Margaret Vandercook.

The Camp Fire Girls by the Blue Lagoon



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Gill shivered.

"Good gracious, what a tale on a night like this! No matter how beautiful a place is, nor how shut off from the world, it seems never able to escape sorrow."

Allan Drain looked more closely at his companion, whose expression was scarcely discernible in the flickering lights made by the Chinese lanterns, swinging like censers between the trees that led to the blue lagoon. The winter before she would not have been capable of a speech like this!

"I am sorry, perhaps I should not have told you so unhappy a story. I should have remembered that you have been ill and in trouble. I have not had an opportunity before to express my sympathy. I have been through such a lot of bad health myself, at least I appreciate what it means."

"You are all right now, or a great deal stronger? Certainly you look so. You are kind to be so good to me. I was so stupid and disagreeable when you were ill and lonely during the winter in the Adirondacks. I seem to be one of the persons who has to learn through experience. Until recently I have always been so well and I am afraid spoiled. I hope I shall never be so impossible again. Tell me do you feel more interested in your medical studies, or is writing still your one ambition?"

"I am ashamed to say that it is, ashamed because I seem to have so little talent to justify all the time and thought I give to it, when I should be hard at work trying to learn my profession. I often fear I am one of the people who shall fall between the two, a failure in both. I did not intend to be so dismal, but I have had a pretty severe disappointment of late."

"I am sorry, would you rather tell me of it, or not?"

By this time they had reached the edge of the lagoon and stood looking down at the water, so deep a blue it was nearly black under the night sky with the stars reflected in its surface.

There were few waves and only a light breeze; a small row-boat tied to a stake lapped gently to and fro.

"Would you like to go for a row? I am not a skillful oarsman, but I can manage. We need not be out long."

Gill hesitated.

"I would like it very much, but we must be sure to return before the dance is over. I won't be able to help with the rowing, I have never attempted it in my life. You know I am an inland person and never have spent any time near the sea until now. I never saw the ocean until we crossed to France."

With the boat untied, Allan helped his companion in and Gill sat down facing him.

Neither of them spoke until they were a few yards from the shore and moving toward the opening into the bay.

"Yes, I would like to tell you of my disappointment. I have not wished to speak of it to any one else, why you will understand when I explain the circumstances.

"Last winter in New York Mrs. Graham suggested that, when I came to make her a visit in the spring at the 'House by the Blue Lagoon', I might bring with me the manuscript of the play, which I have been at work upon for a year and that she would persuade Mrs.

Burton to allow me to read it to her. Of course with this possibility I have worked doubly hard until there have been moments, not many I confess, when my play has not seemed altogether bad. I have had Mrs. Burton in mind as I wrote; I could not help this, she is the only great actress I have ever known personally and in some ways the greatest I have ever seen act. I don't believe I have been mad enough to dream that she would like my play well enough to appear in it, but I hoped that she might say a few words of encouragement, perhaps give me a letter of introduction to a manager who would read my play if she made the request."

"Well, what has happened?" Gill demanded, leaning forward with her lips slightly parted, her eyes large and interested fixed upon her companion's face.

"Only that Mrs. Burton declines to be annoyed. Mrs. Graham did not offer exactly this explanation, but what she said amounted to the same thing. Please don't think I am blaming Mrs. Burton, I understand her position. She sent word to me that she was very tired after a winter of hard work and that for the present wished to forget the stage altogether. She begged me to appreciate that she was not a producer of plays and that her opinion of what I have written would be of small value. In case she did not like my work she might disappoint me, when a manager might be delighted with what I have accomplished."

"Yes, that is true," Gill returned, "so why feel especially disappointed? I am sure Mrs. Burton will give you a letter to a manager, even if she prefers not to read your play."

With the peculiar despondency which is an attribute of the artistic temperament, Allan Drain shook his head.

"No, if Mrs. Burton is not interested, I do not care to interest any one else. With every line I have written I have thought and dreamed of her as my heroine. I don't want any one else to play it, at least this is the way I feel at present."

In several moments Gill did not speak, while Allan Drain pulled hard at his oars, wishing to conquer his discouragement through strenuous physical exercise.

He was surprised when his boat so soon shot out of the lagoon into the broader waters of the bay. The waves were not high and he rowed quietly and steadfastly, keeping close, as he believed to the shores of the small island.

Still Gill dreamed on, feeling wonderfully peaceful and happier than in many months. She never had forgiven herself for her carelessness in throwing the manuscript of Allan Drain's verses into the fire in their winter cabin at Half Moon Lake. Now it was a consolation to discover that Allan Drain really had forgiven her; there was no pretence in his words and friendliness to-night. If only she had possessed sufficient influence with their Camp Fire guardian to persuade her to do what he so greatly wished! After all it was not so tremendous a favor, in Gill's estimation. However, if Mrs. Burton had refused the request made by her hostess and most dearly loved friend, no one else would avail.

"I am so sorry, I do wish I could be of service," Gill murmured, speaking as much to herself as to her companion. "Don't you think perhaps we had better start home? I don't wish to, I did not realize that I was so tired watching the dancing and being in the midst of so many people until you brought me out into this beauty and quiet."

"Yes, well I'll go on only a few moments longer and then turn around. Once we are inside the lagoon we can reach our landing in a quarter of an hour."

When he spoke Allan was not aware that the wind was growing stronger and that the tide was turning and running out toward the sea. Neither did he realize the length of time he and Gill had been on the water, nor the distance they had gone, so swiftly and smoothly his oars worked, as the beat moved in unison with the tide.

Ten minutes after their brief conversation, in attempting to swing around, Allan discovered that he had a task ahead of him. To his surprise and consternation he also found that already he was fatigued. He had been out on the water only once since his arrival at the island and then in company with David Hale who was an excellent oarsman. It had not occurred to him that as he had rowed only two or three times in several years he was not in training.

Fortunately his companion was not aware of his difficulty and was remaining blessedly silent, so that he could give his entire attention to his rowing.

Allan strained and pulled, realizing that the wind was blowing him out of his course.

A half hour he kept on without faltering, always with the intention of reaching the shores of the island and skirting it until he could discover the lagoon. And always his companion continued silent.

When he had time to think, Allan concluded that she had fallen asleep and was grateful.

If he could not get in to shore he was managing not be driven far out of the course.

At midnight the small steamboat would call at the island to take the guests back to the mainland, who were not to spend the night, and with luck he might be able to signal them.

"Don't you think you had better rest for a few moments, Mr. Drain?" A quiet voice suggested. "Please don't be worried, I am not uneasy. At the worst, if we cannot reach the lagoon and no boat comes to our rescue, we shall only drift about until the tide turns. When daylight arrives we shall have no difficulty. I hate your wearing yourself out and wish I could help."

Gill laughed, a more courageous, gayer laugh than he had heard from her since their earlier acquaintance.

"Why, you did not think I was asleep? I am not so stupid as all that! I did not wish to trouble you by talking."

Compelled to follow Gill's advice, resting his oars, Allan allowed their boat to move with the tide. Another half hour went by; at length both of them appreciated that it must be well past midnight and there was little chance of rescue by their friends. The small steamboat crossed directly from the island to the mainland and made no circuit of the bay.

Without comment Allan picked up his oars again.

"I think I can manage to reach the island, even if we do not discover the lagoon before dawn. I have walked around the island several times and there are a number of places where one can land. We will be more comfortable than in this cramped little boat and warmer. Besides we are in some danger with the waves growing higher and stronger and the night darker. I am not going to attempt to disguise the fact from you, you are as courageous as I am, in truth you are more courageous as I remember you. If you wish to have the score settled with me in regard to the accidental burning of my manuscript, I have accomplished it with a vengeance to-night by bringing you out on the water and getting you into this difficulty. I only hope you may not be ill again as a result of my stupidity. But I must not talk, I have no breath to spare. Once we are safe and ashore I'll offer my apology."

"Don't worry about me. If it were not that the others may be troubled, and I trust Mrs. Graham and Mrs. Burton went to their rooms before anyone missed us, and if you were not wearing yourself out, do you know I could enjoy this experience. I am not in the slightest degree frightened, I suppose I am a kind of an adventurer."

A quarter of an hour after, Allan and Gill beheld a darker line of land and rowing closer their boat grounded in the sand amid shallow water.

"I'll carry you ashore, it will be simpler than trying to get in by any other method. Then I'll wade out and drag the boat after us."

"I can wade, please don't, I am far too heavy," Gill protested, remembering the character of illness from which Allan Drain had suffered at the time of their first meeting.

As he lifted her from her place and her arms closed about his throat, there was no sign of weakness in her companion.

Five minutes later she was seated on the dry sand, able to see the tall figure struggling in the darkness and drawing the heavy boat ashore.

"You should have allowed me to help, it was not fair," Gill argued almost angrily, as, panting for breath, he dropped down at her side with the boat only a few feet away.

CHAPTER XII
THE CAMP FIRE

"No, I don't need your coat. With the heat from the fire the white scarf is sufficiently warm. I am grateful to you for making me bring it along. I don't think we had best sit still at present. You are so overheated, it will be wiser to cool off slowly. Do you mind my taking your arm? I am blind in the dark, blinder than most persons, and although this coast is chiefly sand there are a few rocks in unexpected places." The girl extended her hand.

With a groan at Gill's words, Allan Drain half arose to a sitting posture.

"Don't be so sensible; I realize that it would be more intelligent to tramp about until we get rid of the stiffness from our cramped position in the boat and until I feel less like a wet blanket, yet the desire of my heart at present is to stretch out here by the fire and not to stir save to put on fresh firewood."

"Poor woodsman, how long would our few sticks last?" Gill remonstrated. "Be a man; if you won't come with me I shall have to go stumbling along in the dark, picking up more driftwood until we have a supply that will last all night. After a time we shall probably be too sleepy to exert ourselves. It is rather fun, isn't it, playing Robinson Crusoe and his man Friday, when we cannot be more than a few miles from the house and the lagoon? At dawn we can reach home in an hour or so, but to go tramping about the island in the dark with no idea of the direction strikes me as the height of absurdity. I am sorry you do not like sensible persons, because I do try to be sensible on occasions. I suppose it is too much to expect of a poet. Come with me, please?"

"Did you suppose I would allow you to wander off alone, even if I am poet, or struggle to be one?" Allan Drain demanded, feeling Gill's slender fingers close firmly on his arm. "Do you know it never occurred to me that you and I would be friends, but after to-night I shall insist upon it, whether you like me or not. Don't dare say that I do not like sensible persons, I never liked anything better than the calm fashion in which you accept our dilemma, treating it as if it were rather a joke, than a disaster. Do you mind if I mention that you have not once suggested that there might be any gossip, or even discussion of the fact that you and I are forced to spend the night, in this-in this-well, in this informal fashion."

Gill laughed and stumbled a little, her companion promptly assisting her.

"Of course I have thought of it, but it makes no difference. This is no special virtue on my part; as soon as we are able to explain, none of the house party will consider the subject again. Yet I believe I am capable of going ahead in this world and doing what I think right, even if people should talk. Perhaps I am mistaken, one really never knows about oneself. Isn't that a log I fell over a moment ago? If you take one end and I the other it will burn a long time. Then in case any one comes to look for us they can discover us by the sign of the red flower."

"Red flower? What are you talking about?" Allan Drain said irritably, feeling uninterested in further physical exertion, now that he had landed Gill safely on the island and had only to wait a few hours before they could row or walk home.

"Wait until I can tell you," Gill answered.

A few moments after, when they had carefully laid the old log, cast up on the island after voyaging upon what unknown waters, on the camp fire and stood watching the flames leap up into the night, blue, rose and gold, Gill added:

"Did you not know that in the old days our forefathers called flame, the 'Red Flower'? If by any chance the tribal fire died out they went forth, sometimes to war, to steal the 'Red Flower' from the enemy."

Allan Drain remained silent.

Glancing at him and seeing his face lit by the glow, Gill was startled by his expression.

"You can't guess what you have just done for me? Oh, it may not seem of importance to you, and yet I can scarcely explain how much it means to me. For months and months I have been trying to find a title for my new play and now you have given me the perfect title: 'The Red Flower'. It's a wonder! The theme of my play is the flame of life that burns for good or ill in each one of us, and burns with greater beauty and purity in my heroine than in any one else.

"Forgive me, to think of my daring to talk of my play and myself (for at times they seem the same thing) with you here in the cold and dark, waiting for morning! Shall we continue to walk, or will you rest for a little, while I explore. It is possible I may find a more comfortable place than this for you."

Gill sat down, resting her chin in her hand and gazing into the fire. She could hear the waves lapping against the shore of the little island and behind her the wind rustling in the trees.

After to-night, surely she and Allan Drain must be good friends as he had stated. In any case her former prejudice against him was vanishing.

If he were willing to believe that this night's experience canceled the injury she had done him, the price was not severe.

Gill looked up at the stars; it must now be between two and three o'clock in the morning. She only could hope that her Camp Fire guardian, her hostess and friends were not seriously troubled. This thought alone made her unhappy, although she was beginning to feel weary and lonely now that Allan Drain had disappeared, if only for a few moments.

"Miss Gilchrist, Gill," she heard him calling, using her diminutive name in his excitement for the first time in their acquaintance. "I have discovered a tiny house an eighth of a mile back from the shore, a fisherman's cottage I think it must be. I have noticed one or two of these huts when I have tramped over the island. It isn't clean and it is pretty dark, but it is under shelter and if you will go in and rest I'll keep guard outside until daylight."

Gill shook her head.

"Leave our fire and the stars and the outdoors? Thank you, no. We will sit here together and you won't mind if I doze now and then. See here, Mr. Drain, Allan Drain, when we met in the Adirondacks you did not like me because you thought I was like a boy. I know it is unattractive, but to-night suppose you try to think of me as a boy, as if we were two comrades who had met with an unexpected adventure, for which one was no more to blame than the other, and that we were both determined to make the best of it.

"If you don't mind sitting closer I'll lean against your shoulder a few moments. If I am a nuisance don't hesitate to say so."

In ten minutes Allan Drain discovered that his companion was asleep, this time in reality.

Her red-brown hair having tumbled partly down-Gill had unloosened it, so that it hung crisp and straight to her shoulders-her pallor seemed strangely to have departed with the night's adventure, or else her skin was warmed by the heat from the fire; her lips, irregular in shape, were slightly parted.

An interesting face, Allan Drain concluded, if not a beautiful one, and a nature, generous and faulty, which so far was not fully awakened. Doubtless she would fight valiantly for a friend, but might prove a formidable enemy.

Gill stirred, and without being aware of the fact her companion smiled.

After the night's experience would they be enemies or friends? He hoped and intended they should be friends, as he had announced earlier in the evening.

Few girls, in his estimation, possessed the gift for friendship. And personally there was no possibility of a relation deeper than friendship in his own life for many years; whether as a physician or a writer, he had a long and difficult road to travel before he could expect even a fair amount of wealth.

Now and then during the next few hours Allan dozed. Occasionally he would have to awaken Gill by rising and going forth in search of fresh firewood.

At dawn they both opened their eyes at the same moment.

A mist was rising from the sea, curling heavenward and scattered by light winds.

In the sky there was an indefinite, faint glow.

Later the clouds parted and Allan recalled his reading of the Iliad and Homer's description of Apollo and his immortal horses and chariot. Almost one could see them move across the sky trailing clouds of glory. Then the colors blended and day arrived.

In the interval neither Allan nor Gill spoke after their first good morning.

Finally Gill stood up, stretching out her arms, her face radiant.

"Never shall I forget the beauty of this dawn, never as long as I live. I had not thought to see the morning come up out of the ocean. I beg your pardon if I seem too enthusiastic; please remember that I was born and brought up in Kansas and an island in the midst of the sea is almost as thrilling an experience as the sight of a new planet. Now I'll descend to realities and go and wash my face in the salt water. Shall we walk or row back home? I'm starving, aren't you?"

"Then what do you say to remaining an hour longer and catching fish and frying them for breakfast? Perhaps I can find fishing tackle in the hut I stumbled into last night."

On the way to the water Gill called back over her shoulder.

"Don't tempt me, we must return as soon as possible."

"Then we will row home; it will be quicker and save the trouble of bringing the boat in later. Besides, how much more dignified to row calmly up the blue lagoon than to tramp across the island!"

Gill rejoined him and was attempting to fix her hair.

"Sorry to disappoint you, but there is nothing to suggest dignity in either one of us at present. I am judging by your appearance and guessing at my own."

"Sure you feel none the worse for the night outdoors?"

Then as she shook her head, Allan made no further comment, although conscious of the fact that few persons would have passed through the discomforts of such a night and on awaking make no reference to anything save the beauty of the morning.

There were a number of other circumstances Allan felt he would like to mention-the soreness of his arms and back, the stiffness of his legs, a general shiveriness and a sensation of not having been to sleep in ages. Yet in the face of Gill's better sporting instinct he declined to complain. The freshness and splendor of the dawn had brought a physical as well as spiritual exaltation.



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