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Title: The Camp Fire Girls Across the Seas
Author: Vandercook, Margaret, 1876-
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Camp Fire Girls Across the Seas" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                  THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS ACROSS THE SEAS

                        BY MARGARET VANDERCOOK

                Author of "The Ranch Girls Series," etc.


    ILLUSTRATED

    PHILADELPHIA
    THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO.
    PUBLISHERS

    Copyright, 1914, by
    THE JOHN C. WINSTON COMPANY


[Illustration: "LOOK HERE, ESTHER," HE BEGAN]



CONTENTS


       I. TWO YEARS LATER

      II. THE WHEEL REVOLVES

     III. FAREWELLS

      IV. UNTER DEN LINDEN

       V. CHANGES

      VI. A COSMOPOLITAN COMPANY

     VII. DAS RHEINGOLD

    VIII. OTHER SCENES

      IX. THE MEETING

       X. AN ADVENTURE

      XI. AND ITS CONSEQUENCES

     XII. THE UNCERTAIN FUTURE

    XIII. RICHARD ASHTON

     XIV. BETTY'S STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE

      XV. THE FINDING OF BRUNHILDE

     XVI. A HEART-TO-HEART TALK

    XVII. THE DAY BEFORE ESTHER'S DÉBUT

   XVIII. THAT NIGHT

     XIX. TEA AT THE CASTLE

      XX. ESTHER AND DICK

     XXI. SUNRISE CABIN



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


"LOOK HERE, ESTHER," HE BEGAN

THERE WAS A SLIGHT SOUND FROM HIS LISTENER

"TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE PLACES NEAR HERE"

"FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS TO ME!"



The Camp Fire Girls Across the Seas



CHAPTER I

Two Years Later


A young man strode along through one of the principal streets of the
town of Woodford, New Hampshire, with his blue eyes clouded and an
expression of mingled displeasure and purpose about the firm lines of
his mouth.

It was an April afternoon and the warm sunshine uncurling the tiny buds
on the old elm trees lit to a brighter hue the yellow Forsythia bushes
already in bloom in the gardens along the way.

Standing in front of an inconspicuous brown cottage was a large touring
car, empty of occupants. Within a few yards of this car the young man
paused, frowning, and then gazed anxiously up toward the closed door of
the house. A short time afterwards this door opened when a girl, wearing
a scarlet coat and a felt hat of the same shade pinned carelessly on her
dark hair, hurried forth and with her eyes cast down and an air of
suppressed excitement moved off in the opposite direction, without
becoming aware of the onlooker. And although the bystander's lips moved
once as if forming her name with the intention of calling after her, his
impulse must have immediately died, for he continued motionless in the
same spot until the girl had finally turned a corner and was lost to his
view. Then the young man walked on again, but not so rapidly or
resolutely as at first.

Indeed, he was so intensely absorbed in his own line of thought as to be
unconscious of the other passers-by, until some one stopped directly in
front of him and a familiar voice pronounced his name.

"Why, Billy Webster, where are you going?" Meg Everett demanded. "You
look as if you were giving Atlas a holiday this afternoon and had
transferred the weight of the world to your own shoulders."

Two years had changed the greater number of the old Sunrise Hill Camp
Fire members from girls to young women, but they had not made a
conspicuous difference in Margaret Everett. Her sunny yellow hair was
tucked up, but today the April winds had loosened it, and though she was
dressed with greater care than before the Camp Fire influence, she would
never altogether approach her brother John's ideal of quiet elegance, as
the Princess always had. Yet her eyes were so gay and friendly and her
face so full of quick color and sympathy, that there were few other
young men besides her older brother who found much to criticize in her.
And certainly not the small boy at her side, who had once been "Hai-yi,"
the Indian name for "Little Brother," to the twelve girls at Sunrise
Hill.

Returning Meg's interested gaze, Billy Webster, who was never given to
subterfuges, had a sudden impulse to seek information and possible aid
from her.

"Is it true, Meg," he asked, "that Miss Adams, the actress, is here in
Woodford visiting her cousin and that Polly O'Neill has been going to
see her every day and riding over the country in her motor car? I
thought Mrs. Wharton had insisted that Polly was to have nothing to do
with anything or anybody connected with the stage until three years had
passed. It has been only two since Polly's escapade, and it seems to me
that nothing could so awaken a girl's interest as being made the
companion and friend of a famous woman. I thought Mrs. Wharton had
better judgment. Polly had almost forgotten the whole business!"

As she shook her head Meg Everett's face wore a slightly puzzled look.
For she was wondering at the instant if it could be possible that Billy
had any special right to his concern in Polly O'Neill's proceedings.
Mollie O'Neill was her dearest friend and for several years she knew
Mollie and Billy had been apparently devoted to each other. Yet she
would have been almost sure to have guessed had their old affection
developed into something deeper. Moreover, Mollie was only nineteen and
Mrs. Wharton would have insisted upon their waiting before agreeing to
an engagement between them.

"Oh, I don't think it worth while for you and Mollie to worry over
Polly," Meg returned, even in the midst of her meditations, which is a
fortunate faculty one has sometimes of being able to think of one thing
and speak of another at the same instant. "Miss Adams is going away in a
few days, I believe, and though she has invited Polly to be her guest
and travel with her in Europe this summer, Mrs. Wharton has positively
refused to agree to it. I can't help being sorry for Polly, somehow, for
think what it would mean to see Esther and Betty again! Two years has
seemed a dreadfully long time to me without the Princess; I only wish
that there was a chance for me to go abroad this summer."

And in the midst of her own wave of the spring "Wanderlust," which is
aroused each year in the hearts of the young and the old alike, the girl
had a moment of unconsciousness of her companion's nearness and of the
manner in which he had received her news. The next instant he had
lifted his hat and with a few muttered words of apology for his haste,
had walked off with his shoulders squarer than ever and his head more
splendidly erect.

Meg's eyes followed him with admiration. "I hope you may look like Billy
Webster some day, Horace," she said to the small boy at her side, who
was now all long legs and arms and tousled hair. "But I don't know that
I want you to be too much like him. Billy is the old-fashioned type of
man, I think--honest and brave and kind. But he does not understand in
the least that the world has changed for women and that some of us may
not wish just to stay at home and get married and then keep on staying
at home forever afterwards." And Meg laughed, feeling that her little
brother was hardly old enough to understand her criticism or her
protest. She herself hardly realized why she had made it, except that
the spring restlessness must still be lingering within her. Meg was not
usually a psychologist and there was no reason to doubt that Mollie
would always continue a home-loving soul.

On the broad stone steps of the Wharton home, which was the largest and
finest in Woodford, except the old Ashton place, Billy Webster was
compelled to wait for several moments before the front door bell was
answered. And then the maid insisted that the entire family had gone
out. Mr. and Mrs. Wharton were both driving, Mollie was taking a walk
with friends, and Polly paying a visit. Sylvia was not living in
Woodford at present, but true to her Camp Fire purpose was in
Philadelphia studying to become a trained nurse.

"Do you mean that Miss Polly gave you instructions to say she was not
in?" the young man inquired, trying his best to betray no shadow of
offended pride in his question. "Because if she did not, I am sure that
you must be mistaken. I saw her leave the place where she was calling
some little time ago and----"

But the maid was crimsoning uncomfortably, for at this moment there
arose the sound of some one playing the piano in the music room near
by.

"No, sir," the girl stammered, "no one asked to be excused. Miss Polly
must have come in without my knowing." And in her confusion the girl
ushered the visitor into an almost dark room, without announcing his
name or even suggesting his approach.

However, the recent visitor was so much in the habit of going frequently
to the Wharton home that he did not feel in any sense a stranger there.
Besides, had he not spied the familiar scarlet coat and hat on a chair
outside the music room, where no one but Polly would have placed them?
And was it not like her to be sitting in the semi-darkness with the
shutters of four big windows tightly closed, playing pensively and none
too well on the piano, when the rest of the world was out of doors?

Billy felt a sudden and almost overmastering desire to take the
musician's slender shoulders in his hands and give them a slight shake,
as she continued sitting on the stool with her back deliberately turned
toward him.

"I hope I am not disturbing you," he began with a little laugh, which
even to his own ears did not sound altogether natural.

And then, when the girl had swung slowly around, he walked up toward her
and leaning one elbow on the piano, with his eyes down, continued
speaking, without giving his companion the opportunity even for greeting
him.

"Polly," he said, "I have just heard that Miss Adams has invited you to
go abroad with her this summer and that your mother has refused to let
you accept. But I cannot entirely believe this last part of my news. I
don't dare unless you tell me."

[Illustration: THERE WAS A SLIGHT SOUND FROM HIS LISTENER]

There was a slight sound from his listener, an effort at interruption,
but the young man went on without regarding it.

"I did not mean to speak to you so soon. I know you are too young and I
expected to wait another year. And certainly you have not given me much
encouragement. Sometimes I have not felt that you liked me any better
than when first we knew each other. But you can't have completely
forgotten what I said to you that day in the woods two years ago. And
you know I never change my mind. Now I can't bear to have you go so far
away from Woodford without saying again that I care for you, Polly, in
spite of our sometimes disagreeing about things and that I will do my
level best to make you happy if you, if you----"

But the girl at the piano had risen and Billy now lifted his eager blue
eyes to her face. Immediately his expression changed, the hot blood
poured into his cheeks, and he moved forward a few steps. Then he stood
still with his hands hanging limply at his sides.

For the girl, whose pallor showed even in the semi-darkness of the room
and whose lips trembled so that it was difficult for her to command her
voice, was not Polly O'Neill! Although her hair was almost equally dark,
her chin was less pointed, her lips less scarlet and her whole
appearance gentler and more appealing.

"I am sorry," Mollie O'Neill faltered, "I did not understand when you
began, Billy, or I should not have listened. But I didn't dream that you
and Polly--oh, I didn't suppose that people could quarrel as you do and
yet be fond of each other. And you were my friend, Billy, and Polly is
my twin sister. I cannot understand why one of you did not tell me how
you felt without waiting to have me find out like this." And in spite of
her struggle for self-control, there was a break in Mollie O'Neill's
soft voice that Billy would have given a great deal never to have heard,
and a look on her face which, though he did not entirely understand, he
was not soon to forget. She had put out one arm and stood steadying
herself against the piano stool like a child who had been unexpectedly
hurt and frightened and who wished to run away, yet felt that if she
lingered a little longer she might better understand the puzzle.

Nevertheless Billy said nothing for a moment. He was too angry with
himself, too worried over the surprise and sorrow in Mollie's eyes, to
speak. For they were deeply attached to each other and nothing had come
between their friendship since the morning, now almost five years ago,
when she had cleverly bandaged up the wound in his head. They had been
foolish children then, but so long an intimacy should surely have taught
him by this time the difference between the twin sisters. If only the
room had not been so dark when he came in, if only he had not been
deceived by the crimson coat and cap and by his own excitement!

"There was nothing to tell you before, Mollie, at least nothing that
counts," Billy began humbly. "Sometimes I have wanted to explain to you
my feeling for Polly. We do quarrel and she makes me angrier than anyone
I know in the world, and yet somehow I can't forget her. And I like
being with her always, even when she is in a bad temper. Then I don't
wish her to go on the stage. I think it a horrid profession, and Polly
is not strong enough. I would do anything that I could to prevent it.
But you see, Mollie, I have no reason to believe that Polly cares for
me; though now and then she has seemed to like me better than she once
did. Still I am determined to try whatever means I can to keep her away
from this Miss Adams' influence. For if once Polly leaves Woodford with
her, the old Polly whom we both know and love will never come back to us
again." And Billy appeared so disconsolate and so unlike his usual
confident, masterful self, that Mollie smiled at him, a little wistfully
it is true, but in a perfectly friendly and forgiving fashion.

"I'll go and find whether Polly has come home," she answered. "I ran in
for a moment to call on Miss Adams and found that Polly had left there
half an hour before. I wore her old coat and cap, so I think she must be
dressed in her best clothes and paying visits somewhere." And Mollie
laid a hand lightly on her friend's arm.

"Don't be discouraged at whatever Polly says to you," she begged. "You
know that she may be angry at the idea of your opposing her having this
European trip with Miss Adams. But she is not going. Mother is positive
and Polly will not do more than ask for permission since there is a
whole year more before her promise ends."

And Mollie slipped quietly away, grateful for the darkness and her old
friend's absorption.

In the hall, a few feet from the music room door, she encountered Polly
herself, with her eyes shining and her face aglow with the beauty and
fragrance of the April afternoon. And before she could slip past her
Polly's arms were about her, holding her fast, while she demanded,
"Whatever has happened to make you so white and miserable, Mollie
Mavourneen? Are you ill? If anyone has been unkind to you----"

But Mollie could only shake her head. "Don't be absurd; there is nothing
the matter. Billy Webster is here waiting to see you."

Nevertheless, a moment afterwards, when Polly had marched into the music
room and opened wide a shutter, her first words as she turned toward her
visitor were, "Billy Webster, what in the world have you said or done to
make Mollie so unhappy?"



CHAPTER II

The Wheel Revolves


It was midnight, yet Polly O'Neill had not gotten into bed.

Instead she sat before a tiny, dying fire in her own bedroom with her
hands clasped about her knees and her black hair hanging gypsy-fashion
over her crimson dressing gown. Mollie had gone to her own room several
hours before. In a moment there was a light knock at the door and Polly
had scarcely turned her head when her mother stood beside her.

Mrs. Wharton looked younger than she had several years before, absurdly
young to be the mother of two almost grown-up daughters! Her face had
lost the fatigue and strain of another spring evening, when Betty Ashton
had first hurried across the street to confide the dream of her Camp
Fire club to her dearest friends. Of course her hair was grayer and she
was a good deal less thin. Notwithstanding her eyes held the same soft
light of understanding that was so curiously combined with quiet
firmness.

"Why aren't you in bed, Polly mine?" she asked. "I saw that the gas was
shining or I should never have disturbed you."

In answer Polly without rising pushed a low rocking chair toward her
mother. "I wasn't sleepy. Is that the same reason that keeps you awake,
Mrs. Wharton?" she queried.

In all their lives together Polly O'Neill and her mother had always held
a different relation toward each other than ordinarily exists between
most mothers and daughters. In the first place Mrs. Wharton was so very
little older than her children that in the days in the cottage when they
had lived and worked for one another, they had seemed more like three
devoted and intimate friends. Of course the two girls had always
understood that when a serious question was to be decided their mother
remained the court of the last decision. However, in those years few
serious questions had ever arisen beyond the finding of sufficient
money for their food and clothes and occasional good times. So that
there had been nothing to disturb the perfection of their attitude
toward one another until Mrs. O'Neill's marriage to her former employer,
Mr. Wharton. And then there is no doubt that Polly for a time had been
difficult. Naturally she was glad for her mother's sake that she had the
new love and wealth and position; nevertheless she was homesick for
their old life and its intimacy and in her heart half sorry that her own
dream of some day bringing fortune and ease to her mother and Mollie was
now of so little account. And then all too soon, before matters had
really become adjusted between the two families, had followed her own
act of insurbordination and deception and her mother's mandate.

Of course Polly had bowed before it and had even understood that it was
both right and just. She had been happy enough in these last two years,
in spite of missing Betty Ashton almost every hour, and had come to like
and admire her stepfather immensely. Nevertheless there had remained a
slight shadow between herself and her mother, a misapprehension so
intangible that Polly herself did not realize it, although Mrs. Wharton
did.

"I suppose you are not sleepy, dear, because you are sitting here
thinking that never in the whole world was there ever a mother so narrow
and so dictatorial as I am," Mrs. Wharton began. "Oh, I have been in
bed, but I have been lying awake for the past hour looking at myself
with Polly's eyes."

Polly frowned, shaking her head, yet her mother went on without
appearing to notice her.

"I wonder if you think that I have no realization of the wonderful
opportunity I have just made you refuse. Do you think, Polly, that I
don't appreciate what it must mean to a girl like you to have made a
friend of a great woman like Margaret Adams? And to have her so desire
your companionship that she has asked you to be her guest during her
summer abroad? Why such a chance does not come to one girl in a hundred
thousand and yet I have made you give it up!"

With a little protesting gesture Polly stretched out her hand. "Then let
us not discuss it any further, mother of mine," she demanded. "I
promised you not to speak of it again after our talk the other day and I
am going to exact the same promise of you."

The girl shut her lips together in a tight line of scarlet and all
unconsciously began rocking herself slowly backward and forward with her
expression turned inside instead of out, as her sister Mollie used
sometimes to say. But Mrs. Wharton leaned over, and putting her finger
under Polly's chin tilted it back until her eyes were upturned toward
hers.

"But was I fair to you, dear? Have I decided what was best for you, as
well as for Mollie and me? We have not spoken of it; we have both felt
that silence was the wisest course; but tonight I should like to know
whether, when the three years of your promise to me have passed, do you
still intend going upon the stage?" Mrs. Wharton asked.

"Would you mind so very, very much?" Polly inquired quietly. And then
with a sudden rush of confidence, which she had never before shown in
any of their talks together on this subject, Polly faced their old
difference of opinion squarely. "It has always been hard for me to
understand, mother, why you are so opposed to my trying to become an
actress. You are broad-minded enough on other subjects. You have worked
for your own living and ours; and you were willing enough to have
Sylvia, who is younger than I am and who will be very rich some day, go
away and study to become a trained nurse, just because she believed it
her calling. Yet because I want to learn to act, why the whole stage and
everything connected with it is anathema. You do not even like Miss
Margaret Adams as much as you would if she were in some other kind of
work. Oh, of course I appreciate that people used to feel that no woman
could be good and be on the stage, but no sensible person thinks that
nowadays." Polly stopped abruptly. "I don't mean to be rude, mother,"
she concluded.

But Mrs. Wharton nodded. "Please go on. I came in tonight to find out
just what you were thinking. I don't believe you realize how little you
have explained your real feeling to me on this subject since that
unfortunate time in New York."

"I didn't want to trouble you," again Polly hesitated. "It is hardly
worth while doing it now. Because honestly I have not made up my mind
just how to answer the question that you asked me a few minutes ago.
Whether at the end of another year, when you have agreed to let me do as
I like, I shall still insist upon going upon the stage, knowing that you
and Mollie are at heart unwilling to have me, I can't tell. Perhaps I
shall give up and stay on here at Woodford and maybe marry some one I
don't care about and then be sorry ever afterwards."

Instead of replying Mrs. Wharton got up and walked several times
backwards and forwards across the length of the room, not glancing
toward the girl who still sat before the fire with her hands clasped
tightly over her knees. But Polly had small doubt where her mother's
thoughts were. And a few moments afterwards she too rose and the next
instant pulled her mother down on a cushion before the fire, and resting
close beside her put her head on her shoulder.

"Dear, you were mistaken when you came in and found me awake," Polly
explained, "in supposing that I was thinking of my own disappointment in
not being allowed to make the journey with Miss Adams or feeling hurt or
angry with you because you decided against it. Really, I never dreamed
in the first place that you would be willing. Still, I was thinking of
asking you to let me break my word to you after all! You said that I was
to stay here in Woodford for three years, and yet I want you to let me
go away somewhere very soon. I don't care where, any place will do."

Now for the first time since the beginning of their conversation Mrs.
Wharton appeared mystified and deeply hurt.

"Is your own home so disagreeable to you, Polly, that you would rather
go anywhere than stay with us?" she queried. And then to her further
surprise, turning she discovered that tears were standing unshed in
Polly's eyes and that her lips were trembling.

"I don't know how to tell you, mother. It is all so mixed up and so
uncertain in my own mind and so foolish. But I wonder if you have ever
thought that Mollie liked Billy Webster better than our other friends?"

"Mollie?" Mrs. Wharton could hardly summon her thoughts back from the
subject which had lately absorbed them, to follow what she believed a
quickly changing idea of Polly's. "Why, yes, I think I have," she
answered slowly. "But I have never let the supposition trouble me.
Mollie is so young and her deepest affections are for you and me.
Besides, Billy is a fine fellow and perhaps when the time comes I shall
not be quite so selfish with her."

But Polly's cheeks were so crimson that she had to put up her cold hands
to try and cool them.

"And you have always believed that Billy almost hated me, haven't you?"

Mrs. Wharton laughed. "Well, I have never thought a great deal about it,
except that you argued a great deal about nothing and that each one of
you was determined to influence the other without producing the smallest
result."

"Yes, mother, and that is what makes what I want to tell you so horrid
and silly," Polly went on, intentionally making a screen for her face
with her dark hair. "Because Billy Webster has a perfectly absurd idea
that he cares for me, simply because he wishes to manage me. And--and he
was tiresome enough to tell me so this afternoon."

Surprise and consternation for the moment kept Mrs. Wharton silent. "But
you, Polly?" she managed to inquire finally. "How do you feel? What did
you answer him?"

Then for an instant the girl's former expression changed and the old
Irish contrariness of spirit hovered in a half smile about her lips.

"Oh, I told him that I did not like him any better than I had in the
beginning of our acquaintance and that I had only been nicer to him now
and then lately because he was your friend and Mollie's. And no matter
what happened to me, if I never, never stirred a foot out of Woodford, I
should never dream of marrying him even when I am a hundred years old."

A sigh of some kind escaped Mrs. Wharton, partly of relief and partly of
annoyance.

"Then why should you wish to go away, dear?" she queried. "If you said
all that, surely Billy will never trouble you again!"

A characteristic shrug was Polly's first answer. "Oh, Billy only cares
about me because he can't have me," she replied the next minute. "But he
insists that he will go on trying to win me until doomsday. Still it
isn't either about Billy or about me that I am thinking at present.
Can't you understand, mother, without my having to explain? It is so
hard to say. It's Mollie! Not for anything in the world would I have her
feelings hurt or have her think that I had come between her and her
friendship for Billy."

But Mrs. Wharton's manner was immediately quiet and reassuring. "Mollie
would never think anything unfair of you, Polly. And perhaps it will be
better for you to speak of this to her. If Mollie has had any false
impression, if her feeling for Billy has been anything but simple
friendliness, now it will not be difficult for her to adjust herself.
When later--" However, Mrs. Wharton was not able to finish her sentence,
for Polly had murmured, "She does know. Of course she has not said
anything to me and I never want to have to refer to it to her. But you
need not trouble. Billy was so stupid." Here Polly gave an irrepressible
giggle. "He proposed to both of us this afternoon. And I think he was
much more worried over Mollie's telling him that she should have been
taken into his confidence sooner, than he was over my refusal."

The clock on Polly's mantel shelf was striking one long stroke. Hearing
it Mrs. Wharton rose to leave the room, first pulling Polly up beside
her. The girl was several inches taller than her mother.

"Polly dear," she said, "so far as Mollie is concerned I don't agree
with the wisdom of your going away from home. But I want you to
understand something else, something that I have never properly
explained to you. It is not just narrowness or prejudice, this
opposition of mine to your going upon the stage. You remember, dear, why
your father left Ireland and came here to live in these New Hampshire
hills. And you know you are not so strong as Mollie, and I used to be
afraid that you had less judgment. Recently, however, you have seemed
stronger and more poised. And I had almost decided before I came in to
you tonight, that if in another year you are still sure that you wish to
make the stage your profession, I shall not stand in the way of your
giving it a fair trial. You don't know, but in your father's family not
so many years ago there was a great actress. She ran away from home and
her people never forgave her. I don't even know what became of her.
Nothing like that must ever happen between you and me." Mrs. Wharton
kissed Polly good night. "Have faith in me, dear, for I have understood
the ambition and the heart-burning you have suffered better than you
dreamed. I shall go to see Miss Adams again tomorrow. If you must try
your wings some day, perhaps there could be no better beginning than
that you should learn to know intimately one woman who has fought
through most of the difficulties of one of the hardest professions in
the world and has earned for herself the right kind of fame and
fortune."



CHAPTER III

Farewells


Polly O'Neill was entertaining at a farewell reception. April had passed
away and May and it was now the first week in June. In a few days more
she would be sailing for Southampton with Miss Margaret Adams to be gone
all summer. The party was not a large one, for Polly had preferred
having only her most intimate friends together this afternoon.

So of course the old members of the Sunrise Hill Camp Fire Club were
there and a few outside people, besides the group of young men who had
always shared their good times.

Moreover, the past two years had given the old Camp Fire Club an
entirely new distinction, since one of its girl members had recently
married.

At this moment she was approaching Polly O'Neill, and Polly held out
both hands in welcome, as she had not seen the newcomer since the
return from her wedding journey. Edith Norton it was, who was dressed,
as she had always hoped to be, in a costume that neither Betty nor Rose
Dyer could have improved upon, a soft blue crêpe with a hat of the same
color and a long feather curling about its brim. For Edith had confessed
her fault to her employer soon after her difficulty in the last story
and had been forgiven. And, as a good-by present to Betty Ashton, she
had promised never to have anything more to do with the young man of
whom her Camp Fire friends had disapproved. The result was that she had
married one of the leading dry goods merchants in Woodford, and hard
times and Edith were through with each other forever.

Now her cheeks were flushed with happiness instead of the color that she
had used in the days before her membership in the Camp Fire Club, and
her pretty light hair made a kind of halo about her face.

"Apoi-a-kimi," Polly smiled at her guest, "you have not forgotten our
Indian name for you, have you, Mrs. Keating, now that you are the first
of us to acquire an altogether new name?"

Edith shook her head with perhaps more feeling than she might have been
expected to show and at the same time touching an enameled pin which she
wore fastened on her dress she said: "I am a Camp Fire girl once and
forever, no matter how old I may become! And I never needed or
understood the value of our experiences together so much as I do now.
Tell Betty for me, please, that I sometimes think it is to our Camp Fire
Club that I owe even my husband. He could not possibly have liked me had
he known me before those good old times. So since Betty brought me into
the club and has stood by me always----"

With a smile Polly now made a pretense of putting her fingers to her
ears; nevertheless she glanced around with a kind of challenging
amusement at the half a dozen or more friends who were standing near, as
she interrupted her visitor.

"Betty! Betty!" she exclaimed. "I have been wondering the greater part
of this afternoon whether this is a farewell party to me or an
opportunity to send messages to Betty Ashton." Purposely Polly waited
until she was able to catch John Everett's eye, for he stood talking to
Eleanor Meade only a few feet away. John pretended not to have heard
her. He had only returned to Woodford for the week in order to see his
father and sister, for he had graduated at Dartmouth some time before
and was now in a broker's office in New York City. And already he was
under the impression that he had attained the distinction of a New York
millionaire and that his presence in Woodford was a unique experience
for his former village acquaintances. So he was now being extremely kind
to his sister Meg's old friends, although it was, of course, absurd for
any one to presume that he had more than a passing, pleasant
recollection of any girl whom he had ever known in Woodford.

All this that he was thinking Polly appreciated when she had watched
the young man's face for less than half a moment. And as she had a
reprehensible fondness for getting even with persons, she then
registered a private vow to let Betty hear just how much John Everett
had changed.

However, she had but scant time to devote to this resolution, for almost
at the same instant another young man, excusing himself from his sister,
walked toward her with an expression which was rarely anything except
grave and reserved.

Polly spoke to him with especial pleasure. For the past two years had
changed not only her attitude toward Anthony Graham, but that of a good
many other persons in Woodford.

Two years can be made to count for a great deal at certain times in
one's life and Anthony had made the past two do for him the work of
four. He was no longer an office boy and student in Judge Maynard's
office, for he had graduated at law and was now helping the old man with
the simpler part of his practice. And because Judge Maynard was seventy
and childless he had taken a liking to Anthony and had asked him to
live in his home, for the sake of both his protection and his society.
And this perhaps was a forward step for the young fellow which the
people in the village appreciated even more than the boy's own efforts
at self-improvement; for Judge Maynard was eccentric and wealthy and no
one could foretell what might happen in the future.

Edith had moved away to make room for the newcomer, so that Polly and
her guest stood apart from the others.

Anthony was as lean as ever, although it was the leanness of muscular
strength, not weakness; his skin was dark and clear and his hazel eyes
gazed at one frankly, almost too directly. One had the sensation that it
might be difficult to conceal from him anything that he really wished to
know.

"Miss Polly," he began rather humbly, "I wonder if you would be willing
to do a favor for me?" He smiled, so that the lines about his mouth
became less grave. "Oh, I have not forgotten that you did not altogether
approve of Miss Betty's friendship for me when I came back to Woodford,
and I do not blame you."

"It was not Betty's friendliness for you that I minded," Polly returned
with a directness that was very often disconcerting.

The young man reddened and then laughed outright. "I thought it better
to put it that way, but if you must have the truth, of course I know it
was my liking for her to which you objected. But look here, Miss Polly,
no one knew of my admiration except you. So I suppose you know also that
every once in a while in these past two years Miss Betty has written me
a letter--perhaps half a dozen in all. So now I want you to take her
something from me. It does not amount to much, it is only a tiny package
that won't require a great deal of room in your trunk. Still I have not
the courage to send it her directly and yet I want her to know that I
have never forgotten that what she did for me gave me my first start. I
have improved a little in these past two years, don't you think? Am I
quite so impossible as I used to be?"

Polly frowned in reply; but she reached forward for the small parcel
that Anthony was extending toward her.

"Look here, Anthony," she protested, "for goodness sake don't make a
mountain out of a molehill, as the old saying goes. Betty Ashton did not
do anything more for you than she has done for dozens of other persons
when she could afford it, not half as much. So please cease feeling any
kind of obligation to her; she would hate it. And don't have any other
feeling either. Goodness only knows how these past two years in foreign
lands may have altered the Princess! Very probably she will even refuse
to have anything to do with me, if ever Miss Adams and I do manage to
arrive in Germany."

Polly ended her speech in this fashion with the intention of making it
seem a trifle less impertinent. However, Anthony appeared not to have
understood her. Nevertheless, having been trained in a difficult school
in life perhaps he had the ability for not revealing his emotions on all
occasions.

For Herr Crippen and Mrs. Crippen, Betty's father and stepmother, were
at this moment trying to shake hands with him. Herr Crippen looked much
more prosperous and happy since his marriage to the girls' first Camp
Fire Guardian. He had now almost as many music pupils in Woodford as he
had time to teach, while Miss McMurtry had lost every single angular
curve that had once been supposed by the girls to proclaim her an old
maid for life and as Mrs. Crippen was growing almost as stout and
housewifely as a real German Frau.

In the interval after Anthony's desertion, as Mrs. and the Herr
Professor had already spent some time in talking with her, Polly found
herself alone.

She was a little tired and so glanced about her for a chair. Her mother
and Mollie were both in the dining room as well as Sylvia, who had come
home for a week to say farewell to her beloved step-sister. But before
Polly could locate a chair for herself, she observed that two were being
pushed toward her from opposite sides of the room. Therefore she waited,
smiling, to find out which should arrive first. Then she sank down into
the one that John Everett presented her, thanking Billy Webster for his,
which had arrived a second too late.

Excitement always added to Polly O'Neill's beauty, and so this afternoon
she was looking unusually pretty. As it was the month of June she wore a
white organdie dress with a bunch of red roses pinned at her belt and
one caught in the coiled braids of her dark hair.

She had been perfectly friendly with Billy, even more so than usual,
since their April talk. For having her own way made Polly delightfully
amiable to the whole world. Billy, however, had not responded to her
friendliness. He was still deeply opposed to her going away with Miss
Adams. And though he was doggedly determined to have his own will in the
end, he seemed to have lost all his former interest and pleasure in
being often at the Wharton home. For not only was Polly in what he
considered a seventh heaven of selfish happiness at her mother's change
of mind, but Mollie no longer treated him with her former intimacy. She
was friendly and sweet-tempered, of course, but she never asked his
advice about things as she once had, nor seemed to care to give him a
great amount of her time. Instead she appeared to be as fond of Frank
Wharton and as dependent upon him as though he had been in reality her
own brother. And Frank having recently returned to Woodford to live, had
gone into business with his father. Truly Billy felt that he had not
deserved the situation in which he now found himself. Of course one
might have expected anything from so uncertain a quantity as Polly, but
to Mollie he had been truly attached and she had been to him like a
little sister. So it was difficult to comprehend what had now come
between them.

Billy had no special fancy for playing third person and remaining to
talk to Polly and John Everett, so considering that both his chair and
his presence were unnecessary, he moved off in the direction of the
dining room.

Polly smiled up at her latest companion with two points of rather
dangerous light at the back of her Irish blue eyes. Then she let her
glance travel slowly from the tips of John Everett's patent leather
shoes, along the immaculate expanse of his frock coat and fluted shirt,
until finally it reached the crown of his well-brushed golden brown
hair.

"It must be a wonderful feeling, John, to be so kind of--glorious!"
Polly exclaimed, in a perfectly serious manner.

"Glorious," John frowned; "what do you mean?" He was an intelligent,
capable fellow, but not especially quick.

"Oh, don't you feel that you are giving poor little Woodford a treat
every now and then by allowing it the chance of beholding so perfect an
imitation of a gentleman. I don't mean imitation, John, that does not
sound polite of me. Of course I mean so perfect a picture. I have been
feasting my eyes on you whenever I have had the opportunity all
afternoon. For I want to tell Betty Ashton when I see her who is the
most distinguished-looking person among us. And of course----"

John flushed, though he laughed good-naturedly. "What a horrid
disposition you still have, Polly O'Neill. One would think that you
were now old enough to make yourself agreeable to your superiors." He
stooped, for whether by accident or design, the girl had dropped a small
paste-board box on the floor.

"This is something or other that Anthony Graham is sending over to Betty
Ashton," Polly explained with pretended carelessness. "I suppose you can
remember Betty?"

But John Everett was at the present moment engaged in extracting a small
pin from the lapel of his coat. "Don't be ridiculous, Polly, and don't
impart your impressions of me to Betty, if you please. Just ask her if
she will be good enough to accept this fraternity pin of mine in
remembrance of old times."



CHAPTER IV

Unter den Linden


A tall girl with red hair and a fair skin, carrying a roll of music, was
walking alone down the principal street in Berlin. She did not look like
a foreigner and yet she must have been familiar with the sights of the
city. For although the famous thoroughfare was crowded with people, some
of them on foot, the greater number in carriages and automobiles, she
paid them only a casual attention and finally found herself a seat on a
bench under a tall linden tree near the monument of Frederick the Great.
Here she sighed, allowing the discouragement which she had been trying
to overcome for some little time to show in every line of her face and
figure.

She was not handsome enough to attract attention for that reason, and
she had too much personal dignity to suffer it under any circumstances.
So now she seemed as much alone as if she had been in her own sitting
room.

Only once was she startled out of the absorption of her own thoughts.
And then there was a sudden noise near the palace of the Emperor;
carriages and motor cars paused, crowding closer to the sidewalks;
soldiers stood at attention, civilians lifted their hats. And a moment
afterwards an automobile dashed past with a man on the back seat in a
close fitting, military suit, with a light cape thrown back over one
shoulder, his head slightly bowed and his arms folded across his chest.
He had an iron-gray mustache, waxed until the ends stood out fiercely,
dark, haughty eyes, and an intensely nervous manner. And on the doors of
his swiftly moving car were the Imperial Arms of Germany.

The girl felt a curious little thrill of admiration and antagonism. For
although she had seen him more than a dozen times before, the Kaiser
Wilhelm could hardly pass so near to one without making an impression.
And although the American girl was not in sympathy with many of his
views, she could not escape the interest which his personality has
excited throughout the civilized world.

But a moment after the street grew quiet once more and she returned to
her own reflections.

In spite of her pallor she did not seem in the least unhealthy, only
tired and down-hearted. For her eyes, though light in color, were clear
and bright, and the lips of her large, firmly modeled mouth bright red.
She wore a handsome and becoming gray cloth dress and a soft white
blouse, her gray hat having a white feather stuck through a band of
folded silk. The coolness and simplicity of her toilet was refreshing in
the warmth of the late June day and a pleasant contrast to the brighter
colors affected by the German Frauen and Fräulein.

Finally the girl opened her roll of music and taking out a sheet began
slowly reading it over to herself. Then her dejection appeared to
deepen, for eventually the tears rolled down her cheeks. She continued
holding up her music in order to shield herself from observation. Even
when she was disturbed by hearing some one sit down beside her on the
bench, she did not dare turn her head.

But the figure deliberately moved closer and before she could protest
had actually taken the sheet of paper out of her hands.

"Esther, my dear, what is the matter with you? Have you no home and no
friends, that you have to shed your tears in the public streets?" a
slightly amused though sympathetic voice demanded.

Naturally Esther started. But the next instant she was shaking her head
reproachfully. "Dr. Ashton, however in the world did you manage to
discover me?" she demanded. "I am resting here for the special pleasure
of being miserable all by myself. For I knew if I went back to the
pension Betty and your mother would find me out. And the worst of it is
that neither one of them understands in the least why I am unhappy.
Betty is really angry and I am afraid that Mrs. Ashton thinks I am
stupid and ungrateful."

Instead of replying, Richard Ashton picked up Esther's hand and slipped
it through his own arm. He looked a good deal older than his companion.
For he was now a graduated physician with three years of added foreign
experience, and besides his natural seriousness he wore the reserved,
thoughtful air peculiar to his profession. So his present attitude
toward Esther Crippen seemed that of an older friend.

"I don't know what you are talking about or what dark secret you seem to
be trying to conceal," he returned. "All that I do know is that I have
been sent out to find you and that you are please to come home with me.
Betty and mother have been expecting you to return from your music
lesson for an hour. And Betty is so in the habit of getting herself lost
or of mixing up in some adventure where she does not belong, that she is
convinced a like fate has overtaken you. Then I believe that something
or other has happened which she has not confided to me, but which she is
dying to tell you. There are times, Esther, when I wish that our sister,
Betty, was not quite so pretty. I am always afraid that some day or
other these German students, whom she seems to have for her friends,
will be involved in a duel over her. And if that happens I shall very
promptly send her home."

Dick and Esther had now left the broad, park-like square and had turned
into a narrower side street adjoining it. Ordinarily any such suggestion
concerning Betty would have aroused Esther's immediate interest and
protest. However, whatever was now on her mind was troubling her too
much for her to pay any real attention to what Dick had just said. So
they walked on for another block in silence, until finally Esther spoke
in her old timid, hesitating manner, quite unconsciously locking her
hands together, as she had on that day, long ago, of her first meeting
with Richard Ashton.

"I am sorry to be so stupid and unentertaining. It was good of you to
come and look for me," she began apologetically. "I wish I could stop
thinking of what troubles me, but somehow I can't. For Betty will insist
on my doing a thing that I simply know I shall not be able to do. And I
do hate having to argue."

They were still some distance from the German pension where Dick, his
mother and sister and Esther were boarding, so the young man did not
make haste to continue their conversation, as he and Esther knew each
other too intimately to consider silences.

"Look here, Esther," Richard Ashton finally began, "you know that Betty
considers me the worst old gray-beard and lecturer on earth. So I am
going to be true to my reputation and lecture you. Why do you allow
yourself to be so much influenced by Betty? Don't you realize every now
and then that you are the older and that the Princess ought to come
around to your way of thinking? Why don't you tell her this time that
_you_ are right and she is wrong and that you won't hear anything more
on the subject that is worrying you."

Esther laughed, swerving suddenly to get a swift view of the earnest
face of her companion. How often he had befriended her, ever since those
first days of shy misery and rapture when she had made her original
appearance in the Ashton home, little realizing then that the Betty
whom she already adored was her own sister.

"I am not really afraid of the Princess, you know, Mr. Dick," she
replied, laughing and using an odd, old-fashioned title that she had
once given him. "The truth is that if you were able to guess what I have
on my mind you might also disagree with me. Because in this particular
instance there is a possibility that Betty may be right in her judgment
and I in the wrong."

They had walked by this time a little distance beyond the crowded
portion of the big city. Now the houses were private residences and
boarding places. Finally they stopped before a tall yellow building,
five stories in height, with red and yellow flowers growing in a narrow
strip along its front. Before an open window on the third floor a girl
could be seen sitting with a book in her lap. But she must have become
at once aware of the presence of the young man and his companion,
because the instant that Dr. Ashton's hand touched the door knob, she
disappeared.



CHAPTER V

Changes


Dick Ashton's laughing wish that his sister Betty were a little less
pretty was not so unreasonable as you might suppose, had you seen her on
this particular late June afternoon as she ran down the narrow, ugly
hall of the German pension to greet her brother and sister.

She had on a pale blue muslin dress open at the throat with a tiny frill
of lace. Her red bronze hair had coppery tones in it as well as pure
gold and was parted a little on one side and coiled up in the simplest
fashion at the back of her head. The darkness of her lashes and the
delicate lines of her brows gave the gray of her eyes a peculiar luster
like the shine on old silk. And this afternoon her cheeks were the deep
rose color that often accompanies this especial coloring.

She put one arm around Esther, drawing her into their sitting room,
while Dick followed them. It was an odd room, a curious mixture of
German and American taste and yet not unattractive. The ceiling was
high, the furniture heavy and dark, and the walls covered with a
flowered yellow paper. But the two girls had removed the paintings of
unnatural flowers and fruits that once decorated them, and instead had
hung up framed photographs of the famous pictures that had most pleased
them in their visits to different art galleries. There was Franz Hals'
"Smiling Cavalier" gazing down at them with irresistible camaraderie in
his eyes which followed you with their smile no matter in what portion
of the room you chanced to be. On an opposite wall hung a Rembrandt
painting of an old woman, and further along the magical "Mona Lisa." In
all the history of art there is no more fascinating story than that
relating to this great picture by Leonardo da Vinci. For the woman who
was the original of the picture was a great Italian princess whom many
people adored because of her strange beauty. She had scores of lovers
of noble blood and lowly, but no one is supposed to have understood the
secret of her inscrutable smile, not even the artist who painted it.
This picture was first the property of Italy and then carried away to
hang for many years in the most celebrated room in the great gallery of
the Louvre in Paris. From there it was stolen by an Italian workman,
taken back into Italy and later restored to the French Government. But
before Mona Lisa's return to her niche in the Louvre she made a kind of
triumphal progress through the great cities of her former home, Rome,
Florence and Venice. And in each place men, women and little children
came flocking in thousands to pay their tribute to beauty. And so for
those of us who think of beauty as a passing, an ephemeral thing, there
is this lesson of its universal, its eternal quality. For the smile of
one woman, dead these hundreds of years, yet fixed by genius on a square
of canvas, can still stir the pulses of the world.

Betty happened to be standing under this picture as she helped Esther
remove her coat and hat. And though there was nothing mysterious in her
youthful, American prettiness, there is always a poignant and appealing
quality in all beauty. Esther suddenly leaned over and placing her hands
on both her sister's cheeks, kissed her.

"What have you been doing alone all day?" she asked. "Was your mother
well enough to go out with you?"

Betty shook her head without replying and, though Esther saw nothing,
Dick Ashton had an idea that his sister was merely waiting for a more
propitious time for the account of her own day. For she asked
immediately after: "What difference in the world does it make, Esther
Crippen, what I have been doing? The thing I wish to know this instant
is whether Professor Hecksher has asked you to sing at his big concert
with his really star singers? And if he has asked you what did you
answer?"

"So that was what was worrying you, Esther?" Dick said and walked over
to the high window, pretending to look out.

For Esther was beginning to grow as pale and wretched as she had been
an hour before and was once more twisting her hands together like an
awkward child.

Betty caught her sister's hands, holding them close. "Tell me the
truth," she insisted.

First the older girl nodded, as though not trusting herself to speak and
then said: "Yes, Professor Hecksher _has_ asked me. He wants me to make
my musical _début_ even though I go on studying afterwards. But I can't
do it, Betty dear. I wish you and the Professor would both understand. I
appreciate his thinking I can sing well enough, but it is not true. I
should break down; my voice would fail utterly. Oh, I am sorry I ever
came abroad to study. I have been realizing for months and months that
my voice is not worth the trouble and expense father and the rest of you
have taken. I am simply going to be a disappointment to all of you."

"Esther, you are a great big goose!" Betty exclaimed indignantly. "I
thought we ended this discussion last night and you decided to let
Professor Hecksher judge whether or not you could sing. One would think
he might know, as he is the biggest singing teacher in Berlin. And
certainly if you don't sing I shall die of disappointment. And I _shall_
believe that you are ungrateful to father and to--to all of us."

She was obliged to break off, for Esther had left the room.

Then Dick swung around, facing his sister. "Look here, Betty," he began
more angrily than she had often heard him speak. "Has it ever occurred
to you that you may all be forcing Esther into a life for which she is
not fitted, which will never make her happy? Of course there is no
denying her talent; her voice is wonderful and grows more so each day.
But she is intensely shy. She hates notoriety and strange
people--everything that a musical life must mean. I don't think that you
ought to insist upon her singing at this special concert if she does not
wish it. You do not understand her."

Utter amazement during her brother's long speech kept Betty silent. For
it was too absurd that any one should seriously suggest Esther's
turning her back on the big opportunity for which she had been working
for the past two years. Why, for what other purpose had they come to
Germany? And for Esther to be invited to sing at Professor Hecksher's
annual autumn concert was to have the seal of his approval set upon her
ability. For of course the great man selected from his pupils only those
whose appearance in public would reflect credit upon him. And often an
appearance at one of these much-talked-of recitals meant the beginning
of a musical reputation in the outside world. So Betty stared at her
brother curiously, at loss to appreciate his point of view. She felt
offended, too, at the tone he had just taken with her.

"So you think you understand Esther better than I do, Dick?" she
answered slowly. "I suppose you and Esther must have talked this matter
over on your way home. Certainly it is Esther's own choice and I shall
say nothing more about it. And I'll ask mother not to mention the
subject either." Betty picked up a small piece of embroidery lying on a
table near by and began sewing industriously, keeping her face bent over
it so as to hide her flushed cheeks and the light in her eyes. For Betty
had not forgotten her Camp Fire training in self-control. Besides, she
did not like quarreling with her brother. Dick was ordinarily so
reasonable, she felt even more mystified than hurt by his behavior. It
was so unlike him to argue that one should turn back from a long-sought
goal just because there were difficulties to be overcome. Had he not
fought through every kind of obstacle for the sake of his profession?

The silence in the room was interrupted only by the ticking of a Swiss
clock, until finally a deep gong sounded from below stairs. It might
easily have given the impression that the house was on fire, but as
neither Dick nor Betty appeared surprised, it was plainly a summons to
the early dinner, which is so important a feature of German pension
life.

Folding up her work Betty moved quietly toward the door. But she had
only gone a few steps when she heard Dick coming after her. Then in
spite of trying her best to hurry from the room, he caught up with her,
putting his arms about her.

"Tell me you are sorry, Princess, or you shan't have any dinner," he
demanded. For it had been a fashion of theirs years before when they
were children to have the offender pretend to demand an apology from the
offended. But Betty did not feel in the mood for jesting at present and
so shook her head.

Then Dick met her gaze with an expression so unusual that Betty
instantly felt her resentment fading.

"Perhaps I was wrong in what I said just then, little sister, I don't
feel sure," he apologized. "But at least I realize that you wish Esther
to gain fame and fortune for her own sake and not for yours. I was only
wondering which makes a woman happier in the end, a home or a career?
Now please relate me your day's experience, which you have been keeping
such a profound secret, so that I may know I am forgiven."

"It is too late now," Betty returned, slipping away from his grasp. "I
must find out whether mother is coming down to dinner. Perhaps I may
tell you afterwards."



CHAPTER VI

A Cosmopolitan Company


Sitting opposite Betty at the dinner table were the two German youths to
whom Dick most objected. And yet they were totally unlike both in
appearance and position. For one of them was apparently a humble person,
with long light hair hanging in poetic fashion below his shirt collar, a
big nose and small, hungry, light-blue eyes that seemed always to be
swimming in a mist of embarrassment. He was a clerk in a bank and
occupied the smallest room on the highest floor of the pension. So it
would have been natural enough to suppose from his manner and behavior
that he was of plebeian origin. But exactly the opposite was the case.
For the landlady, Mrs. Hohler, who was herself an impoverished
gentlewoman, had confided to Mrs. Ashton that the strange youth was in
reality of noble birth. He had an uncle who was a count, and though
this uncle had one son, the nephew Frederick stood second in the line of
succession. To Richard Ashton, however, this added nothing to the young
man's charms, nor did it make him the less provoked over Frederick von
Reuter's attitude toward Betty. Nevertheless he rather preferred
Frederick, who seemed utterly without brains, to her second admirer,
Franz. For Franz was dark and aggressive and had an extremely rich
father, a merchant in Hamburg. Also Franz hoped to be able to purchase a
commission in the German army, so that already he was assuming the
dictatorial, disagreeable manner for which many German officers are
unpleasantly distinguished.

However, neither young man had ever done anything in the least offensive
either to Betty or to any member of her family, so that Dick Ashton's
feeling was largely prejudice. And although Esther shared his point of
view, Mrs. Ashton was somewhat flattered at the amount of admiration
that Betty's beauty had excited ever since their arrival in Europe. As
for Betty herself, she gave the whole question very little attention.
All her life she had been accustomed to attention. Now and then her two
suitors amused her and at other times she was bored by them.
Notwithstanding she did not find it disagreeable to be able to tease her
serious-minded brother. Moreover, the widow with her two daughters,
about whom Betty and her mother had been making guesses for several
years, continued making her home at the pension, and without a shadow of
a doubt one of the girls regarded Dick with especial favor.

So tonight Betty, who had not yet entirely recovered from her
irritation, was unusually gracious to the two young Germans. She even
lingered downstairs in the small, overcrowded parlor after dinner with
her mother, allowing Dick and Esther, who were not so friendly with the
other boarders, to go up alone to their private sitting room.

"Fritz and Franz," as Betty's adorers were called, although Herr von
Reuter and Herr Schmidt were their proper titles, were regarded with a
good deal of quiet amusement by their fellow boarders. While this filled
the autocratic soul of Franz with a variety of suppressed emotions, the
gentle Fritz seemed totally unaware of it. He was content to sit
silently on one side of the _schönes Fräulein_, even when she devoted
the greater part of her attention to his rival. This evening, without
openly flinching, he overheard her accepting with her mother's approval
an invitation from the wealthy Franz for both of them to attend a
performance at the Royal Opera House the next evening. Then, although
Frederick's eyes grew mistier and his figure more dejected in
consequence, he did not leave the parlor until Betty and her mother had
gone up stairs. Late into the night, however, had anyone been in the
German youth's neighborhood, strains of exquisitely melancholy music
might have been heard drifting forth from a fifth floor back room. It
was the music of the oboe.

Even after Betty Ashton had seen her mother in bed, helping her undress
for the night, she did not immediately join Esther and Dick, although
Mrs. Ashton had asked her to explain to them that she was not well
enough to remain up any longer. Instead Betty went first into her own
bedroom and there re-read the two letters which she carried in her
pocket. For if Dick and Esther were of so much the same opinion in
regard to her sister's refusal to sing in public, it was best that they
be allowed to discuss the matter without interruption from her. For
although she had promised not to speak of it again to her sister, Betty
felt that it would be impossible for her to disguise how she actually
felt. It was wicked of Esther, utterly foolish and unreasonable, to
intend surrendering to her own shyness and lack of self-confidence, as
with Dick's abetting she evidently intended doing. Why, Esther might
have a truly great future! Professor Hecksher had assured Mrs. Ashton
that she only required time, training and more self-confidence. For,
although when Esther was finally under the sway of her music, she was
able to throw her whole force and fervor into it, in the beginning of
any performance she was often awkward and shy, alarming her audience
with the impression that she might break down. Professor Hecksher had
even suggested that Esther's voice might be beautiful enough for grand
opera when she grew older and had more experience.

With this last thought still in mind, Betty finally returned to the
sitting room to spend the rest of the evening with her brother and
sister. Often she had thought of how curious it was that she could speak
of Dick and Esther in this fashion when they bore not the slightest
relation to each other!

She found them sitting on opposite sides of a small table, a complete
silence pervading the room, although neither one of them was reading.
Esther's face was flushed and Dick's a little pale. As Dick rose to give
his chair to the newcomer, Esther spoke:

"Please don't go, Dr. Ashton," she said. And Betty wondered idly why
Esther should suppose that Dick intended leaving the room. More often
than not he spent his evenings at home with them. "I only want to tell
you, Betty dear," she continued, "that you were quite right this
afternoon in saying that I was wrong in refusing this chance to sing at
Professor Hecksher's concert. Of course I am not going to give up my
work now, when I have been struggling and struggling to learn even the
little bit I know. Then if I never sing in public how am I ever to earn
that fortune which I have promised to bestow on you, Princess?"

Esther laughed, but Betty frowned with an expression unusual to her.

"I don't want you to keep on with your singing, Esther, for my sake,"
she protested. "Mother and I are accustomed now to being poor and don't
mind it. So if there is anything else you would prefer to do with your
life, please don't waste a thought on me."

Esther shook her head reproachfully. "Don't be silly and don't be cross,
Princess," she pleaded. "You know perfectly well that I can no more help
thinking about you than I can help breathing. But so far as my keeping
on with my music is concerned, I can't see that I shall ever have the
right not to do that. So I am going to make the biggest effort I
possibly can at the concert, and then if I fail, why at least I shall
have been true to 'the Law of the Fire.'"

At this Betty's face softened, but Dick Ashton marched abruptly out of
the room.

Neither of the two girls, though far away from their old Camp Fire
circle now for two years, had ever forgotten its purposes and teaching.
So often when they were lonely the three Wohelo candles were lighted and
the old ceremony followed, usually ending by Esther's singing a Camp
Fire song.

Tonight Betty walked over to a kind of shrine or shelf which they had
erected in one corner of their room. German houses have queer stoves and
no fireplaces. There she lighted three tall white candles. The long
northern twilight was fading and the room had become almost dark.

A moment after, Betty came and sat down on a stool at Esther's feet.

"I had a letter from Polly today," she began. "She and Miss Adams have
landed and are in England. They want to join us later if----if----"

"If what, Betty?" Esther demanded. "Surely you and Polly are not to be
disappointed in being with each other!"

"Well, it is just this that I have been dying to tell you ever since
you came home," Betty protested, her words now running over each other
in her effort to tell all her story at once. "Polly wrote that Miss
Adams would love to come and spend a part of the summer near us if we
were only in some place in the country. But she is too worn out from her
work last winter to feel that she can endure the city for any length of
time. And you know mother and I have been getting pretty tired of Berlin
ourselves lately, since the warm weather has come and you and Dick are
away so much of the day. So this morning while you were out I got one of
the maids to go with me and we went for miles into the country until we
came to an enchanting place, all forests and brooks, near the village of
Waldheim. I can't tell you all that happened to me or the queer
experience I had, only that I found a delightful place where we may
live. It is near enough for you and Dick to come back and forth into
town. And it is so still and cool with such wonderful green hills behind
it that somehow it made me think of Sunrise Mountain and our cabin and
the girls and--" But in a sudden wave of homesickness Betty's voice
failed and she dropped her face in her hands.

Esther's own voice was unsteady. "Then we will move out to this spot at
once, Betty. And don't you ever dare tell me that I am not to think of
you in connection with my music, when I realize how much you have given
up for me. Oh, yes, I know you have enjoyed Europe and Berlin and all of
our interesting experiences. Yet somehow I don't believe that you will
ever be so fond of any place in the world as you are of your old home in
Woodford. You see that is the way I comfort myself and Dr. Ashton about
your new foreign admirers. You wouldn't, Betty, ever seriously care for
anyone who lives in Europe, would you?" Esther asked so anxiously that
her sister laughed, refusing to make a reply.



CHAPTER VII

Das Rheingold


A girl sat on a flat rock beside a small stream of water, evidently
drying her hair in the rays of the sun, for it hung loose over her
shoulders and shone red and gold and brown, seeming to ripple down from
the crown of her head to the ground. She was entirely alone and a close
group of trees formed a kind of green temple behind her. It had been an
extremely warm day so that even the birds were resting from song and
from labor.

Suddenly the girl tore into small pieces the letter that she had been
writing, tossing them into the air like a troop of white butterflies.

"There is no use of my trying to do anything sensible this afternoon,"
Betty Ashton sighed, "I am so happy over being in the country once more
with nothing to do but to do nothing. I was dead tired of all those
people at the pension, of Fritz and Franz and all the rest of them. It
is lovely to be alone here in the German forests----"

Then unexpectedly Betty Ashton straightened up, looking about her in
every possible direction in a puzzled fashion while hurriedly arranging
her hair. For although she could see no one approaching, she could hear
an unmistakable sound, a kind of mellow whistling, then flute-like notes
and afterwards a low throbbing, as though the wings of imprisoned things
were beating in the air.

Betty stared through the open spaces between the trees, since from that
direction the sound was now approaching. But when and where had she
heard that peculiar music before? However, the Germans were such a
strangely musical race that probably any one of her neighbors could
play.

Then with a smothered expression of vexation, the girl got up on her
feet and took a few steps forward. There was no mistaking the figure
slowly advancing, the long light hair, the mild eyes and timid though
persistent manner. But how in the world had Frederick von Reuter found
her, when she had been careful not to mention where they were going in
saying farewell at the pension?

"Why, Herr von Reuter," Betty exclaimed, divided between vexation and
the thought that she must not be rude, "what are you doing in this part
of the world and how did you happen to discover me?"

At this question the young man abruptly ceased his sentimental playing,
though instead of answering Betty in a sensible fashion, he pointed
first toward her hair and then toward the water behind her and the
circle of hills.

"I haf come in search of '_Das Rheingold_,'" he murmured in his funny,
broken English, "and I haf found a Rhein _mädchen, nicht wahr_?"

Betty bit her lips. She was not in the mood for nonsense and it was
difficult to conceive of her present companion as the hero of Wagner's
great opera.

"Let's not be absurd," she returned coldly. "And please answer my
questions." Betty did not mean to be disagreeable, for she did not
actually dislike this young man--he was too queer and apparently too
simple. Nevertheless it was impossible for her to appreciate how unlike
she was to any other girl with whom the young German had ever
associated. Her frankness, her self-possession, her brightness and of
course her beauty, all of which were ordinary characteristics of most
American girls, were a kind of miracle to Fritz.

"I haf come into this place that I may see _you_," he replied. "And your
_Mutter_ has told me where I must come to look. But this neighborhood I
know _sehr wohl_. It is the castle of my uncle which you may haf seen on
a hill not far away. It is of stone with a high wall around it----"

But Betty's expression had now changed, her eyes were sparkling and her
color rapidly changing. How could poor Fritz have guessed that no higher
emotion than curiosity stirred her? She now pointed invitingly toward a
fallen tree, seating herself on one end of it.

[Illustration: "TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE PLACES NEAR HERE"]

"Do tell me more about the places near here, if you know about them,"
she suggested. "I was perfectly sure that they had strange and romantic
histories. I think I can guess which is your uncle's estate. Has it a
long avenue of linden trees and a lodge covered with ivy and a lake with
a waterfall?"

Betty hesitated, for even Fritz was looking somewhat startled at her
knowledge of details.

"And it may all be yours some day!" the girl added, hoping to change the
current of her companion's thoughts.

But the young man shook his head. "No," he returned honestly, "I haf in
my heart no such idea. My cousin is younger than I am, stronger----"

Betty glanced over toward the blue rim of hills. "Is your cousin a
girl?" she queried softly.

Young Herr von Reuter was again surprised. "I thought I haf told you.
No, he is a man, like me. Oh, no, not like me," he added sadly. "My
cousin is tall like me, but he carries of himself so otherwise." Fritz
touched his own shoulders, owing their stoop perhaps to the long hours
spent in going over his accounts in the bank. "And his hair it is light
and his eyes blue. And there is a shine on his hair that makes it so
golden as Siegfried's. And when he laughs!" Poor Fritz's face now wore
the same expression of mild adoration which he had oftentimes bestowed
upon Betty.

"But if you are so awfully fond of your cousin and he is a count living
in that old stone castle, why does he not do something for you? I should
think your uncle----"

"You do not _verstehen_, you _Amerikaner_" Fritz answered. "My uncle is
_sehr_ poor himself. It is hard to live as he must. Some day my cousin
must marry a rich girl with his title and his good looks."

Betty laughed. "Oh, that's the plan, is it? Well, let us walk on back to
the cottage and find mother. I am sure she will enjoy talking to you."

Again Betty Ashton's manner had changed to its original indifference.

Fritz seemed bewildered and a little depressed. "It is _schöner_ here,"
he replied. However, he got up and obediently followed Betty out of her
retreat. She was more than half a mile from the cottage which they had
secured for the summer time. And they were compelled to pass out of the
woods and walk along a country lane for a part of the way. There were
few persons using this lane at four o'clock on a hot July afternoon, and
so Betty had felt that she would be perfectly safe from observation. She
had left home with her hair still damp from washing and simply tucked up
under a big summer hat.

Now she was feeling disheveled and uncomfortable and most devoutly
anxious not to meet anyone on their return journey. It had been tiresome
of her mother to have revealed her whereabouts.

Then all at once Betty found herself blushing and wishing that she could
hide somewhere along the road. For there advancing toward them was a
handsome riding horse. Could it be possible that Herr von Reuter's
cousin was seeking him? She must not meet him under the present
conditions, not if what she believed were true.

But the horse kept moving toward them with greater rapidity, while Fritz
plodded on slowly at her side, telling her some story of the history of
the neighborhood and not understanding that for the time being she had
lost interest in it.

Betty glanced about her. There was no place where she might hide herself
without being seen in the act; besides her companion could never be made
to understand her behavior and would be sure to reveal his bewilderment.
No, she must simply continue walking on with her head averted and her
attention too concentrated upon Herr von Reuter's information to be
conscious of anything else.

Now the low voice at her ear abruptly ceased, and turning in surprise to
glance at him, Betty beheld Fritz's ordinarily placid countenance
crimsoning with what certainly looked like anger instead of pleasure at
the appearance of his admired cousin.

"_Ach Himmel!_" exclaimed poor Fritz, "is one never to lose him?"

Betty would have liked to stamp her foot with vexation. For the figure
on horseback was wholly unlike the German knight whom her companion had
recently described. Here was no Siegfried with shining hair and armor,
but a small dark person whom she had hoped never to see again. He reined
up his horse, slid off, and after a surprised scowl at Fritz, greeted
Betty as though she could hardly fail to be gratified by his appearance.

"You had neglected to tell me where I might find you, but Frau Hohler
was kinder," Franz Schmidt declared at once.

Surely Betty's manner might have discouraged almost anyone else, but not
so pompous and self-satisfied a character as Franz. Money appeared to
him as the only really important thing in the world and he had an idea
that Betty Ashton had but little of it. Therefore she must be impressed
by his attentions. Notwithstanding he decided at this moment she would
soon have to choose between him and the ridiculous Fritz.

Franz was now walking along by the other side of Betty, leading his
horse. And all the time the girl kept wondering what she could do or say
to get rid of one or both of her escorts. Fortunately she would find no
one at home except her mother. Esther's and Dick's train did not arrive
for another hour. They doubtless would have been amused and Dick very
probably angry. How nonsensical she must appear marching along in such a
company!



CHAPTER VIII

Other Scenes


A taxicab was driving slowly down Regent Street in the neighborhood of
Piccadilly Circus in London with a woman and a girl inside it. The woman
leaned back in a relaxed position with her eyes not on the scene about
her, but on the face of the girl. For she was sitting upright with her
hands clasped tight together in her lap, her eyes sparkling and her
cheeks glowing.

It was nearly six o'clock in the afternoon, the hour when English
people, having just finished their "afternoon tea," were returning to
their homes, so that the streets were crowded with fashionably dressed
men and women. And to the girl in the cab they were entirely absorbing
and interesting. For whatever the closeness of their relation, American
and English people when seen in any numbers are strikingly different in
their appearance. The English are taller and fairer, the men better
dressed than the women, and with less energy and less grace than
Americans. And to a young girl's eyes there were also hundreds of other
details of unlikeness and of fascination that older persons possibly
might not have noticed. Besides there was the spectacle of big,
beautiful, gray old London itself!

"Is there any other place on earth quite so wonderful?" Polly O'Neill
queried, turning to glance shyly into the face of the woman beside her.
"I feel that I should like to do nothing else for the rest of my life
but just sit here in this cab and drive about Piccadilly."

Miss Adams smiled. For Polly's exaggerations, that oftentimes annoyed
other people, merely amused her. Thus far, and they had been away for a
number of weeks, the great lady had not repented her invitation to the
girl to be her guest in Europe during the summer. For some reason she
had taken an odd fancy to Polly. Moreover, she was weary of her usual
summer amusements, wishing to enjoy life through younger eyes than her
own. And the special value of Polly O'Neill as a companion was that
with her ardent Irish temperament she could see and feel more in half an
hour than many persons do in half a life time.

Now, however, with her swift vision of her companion's expression, the
girl's altered. "You are tired," she murmured, with one of her quick
changes of mood and of opinion, "and I am sure that I have seen all I
wish to this afternoon. Don't you think we had better drive back to the
hotel?"

Miss Adams made a little sign to the cabman. "It is getting late, Polly,
and I forgot to tell you that I am having a friend to dinner."

The girl was silent for the next few moments after this speech, yet her
cheeks were flushing and her eyes so intent that it was evident she was
trying to say something without having sufficient courage to begin.
Finally she did speak in an embarrassed fashion:

"Miss Adams, I don't quite know how to say this, but I have been
wondering lately if you were not growing tired of London and staying on
longer here on my account. You remember that you told me before we
sailed that you were going to find some quiet place in the country to
rest. And it has not been much rest for you showing me both Paris and
London, with people after you all the time, even though you do refuse
most of their invitations." A sudden overwhelming shyness confused the
girl so that she could not continue for the moment. For in spite of the
weeks of daily intimacy with her new friend, Polly was not yet able to
think of her nor to treat her like any other human being. Not that Miss
Adams was ever anything but simple and kind like most great people. She
made no effort to be impressive and was not beautiful--only a slight,
frail-looking woman with a figure like a girl's, chestnut brown hair and
big, indescribably wonderful eyes. But to Polly she represented
everything in life worth attaining. Although still comparatively young,
Margaret Adams had won for herself the position of one of America's
leading actresses. Moreover, she had the world's respect as well as its
admiration, and besides her reputation a large fortune. So it was small
wonder that Polly should not so soon have recovered from her first
combination of awe and devotion for this celebrated woman, nor yet
understand the miracle of her choice of her as a traveling companion. It
was true that Miss Adams had no family and no close relatives except her
cousin, Mary Adams, who had been Polly's elocution teacher in Woodford.
The effort to persuade this cousin to accompany her on the European trip
had been the cause of Margaret Adams' visit to Woodford earlier in the
spring. There, finding that her cousin could not join her and yielding
to a sudden impulse, she had transferred her invitation to Polly. And
the thought that Miss Adams may have repented her rashness since their
departure from home had oftentimes made Polly O'Neill grow suddenly hot
and then cold. Some day, perhaps, her mother would discover that this
trip of Polly's with Miss Adams was to teach her the lessons that at the
present time she most needed--a new humility and the desire to place
another person's comfort and wishes before her own.

Perhaps Miss Adams partly understood the girl's sensations, for without
waiting for her to continue her speech she immediately asked: "What was
the name of that place in the German forests about which your friends
have written you? Did they not say that they had found a little house
for themselves and another not far away for us? It might be pleasant to
go there for a time."

In endeavoring to hide her excitement Polly now had to turn her head and
pretend to be looking at something out of the opposite side of the cab.
For this suggestion of Miss Adams represented the summit of her own
desires. Of course she had adored the sights and experiences of the
weeks in Paris and London, and life had never been so fascinating; yet
never for a moment had she ceased to look forward and yearn for a
reunion with Betty and Esther. Moreover, Betty's picture of the country
where they now were sounded like a scene from one of the German operas.

But Polly only murmured: "The village is called 'Waldheim,'" and made no
reply when Miss Adams returned: "Perhaps it may be a good idea for us to
go on there in a week or ten days, if we can make the necessary
arrangements."

By this time, however, their cab had stopped in front of a small,
inconspicuous brown hotel, which was one of the quietest and yet most
fashionable hotels in London, and within a few moments the two women
disappeared into their own rooms.

Half an hour afterwards Polly walked into their private sitting room.
There she sat down at a desk, intending to write to Betty Ashton before
the dinner hour.

In making her European trip under such unusual circumstances Polly had
not brought with her a great number of clothes. Nevertheless her
stepfather had insisted that she have whatever might be necessary and
Mrs. Wharton had taken great care and forethought to see that her things
were beautiful and appropriate. For Polly was not an easy person to
dress suitably. Persons who have more temperament than sheer physical
beauty always are difficult. It is impossible that they should look well
in any character of changing fashion or in the colors that are out of
harmony with their natures. For instance, one could never conceive of
Polly O'Neill in a pale blue gown, though for Mollie or Betty Ashton it
might be one's immediate choice. White and red, pale yellow or pink were
Polly's shades for evening wear and either brown or green for the
street.

Tonight at work on her letter she appeared younger than in truth she
was, like a girl of sixteen instead of nineteen. For although her hair
was worn in a heavy braided coil encircling her head, her dress was
extremely simple. It was of messaline silk of ivory whiteness and made
with a short Empire waist and narrow, clinging skirt. There was no sign
of trimming, except where the dress was cut low into a square at the
throat and edged with a fold of tulle.

On first coming into the sitting room, Polly, who had always an
instinctive attraction toward bright colors, had taken a red carnation
from a vase on a table and was now wearing the flower carelessly
fastened inside her belt.

During the first absorption of her writing she had paid no heed to the
door's quiet opening. Nor did she stir when a strange man entering the
room took his seat before the tiny fire which Miss Adams always had
lighted in the evenings, since the English summer is so often
unpleasantly cool to American people. Neither did the man appear to have
observed Polly.

When the girl finally did become aware of his presence she remembered
that Miss Adams had neglected to mention the name of the guest whom they
were expecting to dinner. And although Polly was becoming more
accustomed to the almost daily meetings with strangers, she always
suffered a few first moments of painful shyness.

The man happened to have his back turned toward her and had seated
himself in a comfortable big leather chair. Nevertheless as soon as she
stirred from her desk he got up instantly, facing her with a kind of
smiling and vague politeness such as one often employs in greeting a
stranger. Their guest was a good-looking man, with clear-cut features,
a smooth face and brown hair. He wore evening dress, of course, and held
himself with exceptional dignity and grace. He must have been about
twenty-seven or -eight years old. There was nothing in the least
formidable or disconcerting in his appearance, so it seemed distinctly
ungracious and stupid of Polly to commence their acquaintance by
stammering, "Oh, Oh, why--" and then continue to gaze into their
visitor's face without attempting to finish her utterly unintelligible
speech.

Also for the space of a moment the man seemed surprised and a trifle
embarrassed by this odd form of greeting. Nevertheless the next instant
he was staring at the girl in equal amazement. Then suddenly he held out
both his hands. "It is the 'Fairy of the Woods,' or I am dreaming!" he
exclaimed, closing and then opening his eyes again.

Polly at once dispelled all possible uncertainty. "If I am the 'Fairy of
the Woods,' then you are 'Grazioso' in 'The Castle of Youth,'" she
laughed, allowing her own hands to rest for the space of a second in
those of her former acquaintance. "But as I happen to remember your real
name, Mr. Hunt, and you cannot possibly recall mine, I am Polly
O'Neill."

"Then will you please sit down and tell me everything that has been
happening to you and how I chance to find you here in London with Miss
Adams?" Richard Hunt insisted, drawing up a chair to within a few feet
of his own.

Polly sat down. And quite unconsciously dropped her pointed chin into
the palm of her hand, murmuring with her elbow resting on the arm of her
chair:

"You remember that time when I met you in New York, we were both playing
in a fairy story," she said. "Well, sometimes fairy stories come true,"
she said.

Ten minutes afterwards when Miss Adams entered the drawing room to greet
her guest, to her surprise she found that he and Polly were already deep
in intimate conversation, so much so that they did not immediately hear
her approach. And Polly was ordinarily so diffident and tongue-tied with
strangers!

"I am glad that you and Mr. Hunt have not waited for me to introduce
you, Polly," Miss Adams began. Polly jumped to her feet, and her face
grew suddenly white. For she had never spoken of her escapade of two
years before to Miss Adams, and did not know just how the great lady
might receive it. Richard Hunt waited politely for the girl to
acknowledge her previous acquaintance with him. For if she did not wish
to speak he must, of course, by no word or sign betray her. However, in
less than a moment Polly had fought out a silent battle with herself.
There was no positive reason why she should confess her misdeed to this
woman whom she admired beyond all others. And yet to pretend a falsehood
to her friend, Polly could not endure the thought.

The girl made a charming picture as she stood there in her white dress
with her eyes cast down, not trusting herself to look into the face of
either of her friends. Quite frankly, then, she told the entire story of
her sudden yielding to temptation and of her two weeks' experience in
stage life, which had resulted in her meeting with Mr. Hunt.

Nor did she allow her speech to take but a few moments of time, not
wishing to draw too much attention to herself. At the instant of her
finishing, it happened that dinner was announced, so that Miss Adams had
no opportunity for expressing an opinion of Polly's conduct either one
way or the other. As they walked out of the room, however, she did
manage to give Polly's arm a tiny sympathetic squeeze, whispering, "I'll
tell you of my own first stage appearance some day, dear, if you remind
me of my promise."



CHAPTER IX

The Meeting


"They are not coming, Esther, and I am so dreadfully disappointed I
think I shall weep," Betty Ashton announced one afternoon about two
weeks later. The two girls were waiting in front of a tumble-down little
German station in the country, apparently several miles from any thickly
settled spot. Esther was seated in a carriage with a driver, but Betty
was leaning disconsolately over the station platform raised by a few
steps from the ground. A few moments before she had been walking rapidly
up and down in far too great a state of excitement and pleasure to keep
still. Now, however, the train had pulled in and stopped, letting off
several stout passengers, but revealing no sign of Polly O'Neill and the
maid, whom Miss Adams was sending on ahead to make things ready for
her.

"They must have missed the train; they will be sure to come down early
in the morning," Esther comforted.

But Betty mournfully shook her head. "It won't be quite the same if they
do. Of course I shall always be happy to see Polly O'Neill at any time
or place in this world or the next; still, a postponed pleasure is not
as agreeable as one that takes place on time. And think of all we had
planned for this evening!"

Under the circumstances there was nothing for Betty to do now but to
climb back into the carriage and take her seat next her sister. For the
little station was by this time completely deserted and had few
attractions for making one linger long in its neighborhood. It was too
lonely and dilapidated. There was another station at Waldheim, where
passengers usually got out, but the two girls had given Polly special
directions to use this one, so that they might have a long drive home
through the German forests at sundown, bringing her to their little
house in the woods amid the best scenic effects.

"We won't even be able to receive a telegram tonight telling us what
has occurred, the office closes so early," Betty continued. "I wish at
least that Dick had not chosen to spend tonight in Berlin. Don't you
think he is behaving rather curiously lately, Esther? He is so unlike
himself and sometimes so cross. Of course I realized that he had a right
to be angry when those absurd German youths came wandering out here. But
I was glad enough to have him write to Franz Schmidt that he was never
to see me again. And we have not exactly the right to forbid Frederick
von Reuter's coming to this neighborhood. You don't believe, do you,
Esther child, that Dick can be staying in town so often lately to see
that abominable girl at our old pension?"

Esther chanced to be gazing at the beautiful landscape through which
they were passing, so that the younger girl had no opportunity for
observing her face. Moreover, Esther's rather weary and wistful
expression would not have altogether surprised her, as both she and her
mother had been worrying recently over Esther's appearance. Undoubtedly
she was working too hard over her music. She went into town twice a week
for lessons and the thought of her appearance in the early autumn might
also be making her nervous.

Esther made no answer now to Betty's complaints, but instead pointed
toward a hill at the left of them. Near the summit they could see a gray
stone house, looking more like a prison than the American ideal of a
home, and yet possessing a kind of lonely beauty and dignity.

"Whose castle is that, Betty, do you know?" Esther queried. Betty
wondered if the question was intended to change the current of her
thoughts.

"It looks far more like one of the castles that we saw during our trip
along the Rhine than the estates near Berlin."

Then for some absurd reason Betty blushed. "It is Fritz von Reuter's
uncle's place, I believe. I have always intended telling you, Esther, if
you will promise not to mention it to Dick. The day I first came to this
neighborhood to look for a place for us to live I had rather an odd
experience."

Betty would have continued her confession, but at this moment they were
driving through a wonderful stretch of woodland road. The way was narrow
and on one side was a sharp decline and on the other a thick growth of
evergreens. Moving toward them was a horse with a young man upon it in a
suit of light gray riding clothes, which in the afternoon sunlight
looked almost the color of silver. He was carrying his hat in his hand
and his hair was a bright yellow such as one seldom sees except in young
children. Indeed, he was so remarkably handsome that even Esther, who
rarely paid much attention to strangers, gazed at him for the moment
with interest, temporarily forgetting what Betty had been trying to
confess.

To her amazement, however, the rider made not the faintest effort to
give their carriage the right of way, but moved on directly in the
center of the road. Their driver, evidently recognizing the young man as
a person of distinction, then drove so close to the underbrush on their
right that both girls felt a momentary fear of being tumbled out.

Betty kept her lips demurely closed and her head held upright, with the
expression of pride and self-possession which she reserved for very
special occasions. However, it was difficult to maintain an atmosphere
of cold dignity when one was in immediate danger of being tipped out of
a rickety old carriage into a ditch.

The horse and rider approached nearly opposite the carriage, the young
fellow gazing haughtily but none the less curiously toward the two
American girls. Then almost instantly his unprepossessing manner changed
and his face broke into a smile which was singularly charming. Neither
of the two girls had often seen in Germany just this type of youth. He
was of only medium height, but perfectly proportioned, with square
military shoulders, and he rode his horse as though he and it were
carved from the same block of stone. Nevertheless there was no doubt but
that he was looking at Betty as if he expected some sign of recognition.
He was mistaken, however, for she let him pass them without even
turning her head in his direction.

It was after eight o'clock that evening when Mrs. Ashton, Betty and
Esther had finally come to the end of their melancholy dinner. For there
are few things drearier than eating alone the banquet prepared for a
long expected guest, when the guest has failed to arrive.

The dinner table had a miniature pine tree in the center, which Betty
had dug out of the earth with her own hands and decorated with the tiny
Camp Fire emblems which she and Esther always carried about in their
trunks, while waving from its summit was a tiny American flag. On either
side of the tree were the three candles sacred to all their Camp Fire
memories, and the table was also loaded with plates of German sweets and
nuts and favors sent out from town for this evening's feast.

Esther and Mrs. Ashton had been trying to keep up a semblance of
cheerfulness during dinner, but Betty had refused to make any such
effort. Now the front doorbell unexpectedly rang and their funny little
German _Mädchen_ went out of the room to open it. Betty did not even
glance up. She supposed that it must be Dick, who had changed his mind
about remaining in Berlin and had taken a later train home. However,
even Dick's return was of only limited interest this evening.

The next moment and two arms were tight about her neck, almost stifling
her. Then a voice that could only be Polly O'Neill's, though Betty could
not turn her head, was whispering:

"Oh, Princess, Princess, has it been two years or two centuries since we
met? And are you as pretty as ever, and do you love me as much?"

A little later, when both girls had laughed and cried in each other's
arms, Polly was at last able to explain to Mrs. Ashton that she and her
maid had made a mistake in their train and had taken one which did not
stop at the out-of-the-way station mentioned in the girls' letters. So
they had been compelled to go on further and then to have an automobile
to bring them back to Waldheim.



CHAPTER X

An Adventure


"Margaret, if you don't mind, we are going for a walk. Betty has been
talking to some girls in the next village about starting a Camp Fire
club with six dear little German maidens who make us think of Meg and
Mollie when they were tiny. Would you care to come with us?"

Margaret Adams shook her head. She was lying in a hammock under a tree
which made a complete green canopy above her head. At no great distance
away was the brook where Betty had thought herself in hiding several
weeks before, and by dint of keeping very quiet and concentrating all
one's senses into the single one of listening, the music of the running
water might be heard. The woman in the hammock had no desire for other
entertainment. She had been thinking but a few moments before that she
had not felt so well or so young in half a dozen years. The three girls,
Esther, Betty and Polly, had been laughing and talking not far away from
her for the past hour, but she must have been asleep since she had heard
no word of what they were saying until Polly's direct question to her.

"I am awfully lazy, Polly dear," she apologized. "You know I have been
insisting each day that the next I was going to do exactly what you
girls do and try to pretend I am as young as the rest of you. But I have
not the valor, and besides you will have a far more thrilling time
without a chaperon. Kiss me good-by and take care of pretty Betty." And
Margaret Adams waved her hand in farewell to the other two girls.

Since their stay in the German forests she had insisted that the girls
treat her as much as possible like one of themselves, that they forget
her profession and her age, and as a sign they were all to call one
another by their first names.

To Betty Ashton this act of friendliness had not been difficult; it had
actually been harder for Polly, who had known Miss Adams so much more
intimately, and most trying of all to Esther because of her natural
timidity.

In the first place Betty did not often think of their new acquaintance
as a great actress. Once several years before she had been introduced to
Miss Adams in Woodford, but later had considered her merely in her
relation to Polly. She of course felt very strongly the older woman's
magnetism, just as the world did, and was proud and grateful for this
opportunity to know her. Indeed, Polly in the past few days had to have
several serious talks with herself in order to stifle a growing
sensation of jealousy. Of course she perfectly appreciated how pretty
and charming the Princess was and how she had attracted people all her
life. Yet she was not going to pretend that she was noble enough to be
willing to have Miss Adams prefer the Princess to her humble self.

As Polly joined her two friends she found herself surveying Betty with
an air that tried hard to be critical; but there was no use in
attempting it this morning. Betty was too ridiculously pretty and
unconscious of it. For, seeing that Polly seemed slightly annoyed with
her, she slipped her hand into hers, as the three of them started off
for the village. In her other hand she carried her old Camp Fire Manual.

Betty was dressed in an inexpensive white muslin with a broad white
leather belt and a big straw hat encircled with a wreath of blue corn
flowers. Probably her entire outfit had cost less than a single pair of
slippers in the days of their wealth.

"I hope, Esther, that you have not allowed Betty to go about the country
alone before I joined you," Polly began in her old half-mocking and
half-serious tones.

Betty laughed at the idea of Polly O'Neill grown suddenly conventional;
however, Esther took the suggestion gravely.

"I don't know and I am truly glad you have arrived, Polly dear, for a
great many reasons," she replied. "You know I have to be in Berlin two
days every week and Dr. Ashton is away the greater part of the time. And
somehow neither one of us has ever been able to persuade Mrs. Ashton or
Betty to appreciate the difference between Germany and America. Betty
seems to think she can wander about here as freely as if she were in
Woodford."

"Well, I shall see that she does not wander alone any more if I can help
it," Polly added with decision. And then, "Tell me, please, for goodness
sake, Betty Ashton, how you are going to manage to start a Camp Fire
club in Waldheim? In the first place do you know enough of the German
language to teach other people, and otherwise how will you ever be able
to explain all that the Camp Fire means, its ceremonies and ideals?"

For the moment Betty's face clouded, as any lack of faith on Polly's
part had always checked her enthusiasm.

"I can't teach them _all_ of anything, Polly, for in the first place I
have never begun to understand myself one half that our Camp Fire
organization stands for. But I have the feeling that because it has
always given me so much help and happiness I should at least try to
suggest the idea to other people. You see the Camp Fire is not just an
American institution. It is almost equally popular in England, though
there it is called 'The Girl Guides.' And of course in time its
influence is obliged to spread to Germany, so I hope to be a pioneer. I
have been to the school for girls in Waldheim and managed to interest
one of the teachers. She has promised me that when we have read and
studied enough together she will form a Camp Fire club among her pupils
and be their first guardian. So you see I shall not count for much."

"Angel child!" exclaimed Polly enigmatically, but she offered no further
criticism.

And indeed the three girls spent a wonderfully interesting two hours
among Betty's new acquaintances. For Esther and Betty both spoke German
extremely well after their two years' residence in Berlin, and although
Polly had to be unusually quiet, she did remember enough of her school
German to understand the others. And when their call had finally ended
Betty promised to return twice each week to continue their work, and
though Polly made no such promise, her enthusiasm was almost equally
great.

Later on the girls found a tiny restaurant in the village where they
drank hot coffee and ate innumerable delicious German cookies. For they
had left word that they were not to be expected at home for luncheon,
since the best of their excursion was to take place after the trip to
the village.

For a long time Betty had a place in mind she had particularly wished
Esther and Polly to see and now this was their first opportunity since
Polly's arrival for a long walk.

"It is only a specially lovely bit of woods with a little house inside,
which looks as though it might be the place where the old witch lived in
the story of 'Hansel and Gretel,'" she explained. "The house is built of
logs, but there are the same tiny window panes and a front door with a
great bolt across it. It is so gloomy and terrifying that it is
perfectly delicious," she concluded gaily, for they had been walking for
some distance to get into her enchanted forest and so far no sign of it
had appeared. Plainly the other two girls were growing weary.

Half an hour later, however, both Esther and Polly were sufficiently
good sportsmen to confess that their long walk had not been in vain. For
Betty's forest, as they chose to call the place, was entrancingly
lovely, the greenest, darkest, coolest spot in all that country round.
And so curiously secluded! Hundreds of great forest trees and shrubbery
so thick that it must have been left uncut and untrampled upon for many
years. Indeed, except for Betty's previous acquaintance with a path that
led to the house in the woods, there could have been no possibility of
the girls' discovering it. For once having climbed a low stone fence,
they had seen and heard nothing except a solitary deer that had fled at
their approach and an unusual number of wild birds.

Not far away from the little house Polly and Esther found seats within a
few feet of each other on the trunks of two old trees, while Betty
stretched herself along the ground, closing her eyes as though she had
been a veritable Sleeping Princess. The three girls had no thought of
being disturbed, for the little house was locked and barred and entirely
deserted.

Then in the midst of the peace and silence of the scene a bullet
whistled through the air. And following the report of a rifle Esther
tumbled quietly off her resting place.



CHAPTER XI

And Its Consequences


Betty bent over her sister first, saying with a kind of quick intake of
her breath: "Esther, what is the matter? Are you hurt? Oh, I have always
been afraid that something dreadful would happen to you, you are so
good!"

And at this Esther smiled, although somewhat faintly, allowing Polly to
assist her to her feet.

"Well, I am not being punished for my virtues this time, Betty child,"
she answered. "I was just a ridiculous coward, and when that bullet
passed so close to my head that I am quite sure it cut off a lock of my
hair, it made me so faint and ill for an instant that I collapsed. I am
all right now. But I wonder where the shot could have come from?"

Then the three girls stood silently listening, almost equally pale and
shaken from their recent experience. In another moment they heard the
noise of some one stirring about in the underbrush at no great distance
away and walking in their direction. They waited speechless and without
moving.

Then suddenly, before they could see the speaker, a voice called out
angrily: "Don't try to escape; stay where you are or I shall fire again.
For I will not endure this lawlessness any longer."

And almost immediately a young man appeared before them in a hunter's
costume of rough gray tweed, carrying his gun in his hand. His
expression was angry and masterful, his face crimson and his eyes had
ugly lights in their blue depths. Yet instantly Esther recognized the
speaker as the same young fellow whom they had met on horseback a week
or ten days before.

At his first glance toward Esther and Polly his face changed; for
obviously he was both startled and mystified. Then as he caught sight of
Betty, who was standing just back of the other two girls, another wave
of crimson crossed his face, but this time it was due to embarrassment
and not anger. With a swift movement he lifted his hat and bowed so low
that in an American it would have seemed an absurdity. Yet somehow with
him the movement had both dignity and grace. Straightway Polly O'Neill,
in spite of her vexation, decided that never before had she seen a more
perfect "Prince Charming." The young man's hair was bright gold, his
skin naturally fair and yet sufficiently browned from exposure, his
features almost classic in shape. And while he was not exceptionally
tall, his figure was that of a young soldier in action with the same
muscular strength and virility.

"I shall never be able to express to you my chagrin and my regret," he
began, including the three girls in his speech but in reality addressing
himself to Betty. He spoke English with only the slightest foreign
accent. "These happen to be my woods and I have been greatly annoyed
recently by trespassers who destroy my game at a season of the year when
there can be neither profit nor pleasure in it. And this when the park
is posted with signs warning intruders."

"I am sorry that we did not chance to see the signs," Esther murmured.

"You can understand that we are strangers in this neighborhood,
Americans," Polly defended more hotly. "But of course we should not have
wandered in here without inquiring of some one whether or not we had the
privilege. In the United States we know very little about game preserves
and people are willing to have you enjoy the beauty of their forests.
But we shall leave immediately and promise never to trouble you again."

"But that means that you have not forgiven me and I ask your pardon with
all my heart. It is my pride, my great pleasure to have you consider my
place worthy of your attention. Miss Ashton," the young foreigner now
turned directly to Betty, "surely you can appreciate and pardon my
mistake."

Neither of the other two girls had been paying any special attention to
Betty, but at the stranger's surprising knowledge of her name they
turned toward her at once. And both decided that they had never seen
her look so pretty or so angry in her life. Apparently she had not
spoken before because she had not been willing to trust herself. And
Polly had a sudden sense of satisfaction in the knowledge that the
Princess did not lose her poise and self-control in her anger, as she so
invariably did.

"You ask us to understand and pardon your mistake," Betty now began
quietly. "But suppose that the bullet which you fired so carelessly had
killed my sister. Would you still have expected us to make the same
answer? Of course we are just as much intruders upon your property as if
we were men instead of American girls. But I presume that when you
fired, thinking that we might be poachers, you would have been
indifferent had you wounded one of us. For I believe in Germany it is
the fashion for the soldiers who are intended for the defense of their
country to have little respect for the lives of their country_men_."

This was a long and bitter speech for a young girl to have made. But
remember that Betty Ashton had been living in Germany for the past two
years at a time when the army had been frequently criticized and had
suffered just as most travelers do from the rudeness of German officers
upon the streets and in places of public amusement. Moreover, she had
not yet recovered from her moment of fright over Esther and was annoyed
at having their pleasure so destroyed.

Her accusation so surprised the young man to whom it was addressed that
for a moment he did not reply. For evidently he did not often find
himself obliged to be placed on the defensive side in a discussion and
the position did not please him.

"I regret to have frightened you. And I had no intention of injuring any
one," he remarked stiffly. "It was my plan to fire into the air, but I
stumbled at the critical moment. However, I did not suppose that the
shot came anywhere in your direction. And I am sorry that you should
consider this but another instance of the lack of courtesy in His
Majesty's officers."

There was an awkward pause. Betty was holding her big flowered hat
pressed close against her white dress, her lips were scarlet and her
face so pale that her gray eyes looked almost smoke-colored. The wind
and the long walk had loosened her hair until it was curling and blowing
about her forehead like tiny red-gold clouds. Honestly no young man
could have remained angry with her for any great length of time.

She slipped one arm through Esther's, as Esther had continued white and
nervous, and beckoning Polly with the other to join them, with the
merest inclination of her head the Princess started to lead the little
company away. But before she had gone more than a few feet she stopped
and turned around.

The young man was standing exactly where they had left him with his hat
still in his hand and his face and figure rigid.

Betty advanced nearer toward him. "Lieutenant von Reuter," she said, "it
is I who must now beg your pardon. You were kind to me once when my
maid and I lost our way in trying to find the village of Waldheim. But
under no circumstances should I have said anything that reflected upon
you or your friends. I know that you are an officer in the German army,
so naturally you must think as little of American courtesy as--" But not
knowing just how to end her sentence Betty did the wisest possible thing
and smiled.

And at once the young man was figuratively on his knees before her
again. "Don't go away just yet," he pleaded; "you must know that I have
been asking my cousin Frederick about you. It is he who has told me your
name and he must also have spoken of me to you. You yourselves have said
that it was lovely here in my forest and surely you must be weary enough
to remain a little time longer. It is not as though we were entire
strangers, with Frederick your friend and my relative."

This time Betty laughed outright. "Your cousin is scarcely our friend;
we have only boarded in the same pension with him in Berlin while my
sister was there studying music." She looked a little more searchingly
at Esther. Esther had not been very well for several weeks and now
certainly was unfit for the long walk home in the hottest part of the
afternoon without more rest.

With an inclination of her pretty head the Princess surrendered.

"If you really are sure that you won't mind we should like to sit here
in the shade a little longer," she confessed. "That is if we will not
trouble you. You must not feel that you must remain with us, for I
promise that we shall do nothing any harm."

Without replying, Carl von Reuter then led Esther to her discarded tree
trunk, the other girls having already found seats.

"If you will be good enough to wait for a few moments I should like very
much to bring you some tea. The little house there is my hunting lodge
and I have all sorts of bachelor arrangements inside," he announced. And
the suggestion was far too welcome for any one of the girls to decline.

Then in the five minutes of the young man's absence as rapidly as
possible Betty sketched the outline of her acquaintance with him and the
knowledge of his history which she had since been able to acquire. He
was the son of the German count whose stone castle they had seen, and of
course the heir to the title and estate. He was also, as she had already
revealed, a lieutenant in the German army and probably about twenty-two
or-three years old. The family was a very old and proud one and although
they still owned a great deal of land, they were extremely poor.

But Betty had to cease her confidences abruptly, seeing that their
unexpected host was coming toward them with four cups of tea and a tray
of small crackers and cakes.

No American man could have performed these small social services with so
little embarrassment, but as Carl explained he had had an English mother
and had been taught to assist her with their guests from the time he was
a boy.

And by the time the tea had been drunk and the cakes eaten the little
company had apparently reached terms of complete friendliness, having
already forgotten their uncomfortable earlier meeting.

"I am dreadfully sorry to find that your little house in the woods is
nothing but a hunting lodge," Betty confided. "For you see I have been
telling my sister and Miss O'Neill that this place was a kind of
enchanted forest where 'Hansel and Gretel' must once upon a time have
lost their way."

However, Carl von Reuter shook his head protestingly. "Why not think of
it instead as Siegfried's forest before he went forth in search of
Brunhilde."

"Won't you tell us the story of Siegfried?" Polly asked. "I have never
heard the opera and it has been such a long time since I read it."

Carl laughed. "I am a soldier, not a poet," he explained, "and the
legend is too long and too complicated for me to repeat all of it to
you. Besides, you are sure to recall it as soon as I begin. Siegfried,
you remember, was the son of Siegmund and Sieglinde and the youth who
knew no fear. He is brought up in a forest by a wicked dwarf named
Mime, who desires that Siegfried wrest the magic treasure of the
Nibelung from the giant Fafnir who guards it in the gaping cave of the
Niedhole. With the sword of his father Siegfried goes forth and destroys
the giant and then appears wearing the glittering tarn helmet, the
invincible armor and the magic ring. From the blood of the dead Fafnir,
with which Siegfried touches his lips, he is enabled to understand the
voices of birds. And when one of these sings to him of a maiden
surrounded by flames who can be won only by the man who knows no fear,
Siegfried sets out in search of Brunhilde. On a grassy mound he
discovers a sleeping figure clad in armor and surrounded by flames.
Removing the shield and helmet, he sees a flood of red-gold hair
rippling around the form of a sleeping woman."

The story teller stopped and Esther inquired:

"You know the story of Siegfried so well, I wonder if you sing?"

"Not very well," the young man replied. And then, as though to disprove
his own words and without further urging, he began singing in a fine,
clear tenor, glancing now and then toward Betty Ashton, the beautiful
song of Siegfried's that awakens the sleeping Brunhilde:

    "No man it is!
    Hallowed rapture
    Thrills through my heart;
    Fiery anguish
    Enfolds my eyes.
    My senses wander
    And waver.
    Whom shall I summon
    Hither to help me?
    Mother, mother!
    Be mindful of me."

Later in the afternoon when they had almost reached their own cottage in
the woods, Betty suddenly slipped an arm across her older sister's
shoulder. Polly had already said good-by.

"After all we did discover a kind of enchanted forest, didn't we,
Esther?" she whispered.

But Esther was tired and annoyed. "Lieutenant von Reuter was an
agreeable enough fellow for a foreigner, if that is what you mean,
Betty," she returned. "But I got rather tired of his telling us the
story of Siegfried which I certainly knew perfectly well. Besides, it
seemed to me that he was trying to make an impression upon us. And I
shall never, never be able to understand how you can like these German
youths so much. I should feel a great deal happier about you and so
would your brother if you were safely back in Woodford."

"Don't be a goose, dear," was Betty's only answer.



CHAPTER XII

The Uncertain Future


"Have you ever wished some days that you were nine years old instead of
nineteen, Miss Adams--Margaret?" Polly O'Neill corrected herself
hastily.

The girl and the older woman were sitting out in the yard in front of
their funny little German cottage one afternoon just before twilight.
Polly had been reading aloud until the dusk had settled down too
thickly, and since then had been silent, gazing pensively at the far
line of hills toward the west.

Margaret Adams looked closely at the girl before replying. For the past
few days she had seen that there was something unusual weighing upon
Polly's mind, since she was never able to conceal her emotions, and had
wondered whether she was feeling homesick or if something had occurred
to worry her. But she only answered lightly: "No, Polly, I am afraid
when one is thirty-five one is more apt to wish to be nineteen than
nine. But would you like to tell me, dear, what special objection there
is to your present age? Don't, if you feel that you would rather not, or
if you would be betraying a confidence."

But Polly gave a characteristic shrug. "No," she returned, "I would not
be betraying a confidence, only an imagination, and since the
imagination happens to be my own, I suppose I have the right to betray
it."

Not comprehending exactly what the younger girl was trying to say and
yet understanding that she would make herself plain later on, the woman
quietly waited. She was interested in the processes of Polly's mind and
liked to see them work themselves out.

"Do you like foreign men?" was the girl's next apparently irrelevant
question.

But by this time Miss Adams had begun to have a faint suspicion of what
might be at the end of her companion's confession. For in the past two
weeks since Polly's, Betty's and Esther's visit to the German forest,
she too had become interested in some of its consequences. Yet she
answered with entire truthfulness:

"Why, of course, Polly child, I like foreign men. Why should not one? It
is absurd and prejudiced to like or dislike a person because of his
nationality; it is the man's own character that counts."

"Oh, yes, I know that is what one should feel and say. I don't mean to
be rude," Polly added quickly, blushing over her fatal habit of saying
whatever was uppermost in her mind. "I was just wondering whether it was
actually true. Don't most of us really in the end like best the kind of
people and life to which we have been accustomed. Now, for example, just
suppose that we take a girl who has been brought up in the United States
almost all her life, where she has had boy acquaintances and friends
whom she has known in a simple, intimate way, without thinking of any
one of them seriously. Then bring her to a foreign country, take
Germany, just when she is about grown. All of a sudden imagine a young
fellow turning up entirely unlike her old boy friends, handsome,
charming and behaving as though he were falling in love with her. Do you
believe that the girl could honestly care for him? Don't you think that
it would just be a mistaken fancy on her part and that some day when she
grew older she would want her old friends and associations again. Why,
she might even meet one of her former acquaintances and find that she
liked him best, because after all he was also an American and thought
about life and women and lots of other things more in the way that she
did."

Margaret Adams covered both ears with her hands. "My dear Polly," she
began, "if you think I have imagination enough to follow all those
supposings and all those mixed-up sentences and ideas, you must consider
me cleverer than I am. But as long as I happen to be able to guess whom
you are talking about, don't you think we might be straightforward. We
will never speak of it to any one else, nor to each other if it seems
wiser not. But of course you mean----"

"Betty!" finished Polly. And then sighing profoundly: "You see, ever
since our meeting in the woods the other day with Carl von Reuter he has
been coming to see Betty. He brought his father, the old count, to call
on Mrs. Ashton and has been sending Betty flowers and they have been
riding together and he does not even pretend not to admire her
tremendously. He makes Esther and me perfectly miserable, for you see
Germans seem so different from Americans, so sentimental and silly, I
think. Why, I overheard Lieutenant von Reuter calling Betty Brunhilde,
and instead of being bored she actually appeared pleased. Esther and I
can't understand it. Of course we realize that it is absurd to believe
that people can learn to care for each other in two weeks, yet just the
same Betty is behaving strangely. And Esther wonders if it is her duty
to speak to Richard Ashton before things go any further. Mrs. Ashton
would be no good; she is too pleased over Betty's being admired by a
member of the German nobility. She would never be able to see all the
mischief that might result from it. But then Esther and Dick Ashton are
not friends as they once were. Dick has hardly anything to do with
Esther nowadays--even leaves on an earlier train the mornings that she
has to go into Berlin for her music lessons. And yet when Esther first
came to live with Mrs. Ashton, when she was a hundred times less
attractive than she is now, why he was kinder to her than any of the
rest of us. Oh me, oh my, it is a strange world!" And down went Polly's
chin into the palm of her hand in a characteristic manner.

For a moment Margaret Adams did not reply. For perhaps a good deal
better than Polly she appreciated the disaster that might result from
the present circumstances. Betty was only nineteen and of course Polly
was right in presuming that she could hardly know her own mind. And yet
the romance and beauty of her surroundings, the good looks of the young
lieutenant with the glamour of his title and position, were sufficiently
strong influences to affect a much older person.

Yet notwithstanding Betty's beauty and charm, Miss Adams did not have
the same uneasiness that Esther and Polly suffered. For she did not
believe that Lieutenant von Reuter could marry a girl without a dower,
no matter what his personal inclination might be. And Betty had no money
and so far as any one knew no chance of receiving any amount except what
her brother and sister might some day be able to earn. The danger that
the older woman dreaded was that Betty herself might possibly
misunderstand the young foreigner's attentions and that she might learn
to care for him more than would be wise for her happiness.

Frowning, Miss Adams waited for a moment without speaking. And yet she
looked so entirely interested and sympathetic that Polly dropped to the
ground at her feet, taking one of her slim hands in hers and pressing it
softly to her lips. For it was wonderfully kind of this famous lady to
have forgotten herself so completely that she felt as deep a concern
over Betty Ashton as though she had known her all her life.

"It was Betty herself who told me that young Count von Reuter had been
brought up with the idea that he must marry a wealthy girl. Don't you
suppose that she understands that anything else is impossible for him?"
she asked. "The family is deeply in debt and even if the young man had
the faintest knowledge of any kind of work it would be regarded as a
disgrace for him to engage in it. Besides, he has chosen his career of a
soldier, which also requires a fortune back of him. Don't you think we
might be able to make Betty see this, even supposing that she does not
already appreciate it?" Margaret Adams finally inquired.

"I don't know," Polly answered. "For you see, Margaret, it is like this.
All her life Betty Ashton has never known anything but love and
admiration. Why, when we were little children and began having beaux
that nobody knew about except just ourselves, we always expected the
admirers to be Betty's and were surprised when they were not. Oh, I
don't mean that she expected it. The Princess used to be spoiled in lots
of ways before our Camp Fire club and the change in their family
fortunes, but she never has been silly or vain. Then when we grew up
together it was pretty much the same thing. I remember how cross I once
was in Woodford because a young fellow there, who was not Betty's equal
then in any kind of way, in money or family or education, had the
presumption to feel a kind of fancy for her. But now I wish that he or
John Everett or any one of our old friends would turn up here and show
her how much nicer an American fellow is. Any old kind of an American!"
Polly ended almost viciously.

Miss Adams laughed, touching the girl's dark braids of hair and looking
closely into her emotional, sensitive face.

"Don't let us worry before it is necessary," she suggested. "But tell
me, Polly, and I am not asking you for curiosity, with all these
admirers whom you insist your beloved Betty has had, hasn't there ever
been any one who has cared for you and whom you may some day care for?"

For the moment the unexpectedness of this question took Polly's breath.
And then to her deep chagrin she felt herself blushing, even while
vigorously shaking her head in denial.

And yet at the same time in her intense desire to be perfectly
straightforward with her new friend she was wondering if her denial had
been entirely truthful. Or was it her duty to confess Billy Webster's
stupidity?

"There was some one once," she murmured after her little period of
hesitation had passed. "But really, Margaret, he did not care for me a
bit; he only wanted to manage me. And I--I didn't care for him in the
least. I never shall care for anybody," Polly insisted with the absolute
conviction of youth.

Then completely forgetting everybody and everything else, Polly O'Neill
put both arms about her slender knees and there on the grass at the feet
of the great Miss Adams began slowly swaying herself backwards and
forwards as she always had ever since she was a little girl when in the
thrall of some dominant idea.

She did not look at Miss Adams; she did not even look at the hills or
trees, nor feel the summer darkness that was beginning to close about
them like a soft cloak. For Polly was having one of her moments when the
things inside her mind were so much more visible and important to her
than any outside scene. Never since leaving New York had she mentioned
to Miss Adams her own desire to go upon the stage. It had not seemed
fair to take advantage of her friend's kindness by annoying her with her
own ambition. For it might look as though she expected or hoped for aid
and advice from Miss Adams' friendship. But tonight Polly had forgotten
her past resolutions and reserves.

"I shall not care for anyone, Margaret, because you know in another year
I intend either going upon the stage in some little part, or if mother
will give me the money, I shall go to a dramatic school. For I am going
to make the stage my career whether I succeed or fail." There was a
catch in the girl's breath and although it was too dark to see her face,
the older woman could imagine the glow in her cheeks and the light in
her curious blue eyes. She looked like an elf or a sprite, something
born of the woods or the sky and hardly an ordinary flesh-and-blood
girl, as she sat in her curious position, dreamily rocking herself back
and forth in the evening dusk and silence.

"I suppose there are some women great enough to have a career and to
marry besides," she added so solemnly that Miss Adams did not dare
smile, "but I don't believe I am one of them. And I want a career. Yet
it is odd, isn't it? I don't think I have any special talent and Esther
Crippen is so talented we think she is almost a genius. I wish you could
hear her sing, but she is too afraid of you yet. Nevertheless Esther
does not want to be famous one bit and Betty and I don't even dare
mention the word 'career' before her. I am sure she would much rather
marry some day and have babies and sing to her husband and to them, or
perhaps in a church where no one would think much about her. For she
does love her music for itself."

"But why then does she go on working so intensely, if she does not
intend making a profession of her singing? The poor child is actually
wearing herself out," Miss Adams avowed.

"Why, don't you know?" Polly faced her companion and though it was now
almost entirely dark, they could yet catch the outlines of each other's
faces. "Esther Crippen does not care for money for herself, but she
cares for it beyond anything for Betty. You see, she and Betty were
separated during all their childhood and now that they have found each
other again Esther fairly worships her sister. She is going to earn all
the money she can with her voice so as to be able to lavish on Betty the
things that she used to have when the Ashtons were rich. Of course Betty
does not know that this is the chief reason that is urging Esther to
sacrifice everything in the world for her work. For naturally Betty
thinks that Esther has so wonderful a talent that she ought to wish to
cultivate it for its own sake. And so does their father, Herr Crippen. I
believe he has the feeling that he has failed with his own music, but
that if Esther succeeds in some way it will redeem his failure. In a way
it does seem rather hard upon Esther if she should ever happen to fall
in love."

But before Miss Adams could answer her maid had announced an unexpected
visitor.



CHAPTER XIII

Richard Ashton


Esther Crippen ran out of the front door of their little house with her
coat still on her arm, so great was her hurry.

"Dr. Ashton," she called several times. And at last the young man
striding on ahead turned and glanced back in surprise. Esther was
carrying her usual music roll, a book and a box of lunch which she
always bore into town on her lesson days.

Richard Ashton took these from her.

"I beg your pardon, Esther. I did not know that you were going in on the
early train or of course I should have waited. What is taking you in so
soon? Have you a special appointment?"

And Esther could only blush and stammer nervously. For intimately as she
had known Dick Ashton, living in the same house with him for several
years in a curious position as though she were a member of his family
yet without any real bond of relationship between them, she could not
now quietly tell him that she was taking this train into town because
she wished to accompany him. At one time in their acquaintance this
would have been a simple and natural enough confession, but recently
Dick Ashton had been so unlike his former self. Or at least if he had
not changed personally, his manner toward her was different. And in
these weeks in the country when Esther had been pondering over the
change it had seemed to her that she could almost remember the day and
hour when the transformation began.

Now as Esther made no reply to his question Richard Ashton looked at her
more steadily. He was a physician and the girl's pallor and weariness
were more conspicuous to him than to other people, although he was not
alone in noticing it.

"There isn't any point in your going into the city at daybreak for these
singing lessons of yours," the young man protested in a friendly tone.
"I should think that your wretched old Professor would have brains
enough to know that you won't do him or yourself half as much credit if
he wears you out completely before the date of his concert. When does it
take place?"

"In October," Esther returned, apparently with little interest. However,
Dick was walking her toward the station with such rapidity that she had
little breath for any other exertion. And yet they had plenty of time,
there was no reason for such hurry. The young man himself did not seem
to be aware of their haste.

"Look here, Esther," he began a little later, "I am glad of this chance
for our having a talk together. There is something that I have had on my
mind to say for some time without having had the courage or the
opportunity."

Just for the moment Esther's pallor left her, a slight flush coming into
her cheeks and her lips parting.

"You see, I think it will be better for you to break the news to mother
and Betty than for me to speak of it first," he continued. "But I--I
have got to go back to the United States this autumn for good. I have
spent all the time studying over here that I have the right to spend and
if ever I am to make a success of my profession I have to get down to
hard work building up a practice. I suppose they will both take it kind
of hard, my deserting them in this way, but they must have anticipated
it."

In reply Esther's voice was less interested and sympathetic than Dick
Ashton was accustomed to hearing it.

"Why, I don't believe they will mind half so much as you think; at any
rate your mother will not," she returned. "I have heard Mrs. Ashton say
half a dozen times lately that she wished we were all to go home when
Polly and Miss Adams sail in November. And as far as Betty is concerned
I shall be glad to have you take her back with you."

"Take Betty home with me!" Dick Ashton's exclamation was in itself a
denial of any such intention. "Why, Esther, I hadn't the faintest
thought of either mother or the Princess coming along with me. You don't
mean that Professor Hecksher has suggested that _you_ take a rest and
that you are going to see your father?"

With a frown and a sudden nervous movement of her hands Esther shook her
head. But they were now within sight of their little station, where
several other passengers were waiting and no other word of intimate
conversation was possible between them until they were on the train. And
Esther made no protest when Dick, in spite of their poverty, discarding
his regular ticket, bought seats for them both in an empty first-class
coach. There they could be alone and without interruption. And there was
no denying that their conversation, which had just been broken off so
abruptly, must be continued as soon as possible. They were both too full
of things too long left unsaid.

"Of course you know, Dr. Ashton, that there is not the remotest chance
of my going back home for a long time," Esther went on when once again
they were settled, just as though no interruption to their talk had ever
taken place. "For you see after I make my _début_ at this concert I have
to go on studying. I have even to make a reputation here in Europe if I
can before I return to the United States. Professor Hecksher says that
it is absolutely necessary, and he is willing to help me get engagements
to earn some money, so I shall not continue to be so dreadful an
expense."

"Sounds rather glorious, doesn't it, Esther, fame and fortune all ready
and waiting to drop at your feet? What a wonderful thing it is to be
born into this world with a great talent and how it must make you look
down on us poor mortals who have to grind and grind for just a bare
existence. I'll be proud some day to say that I have had the honor of
knowing you. You won't forget we were acquaintances, will you, Esther?"
the young man concluded, it was hard to tell whether in bitterness or
joking.

And his companion turned her face away, pretending to glance out of the
car window at the uninteresting stretch of country and the rapidly
disappearing telegraph poles.

"I shall never forget that I was a girl being raised in an orphan asylum
and that your mother took me to her home and did what she could to give
me my first start in learning to sing, if that is what you mean, Dr.
Ashton," Esther continued. "Neither can I forget what you have always
done for Betty, though I feel of course that Betty will more than repay
all the people who love her. But if you mean that you only wish us to be
acquaintances in the future, why--" But in spite of her strong effort at
self-control Esther's lips were trembling and the tears gathering in her
eyes.

Nevertheless she made no effort at withdrawal when Dick Ashton for an
instant placed his hands over her own tightly clasped ones.

"You are not playing fair, Esther," he urged, "for you know in your
heart that I meant no such thing."

Then both the girl and the man were silent with the vision of their
possible futures before them. If only Dick Ashton could have asked
Esther to give up the career ahead of her, to renounce her music, to
come back home with him to the United States to be his wife. But what
had he to offer in exchange for these great sacrifices? He was a
penniless young doctor without more than a hundred dollars in the world
once he had paid his passage home and set up some kind of office.
Moreover, suppose he should win patients and success sooner than other
men? Did he not owe his first earnings to his mother and to his sister,
Betty, whose courage and resourcefulness had helped him prepare for his
career? Besides, what did Esther not also feel that she owed to this
same sister? Plainly she had let him know her views on that afternoon
some time ago when he had tried dissuading her from making her _début_
if the thought of a professional life made her unhappy. Esther had then
said that she felt that she must work until she was able to take care of
herself and Betty and even to assist her father and new stepmother. For
Herr Crippen was growing older and had nothing except what he earned by
his music pupils. No, Esther's way was straight before her and one owed
it to a great talent like hers to make the best of it. She had never
manifested for Richard Ashton more than a warm friendliness which was
natural enough to their position. Neither had he ever given Esther any
reason to believe that the old kindness and sympathy which he had once
felt for her had deepened into emotions much stronger. Yet, to him
Esther's plain face, with its pallor and serious sweetness, with its big
mouth and splendidly modeled lips was more beautiful than all his sister
Betty's vivid prettiness.

"Betty!" The thought of her brought him back to the every-day world
again. He laughed good-humoredly.

"Esther, Betty has everlastingly been saying that you had a perfectly
determined passion for sacrificing yourself. Please get it out of your
head at once that I have the faintest idea of taking Mistress Betty home
with me. For if ever you needed her in all your life it seems to me you
will need her in the next few years. And as long as half your effort is
being made for her sake don't you think that she might at least be
allowed to stand shoulder to shoulder with you? The Princess is rather a
nice person, you know, Esther, in spite of us, and I don't believe that
all the pleading in the world that I could do would persuade her to
desert you."

"But it must," Esther replied so solemnly that Richard Ashton stared at
her in fresh astonishment. For now that they were talking of Betty and
not of herself she was looking directly at him.

"You see, it is for just this reason that I wanted to talk to you
alone," Esther went on hurriedly. "Of course I may be mistaken or
perhaps I have not exactly the right to interfere, but I am awfully
afraid, Dick, that Betty is learning to care for that young German
fellow, Carl von Reuter. Oh, I can understand that you may consider it
absurd of me to be so suspicious, because Betty has been having dozens
of admirers ever since we came to Germany. But I am sure this affair is
quite different. In the first place the man himself is so much more
attractive. He is heir to an old title and----"

"But Betty could not be such an utter goose as to care about a title,"
Dick interrupted; "and this fellow is as poor as a church mouse and she
has only known him a few weeks. Don't you think it is rather looking for
trouble? Why, I shouldn't dream of allowing Betty to consider the fellow
seriously. I'll tell him not to come to the house again, as I did that
other youth, if you say the word. Anyhow, I'll give Betty a piece of my
mind tonight."

"You won't do any such a thing, Richard Ashton," Esther remarked firmly,
actually shaking the young man's arm to express her scorn of his
stupidity, "for if you do you will involve us all in a great deal of
discomfort if nothing worse. In the first place I don't think Betty yet
dreams that she is beginning to care seriously for this young German and
perhaps she won't if no one says anything to her. But from what Polly
and I have seen she does like him a great deal already and she tries to
see him by himself without Polly or me. And you know that isn't in the
least like the Princess. But she is awfully interested in her Camp Fire
club in the village and perhaps if you take her home pretty soon
nothing serious will happen. Lieutenant von Reuter is awfully poor, I
know, and everybody says he simply has to marry a rich girl. But I don't
know which I should hate the most: to have Betty care for him and he not
return her affection or to have them both care and----"

"For goodness' sake, don't say another word, Esther, or I shall take the
next train back home and sit and watch every breath Betty draws for the
rest of the day," Dick answered miserably. "Please remember that I have
a particularly hard lecture on anatomy in another hour. But I shall meet
you on the train going out this afternoon and perhaps we can think up
some plan of campaign together."



CHAPTER XIV

Betty's Strange Disappearance


When Dick and Esther returned home just before dusk on that same
afternoon, Betty was not there. They found Mrs. Ashton in tears from
nervousness and fright, Polly O'Neill divided between anger and
solicitude, and only Miss Adams sufficiently composed to have been
making the necessary investigations.

So far as the newcomers could learn Betty had left the cottage at about
eleven o'clock in the morning to go to the village of Waldheim for the
work with the Camp Fire club which she had recently organized. But
instead of waiting for Polly to accompany her after their regular custom
she had seemed restless and in a most unusual hurry, and when Polly
happened to be ten or fifteen minutes late for their appointment, Betty
had gone off without her, taking their little German maid-of-all-work
as her companion for the walk.

Afterwards the maid had reported that _das Fräulein_ had arrived safely
at the school and had joined her German friend, who was learning the
business of a Camp Fire guardian. Later the girl had returned home
expecting Betty to appear at lunch time; but it was now half-past five
and no word had come from her, notwithstanding that several hours before
Mrs. Ashton herself had gone into Waldheim and learned that Betty had
presumably started for the cottage a short time after noon.

She had no other acquaintances in the village to detain her, so that the
mystery of her disappearance was complete. There were, however, several
persons who claimed to have seen her leaving for home at about the
accustomed hour.

Naturally for the first few moments after their arrival both Dick and
Esther were more astounded and stunned over the Princess' unaccountable
behavior than frightened. For it seemed impossible to imagine that
anything serious could have happened to her. Yet ten minutes later both
the girl and man were suffering from even greater apprehension than Mrs.
Ashton had endured. For whatever had induced Betty to attempt the walk
from the village to their cottage alone? Of course the neighborhood in
which they were spending the summer was presumably a quiet and peaceful
one; still the two older women and Richard Ashton had objected to any
one of the girls going any distance from their homes without
companionship. And Betty was ordinarily obedient to her mother's
slightest wish, fearing to cause her anxiety.

Rather helplessly Richard Ashton turned toward Margaret Adams, as a
stranger is oftentimes of more use in an emergency of this kind than a
member of one's own family.

"I had better go down to the village at once, don't you think?" he
suggested. "There must be police, some one to whom I can appeal for
assistance. If we were only in our own country one would know so readily
what to do."

"I will go with you, Dick," Polly answered, beginning to put on her hat
and light wrap. "No, Esther dear, you look tired to death already and
some one must stay here with Mrs. Ashton and Margaret. In all
probability Betty will return before we are able to get back."

Esther had gone to their front door to look out, but at Polly's words
she returned and faced Mrs. Ashton.

"Don't you think we had best find Lieutenant von Reuter and ask his
assistance?" she volunteered. "We know no one in this part of the
country who would have so much influence. If Betty has lost her way, if
the woods have to be searched, why no one could give us such valuable
aid."

Mrs. Ashton's expression changed; she looked much relieved. "Esther
dear, you are such a comfort. Why in the world did I not think of that
idea at once? Lieutenant von Reuter is such a friend of Betty's and of
mine that I am sure he will tell us what to do, even if he is unable to
discover Betty himself." She put her hand on her son's shoulder, for
Dick Ashton was growing more and more stern and uneasy. "Don't you
think you had best drive up to the castle and see him yourself? Or if
you could telephone that would be quicker."

"I dislike very much asking a stranger to have any part in a family
affair of this kind, mother," Dick answered severely. "I have met
Lieutenant von Reuter only two or three times and it surprises me to
find that you appear to regard an acquaintance of a few weeks as a
friend. I shall prefer to make my own investigations first without
asking his advice."

So accustomed was Mrs. Ashton to yielding to her son's wishes that for
the moment, although she was plainly unconvinced of his wisdom, she
seemed about to give up. However, Esther Crippen laid her hand quietly
on Richard Ashton's arm. "Please, please," she whispered so faintly that
no one else could catch her exact words, "don't let anything that I have
been saying to you today influence you or keep you from following the
wisest course. Mrs. Ashton and I are right. And besides," Esther's voice
trembled in spite of her effort at self-control, "we must find Betty no
matter what method we use. I am afraid she has been taken ill and is
among strangers unable to let us hear. I--I can't imagine what else
could have occurred."

Dick's face softened. Why did Esther's advice always seem to him so much
more admirable and intelligent than other persons'? Possibly because she
so seldom thought first of herself!

"Dr. Ashton, do hurry," Polly O'Neill now urged impatiently. "I want to
study every foot of the way from here into Waldheim before it grows too
dark for me to see. If our Camp Fire training only will come to our aid!
For if Betty has lost her way, surely she ought to be able to give us
one of our old signals which we may recognize."

She was hurrying out of the door when Margaret Adams, who was sitting
next Mrs. Ashton, trying to soothe the older woman's nervousness, said
in a voice whose thrilling and sympathetic quality never failed to hold
any audience that heard it. "Please wait for a moment, Dr. Ashton and
Polly. There is something I want you to hear--a confession I must make.
Earlier this afternoon when we first began to feel afraid that Betty was
not coming home it occurred to me that perhaps Lieutenant von Reuter
might know something about her. You must not think I intended being
officious, but was there not a possibility that she might have gone for
a walk or drive with him? You see, American girls so often fail to
understand that they cannot do away from home the things they do in the
United States without any thought of harm. And so I wondered if the walk
or drive together might not have become a longer one than they realized
or if an accident might not have taken place so as to delay them
unaccountably. Therefore at about four o'clock this afternoon I
telephoned to the castle and asked to speak to Lieutenant von Reuter.
The man servant told me that he was not at home, that he had left the
castle at an early hour in the morning without saying where he was going
or when he would return. However, I left word begging him to let us hear
as soon as he came in. I made the message so emphatic that I hardly
think it could have failed to be delivered. Notwithstanding we have
heard nothing thus far. But if Dr. Ashton feels that it would be best to
inquire again, I want him to know what I have done and----"

Never in their acquaintance had Polly O'Neill before shown impatience
with her new friend. Now, however, her loyalty to Betty Ashton seemed
the most important issue in the world. Particularly when on the faces of
Mrs. Ashton, of Dick and even Esther, she could observe that Miss Adams'
suggestion had left its influence. Well, she and Betty had been like
sisters always, members of the same Camp Fire club. She knew that Betty
could do no such thing as Margaret Adams suggested, even in a spirit of
thoughtlessness. It would seem too much like an effort to mislead her
mother and deliberately to desert her.

Just as emphatically as of old Polly shook her head, although she did
manage to speak with more than her usual restraint. "You are mistaken,
Margaret, in supposing that Betty's disappearance has anything to do
with Carl von Reuter. Oh, yes, I--I know it is partly my fault because I
told you the other afternoon that Esther and I were both uneasy because
she seemed to like him so much. But that did not mean that she would
ever do anything wilful or foolish because of him. You see, dear, you
are confusing the Princess and me. Betty thinks before she does things;
I don't as often as I should, though I hope I have improved." Deserting
her position next Richard Ashton, Polly slipped across the room,
dropping on one knee before her friend. "You must not think we do not
appreciate your kindness in trying to help us, but if you had known the
Princess as long as I have you would not misunderstand her."

"Bravo, Polly," whispered Margaret Adams kindly. Then she turned
gracefully toward Mrs. Ashton. "I hope you do not feel as offended with
me as Polly does. Truly I did not mean that my suggestion should reflect
seriously upon Betty. It has not taken me so long a time to understand
her as one might think. But it did not seem to me that taking a walk or
a drive with a friend would be thought so serious an offense. Also there
is the possibility that she may have met Lieutenant von Reuter on her
way home and that without reflecting on your possible uneasiness----"

But Miss Adams could not continue her apology, for at this moment there
was an unexpected noise of some one approaching the front door. And as
the sitting room was so close to the small hall everybody started up
with broken words of relief. Betty was doubtless arriving and within a
few seconds would be able to explain the mystery of her delay.

Almost at the same moment Dick Ashton and Esther managed to reach the
little front door together, although it was Dick's hand that opened it.
The changed expression in his usually serious eyes showed the burden of
anxiety that had been so suddenly lifted from him.

However, he made no outward sign--it was Esther who gave the muffled cry
of disappointment--when outside they discovered the figures of two young
men, Lieutenant von Reuter and his cousin Frederick.

"I have been in Berlin for the day," Carl von Reuter explained formally,
"and when I returned, bringing my cousin with me, I found the message
that some one here wished to speak to me. It seemed best that I come in
person. I do not understand, but if I can be of service----"

Brushing past Richard Ashton, Esther held out her hand.

"You are very kind, Lieutenant von Reuter. Won't you both please come
in? For you see my sister Betty has been lost for five or six hours and
as we are dreadfully worried, we hoped you would be kind enough to try
to help us find her."



CHAPTER XV

The Finding of Brunhilde


From twilight until almost midnight Dick Ashton, the other two young
men, Polly and Esther and a number of people from the village of
Waldheim searched the surrounding country for Betty Ashton. It seemed
utterly incredible that she could not be found! She was not a child; she
was almost a woman and could not have been lured away by strangers. But
why if she were lost did she not make some sign? There were several
signals learned in her Camp Fire days, which Polly and Esther would
assuredly have understood.

Earlier in the evening by the aid of a lantern Polly O'Neill had
insisted that she had discovered tracks that were surely Betty's,
turning from the main road which would have brought her to the cottage,
into a small stretch of woods. But at night it was quite impossible to
follow these tracks over the brush and bracken, and after the woods had
been thoroughly searched and no other suggestion of a wanderer
discovered, Polly's idea did not carry much weight. Moreover, the two
girls were too utterly exhausted and frightened to continue the
investigation, though neither of them would consent to return home.

By chance the two girls, Richard Ashton and Carl von Reuter had
separated from the others and were resting for a moment by the side of a
low stone fence enclosing a forest.

Dick was leaning over Esther urging her to let him take her into the
village, where a carriage was in waiting to drive any one of them who
might have news, back to Mrs. Ashton and Miss Adams, who were still
together at the cottage. Carl von Reuter happened to be standing close
to Polly, but he was not speaking to her nor observing her. All through
the evening he had seemed as anxious and interested about Betty as her
brother and even more nonplussed at their inability to find any trace of
her; because, of course, he knew so thoroughly well every inch of
ground in the surrounding country and had also called in his servants
from the castle to assist in the search.

Suddenly Polly clutched at the young lieutenant's arm. She had risen
unexpectedly to her feet and was pointing ahead apparently at nothing so
far as her companions could see.

The night had been dark and cloudy, the atmosphere sultry with
suggestions of a September storm. Therefore the task of finding Betty,
should she be out of doors, had been the more difficult and the more
imperative.

"Look, Esther," Polly called sharply, "there over in the woods toward
the west. Do you see anything?"

Esther had gotten up on her feet more slowly and was leaning on Dick
Ashton's arm. She had become weary of false clues and false hopes. And
Polly with her sanguine temperament had been more often deceived than
any one else.

"That is only a mist you see rising between the trees, Miss O'Neill,"
Carl von Reuter answered before the others spoke. "It very often occurs
in these damp old forests on sultry nights."

Polly made no reply for the moment, only walking over to where Esther
was standing she whispered something to her that no one else could hear.
And Esther took tight hold of Polly's hand and without regarding their
escorts they both stared unceasingly in the direction that Polly had
first indicated. Were the light clouds they saw at so great a distance
away, rising and floating lightly in the night air like pale ghosts,
really nothing but mist? Then it was curious that the mist should rise
always in double clouds, the one within a few feet of the other.

A second time the two girls together watched this phenomenon and then
after an interval of ten minutes, during which neither one of them would
change her position, for the third time they saw the two light clouds
unfurl and this time, though they may not have been perfectly certain of
this detail, there appeared tiny sparks and cinders amid the clouds.

Polly turned deliberately toward Carl von Renter. "Lieutenant von
Reuter," she said, "Betty is somewhere within your woods. I am
perfectly sure of it and so is Esther by this time. You may not
understand, but we have lived together in the woods for over a year and
have studied woodcraft until we know almost as much about it as Indian
women. The two columns of smoke which we have discovered rising at
regular intervals are a woodsman's signal for help. We must go to Betty
at once. It is dark and we are not familiar with your forests, so that
it would take us a longer time to reach her alone. Will you be good
enough to lead the way?"

There was no disputing the girl's quiet conviction, and as Esther was
now equally convinced, neither young man advanced any denial. Only Carl
von Reuter plunged ahead so rapidly that following him was almost out of
the question.

By some magic he seemed to know the open spaces between the trees and
where the underbrush could be safely trodden down. Neither did he make
any effort to assist either of the two girls, leaving that task entirely
to Richard Ashton. And though under ordinary circumstances neither girl
would have needed help, tonight Esther was strangely tired. All day,
since the early hour of leaving their little German cottage, she had
been under unusual strain. So that now, though she was ashamed of it,
remembering her long training in outdoor life, now and then she did
manage to stumble and to have to clutch either at Polly or at Dr. Ashton
for support.

In one of these moments of delay, Carl von Renter did hesitate for an
instant, calling back over his shoulder: "We will reach the path in a
short time. It is the same path which you took through the woods to my
hunting lodge several weeks ago."

But when they finally reached this path their leader had disappeared
into the distance ahead of them, leaving the three strangers to stumble
on through the darkness alone.

And if ever in her life Polly O'Neill was to recognize the need which
any woman may some day require of a knowledge of the woods and fields,
she needed it tonight. For here the three of them were in an unknown
forest in a strange land with no light except that made by the dark
lantern which some one in the village had loaned Dick. Esther was too
tired to be of much assistance, and Richard Ashton did not understand
half so much of outdoor life as the two Camp Fire girls. Always he had
been too devoted a student of books for the right kind of acquaintance
with nature. Moreover, Dick was extremely angry at Lieutenant von
Reuter's desertion of them. Of course Betty must be found as promptly as
possible, if it were true that she was signaling for their aid from some
place in the woods. But if Dick had realized it, in his prejudice
against their new acquaintance, he would honestly have preferred that
Betty should have to wait for her deliverance a few moments longer than
that this young foreigner should manage to be her deliverer. And this in
spite of the fact than an occasional drop of rain was beginning to fall
and that now and then a line of lightning streaked the sky.

Under other circumstances nothing would have persuaded Carl von Reuter
to have so failed in courtesy as his present action showed. For whatever
the difference in points of view between an American and a foreigner,
there is little difference in the code of good breeding between one
civilized nation and another. And Lieutenant von Reuter was a member of
the old German nobility. Indeed, one of the objections to him which both
Esther and Polly had expressed was that he was almost too formal, too
conventional in his manner and behavior for their simpler American
taste. So of course there was some unusual impulse, some strong emotion
and design now urging him ahead almost to the complete forgetting of his
other companions.

But not since the hour of their original meeting had the young German
failed to acknowledge to himself that Betty Ashton had a charm for him
which no other girl had ever before possessed. He had known no other
American girls until now, and his acquaintance with German girls of his
own position in life had been at solemn parties, where they were usually
too frightened and self-conscious to have much to say for themselves. Of
course he had always been told that American girls were unlike any
others and yet had failed to imagine that they could have the beauty and
fascination that Betty Ashton had for him. Why, he had not even tried to
find out anything about her family, about her position in the world! For
it is a curious fact that foreigners who care so much for class
distinctions in their own countries have no such attitude toward
Americans. Because we have no titles, because a family that is poor and
obscure in one generation may be rich and distinguished in the next,
they consider that all Americans are of equal position except in the
matter of wealth. And this fact Carl von Reuter had learned in
connection with Betty Ashton. She was poor, there was no possibility of
doubting it. One could see it plainly enough in the simple fashion in
which they were living and through their ordinary conversation.
Moreover, Betty had made no effort to hide the fact. Indeed, it had
seemed at times as if she were anxious to speak of it for some secret
reason of her own. Yet she need not have felt this necessary, since
there could be no uncertainty in the young count's mind. Frederick von
Reuter, who seemed to have almost forgotten his own emotion in his deep
interest in his cousin's, having made careful inquiries through his
bank, had sadly reported that Miss Ashton could not possibly be regarded
as an American heiress.

This information, tragic as it may have sounded at the time, had no
place in Carl's thoughts tonight. He was only possessed of the one
thought that the girl whom he admired and liked so much was alone in the
woods, probably hurt and needing his aid. And that at any moment she
might be caught in a fierce thunderstorm.

As the young fellow strode swiftly along--he had hunted too frequently
in his own forests not to be entirely familiar with them--he began to
realize that the signal which his two girl companions had recognized
first was coming from the same neighborhood where he had had a previous
meeting with them. For as he drew nearer, once again the signals
flashed, though dimmer now because of the increasing strength of the
storm.

Curiously enough, as he strode along he was recalling the story of
Siegfried and Brunhilde which he had repeated to the three girls at
Polly's request. And the words of Siegfried's song came back to his
mind. This was not just an idle coincidence. The Germans are a far more
sentimental and music-loving race of people than we can fully
understand. And from the hour when Carl von Reuter had first seen Betty,
the beauty of her gold-red hair had suddenly made him think of his small
boy dream of this best-loved heroine in all the old German legends.
There was hardly a time in his childhood when he had not been devoted to
this story, which is usually unfamiliar to American boys and girls until
such time as they are grown and begin seeing Wagner's wonderful operas,
written about these tales of the Nibelung.

And in truth the young man found Betty Ashton as much encircled by fire
as ever the famous Brunhilde could have been and with the thunder and
lightning playing over her head like the final scene in "Siegfried."

The girl lay on the ground between two smouldering fires from which only
feeble columns of smoke were now arising, although there were flames
enough still left among the embers to reveal the outline of her form.
Nevertheless, though Carl von Reuter called her name aloud long before
he could reach her side, Betty made no response. A short time after the
reason was sufficiently plain, for she had fainted.

For half a moment the young lieutenant stood silent, staring down upon
her, too full of feeling to trust himself to speak. She looked so
utterly worn out and exhausted. Her thin summer dress of some light
color and material was torn and soiled and her hair had come unfastened
and was hanging loose about her shoulders, making a kind of vivid pillow
against the darker background of the earth. For when another sudden
flash of lightning followed the girl's hair was the color of the flame.

"Miss Ashton," Carl von Reuter called.

It was evident enough even in these first few minutes what had taken
place. For one of Betty's shoes was off and her ankle had been put into
splints and bandaged with the sleeve torn from her gown. She must have
dragged herself about collecting wood and underbrush for her camp fires
and there was at present no way of guessing how many she may have had to
build before her signals were discovered.

"Miss Ashton--Betty!" Lieutenant von Reuter called again. But the girl
made no answer and the heavens suddenly seemed to part wide open,
letting forth a heavy downpour of rain.

In the same instant the young man gathered up the girl in his arms and
ran toward the shelter of his hunting lodge. He had always the key with
him, so that the door was quickly opened. Placing her on a couch, he
then lighted candles; but the next moment, now that Betty was safe, he
had a sudden appreciation of the struggle and anxiety of his three
companions, whom he had so unceremoniously deserted. With a silver
hunting whistle to his lips he blew loudly and then waited for an
answer. None succeeded and he tried again and again. The third time an
answering "hello" came from the lips of Richard Ashton.

When the young count finally turned and re-entered the room he
discovered that Betty's eyes were now open and that she was looking
gratefully and with entire consciousness at him.

But without attempting to do anything more than smile at her
reassuringly the young lieutenant knelt and started a fire in his big
open fireplace. And before it had done more than flicker into a light
blaze, Polly, Esther and Dick were also crowding into the room, the
girls kneeling beside Betty, while Carl von Reuter apologized to Dr.
Ashton for his desertion.

It was now past midnight and out of the question for any one of the
three girls to attempt the journey home. So after seeing that his four
guests were made as comfortable as possible in his lodge for the night,
it was the young German officer who tramped the long distance back
through the rain to assure Mrs. Ashton and Miss Adams of Betty's
discovery.



CHAPTER XVI

A Heart-to-Heart Talk


Several days later Betty Ashton was driven over to spend the day with
Polly and Miss Adams. Her accident had not been a serious one, since by
putting her ankle into splints at once she had saved it from dangerous
swelling. Nevertheless she was unable to walk about except on crutches
and so the tedium of staying at home was trying. Particularly as this
was one of Esther's days in Berlin devoted to her music lesson, Betty
wished to be with her friends.

The three women had spent the morning out of doors, but after lunch, as
it grew unexpectedly cool, Polly suggested that a small fire be laid in
their queer German stove, which was built of porcelain and stood like an
odd-shaped monument in a corner of the sitting room.

Betty was resting on the sofa, Miss Adams writing letters at her desk
and Polly sitting on a low stool as close as possible to the few embers
visible near the base of the stove. She had never forgotten her old
devotion to a camp fire and this was as good a substitute as one could
obtain in their little German household.

Strangely enough no one of the little company had spoken a single word
for the past ten minutes, so that it might have appeared as though all
possible confidences had been exchanged during the morning. Margaret
Adams finally got up and coming across the room, seated herself on the
edge of Betty's sofa. She was wearing a soft, dark-blue silk made with
no other trimming than a girdle and a little round collar of lace, and
she seemed very few years older than her two companions.

The Princess looked at the great lady admiringly. It had been difficult
to think of Miss Adams today except as one of themselves. She had been
so gay and friendly, laughing over their jokes and apparently never once
thinking or talking of herself. How wonderful to be able to accept fame
and wealth in so simple a spirit, and what an object lesson for erratic
Polly! Yet some benefit must Miss Adams have received from her friend,
for surely she was looking years younger since her arrival in the German
forests and so rested that she might soon be able to go back to her work
with renewed talent. Think of being rested by being in Polly O'Neill's
society! How surprised Polly's mother and Mollie would be by this
information! And unconsciously Betty began smiling into the lovely face
now bending over hers.

Could it be possible that Miss Adams was actually blushing, that she was
returning her gaze with a kind of gentle timidity that somehow recalled
either Mollie or Meg?

Then suddenly Margaret Adams said, "Betty, I have been wishing to
apologize to you ever since the day of your accident. I know that no one
else will tell you, but on the evening when we were so worried over
deciding what might have become of you, I suggested that you might have
gone for a walk or drive alone with Lieutenant von Reuter without
thinking to let your mother know, and that some accident had occurred to
delay you. At the time Polly scolded me dreadfully for my lack of faith
in you, yet I don't feel that it would be quite fair to you unless I
make this confession."

What on earth would Betty Ashton not have given at this moment to have
prevented her cheeks from suddenly crimsoning in such a ridiculous
fashion? Would she never hear the end of her escapade? Excepting her
mother, her own family had been curiously severe and unsympathetic over
what had seemed to her only an act of foolishness on her part, scarcely
a crime. And here was Polly O'Neill also frowning upon her at this
present instant as if she had been a saint herself during all her past
life.

"It is all right, Miss Adams, of course," Betty murmured. "I am not in
the least offended by your conjecture. It was natural enough under the
circumstances, I think." And here Betty raised herself on one elbow,
forgetting everything else in her earnestness. "Won't you tell me,
please, Miss Adams, if it would have been so dreadful a thing if I had
done what you supposed? Of course I should have let mother know, but
otherwise I should not have thought anything of it. Why, it seems to me
that it would have been much better had I had a companion on my walk.
Because when I was such a goose as to catch my foot in a tangle of vines
and tumble headlong, had Lieutenant von Reuter been with me he could
have helped me home or at least let mother hear so that I need not have
given so much trouble and uneasiness."

Miss Adams kissed the girl impetuously, failing to see that Polly was
frowning at them both.

"Yes, dear, since you honestly wish to know, it would not have been
wise," the older woman answered, "though I understood at the time that
you might have done the thing without thinking. You know there is an old
expression--and of course these old expressions bore us so that we are
apt to forget how vital they are--that when we live in Rome we must do
as the Romans so. I wish American girls would remember this adage a
little better when they are traveling in Europe. You see, these old
countries over here have had their customs much longer than we have had
ours, and a walk with a friend would have meant nothing of any
importance to you, but to them----"

"Margaret," Polly O'Neil broke into the conversation abruptly, "I don't
mean to be rude in interrupting you. But there is one thing that Betty
Ashton has never yet explained to my satisfaction or anybody else's, and
I don't see why she should not do it now. Will you please tell me,
Betty, whatever induced you to start off on such a journey by yourself?
You must have known that the walk would take you several hours at least,
even if nothing unforeseen had happened. Surely you had sense enough to
know that your wandering around in a strange woods alone without
anyone's knowing where you were would not be safe at any time or place.
What made you do it?"

Betty bit her lips. It was true that she and Polly had never failed in
the past in being absolutely honest with each other, nor had she ever
hesitated to ask of Polly anything that she herself desired to know. Yet
it was hardly fair that she should be asked this particular question
before a comparative stranger. It had been difficult enough to make Dick
and Esther accept her explanation as a reasonable one after several days
of discussion. So what should she now answer Polly? For her friend's
eyes were upon her with that queer searching gaze they sometimes wore,
and her high cheek bones were flushed with determination--and something
else.

"Answer me," Polly repeated firmly.

"Why, I thought I told you the other morning," Betty returned meekly. "I
had no very special reason for taking the walk. I was just nervous and
restless and kind of worried and all of a sudden as I started for home,
why it seemed to me that I could not bear to go indoors so soon. And
then I thought of the beautiful woods where we were together a while ago
and I believed that if I could rest there for a little I should be----"

"Be what, Betty Ashton?" Polly demanded almost savagely. And then she
shook her head sagely and with her arms about her knees relapsed into
her old habit of rocking herself thoughtfully back and forth. "You need
not try to explain anything further to me or to any one else for that
matter. Your explanations are too absurd. Because if you don't know
yourself what is the trouble with you, Esther and I both do. You are
falling in love. You have not been like yourself for weeks! Why do you
suppose that just now when I asked you a simple question that you should
hesitate and flush? You went to that same old place in the forest alone
just because you wanted to think about----"

But the Princess was now getting up from her place on the sofa and the
other girl understood perfectly well her pretty air of offended dignity.

"Miss Adams," Betty began quietly, "it is growing late and if you don't
mind will you ask your maid to send for my carriage. I have had a lovely
day with you. Thank you for having asked me." And as she started limping
into the other room for her wraps it was the older woman who slipped
her arm affectionately about her, in the meantime frowning at Polly with
more displeasure than she had ever before shown.

But Mistress Polly did not stir from her stool nor cease from rocking
herself after the other two women had disappeared. Nor did she even
repent sufficiently to help Betty out to her carriage, in spite of her
friend's temporary lameness and need of her. The maid and Margaret could
this time fill her place. But it was not only bad temper nor was it
exactly repentance for her impertinence that kept Polly so steadfast in
her childish position. It was ridiculous of her, certainly, and yet she
could not keep back her tears. She had been fearful that her beloved
Betty was beginning to care for this young foreigner; now she felt
absolutely assured of it. For Betty would not even deny her accusation
nor quarrel with her effrontery. How grown-up she had become, her dear
Princess! And what a gracious, high-bred manner she had! It was too
dreadful to have to think of leaving her behind in a foreign country
forever and ever, married to a man whose ideas of life must be so
different from theirs. Well, for her part she should fight against such
a marriage taking place to the bitter end!

Nevertheless this resolution did not keep Polly from feeling like a very
rude and much-snubbed little girl for the rest of that afternoon and
evening. Miss Adams did not refrain from assuring her that she had
behaved like a bad-mannered child. For whether or not the Princess was
beginning to care for the young lieutenant, it was both unjust and
unkind in Polly to try to tear away the delicate veil of romance which
in the beginning should cover all young eyes.

As for Betty herself, she of course made no comment on the day's
experiences to her family, except to say that she had had a pleasant
enough time, but was tired. No one of them paid her as much attention as
usual, for they were too deeply interested in some news which Dick
Ashton had just received in an American letter. Anthony Graham had
written saying that old Judge Maynard had recently died and that Betty
had been mentioned in the old man's will. The will had not yet been
probated, but would be within the month, when full particulars would be
furnished them. At the time of his death Anthony had been with the old
Judge, who had asked that the Ashton family be advised of his intention.

It was odd that under the circumstances Betty should appear to be the
least interested of the four persons about their small dinner table in
the news of her own good fortune.

"I wonder how much the legacy will amount to, mother--only a few hundred
dollars, I presume," Dick Ashton suggested. "It is an amazing thing to
me, however, why Judge Maynard should have left Betty a cent. Of course
he is an old bachelor with no heirs, but he seemed to have taken a great
fancy to this Graham fellow. And moreover, Betty was entirely an
outsider."

Mrs. Ashton would not entirely agree to her son's line of argument. For
Judge Maynard and her husband had been great friends, and interested in
a number of business ventures together in earlier days, when Mr. Ashton
had helped make the Judge's fortune as well as his own. And the older
man had not had the misfortune to lose his. Moreover, he had been
devoted to Betty when she was a small girl and later had shown much
interest in her effort to hold on to the old Ashton place.

"I should not be in the least surprised, dear, if the old Judge has left
you as much as a thousand dollars," Mrs. Ashton insisted as she helped
Betty undress and kissed her good-night.



CHAPTER XVII

The Day Before Esther's Début


Three weeks had passed and Betty Ashton had fully recovered from her
accident. Today she had been doing a hundred small tasks in the house,
marching up and down their little garden, sometimes alone and sometimes
with Polly, yet never getting beyond calling distance of home. Now and
then she would tiptoe softly to a small bedroom and stand outside for a
moment listening silently. If a voice called her she went inside for a
little while, but if not she would go quietly away. For a solemn edict
had been issued in the family the evening before, that on the following
day no matter what should take place Esther must have absolute rest. At
four o'clock, however, she was to be aroused, dressed and given a light
tea, since at five they were to start for Berlin, where Esther was to
make her _début_ as a singer at Professor Hecksher's celebrated autumn
concert.

And curiously enough, Esther had been able to sleep the greater part of
the morning. For weeks before it had seemed to her that she had slept
neither day nor night, so intense had been her nervousness and dread.
Suppose she should make a ghastly failure of her songs; suppose as she
stepped out on the stage, facing an audience largely composed of German
critics and musicians,--that one of her old attacks of shyness should
seize her? Her own disgrace she might be able to bear, but not Betty's,
nor her father's, who was writing such eager, excited letters from
Woodford with the sailing of each ship to their port; and not Richard
Ashton's, who had always been her good friend. Through his kindness had
she not first been allowed to play the grand piano at the old Ashton
homestead, in those early days when her hunger for music had been almost
as strong as her hunger for love?

But after her breakfast, which Betty brought to her sitting beside her
on the bed while she ate, Esther for the time at least forgot her
fears. There was nothing more that she could do--no further thought or
study or preparation of any kind that she could give to her evening's
work. So a feeling of gentle lassitude stole over her with the
conviction that she was now in the hands of fate, and that it was
useless to struggle further.

But if Esther was spared this final nervous tension before her _début_,
Betty Ashton experienced a double portion of it. Indeed, in after years
she often used to say that never at another time in her life had she
suffered anything like it--not even on her own wedding day when every
girl supposedly reaches the climax of excitement.

It was not because Betty had any lack of faith in her sister's talent,
for no one who had heard Esther sing in the past few months could have
doubted her ability. Even Miss Adams, who had heard most of the world's
great singers, had assured them that they need have no fear for her
future. Yet Betty knew her sister's disposition so well, knew how little
self-esteem Esther had, how little of the vanity that sometimes seems
necessary to success, and there was a harrowing possibility that she
might suddenly be made ill from stage fright. Yet of course the younger
girl recognized her own foolishness in allowing her imagination to dwell
on such remote chances. Hardly was she able to explain even to herself
the exact reasons for her feeling of stress and strain on that day which
seemed so interminably long. Of course she and Polly had made up their
difficulty long before--they had been having quarrels and making up ever
since they were tiny girls--but today even Polly's society had failed to
offer her any consolation, until at last Polly had gone back home to
rest for an hour or two before dressing for their journey into Berlin.

And Mrs. Ashton had insisted upon Betty's doing the same thing. The girl
could not make up her mind to stay shut up in the house, for although it
was early October, the day was delightfully warm, so she lay down in a
steamer chair under a tree in the yard, and covering herself with a
light-blue shawl, fell at once into her former train of thought.

For in some way it was not just this thought of Esther's concert alone
that had so filled her mind, but the idea that this concert in a measure
was to be a turning point in their lives. Soon after it was over Polly
and Miss Adams intended returning to America and Dick Ashton was to go
with them. For not long after his talk with Esther on the train he had
also discussed the same matter with his mother, and though she and Betty
were both deeply grieved over giving him up, it was plain enough to them
that Dick's future now lay in the United States. There he must make his
reputation and establish himself in his profession. Nevertheless Betty
could not now leave Esther to fight her battles alone, and just as
surely Mrs. Ashton must remain with Betty. So Dick was to begin his
struggle without his family. He had received a fine opening with a
prominent physician in Boston, an old friend of his father's who had
always known of his devotion and success in his chosen work, so that
except for his loneliness there was no special reason for troubling
about his immediate future. Notwithstanding, Betty was troubled. For
Dick was not in the least like himself, had not been all summer, and now
was becoming more and more solemn and stern as the time of his
leave-taking approached. Of course she had always remembered him as more
serious than most other young men; yet he had never before been morose
or unhappy. All their lives had they not been having wonderfully good
times together? And now--well, for one thing, Betty knew perfectly that
her brother was feeling uneasy over her friendship with Lieutenant von
Reuter and had not hesitated in telling her so, expressing his own
disapproval of any further intimacy between them. And assuredly she had
failed in giving him any satisfaction in return. For Betty had made no
clearer revelation of her feeling toward the young foreigner to her
brother than she had to Polly O'Neill. She had positively declined
having their friendship interfered with, and as Richard Ashton knew
nothing against him he was forced to yield to his sister's wish. Mrs.
Ashton entirely sympathized with Betty, and made no effort to hide her
pleasure in Carl von Reuter's attentions.

As the girl lay almost as if she were asleep in her big chair, now and
then opening her eyes to glance up at the deeply blue October sky, it
did not seem to her that her own obstinacy in this one particular was a
sufficient reason for Dick's dejection. And yet what other reason could
there be? He had promised to come home from Berlin earlier this
afternoon in order to escort them back again. And probably if Esther's
_début_ was a tremendous success he might be made more cheerful.

And then in all probability Betty must have fallen asleep for about ten
minutes, because when next she opened her eyes, Dick was standing within
a few feet of her and some one else was beside him.

"Betty," she heard her brother's voice saying, "wake up, please, won't
you and speak to an old friend? For otherwise you would never guess in
half a lifetime who has arrived and come to me in Berlin today."

Making a tremendous effort to attain her usual dignity, Betty opened
wide her gray eyes, stared, tried to get up out of her chair, and then
finding her feet tangled in the blue shawl, stumbled and would have
fallen except for the newcomer's outstretched arm.

Yet even when he had restored her to her usual equilibrium she did not
immediately recognize their visitor, although she found herself looking
up into a pair of clear hazel eyes and at the strong, clean outline of a
typical American face. The young man must have been about twenty-three
or four years old. He had dark hair, resolutely forbidden to curl, and
curiously brilliant skin; but the contour of his face was almost too
lean and the expression of his lips and chin too set and firm for so
young a fellow.

"Miss Ashton," he began unsmilingly, "am I always to have to tell you
who I am each time we meet?"

And then, just as she had once several years before, Betty held out both
hands in a surprised and happy greeting.

"Why, it is Anthony Graham! But you must please forgive me, because how
in the world could I ever have dreamed of seeing you here? What in the
wide world has brought you to Germany?"

And as Anthony did not answer at once, Dick Ashton walked away, coming
back a moment later with two porch chairs, which he placed near his
sister's larger one.

"Sit down again, please, Betty," he asked. "I realize that we have very
little time, but I think it better that you should hear at once what Mr.
Graham has come all the way across the ocean to tell you." And Dick's
face was so queer that it was quite impossible to tell what his emotions
might be, so that Betty clutched the sides of her chair, white and
frightened.

"Yes, please, if it is bad news, tell me at once," she whispered.

Anthony Graham's smile, appearing now for the first time, was
immediately reassuring.

"But it is not bad news and we should not have frightened you," he began
at once. "It is news that almost anybody in the world would be more
than happy to hear. Judge Maynard has left you the greatest part of his
fortune, which will amount to about fifty thousand dollars, I believe,
and as he made me his executor, I have come over to try and make matters
clear to you and your mother and brother."

[Illustration: "FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS TO ME!"]

"Fifty thousand dollars to me!" Betty Ashton heard the tones of her own
voice distinctly and yet was hardly conscious of what she was saying.
"Why, what could have influenced Judge Maynard to leave me so much
money? I simply can't understand it."

"You don't have to understand it, Miss Betty; you just have to accept
and enjoy it," Anthony argued. "But some day when we have more time I
should like to tell you some of the things Judge Maynard said to me at
about the time he was writing his last will. He was a peculiar,
childless old man and he had always been more fond of you than you or
any member of your family dreamed. And after your father's death, when
you went on so cheerfully with your life in spite of the change in your
fortune, he made up his mind to look after your future."

"But you, Anthony. Polly told me that it was to you the Judge had taken
such a great fancy that most of the people in Woodford expected him to
make _you_ his heir. I cannot take your inheritance."

Anthony Graham laughed, at the same moment getting up from his chair. "I
have to take the next train back to Berlin, but I mean to see you
tonight at Miss Esther's concert. And please, Dr. Ashton, won't you
explain to your sister that she cannot take from me an inheritance which
I never had nor dreamed of having. Judge Maynard believed that a man
should make his own way in the world. So he has left me the chance to go
on with his law practice if I am big enough to hold on to it, and
besides that a legacy of five thousand dollars."

"But how could you have come away from home at such a time, running the
risk of losing so much?" Betty queried thoughtfully. "I suppose you
might have written us all the details of my inheritance if you had
chosen."

Richard Ashton appeared a little annoyed at what seemed to him a lack of
appreciation and of proper friendliness in his sister's speech. Their
guest, however, showed no hurt or concern. He merely looked steadfastly
at Betty, saying with a directness and honesty that was to distinguish
him for the rest of his life, "I don't wonder at your being surprised.
But I have never been out of the state of New Hampshire before in my
life. And it seemed to me about time that I should learn something more
of the outside world. And besides I was not willing to have many more
months go by without seeing you once again."



CHAPTER XVIII

That Night


Although six persons left the little station at Waldheim to attend the
concert in Berlin by special arrangement, Esther and Betty were allowed
to occupy a coach in the train together without any one else being with
them. Esther had particularly asked that this might be arranged. The two
sisters did not speak very often during the trip, but sat quietly
looking out the window holding each other's hands. Judging from the two
faces, one might reasonably have supposed that it was Betty Ashton who
was about to make her _début_ that evening instead of Esther. For the
older girl's eyes shone with a new happiness and content. Just while she
was dressing for her concert her sister had managed to tell her the news
of Judge Maynard's surprising will. And from that moment Esther had
almost forgotten the trying ordeal ahead of her in her joy over Betty's
good fortune. For now she need no longer worry over her little sister's
future, no longer grieve over the change in her fortune. Why, she might
even fail tonight and Betty would not suffer.

She gave a sigh, and the Princess drew closer to her.

"You are not to think about a single thing that has any connection with
the concert tonight, Esther," the younger girl reminded her. "Professor
Hecksher says that you know your song perfectly and your encore is to be
a surprise even to me. Let us talk about our old Camp Fire days in the
woods. Don't you remember when we thought poor little Nan Graham must
have stolen that wretched money of mine, when I had only lost it in the
woods and Polly had discovered it. Dick says that Anthony Graham told
him Nan has a fine position as a teacher of domestic science in a high
school in Dartmouth. And it seems that his father has reformed and gone
to work and the whole family now is quite different. Anthony gives all
the credit of the changes to Nan and Nan ascribes them to what she
learned in our Camp Fire club at Sunrise Hill. It is lovely to think
that may be true, isn't it?"

"Yes, and even better to reflect that Betty Ashton originated the club,"
Esther returned.

"Yes, and that Esther suggested the idea to her by singing an exquisite
song and then with her own hands starting a fire," Betty added.

So the two girls talked on fitfully while the train carried them swiftly
onward toward the great German city.

The concert was to be held in a small opera house close to one of the
more fashionable avenues. It was an old building, but was considered a
particularly fine one for musical purposes. And immediately upon their
arrival Mrs. Ashton and Betty went with Esther to remain in her dressing
room until a short time before her appearance.

Dick Ashton, Miss Adams and Polly had a box reserved for them near the
stage, where Betty and Mrs. Ashton were to join them. But before they
appeared Anthony Graham in immaculate evening clothes came around to
the box door to extend his greetings to Polly, and Dick insisted that he
be one of their party. And five minutes afterwards Lieutenant von Reuter
also joined them, Betty having invited him several days before.

The concert was to be a serious musical affair commencing with the
playing of a stringed orchestra led by the great Professor Hecksher
himself. And as Polly had never seen him before, she amused herself
while waiting for Betty's return and fighting off her own apprehensions
about Esther by never taking her eyes from the great man's face. He must
have weighed two hundred and fifty pounds and yet had the face of a
glorified cherub. His hair was long and light, hanging down to his
shoulders and he wore spectacles over his burning, heavy-lidded brown
eyes.

The first singer on the program was supposed to be the famous teacher's
star pupil. But because she seemed old and ugly to Polly O'Neill and
because the girl could hardly wait for her own friend to be heard, she
took little interest in the really remarkable solo and was almost vexed
with Miss Adams and with Carl von Reuter for their evident admiration of
a stranger. It was a comfort to her to observe that Richard Ashton
seemed to be feeling just as she did and that he spent the greater part
of his time studying the audience, trying to discover just how many
important musical critics were present.

Anthony Graham also had the air of waiting for something or some one.

A quartette followed, and then a violin solo, and afterwards Betty and
Mrs. Ashton stole quietly in, taking the two chairs left vacant for
them. Polly and Miss Adams were in the front row with Dick Ashton at one
side of them, near the back of the box and yet facing the stage. In the
second row Betty had the outside seat and she kept her elbow resting on
the plush railing with her chin in her hand, entirely unconscious of the
large crowd about her. Next her Carl von Reuter had arranged his chair,
leaving Mrs. Ashton and Anthony in the rear.

A young man sang before the time for Esther's appearance, but Betty
never recalled having seen or heard him. She had left her sister
composed and not especially nervous; but there was no way of guessing
what a surge of feeling might since have overtaken her.

And then Esther's moment came.

Notwithstanding that Betty had dressed her, fixed her hair and kissed
her only a few moments before, she hardly recognized her own sister as
she walked slowly to the front of the stage. For had they not always
thought of Esther as the homeliest of their group of Camp Fire girls?
What had happened to her, what wonderful transformation had taken place?
Polly O'Neill almost gasped aloud. Of course every one of her friends
had appreciated how much Esther had improved in appearance in the past
two years, but it was hardly credible that she could look and behave
like this, a girl brought up in an orphan asylum with no friends and no
opportunities for so long a time! Well, one should understand that into
each life certain wonderful hours may come when one seems to transcend
one's self. And tonight such an hour had come to Esther.

She was to sing Elizabeth's farewell song from the opera of Tannhäuser.
And though the concert was not to be sung in costume, so far as possible
in selecting and arranging Esther's dress Betty had been mindful of the
character and the circumstances of her song.

In the opera there is seen a wayside shrine where the Princess Elizabeth
appears each day to pray for the soul of her lover, the knight
Tannhäuser, who has gone on a pilgrimage to Rome to ask that his sins
may be forgiven him. On this last day the pilgrims have passed on their
journey homeward and among them Elizabeth sees no sign of her lost
lover, so that she knows he must be unforgiven. She then sings this
final song, asking that peace may come to her at last.

Esther wore a long white gown of _crêpe de chine_ made in simple classic
lines, with the draped tunic which is a modern fashion copied after a
far older model. Ordinarily she was too tall and angular in every-day
clothes, but this toilette seemed to give her just the grace and
dignity her figure and character needed. Her red hair, which had grown a
little darker as she grew older, was tonight a crown of glory, so that
the pallor of her long grave face did not matter, for her always
beautiful mouth had a look both of power and of wistfulness that
surprised the strangers in the audience.

"The girl is far too young for the song her teacher has chosen for her,"
the critics whispered among themselves. It is not fair to make such an
experiment, for this song of Elizabeth's is one of the favorites among
the great prima donnas. What would this young girl do with it? Would she
be too theatrical, too showy, or fail altogether?

While the orchestra played the opening chords Esther waited with her
hands clasped lightly together in front of her, but not moving them with
her old nervous gesture. Neither did she seem to be looking at anything
or anybody. Not once did she even glance toward the box where her sister
and friends were watching her, though in a kind of subconscious fashion
she was aware of the white intensity in Betty's pretty face and the
look of grave strength and helpfulness in Richard Ashton's.

Then Esther began to sing--and Betty, Dick, Polly, Mrs. Ashton and
indeed all her friends, both new and old, had a sudden sensation of
bitter disappointment. The tears came into Betty's eyes, rolling
unheeded down her cheeks, though Polly slipped her hand back through the
opening in her chair to press it sympathetically. However, Richard
Ashton only set his lips, hardly breathing for the space of half a
moment. Did he not recall a similar beginning on Esther's part some
years before, when she had sung the Indian Love Song before a group of
their Woodford acquaintances, which he had at first believed would end
in a failure? Esther would not find this audience so ready to forgive or
admire should she take too long a time before winning their attention.

    "O blessed Virgin, hear my prayer!
     Thou star of glory, look on me!"

These lines were whispered in so low a tone that they were almost
inaudible except to the persons nearest the stage and Esther's voice
trembled with nervousness. Was she frightened as she had expected to be?
It was difficult to decide, because she stood so still.

    "Here in the dust I bend before thee,
     Now from this earth oh set me free!
     Let me a maiden pure and white,
     Enter into thy kingdom bright!"

Betty's tension relaxed. "Bravo," Miss Adams whispered under her breath.
Richard Ashton felt a glow which was oddly commingled of pleasure, pride
and sorrow. Yet one could not think, could not feel any other emotion
now except wonder and delight as the beautiful voice in perfect sympathy
with the music and its theme filled every shadowy space in the opera
house with harmony.

Betty witnessed the expressions on several previously bored faces near
them changing first to surprise, then interest and finally frank
pleasure. Small wonder that the old German music master had allowed this
young American girl to appear unheralded before them! She could only be
twenty-one or twenty-two years old at the most. What a future lay before
her!

Still Esther sang on:

    "If vain desires and earthy longing
     Have turn'd my heart from thee away,
     The sinful hopes within me thronging
     Before thy blessed feet I lay.
     I'll wrestle with the love I cherished,
     Until in death its flame hath perish'd.
     If of my sin thou wilt not shrive me,
     Yet in this hour, oh grant thy aid!
     Till thy eternal peace thou give me,
     And on thy bounty I will call,
     That heav'nly grace on him may fall."

And with the closing words of her song Esther suddenly seemed to have
reached the realization of all her worst fears. Surely she had failed
abjectly, for was there not a silence everywhere about her, chilling and
cruel? Would not a single pair of hands applaud? She dared not try to
find the face of her master, for she hoped never to have to see
Professor Hecksher again so long as she lived. Yet here miraculously
enough he had appeared on the stage standing next her, with one of his
powerful hands holding tight to her cold one, bowing and smiling, while
the noise of many bravos and of almost a tumult of applause shook the
house. Esther then wondered why she only felt dreadfully tired and had a
childish disposition to cry as the great maestro led her off the stage.

But when the girl returned for her encore she was smiling, and her
cheeks were more flushed than ever in her life. And in her hands she
held a great bunch of pink roses which had mysteriously appeared in her
dressing room. And this time she allowed herself to glance smilingly at
Betty and Polly and Mrs. Ashton and even to exchange a single quiet
glance with Richard Ashton.

Then to the surprise, to the mystification and yet to the pleasure of
her listeners, Esther sang the verses which had first touched Betty
Ashton's heart and inspired her ardor on that day long ago, the song
that is to remain an inspiration to many thousands of women for many
years to come, the Camp Fire song of "The Soul's Desire."

    "Lay me to sleep in sheltering flame,
      O Master of the Hidden Fire.
     Wash pure my heart, and cleanse for me
      My soul's desire.

    "In flame of sunrise bathe my mind,
      O Master of the Hidden Fire,
    That, when I wake, clear-eyed may be
      My soul's desire."

And ten minutes after the finishing of this second song Esther, Betty
and Richard Ashton were driving to their old pension where the entire
party was to spend the night, Mrs. Ashton, Polly and Miss Adams meaning
to join them when the concert was over.

And in the carriage, again it was Esther who seemed quiet and composed,
while between tears and laughter Betty poured forth her joy and pride in
her sister's wonderful success.



CHAPTER XIX

Tea at the Castle


Several days after Esther's concert Lieutenant von Reuter persuaded Mrs.
Ashton and Miss Adams to bring Betty and Polly with them to afternoon
tea at the castle with his father. And as Anthony Graham, not knowing
their plans, had come from Berlin for a farewell visit on the same day,
he of course was included in the little company. Esther had been urged
and had almost promised to be one of them, but when the morning of the
party arrived she had pleaded to be excused. Immediately then Polly and
Betty had both insisted that she change her mind and had tried coaxing
and scolding and almost every possible form of influence until at last
Mrs. Ashton had come to her rescue. For Esther had been extremely tired
since her _début_ and very unlike herself both girls considered. Indeed,
they even went further in thinking that she failed in proper
appreciation and gratitude for her own success. However, Esther
naturally believed that her friends were overestimating her achievement,
yet she had recently scarcely understood herself. For it was odd and
stupid of her not to feel more elation and more interest in her own
future. Had not Professor Hecksher himself written her that she had sung
better than he expected? And this from the master was praise indeed!
However, he had also written that she was to allow herself a complete
rest before they had a talk about her future plans. So with this defense
and Mrs. Ashton's additional authority Esther was finally allowed the
privilege of staying at home alone except for their maid.

"Dick may be back a little earlier this afternoon, dear," Betty said as
she kissed her sister good-by. "He has not so much to do in Berlin now
that he has finished his lectures and is just closing up his affairs.
Keep him with you if you feel like talking to him, but if not, ask him
to come over to the castle and drive back home with us. It is absurd
for Dick to be so prejudiced against Lieutenant von Reuter and
dreadfully embarrassing to me. For I am sure he hasn't a reason in the
world, and yet it is plain enough to everybody."

And as Betty walked away after this final speech Esther had a momentary
pang of regret that she had not conquered her own disinclination and
gone along with them. For they and Mrs. Ashton were leaving the country
for Berlin as soon as the others sailed, and this might prove an
excellent chance for the young foreigner to declare his feeling for
Betty, _if_ his admiration really was serious. Also Esther regretted
that she had failed in asking Polly to keep a careful watch upon them,
although this she understood that Polly was more than inclined to do
without further suggestion.

After Betty and her mother had climbed into the carriage, Anthony Graham
accompanying them, and Betty had waved her hand in farewell, Esther, who
was standing on the porch watching them depart, suddenly recalled
Richard Ashton's half-jesting wish that their sister Betty were not
quite so pretty. And this afternoon for the first time Esther believed
that she agreed with him. It was absurd to send a girl looking like the
Princess did at this present moment into a young man's home with the
hope that he would cease to feel an interest in her.

Because it was cold Betty wore a long white cloak over a china blue silk
dress of her favorite shade and a white felt hat with a band of the same
material about it. No costume could have been simpler, and yet
excitement or pleasure or some unusual emotion had made the girl's color
brighter in her eyes, her cheeks and even her hair, so that there seemed
a kind of mysterious shining about her like a star--a glow which Polly
O'Neill recognized instantly as she took her place beside her in the
carriage with Anthony Graham in front with the driver and Miss Adams and
Mrs. Ashton together on the back seat. Indeed, it inspired Polly to give
her friend rather a malicious pinch which actually hurt a little and yet
for which she would neither apologize nor explain. Betty presumed that
it must have something to do with Anthony Graham's presence, since
Polly immediately began making herself more than usually agreeable to
him, insisting that he give them his impressions of Germany and the
Germans, when Anthony would much have preferred remaining silent. Polly
hoped that thus she might be enabled to make her friend realize how much
cleverer and more worth while an American fellow was than any blond
Siegfried whom she might have met by accident in a foreign land.

Carl von Reuter's old feudal estate, however, was picturesque enough to
excite even Polly's undivided admiration, as they drove along an avenue
of oak trees, some of them more than a century old, and crossed a
drawbridge over a moat, which now formed the bed of a stream flowing
down from the hills.

Outside in the garden in front of the house the visitors found
Lieutenant von Reuter, his cousin Frederick and his father walking about
in the afternoon sunshine waiting to receive their guests. And the young
count wore his full dress uniform as an officer in one of the Kaiser's
regiments. He was undeniably handsome, and there was no doubt but that
he and Betty made a striking picture as they stood side by side for a
moment before entering the house, while the young man showed the girl
the view of their hunting forests over to the right where she had had
her accident.

Tea was served in the most splendid apartment that either the two
American girls or Anthony Graham had ever seen before in their lives.
Perhaps there was some motive in their host's inviting them into the big
banqueting hall in an upper part of the castle rather than in the shabby
drawing rooms on the first floor, where the poverty of the family was so
much more apparent. But even if this were true, the selection was a
happy one, for which his guests were unfeignedly thankful. The great
room was fifty feet long and about two-thirds as broad. It had heavy
black oak paneling midway to the ceiling, which was formed of heavy
beams and rafters of the same wood. And along the ledge of the
wainscoting were old tankards of silver and pewter, plates hammered
deep with the armorial bearings of different branches of the family.
Shields hung against the walls and battered helmets, while standing in
groups or in solemn solitary dignity were the "iron men" or the "knights
in armor," who had fought for their war lords long before Germany was an
empire.

The old count, although he spoke English much less well than his son,
led his guests toward a circular space underneath a great stained-glass
window, where the light of the afternoon sun shone rose and gold upon
the carved table and high-back chairs. He appeared genuinely pleased
with their interest and enthusiasm over his estate and the country near
by, until Polly, whose sense of the dramatic was always stronger than
any other, felt herself becoming as ardently admiring of the older man
as she was critical of his son. And after tea was over and the others
sat discussing unimportant matters, in a moment of thoughtlessness,
Polly allowed the old count to lead her and Anthony Graham to another
part of the house in order to show them his library. Mrs. Ashton and
Miss Adams had expressed themselves as too tired for the climbing of
more stairs, while Betty, Carl and Frederick von Reuter, though making
no excuses, yet failed to join them.

When nearly midway down the room it did occur to Polly as unwise to be
leaving Betty unchaperoned by her own vigilance, yet as Betty now shook
her head, declining positively to be lured into this excursion, there
was nothing to do but to trust her friend to Mrs. Ashton and Margaret
Adams for a few moments.

Nevertheless Polly should have understood that Mrs. Ashton would not
oppose any suggestion for a more intimate conversation with Betty that
the young lieutenant might chance to make. And of course it was
impossible for Miss Adams to object unless Betty's mother did. As for
Frederick von Reuter, the attraction he once entertained for the
American girl seemed to continue now only in a kind of transferred
interest in his cousin's success.

So that five minutes after Polly disappeared out of one door at the far
end of the hall, Carl von Reuter led Betty through another, ostensibly
to show her a celebrated portrait in the family gallery, but without
inviting the others to accompany them. And Betty seemed quite willingly
to have accepted his invitation.

Once inside the gallery, she appeared more deeply interested in the
pictures than the young man expected or desired. For the greater number
of them were ugly old men and stout elderly _Frauen_ with no very strong
attraction even for their descendant. And there at the end of the dark
room near a window hung with a faded velvet curtain, stood a small oak
seat, while beyond was a particularly fine view of the park.

But Betty could only be lured to this seat by long effort and the moment
after seating herself suggested that they had best return to the others
now that the pictures had been seen, since it must be almost time for
leaving for home. Nevertheless, as her host did not stir or even seem to
have heard her request, Betty subsided for a few moments. She was
honestly weary, being unaccustomed to such a vast house with its miles
of steps and endless passage-ways.

"Miss Ashton," said Lieutenant von Reuter suddenly and quite formally,
"will you do me the honor to become my wife? In my country you know it
is the custom to speak first to the parent, but I understand that it is
not so in your United States."

Then as Betty gazed at him without answering, although her face had
flushed deeply, he went on with more feeling: "You know I have cared for
you always since our first meeting. I have been unable--I have not cared
to conceal it."

Frightened and uncertain, Betty bit her lips to keep them from
trembling. This was her first proposal, and she could not help thinking
of that for a moment; besides it was so romantic! No one of her friends
would ever be apt to experience anything like it. Here she and
Lieutenant von Reuter were in his splendid, shabby old castle sitting
together in the shadow of his ancestors. Why, what he had just said to
her meant that she might some day be a countess if she wished! But
Betty brought herself together with a slight frown and a feeling of
distaste and shame of herself. What absurd ideas were in her mind in the
presence of so tremendously serious a subject! Here she was thinking and
behaving like a foolish dreaming child. Did she care for Carl von Reuter
for himself? Would she have cared had he been of more humble origin, had
he been less handsome? Betty glanced at the young fellow almost
fearfully. She had been trying to decide how much she liked him before
this without success. Yet because until today he had not declared his
feeling toward her, she had not felt it necessary wholly to make up her
mind.

"But I thought, Lieutenant von Reuter," Betty answered slowly, "that it
was impossible for you to marry any one who was not wealthy, that your
estates were mortgaged and that your father looked to you to make your
old name prominent once more."

Until now she had kept her head slightly turned away; but with her
question Betty faced her companion, her expression grave and
interested.

Yet she was surprised to see that the young man's blue eyes now closed
slightly while his fair face flushed with what appeared to be an odd
combination of satisfaction and regret.

"But you are no longer poor, Miss Ashton," he answered unexpectedly. "I
have lately heard of your good fortune, and while it is very little
compared to the amount my father expected me to marry, it may be enough.
At least, I have been able to persuade him that I care for you so much
that we must make it do."

Carl von Reuter spoke quite frankly without any special embarrassment,
for it did not seem to him that his speech was in any way remarkable.
Indeed, it should make Betty realize the extent of his admiration for
her that he had been able to overlook the smallness of her inheritance
in comparison with his own needs. Why, a week before he should not have
been able to make any declaration of his own feelings! Yet now he was
offering his title, his castle, almost his whole future, to an American
girl whose estate was so small that it could scarcely do more than
cover their debts. And that Betty should not be honored by his offer was
beyond his point of view. A German girl would have appreciated the
sacrifice he was making; so why not an American?

Betty sat perfectly still during his explanation, with her hands clasped
tightly together, showing white against the blue folds of her dress. In
her whole life she had never felt so astounded, so completely
overwhelmed, and in truth so angry. How could any man coolly say to her
that he was willing to marry her in spite of the smallness of her
fortune, plainly insinuating at the same moment that unless she had had
the good luck to come into her unexpected inheritance she should never
have received the honor at all.

The girl's cheeks first flushed hotly and then she felt herself growing
pale and self-possessed. Never in her life had she had a more important
demand made upon her dignity and good sense. For she must not show any
kind of ill-feeling. Thank goodness that she was able to give the only
kind of reply that could carry any kind of weight or conviction to her
companion and that she could say it with all truthfulness. For never had
Betty Ashton felt less affection for any friend she had ever had than
she did at this instant for the young nobleman.

"You are very kind, Lieutenant von Reuter," she now answered quietly,
"and I greatly appreciate the honor which you feel you have given me.
But I don't care for you in the way that you wish me to and I am very,
very sure that I never can. Do you not now think it time for us to go
and join the others?"

And Betty talked pleasantly and unaffectedly of other things, while her
host led her back on the return journey between his lines of
distinguished ancestors, although the young man himself scarcely made a
reply to one of her remarks.



CHAPTER XX

Esther and Dick


Not long after the others had driven away Esther found that it was quite
impossible for her to take a nap as she had planned. She seemed to be
growing more restless and fatigued with every moment spent upon the bed.
Besides, had she not been indoors far too much recently, when they would
so soon be going back to the city where only a comparatively small
amount of outdoor life would be possible?

Esther did not stop to dress with any care; she merely fixed her hair
and slipped a long brown coat over her dress, tying a light scarf about
her hair. And because both Mrs. Ashton and Dick had insisted that no one
of the three girls go any distance from home alone after Betty's
misfortune, she wandered about idly in their small enclosed garden for a
few moments and then sat down in Betty's empty steamer chair under
their single tall linden tree. The light gusts of the October wind sent
down little showers of curled-up yellow leaves and shriveled flowers
upon her head and shoulders, until Esther, glancing up at them, smiled.
When she dropped her eyes again she saw that Dick Ashton was on his way
toward her along the short path from the gate. And he held a bundle of
letters in his hand which he had stopped by the village post-office to
secure. Two of them he dropped into Esther's lap and then sat down on
the ground near her, sighing quite unconsciously.

"Are you all by yourself?" he inquired.

Esther nodded. "Yes, I did not feel like being polite to any one this
afternoon. Betty told me to ask you to walk over and join them if you
are not too tired."

"I am not too tired, yet I have not the remotest idea of going," Dick
returned quietly. "Though I declare to you, Esther, that it seems to me
if Betty really does care for this German fellow, it will be about the
last straw."

Always if you had asked Esther Crippen's friends what they considered
the dominant trait of her character the answer would have been
"sympathy." So now, observing Richard Ashton's anxiety and depression,
she almost entirely forgot her own.

"The last straw, Dr. Ashton?" she repeated. And then smiling and yet
wholly gentle she asked, "Why do you say 'the last straw' in such a
desperate fashion? Surely things are not going so wrong with you! If you
feel so dreadfully unhappy over leaving Betty and your mother behind,
why you know I don't wish to be selfish. Take them with you; I shall
manage somehow."

Leaning over, Dick Ashton touched Esther's hand lightly with his lips in
such a friendly, kindly fashion that the girl did not flush or draw it
away.

"Who says that I am so desperate over leaving mother and the Princess to
take care of our future great American prima donna?" he asked
half-joking and half-serious.

The girl's brows drew together in her effort to understand and
appreciate her friend's real meaning. "Why, I don't see what else there
can be to make you unhappy," she replied thoughtfully. "You are going
back to your own country, which you know you have learned to care more
for with each year that you have spent away from it. And you are going
to commence the practice of the profession you have always loved since
you were a child. But of course if there is anything else that is
worrying you which I have not the right to know, I don't want you to
think that I am trying to make you confide in me. I can sympathize with
you without understanding."

"Then you have a very rare and wonderful gift, Esther," Dick Ashton
replied. "But please read your letters and don't consider me."

Slowly the girl read a letter from her father, which besides its
interest in her work was so full of bits of Woodford interest and gossip
that she felt herself growing sharply homesick. Then, tucking this
letter inside her dress, to re-read to her sister later, Esther slowly
opened the one from her music master in Berlin. It was just what she had
expected. Professor Hecksher felt that she might have a future in grand
opera, only she was far too young and too untrained to attempt it for
several years. So she must stay on in Germany, working unceasingly with
him until they could both understand more thoroughly her capabilities.

Esther let this single sheet of paper slip out of her hand to the
ground, where Dick picked it up, returning it to her. But not before he
had recognized the master's handwriting and letter head.

"It is all right, isn't it?" he queried, surprised at the girl's
expression.

"Oh, yes, I suppose so," she replied, not looking at him but at a far
stretch of country with her eyes and of years with her mind. "Only I
expect I am what both Betty and Polly think me, an ungrateful and
unreasonable person with no ambition and no imagination."

Dick was silent for a moment and then answered, "No, Esther, I do not
believe you appreciate what a great gift you have; you are too modest
and care too little for the applause most of the people in the world are
willing to sacrifice everything for."

Richard Ashton turned his serious dark eyes upward toward the tall, pale
girl sitting in the chair near him. "Esther," he said, "I want to tell
you, to make you believe what a great gift you have. I love you, and
more than anything on earth I want you to be my wife. The other day when
Anthony Graham came with the news from Woodford that Betty had inherited
a small fortune I was happier than I can ever tell you. And it was not
for Betty's sake or even mother's; it was a selfish happiness. For then
I believed that both you and I were released from our first duty to them
and that I had the right to tell you that I cared for you and meant to
try and make you love me. Then came the night of your concert, when I
heard you sing. And since then, Esther, I have realized that I have no
right to ask you to give up the career that is before you and to ask you
to share my uncertain future. For with my work I could not follow yours
and my profession is the one thing I have learned. I had not meant to
tell you this, but, after all, Esther, I don't know why I should not. A
girl can never be hurt by knowing that a man loves her."

And for the second time Dick kissed Esther's hand and then turned his
face away.

The next moment the girl had risen from her chair. "Dr. Ashton, will you
take a walk with me?" she asked. "I am tired sitting here."

Then, without referring to what had just been said between them, the
girl and man walked along, talking quietly of other things until they
came to the stream of water sheltered by trees, with a rim of hills
along the other side. Away from the possibility of being interrupted
Esther stopped, putting her hand on her companion's arm.

She did not look like her usual self; her face was flooded with color
and her shyness and reserve for the moment seemed swept away.

"You were not fair to me just now," she declared. "You had not the right
to tell me you cared for me without asking me what my feeling was for
you. Why does everybody in the world think that because I have a talent
I have to sacrifice my whole life to it? I love my music, but I don't
wish to be an opera singer. I hate the kind of existence it forces one
to lead. I want a home of my own and some one to care for me. Why do
people nowadays think that girls are so changed, that all of us are
wishing to be independent and famous? Why, it was because our old Camp
Fire club taught us that all the best things of life are centered about
the hearth fire that means home, that I first cared for it so much. I
wonder if any one realizes because I was brought up in an orphan asylum
and then lived with other people that I have never had a home of my own
in my life. But of course this would not count, Dick, if I did not care
for you more than I do for my music, or even for Betty. Tell me, then,
is it my duty to go on with my work in Berlin, to give up everything I
wish for a career I don't desire?" And here, overcome by the rush of her
own feelings and her own words, Esther ceased speaking, feeling her old
stupid, nervous trembling seize her.

But Richard Ashton's arms were about her, holding her still.

"The most perfect home that my love can make for you, Esther, shall be
yours so long as we live. And there are other ways where the gift of a
beautiful voice may bring pleasure and reward outside of the life you
dread."



CHAPTER XXI

Sunrise Cabin


It was Christmas once more at the Camp Fire cabin and a wonderful white
night. Everywhere there was snow and enchantment under the "Long-night
Moon."

Dinner was over, for from the inside of the great living room came the
sound of music and dancing and many gay voices.

Built like a magic circle about the log house were seven camp fires,
uncurling their long fingers of flame into the frost-laden air. And now
and then fire-makers came out of the cabin, usually in pairs, to pile
more logs and pine branches where the need was greatest.

First Eleanor Meade and Frank Wharton, and Eleanor looked tall and
picturesque in her Indian costume with a white shawl over her shoulders.
But when they had finished with their fire building they walked on a few
yards and then lingered for a moment close to the tall Totem pole,
which still stood like a faithful sentinel outside the Sunrise Cabin
door, its colors bright with the history of the Camp Fire club it had
been chosen to tell.

"I thought I was going to be a great artist when I painted that pole and
the walls of our cabin, Frank," Eleanor whispered. "But the paths of a
woman's glory sometimes lead----"

"To the altar," Frank returned. "Never mind, dear, there is no place
where one so needs to keep the white lights burning." And a little later
he and his companion disappeared along the path that led to the grove of
pines closer to the foot of the mountain.

For nearly ten minutes no one else opened the cabin door; then two
muffled figures stole out and industriously piled wood on half a dozen
of the dying fires. Out of breath they afterwards paused and began
talking to each other. They were the two girls in the Camp Fire club at
Sunrise Hill who were now the closest friends.

"I am awfully glad to hear of your new position, Nan. Are you going to
make more money?" Sylvia Wharton asked with her old-time bluntness.

And as Nan Graham nodded, she went on, "I want everybody in our club to
understand that no matter what any one of us accomplishes, you are the
best of the lot. Because the rest of us have had money and aid from
other persons, but you have done every blessed thing for yourself and
have helped other people besides."

"Yes, but I don't have to help now," Nan explained. "Anthony is able to
do everything for the family that is necessary beyond what father earns.
And he has made me promise to go to college next year and study all the
courses in domestic science that I can manage, besides chemistry and
physiology and hygiene. I shall be a wonderfully learned person if I
ever know half the things he wishes me to."

"Anthony is splendid," Sylvia announced, "and you will have a chair in a
college some day."

At the absurdity of this suggestion, which nevertheless might one day
come true, Nan laughed, putting her arm across Sylvia's shoulder. "We
must go back indoors or you may take cold, Dr. Wharton," she teased.
"Truly I am glad that your father and mother have made you undertake the
study of medicine instead of going on with nursing. For my part I shall
always prefer you as a physician to Dr. Ashton, even though he has a
good many years' start of you."

Never could Sylvia take things humorously. "Then you will show very poor
judgment, Nan Graham. Richard Ashton is going to be a perfect wonder.
Betty and Esther both say I may be his partner, but I shall not. I am
coming back to Woodford after I graduate and help Dr. Barton. Thank
heavens, he and Rose Dyer finally decided to marry last month. It will
take both of them to look after little Faith. That child is so queer and
fanciful I am afraid she may turn out a poet." And Sylvia did not smile
or have the least understanding that she had said anything amusing when
her friend led her back inside the cabin living room.

Then Meg Everett and her brother John strolled out into the night air,
arm in arm, and went and piled logs on the camp fire farthest away from
the house.

Meg wore nothing on her head in spite of the cold, so that her
yellow-brown hair blew about her face in shocking confusion. Yet her
elder brother did not seem to be in a sufficiently critical mood tonight
to notice it.

"Don't stay outdoors too long or go far away from the cabin, Betty; I am
so afraid you may take cold," Esther Ashton whispered ten minutes after
John and Meg had come in, wrapping her own long white fur coat about her
sister. Esther had been married now for two weeks and she and Richard
Ashton had returned from their honeymoon journey to spend the holidays
with their own people before leaving for Boston. So Esther was in bridal
white, with no other color than her crown of red hair. Betty wore the
last frock she had bought in London before sailing for home, having paid
a great deal more for it than she felt that she should, just to taste
the joy of being extravagant once again. It was of blue velvet with a
silver girdle, with silver embroidery about the throat. Instead of
jewelry she wore her chains of Camp Fire honor beads.

"No, I won't be gone long, dear," Betty answered. "I have promised too
many people to dance with them. But it is such a glorious night! And I
have told Anthony Graham that I would look at the beautiful picture our
cabin makes with the camp fires burning around it. The moon is now just
above the top of the old hill."

At this moment Dick Ashton joined them. "Moon, Betty Ashton," he began
with a pretense of sternness, "is the very last word I wish to hear from
your lips."

Then, as Betty ran away from the possibility of his further objecting to
her departure, Dick turned seriously to Esther.

"Esther, if you have any influence with Betty, do please stop allowing
her to have admirers. Tell her that she is not to be permitted to
consider any one seriously, say for five or ten years."

As Esther laughed, he added, "Who is it that she has gone off in the
moonlight with this time? Anthony Graham? Well, he is a fine fellow,
but has his way to make, and thank fortune cannot think of marrying for
several years!"

Down by the lake, which was frozen over with a thin coating of ice,
forming a kind of mirror for the silver face of the moon, Anthony and
Betty were at this moment standing in the shadow looking out over its
surface.

"I want to tell you something I never have mentioned, Anthony," Betty
said gravely. "I want to thank you for coming to Germany to bring me the
good news of my inheritance. Oh, it is not that I could not have waited
longer to have heard, but that if the news had not come just when it
did, I might have been the unconscious cause of making the two people I
love almost best in the world unhappy all their lives. For you see I did
not dream that Dick cared for Esther or she for him. So I kept on urging
Esther to devote herself to her music, when all the time she and Dick
wanted to be married, and Esther was only going on with her music
because she wanted to earn money for me and for father. As though
either one of us wished her to sacrifice herself!"

"Still, your brother was a brave fellow to ask a girl to give up such a
future," Anthony Graham returned. "I don't think I could have done it."

Betty frowned at him. "Why not?" she demanded.

Turning toward her, Anthony now looked at her so steadfastly that the
girl's white lids drooped.

"Well, once I cared for a girl who was miles and miles above me in
family, position, beauty, brains, oh, everything that is worth having,
except one thing!" he explained. "Neither she nor her people had money;
they had lost it through misfortune. So I used to work and dream that
some day I might be able to climb that _one_ hill. But before I was even
halfway up my hill--oh, I can't talk in figures of speech, I must speak
plain English--why the girl inherited a lot of money. So now she has
everything and I have nothing worth while to offer her. Yet I don't wish
her to think that I have ever ceased caring for her or ever will."

"Anthony," Betty replied unexpectedly, "I always wear that little
enameled pin representing a pine tree that you sent me by Polly a long
time ago. But I have been thinking lately that perhaps you did not
remember that one of the meanings of the pine tree is faithfulness."

Then she moved away toward the cabin and, as the young man walked along
beside her without speaking, she said half to herself and half to him,
"Not long ago I had one person declare that he cared for me because I
had inherited a fortune. And here is another person who has ceased
caring because I have money. Yet, if I have to choose between the two, I
believe I like the American way best."

"You don't mean that you like _me_, do you, Betty?" Anthony pleaded.

The Princess shook her head. "I don't mean anything--yet, Anthony," she
answered.

Inside the living room on their return they found at least a dozen
friends urging Esther to sing. To Margaret Adams' request she finally
yielded. For Miss Adams had lately come to Woodford to spend the week
with Polly O'Neill's family. And now Polly was standing with her arm
slipped caressingly through her friend's.

"I shall never, never be able to understand how Esther Crippen could
give up her art and her career for Dick Ashton's sake, fine as he is,"
Polly murmured in Miss Adams' ear. "If I only had one-half of Esther's
talent for the work I hope to do I should be down on my knees with
gratitude." Then Polly gave the arm she was holding fast a slight
pressure. "But mother says perhaps I may come and have a small part in
your company next spring, as you said I might. And surely if anybody in
the world can teach me to be a great actress it is you!"

Then Polly's lips twitched and her expression changed in its odd Irish
fashion, for across the room she now caught sight of her old enemy and
friend, Billy Webster, still glowering disapprovingly at her. But the
next instant he had turned and was smiling a reply to some question that
Mollie O'Neill had just put to him.

Then no one spoke or moved for several moments, under the spell of
Esther's "Good-night" Camp Fire song.

    "Beneath the quiet sentinel stars, we now rest.
    May we arise to greet the new day, give it our best.
    Good-night, good-night, God over all."

The next volume in the Camp Fire Series shall be known as "The Camp Fire
Girls' Careers." The group of girls who first came together to spend a
summer as a Camp Fire Club in the woods are now grown up and life has,
of course, altered and widened for all of them. The question now is,
What will each girl do to make her future happy and successful? Will she
marry well or ill, or will she choose to follow some career in which
marriage has no part? Although the fifth volume is to deal with the
original number of heroines, it will be more largely devoted to the most
brilliant and erratic of the twelve Camp Fire Girls, Polly O'Neill.



STORIES ABOUT CAMP FIRE GIRLS


THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT SUNRISE HILL

THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AMID THE SNOWS

THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN THE OUTSIDE WORLD

THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS ACROSS THE SEA

THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS' CAREERS

THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN AFTER YEARS





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