose, please, Sally; I don't know just why I want it, but I do. I never could see much sense in fellows wanting to hold on to things like this before."
Sally jumped up suddenly and the little rose fell to the ground.
"Please be careful, Dan, here comes Tante and she may see you. I don't know what she would think."
The girl's movement arrested Mrs. Burton's attention.
She was walking about in the silver night with Senator Graham, whom she had known many years before as a poor boy, with little education, with nearly every handicap, lack of family, of influence and position. He was now one of the distinguished men of the country.
"Is that you, Sally and Dan? May I speak to you? Anthony, go back to Betty and see that she rests for a few moments, she is the most tireless hostess in the world! Sally and Dan will escort me to the house if I am not able to walk the few yards alone. And will you tell Betty that if I disappear I have gone up to my own room. I shall listen to the music until the dancing ends and then go to bed. The boat goes back at midnight, so I suppose the dancing can't last much longer."
Mrs. Burton sat down in the hammock between Sally and Dan, slipping a hand into each of theirs.
Dan Webster was her nephew, the son of her twin sister and of the man who had been under the impression that he cared for her before his discovery that they were entirely unsuited, and that the sister, who was her opposite in everything save her personal appearance, was the real love of his life.66
Sally Ashton was the daughter of two friends of her girlhood.
With no children of her own, Mrs. Burton cherished a deep affection for Sally and for Dan, but for different reasons. One reason was the same-she had a feeling of dependence upon them both. Dan was nearly like her son. Sally Ashton, well, most people who knew Sally intimately did depend upon her, without being able to explain why.
"Children, do a favor for me. You'll hate it, but Sally has promised. Come with me and find Juliet Temple and see if she is having a good time. If she is not you'll dance with her, Dan, and make yourself agreeable? Juliet has not been here so long as the rest of you and I am afraid feels lonely. She seems to spend most of her time alone. You like her well enough, don't you, Dan?"
"Of course, Tante, she seems all right, strikes me as clever. She isn't about much; when she is, it never occurred to me that she would be interested in me. If you are fond of her I'll do my best."
Dan put his arm about Mrs. Burton's waist.
"You are coming to the farm to be with us for a time when you finish your visit to the 'House by the Blue Lagoon'? Mother will never forgive you and will perish of jealousy if you do not. She does not enjoy the idea that you are fonder of Aunt Betty than of your own twin sister. We both wish you would give up that plagued stage and you and Uncle Richard live with us until you are a little less like a wraith. But see here, Tante, I'll strike a bargain with you. Sally will have nothing to do with me at present. If you will promise to bring her with you to the farm for a visit this summer I shall devote myself while I am here to your Juliet Temple, that is, if she will allow it."
Mrs. Burton smiled.
"Dan, I suppose you know you are like your father, only nicer. I don't want you to be so attentive as to deceive Juliet, only to see that she has a good time. I have been looking for her for the past hour and she does not seem to have danced with any one."
"Juliet may have gone for a walk, Tante, I think I saw her a short time ago. I have not forgotten that you said you wished me to have her in mind," Sally remarked. In her speech, or in her manner there was nothing that was unusual, nevertheless both Dan and the Camp Fire guardian were aware of bewilderment.
"Do you mind walking about with me for a few moments and trying to find her? Of course I know you do mind, but will you in any case?" Mrs. Burton pleaded.
"I am a tiresome woman, Dan, to have interrupted your talk with Sally, but I will make it up to you some day. Sally is difficult, but worth the effort. You must promise me that you will say nothing to her and even feel nothing for the next few years, then I will be your warmest ally," Mrs. Burton whispered, walking close beside the tall fellow who towered nearly a foot above her, while Sally moved along the path in front of them, a figure of rose and silver.
Half an hour later the Camp Fire guardian was sitting in her room half reading, half listening to the music and voices in the house and garden beneath her open windows.
She was in her dressing gown and her hair was unbound. The big room was in shadow, save where the light fell about her reading-lamp. One could see the tall ceilings, the high windows, the few pieces of old English furniture, brought to America by the early Virginia settlers.
There was a faint noise of a door being softly pushed open in the adjoining room.
"Juliet, is that you?" Mrs. Burton inquired. "Are you tired of the dance and on your way to bed as I am? I looked for you before I came up and could not find you, I suppose you were somewhere in the grounds."
"Yes, I was. Is there anything I can do for you? Is your bed turned down?" the girl answered.
Mrs. Burton nodded.
"I believe so, but you must be more tired than I am, so please don't trouble about me to-night. You are too considerate of me altogether. There is some business in the morning I should like to have you help me with for an hour or more. My accounts seemed to have become tangled in the most absurd fashion and I should like to have them straightened out before Captain Burton joins us. You are a good mathematician, Juliet, and neither of us are. Now go to bed."
The girl lingered.
"I want to say something first, perhaps this is not the proper occasion, but it does not make much difference. Since I came to live with you, Mrs. Burton, I have tried to make myself useful, but I don't think I have ever spoken of the fact that I have grown to be very fond of you. Oh, I realize this is not an unusual experience so far as you are concerned, most of your friends and family seem to adore you, but it is unusual with me. I never have cared for any one, except my brother. I told you that he and I were orphans and that he was younger. Until he joined the army he gave me a good deal of trouble, but has been better since. I persuaded him to continue as an enlisted man and to try to pass the examinations for an appointment as an officer later."
"A wise idea, Juliet. Is there anything I can do to help you? I am not a very influential person, but would do anything possible."
"No, no, there is nothing," the girl returned hastily; "I am going to bed in a moment."
The older woman continued her reading, a little disturbed by the fact that her companion would not retire and leave her alone. She liked Juliet Temple and was grateful and appreciative, but never had felt for her the spontaneous affection she had for her group of Sunrise Camp Fire girls. This fact did not trouble her, she never had cared equally for all the girls associated with her in the most intimate fashion during the past few years. Human nature makes its inevitable selections. At the moment not wishing to be unsympathetic she was hoping that her companion would make no special demand upon her at this hour of the night when they were both weary. Sentimentality in their relations the Sunrise Camp Fire girls never had indulged in and she never had encouraged.
"Mrs. Burton, I hate to speak of this, but I must. Do you think you can give me a larger salary for the work I am doing for you. I need it a great deal."
A short silence, then Mrs. Burton laid down her book and flushed.
"Juliet, is this what you have been trying to say? I am glad you have been frank, even though I must refuse your request, Please don't think I am not sorry, but you understand Captain Burton's and my circumstances at present almost as well as we do. You know we are trying to pay a debt that we believe we owe. We enjoy having you live with us, you have been the greatest aid and pleasure, but the fact is that you really have been spoiling me, as it is not actually essential that I should have you. I could manage to keep house with dear old Elspeth, who came to New York to be with me from Half Moon Lake, and who could probably look after things as well as you or I. I can even attend to my tiresome letters and business if I must. I have told you several times, dear, that I thought you were being wasted upon me. When I go back to town I can find you a much better position with a good deal larger salary. I can do this at once if you like."
The girl shook her head.
"No, I told you I did not wish this, perhaps it does not matter, I may not need the money after all."
"Don't decide at once, Juliet. Good night. Are you having a happy time here? I wish you liked the Camp Fire girls better. You would be happier with more friends."
"Oh, the girls are agreeable enough, the fault is mine. Mrs. Burton, do you think it possible to be truly fond of any one and yet to do that person an unkindness, a serious unkindness, not a trivial one?"
Mrs. Burton closed her book.
"My dear Juliet, what are you talking about? Of course it is possible, almost anything is possible with human beings, yet it is scarcely the kind of affection one would care to receive. But now really I want to go to sleep, the music has ceased downstairs and I hear voices in farewell. The dance must be over."