Margaret Vandercook.

The Camp Fire Girls by the Blue Lagoon



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Landing at the accustomed place in less than an hour, as they approached the old house no one appeared to be stirring except the birds in the eaves.

"Do you suppose by some good fortune no one has missed us? One scarcely knows whether to be pleased or chagrined. At least I shall awaken Bettina and recount our adventure. Good-by, I shall try to sleep most of the day and see you to-night I hope."

As Gill nodded her farewell, Allan left her at the door of the big house and went on to one of the cabins nearby, which was at present occupied by the half dozen masculine guests.

By this time it was approaching six o'clock and Gill discovered that one of the maids had unlocked the front door. Going in, she went directly to Bettina's room. When there was no immediate answer to her knock she walked quietly in.

Bettina sat up in bed, looking like a princess in a fairy tale with her two long braids of light hair falling over her shoulders and her nightdress of silk and lace. Notwithstanding Bettina's ideas of service and devotion to the less fortunate, her mother insisted, and Bettina was not unwilling, that she wear beautiful clothes. As her mother bought the clothes and gave them to her, Bettina had no alternative.

"Gill, what is the matter? Are you ill, do you need anything? Why you are dressed in the same frock that you wore last night at the dance."

Bettina rubbed her eyes, becoming more aware of her surroundings, as Gill stood laughing and gazing down upon her.

"So this is what it means to be shipwrecked and spend the night on an island in the society of a poet? One returns to find one never has been missed."

"Sit down, Gill, and talk sensibly. Shipwrecked? Island? Are you still dreaming? Did you not go up to your room last night before the dance was over and retire before the rest of us? When I found you had vanished, Sally told me that you had said you were tired and that no one was to pay any attention to you if you disappeared."

"Yes, I did tell Sally that and was about to depart when Allan Drain asked me to go for a walk with him. Afterwards we went to row for a half hour on the lagoon, managed to slip into the bay and, when the tide turned, were carried farther out. We discovered the island, but not the blue lagoon and were forced to wait until daylight. I am sorry, I realized when it was too late that I should not have gone, but tried to make the best of it and to accept the situation in a matter-of-fact fashion. I am going to bed now. Will you explain to your mother and Mrs. Burton that I'll go into the details of our adventure when I am not so tired. At least the thing I feared did not occur, you were not frightened and did not believe the water had swallowed us up."

CHAPTER XIII
THE FOLLOWING DAY

Not in several years could Sally Ashton recall so trying a day as the present one, not since those fateful days in France when she had nursed an unknown soldier in a ruined ch?teau.

In the first place, she was worried about Gill.

Characteristic of Gill to insist that the night outdoors in the fog and cold probably had been good for her; Sally was not under a similar impression. Devotedly and faithfully she had nursed and watched the other girl during the past winter, to discover that Gill possessed a boyish carelessness and lack of judgment concerning her own health.

So in and out of Gill's room, Sally spent a portion of her morning, carrying in the breakfast tray, insisting that Gill, in spite of her protests, use a hot water bag prevent her taking cold.

At eleven o'clock again she tiptoed softly back, and finding Gill awake departed to bring a glass of milk, in case she should prefer to sleep on through luncheon.

"I may not be able to come in to see you during the afternoon, Gill; Bettina suggests that, as she is your hostess, I might permit her to have a little of the care of you, so I agreed. There is something else I may have to attend to and you seem all right."

With a harrassed, even troubled air, unlike her usual serenity, Sally stood frowning, looking not at Gill, but out the open window.

Gill stretched forth her hand.

"Sally, dear, what is the matter? You are not worrying about me, that is too absurd! You are a perfect dear and I am everlastingly grateful, but I have not even taken cold. There is something else on your mind. If you don't wish to confide in me, why not tell some one, Mrs. Graham or Mrs. Burton."

Sally failed to lift her eyes.

"No, not at present. I had thought of speaking to Aunt Betty and then decided I had best wait. Tante is absolutely out of the question. By the way, she was much upset when she heard what had happened to you and Allan Drain, but after a talk with Allan is in a happier frame of mind. I was to tell you that she would see you when you were more rested."

Sally waited, as if trying to reach a decision before stirring from her present position.

"Gill, if there was something you believe you ought to do, would you go ahead, even if it made some one you cared for angry?" she unexpectedly demanded.

Gill studied her closely.

"I don't know what to answer, as would depend partly upon circumstances But, Sally, dear, please don't get yourself into any difficulty. You have been through a trying winter with me and are here by the blue lagoon for a holiday."

Sally shook her head.

"I'll do my best to avoid it."

A few moments before lunch Sally discovered Dan Webster alone on the front porch and went toward him in her sweetest and most friendly fashion.

"It is nice to find you by yourself, Dan. You said last night that I had been avoiding you, which was not exactly true. I have had something on my mind and it is hard, as you know, at a house party, to slip away from the others."

Dan laughed.

"Yes, Sally, but it is the very fact of your slipping away from the others that I did object to. Had you gone with me I might have felt differently."

Sally put out her hand, catching at her companion's coat sleeve.

"Promise me, Dan, that if I do something you don't like, you won't be angry? You might have a little faith in me!"

Dan shook his head.

"Faith or no faith, Sally, I won't have you trudging over this island alone on any kind of fool's errand. If you do what I asked you not, I shall find it hard to forgive you. Let's not talk of this; why not come for a walk with me this afternoon? We have not had a walk in ages!"

"No, Dan, I can't, I am sorry, but I am tired from waiting on Gill all morning and from the dance last night and mean to have a nap."

Then to Sally's relief, Mrs. Graham appeared on the veranda and luncheon was announced.

In the afternoon from her bedroom window Sally saw most of the house party disappear. They were crossing over to the mainland to watch a drill at the fort. She had declined to go, but was happy to observe that Dan was with them and walking with Vera Lagerloff, whom he had known since they were children.

A short time after, making a pretence of keeping her word, Sally lay down on her bed for five minutes. Then she arose, put on a sweater and a small, close-fitting hat and unobserved went downstairs. Instead of going out at once, however, she slipped into the drawing-room and sat down by a window where she was almost completely concealed by the curtain.

She sat there about a half hour. At the end of that time another member of the house-party appeared from a side door, glanced about her, as if wondering whether she was observed, and then started alone, presumably for a walk.

Not at once, but within two or three moments, Sally arose and followed her. By walking rapidly she might be able to join her; by loitering she might keep her in view.

As the girl walked quickly and as Sally was not fond of strenuous exercise, she was forced to hurry in order not to lose sight of her.

After an hour and a quarter of fast walking the girl in advance reached the small fisherman's hut which Allan Drain had discovered the night before.

She remained waiting in the open doorway until a small boat landed on the beach and a young man jumped out. Then she ran forward to meet him.

From her place of concealment behind a clump of trees Sally was neither surprised nor shocked. There was no question with regard to the likeness between Juliet Temple and her companion, plainly they were sister and brother. Then why did Juliet Temple not bring her brother to the "House by the Blue Lagoon"? The question puzzled and troubled Sally.

After all, she was making a mistake. If another girl chose to have secret meetings with her own brother, it was not her affair.

Had she not always distrusted Juliet Temple and believed she intended some wrong purpose, never would she have pursued her present course.

Dan must never learn what she had been doing, or he might be not only angry but disdainful.

Sally turned and started home, sitting down now and then to rest. Having finally made up her mind to cease playing detective, she was in a more comfortable frame of mind.

Should Juliet Temple by any chance overtake her, Sally determined to confess.

CHAPTER XIV
AN INTERVIEW

Seated on a log and looking out toward the water, hearing some one coming up behind her, not anxious to begin an interview which might lead to uncomfortable explanations, Sally did not turn her head.

When some one called her name, she jumped quickly to her feet and swinging around, faced Dan Webster.

Instantly her face grew scarlet.

"You have followed me, Dan. I shall never forgive you. Deliberately you made a pretence of going away with the others for the afternoon in order that I might be deceived."

Sally's words were harsher than her manner, for even as she spoke she put her hands to her hot cheeks and her voice trembled.

Dan was looking at her as she never had seen him. His usually ruddy, freshly colored skin had lost nearly every vestige of color, his lips were set and hard and his blue eyes at once stern and unhappy.

"Certainly I followed you, Sally, I told you that was my intention, and you are perfectly right in your supposition that I tricked you by appearing to leave the island. I did this not because I really believed you would continue your secret meetings, but because I wanted to be convinced."

"Secret meetings!" Sally exclaimed, moving backwards a step or two and dropping her hands at her sides. "I think it is my right, Dan, to ask what you mean."

"Why, I mean what I said. How could I mean anything else? Please don't make things worse by failing to tell the truth, particularly now when it is too late to do anything else. I have been tramping about for the past half hour trying to decide what was best. I am going directly to Tante, and I wish you would come with me, and tell her that you have had half a dozen secret meetings with a young fellow who lands on the island in an out-of-the-way spot, instead of using the lagoon where he could be seen from the house. Doubtless you will explain your reason."

Sally was silent, her face now paler than her companion's.

"Of course I know, Sally, there is no harm in what you have been doing, but you yourself will confess that it does not look well and that anyone who cares for you has a right to try to protect you from your own indiscretion. Who is this fellow? Is he some friend whom you don't think the rest of us would care to know? And for what reason? I saw you stop behind a clump of trees and a few moments later his boat landed and I walked away. I did mot wish actually to spy upon you. You must only have spoken to him, as it was a brief time ago. Perhaps you are befriending this fellow in some way; if you are, why not let me help?"

"I am befriending no one," Sally returned.

"Then come with me to Tante. Perhaps you will confide in your Camp Fire guardian. I was never so disappointed in any human being in my life, Sally, as I am in you. I feel as if I were in a nightmare from which I must wake up."

Almost roughly Dan took Sally by the arm.

The next instant she had broken away and a second time seated herself on the log.

"Go and tell whom you like, Dan Webster, and whatever you like, and not only Tante, but Aunt Betty and the entire group of Camp Fire girls. Be sure to miss no one. Afterwards don't speak to me again."

Hesitating, his sternness slightly relaxed, as whose would not have been by the sight of Sally, Dan took one step in her direction and then paused. Unexpectedly her head went down, the golden brown eyes that had been so full of defiance the moment before, filled and brimmed over, as she buried her head in her hands.

He was under the impression that he had been sufficiently unhappy upon making the discovery that she was keeping a secret from her friends, but his past unhappiness was as nothing to this.

"Sally, dear, I am afraid I spoke rudely to you. You know I was concerned for your sake. Of course I am not going to speak of the matter to Tante, as you'll tell her yourself at once."

"I shall do no such thing, Dan," Sally answered in a muffled tone.

Dan appeared and felt defeated.

Slowly he began walking up and down a few feet away, his head bowed, an expression of anxiety and depression on his handsome, boyish face.

Finally he came and stood in front of the girl.

"Sally, I want to apologize to you, you must do what you think best. You asked me to have faith in you and I have not had. Good-by. I won't ask you to walk home with me, but come soon, dear, you are tired and upset and ought to rest before dinner."

Dan was moving away when Sally caught up with him.

"Dan, please listen. I want to tell you what actually has happened, I never wanted to tell anyone anything so much in my whole existence. I am afraid you will think I have not behaved very well, but you may scold as much as you like because I agree with you.

"Of course I have not been meeting any strange youth for any purpose whatsoever. What I have been doing is following Juliet Temple and I have little excuse to offer.

"Soon after her arrival I noticed that she slipped off several times alone and one day I followed her, partly from curiosity and the old distrust I always have felt for her. It is a curious thing, Dan. I believe Juliet is honestly fond of Tante, but I think in the end she will use her for her own purpose.

"Well, Juliet went farther than I expected and I saw her meet some one whom I feel sure is her brother, as they look so exactly alike. Besides, I heard that he was a soldier and most of the time he is in uniform. It is Juliet's affair of course and she probably has some legitimate excuse for not wishing us to know him, but I confess it troubles me.

"In a way I feel I owe an apology to Juliet, but it might be more comfortable for us both not to speak of it. I was just reaching a decision to forget the whole matter when you interrupted and frightened me. If you doubt what I have told you, Dan, you can wait until Juliet returns and tell her what I have told you. I would prefer she and Tante should both know than that you should doubt me."

"But I don't doubt your word, Sally; nothing would ever induce me to doubt you now or in the future," Dan returned with more earnestness than his previous point of view gave him the excuse for possessing. "Besides, now I recall that twice I have seen Juliet Temple not far away, soon after observing you. I am a dunce and a blockhead and your devoted friend, Sally.

"Why in the world do you feel this distrust of Juliet Temple? No wonder Tante thinks she has a hard time among you girls and appeals to me to be kind to her. She seems to me a tiresome kind of girl, who isn't capable of anything out of the ordinary. She is clever enough to be a good secretary, or companion, or whatever she is to Tante, and that is the end of it."

"Think so, Dan? Well, perhaps you are right," Sally replied. "Suppose we hurry home. I don't wish to appear as if you had made me cry, although it is perfectly true that you have."

"Never as long as we live shall I trouble you again."

Wise in things feminine, Sally shook her head and smiled.

CHAPTER XV
TWISTED COILS

"If you can finish, Juliet, without further assistance from me, I believe I will go and look for the Camp Fire girls. They have been so busy with their own affairs of late, I feel slightly neglected. Then do take a walk, or lie down, whichever you prefer. You have been looking a little nervous and pale of late. I would understand if you had been working hard, but we both have been having a holiday."

Mrs. Burton stood before her mirror making soft little pats at her hair, characteristic of all girls and women.

She had on a house dress of crepe de chine in a curious shade of old gold with a girdle of brown velvet.

"I can't become accustomed to my appearance in this dress, Juliet. It seems to me I look rather worse than usual. I wish it were becoming to you so I might present it to you, but I am afraid the color is wrong."

Juliet Temple made no reply and seemed scarcely to have heard what had been said to her. She was seated at a desk with several bills and a check book before her.

As Mrs. Burton, preparing to leave the room, opened the door, she said in a low tone:

"Would you mind signing these checks before you go? One is for the rent of the apartment."

"Tante, won't you come for a ride with us around the island? We won't be long!" Bettina Graham called at the same instant from outside in the hall.

"Wait a moment, dear, and I'll join you. Give me the checks, Juliet, please. What an abominable pen! Are the three all you wish me to sign?"

"Yes, all for the present," Juliet answered, gathering them hastily together and placing one over the other.

At the same time Mrs. Burton went out of the room.

"I don't feel like driving, Bettina. I was intending to see what you girls were doing and perhaps have an impromptu Camp Fire meeting. We have been neglecting our Council meetings of late and it is not a good plan, yet I know it is difficult with so many masculine guests to be entertained. Who is going for the drive?"

"Oh, no one except my shadows, as you call my two small girls, and David Hale and Marguerite Arnot. Marguerite has been so busy helping mother look after the house she and David have scarcely been able to exchange a word, and you know I always have wished them to be friends. Mother said she would go if you liked, but not otherwise."

"Are the other girls here? I'll find mother when she has rested, I know this is the hour she lies down."

"Yes, I think they are in the house somewhere. I am not sure about Sally. I heard Dan ask her to go for a row and heard Sally decline, but she may have changed her mind, even Sally sometimes does change her mind-for Dan.

"I must hurry, but if you pass my room, dear, will you look at the old English prints that father found and presented me for my sitting-room. They are so lovely I feel mother should have them, but she insists not."

Bettina ran off down the stairs and Mrs. Burton moved toward the front of the old house, where Bettina's apartment of bedroom and sitting-room was located.

Coming toward her through the hall with a book under his arm was Allan Drain.

"I beg your pardon, Mrs. Burton, if I am intruding by being up here, when I know this second floor is the feminine part of the house, but Miss Bettina told me I could get this book from her bookcase. I was trying to escape without being discovered."

The Camp Fire guardian laughed.

"Oh, the situation is not so serious as that. You need not run away. Stop a moment, won't you? I want to speak to you. I have been intending to for the past ten days. I am afraid you think I am unkind and selfish not to allow you to read your new play to me. I know Mrs. Graham tried to explain as pleasantly as possible, but the fact remains that I did refuse, even when she asked me and I don't like to refuse her many things. I was tired; you see I have not acted for a number of years and the past winter was a good deal of a strain. Besides, I am the poorest kind of a critic! I want you to know that I trust your play will be a great success, and if not this, then the next one. It is a long and oftentimes difficult road you have started to travel, yet I presume it is like acting, if the thing is in your blood, you must keep at it through good and ill. Forgive me and understand my attitude. I am afraid I am growing more selfish as I grow older, but I don't wish you to feel this all unkindness, I might have to say something discouraging and I might be wrong and then I should have hurt you for nothing."

Polly Burton held out her hand in the simple, friendly fashion characteristic of her. As the young fellow took it and held it for an instant she saw in his face the beauty and honor of a sincere and ardent admiration, not for her as a woman, but as an artist.

"Thank you," he returned, "I do understand and I have not the least right to trouble you. You have been too kind in the past. The road is hard because I have my living to make and cannot afford to work and wait as one should. I only trust I have the courage to hold out."

Waiting for Mrs. Burton to move away, his eyes never left her, consciously studying the slender, graceful figure, the small head with its mass of dark hair and the brilliant blue eyes, the mark of her Irish inheritance, yet of less interest than the long, too thin face, with the pointed chin and the irregular, deeply colored lips.



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