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Title: The Campfire Girls on the Field of Honor
Author: Vandercook, Margaret, 1876-
Language: English
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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.

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BOOKS BY MARGARET VANDERCOOK

THE RANCH GIRLS SERIES

The Ranch Girls at Rainbow Lodge
The Ranch Girls' Pot of Gold
The Ranch Girls at Boarding School
The Ranch Girls in Europe
The Ranch Girls at Home Again
The Ranch Girls and their Great Adventure

THE RED CROSS GIRLS SERIES

The Red Cross Girls in the British Trenches
The Red Cross Girls on the French Firing Line
The Red Cross Girls in Belgium
The Red Cross Girls with the Russian Army
The Red Cross Girls with the Italian Army
The Red Cross Girls Under the Stars and Stripes

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
The Camp Fire Girls in the Desert
The Camp Fire Girls at the End of the Trail



[Illustration: Sally and Lieutenant Fleury were Walking Side by Side
Away from the Farm House.]



THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS ON THE FIELD OF HONOR

BY

MARGARET VANDERCOOK

Author of "The Ranch Girls" Series, "The Red Cross Girls" Series, etc.

ILLUSTRATED

PHILADELPHIA

THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO.

PUBLISHERS



Copyright, 1918, by

The John C. Winston Company

STORIES ABOUT CAMP FIRE GIRLS

List of Titles in the Order of their Publication

    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
    The Camp Fire Girls at the Edge of the Desert
    The Camp Fire Girls at the End of the Trail
    The Camp Fire Girls Behind the Lines
    The Camp Fire Girls on the Field of Honor



CONTENTS

       I. An Old House                                           7
      II. Explanations                                          24
     III. "A Long Time Going Over There"                        39
      IV. Chaperoning the Chaperon                              47
       V. The Confession                                        66
      VI. A French Farm House on the Field of Honor             78
     VII. Becoming Adjusted                                     98
    VIII. The Old Château                                      113
      IX. A Mystery                                            126
       X. Breakers Ahead                                       138
      XI. The Return                                           154
     XII. Other Days and Other Ways                            165
    XIII. A Departure and an Arrival                           176
     XIV. A Warning                                            193
      XV. The Discovery                                        205
     XVI. An Unexpected Shelter                                223
    XVII. Two Officers                                         233
   XVIII. The Expected Happens                                 254
     XIX. The Field of Honor                                   263



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS

  Sally and Lieutenant Fleury were Walking Side By
  Side away from the Farm House                       Frontispiece
  Have You Nothing Better to do than Steal?                     14
  The Figure Was that of a Young Soldier                       122
  She and Old Jean Took an Entirely Opposite
  Direction                                                    208



THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS ON THE FIELD OF HONOR



CHAPTER I

AN OLD HOUSE


There are certain old houses in New York City built of rose-colored
brick and white stone which face Washington Square.

On this morning in early winter a light snow covered the ground and
clung to the bare branches of the shrubs and trees.

In a drawing-room of one of the old houses a young girl was moving
quietly about at work. She was alone and the room was almost entirely
dismantled, the pictures having been taken down from the walls, the
decorations stored away and the furniture protected by linen covers.

The girl herself was wearing an odd costume, a long frock made like a
peasant's smock with an insignia of two crossed logs and a flame
embroidered upon one sleeve. With her dark eyes, her dark, rather coarse
hair, which she wore parted in the middle over a low forehead, and her
white, unusually colorless skin, she suggested a foreigner.
Nevertheless, although her mother and father were born in Russia, Vera
Lagerloff was not a foreigner. However, at this moment she was talking
quietly to herself in a foreign tongue, yet the language she was making
an attempt to practice was French and not Russian. Since the entry of
the United States into the world war, New York City had been exchanging
peoples as well as material supplies with her Allies to so large an
extent that _one_ language was no longer sufficient even for the
requirements of one's own country.

Finally, still reciting her broken sentences almost as if she were
rehearsing a part in a play, Vera walked over to a front window and
stood gazing expectantly out into the Square as if she were looking for
some one.

It was about three o'clock in the afternoon and the neighborhood was
almost deserted. In the paths beyond the Washington Arch a few children
were playing. Now and then an occasional man or woman passed along the
street, to vanish into a house or apartment building.

A few taxis and private cars rolled by, but not one made even a pretence
of stopping before the rose-colored brick house.

After about five minutes of waiting, sighing and then, smiling at her
own folly, the girl turned away and began slowly to climb up the old
colonial stairs leading to the second floor.

"When will human beings cease demanding the impossible?" she asked of
herself, yet speaking aloud. "I know that Mrs. Burton and Bettina cannot
arrive for another half hour, nevertheless I am wasting both time and
energy watching for their appearance."

During the past month Vera Lagerloff had been the guest of Mrs. Richard
Burton in her New York home. Together they had been closing the house
for an indefinite period and making their final arrangements for sailing
for France. Within a few days the American Sunrise Camp Fire unit, with
Mrs. Burton as their guardian, was to set sail to help with the work of
reclamation in the devastated area of France and also to establish the
first group of Camp Fire girls ever recognized upon French soil.

Since their summer "Behind the Lines" in southern California, Vera had
been studying with these two purposes in mind.

In the front of the house on the second floor Mrs. Burton's private
sitting-room was to be left undisturbed until the day of her departure,
and it was toward this room Vera was making her way.

Except for the two servants, man and wife, engaged only a short time
before, who were presumably busy downstairs, she supposed herself alone.

Now as she approached the sitting-room, through the open door she caught
sight of the blue and silver of the walls, a pair of old blue curtains
and a tea-table decorated with a tea-service and a blue bowl of yellow
jonquils. Then an unlooked-for sensation made the girl pause within a
few feet on the far side of the threshold, almost holding her breath,
for she had the extraordinary impression that the room she had presumed
empty was already occupied.

The next instant Vera discovered that a man was standing in front of a
small mahogany desk endeavoring to break into a locked drawer. He had
not heard her approach, for he did not turn toward her, nevertheless she
immediately recognized the man and the situation. The day before, in
order to meet the expenses of the journey to France, Mrs. Burton had
drawn a large sum of money from bank, placing it in her desk for safe
keeping. To the members of her own household she had made no secret of
this, and now one of them was taking advantage of his knowledge.

Vera recognized that she must think and act quickly, or it might be
possible that all their hopes and plans for service in France would
vanish in one tragic instant.

In the bedroom in the rear of the hall she knew there was a telephone.
Yet the moments occupied in having the telephone answered and in calling
the police seemed interminable. In far less time surely the thief must
have accomplished his design!

Yet naturally after her call had been answered Vera knew she must return
to make sure and equally naturally she feared to face the man were he
still upstairs.

In the right hand corner of Mrs. Burton's dressing table was a silver
mounted pistol. This had been Captain Burton's parting gift to his wife
before his own departure for Europe a few weeks before. Vera distinctly
remembered her own and Mrs. Burton's nervousness over the gift and
Captain Burton's annoyance. They were about to make their home in a
devastated country recently occupied by the enemy and yet were afraid of
so simple a method of self-protection! Vera had shared in Captain
Burton's lecture and in his instructions.

Moreover, ordinarily she was not timid, but instead possessed a singular
feminine courage. So an instant later, holding the small pistol partly
concealed by her skirt, Vera slipped noiselessly back again into the
hall, moving along in the shadow near the wall. Within a few feet of the
sitting-room suddenly the thief appeared in the doorway. The next
instant, startled by her appearance, he made a headlong rush down the
stairs with his purpose too nearly accomplished to think of surrender.

As Vera followed she wondered if, when the thief reached the front door,
where he must pause in opening it, would she then have the courage to
fire? Much as she desired to secure the stolen money, she felt the
instinctive feminine dislike of wounding another human being.

Yet now she discovered that, in spite of having failed to notice the
fact on her way upstairs, the front door was not locked. It had been
purposely left slightly ajar so that there need be no dangerous delay.

But before the thief actually reached the front door majestically it was
flung open. From the outside a voice called "Halt."

[Illustration: "Have You Nothing Better to do than Steal?"]

Immediately after, instead of a policeman as she anticipated, Vera
beheld one of the most singular figures she had ever seen. For the
moment, in her excitement and confusion, she could not tell whether the
figure was a woman's or a man's. A long arm was thrust forward, then,
such was the thief's surprise, that he allowed the stolen pocketbook to
be removed from his grasp without opposition.

As Vera regained sufficient equanimity to cover him with her pistol she
heard a rich Irish voice unmistakably a woman's, saying:

"Sure, man alive and have you nothing better to do than steal when the
world is so hard put for honest soldiers and workmen to carry on her
affairs. Now get you away and pray the saints to forgive you, for the
next time you'll not be let off so easily."

Glad to take the newcomer at her word, the man vanished. Then before
Vera could either move or speak, the surprising visitor marched up to
her.

"Put that pistol away, child, and never handle it again, or you will
injure yourself! Now take me upstairs to Polly Burton's sitting-room and
make me some tea, for the plain truth is I am famished. I have just
arrived in New York from Boston, and travel in war times certainly has
its drawbacks. But if you will wait I'll first bring my suitcase inside
the hall until we feel more like carrying it upstairs."

Before Vera could offer her assistance a shabby suitcase was brought
indoors.

Immediately after she found herself, not leading the way, but following
the unexpected intruder to the second floor. Evidently the elderly woman
was familiar with the house, for she made her way directly to the
sitting-room and, seating herself upon the divan, began untying her
bonnet strings.

In spite of her own confusion and excitement and the visitor's
surprising appearance, Vera believed herself in the presence of an
important personage. She understood this, notwithstanding the fact that
the woman's costume was conspicuously shabby and she herself extremely
plain.

The bonnet which she removed without waiting to be asked followed a
fashion of about a quarter of a century before. When her traveling coat
had been laid aside the black dress underneath was almost equally
old-fashioned in design.

"Here, child, please take this money and hide it in the same place, or
find a safer one," she announced. "Yet it may be just as well not to
mention the robbery to Polly Burton. She is sure to need more strength
than she possesses to be able to start on this perilous journey to
France almost at the beginning of winter, with only you foolish children
as her companions. Besides, I presume Polly left the money in the most
conspicuous place in the house; she never has learned not to trust the
entire world. I allowed the thief to escape so we need give no further
time to him. But tell me the whole story--who are you, how did the man
get into the house and why are you here alone?"

At last, in the first opportunity which had been vouchsafed her, Vera
endeavored to explain what had occurred. As she spoke she could feel
herself being observed with the keenest, most searching scrutiny. Yet
for some reason, although never having heard the name or seen her
companion before, she had no thought of disputing her visitor's right to
whatever information she desired. The dark eyes in the weather-beaten
old face were wise and kind; the manner belonged to a woman accustomed
to being obeyed.

Later Vera and her guest made a careful tour of the lower part of the
house. Of course the cook had vanished soon after her husband. But they
were downstairs in time to meet the police when they finally made their
appearance.

Vera opened the door, yet she stood aside to hear her companion
announce.

"You can go away again. No, we have no need of you, the telephone call
was a mistake."

Finally when the police had disappeared without requiring a great deal
of persuasion, for the second time Vera followed her unknown companion
upstairs.

"You understand, child, it would have been the greatest interruption to
our present plans if I had not permitted the thief to escape. Some one
would have had to appear in court and doubtless Polly Burton would have
had newspaper reporters coming to the house at all hours. They would
have liked a story in which a woman of her prominence played a part."

Fifteen minutes later, having presented the unexpected guest with the
tea she had requested, Vera was sitting beside the tea table waiting to
satisfy her further needs, when she caught the sound of a key being
turned in the lock of the front door downstairs and the next instant
Mrs. Burton's voice, followed by Bettina Graham's, calling for her.

With a hurried apology and really fearful that her autocratic companion
might attempt to detain her, Vera ran out of the room.

Over the banisters she could see Bettina Graham, who had just arrived
from Washington, and Mrs. Burton, who had gone down to the Pennsylvania
station to meet her.

Standing near Bettina was a girl whom Vera had never seen before.

As soon as she joined them Bettina introduced her explaining:

"Vera, this is Mary Gilchrist, who is going abroad to drive a motor in
France. She had no friends with whom she could cross, and as we were
intending to sail on the same steamer, I suggested when we met in
Washington the other day that she might like to join our Camp Fire unit.
At the depot I introduced her to Tante, who of course insisted that she
come home with us rather than stay in a hotel alone."

During this conversation, Mrs. Richard Burton, the Sunrise Camp Fire
guardian of former days, having passed by the group of girls, was making
her way upstairs alone. She had moved so quickly that, in her effort to
be polite to Bettina's new friend, Vera had no opportunity to mention
the presence of another stranger in the house. When she did murmur
something, Mrs. Burton did not hear.

Reaching her own sitting-room she gazed uncertainly for half an instant
at the tall figure on the divan, who, having poured herself another cup
of tea, was now engaged in drinking it. The next she clasped her hands
together and with a manner suggesting both nervousness and apology,
began.

"Aunt Patricia, please don't say you have come to argue with me about
taking my group of Sunrise Camp Fire girls to work with me in the
devastated area of France. It is really too late now to interfere. I was
finally able to secure my husband's permission."

Miss Patricia Lord carefully set down her tea-cup.

"Come and kiss me, Polly Burton, and tell me you are glad to see me. I
don't like your fashion of greeting an unexpected guest. But there--you
look tired out from too much responsibility before it is time to set
sail! As a matter of fact, I have not come to try to _prevent_ your
going to France. Has anybody ever made you give up anything you had
firmly set your heart upon? But, mavourneen, I have come to go with you.
Do you suppose for a moment, after receiving yours and Richard's letters
telling me of your plans, that I dreamed of allowing you to undertake
such a project as you have in mind alone? Why, you won't be able to look
after yourself properly, to say nothing of more than half a dozen young
girls! I am told there are eight hundred and forty thousand homeless
people in the devastated districts of France at the present time and I
cannot understand why you wish to add to the number. But as you will go,
well, I am determined to go with you."

A moment later, seated close beside the older woman, Mrs. Burton had
slipped an arm inside hers and was holding it close.

"Oh, Aunt Patricia, I am so relieved," she murmured. "I have not
confided this fact to any one before, but sometimes I have been so
nervous over the prospect of looking after my group of Camp Fire girls
in France that I have wanted to run away and hide where no one could
ever discover me. Of course I am not afraid of disaster for myself,
Richard is in France and then nothing ever happens to me! Besides, no
one has a right to think of oneself at present. But to be responsible to
so many mothers for the safety of their beloved daughters! I rise up
each morning feeling that my hair must have turned white in the night
from the very thought. But if you are with me, why, I will not worry!
Still I don't see just how you can arrange to sail with us; perhaps you
can manage to cross later, but our passage has been engaged for weeks
and----"

Miss Patricia Lord arose and walked over to the tea table, where she
devoted her energy to pouring her hostess a cup of tea.

"You need not trouble about _my_ arrangements, Polly. I secured my
ticket on the steamer upon which you are to sail some time ago and also
my passport. I sent my trunk directly to the boat. Of course I am taking
but few clothes with me, as a matter of fact, I have all I shall require
in my suitcase downstairs. But later there will be many things necessary
for our housekeeping in France of which you may not have thought."



CHAPTER II

EXPLANATIONS


"Bettina, who on earth is Miss Patricia Lord? A more formidable lady I
never imagined!"

Sitting before a fire in their bedroom, which they had chosen to share
so as to be able to talk for as long a time as they wished before
retiring, were the two Sunrise Camp Fire girls, Bettina Graham and Vera
Lagerloff. Both girls had changed conspicuously in manner and appearance
since the summer before when they had been in camp together "Behind the
Lines" in southern California. However, there comes a day in every
girl's life when with entire suddenness she seems to understand and
accept the revelation of her womanhood.

To Bettina Graham had been given an added social experience. During the
past few months, without being formally introduced into society,
nevertheless she had been assisting her mother in receiving in their
home in Washington. In spite of the fact that there had been but little
entertaining on a large scale because of the war, Bettina had gone to
occasional dinners and small dances, and on account of her father's
prominence and her mother's popularity, had shared in the best
opportunities. Moreover, Washington had never been so crowded with
interesting men and women, and yet scarcely a day passed when Bettina
did not whisper to herself that nothing could make her enjoy a
conventional society existence. It was only because of the universal
absorption in the war at the present time that society had become more
endurable. But to continue the life indefinitely demanded an impossible
sacrifice.

One afternoon in late fall Bettina and her father, Senator Graham, in an
hour of mutual confidence, imparted the information to each other that
they regarded themselves as social failures.

"You see, Bettina, my dear, I was not to the manner born in this social
game and had no one to teach me until I married your mother," Senator
Graham announced with a certain embarrassment. "Indeed, I never had
entered a drawing-room until I was a grown man and then had not the
faintest idea how the confounded thing should be done. You don't think
you could have inherited a social awkwardness from me?"

Then, fearing to have wounded his daughter's feelings Senator Graham
added quickly: "I don't mean that you have not charming manners, little
Betty, as charming as any in the world aside from your mother's. And
personally I have not seen a prettier girl in Washington or elsewhere.
But if you really are unhappy among strangers and would like to go to
France with your old friends to help with the work over there, why, I
will try to see how matters can be arranged. I don't think I would speak
of your idea to your mother, not just at present, as there is no point
in worrying her."

In answer Bettina had laughed and promised. Always she was touched by
her father's use of her old childhood name now that she had become
nearly as tall as he himself was.

"But, father, don't think I mind sharing a social disability with you. I
am afraid my infirmity goes somewhat deeper," Bettina answered. "As a
matter of fact, I heard one of mother's friends say the other day that
there was no more brilliant or agreeable man in Washington society than
Senator Graham, once he could be persuaded to throw aside his social
hauteur and condescend to ordinary mortals," she continued, imitating
the visitor's voice and manner, to the Senator's deep amusement.

"But of course I won't annoy mother until I am sure our Camp Fire unit
has a real chance of being accepted for the work in France. It is hard
upon mother to have had Tony inherit all the family beauty and charm.
However, he will make up to her some day for my failures!"

Bettina was doing herself an injustice. In reality she was unusually
handsome and as she grew older her tall stateliness increased her
distinction. Tonight she looked especially attractive as she sat
braiding her long yellow hair into two heavy plaits, with a blue
corduroy dressing gown worn over her night-dress.

"Aunt Patricia? It is odd, Vera, you have never heard her name
mentioned! Yet I confess my personal acquaintance with Aunt Patricia
also began this afternoon, although I have known of her for a long time
and my mother is one of her great friends.

"Years ago when Tante was first married Aunt Patricia arrived in this
country from Ireland, and as she seemed to be frightfully poor she
secured a position at the theatre as wardrobe woman. Right away she
adopted Tante and Uncle Richard and they have been devoted to one
another ever since. Later on Aunt Patricia's brother died, leaving her
an enormous fortune. Then it developed that she had come to this country
from Ireland because he had sent for her and afterwards had refused to
live with him or accept a cent of his money because he would not do what
she wished, or because for some reason or other she disapproved of him.

"After Aunt Patricia inherited the money she has spent as little as
possible for her own needs, but instead gives away large sums in
eccentric fashions which appeal to her. Nevertheless I confess I am not
happy over the prospect of her going to France to be with us, although
Tante seems immensely relieved to have her companionship and our
families will be glad to know she will not have to bear so much
responsibility alone. It is a good deal of a task to look after seven or
eight girls."

Vera frowned somewhat ruefully.

"But I thought we were going to France to care for other people not to
be looked after ourselves. However, if Miss Lord's behavior this
afternoon is a fair criterion I shall certainly become as a little
child. For the entire time we were together I don't think I dared do
anything except what she commanded. But isn't it wonderful that our
entire Camp Fire unit is to go to France for the reclamation work? I
thought when Mrs. Burton offered me the opportunity last summer that I
should go alone."

Within the past months Vera Lagerloff had also changed, but the
transformation was unlike Bettina Graham's.

After Billy Webster's death in California Vera had made astonishingly
little open protest. But for that reason the effect upon her character
had been the deeper.

Since her earliest childhood there had been but little in her life for
which she cared intensely, save her friendship with the odd dreaming
boy, whose ambitions for his own future had absorbed so much of her time
and thought. Until Billy died Vera really had never considered her own
future apart from his.

In many ways she was superior to the members of her own family, which in
itself makes for a certain spiritual loneliness. Yet her parents were
Russians, and Russia is at present offering more contradictions in human
nature than any other race of people in the world. However, if her
parents were peasants and had but little education, they had possessed
sufficient courage to emigrate to the United States at a time when the
Czar and autocracy ruled in their own land. Afterwards Vera's father had
become a small farmer on Mr. Webster's large place, and here Vera and
Billy had grown up together.

But at least Vera's family made no effort to interfere with her. The
other children appeared content to follow in the ways of their
ancestors, living with and by the land. In a measure they were proud
that Vera cared for books and people who could never be their friends.
Yet perhaps Vera's character had been largely influenced by her one
singular friendship.

Now it remained to be seen what she could accomplish with her own life
uninspired by a dominating affection.

She was an unusual looking girl, and not handsome according to
Anglo-Saxon standards. She was tall and ruggedly built, with broad
shoulders and hips, indicating strength more than grace. Her heavy dark
hair, growing low over her forehead, had a unique quality of vitality.
Her nose and mouth were both a little heavy, although her mouth gave
promise of future beauty, and she had the fine Slavic eyes with the
slight slant.

Vera and Bettina afforded a marked contrast. The one girl, whatever her
brilliant father might say of his antecedents, showed only the evidences
of high breeding, both its charm and limitations. Yet, thinking more
deeply, was not after all Vera's the older ancestry since the first men
and women must have been those who lived nearest to nature?

At this moment, when the one girl finished speaking, leaning over
Bettina rested her chin in her slender hand. She had not seen Vera for
some time and was now trying to discover in her companion's face what
she knew would never be confided to her, to what extent Vera had
recovered from her sorrow over Billy Webster's death.

But instead of speaking of this, Bettina continued:

"Yes, it is extraordinary that our entire Camp Fire unit is so soon to
cross over to France. I only wish the rest of us were as well prepared
for the work as you are, Vera. You have been studying cooking and the
care of children, besides the first aid and the farm work, which you
must have known already? I was able to find time for only a short period
of intensive study. Yet fortunately I know a good deal of French. Ever
since I was a tiny child I have been speaking French and certainly I am
familiar with our Camp Fire training and ideals. I only learned recently
that, although there are organizations similar to our Camp Fire in
England, China, Japan and Australia, there is none in France. Is it not
a wonderful thing that we are to be the pioneers of the Camp Fire
movement in France? Don't you feel that if we can arouse sufficient
enthusiasm among the French girls to induce them to form a national
organization it will bring American and French girls into closer touch
with each other?

"Do you know, Vera, so many times in the past year I have heard
prominent men in Washington declare that the French, British, Italians
and Americans, having fought together on common ground for a common
ideal, can never in the future be anything but brothers in spirit. Yet
never once have I heard any one speak of the same need for intimate
association among the women of the different nations. Why is this not
equally important? The women of the future must also acquire something
of the new international spirit, must also learn to work and play
together. I think our Camp Fire embodies all these inspiring principles
and ideas for girls, and so I hope our work in France may be the
beginning of an international Camp Fire organization all over the
world."

Vera Lagerloff, who had apparently been watching the flickering yellow
and rose flames in their tiny fire while Bettina talked, now looked
toward her and smiled.

"Be careful, Bettina, you are a dreamer. Remember, the world has room
for but a few dreamers. I suppose that is why Billy went away. After
all, you know it is the small, hard sacrifices that are required of
women and girls in time of war."

Then getting up, Vera began walking up and down the room as if finding
relief in action.

"By the way, Bettina, have you heard the latest news from Gerry
Williams?--oh, I should have said Gerry Morris, I forgot her married
name." Vera went on, apparently desiring to change the subject: "She
hopes to see us after we reach our headquarters in France, if she and
her father-in-law are not too far away. I have sometimes wondered if Mr.
Morris did not give the money he had recently inherited to help with the
restoration work in France as a thank offering because Felipe was
required to serve only a short sentence for having tried to escape the
draft? Soon after he was permitted to enlist. Mr. Morris and Gerry are
living in one of the tiny ruined villages, assisting the old men and
women and children to rebuild their little homes."

Bettina frowned, hardly aware that her expression had become slightly
skeptical.

"Yes, I was told that Gerry had sailed with her father-in-law, although
so far as I know Felipe is still in an American training camp," Bettina
replied. "But, Vera, I am not yet an enthusiast over Gerry. However, as
we have never liked each other, perhaps I am not fair. I do not believe
that people's natures ever entirely change, even if circumstances do
affect one for a time. So I shall have to behold the miracle of a
transformed Gerry before I am convinced of the change I am told has
taken place in her."

At this instant Bettina suddenly ceased speaking because a faint knock
had just sounded on their bedroom door.

When Vera opened the door another girl stood outside. She was small and
dark and had an upward tilt to her nose and indeed to her entire face.

"I know this is the hour for confidences and so I won't interrupt you
long," she began. "Only I thought it might be just as well if I present
you with a short outline of my history. Miss Graham was kind enough to
allow me to travel to Washington with her after meeting me at the home
of a mutual friend. She does not know much about me, so I think she is
especially kind. But perhaps we girls are beginning to take one another
more for granted! As a matter of fact, my name is Mary Gilchrist,
although I am usually called 'Gill' by my friends, because my father
insists I am so small I represent the smallest possible measure. I have
no mother and have spent all my life with my father on our big Wheat
ranch in Kansas. I suppose I should have been a boy, because I adore
machinery and have been driving a car for years, even before the law
would have permitted me to drive one. Of course I only motored over our
ranch at first. Now I am hoping I can be useful in France. For the last
few years I have been able to manage a tractor for the plowing and
harvesting of our fields. My father has given me my own motor to take to
France. He said he could do nothing less, since he had no son to devote
to his country's service and, as he was too old to fight himself, felt
he could do his best work in increasing our output of wheat. But I did
not intend saying so much about myself, only to thank you and Mrs.
Burton for agreeing to allow me to make the crossing with you. I shall
try not to be a nuisance. Good-night."

Then actually before Vera or Bettina could reply the other girl
vanished. Yet she left behind her an affect of energy and warmth, her
glowing, piquant face, the red lights in her brown hair, even the
freckles on her clear, lightly tanned skin gave one the impression that
courage and action were essential traits of her character.

After she had gone Vera smiled.

"Well Bettina, I believe your new friend is original, whatever else she
may be."

And Bettina nodded in agreement.



CHAPTER III

"A LONG TIME GOING OVER THERE"


In a week Mrs. Burton and the Sunrise Camp Fire unit sailed from a port
somewhere in the United States to a port somewhere in France. Not only
were they accompanied by Miss Patricia Lord, but apparently they were
led by her. Whenever any information had to be imparted it was always
Miss Patricia who gave it and she also appeared to settle all questions
and all disputes. Under ordinary circumstances the Camp Fire girls would
have been annoyed, but at present they were too absorbed in a hundred
interests and as many emotions to be more than vaguely aware of Miss
Patricia's existence.

Mrs. Burton, in spite of finding her own position frequently usurped and
her opinions regarded as of small value, nevertheless from the moment of
leaving New York felt a sensation of gratitude each time she glanced at
Aunt Patricia's homely and uncompromising countenance. In time past they
had weathered many storms together; if there were storms ahead Miss
Patricia could be counted upon to remain firm as the Rock of Gibraltar.
Difficult and domineering, yet behind her brusqueness there was great
good sense. Moreover, Mrs. Burton knew that Miss Patricia possessed the
gift of kindness which is the rarest of human qualities. The Irish humor
was there also, although now and then it might be hidden out of sight
and only used by Miss Patricia as she used her Irish brogue in moments
of special stress.

Conscious that her group of Camp Fire girls was not pleased by the
addition of a new member to their party, Mrs. Burton hoped in time they
might come to appreciate Miss Patricia's real value, although she made
no effort to propitiate them at the start.

The leave-taking these days is perhaps the hardest portion of the
journey to France. One must say farewell with apparent cheerfulness to
one's family and friends, assuming that whatever dangers may lie in wait
for other people, for you there can be only plain sailing, since this is
the gallant spirit these tragic times demand. But for the Camp Fire
girls there was also a certain fear that they might find themselves
unfit for the service they wished to offer. However, there was no
faltering and no regret, but only tremendous inspiration in the
knowledge that they were to be the first American Camp Fire girls to
enter France upon a special mission and with a special message to French
girls.

Of the date or the port from which passenger vessels sail these days
there is no published record. It is enough to state that the Camp Fire
party sailed one morning in the early winter a little before noon from a
small harbor south of New York City. The morning had been cold and rainy
and the fog lay thick upon the water many miles from the land.

In spite of the fact that their vessel was to form one of a convoy of a
dozen ships, each boat left port at a different hour, to meet further
out at sea.

Soon after their own sailing, Mrs. Burton retired to her state-room.
Aunt Patricia and the Camp Fire girls insisted upon remaining on deck
for an indefinite length of time.

At what point the United States considers her ships have entered the
danger zone on this side of the Atlantic only persons who have lately
crossed to the other side can know.

When this hour arrived the Camp Fire girls were standing close together,
although separated into small groups. Peggy Webster, Vera Lagerloff and
Bettina Graham were talking to one another; Sally Ashton and Alice
Ashton stood a short distance off with their arms about each other,
drawn together only in moments of excitement. Within a few feet Marta
Clark was beside Mary Gilchrist, with Aunt Patricia not far away, but
apparently paying no attention to any of them.

In truth, it was Aunt Patricia who gave the first signal. The ships
which until now had been at some distance apart were deliberately
forming into the position necessary for their convoy. It was almost as
if they were making ready for a naval attack; the boats slowed down,
mysterious whistles were blown, signals were run up.

An hour or so later and the entire convoy, guarded by United States
torpedo destroyers, were steaming rapidly ahead.

Bettina Graham was leaning over the ship's railing looking toward the
western line of the horizon through a pair of long-distance glasses. In
another moment she offered the glasses to Vera.

"I wonder if you can see the destroyers more distinctly than I can
manage, Vera? The fog is so heavy and the boats are so nearly the same
color. No wonder they are known as the 'gray watch-dogs of the sea!' I
suppose one should feel safer because we are so surrounded, and yet in a
way I am more nervous. Certainly the destroyers do not allow one to
forget the reason for their presence, and I really had not thought a
great deal of our danger from submarines until they appeared."

For a few seconds as she stared through the glasses Vera made no reply.

As she turned to present the glasses to Peggy, Vera shook her head.

"Then I am a better American than you are, Bettina, because I most
assuredly do not feel as you do. Our guard of destroyers gives me an
almost perfect sense of security. It may be absurd of course and a kind
of jingoism, but I do not consider that we can possibly come to grief,
protected by our own navy."

As they stood thus close together the Camp Fire girls were wearing the
uniforms which had been especially designed for their trip abroad.

Their ordinary Camp Fire outfit was of course not suitable; nevertheless
the new costumes had been made to follow as closely as possible the idea
and the model of the old. For military reasons they had chosen a darker
shade of brown than the ordinary khaki color. At present over their
serviceable brown serge traveling dresses they wore long coats of a
golden brown cloth made with adjustable capes to conform with the
changes of climate. The only suggestion of the Camp Fire was the
insignia of the crossed logs with the ascending flames embroidered upon
one sleeve. Their hats were of soft brown felt.

In spite of the variety of striking and interesting uniforms on board
ship, already the Camp Fire girls had excited a good deal of quiet
attention. However, this may not have been due to their uniforms alone.
As a matter of fact, they were younger than the other passengers and
many persons were curious with regard to the work they were planning to
undertake in France.

Sailing upon the same vessel there chanced to be a Red Cross unit of
twenty other girls who were to do canteen work among the French and
American soldiers. But except for one conspicuous exception, this unit
of girls was noticeably older.

This made the one girl appear rather an outsider; moreover, the Camp
Fire girls learned that she was not an American girl, but a French girl
returning to her own country.

There were no passengers on the ship who were not sailing to France for
urgent reasons and for reasons which the United States government
considered of sufficient importance to permit of their crossing.

There were a number of business men whose affairs were not only of
importance to themselves, but to the Allied interests as well. There was
a medical unit with a staff of doctors, nurses and assistants, three or
four newspaper and magazine men, one well-known woman writer. But the
most distinguished among the travelers were several returning Frenchmen
who had been in the United States upon a special mission.



CHAPTER IV

CHAPERONING THE CHAPERON


One afternoon about midway in the voyage across the Atlantic, Mrs.
Burton was seated upon the upper deck in her steamer chair enveloped in
a fur rug and a fur coat. A small sealskin turban completely covered her
hair, so only her face was revealed, her brilliant blue eyes, long
slender nose and chin, and her cheeks upon which two spots of color were
glowing.

She was talking in French with a great deal of animation to a man who
sat beside her. From his manner and appearance and also from his
pronunciation it was self-evident that he was a Frenchman. Moreover, he
revealed a certain intellectual distinction typically French. Monsieur
Georges Duval was of middle age with clear-cut, aristocratic features,
keen dark eyes and iron-gray hair. In comparison with him Mrs. Burton
looked like a girl.

It was just before tea time and the deck was crowded with the ship's
passengers. Since no lights were permitted after dark, it was necessary
to enjoy all the daylight possible out of doors. This afternoon was
clear and lovely, with a serene blue sky and sea.

A number of the Camp Fire girls were strolling about talking to new
acquaintances. But if Mrs. Burton had any knowledge of their presence
she gave no sign, being too deeply interested in her conversation with
her present companion.

"You are extremely kind, Monsieur, and I am most happy to receive any
advice you can give me. Later on I shall probably ask for your aid as
well. Now and then I have wondered if in coming to France to offer our
services to your country many American women may not prove more of a
burden than a help. I hope this may not be true of me or of my
companions. We intend to settle down somewhere in one of the devastated
districts and do whatever we can to be useful. But chiefly the group of
girls I have with me want to offer their services to French girls. I
have so often thought, Monsieur, that perhaps the greatest problem of
the future rests with the young girls of the present day. When the war
is over it will be their task to care for the wounded men and for many
others whom these long years of warfare will have made unfit for work.
More than this, there will be so many of these girls who can never have
husbands or children. Our Camp Fire organization in the United States
has a special message for the women of the future. But I must not bore
you with this when you have so many matters of more importance to hold
your attention."

Monsieur Duval shook his head.

"You are not boring me, Madame. You could not do that, but in any case
remember you are talking to a Frenchman about the women of his own
country. Sometimes I think we Frenchmen confuse our women and our
country; to us they are so much one and the same thing. When we fight
for France, we are fighting for our women, when we fight to protect our
women we are fighting to save France. I do not believe the world half
realizes what great burdens the French women bore after the
Franco-Prussian war, only forty years ago, not only in working shoulder
to shoulder with their men, but by inspiring them after a bitter and
cruel defeat. The courage, the steadfastness which France has revealed
in the four long years of this present war is one way in which we have
tried to pay our immense debt to them."

Unable to reply because of the tears which she made no effort to
conceal, Mrs. Burton remained silent for a few moments. When she finally
spoke it was with a kind of diffidence:

"Monsieur Duval, has it ever occurred to you how strange it is that,
aside from our American Revolution, most of the great modern wars for
democracy have been fought upon French soil? I have thought of this many
times and sorrowed over what seems the injustice to your race. Forgive
me if I appear too fanciful! Recently I have recognized why France
always is represented by the symbolic figure of a woman. She has endured
the birth of the world's freedom inside her body and her soul."

In Mrs. Burton's speech there was perhaps nothing original, but always
there was the old thrilling beautiful quality to her voice which stirred
her audience, whether large or small.

Monsieur Duval did not attempt to hide both his admiration and interest
in his companion. The second day out at sea they had been introduced to
each other by Mrs. Bishop, the woman novelist, with whom Mrs. Burton had
a slight acquaintance in New York City. Indeed, they had met only upon
one occasion, but on shipboard one is apt to renew acquaintances which
one would have considered of no special interest at other times.

Since their original meeting Mrs. Burton and the French commissioner,
whom she had discovered to be a member of the French senate as well, had
spent several hours each day in talking together. There were many
subjects in which they were both interested, although of course the war
absorbed the greater part of their thought.

"I only hope France may prove worthy of the sympathy and aid your
country pours out upon her so generously. But I think when you reach
France you will have no reason to complain of her lack of gratitude,"
the Frenchman answered.

"Of course our cause at present is a common one and our soldiers are
fighting as brothers. But long before your men fought with ours, you
American women were rendering us every possible service. Please be sure
if I can be of the least assistance to you in making your plans for work
in France I shall be more than happy. In spite of all our conversations
you never have told me definitely what it is you intend doing."

Mrs. Burton smiled. A cool breeze was blowing in from the sea so that
she hid herself closer inside her rug.

"Just a moment then, Monsieur Duval, I will talk of our plans and then
we must discuss something frivolous. Every morning as I waken I make up
my mind not to speak of the war for at least a few hours, but somehow I
never manage to keep my promise to myself. We intend undertaking a
certain amount of reclamation work in one of the ruined French villages.
Our present scheme is first to find an old farm house and establish
ourselves there in order to make a home where our neighbors can come to
us as they will. My Camp Fire girls thus hope to form friendships with
the French girls and later to induce them to become interested in our
Camp Fire ideas.

"You may be amused, Monsieur Duval, but another thing we intend is to
teach the French women and girls to make corn bread, so as to help in
the wheat conservation. I was told by a woman in Washington, who had
just come back from the devastated regions, that this would be a real
service to France, if once we could persuade the French people to our
use of corn. The Indians taught us. As our Camp Fire is more or less
modeled upon their institutions, we hope to carry on the Indian message
of the corn. But enough of this; you have been kind to listen to me so
long."

Monsieur Duval shook his head courteously.

"What you say is interesting and worth while, Madame, but I have an idea
that you need not personally give all of your own time to these efforts.
These matters your companions and other women may be able to accomplish
with equal success. But you, you probably will find more important work
to do in France. Perhaps you will allow me to see you later. I do not
wish our acquaintance to end with our voyage, and it may be I can
persuade you to additional tasks. But in any case I hope you will talk
personally with many of my country people, men and women; there is no
one so well adapted to make our nations understand each other as a
gifted and charming American woman. I have many friends in Paris and
before you leave I trust I may be allowed the privilege of presenting at
least a few of them to you."

Feeling agreeably flattered, as any woman is flattered by the homage of
a clever man, Mrs. Burton was about to reply, when suddenly the tall
figure of Miss Patricia Lord appeared, rising before her like a pillar
of darkness.

She gave Monsieur Duval a curt nod; except for this she made no
explanation of her presence, continuing standing until the courteous
Frenchman felt constrained to offer her his chair.

However, not until he had walked away did she condescend to accept his
place and then she managed to sit perfectly upright, which is a
_difficult_ feat in a reclining chair.

"What is the matter, Aunt Patricia?" Mrs. Burton at once demanded,
feeling suddenly disturbed by Miss Patricia's severe expression. "Surely
nothing has happened to any one of the Camp Fire girls! I think I have
noticed nearly all of them strolling about on deck in the past half
hour."

Gloomily Miss Patricia frowned. "I am not here to discuss with you the
girls whom you are suppose to be chaperoning. I wish to speak of your
conduct, Polly Burton. I have been considering the subject for the past
twenty-four hours. Under the circumstances you might as well know
_first as last_ that I do not approve of your present intimacy with
this unknown Frenchman, this _Mr._ Duval." Miss Patricia scorned
the use of the French title. "I have no idea of attempting to pronounce
the foolish word the French employ for plain 'Mister.' However, you
realize perfectly well that from the day following our sailing you have
spent the greater part of your time in his society. Sorry as I am to
speak of this, my respect for your husband compels me to warn you----"

Here Aunt Patricia was interrupted by an explosion of laughter as fresh
and ingenuous as a girl's.

"My dear Aunt Patricia, really I beg your pardon, but I supposed you
were coming with me to France to help me chaperon my Camp Fire girls! I
never dreamed of your also feeling obliged to chaperon me. Remember, I
am pretty old and never was particularly fascinating, even as a girl. I
am afraid you will have a hard time to persuade my husband to jealousy.
Richard is the fascinating member of our family! As a matter of fact, I
have simply been boring Monsieur Duval for the past hour by discussing
our plan of campaign after we reach France. You don't consider the
subject a dangerous one?"

But neither Miss Patricia's face nor figure relaxed.

"I may not be original, Polly Burton; as a matter of fact, I have no
idea that you _said_ anything of the least importance to your
Frenchman. With you it is the old story; it is not _what_ you say,
but the _way_ you say it. I have been watching you and you may
pretend to have noticed the Camp Fire girls. However, if you tell the
truth, you have not been aware of anything or anybody except Mr. Duval
during the entire afternoon."

At this moment Miss Patricia appeared so annoyed and suspicious that it
was difficult for Mrs. Burton to decide whether she were the more amused
or irritated. However, it made no difference; either attitude would be
entirely lost upon Miss Patricia Lord.

"I am sorry you don't approve of me," Mrs. Burton returned with a
pretence of meekness, yet dropping her eyelids to conceal the expression
of her eyes.

"It is not that I do not approve of you, Polly, for I so seldom do
that," Aunt Patricia replied. "It is that I also feel it _my duty_
to recall you to _your_ duty. You speak of having lately observed
the Camp Fire girls wandering about near you. I feel it an effort to
believe this because only a short time ago, while undoubtedly you were
enjoying yourself with a foreigner concerning whom you know absolutely
nothing, I discovered Sally Ashton seated upon a coil of rope in an
obscure portion of this vessel, flirting outrageously with a young
American physician. Your niece, Peggy Webster, is walking up and down
the lower deck with a French officer; lower deck not the upper, mind
you, where she might have been seen by you, although I doubt it. The
other girls are----"

By this time Mrs. Burton had become seriously annoyed. She was obliged
to remember, of course, that Miss Patricia was a much older woman, yet,
nevertheless her eyes darkened and her color deepened a little
ominously.

"Please Aunt Patricia, you are making a mistake," she began warmly. "I
am not in the habit of spying upon my Camp Fire girls and I am sure you
will never find such a proceeding necessary."

Then, ashamed of the word she had employed, she continued more gently.

"So you have been making a tour of investigation because you considered
that I was neglecting my duty? All I can say, Aunt Patricia, is that you
will always discover Sally Ashton flirting if there is an agreeable man
in sight. I cannot make up my mind whether or not Sally is unconscious,
yet flirting with her is either an instinct, an art, or both. However,
every man who sees her immediately succumbs. But as for Peggy, Peggy is
an absolutely trustworthy person! Did I not tell you that Peggy
considers herself engaged to Ralph Marshall, who is in the aviation
service in France at the present time? None of Peggy's family will
acknowledge her engagement; we feel she is too young, yet Ralph's
parents are old friends of my sister and brother-in-law. After a time I
am sure you will understand the Camp Fire Girls better."

There was undeniably a tone of condescension in Mrs. Burton's voice, and
Aunt Patricia sniffed.

"I understand the girls as well as I consider necessary, Polly Burton,
and probably better than you do. I have always insisted that you have
little knowledge of human nature. As for thinking that a girl of Peggy's
age, with almost no experience of life, can have any idea of the
character of man she could or should marry----"

But here, realizing that Miss Patricia was mounted upon one of her
favorite hobbies and that nothing she could say or do would stop her,
Mrs. Burton, pretending to offer a polite attention, in reality allowed
her mind to wander.

Miss Patricia was usually antagonistic to all male persons safely past
their babyhood. Among her friends it was an open question whether Aunt
Patricia had been jilted at an early age, or whether she had never
condescended to an admirer.

"All men are idiots," is what she had been known to remark when hard
pressed.

Gradually Mrs. Burton allowed herself to slip back in her chair, resting
her head more comfortably against a brown velvet cushion.

It was strange that she had felt so little fear of the submarine menace
during the present voyage, when she had expected to be fearful the
entire way across. There were odd moments at night when one could not
sleep, thinking of the possible, even the probable danger that might
manifest itself at any moment. But aside from obeying the ship's rules
with regard to life belts and lights, the keeping of one's state-room
door unlatched, what was there to do save trust in a higher power?

Actually at this moment Mrs. Burton, while presumably listening, was
deciding that she was enjoying the very crossing to France she had so
much dreaded.

It would never do to shock Aunt Patricia, yet in a number of years she
had not met so agreeable a man as the French senator. Moreover, she was
entertained by the opportunity to form a new and stimulating intimacy
with a clever woman. Mrs. Bishop, known to her public as Georgianna
Bishop, having written several successful novels, was at present
traveling to Europe to write of the American soldiers life in the
trenches.

In spite of the fact that Miss Patricia seemed also to regard Mrs.
Bishop with disfavor, Mrs. Burton had invited her to spend a part of her
time in France with them, if it could possibly be arranged.

At this moment, if Miss Patricia would only stop talking, Mrs. Burton
believed that she would like to have Mrs. Bishop sit beside her during
the hour of afternoon tea.

Tea would be served in a few moments. Perhaps, if Miss Patricia would
decide to move, one of the Camp Fire girls would appear to act as
messenger and find Mrs. Bishop.

With this thought in mind, glancing carelessly up and down the deck,
Mrs. Burton discovered Vera Lagerloff and Bettina Graham coming
hurriedly toward her. What was more surprising, they were accompanied by
the new friend with whom she had been talking a few moments before.

Both girls looked so white and frightened that Mrs. Burton, making a
hasty movement in attempting to jump up from her chair, found herself
entangled in her steamer rug.

As Monsieur Duval endeavored to extricate her, he said quietly:

"I hope we have not alarmed you, but a most unfortunate accident has
just occurred on board ship, which I hope may not develop into a
tragedy. A young French girl, traveling with the American Red Cross
unit, is supposed to have attempted to take her own life. I am by no
means sure of this, she may be ill and have fainted from some cause. I
was sent for, I presume because of my nationality, then some one
suggested you."

But before Monsieur Duval had more than finished speaking, Mrs. Burton
was hurrying away, accompanied by Bettina and Vera.

"I really do not know how to explain what has happened," Bettina
continued. "You remember the French girl we have noticed because she
appeared so much younger than the other members of her Red Cross unit?
It seems that at the beginning of the war all her people were killed and
her home in France destroyed, so that she is now entirely alone. She was
living with friends in the United States, but suddenly decided that she
wished to return to France. Unexpectedly she must have lost her courage.
However, all Vera and I really know it what one of the other Red Cross
girls told us, asking us to tell no one else."

By the end of Bettina's speech, Mrs. Burton and the two girls had left
the deck, and Vera was leading the way down one of the narrow corridors
bordered on either side by small state-rooms.

At the door of one of the rooms a woman in the uniform of a Red Cross
nurse, after making a little motion to command silence, stepped quietly
out.

"There is nothing serious the matter, Mrs. Burton. It was hardly worth
while to disturb you. At present the young French girl who was crossing
with us to her former home is suffering from an attack of hysteria. As I
have not been able to quiet her and as you are here, perhaps you will
come and see what you can do."

Then she turned to Vera and Bettina.

"If there is any other story of what has occurred being told on board
ship, will you please do your best to contradict it? A ship is a
hopeless place for gossip. However, I am afraid Yvonne will scarcely be
fit for the work our Red Cross unit expects to undertake. I must find
some one to befriend the child after we reach Paris."

Bettina and Vera moved away, followed by the older woman.

At the same instant Mrs. Burton, entering the half open door of the
state-room, discovered a young girl of about seventeen or eighteen, with
large brown eyes and fair hair, lying huddled on the bed. She was not
crying, yet instantly put up her hands before her face as if to escape
observation.

Mrs. Burton sat down on the edge of the berth beside her.



CHAPTER V

THE CONFESSION


"Don't talk if you prefer not; perhaps you may be able to sleep after a
little if I sit here beside you," Mrs. Burton said gently.

"But I would prefer to be alone," the young French girl answered,
speaking English with a pretty foreign accent.

Instantly Mrs. Burton rose, intending to leave the tiny state-room;
however, having gone but a few steps she heard the he same voice plead:

"No, please don't leave me. I have been watching you and your friends
ever since our ship sailed, and as I must talk to some one, I wish it to
be you. If you only knew how sorry I am to have created a scene and to
have given so much trouble, when everybody has been so kind."

Then the girl began to cry again, but softly as if her desire for tears
was nearly spent.

Without replying Mrs. Burton took her former position.

Occasionally she had a moment of thinking that perhaps after her years
of experience as a Camp Fire guardian she was beginning to understand
something of the utterly unlike temperaments of varying types of girls.
Moreover, in spite of Aunt Patricia's judgment, her work had afforded
her unusual opportunities for the study of human nature.

Now, as she sat silently watching the young French girl in her effort to
regain her self-control, Mrs. Burton realized that hers would be no
ordinary story. Her friend had chosen to protect her by stating that she
was suffering from an attack of nerves, yet this instant the girl was
making an intense effort to gain a fresh hold upon herself both mentally
and physically.

"I am sorry," she repeated a moment later, "for I realize now I should
never have made the attempt to return home to France, although I thought
after nearly three years in the United States surely I had the courage!
Still, for the past few days I have been becoming more and more
convinced that I was going to fail, that I had not the strength for the
work ahead of me. What you were told just now, that I had merely
fainted, was not true. I had made up my mind that since I was not going
to be able to be of service to my country I would not add to her burden.
I could not do that; there had to be some way out, and I _had_ to
find the way."

Sitting up, Yvonne now leaned forward, resting her small head with its
heavy weight of fair hair upon her hands, clasped under her chin. She
was not looking at her companion. Her eyes held an expression which
betrays an inner vision.

"I did make an effort to do what you suspect. I wonder if I was wrong?
Certainly I was unsuccessful, since I do not even feel ill in
consequence. I suppose I ought to explain that I had written a note to
apologize for the mistake I had made in urging the Red Cross unit to
bring me with them to France and to say I regretted the distress and
trouble I must give. Then as I was carrying the letter to the room of
the friend whom you found here with me I think I must have fainted. She
was shocked and angry when she learned what I had attempted to do and I
have given my word I will not try again." Yvonne was silent for a moment
and then added with another catch in her voice: "Do you think it wicked
of me, because I am still a little sorry I failed in what I attempted?
But I don't think you will when I have told you my history."

Under ordinary circumstances Yvonne's broken and incoherent story would
have annoyed Mrs. Burton. She had scant sympathy and could make but
slight excuse for the neurotic persons who have no fortitude with which
to meet life's inevitable disasters but expend all their energy in
compassion for themselves. Especially did she resent this characteristic
in a young girl, having grown accustomed to the sanity and the outdoor
spirit engendered by the Camp Fire life. Moreover, one has at present no
time or pity save for real tragedies.

Yet Yvonne's attitude had not so affected her. Instead she realized that
the girl's suffering had been due to a vital cause and that the secret
of her action still remained hidden.

"Had you not better rest and talk to me later?" Mrs. Burton inquired. "I
think you are very tired, more so than you realize. After a time perhaps
you will see things more clearly. You are young, Yvonne, to believe
there is nothing more for you in life that is worth while."

"I know that would be true if these were not war times, Madame," the
girl answered. "Will you please listen to my story now? There may be no
opportunity at another time."

Slipping out of her berth, Yvonne proffered the one small chair the
state-room afforded to her visitor.

"Won't you sit here? You may be more comfortable," she suggested.

Then she found a seat for herself on the lounge which ran along one side
of the room.

By this time the little French girl was looking so completely exhausted
that Mrs. Burton would have liked again to urge her to wait. Yet after
all perhaps it might be a relief to have her confession over!

"I was living in a château with my mother and two brothers when the war
began," Yvonne said, going directly to the heart of her story. "After
the news came that war was declared and the Germans had invaded our
country, my older brother, Andre, left at once to join his regiment near
Paris. At that time we did not dream there could be danger near our
home, which seemed so far from the front. I do not know whether you have
noticed my name on our passenger list, Yvonne Fleury, and our home was
called the Château Yvonne. It is not in existence any longer. But I am
afraid I am not telling my story clearly. Sometimes I grow confused
trying to remember when things actually happened, as they all came
quickly and unexpectedly. After my brother and our men servants had gone
my mother and I tried to carry on the work at the château as well as we
could with only the women to help. We were not rich people; my father
had died some years before, soon after my younger brother was born. But
we had a good deal of land and a beautiful orchard. It seems strange to
think that even the orchard has been destroyed!"

As Yvonne talked she had a little habit of frowning, almost as if she
were doubting the truth of her own story. Nevertheless, however unique
and impossible her story might sound to her own ears, stories like hers
had grown only too familiar since the outbreak of the war in Europe.

A moment later and she seemed confused, as if scarcely knowing how to
take up the threads of her own history. Afterwards she tried to speak
more slowly, her voice sounding as if she were worn out both from her
recent suffering and from the effort to recount her own and her
country's tragedy.

"For weeks after the war started we had almost no news of any kind to
tell us what was taking place. My brother could not send us a letter, as
all our trains were devoted to carrying our troops. Now and then, when
an occasional motor car passed through our village, a soldier or an
officer would drop on the roadside an _edition speciale de la
Presse_. Perhaps one of the old peasants, picking up the paper, would
bring it to our château. Afterwards a number of them would gather around
while either my mother or I read aloud the news. In those first days the
news was nearly always sad news."

Then for a little while Yvonne made no effort to continue her story and
Mrs. Burton understood her silence.

"As soon as we could, my mother and I organized a little branch of La
Croix Rouge in our village and did what we could. We had many people to
help and so spent most of our time making bandages from old linen. We
were told then that the wounded might be sent back across the Marne to
be cared for by us and that our houses must be made ready to use as
hospitals. But the wounded were not cared for by us, not in those early
weeks of the war. You know what took place, Madame. Our soldiers were
defeated; it is now an old story. One night when the battle line was
drawing closer and closer to our home we were warned to flee. But my
mother could not, would not believe the word when it came and so we
waited too long. We had only a farm wagon and an old horse with which to
make our escape, our other horses and car having been requisitioned for
the army."

This time, when Yvonne hesitated, Mrs. Burton had a cowardly wish that
she would not go on with her story, so easy it was to anticipate what
might follow.

In this moment Yvonne lived over again the night in her life she could
never forget. Instead of the soft lapping of the waves against the sides
of the ship, the young French girl was hearing the booming of guns, the
shrieking of shells and the final patter of bullets like a falling rain.

"I would prefer not to tell you anything more in detail, Mrs. Burton,"
Yvonne afterwards added more calmly than one could have thought
possible.

"The night of our attempted escape we were overtaken by the enemy and my
little brother was killed; a few days later my mother died of the shock
and exposure. I don't know just how things happened. I remember I was
alone one night in a woods with a battle going on all around me. Next
morning I believe the Germans began a retreat. A French soldier found me
and took me with him to the home of some French people. I think I must
have been with them several weeks before I was myself again. Then I
learned that our château had been burned and my brother reported killed.

"One day an American friend, who had learned of our family tragedy, came
to see me and decided that it would be wiser to take me home to his own
family in the United States. I was so dazed and miserable he believed I
would be happier there and would sooner learn to forget. Of course after
a time I was happier, but of course one can never forget. So at last I
persuaded my friends I must be allowed to return to my own country, that
I must help my people who were still going through all that I had
endured. My friends were opposed to the idea, but because I insisted, at
last they gave their consent. Then after our boat sailed I felt I could
not go back to France. I was afraid. I remembered the long night in the
woods--the German soldiers----"

Mrs. Burton's arms were about the girl.

"Please don't talk any more of the past, Yvonne. Try to remember, my
dear, that the enemy is no longer in the neighborhood of your old home.
He has been driven further and further back until some day, please God,
the last German soldier shall have disappeared forever from the sacred
soil of France.

"Sleep now, I shall sit here beside you. Later I will talk to you about
joining my group of girls in France. You are not strong enough for the
Red Cross work at present, but a great deal of our work will be among
young French girls and you could be of the greatest aid to us if you
care to help. Yet there will be time enough later to speak of our Camp
Fire plans."

However, when Yvonne had crawled back into her berth, more exhausted
than she had realized, Mrs. Burton continued sitting beside her. Then,
hoping the sound of her voice might be soothing and in order to help
Yvonne to sleep and also because of the power of suggestion, she
repeated a Camp Fire verse:

    "As fagots are brought from the forest,
      Firmly held by the sinews which bind them,
    I will cleave to my Camp Fire sisters
      Wherever, whenever I find them.

    "I will strive to grow strong like the pine tree,
      To be pure in my deepest desire;
    To be true to the truth that is in me
      And follow the Law of the Fire."



CHAPTER VI

A FRENCH FARM HOUSE ON THE FIELD OF HONOR


"Is the French country more tragic or less so than you anticipated,
Vera?" Peggy Webster inquired.

She and Vera Lagerloff were walking along what must once have served as
a road, each girl carrying a large, nearly empty basket on her arm.

"Do you mean the actual country?" Vera questioned. "Then, yes,
conditions are worse than I expected to find them, certainly in a
neighborhood like this, where the work of restoration is only just
beginning." She frowned, shaking her head sadly. "I could never have
imagined God's earth could be transformed to look like a place of
torment, and yet this countryside suggests one of the hells in Dante's
'Inferno.' But if you mean are the French people more tragic than I
thought to find them, then a thousand times, no! Was there ever anything
so inspiring or so amazing as their happiness and courage in returning
to their old homes? The fact that their homes are no longer in existence
seems not to discourage them, now their beloved land has been restored.
When we have been working here a longer time I hope I shall recover from
my desire to weep each time I see an old man or woman happily engaged in
rebuilding one of their ruined huts. It is a wonderful experience,
Peggy, this opportunity to appreciate the spiritual bravery of the
French people. I hope I may learn a lesson from them. I have needed just
such a lesson since Billy's death."

For a moment Peggy Webster made no reply.

The entire countryside through which they were passing lay between the
line of the German advance into France at the beginning of the war and
the famous Hindenburg line to which the Boches were forced back. The
Germans had so devastated the French villages and country, it was as if
the plague of the world had swept across them. The valley had also
suffered the bombardment of the enemy and the returning fire from their
own guns.

Yet on this winter day the sun was shining brilliantly on the uptorn
earth, which once had been so fair, while in a bit of broken shell not
far from the road an indomitable sparrow had builded her nest.

There were no shrubs and the trees were gaunt scarred trunks, without
branches or leaves, reminding one of an ancient gloomy picture in the
old-time family Bible, known as "Dry Bones in the Valley."

"Well, even the French country does not make me sorrowful, not just at
present," Peggy replied. "If only the enemy can be forced further back
next spring when the expected drive takes place, what a wonderful
opportunity for us to be allowed to continue to help with the
restoration of the French country. I do not believe many years will be
required before the land will be lovely and fruitful again. But then you
know I am a tiresome practical person. You don't suppose by any chance
this portion of France will ever be destroyed by the enemy a second
time? Yes, I know even such a suggestion sounds like disloyalty and I do
not of course believe such a tragedy could occur. Just think, Vera, what
only a handful of American women have accomplished here in the Aisne
valley! Ten American women have had charge of the rehabilitation of
twenty-seven villages and with the aid of the soldiers during their
leaves of absence from the trenches have placed five thousand acres of
land under cultivation. I hope we make a success of our work, Vera, yet
whatever the future holds, we must stick to our posts."

The two Camp Fire girls were walking ankle deep in the winter mud. Where
the roads had been cut into furrows by the passing of heavy artillery,
miniature streams of melted snow ran winding in and out like the
branches of a river. Now and then a gulley across the road would be so
deep and wide that one had to make a flying leap to cross safely.

About a quarter of a mile away the Aisne watered the countryside and the
towns. Not far off was the classic old town of Rheims with her ancient
Cathedral already partly destroyed. Encircling the landscape was the
crown of low hills where not for days but years the tides of battle have
surged up and down from victory to defeat, from defeat to victory, until
during the winter of 1917 and 1918 there was a lull in the world
conflict.

Finally the two girls came in sight of a field. Already a devoted effort
was being made to prepare the ground for an early spring plowing. Stray
bits of shell, the half of a battered helmet, the butt of a broken gun
had been laid in a neat pile, the larger stones had been placed beside
them.

Standing in front of a tiny hut which evidently had been partly burned
down, were an old man and woman busily at work trying to rebuild their
house. A small quantity of new lumber lay on the ground beside them.

"Dear me, I wish I were a carpenter, a mason, a doctor, I don't know
what else, and a million times a millionaire, then one might really be
useful!" Peggy exclaimed, as she and Vera stopped to gaze
sympathetically at the old couple.

The next instant their attention was also attracted by a child who was
sitting near the pile of broken stones and shells nursing something in
her arms. At first she did not observe the two American girls, although
they were facing her and not many yards away.

Her shock of dark hair looked as if it had been cut from her head in the
darkness, she had large unhappy black eyes and a thin, haggard face.

Finally discovering the two older girls, with an unexpected cry of
terror, she made a flying leap toward the house, still clasping her
broken doll, and hid herself inside.

At the child's cry the man and woman also turned as if they too were
frightened and yet unable to flee. For an instant Vera and Peggy saw in
their faces a suggestion of what they all too recently had endured. The
next moment the old peasants were bowing and smiling with unfailing
politeness.

"Do you think we might speak to them, Vera?" Peggy inquired. "Of course
we do not wish to be obtrusive, but I have a few groceries which I did
not give away in the village still remaining in my basket. It is
possible they might find them useful. How glad I am Yvonne Fleury is
living with us! Already she has taught me more than I could ever learn
in any other way about the French people, their gentleness, their
infinite industry and patience and above all their beautiful manners. I
hope no one of them will ever feel any American tries to help in a
spirit of patronage; as for myself, each day I pray for a fresh gift of
tact."

Vera started forward.

"Come with me, Peggy, I think I can persuade the two old people to
realize we only wish to be helpful. You see, my own people were Russian
peasants and there ought to be a bond of sympathy between us. It is true
the French earned their liberty over a century ago, while our liberty
yet hangs in the balance, now that German autocracy is trying to replace
the Russian. I believe I am a better carpenter than these old people; if
they are friendly I intend to ask them to allow me to return to assist
them with their work tomorrow."

Afterwards for ten or fifteen minutes the two girls remained talking
happily with their new acquaintances.

Like many other Americans, both Vera and Peggy had firm faith in their
knowledge of the French language until their arrival in France.
Assuredly they could understand each other perfectly as well as other
Americans and English friends who spoke French slowly and deliberately.
But unfortunately the French folk apparently speak with greater rapidity
than any other nation on the face of the earth and with a wealth of
idioms and unexpected intonations, leaving the foreigner who has never
lived in France floundering hopelessly in pursuit of their meaning.

In contrast with their other new French acquaintances the two American
girls now found the old peasant and his wife a real satisfaction. Their
vocabularies were not large and they spoke in a halting, simple fashion
not difficult to translate.

Their story was not unlike the story of thousands of other families in
the stricken regions of France. During the period of victory the Germans
had been quartered in the nearby village, but as the village was not
large and the soldiers were numerous, a few of them had been sent to
live with the small peasant farmers not far from the town. They were
ordered not only to live upon them, but also to secure whatever
livestock they owned, or whatever food of value.

Père and Mère Michét had possessed a daughter and a son-in-law. The son
they thought still alive and fighting for France. Their daughter,
Marguerite Michét, had disappeared.

"La petite Marguerite, she has never been herself since her mother was
taken," Mère Michét explained. "I tell her always _la bonne mère_
will return, but she is afraid of strangers; you will pardon her?"

When at last the girls had been permitted to leave their small offerings
and had started toward their new home, Vera had agreed to return next
day to render what assistance she could toward the restoration of the
little house. Peggy was to come back in order to persuade the little
French girl to make friends and perhaps pay them a visit at the farm.

After walking on for a short added distance, both girls finally reached
their own French farm house.

It was now late afternoon and the old battered building appeared homely
and forbidding. Once upon a time, with the French love of color, the
farm house had been painted a bright pink, but now the color had been
washed off, as if tears had rolled down the face of some poor old
painted lady, smearing her faded cheeks. A fire had evidently been
started when the Germans began their retreat, which for some freakish
reason had died down after destroying only the rear portion of the
building.

After the arrival of the Camp Fire unit in France the entire party had
gone straight to Paris as they planned, where their credentials had been
presented to the proper authorities, as well as a brief outline of the
work which they hoped to be allowed to undertake. Their idea was at once
so simple and so practical that no objection was raised.

The Camp Fire unit looked forward to establishing a community farm in
one of the ruined districts of France. So after a short stay in Paris,
following the advice of the American Committee, Mrs. Burton and Aunt
Patricia set out to find a home for their unit. Later the Camp Fire
girls joined them at the old farm house on the Aisne.

Only a little time had passed, nevertheless the farm already suggested
home.

As Peggy and Vera entered the open space where a gate had once stood,
they discovered the entire Camp Fire community outside in the yard.

As usual, Aunt Patricia was giving orders to everybody in sight, while
Mrs. Burton in her effort to be of assistance as she urged the others
not to attempt too much, was fluttering about, as often as not in the
way.

As a matter of fact, the Camp Fire girls were paying but little
attention either to her or to Aunt Patricia. Mary Gilchrist, a few
moments before, having driven her motor into the farm yard, the girls
were at present helping her to unload.

After crossing to France with the Sunrise Camp Fire Unit, Mary had
become so much one of them that she had concluded to remain with them
for a time, certainly until she could find more useful work. Therefore
her motor and her services were temporarily at their disposal.

It is amazing what women and girls are accomplishing these days without
masculine aid, and whether or not this is a fortunate state of affairs,
the war has left no choice.

Since they were both strong and energetic, Vera and Peggy were glad to
have reached home at so critical a moment. However, the other girls were
getting on quite comfortably without their aid. Bettina and Alice
Ashton, having placed a plank at the end of the car, managed so that the
large boxes and packing cases could slide onto the ground without being
lifted. Nearly every box of any size bore the name of "Miss Patricia
Lord."

Finally, "Gill," for the Camp Fire girls were by this time calling Mary
Gilchrist by her diminutive title, as she seemed to prefer it, standing
up on the seat of her motor, began signaling for attention.

"Be quiet for a moment everybody, please, and listen as diligently as
you can. I am not a magician, nor yet a ventriloquist, yet if you will
be perfectly silent you will think I am one or both."

The next instant and Mary's audience became aware of an extraordinary
combination of familiar noises proceeding from the depths of her motor.
One felt like a guest at a "mad tea-party," although of a different
nature from Alice's. The noises were a mingled collection of squawks and
cackles and crowing, and pitched in a considerably lower key, a rich but
unmistakable grunt.

Alone Aunt Patricia appeared gratified, almost exultant.

Stepping over toward the car with her long, militant stride, she gave
her commands briefly.

"Here, Vera, you have more brains than the other girls, help me to move
these crates. Polly Burton considered it possible to run a community
farm without a farm animal within twenty miles. But then she was not
brought up on a small place in Ireland where we kept the pig in the
parlor!" And here Miss Patricia's rich Irish brogue betrayed her
cheerfulness for she only gave sway to her Irish pronunciation in
moments of excitement.

The next moment, not only with Vera's but also with Peggy's and Alice
Ashton's aid, the four women dragged forward a large wooden box with
open slats containing a noble collection of fowls, then another of geese
and ducks. Finally with extreme caution they engineered the landing of a
crate which had been the temporary home of a comfortable American hog
and her eugenic family.

"Good gracious, Aunt Patricia, how did you ever manage to acquire such
valuable possessions?" Mrs. Burton demanded.

"By ordering them shipped from my own farm in Massachusetts a month or
more before we sailed for France and then by forwarding my address to
the proper persons after we landed here," Miss Patricia answered calmly.
Ignoring any further assistance, she began opening a box which was
filled with grain.

"I presume other things have arrived for me as well, Mary Gilchrist?"
Miss Patricia questioned.

Mary nodded and laughed. She looked very fetching in her motor driver's
costume of khaki with the short skirt and trousers and the Norfolk
jacket belted in military fashion. On her hair, which had ruddy red
brown lights in it, she wore a small military hat deeply dented in the
center.

"Goodness gracious, Aunt Patricia, dozens of things!" she replied. "You
must have chartered an entire steamer to bring over your gifts to the
French nation. Best of all, there are two beautiful cows waiting for you
in Soissons at this moment. I could not bring them in the motor, nor did
I dare invite them to amble along behind my car. But I have arranged
with an old man in the town to escort the cows out to our place
tomorrow, or as soon as possible."

No one did anything but stare at Miss Patricia for the next few seconds.

Whether or not this condition of affairs made her unusually
self-conscious, or whatever the reason, finally she rested from her
labor of opening boxes to gaze first at Mrs. Burton and then slowly from
one girl's face to the other's.

"I don't mean to add to your burdens by asking any one of you to assist
me in running my farm," she began in a tone which might have been
considered apologetic had it emanated from any one than Aunt Patricia.
"I intend to find an old man to help and to do the rest myself."

Then a peculiar expression crossed the rugged old face.

"You see, I was raised on a tiny farm in Ireland and used sometimes to
know what it meant to be hungry until my brother came over to the United
States and made a fortune in ways I am more or less ashamed to remember.
I have been telling Polly Burton that I crossed over to France because I
wished to look after her and also to help her care for you girls. But
that was not the whole truth. I think I came largely because I could not
sleep in my bed of nights knowing how many old people and babies there
were in this devil-ridden portion of France who were hungry. Oh, there
are many people as well as the governments interested in keeping the
soldiers well fed! Maybe it's a crime these days for the old and for
babies to require food! Yet they do need it. So if you don't mind,
Polly, I want the people in our neighborhood to feel that they can come
to our farm for milk and eggs, or whatever we have to give them. I left
word with the manager of my farm near Boston to ship livestock to me in
France whenever the chance offers. I am hoping after a little, when
these old people get back on their farms that we may be able to give
each family sufficient stock to keep them going until their young men
and women return home. But remember, I don't wish to interfere with what
you children are doing, nursing the sick and opening schools and
starting play centers. Heaven only knows what you are not undertaking!
As I said before, I'll just look after my farm."

Here Miss Patricia attempted to return to her usual belligerent manner,
but found it difficult because Mrs. Burton had placed her arm about her.
Try as Aunt Patricia might to conceal her adoration of Mrs. Burton, it
was nearly always an impossible feat.

Besides Mrs. Burton was exclaiming with a little catch in her voice:

"You dear, splendid, old Irish gentlewoman! Is there anybody in the
world in the least like you? Of course you were right when you announced
that I never would think of the really practical things we should
require for our work over here. But, although I spent as much money as I
could possibly afford, I have realized every day since our arrival, that
if I had expended every cent I ever hope to possess, it would have
amounted to nothing. Yet I never once thought of the shipping of stock
for the little farms in our neighborhood, Aunt Patricia. I am sure you
will make life more worth while for every man and woman in this part of
the French country before many months."

Instead of appearing gratified by these compliments, Miss Patricia was
heard to murmur something or other about Polly Burton's fashion of
exaggeration. Then, perhaps partly to conceal embarrassment, she began
tearing the slats from the side of one of her crates. Afterwards,
driving her travel-worn flock of chickens toward the chicken house,
which she herself had made ready, and shooing them with her black skirt,
Miss Patricia temporarily disappeared.

Through tears Mrs. Burton laughed at the picture.

Vera followed Miss Patricia, whom she had learned to like and admire
since the afternoon of their extraordinary introduction.

"I hope to be allowed to help with the farm work, Aunt Patricia," she
urged. "You know I too was brought up on Mr. Webster's farm in New
Hampshire, besides, all my people in Russia were peasant farmers."

Miss Patricia did not cease for an instant to continue to care for her
brood. However, she did answer with unusual condescension:

"You are a sensible girl, Vera. I observed the fact on the afternoon I
met you in New York City when you made no effort to argue with me in
connection with the escape of that ridiculous burglar."



CHAPTER VII

BECOMING ADJUSTED


It was not a simple matter for the Sunrise Camp Fire unit to become
accustomed to their new life in the devastated French country. The
conditions were primitive and difficult. More than once in the first few
weeks Mrs. Burton wondered if in bringing the Camp Fire girls with her
to work in France hers had not been the courage of folly?

Tet they started out with excellent military discipline. Life at the
farm house was modeled upon the precepts of the "Waacs," the Womans'
Army Auxiliary Corps of the British army in France. These girls, many
thousands in number, are performing every possible service behind the
British armies in the field.

Unexpectedly it was Sally Ashton who first demanded that a proper
routine of life and work be laid down and obeyed. Also the household
work must be equitably divided, each girl choosing her portion according
to her tastes and talents.

Each day's calendar, written by Mrs. Burton upon her typewriter, was
hung in a conspicuous place in the front hall at the French farm.

The domestic schedule read:

    "Breakfast 8 o'clock, bedrooms cleaned immediately after.
    Dinner 1 P. M.
    Supper 6.30 P. M.
    No work after 8.30 P. M.
    Bedtime 10 o'clock."

In the proper observance of the hours for meals Sally Ashton was
particularly interested, as she had volunteered to undertake the
direction of the housekeeping, which consisted of deciding upon the menu
of the simple meals and assisting in their preparation. It was not
possible that Sally alone should do all the cooking for so large a
family without wearing herself out and leaving no time for other things.

However, soon after their arrival Mrs. Burton had secured the services
of an old French woman whom she had discovered wandering about the
country homeless, her little hut having been entirely destroyed by the
Germans. Not knowing what else to do, Mrs. Burton originally invited her
to live with them at the farm temporarily. But she had proved such a
help in getting settled and the girls had become so fond of her that no
one of them willingly would have allowed Mère Antoinette to depart.

After the wonderful fashion of French cooks, Mère Antoinette could make
nourishing and savory dishes out of almost nothing, so she and Sally had
principal charge of the kitchen. Notwithstanding, two of the Camp Fire
Girls were to prepare supper each evening, so that they should not
forget their accomplishments and in order to relieve the others.

Marie, Mrs. Burton's maid, had accompanied her to France, although none
too willingly. It was not that she did not adore her afflicted country,
but because she feared the dangers of the crossing and the hardships she
might be forced to endure.

Marie, alas! was a patriot of a kind each country produces, a patriot of
the lips, not of the heart or hand.

It must be confessed that she had wandered far from her chosen work as
maid to a celebrated American actress. Would any one have dreamed in
those early days when Marie had first entered her service that Mrs.
Burton would have followed so eccentric a career as she had wilfully
chosen in the past few years? First to wander about the United States,
living outdoors in Camp Fire fashion with a group of young girls, then
with the same group of girls and two additional ones to undertake the
present reclamation work in France!

Having accomplished the journey across the sea in safety, Marie would
cheerfully, yes, enthusiastically have remained in Paris, even if it
were a Paris unlike the gay city she remembered. She would have enjoyed
accompanying her "Madame" to the homes of distinguished persons, caring
in the meantime for her wardrobe and urging her to return to her
rightful place upon the stage. But since Mrs. Burton for the present
would do none of these things and since Marie had refused positively to
be separated, once more she had to make the best of a bad bargain.

So voluntarily Marie offered to take charge of the greater part of the
housework and to devote the rest of her time to sewing for the French
children in their vicinity, whose clothes were nothing but an odd
assortment of rags.

Marie had her consolations. It was good to be out of a country which
produced men of the type of Mr. Jefferson Simpson, who having
_once_ proposed marriage and been declined, had not the courtesy to
renew his suit. Also it was good to speak one's own tongue again, and
although at present there were but few men to be seen in the
neighborhood under sixty, there were military hospitals in the nearby
villages. Moreover, there was always the prospect of the return of some
gallant French _poilu_ for his holiday from the trenches. So Marie
was unable to feel entirely wretched even while undergoing the hardships
of an existence within a half-demolished farm house on the Aisne.

As a matter of fact, the old farm house was not in so unfortunate a
condition as the larger number of French homes, which had been wrecked
by the enemy before he began his "strategic retreat."

Only a portion of the left wing of the house had been demolished.

This had comprised a large kitchen, a pantry and the dining room.
However, a sufficiently large amount of space remained for the uses of
the Camp Fire unit.

In the center the house was divided by a long hall. On one side were two
comfortably large rooms. The back one was chosen for the dining room and
the front for the living room. The pantry was restored so that it could
serve for the kitchen; as the old stove had been destroyed, a new one
was ordered from Paris. This developed into a piece of good fortune, as
it required far less fuel than the old, and fuel was one of the greatest
material problems in France, coal selling at this time for $120 a ton.

A single long room occupied the other side of the hall; this room had a
high old-fashioned ceiling and was paneled in old French oak as
beautiful as if it had adorned a French palace.

Mère Antoinette explained that the farm house had been the property of
Madame de Mauprais, a wealthy French woman who had lived in the château
not far away. It had been occupied by her son, who had chosen to
experiment in scientific farming for the benefit of the small peasant
farmers in the neighborhood.

The war had banished Monsieur de Mauprais and whatever family he may
have possessed, so that Mrs. Burton had been able to rent his farm for a
small sum through an agent who lived in the nearest village.

It is possible that the farm house had been spared in a measure by the
German soldiers because of their greater pleasure in the destruction of
the old château which was only about half a mile away. At the present
time the château appeared only as a mass of fallen stone.

This single spacious room the Camp Fire girls chose for their school
room for the French children in the neighborhood.

The better furniture of the farmhouse had been hacked into bits of wood
by the German soldiers and was fit only for burning. The simple things
had not been so destroyed. Fortunately their camping life out of doors
had accustomed this particular group of American girls to exercising
ingenuity, so that the problem of furnishing and making attractive their
school room with so little to go upon rather added to their interest.

Two long planks raised upon clothes-horses discovered in the barn formed
a serviceable table. Stools and odd chairs were brought down from the
attic. On the floor were two Indian rugs Mrs. Burton had induced the
Indian woman near the Painted Desert in Arizona to weave for her with
the special Camp Fire design, the wood-gatherer's, the fire-maker's and
the torch-bearer's insignia, inserted in the chosen shades of brown,
flame color, yellow and white.

On the walls hung a few Camp Fire panels and the coverings of sofa
cushions and some outdoor photographs of the Sunrise Camp during former
camping experiences which the girls had brought over with them.

Besides these larger articles, they had managed to store away in their
trunks the materials necessary for the regulation Camp Fire work, honor
beads and the jewelry indicating the various orders in the Camp Fire. If
they were to interest French girls in the movement, they must have the
required paraphernalia.

But the school at the farm house was not primarily a place where the
French girls of the neighborhood were only to be interested in Camp Fire
ideas. It was also a practical school.

During the past year Marta Clark had been studying kindergarten.

She, with Yvonne to help her, had charge of the tiny French children
whom they were able to persuade to come daily to the big farm house.
They were such starved, pathetic children, some of them almost babies!
Yet they had been through so much suffering, their eyes had looked upon
such hideous sights, that many of them were either nervous wrecks or
else stupefied.

Surely there could be no better service to France than this effort to
bring back to her children a measure of their natural happiness!

Yvonne and Marta devised wonderful games in one end of the big school
room. At midday Vera and Peggy always appeared with a special luncheon
for their small guests and for the older ones as well. Bettina Graham
and Alice Ashton took charge of the older pupils, and in teaching it
appeared that Alice at last had found her metier.

Vera and Peggy also worked at the farming out of doors.

More important than any other of Miss Patricia Lord's gifts to the
community farm and the surrounding country was a motor tractor, which
one day had rolled unconcernedly into the farm house yard, an ugly
giant, proving of as much future value to the poor farmers in the
neighborhood as any good giant of the ancient fairy tales.

Fortunately Mary Gilchrist was able to explain its use to the French
peasants who had never seen the like before, and to show them how
speedily their devastated land might again be turned into plowed fields.

Vera and Peggy made frequent trips to the nearby villages, gaining the
friendship of the country people, inviting the younger ones to their
farm and helping in whatever ways they could. Now and then Sally Ashton
went with them and sometimes Sally played with the smallest of the
children, but nearly always her interests were domestic.

In contrast, Mary Gilchrist never remained in the house an hour if it
were possible to be away. Besides engineering the tractor and being a
general express delivery for the entire neighborhood, she had formed the
habit of motoring into Soissons, which was one of the large towns
nearby, and offering her services and the use of her car to the
hospitals. Occasionally she spent days at a time driving invalided
soldiers either from one hospital to another, or else in taking them out
on drives for the fresh air and entertainment.

It would therefore appear as if each member of the Sunrise Camp Fire
unit had arranged her life with the idea of being useful in the highest
degree, except the Camp Fire guardian.

As a matter of fact, Mrs. Burton often used to say that she found no
especial reason for her presence at the farm now that Aunt Patricia had
become the really important and authoritative guardian. Nevertheless,
with that rare quality of personality which as a girl Polly O'Neill had
infused into every interest of her life, there was nothing which took
place at the farm or in the neighboring country which she did not in a
measure inspire.

Once their household had been adjusted, it was true Mrs. Burton did not
do a great deal of the actual work. Instead, and oftentimes alone, she
wandered from one end of the French countryside to the other,
occasionally returning so late to the farm that Aunt Patricia would be
found waiting for her at the front door in a state of fear and
indignation.

Nevertheless the country people began to watch and wait for her coming.

After a time she brought newspapers with her. Then they began to gather
together in one of the larger huts to listen while she read aloud the
war news, with not always a perfectly correct French accent, and yet one
they could understand.

When they were weary of the reading she used to talk, speaking always of
the day when France would be free and the invader driven beyond her
boundaries, never to return. And among her audience were a few of the
old peasants who could recall the Franco-Prussian war.

How amazingly these talks cheered the old men and women! Actually the
daily round of toil once more became worth while, so near seemed the
return of Victor and Hugo and Etienne. They would be happy to find the
little homes restored and the fields green that had been drenched in
blood.

Occasionally Mrs. Burton made her audience laugh until the tears ran
down their wrinkled faces with funny stories of the trenches, of their
own _poilus_, and the British Tommies and the new American Sammees.

Never had the great actress used her talent to a better purpose.

At least it gained for her from these simple and almost heart broken
peasants the eternal tribute of laughter and tears.

Her greatest triumph was when Grand'mère, one of the oldest women in the
little village of M--, was at last persuaded to pour forth her story.

In more than three years she had not spoken except to answer "Yes" or
"No," or now and then to make known her simple needs, not since the
Germans carried off her granddaughter, Elsie. Elsie was the acknowledged
beauty and belle of the countryside and engaged to marry Captain
François Dupis, who was fighting with his regiment at Verdun.

Mrs. Burton had gotten into the habit of stopping at Grand'mère's tiny
hut, which her neighbors had restored. At first she brought the old
woman little gifts of food in which she seemed not to take the least
interest. Now and then she talked to her, although the old woman seldom
replied except to nod her head with grave courtesy.

Then one day without any warning as Mrs. Burton was standing near,
Grand'mère drew her new friend down into her lap and poured out her
heart-broken story. It left the younger woman ill and shaken.

Afterwards returning late to the farm alone and entirely unafraid, so
completely had the country people become her friend, Mrs. Burton
wondered what had given the French nation its present faith and courage.
Nothing approaching it has the world ever before witnessed! Then she
recalled that having paid so dearly for their freedom in those mad days
of the revolution, the French people would never again relinquish the
supreme gift of human liberty.



CHAPTER VIII

THE OLD CHÂTEAU


One afternoon the French farm house was deserted except for Sally
Ashton, Mère 'Toinette and Miss Patricia.

As a matter of fact, Miss Patricia was not in the house, but in the farm
yard which was separated from the house by a newly planted kitchen
garden. It was here that she spent the greater part of her time working
far more diligently than if she had been engaged for a few dollars a
week. Yet in Massachusetts Miss Patricia Lord's three-hundred-acre farm
was one of the prides of the state. In ordinary times she was accustomed
to employing from twenty-five to fifty men, although always Miss
Patricia acted as her own overseer.

As she had announced, for the present she had managed to secure the
services of an old French peasant, nearer seventy years of age than
sixty, to act as her assistant. But Jean was possessed of a
determination of character only equaled by Miss Patricia's. Not a word
of any language did he know except French, while Miss Patricia's French
was one of the mysteries past finding out. Also Jean was nearly stone
deaf. This misfortune really served as an advantage in his relation with
Miss Patricia, as he never did anything at the time or in the way she
ordered him to do it, there was consolation in the thought that he had
not understood the order. Jean had his own ideas with regard to farming
matters and an experience which had lasted through more than half a
century.

Therefore with the assistance of Peggy and Vera the outdoor work on the
Sunrise Camp Fire farm was progressing with surprising success. The
supply of livestock had been increased by a second shipment from the
United States. This shipment Miss Patricia had divided with her French
neighbors.

Beside old Jean there was at this time another rebel in Miss Patricia's
camp, Sally Ashton. The other girls were frequently annoyed by the old
lady, nevertheless, appreciating her gallant qualities and for the sake
of their Camp Fire guardian, they usually agreed to her demands when it
was impossible to evade them. But Sally was not fond of doing
_anything_ she was told to do. Not that Sally was disagreeable, and
it was not in her nature to argue, she simply ignored either suggestions
or commands, always pursuing her own sweet way.

This afternoon, for example, several of the girls had invited her to
walk with them to one of the French villages. Once a week they
distributed loaves of bread and a few grocery supplies to the neediest
of the peasants, those who had been unable to rebuild their huts or find
regular occupation. Sally had declined with entire frankness. She had
done her duty by making the bread for the others to give away and more
successfully than any one of the girls could have made it. She disliked
long, fatiguing walks.

Mrs. Burton had gone off alone on one of her dramatic pilgrimages.

Mary Gilchrist had again motored into Soissons and Sally would have
enjoyed accompanying her. To have driven about through the French
country with convalescent soldiers would have been extremely
entertaining. But Mary had not asked her, preferring to take Yvonne,
whom the American girls all appeared to adore.

So in consequence Sally was vexed and a little jealous.

Observing the others depart and that apparently Sally had nothing of
importance to occupy her, Miss Patricia had ordered her to come out into
the yard and help with the young chickens. They seemed to be afflicted
with some uncomfortable moulting disease.

To this invitation Sally had made no reply. She especially disliked
foolish, feathery outdoor things and had no intention of sacrificing her
well-earned leisure. The school had a semi-weekly half holiday and for
once the house was quiet.

Yet after a little more than an hour of leisure, Sally found herself
bored. Many times of late she had missed her old friendship with Gerry
Williams, since this was her first Camp Fire experience without Gerry,
who had married Felipe Morris the summer before in California.

At least Gerry occasionally had been frivolous! Certainly these were war
times and yet could one be serious forever and ever, without an
intermission? The other Camp Fire girls now and then got upon Sally's
nerves.

As she was seldom warm enough these days, covered with her steamer
blanket Sally had been curled up on the bed in her room which she shared
with her sister. First she had taken a short nap and then attempted to
read a French novel which she had discovered in the attic of the farm.
The French puzzled her and it was tiresome to have to consult a
dictionary. So Sally lay still for a few moments listening to Mère
'Toinette singing the Marseillaise in a cracked old voice as she went
about her work downstairs.

Finally, stretching in a characteristically indolent fashion, Sally rose
and walked over to a window. She could only see through one small
opening. All the glass in the countryside had been smashed by the
terrific bombardments, and as there was no glass to be had for restoring
the windows, glazed paper had been pasted over the frames. The one small
aperture had been left for observation of climate and scenery.

Even without her birdseye view, Sally was conscious that the sun was
shining brilliantly. A long streak had shone through the glazed paper
and lay across her bed.

She decided that she might enjoy a short walk. She really had forgotten
Mrs. Burton's suggestion that no one of the girls leave the farm alone
and had no thought of deliberately breaking an unwritten law.

Mère 'Toinette and Sally had become devoted friends and also there was
an unspoken bond of sympathy between her and Jean, expressed only by the
way in which the old man looked at her and in certain dry chucklings in
his throat and shakings of his head.

As Sally was about to leave the front door suddenly Mère 'Toinette
appeared, to present her with a little package of freshly baked fruit
muffins. Sally's appetite in war times, when everybody was compelled to
live upon such short rations, was a standing household joke and one
which she deeply resented. Mère 'Toinette resented the point of view
equally, preferring Sally to any one of the other girls, and also it was
her idea that the good things of this world are created only for the
young. There was no measure to her own self-sacrifice.

A few yards beyond the house Sally discovered old Jean, who was
doubtless coming to find her, as he bore in his hand a French
fleur-de-lis, the national wild flower, which he had found growing in a
field as hardy and unconquerable as the French spirit.

Sally accepted his offering with the smile of gratitude which seemed
always a sufficient reward for her many masculine admirers.

With Mère 'Toinette's gift in her Camp Fire knapsack and with Jean's
flower thrust into her belt, Sally then made a fresh start. She had not
thought of going far, as the roads and fields were in too disagreeable a
condition.

Pausing about an eighth of a mile from the farm house, she considered
whether after all it were worth while to remain out of doors. Even if
the afternoon were enchanting, walking through the heavy upturned soil
was unpleasant.

Then by accident Sally chanced to observe the ruins of the old French
château shining under the rays of the winter sun.

It was not far away and suddenly she made up her mind to go upon an
exploring tour. Half a dozen times in the past few weeks the Camp Fire
girls had discussed paying a visit to the château to see what
interesting discoveries they might unearth among the ruins. But no one
of them had so far had the opportunity.

Ordinarily Sally Ashton was the least experimental of the entire group
of girls. Instinctively, as a type of the feminine, home-staying woman,
she disliked the many adventurous members of her own sisterhood. With
not a great deal of imagination, Sally's views of romance were practical
and matter of fact. Young men fell in love with one and she had no idea
of how many lovers one might have and no thought of limiting the number
so far as she was personally concerned. Then among the number one
selected the man who would make the most comfortable and agreeable
husband, married him, had children and was happy ever afterwards. So you
see, a romance which might bring sorrow as well as happiness had no
place in Sally Ashton's practical scheme of life.

Therefore the fates must have driven her to the old French château on
this winter afternoon.

The walk itself occupied about half an hour. Around the château in times
past there had been a moat. For their own convenience the German troops
quartered at the old place had left the bridge over the moat
undisturbed, else Sally would never have hazarded a dangerous crossing.

The house had been built of gray stone and it was difficult to imagine
how the enemy had managed so completely to reduce it to ruins. An
explosion of dynamite must have been employed, for the château appeared
to have fallen as if it had been destroyed by an earthquake. Certain
portions of the outer walls remained standing, but the towers in the
center had caved in upon the interior of the house.

[Illustration: The Figure Was that of a Young Soldier.]

As Sally drew near she felt a little desolate and yet she was not
frightened, although a proverbial coward.

The place appeared too abandoned to fear that any living thing could be
in its vicinity. It was only that one felt the pity of the destruction
of this ancient and beautiful home.

The waste and confusion of war troubled Sally as it does all women. So
hard it is to see why destruction is necessary to the growth and
development of human history!

Wondering what had become of the French family who formerly had lived in
the château before the outbreak of the war, Sally walked up closer to
the ruins. From a space between two walls, forming an insecure arch, a
bird darted out into the daylight. Not ordinarily influenced by the
beauties of nature or by unexpected expressions of her moods,
nevertheless Sally uttered a cry of enchantment.

Between the walls she had spied the ruins of an old French drawing room.
The bird must have flown through the opening into the room and then
quickly out again into the sunshine.

A little table remained standing with an open book upon it, laid face
down. There was a rug on the floor, now thick with mould, and yet it was
a rare Aubusson rug with sturdy cupids trailing flowery vines across its
surface. There were pieces of broken furniture and bric-a-brac strewn
over the floor.

Sally must have continued staring inside the room for several moments
before she slowly became aware that there was a human figure seated in a
chair in the shadow near one of the half fallen walls.

The figure was that of a young soldier. He was asleep when Sally
discovered him and incredibly dirty. His hair was long and matted,
hanging thick over his forehead. One arm was wrapped in a soiled
bandage.

Yet Sally did not feel frightened, only faint and ill for an instant
from pity.

Coming to their farm house after a few days in Paris, Sally had seen
trains filled with wounded soldiers. In Paris she also had noticed
blinded and invalided men being led along the streets by their families
or friends, yet never so piteous a figure as this.



CHAPTER IX

A MYSTERY


Sally's little cry of astonishment must have awakened the soldier.

The terror on his face when he first beheld her took away any thought of
fear from the girl. Besides it was all too strange! Why should he, a
soldier, be afraid, and of her? And why should he be in hiding in this
queer tumble-down old place? For he _was_ in hiding, there was no
doubt of this from his furtive manner.

Some instinct in Sally, or perhaps the fact that she had seen so much
hunger since her arrival in this portion of France, made her immediately
take out her little package of bread which Mère 'Toinette had given her
and thrust it forward.

She was standing framed in the arch made by the two fallen walls, not
having moved since the moment of her amazing discovery.

The soldier's hunger was greater than his fear, for he almost snatched
the food from Sally's hands and, as he ate it she could not bear
watching him. There is something dreadful in the sight of a human being
ravenously hungry.

Afterwards, when he did not speak, Sally found herself making the first
remarks, and unconsciously and stupidly, not realizing what she was
doing at the moment, she spoke in English.

The next instant, to her surprise, the soldier replied in the same
tongue, although it seemed to Sally that he spoke with a foreign accent,
what the accent was she did not know. Sally had not a great deal of
experience, neither was she particularly clever.

"What are you doing here?" is what she naturally inquired.

The soldier hesitated and placed his hand to his forehead, looking at
the girl dazedly.

"Why am I hiding here?" he repeated. Then almost childishly he went on:
"I am hiding, hiding because no one must find me, else I would be shot
at once. I don't know how long I have been here alone. I am very cold."

"But I don't understand your reason," Sally argued. "Why don't you find
some one to take care of you? You cannot be living here; besides you
could not have been here long without food or water or you would have
died."

"But I have had a little food and water," the soldier replied. "I found
a few cans of food in a closet and there is water in one of the rooms."

His voice had a complaining note which was an expression of suffering if
one had understood. Then his face was feverish and wretched.

"But you don't look as if you had used much water," Sally remarked in
her usual matter-of-fact fashion. She had a way of pursuing her own
first idea without being influenced by other considerations.

"It is hard work when one's arm is like this," the soldier returned
fretfully.

Again Sally surveyed the soiled bandage with disfavor. Apparently it had
not been changed in many days, since it was encrusted with dirt and
blood and having slipped had been pulled awkwardly back into place.

Temprementally, Sally Ashton hated the sight of blood and suffering. In
the years of the Camp Fire training she had been obliged to study first
aid, but she had left the practical application to the other girls. Her
own tastes were domestic and she therefore had devoted her time to
domestic affairs.

Now something must be done for the soldier whose presence in the old
château and whose behavior were equally puzzling, and as there was no
one else, Sally had no idea of shirking the immediate task. In her Camp
Fire kit she always carried first aid supplies.

"If you will go to the room where you found the water and wash your arm
as thoroughly as you can I will put on a fresh bandage for you," she
offered. "Don't argue and don't be long, for something simply has to be
done for you, you are in such a dreadful condition."

Even in the midst of feeling a little like Florence Nightingale, Sally
preserved a due amount of caution. She had no idea of wandering about a
tumble-down château with a strange soldier. In reality she was not so
much afraid of him as of the house itself. She had the impression that
the walls were ready to topple down and bury her.

When the soldier did not move, Sally beckoned him imperiously toward the
open arch where she had remained standing just outside the walls.

"You are to come here, while I take off the old bandage. No one will see
you and I am afraid to enter so dangerous a place."

The man obeyed, and Sally cut away the soiled linen, trying not to get
too distinct an impression of the wound underneath. Yet what she saw
alarmed her sufficiently, for she knew enough to realize that the wound
required more scientific treatment than she felt able to give. "Now go
and wash your arm," she directed, and without a word he went off.

During the ten minutes her self-imposed patient remained away, Sally
seriously considered his puzzling situation and determined upon the
advice she would offer.

In the first place, so far he had given her no explanation for his
conduct.

Why was he in concealment? The possibility that the soldier might have
committed a wrong which made it incumbent that he hide from justice did
not occur to Sally. She simply determined that they would discuss the
subject to some satisfactory end on his return.

The young man did look much better, having made an effort to cleanse his
face as well as his wound, but as Sally took hold of his hand before
beginning her task, she was startled to discover that he was suffering
from a fever through neglect of his injury. This made her the more
determined. Although appreciating her own inefficiency and disliking the
work, there was nothing to be done at present but to go ahead with her
own simple first-aid treatment. She had a bottle of antiseptic and clean
surgical gauze.

As she wound the bandage, wishing she had taken the trouble to learn the
art more skilfully, Sally announced:

"You must see a physician about your arm as soon as possible. You never
have explained to me why you are hiding here. But in any case you cannot
remain when you are ill and hungry and cold and require a great deal of
attention. You must go into one of the villages to a hospital. While you
were away I have been thinking what to do. You look to me too ill to
walk very far and, as I am living not more than half a mile away, I will
go back to our farm and tell my friends about you. Later I think I can
arrange to come back for you in a motor and then we will drive you to
one of the hospitals. I don't know as much about the French hospitals as
my friends do, but of course everybody is anxious to do whatever is
possible for the Allied soldiers."

Sally placed a certain amount of stress on the expression "Allied
soldiers," but never for an instant believing in the possibility that
her patient could belong to an enemy nationality.

"If you tell anyone you have discovered me here in hiding, it will be
the last of me," the soldier declared.

By this time Sally was beginning to be troubled. Why did the young man
look and speak so strangely? He seemed confused and worried and either
unable to explain his actions, or else unwilling. Yet somehow one had
the impression that he was a gentleman and there need be no fear of any
lack of personal courtesy.

It was possible from his appearance to believe that he might be
suffering from a mental breakdown. Sally recalled that many of the
soldiers were affected in this way from shell shock or the long strain
of battle.

"I suppose I must tell you something. In any case, I have to trust my
fate in your hands and I know there is not one person in a thousand who
would spare me. I was a prisoner and escaped from my captors. I don't
know how I discovered this old house. I don't know how long I have been
wandering about the country before I came here, only that I hid myself
in the daytime and stumbled around seeking a place of refuge at night.
If you report me I suppose I will not be allowed even a soldier's death.
I shall probably be hung."

Suddenly the soldier laughed, such an unhappy, curious laugh that Sally
had but one desire and that was to escape from the château and her
strange companion at once and forever. Yet in spite of his vague and
uncertain expression, the soldier's eyes were dark and fine and his
features well cut. He was merely thin and haggard and dirty from his
recent experiences.

From his uniform it was impossible to guess anything; at least, it was
impossible for Sally, who had but scant information with regard to
military accoutrements.

But even in the face of his confession she was not considering the
soldier's nationality. He looked so miserable and ill, so like a sick
boy, that the maternal spirit which was really strongly rooted in Sally
Ashton's nature awakened. He could scarcely stand as he talked to her.

"Please sit down. I don't know what you are to do," she remonstrated. "I
don't know _why_ you ran away or from whom, but no fate could be
much worse than starving to death here in this old place alone. Yet
certainly I don't want to give you up to--to anybody," she concluded
lamely, as a matter of fact not knowing to whom one should report a
runaway soldier.

This was a different Sally Ashton from the girl her family and friends
ordinarily knew. The evanescent dimple had disappeared entirely and also
the indolent expression in her golden brown eyes. She was frowning and
her lips were closed in a firmer line.

At her suggestion the soldier had returned to the chair which he had
been occupying at the moment of her intrusion. But Sally saw that
although he was seated he was swaying a little and that again he had put
up his uninjured arm to his head.

"Perhaps I can get away from here, if you will help me. I have escaped
being caught so far. I only ask you to bring me a little food. Tomorrow
I shall be stronger."

Unconsciously Sally sighed. What fate had ever driven her forth into
this undesired adventure?

She did not like to aid a runaway prisoner, nor did she wish him to meet
the disagreeable end he had suggested through any act of hers.

Any other one of the Camp Fire girls, Sally believed, would have given
the soldier a lecture on the high ideals of patriotism, or of meeting
with proper fortitude whatever fate might overtake him. At least he
would have been required to divulge his nationality, and if he were an
enemy, of course there could be no hesitation in delivering him to
justice.

However, Sally only found herself answering:

"Yes, I suppose I can manage to bring you something to eat once more.
But I cannot say when I can get here without anyone's knowing, so you
must stay where you can hear when I call. Afterwards you must promise me
to go away. I don't know what I ought to do about you."

Sally had gone a few yards from the château when she glanced back an
instant toward the old stone ruins. The atmosphere of the afternoon had
changed, the sun was no longer shining and the château lay deep in
shadow.

A cold wind was blowing across the desolate fields. Sally was not
ordinarily impressionable, yet at this moment she felt a curious sense
of foreboding.



CHAPTER X

BREAKERS AHEAD


A little tired and also because her attention was occupied with her
recent experience, Sally did not choose her way over the rough
countryside so carefully and therefore managed to take a much longer
time for her return to the farm.

Now that the sun had disappeared, the countryside seemed to have grown
depressingly desolate. In the gray afternoon light the blackened tree
trunks which had been partly burned were stark and ugly.

Under ordinary circumstances Sally was particularly susceptible to
physical discomfort, yet this afternoon she was too concerned over her
problem to be more than vaguely disturbed by her surroundings.

One thought continually assailed her. Would it be possible to appear
among the other girls looking and behaving as if nothing unusual had
occurred? For Sally had an honest and profound conviction that she had
no talent for deception. How could she realize that she belonged to the
type of women with whom dissimulation is a fine art once the exigencies
of a situation required it? She had come to one definite conclusion, she
would not betray the presence of the runaway soldier in the château for
at least another twenty-four hours. She would take him food the next day
and he might have the opportunity to attempt an escape. In all
probability he would soon be captured and punished, and this was
doubtless the fate he deserved; nevertheless Sally was glad that, in a
cowardly fashion, she would not be directly responsible.

She looked forward to the evening and the next day with no joy, bitterly
regretting that she had not spent her leisure hours in resting and
reading as she had at first intended. Surely repose and a contented
spirit were more to be desired than unexpected adventures!

Weary and dispirited, Sally finally arrived at home, only to be met in
the front hall by Miss Patricia, who at once showed signs of an
approaching storm.

As a matter of fact, she was excessively annoyed over a piece of
information she had just received, so it was unfortunate that Sally
should return at a moment when she must bear the brunt of it.

Moving a little listlessly up the broad uncarpeted stairs toward the
bedroom she shared with her sister, the girl scarcely noticed the older
woman's presence. She was hoping that Alice had not yet returned and
that she might have a few moments to herself.

Miss Patricia opened the attack with her usual vigor.

"What do you mean, Sally, by going off this afternoon, knowing that I
particularly needed your help? You must understand that it is highly
improper for a young girl to tramp about over this French country alone.
Even if Polly Burton has permitted you Camp Fire girls the most
extraordinary amount of freedom, she surely has realized this and warned
you against such indiscretion. There is no way of guessing into what
difficulty you may have already managed to entangle yourself!"

Sally felt herself flushing until her clear skin was suffused with
glowing color.

"I am sorry, Miss Patricia," she said, "but remember that I am not a
child and cannot have you speak to me as if I were a disobedient one. I
have been for a walk and----"

But fortunately Sally was not required to complete her sentence.
Suddenly Mrs. Burton had appeared out of her bedroom and began to hurry
downstairs.

"Sally!" she called with a suggestion of appeal in her voice. "The
excitement over your disappearance is my fault, so please don't you and
Aunt Patricia quarrel. A little while ago when I returned home and Mère
'Toinette told me that you had gone out alone and she did not know in
what direction, why, I became uneasy. You will not again, will you?
Really I am afraid it is not safe for you children, although with me of
course the case is different. Aunt Patricia is not disposed to think so,
forgetting my advanced age. Still, Sally, no matter how enthusiastic we
may feel over our work here in the shell-torn area of France, we must
remember these are war times when one never knows what may happen next.
Besides, the French do not always understand our American ideas of
liberty for young girls."

By this time having reached the foot of the stairs, Mrs. Burton slipped
her hand inside Sally's, glancing back with a slightly amused and
slightly apologetic expression toward Miss Patricia.

"Really, Aunt Patricia, I do regret your being so annoyed, yet you must
not take my news too seriously. Our guests are sure not to remain with
us long."

To the latter part of her Camp Fire guardian's remark Sally Ashton paid
not the slightest heed, so concerned was she with the first part of her
speech.

Why of all times should this question of her personal liberty come up
for discussion _this_ afternoon? Of her own free choice Sally felt
convinced that she would never willingly go out alone. Nevertheless, how
was she to keep her word to the young soldier unless she returned next
day to the château? with the food she had promised him and without
confiding the fact to any one else? Oh, why had she allowed herself to
be drawn into this reckless promise? At this moment if she could only
slip into her Camp Fire guardian's room and ask her advice! Miss
Patricia would insist that if the soldier were a deserter he straightway
should be brought to justice. But Sally understood her Camp Fire
guardian well enough to appreciate that, once hearing the soldier in
hiding was ill and wounded, she would be as reluctant as Sally herself
to follow her manifest duty.

Confidence on this particular subject was for the present out of the
question, and as soon as she conveniently could Sally disappeared inside
her own room. Later, when the other girls had returned, weary from their
long errand of mercy in the next village and yet immensely interested in
their experience, Sally pretended to have a slight headache.

During supper she scarcely listened to the ever steady stream of
conversation which flowed unceasingly each evening. In the daytime the
American newcomers to the old French farm on the Aisne were too much
engaged to allow opportunity for conversation. After supper they
gathered in their improvised sitting-room to talk until their early
bedtime.

The sitting-room was oddly furnished with whatever furniture could be
rescued after the commandeering of the more valuable possessions by the
Germans.

In the attic a few broken chairs stored away for years had been brought
down and repaired. These were beautiful pieces of furniture in
conspicuous contrast to the couches and stools which originally had
arrived at the farm as large wooden boxes containing provisions.

With old Jean's assistance, Peggy and Vera had developed unexpected
talents as carpenters.

Moreover, whatever her faults, Miss Patricia Lord was an unfailing
source of supply. During her brief stay in Paris, without mentioning the
fact to any one else, she had purchased thirty yards of old blue and
rose cretonne, perhaps with the knowledge that beauty even of the
simplest kind helps one to happiness and accomplishment.

Therefore the two couches in the sitting-room were covered with the
cretonne, and half a dozen box chairs; and there were cretonne valances
at the windows.

Save a single old lamp which had been left in the sitting-room, it had
no other ornaments.

The lamp was of bronze and bore the figure of a genie holding the stand,
so that obviously it had been christened "Aladdin's lamp." It was
supposed to gratify whatever wish one expressed, but the Camp Fire girls
were too busy with the interests of other people at present to spend
much time in considering their personal desires.

There was one other object of interest in the room, a large photograph
of the ruined Rheims Cathedral, which Mrs. Burton had bought in the
neighborhood of Rheims not long before. The classic French city was not
many miles from the present home of the group of American girls.

As beautiful almost in destruction as it had been in its former glory,
the photograph stood as a symbol of the imperishable beauty of French
art. Also it represented another symbol. Here on the white wooden mantel
of the French farm house "on the field of honor" it called to the
American people to continue their work for the relief and the
restoration of France.

Tonight as she lay resting upon one of the couches, dressed in a simple
dinner dress of some soft violet material, Mrs. Burton had glanced
several times toward the photograph.

As a tribute to her headache and a general disinclination to associate
with her companions, Sally had been permitted to occupy the other couch
which stood on the opposite side of the room.

In their one large chair, close to the table with the lamp, Aunt
Patricia sat knitting with her usual vigor and determination. Aside from
Sally, the Camp Fire girls were grouped about near her.

After having been quiet for the past half hour, Mrs. Burton suddenly
asked: "Would any of you care to hear a poem concerning the destruction
of the Cathedral at Rheims, written by a Kentucky woman? A friend sent
it to me and it was so exquisite I have lately memorized it. In the last
few moments while I have been looking at our photograph I have repeated
the lines to myself. I wonder if it would interest you?"

The girls replied in a chorus of acquiescence, but Mrs. Burton did not
venture to begin until she also had received a nod of agreement from
Aunt Patricia. Between the older and younger woman there was a bond of
strong affection. Nevertheless, mingled with Mrs. Burton's love and
respect, there was also a certain humorous appreciation.

Since their arrival in France the Camp Fire girls had been compelled to
spend their evenings in doors. This was unlike their former custom.

Recently, when they had grown weary of talking, perhaps for only a half
hour before bedtime, some one of them had fallen into the habit of
reading aloud to the others.

Apart from the pleasure, Mrs. Burton regarded this as useful education.

Not a great many newspapers and magazines reached the old farm house in
comparison with other days at camp; nevertheless they arrived in
sufficient number both from the United States and Paris to keep one
fairly in touch with world movements. The reading of the French papers
and magazines was of course especially good practice.

Yet, as a matter of fact, Mrs. Burton could seldom be persuaded to be
anything save a listener. After reading or talking the greater part of
the day to her new French friends, she was apt to be worn out by
evening.

Tonight she began to speak in a low voice as if she were tired, yet as
her little audience was so near it did not matter and her voice never
failed in its beautiful quality.

                          "Rheims

    "It was a people's church--stout, plain folk they,
    Wanting their own cathedral, not the king's
    Nor prelate's, nor great noble's. On the walls,
    On porch and arch and doorway--see, the saints
    Have the plain people's faces. That sweet Virgin
    Was young Marie, who lived around the corner,
    And whom the sculptor knew. From time to time
    He saw her at her work, or with her babe,
    So gay, so dainty, smiling at the child.
    That sturdy Peter--Peter of the keys--
    He was old Jean, the Breton fisherman,
    Who, somehow, made his way here from the coast
    And lived here many years, yet kept withal
    The look of the great sea and his great nets.
    And John there, the beloved, was Etienne,
    And good St. James was François--brothers they,
    And had a small, clean bakeshop, where they sold
    Bread, cakes and little pies. Well, so it went!
    These were not Italy's saints, nor yet the gods,
    Majestic, calm, unmoved, of ancient Greece.
    No, they were only townsfolk, common people,
    And graced a common church--that stood and stood
    Through war and fire and pestilence, through ravage
    Of time and kings and conquerors, till at last
    The century dawned which promised common men
    The things they long had hoped for!
                        O the time
    Showed a fair face, was daughter of great Demos,
    Flamboyant, bore a light, laughed loud and free,
    And feared not any man--until--until--
    There sprang a mailed figure from a throne,
    Gorgeous, imperial, glowing--a monstrosity
    Magnificent as death and as death terrible.
    It walked these aisles and saw the humble ones,
    Peter the fisherman, James and John, the shopkeepers,
    And Mary, sweet, gay, innocent and poor.
    Loud did it laugh and long. 'These peaceful folk!
    What place have they in my great armed world?'
    Then with its thunderbolts of fire it drove
    These saints from out their places--breaking roof,
    Wall, window, portal--and the great grave arch
    Smoked with the awful funeral smoke of doom.

    "Thus died they and their church--but from the wreck
    Of fire and smoke and broken wood and stone
    There rose a figure greater far than they--
    Their Lord, who dwells within no house of hands;
    Whose beauty hath no need of any form!
    Out from the fire He passed, and round Him went
    Marie and Jean and Etienne and Francois,
    And they went singing, singing, through their France--
    And Italy--and England--and the world!"

When Mrs. Burton began her recitation she sat up on the edge of her
couch and leaning forward kept her eyes fastened sometimes on the floor,
sometimes on the picture of the great cathedral. Now and then her gaze
quickly swept the faces of her audience.

She was wondering if the poem had bored any one of them. It was a long
poem and perhaps its spiritual meaning would not be altogether plain.

However, as the poem reached its conclusion, and her voice with its
dramatic power and sweetness made the picture of the peasant people and
their peasant church a visible and compelling thing, she no longer felt
fearful.

The faces of the girls before her were fine and serious; Bettina and
Marta, who cared more for poetry and art than the others, had flushed
and their eyes were filled with tears.

As Mrs. Burton finished, it was as if one could actually hear the new
spirit of brotherhood which Christ preached two thousand years ago,
"singing, singing, through the world."

Yet in the silence which was a fitting tribute to the poem, suddenly the
entire audience broke into a ripple of laughter. From the far side of
the room a gentle snore had been Sally Ashton's sole expression of
appreciation.

Following the sound of the laughter, Sally sat up and began blinking her
soft golden brown eyes, looking for all the world like a sleepy kitten.

"I think you had far better give yourself up to justice and have someone
take care of you properly," she announced in a far-away voice. This was
the conclusion which Sally had just reached at the end of her
half-sleeping and half-waking dream of her runaway soldier.

She did not know that she was to make such an extraordinary remark
aloud, but fortunately no one had the faintest knowledge of her meaning.

Indeed, no one really heard her, as the girls were too amused over
Sally's characteristic habit of falling asleep on occasions when
conversation or entertainment bored her.

Immediately after the laughter, Sally, not understanding its cause,
nevertheless arose and began her journey to bed. She was annoyed but not
seriously, since in waking she had reached the conclusion she desired.
In the morning at dawn, before the other members of her household were
awake, she would make a second trip to the château.

She would carry provisions to the soldier and then advise him to leave
the neighborhood immediately. Unless he departed of his own free will,
taking his chances as he must, she then would be compelled to tell that
he was in hiding.



CHAPTER XI

THE RETURN


Before daylight Sally rose softly and began to dress, feeling extremely
irritated. She disliked getting up in the mornings and this scheme of
arising early was so annoying that it had kept her awake the greater
part of the night.

Besides she had but little hope of not arousing Alice. Once as she was
searching quietly on the floor for her shoes, Alice sat up, asking
severely:

"What on earth are you doing, Sally Ashton? If you are not ill, come on
back to bed. If you are ill, come back in any case and let me get
whatever it is you desire."

Sally murmured something vague and indeterminate about endeavoring to
discover a lost pillow and Alice fell comfortably asleep again, nor did
she awaken when Sally at last slipped out of the room and down stairs.

In case any one else heard her or called, she had made up her mind to
explain that she was seeing about some preparation for breakfast. As
"housekeeper extraordinary" this statement _might_ be believed,
even if it were unlike her to start her ministrations so early.

But no one was disturbed and Sally got her little bundle of provisions
together quickly, since she knew just where the supplies of food were
kept. They had not a great deal, considering the demands that were
constantly being made upon them by the people in the neighborhood who
were less well off, so Sally felt that she had not the right to be
over-generous, and made her selections with due discretion.

It was more than ever her determination to demand that the soldier leave
the château at once this morning, if he could be induced to see the
wisdom of such a proceeding, but if not by nightfall.

Also Sally had made up her mind to ask no questions. If the soldier were
arrested later she wished to know as little as possible concerning him.

He had spoken of being captured and of running away from his captors.
This suggested that he was a German or an Austrian who had been taken
prisoner and was trying to effect an escape. If this were true Sally
felt a fierce condemnation of her own cowardly attitude. But was it not
remotely possible that the soldier had committed some offense and had
then run away from his own regiment? However, this point of view was but
little in his favor. As he spoke English with an accent and as foreign
accents were all of an equal mystification to Sally, it was possible
that she need never know his origin.

Outdoors and slipping through the garden, to Sally's surprise and
consternation she nearly ran into old Jean, who appeared to have been up
all night caring for his stock.

He looked like a gnome with his wrinkled skin, his little eyes, his
muddy gray hair and even his clothes almost of a color with the earth.

He was carrying a lantern, but instead of speaking beckoned mysteriously
to Sally to follow him out to Miss Patricia's barn, where a half dozen
cows were now installed.

Not knowing what else to do, Sally stood by until she found herself
presented with a small pail of milk, and still with no comments, for
immediately after Jean went on with his morning's work.

She did not waste time, however, in puzzling over the old servant man.

After drinking a small quantity of the milk, not wishing to throw the
rest away or to return to the house, Sally concluded to take it with her
as a part of her offering. Yet she had no real desire to give
refreshment to her accidental acquaintance.

Some curious feminine force must have moved Sally Ashton on this
occasion. Most women find it difficult to allow a human being to endure
physical suffering, once the person is delivered into their care.

As she made her way to the château for the second time Sally loathed the
cold dark morning and there was no beauty nor significance to her in the
gray leaden sky which lay like a mourning veil over the sad French
landscape.

Sally considered that she was engaged in an almost unjustifiable action.
Yet she could not make up her mind to leave the soldier to starve, or to
betray his presence in the château.

Moreover, Sally was haunted by a small nervous fear, which may have been
out of place in the face of the larger issues which were involved. As
the soldier in hiding had no reason to believe she would arrive so early
in the morning, he might still be asleep. Sally disliked the idea that
thus she might be called upon to awaken him. The conventions of life
were dear to her, she had a real appreciation of their value and place
in social life and no desire to break with any one of them.

The food could be left in the dismantled old drawing-room, under its
arch of leaning walls, but Sally wished to leave a command as well as
the food. After this one unhappy pilgrimage she would do nothing more
for the soldier's safety and comfort. He must take his chances and slip
away.

The entire neighborhood was disturbingly quiet. An owl of late habits
would have been almost companionable. Upon one point Sally considered
herself inflexible. She would not enter the château; she might call
softly from the outside if it were necessary. If no one replied she
would return to the farm and nevermore would the château be honored by
her presence.

In an entirely different state of mind she approached the old house on
this second occasion and made her way to the opening between the walls.

Inside there seemed an even more uncanny silence. Yet how could one call
to an utter stranger whose name, whose identity, whose nationality were
all unknown?

"Halloo!" Sally cried in a faint voice, not once but three or four
times.

There was no reply.

She called again. Then she entered the drawing-room quickly with no
other idea than to put down her offerings and flee away as soon as
possible. Sally was possessed of the impression that, however long the
wrecked walls might remain in position while she was outside them, once
inside she would be buried beneath a descending mass.

A few feet within the arch she discovered her soldier.

He had made for himself a bed out of an old mattress which he had
dragged from some other room, using a torn covering which once had been
a beautiful eiderdown quilt. As he had no pillow and his face was
completely uncovered, Sally realized he was in a stupor and so ill that
he had not heard her approach or her repeated calls.

Fortunately Sally Ashton was essentially practical.

Moreover, in an extraordinary fashion for so young and presumably
selfish a girl she immediately forgot herself. She was living in an
atmosphere of unselfishness and devotion to others, so the thought that
the object of her present care was not a worthy object did not at the
moment influence her.

In a matter-of-fact and skillful fashion Sally first poured a small
amount of milk inside her patient's parted lips. Except that the soldier
became half aroused by her act and seemed to wish more, there was no
difficulty. Then unwrapping the arm which she had bandaged the day
before, she cleansed the wound a second time with the antiseptic she had
brought for the purpose.

Afterwards, realizing that she must find the water she had been told was
still to be had in one of the rooms of the château, without considering
her previous fears, Sally climbed and crawled through one dangerous
opening after the other, in spite of her awkwardness in any unaccustomed
physical exertion. Finally she discovered the water. Then in a half
broken pitcher, secured in passing through one of the wrecked bedrooms,
she carried a small amount to the drawing-room.

Without hesitation or embarrassment the girl bathed her undesired
patient's face and hands. He had fine, strong features; there was
nothing in the face to suggest weakness or cowardice. Still it remained
impossible to decide his nationality or whether he was an officer or
merely a common soldier, since his outfit was a patchwork of oddly
assorted garments.

Sally's acquaintance with uniforms was limited. She knew that the French
wore the horizon blue and the British and Americans a nearly similar
shade of khaki.

Her patient's outfit was like no other she had seen.

Yet over these minor details she did not trouble. In spite of her lack
of experience, Sally was convinced that the soldier was now suffering
from blood poison due to neglect of his wound and the unhealthy and
unsanitary conditions in which he had been living.

The day before she had thought he looked and acted strangely and had
half an idea that he may have been partly delirious then, so she was not
altogether surprised by the present situation.

During her journey across the fields daylight had come; because she
would not otherwise have been able to accomplish her present task even
so inadequately as she had accomplished it, Sally was pleased.

Yet when the moment arrived and she had done all she could for the
soldier's comfort she had to face her real difficulty.

There is no mistake in this world more serious than to judge other
people's problems in the light in which they appear to us. The problem
which is nothing to one human being appears insurmountable to another.

So with Sally Ashton's present difficulty.

She had made up her mind to tell the soldier that unless he left the
château before the following day she would be compelled to tell her
friends of his hiding place and ask advice. But she had meant to warn
him of her intention and allow him to take his chances if he preferred.

Now he appeared defenceless and entirely at her mercy.

Should she betray him at once? Certainly there was a possibility that he
would die of neglect if left alone at the château. But then he must have
faced this possibility and deliberately chosen it.

Sally wondered what would become of an escaped prisoner if he were
discovered to be desperately ill? It did not seem possible that the
military authorities would be so severe as he had anticipated.

Yet she knew very little of the ways of military authorities, and an
escaped prisoner would scarcely be an object of devoted attention.

Although not aware of the fact, already Sally had assumed a protective
attitude toward the soldier.

One thing she might do and that was to wait another twenty-four hours.
It was barely possible that he might not be so ill as she now believed.

At present she must not remain a moment longer at the château. Instead
she must run back across the fields, since it was her plan to reach the
farm house and be discovered in the act of assisting Mère 'Toinette in
the preparation of breakfast.



CHAPTER XII

OTHER DAYS AND OTHER WAYS


Under the new conditions of life in the devastated country of France, it
has been difficult to set down the effect which the change of
environment, the change of interest and of inspiration had upon each
individual member of the Sunrise Camp Fire unit.

Certainly their present daily life bore but a faint resemblance to their
former outdoor summer encampments in various picturesque places in the
United States. Nevertheless the Camp Fire girls always had considered
that they were doing useful work merely by following the rules of their
camp fire and by gaining the honors necessary to the growth of their
organization and their own official rank.

Now they realized that all their efforts had been but a preparation for
the service they were at present undertaking. There was no detail of
their past experience which was not of service, their Health Craft, Camp
Craft, Home Craft, Business and Patriotism. Why, their very watch cry,
"Wohelo"--work, health and love--embodied the three gifts they were
trying to restore to the poverty-stricken French people in this
particular neighborhood upon "the field of honor!"

On this afternoon, in spite of the cold, the girls had arranged to hold
their first out-of-doors Camp Fire meeting since their arrival in
France.

For weeks they had been working among the young French girls in the
villages and the country near at hand, persuading them to spend whatever
leisure they had in studying the Camp Fire ideas and activities.

Bettina Graham and Alice Ashton had introduced as much Camp Fire study
as possible into the regular routine of the school which they held daily
in the big schoolroom at the farm. Even with the younger children there
were like suggestions of play and of service which Marta Clark and
Yvonne were able to give.

But until this afternoon there had been no actual organization of the
first group of Camp Fire girls in France. Strange that with Camp Fires
in England, Australia, Africa, Japan, China and other foreign places,
there should have been none in France! But Yvonne Fleury could have
explained that, unlike American girls, French girls were not accustomed
to intimate association with one another, their lives up to the time of
their marriage being spent in seclusion among the members of their own
family.

Indeed, upon this same afternoon Yvonne was thinking of this as she
dressed slowly before going outdoors to join the other girls. The house
was empty save that Mère 'Toinette was working downstairs.

Marta Clark and Peggy had been kind enough to make her a simple Camp
Fire costume, the khaki skirt and blouse, which formed their ordinary
service costume. Notwithstanding she had been studying the Camp Fire
manual and trying to acquire the necessary honors, this was the first
time Yvonne had worn the costume.

How utterly unlike anything she had ever dreamed were these past weeks
in her life! From the moment of her confession of weakness and the
telling of her story to Mrs. Burton, Yvonne had deliberately chosen to
remain with her rather than continue with the canteen work which she had
originally planned to do in returning to her own country.

For one reason she had fallen under the spell of Mrs. Burton's sympathy
and charm; moreover, the girls in the Camp Fire work were nearer her own
age and were to undertake a character of occupation in which she felt
herself able to be useful. They were also going to live in the
neighborhood of her old home before the outbreak of the war.

As a matter of fact, although Yvonne had preferred not to confide the
information to any one except Mrs. Burton, she was at present not fifty
miles from the château in France where she had lived until the night
word came that she and her family must fly before the oncoming horde of
the enemy.

Well, more than three years had passed since that night, three years
which sometimes seemed an eternity to Yvonne. She had no wish to revisit
the ruins of her old home, no wish to be reminded of it. There was no
one left for whom she cared except perhaps a few neighbors.

However, in the last few weeks Yvonne ordinarily did not permit herself
to become depressed. This much she felt she owed to Mrs. Burton's
kindness and to the comradeship which had been so generously given to
her by the Camp Fire girls. Yvonne felt a particular affection for each
one of them. She could not of course feel equally attracted. So far she
cared most for Peggy Webster and for Mary Gilchrist, possibly attracted
toward Mary because she also was an outsider like herself. Then Mary's
boyish attitude toward life, her utter freedom even from the knowledge
of the conventions in which Yvonne had been so carefully reared, at
first startled, then amused the young French girl. But for Peggy
Webster, Yvonne had a peculiar feeling of love and admiration. This may
have been partly due to the fact that Peggy was Mrs. Burton's niece and
so shared in the glamor of the great lady's personality, but it was more
a tribute to Peggy's own character.

After Yvonne's pathetic account of her history, Mrs. Burton had told at
least a measure of her story to Peggy. She had asked Peggy to invoke the
compassion and aid of the other girls and to do what she could for
Yvonne herself.

To Peggy's strength, to the freedom and the courage of her outlook upon
life, Yvonne's tragic story had appealed strongly, but more Yvonne's
timidity. Often the young French girl appeared unwilling to go on with
the daily struggle of life when everything for which she had ever cared
had been taken from her.

Among the American Camp Fire girls there was only one girl for whom
Yvonne felt a sensation of distrust which almost amounted to a dislike,
and this was Sally Ashton. Nevertheless, in the early days of their
acquaintance, Yvonne had not this point of view. Then she had admired
Sally's prettiness, the gold brown of her hair and eyes, her white skin
and even her indolent manners and graces. Yet recently Yvonne had become
aware of a circumstance, or rather of a series of circumstances, which
had first surprised, then puzzled and finally repelled her.

In a few moments Yvonne left the farm house. If she were late at their
first outdoor camp fire she realized she would have no difficulty in
discovering the site they had selected, although it was at some distance
away.

Some time had passed since the arrival of the Camp Fire party in this
neighborhood of France and now even in the winter fields there was a
suggestion of approaching spring.

As Yvonne walked on she felt an unselfish joy, a greater lightness of
heart. Surely the spring would bring back some of her lost happiness to
France. There would be another great drive, another tragic contest of
strength, but the British and French lines would hold.

Yvonne had the great faith and courage of her people, now she had
learned to lay aside her personal sorrow.

In a few more weeks Miss Patricia's American tractor, which was indeed a
"strange god in a machine," would be able to turn these fields into
plowed land ready for the spring planting.

But now in a meadow, while still some distance away, Yvonne beheld an
American, a French and a British flag set up on temporary staffs, and
blending their colors and designs in a symbolic fashion as they floated
in the wind.

Yvonne paused for a moment to watch the group of her acquaintances and
friends.

Standing apart from the girls were Miss Patricia Lord, Mrs. Burton, and
the two visitors who had arrived only a few days before. They were the
guests whose approaching visit to the farm house Miss Patricia had so
openly deplored, one of them Mrs. Bishop and the other Monsieur Duval,
both of them ship acquaintances. Mrs. Bishop was in France to represent
an American magazine and was at present intending to write a series of
articles on the reclamation work along the Aisne and the Marne.

Monsieur Duval had given no explanation for his appearance save to
announce that he had some especial work on hand for his government in
the southern districts of France.

In spite of the fact that fuel was of such tremendous value in France at
the present time, the Camp Fire girls had permitted themselves the
extravagance of a fire to inaugurate their first outdoor Camp Fire
ceremony. The boxes in which Miss Patricia's various purchases had come
to the farm had proved useful for more than one service.

In a circle near the camp fire were eight young French girls who this
afternoon were to receive the wood-gatherers' rings. Just beyond them
the American girls were seated.

Peggy had been chosen to present the rings.

Possibly they were waiting for Yvonne's arrival, for no sooner had she
slipped silently into her place than Peggy Webster arose and recited the
Wood-gatherer's Desire.

    "As fagots are brought from the forest,
      Firmly held by the sinews which bind them,
    I will cleave to my Camp Fire sisters
      Wherever, whenever I find them.

    "I will strive to grow strong like the pine tree,
      To be pure in my deepest desire;
    To be true to the truth that is in me
      And follow the Law of the Fire."

Then she offered each one of the French girls a silver ring. When she
came to Yvonne, clasping the Fire Maker's bracelet about her wrist, she
whispered:

"We feel, Yvonne, that you have a right to a higher order in our new
Camp Fire group than the other members because of the help you have
given us in whatever work we have attempted since our arrival in France.
In fact, you are the leading French Camp Fire girl!"

A moment later, in answer to a signal, Mrs. Burton walked over and stood
just beyond the two circles of girls and the camp fire and close to the
Allied flags.

"There is not much I feel able to say to you," she began, speaking in a
simple and friendly fashion. "I think perhaps you are already beginning
to understand how intensely the people of the United States desire to
render to France a part of the debt we owe her. It is France who has
saved our liberty and the liberty of the entire world.

"Now I hope that the first group of Camp Fire girls in France will later
carry the flaming torch until the news of the Camp Fire movement has
spread through all the French land. In the Camp Fire life we look for
the romance, the beauty and the adventure which may be hidden in the
smallest task. More important than these things I hope Camp Fire girls
the world over may become a part of the new spirit everywhere growing up
among women, the spirit of union, the ability to work and play together
as men have in the past. For once all girls and women are united, there
will be a new league for peace among the nations such as this world has
never known."



CHAPTER XIII

A DEPARTURE AND AN ARRIVAL


One evening two days later a little after the hour for bedtime at the
farm, Mrs. Burton knocked softly at Miss Patricia's door.

Miss Patricia quickly opened it.

"You are ill, Polly Burton. Well, it is just what I have been expecting
ever since the arrival of that strange man and woman. It seems to me
that we had quite enough to do without entertaining guests. Besides, it
strikes me as pure waste of energy, this riding about through the
country with strangers when you should be at some _real_ work."

During her speech Miss Patricia had drawn the younger woman into her
room, closed the door behind her and was now gazing at her severely but
it must be confessed solicitously as well.

"But I am not ill, Aunt Patricia," Mrs. Burton protested as soon as she
was allowed an opportunity to speak. "I only came in to have a talk with
you about something important."

Aunt Patricia's bedroom was large and empty, for there was more space at
the old farm house than furniture. A great old-fashioned French bed had
been spared from the general wreckage and upon this Mrs. Burton seated
herself, drawing her feet up under her and her lavender dressing gown
about her, since with so little heat in the house the bedrooms were
uncomfortably cold.

There was but one solitary stiff-backed chair, in which Miss Patricia
sat perfectly erect.

"Why not come here and sit beside me? There is plenty of room, and you
will be more comfortable," Mrs. Burton urged.

Aunt Patricia shook her head.

"I am quite comfortable where I am. Moreover, Polly Burton, if I am an
old woman and you no longer a young one, at the same time I am aware
that you have every idea of trying to persuade me to some point of view
of which you do not think I will approve. I have seen your methods
before this evening. Thank you, I shall remain where I am."

Mrs. Burton laughed.

Aunt Patricia did look so uncompromising in a hideous smoke-gray
dressing gown made without any attempt at decorations. Her small knot of
hair was screwed into a tight coil at the back of her head.

Mrs. Burton's own hair had kept its beautiful dusky quality, it had the
dark sheen of the hair of the mythical Irish fairies, for only in
Anglo-Saxon countries are fairies of necessity fair. Tonight Mrs.
Burton's hair was unbound and hung about her shoulders as if she were a
girl.

Fearing that Miss Patricia might regard her frivolous appearance with
disfavor, she now began braiding it into one heavy braid.

"What ever it is you desire to say, I do wish you would begin, Polly, so
that we both can go to bed," the elderly spinster remarked.

Mrs. Burton shook her head. "You are not in a good humor, are you, Aunt
Patricia? But at least there is one thing you will be glad to hear: our
guests, Monsieur Duval and Mrs. Bishop, are leaving our farm the day
after tomorrow."

"A good riddance," Miss Patricia answered sharply.

Then observing that her companion had flushed and undoubtedly was
annoyed by her plain speaking, Aunt Patricia's manner became slightly
mollified.

"It is not that I have anything personal against your friends, Polly. I
must say they have both endeavored to be very agreeable since their
arrival and to give as little trouble as possible. But I told you on
board ship I did not like the attitude of that Frenchman toward you. It
was no surprise to me when he discovered he had important business in
this part of France. Of course it should not be necessary for me to
remind you that you are a married woman, with your unfortunate husband
serving his country in France many miles from here and also that you are
chaperoning a group of young girls. I suppose you will simply tell me
that I do not understand French manners, but that is neither here nor
there, Polly Burton. Your Frenchman is polite to your friend, Mrs.
Bishop, I must confess he is also courteous to me; but I am obliged to
repeat that his manner neither to Mrs. Bishop nor to me is in the least
like his manner to you."

"Aunt Patricia, you are so ridiculous! Still I don't feel like laughing
this time; you really are making me angry," Mrs. Burton answered.

"I have made a great many persons angry in my life, Polly. I cannot even
flatter myself that this is the first time I have offended you. However,
I feel compelled to speak the truth." Miss Patricia's tone remained
imperturbable.

"But that is just the trouble, Aunt Patricia, you are not speaking the
truth, although of course I know you don't realize it and I beg your
pardon," Mrs. Burton argued. "But why do you allow yourself to acquire
such prejudices and such foolish impressions? I simply refuse to discuss
the suggestion you have just made. Please never speak of it to me
again."

Ordinarily when the celebrated Mrs. Burton assumed an air of offended
dignity such as she wore at present her world was apt to sue for pardon.
Miss Patricia revealed no such intention. As a matter of fact, as she
remained resolutely silent and as Mrs. Burton had not yet explained the
reason for her visit, it was she who had to resume the conversation in a
conciliatory manner.

"I presume you won't approve then, Aunt Patricia, of what I wish to
speak to you. Monsieur Duval has been ordered to southern France on some
work for his government and has asked Mrs. Bishop and me to accompany
him, because it is work in which he thinks we may be useful. You know
the Germans have been sending back some of the French refugees whom they
drove before them in their retreat. There are groups of five hundred at
a time who now and then are sent over the border either from Germany or
Switzerland. They are penniless and not only have no money or food or
clothes; they do not know whether their families are living or dead and
in any case have no way to reach them. The French government is to try
to arrange some plan by which homes may be secured for these unfortunate
people until they can communicate with their relatives or friends."

"An excellent idea, but I do not exactly see your connection with it,"
Miss Patricia returned.

Mrs. Burton shrugged her shoulders impatiently. In all her life she
never remembered any one who had opposed her desires in exactly the same
fashion Miss Patricia did. Then, a little ashamed of herself, she
answered gently but firmly:

"My connection is that I am interested and that Mrs. Bishop and I have
both decided to accompany Monsieur Duval. It is barely possible that we
may be useful and able to offer a certain amount of advice. So many of
the refugees are young women who have suffered impossible things and may
require special care and shelter. Besides, I am very deeply anxious to
see more of the country. We expect to travel south in the sector the
Germans held three years ago. I will thus be able to find out how much
restoration work has already been accomplished and how great a task
remains. Moreover, Aunt Patricia dear, I have a personal errand. Surely
you will think this important.

"You remember my talking to you of the old peasant whose granddaughter,
Elsie, had been driven into exile. Except to me the old woman has never
spoken of her loss. Now there is a possibility that Elsie has been sent
back into France and I have promised Grand'mère to search for her.

"Moreover, Aunt Patricia, each village in the devastated districts has
been ordered to prepare a list of names of the missing who disappeared
at the time of the German retreat. These lists are to be turned over to
Monsieur Duval. A committee is to be appointed near the frontier to take
charge of the lists and see that the refugees get in touch with their
own people as soon as possible. Don't you think this a wonderful
scheme?"

As Mrs. Burton unfolded the plan which had been carefully worked out
with a great deal of foresight and care, in her enthusiasm she forgot
Miss Patricia's chilling attitude. She had spent many hours during the
brief visit at the farm of Mrs. Bishop and Monsieur Duval in the outline
she had just explained.

Aunt Patricia continued to look unimpressed and uninspired.

"I told you before, Polly, that I had no idea of criticizing Monsieur
Duval's efforts in behalf of his government. I know the situation you
speak of is extremely deplorable. Still I fail to see any reason for
your assistance. There is sufficient work for you in this immediate
neighborhood. However, I presume you have definitely made up your mind,"
Miss Patricia concluded.

Before replying, Mrs. Burton waited a moment, watching for a sign of
yielding in her companion. But as Miss Patricia gave none, she nodded
her head.

"Yes, Aunt Patricia, I am going with Mrs. Bishop and Monsieur Duval,
although I am sorry you do not approve of my making the trip. I won't be
away more than two weeks and I feel I may be of greater service than by
remaining here."

"You also feel that traveling about through the French country with a
distinguished French politician and a woman author will be far more
exciting than staying at the farm and doing your duty, Polly Burton,"
Miss Patricia added, allowing her accumulated anger to overflow at last.
"Do, please, whatever else you wish to add by way of camouflage, at
least confess the truth. I presume it is your idea to leave me to look
after the group of girls you undertook to chaperon in France?"

In spite of the fact that by this time, Mrs. Burton, whose amiability
was never her strong point, was in as bad a temper as her antagonist,
she had to confess to herself that in Miss Patricia's last speech the
scales dropped in her favor.

"Why, yes, Aunt Patricia, that is what I wish you to do. But will it be
such a serious responsibility? The work at the farm is so splendidly
organized now and the girls are so deeply interested, I don't see why
you should have any especial difficulty if you will just allow things to
go on as they are at present."

Of her own free will Miss Patricia at this moment rose from her stiff
chair and came and sat on the edge of the bed facing the younger woman.
She showed no sign of relaxing either physically or mentally, or of any
softening in her rigid point of view.

"I wonder, Polly Burton, if you have any reason for believing that
things usually go on in exactly the same fashion in this world, after
one has carefully arranged that they should? Of course I shall do my
best to look after the Camp Fire girls, although they do not like me and
I do not understand them. There is no telling what may occur in your
absence," Miss Patricia ended so gloomily that Mrs. Burton's eyes shone
with merriment, although she carefully lowered her lids.

At the same instant, to her surprise, she felt Miss Patricia lean over
and seize her by both shoulders. For a second she wondered if Aunt
Patricia had made up her mind to shake her because of her rebellion.
Instead Miss Patricia added unexpectedly:

"Polly, my dear child, I really don't wish you to go on this wild goose
chase, partly for the reasons I have given you, but also because I am
afraid for you. You know the world is expecting another great German
offensive this spring and no one understands why it has been delayed so
long. Well, you must realize that as you travel farther south in France
the line between the German and the French armies grows narrower and
narrower. Only a few miles of victory and the Germans will again occupy
their old line! It is possible you might arrive at some district at a
crucial moment when a battle was beginning. Then the saints alone could
preserve you!"

With the last few words of her long speech Miss Patricia reverted to her
Irish brogue and her Irish faith.

Afterwards Mrs. Burton was glad to remember that, although Aunt Patricia
certainly was not regarding her with affection at the moment,
nevertheless, she slipped her arm about the elderly lady's hard and
upright shoulders.

"You are a dear, Aunt Patricia! But please don't worry. We are not going
into any dangerous neighborhoods. The drive will not begin for many
weeks. In any case there will be no retreat. Yet indeed we mean to take
every possible precaution and at no time will we be near the German
line. It is good of you to think I am worth worrying over, but this time
it is not necessary."

"Have you your husband's permission for this trip, Polly? I presume you
have written Richard Burton of your new French friend?" Aunt Patricia
demanded as a last forlorn hope.

In reply Mrs. Burton smiled and nodded.

"Yes, I have done both of those things. I wrote Richard about Monsieur
Duval soon after our meeting on shipboard. But of course I have had no
reply to my letter with regard to my trip south with Mrs. Bishop and
Monsieur Duval, for there is not time for me to hear before we leave."

"And nothing will change your decision, Polly?"

Mrs. Burton had slid down on to the floor from the high old bed and now
stood before Miss Patricia, hesitating for the fraction of a second.

"I do wish you would not put the question in such a way, Aunt Patricia.
You make me think of what Sally Ashton said to you, as if I too were a
disobedient child, and I am more than twice Sally's age. Of course I do
not wish to do anything you oppose, but the trip to southern France and
the work I hope to be able to accomplish will be a great opportunity and
a great experience. I hope you will make up your mind to feel as I do
before we start the day after tomorrow."

Before Aunt Patricia could reply, Mrs. Burton made a hasty and carefully
designed retreat. Being fully cognizant that there was no possibility of
Miss Patricia's relenting, she wished to pretend to believe she might
change her mind and at the same time to announce the proposed time for
her own departure.

Fortunately for Mrs. Burton's courage and decision, her plan met with no
especial opposition from any other member of the Camp Fire group.

The girls regretted her leaving, and Sally Ashton more than the others;
nevertheless it appealed to them as it had to Mrs. Burton, as a
wonderful chance for service and at the same time a thrilling adventure.

Two days later, even at the moment when the automobile appeared at the
door to bear off Mrs. Burton and her two companions, Miss Patricia's
attitude remained unchanged.

Mrs. Burton devoted the last five minutes before her departure to
begging Aunt Patricia to bestow her final consent and parting blessing.
Aunt Patricia steadfastly refused.

She also declined to see the automobile leave the farm. Instead, during
the final farewells, turning her back upon the assembly, she marched up
alone to her own room. Once inside, it is true she wiped away several
tears, but immediately after set herself to writing a letter to Captain
Richard Burton. And Captain Burton and Miss Patricia only were to know
what the letter contained! Fortunately Captain Burton understood Miss
Patricia and her devotion to his wife. Moreover, the extent of her
devotion was to be proven later.

The following day, perhaps because of Miss Patricia's prediction that
nothing in life runs on continuously in the same groove, an unexpected
telegram was brought out to the French farm house for Peggy Webster.

In the telegram Lieutenant Ralph Marshall of the United States Aviation
Service in France stated that, having been slightly injured by a fall,
he had secured a few day's leave of absence. Would he be permitted to
spend his leave with Mrs. Burton and the Camp Fire girls at their farm
house on the Aisne?

To Peggy Webster there appeared to be but one possible answer to this
amazing piece of good fortune, and fortunately she was able to persuade
Aunt Patricia to the same point of view. Miss Patricia did not approve
of young men, but she did approve of Peggy and understood the situation
in regard to Ralph.

Therefore the return telegram read: "Yes."

Except for brief intervals, Peggy and Ralph had seen but little of each
other since their summer together in Arizona, a summer which had been
fateful for them both. It had not occurred to Peggy that either she or
Ralph would ever change their minds with regard to their future
marriage, in spite of the fact that she was but eighteen years old and
Ralph not much older. There remained only the question of persuading
their two families to share their view.

In the last two years Ralph had been redeeming his former idleness.
Having volunteered for aviation work before the entry of the United
States into the world war, he had been able to secure a commission and
already had been in France a number of months.



CHAPTER XIV

A WARNING


It was the morning after the departure of Mrs. Burton and her guests and
three days before the arrival of Ralph. Marshall for his visit at the
farm house on the Aisne.

Having completed her work downstairs, Sally Ashton had hurried up to her
bedroom where at present she was making little nervous preparations as
if intending to go outdoors and anxious not to be observed.

There was no reason why she should feel alarmed. So far as she knew,
every member of her household was occupied with the day's work. From the
schoolroom below she could hear the voices of the children singing a
little French chanson, and now and then one of the older girls either
asking a question or reciting. Alice Ashton and Bettina Graham, Marta
Clark and Yvonne Fleury were engaged with their pupils.

An hour before Peggy and Vera had driven off in the motor with Mary
Gilchrist, since Mary had promised to transport a number of wounded
soldiers from a train to a nearby convalescent hospital, and was
uncertain whether she would find anyone at the railroad station to help.
Therefore she had asked the two girls to accompany her. Peggy also
desired to mail a letter to Ralph Marshall which might reach him before
he started upon his journey.

Always Aunt Patricia was occupied outdoors from breakfast until lunch
time. So in spite of the fact that Sally Ashton showed a degree of
suppressed excitement both in her manner and appearance, there would
seem to have been no apparent excuse. A certain timorousness once wholly
unlike her, lately had appeared in Sally's attitude.

She also had grown thinner and her big golden brown eyes had lost their
sleepy expression and acquired an anxious appeal. The lines about her
full, rather pouting lips were strained and apprehensive.

Having at the moment pulled a small traveling bag down from a shelf
overhead and allowed it to fall on the floor, Sally did not hear the
swift opening and closing of her bedroom door. Therefore, when she had
secured her bag and was straightening up, she gave an exclamation of
surprise on discovering her sister standing within a few feet of her.

Except that she was handsomer, Alice looked very like her mother, the
Esther of the first Camp Fire days, yet she and Sally bore no possible
resemblance to each other either in disposition or appearance.

Alice was tall and slender, with a grave, severe air. She wore her dark
red hair parted and bound about the back of her head in a heavy braid.
She was a little angular. There was a suggestion that unless life dealt
generously with her, granting her the gifts which make for tenderness
and softness in a woman's nature, she might in time have the appearance
one is supposed to associate with an old maid. However, old maids are as
unlike as the rest of the human species.

Certainly at the present moment her expression was austere, although
uneasy and distressed as well.

"What are you doing, Sally?" she inquired, her voice gentle and
solicitous, yet observing that a wave of color had swept over Sally's
face even before she had spoken.

The next moment Sally flung her bag down on the floor again, answering
petulantly:

"What am I doing? Well, really, Alice, I do not see what difference it
makes to you, or why you should slip into our room so quietly that you
frightened me. As a matter of fact, I got down my traveling bag
to--to----" Sally's voice trailed off helplessly for an instant. The
next instant, gathering force, she repeated: "I pulled down my bag
because I wished to store away some odds and ends which I wish to keep
safely."

Then losing her temper in a most suspicious fashion, suddenly Sally
stamped her foot as if she were an angry child and at the same time her
eyes grew unexpectedly dark and lovely.

"That is not what you came into this room to announce to me, Alice. So
please say whatever it is you wish and be through. I am going out for a
little walk before lunch." In any event Sally was no coward!

"Then sit down. You do not look very well and I am afraid you won't like
what I must say," Alice returned. "Understand, it gives me no pleasure;
instead, I am tremendously worried and unhappy. I suppose I should have
talked the situation over with Tante before she went away, but I knew it
would interfere with her trip and so avoided troubling her."

In answer to her sister's suggestion Sally seated herself upon a tall,
old-fashioned wooden chair, so that only her toes were able to reach the
ground. All at once she had felt as if she would be more comfortable
seated. It was not because of Alice's suggestion that she had agreed,
but because of a sudden sensation of weariness, almost of physical
weakness, although this last idea seemed absurd.

Yet somehow Sally appeared so like a tired and rebellious child that her
sister found it difficult to continue their conversation. However, she
must introduce the accusation she had been schooling herself to make
before entering the room.

"Is there anything you would like to talk to me about, Sally? Outside
our daily life and work here at the farm is there anything which has
been interesting you recently and which you have preferred not to
mention to anybody?" Alice inquired gently, her voice shaken by her
effort to hide her concern, while a fine line appeared between her level
brows.

Pretending to be bored rather than affected in any other fashion by her
sister's speech, first Sally shrugged her shoulders. Then making a
pretence of yawning, she placed her fingers lightly over her lips.

"Really, Alice, what on earth is troubling you in connection with me?
Have you had me on your conscience more than usual recently? Can't you
ever get over your unattractive habit of treating me as if I were a
refractory pupil and you an offended schoolmarm? In spite of being born
in New England, there is no reason to affect this pose, as it is
unnecessary and I think most unbecoming."

Sally's manner was a little too self-assured, but otherwise she appeared
as enigmatic as an accomplished actress. Gazing at her earnestly, there
was nothing in her expression at present to suggest any emotion save a
natural annoyance at being catechized.

But Alice was not deceived.

"Please don't assume such an air of offended virtue, Sally. You are far
too fond of employing it when anyone reproaches you," Alice continued,
but really too sincerely disturbed to feel angered by her sister's
behavior. "Evidently you do not wish to confide in me, so I suppose
there is no use wasting either your time or mine. For the past two
weeks--I don't know the exact length of time, although you are aware of
it, Sally--you have been disappearing from the farm almost every day. At
first I did not notice. You seem to have been careful that neither Aunt
Patricia, nor Tante, nor I should know. And you have been clever. But
you could not escape everybody's observation and the other Camp Fire
girls have seen you and been puzzled and at last worried to guess what
you could be doing. You need not ask who the girls were; I shall not
tell you. But finally several of them felt compelled to speak to me and
to suggest that I ask your confidence. Oh, don't pretend you think you
have been spied upon and badly treated. You know, Sally, that unless the
girls cared for you they would not have troubled? But we have lived
almost as one family and our interests are bound together. Do tell me
what you have been doing, dear? What has taken you away from home so
many times alone? I have been watching you myself recently. When I came
into our room only a few minutes ago you were preparing to slip away."

Sally was biting her lips and had lost her childish look.

"This is not a criminal court, Alice; neither are you the public
prosecutor. As a matter of fact, I refuse to answer your questions or to
gratify either your curiosity or the curiosity of the Camp Fire girls.
What I have been doing has harmed no one; at least I do not think it
has, and I have not always been alone. Old Jean has been with me much of
the time and has helped in every way. But by the time Tante returns I
think I shall be free to tell her everything. Can't you trust me until
then?"

Sally's voice and manner had suddenly changed from bravado to pleading,
but Alice was too angry and too frightened to be influenced. Moreover,
she was suffering from a frequent elderly sister attitude. She felt
herself called upon not only to examine Sally in regard to her
proceedings but to condemn her without any real evidence.

"Very well, Sally, unless you decide to confide in me immediately I
shall be obliged to speak to Aunt Patricia."

At the conclusion of this speech Alice beheld in her sister's face the
expression of sheer unrelenting obstinacy in which Sally was an adept.
It was a contradiction to her pretty softness, her indolent manner and
even to the elusive dimple which recently had vanished.

"I also warn you, Sally, that I intend to watch you and find out your
proceedings for myself. In truth, I am frightened about you. If only
Tante were here she could influence you, but Aunt Patricia will only
become bitterly angry. I confess I don't know what she will say or do
when she learns that I have no choice but to tell her."

If Alice Ashton had one characteristic which predominated over all
others, it was a fine sense of honor, a high ideal of personal
integrity.

As a matter of fact, she had never demanded the same standards from
Sally she had asked of herself. It was a family custom to regard her
younger sister as a person chiefly to be gratified and adored. Yet it
had never occurred to Alice that Sally could fail in any essential thing
such as straightforwardness and sincerity.

"I don't like to speak to you, Sally, or even to suggest the idea, but I
am afraid a few of the girls may be criticizing what you are doing in a
fashion you can scarcely imagine. They do not speak before me, but I can
hardly fail to guess what they are thinking from their manner. Sally,
can't you realize that we are in a foreign country where the language,
the customs, the ideas are not like ours? Even if what you are doing
might not be considered wrong at home, can't you see that here in France
you may be misunderstood? Please confide in me dear. You promised----"

But Sally's soft shoulders stiffened in resistance.

"Evidently you do not trust me yourself, Alice, and naturally your
opinion is more important to me than anyone's else. Yet when one has
lived with the same people a long time one does expect a certain amount
of faith and understanding. I am sorry, for I cannot tell you what you
wish to know at present. I may be able to in a very few days, if you
will be good enough to wait and not speak to Aunt Patricia. It is hardly
worth while to make a difficulty between us! Personally I am glad Tante
_is_ away; at least, I am glad she is away today, since it would
have been more difficult to refuse my confidence to her than to any one
else. But I shall regret it if I am able to make my confession before
her return. She at least would have tried to believe I have not intended
to do anything wrong. Now please leave me alone, Alice. You were right,
I am going out on an important errand. You need not worry over my going
alone this time, because old Jean has promised to go with me as soon as
he is free and I shall wait for him."

Then, although Alice lingered for several moments longer, when Sally
would neither speak to her, nor look at her, she slowly left the room.

Afterwards when Alice had disappeared Sally's pretence of courage
vanished and she sat with her hands clasped tightly together while the
tears ran down her face.

All very well to pretend to Alice that she was convinced she had been
doing no wrong. But was this true? In the end would she not have to pay
dearly in the continuing condemnation and distrust of her friends? When
her confession was finally made, would they even then understand and
forgive her?



CHAPTER XV

THE DISCOVERY


A little more than an hour later Sally and Jean started forth upon their
mysterious pilgrimage.

To have been spared the ordeal of this morning's visit to the French
château Sally would have given a great deal. On other occasions she had
been nervous and fearful, but never to the extent to which the recent
conversation with her sister had reduced her.

More than once within the hour of waiting before she and Jean could slip
away, Sally concluded to abandon her plan and never go near the château
again, regardless of results. Then she remembered that she had given her
word and that upon this visit many things were to be explained and
arranged. Having endured so much of struggle, strain and suspicion, one
must not fail in the end. And in spite of Sally's apparent indolence and
softness, failure had no part in her mental make-up.

Yet in being compelled to spend an hour of watching before daring to
make her escape there was a sense of humiliation, almost of degradation.
Nevertheless, what else could she do except wait until Alice was again
absorbed in her teaching and until there was no one about the farm house
or in the yard who would pay any especial attention to her actions?

Sally's final misfortune was in encountering Yvonne as she passed
through the hall downstairs.

It may have been her imagination, due to her conversation with her
sister. Sally felt almost convinced that Yvonne shrank away from her as
she passed, almost as if she were drawing her skirts aside. In return
Sally suffered a wave of indignation and the conviction that she would
never be able to forgive Yvonne. She even had an impulse some day to
avenge the other girl's injustice.

She and Jean did not immediately move off in the direction of the
château. She and old Jean took an entirely opposite direction, until in
a field about half a mile away, altering their course, they walked
rapidly toward the château. Sally never ceased to gaze behind them every
few moments, fearing they might be followed.

Small wonder that with the unaccustomed walks and the burden of a
serious responsibility Sally Ashton had altered in the past few weeks!

Indeed, her only solace had been the loyal faith and allegiance which
the old French peasant, Jean, had given to her cause and to her.

From the first day, when in halting and broken French she had begged him
to accompany her to the château to assist in the care of a wounded
soldier, he had not asked a question or refused his services.

When it was impossible for him to escape Miss Patricia's vigilance at
the hour Sally asked, she always found that he had managed to make the
trip sometime later, during the day or night, and accomplished what was
necessary. What he may have thought of the situation, what questions he
may have asked himself behind the inscrutability of his weather-beaten
countenance with its misty, coal-black eyes, Sally never inquired. There
were enough problems to meet without this. The important fact was that
Jean never failed her and that he made an otherwise impossible task
possible.

[Illustration: She and Old Jean Took an Entirely Opposite Direction.]

After discovering the serious illness of the wounded soldier in hiding,
Sally Ashton had continued the amazing task of caring for him at the
château.

She did not come to this decision immediately; indeed, it had grown so
slowly that at times it did not appear as a decision at all. Nor did
Sally attempt to justify herself. She felt compelled to take a
courageous attitude with her sister, but she never had been convinced of
her own patriotism or good sense. Even up to the present time she was
not sure of the nationality of her patient, although it had been a
relief that during his delirium he had spoken occasionally in French.

The truth is that as the days passed on and Sally's responsibility
increased her attitude toward the soldier changed. At first she had been
annoyed, bored with the entire adventure and with the circumstances
resulting from it. But as the young man's illness became more alarming
and Sally's anxiety increased, a new characteristic awoke in her. Sally
Ashton belonged to the type of girl who is essentially maternal. She
would be one of the large group of women who love, marry and bring up a
family and are nearly always adored by their husbands, but feel no
passionate affection until the coming of their children.

So unconsciously the wounded soldier's dependence upon her for food and
attention, for life itself, aroused Sally's motherly instinct, although
she did not dream of the fact and would have been angry at the
suggestion.

One convincing proof. In the beginning she had been both physically and
mentally repelled by the soiled and blood-stained soldier and by his
confused confession. She had not surrendered him to justice because she
did not feel called upon to appear as the arbiter of any human being's
fate and because she had not the dramatic instinct of most girls. But
Sally had presumed the soldier would be arrested later and was not
particularly concerned with his future one way or the other.

Now her point of view had completely altered. At first her idea was
merely that the soldier should recover with no other nursing save that
which she and old Jean could bestow upon him. But now that he was
recovering, she was equally determined he should be saved from whatever
enemy he had feared before being delivered into her hands.

Before parting on the previous afternoon Sally had agreed with her
patient that they discuss his situation on her next visit to the
château.

As the old man and girl crept cautiously inside the opening between the
arch of walls, they could see their soldier lying asleep upon his
mattress, but between clean sheets and covered with blankets which Sally
had managed to secure from the supply at the farm.

The half-dismantled room was cold but fragrant with the odors of the
woods and fields. Perhaps the fresh air which had at all times flooded
the odd sick-room had been in a measure responsible for the ill man's
recovery, having taken the place of other comforts he had been obliged
to forego.

He opened his eyes at the approach of his two friends and looked a
little wistfully at Sally.

"You have come at last! I was afraid you would not be able to manage.
How kind you have been!"

Sally made no reply except to offer him a glass of milk and to stand
silently by until he had finished drinking it.

She looked very sweet. Today her walk and the excitement of her morning
had tired her so that she was paler than usual; yet her lips were full
and crimson and her brown hair had a charming fashion of curling in
little brown rings on her forehead as if she were a tiny child.

The soldier no longer wore any look of mental confusion except that his
expression was puzzled and questioning.

"You are much better. I am glad," Sally said at last. "You see I do not
know how often I can come to the château after today, unless you should
become very ill again and then I would come in any case."

Sally's direct fashion of speaking had its value amid the complexities
of human relations.

Old Jean had disappeared to bring fresh water and to accomplish other
tasks so that Sally and the soldier were alone for a little time.

As a matter of fact, Jean's had been the really difficult nursing. Night
after night when the soldier's condition had been most critical Jean had
made no pretence of going to bed, but had hobbled over at bedtime to
remain until dawn by the ill man's side.

"Perhaps you will sit down for a little so that I can ask you a great
many questions," the soldier suggested. "Now that I am getting back my
senses, you can scarcely imagine what a mystery my present situation
is."

Nodding agreement, Sally drew a beautiful French chair across the
strange drawing-room and seated herself within a few feet of her
patient's bed. It was odd that she had never felt any fear of the old
walls tumbling down upon her from the hour she had begun her nursing,
although before that time she had believed nothing could force her to
trust herself inside the ruins.

"I would like to ask you to begin at the beginning. In what condition
and how long ago did you find me here? If I could only guess the time!
But I am under the impression I have not been myself for several weeks
until these last few days. Yet I have a vague recollection of finding my
way to this old house and of seeing you standing one day framed in that
open arch. After that I have no memory of anything else until I became
conscious of your face and of old Jean's bending over me and then of
this extraordinary place. If I have been ill, why have I not been cared
for in a hospital?

"I remember escaping from the Germans who had taken me prisoner and then
wandering, wandering about in a country where there were no trees, no
grass, no houses, nothing but the upturned earth and exploded shells.
Afterwards I was not sure I had reached the French country. I know I
used to hide in the day time and prowl around at night. I think I must
have become ill soon after my escape, because I have an indistinct
impression that I was trying to find my old home, the château where I
lived before the outbreak of the war. I suppose that is one reason why I
hid myself in here. But nothing I can remember explains _you_."

Sally sighed.

"I do not understand what you are talking about, at least not exactly. I
am not even convinced you do. But if you really are a French soldier and
managed to escape from the Germans, I am glad. I know you will think me
stupid, but still how could I have been expected to understand that you
were a French soldier when you seemed so horribly afraid of being
discovered? You were in your own country and among your own people!
Personally there is very little for me to tell about myself.

"I am an American girl, I don't suppose you consider me French, and I am
living at a farm house not far away with some American friends. One day
I was taking a walk and just from curiosity slipped over here to look
more closely at the château. It frightened me when I discovered you were
hiding in here. You can never guess how you startled me! At our first
meeting you told me some mixed-up story and asked me to bring you some
food. I thought you were an escaped prisoner and I did not want to have
anything to do with you. But you insisted if you were caught you would
be hung. The next day when I arrived with the food you were too ill to
recognize me. There is nothing more to tell."

"That is all," the soldier repeated. "But that sounds more like the
beginning, does it not? You were not even sure of my nationality and yet
you have been coming here every day to care for me. Suppose I had been
your enemy?"

By this time the soldier was sitting up and intently studying the face
of the girl before him. He was wearing a faded dark blue shirt which
Jean had generously bestowed upon him the day before, this being the
first occasion for which he had made an effort to dress himself.

"Strange human beings, women! I wonder if we men will ever understand
you? I have no doubt you would blow up the united armies of the Central
Empires if it were possible without a qualm and yet you would make any
sacrifice to save the life of one prisoner."

"But I was never convinced about you," Sally apologized. "Then after you
became so seriously ill I never thought. But I am sure I beg your
pardon. As you are a Frenchman of course you would have been infinitely
better cared for in a hospital. If anything had happened to you it would
have been my fault. But really I did not know what was done to prisoners
who ran away from their captors and you suggested such an uncomfortable
fate for yourself.

"Now you are better I don't think I will come back to the château again.
You see you made me promise not to tell anyone that you were hiding
here, and my sister and friends think it strange because I have been
spending so much time away from the farm recently. I don't suppose I
shall ever be able to make anyone understand. It is hard, isn't it, to
be blamed for things and then find they have been of no use? Jean will
do whatever is necessary for you until you are entirely well. He can
bring me news of you and he will take a message to anyone you care to
see if you do not feel strong enough to be moved to a hospital
immediately."

Sally rose as if she meant to leave at once, then something in her
companion's expression made her sink down into her chair.

"No, you must not come to see me again," he answered, "although I shall
wish to see no one else. Perhaps it will not be long before I am able to
call upon your friends if you will allow me. I am stronger than you
realize; but you have not told me what you are doing in this
neighborhood."

Unexpectedly Sally had a remarkable sensation. It was as if suddenly her
position and the soldier's changed and as if he had begun to think of
her welfare rather than to have her devote herself to his.

"Oh, we are doing reclamation work," Sally returned; "that is, my sister
and friends are. I have not accomplished anything that is important. I
told you I was stupid."

All at once Sally's soldier broke into a peal of clear boyish laughter
which was of more benefit to him than either of them appreciated.

"No, you have done nothing except save my life. It is not kind of you
under the circumstances to announce you consider it unimportant. Some
day when I am able to rejoin my regiment perhaps I may be able to prove
your work worth while. Thanks to you, perhaps I shall again serve France
as I have never served her before! The enemy has taken from me
everything else, my mother, my sister, my little brother and my home. I
made up my mind that they should not hold me a prisoner whatever might
befall me. If I had to give up my life I meant to die in the open."

Then more excited and exhausted than either he or Sally had appreciated,
the soldier lay down again, closing his eyes.

It was a part of Sally's recent training which made her continue sitting
quietly beside him for the next few moments without speaking or moving.

In the interval she studied the soldier's face.

For the first time he was appearing to her as a man. Up until now he had
simply been a human being who must be cared for, allowed to suffer as
little as possible and at last be restored to health.

In considering him at present Sally did not particularly admire his
appearance. She thought his nose was rather too large and his lips too
thin and in spite of Jean's devotion, his services as a barber left a
good deal to be desired.

"Your arm is nearly well, still I think I should like to bandage it once
more before I go," Sally suggested. "You do not realize it, of course,
but I have learned a great deal about nursing since I began to look
after you. I don't like sick people, else I suppose I could become a Red
Cross nurse after more training if I wished. But I don't think I should
like the work."

As Sally talked she was accomplishing her task, certainly with a good
deal more skill than she had shown several weeks before.

However, her patient was not conscious of the fact. At present he was
not thinking of his wound but of his nurse.

There was something about her so deliciously frank and ingenuous. At
least she seemed ingenuous to him, although it was difficult always to
be sure concerning Sally.

When she had finished the young Frenchman took one of her hands and
touched it lightly with his lips.

"Will you tell me your name, please, and where to find you before you
say farewell? I am Lieutenant Robert Fleury of the French-cuirassiers."

Ten minutes later Sally was walking back home alone to the farm house,
having left Jean to continue to care for their patient.

She was not to go back to the château again and she was to tell her
friends exactly what had taken place in the past few weeks. She seemed
to have promised this to her patient.

Yet Sally was not sure when she would tell her story. She had no desire
to make a confession to Alice, and Aunt Patricia was not to be
considered. If only she might arrange to wait until Mrs. Burton's return
from her journey into southern France.



CHAPTER XVI

AN UNEXPECTED SHELTER


It was after the hour for their midday dinner when Sally finally arrived
at the farmhouse; however, she was able to reach her own room without
any questions being asked concerning her delay.

Undressing slowly with the idea of lying down for a little while before
facing her friends, Sally was interrupted for the second time that day
by the unexpected appearance of her sister. On this occasion Alice's
expression made any further discussion not only unnecessary but
impossible.

"Will you come with me, please, to Aunt Patricia's room?" she began at
once. "I have been talking to Aunt Patricia and she says it is only fair
that we should hear your explanation before passing judgment. I have
spoken to no one else, although I suppose it will be impossible to hide
the facts from the other girls. In reality, I believe they already have
guessed a great deal and have been trying to keep the truth from me."

At the moment of her sister's entrance Sally had been slipping into a
little blue dressing gown which had been her mother's final gift the day
before their parting. The dressing gown did not have a utilitarian
appearance, since it was made of a soft blue, light woolen material with
little clusters of yellow roses scattered over the design and with blue
ribbons and lace about the throat and sleeves.

In response to her sister's speech Sally gathered about her the dressing
gown, which she had not yet fastened, and immediately started to leave
the room.

"I shall be very glad indeed to talk to Aunt Patricia, but not to you,
Alice, nor do I ever intend to forgive you. I suppose you followed old
Jean and me to the château and have drawn your own inference from what
you observed. Do you know, Alice, I have often wondered why the
puritanical conscience is always so suspicious of other people?" And in
this last speech of Sally's there was more of truth that she could fully
appreciate.

But if in this final analysis she were speaking the truth, the first
part of her remark had been a complete falsehood. At the present time
there was nothing she desired so little as being forced into making her
confession to Miss Patricia Lord, a severe spinster with no
consideration for human folly. Would any one else on earth be more
difficult or more unrelenting?

In the past hour or more, following her conversation at the château,
Sally had been facing one of the hardest experiences of life.

Her weeks of self-sacrifice and devotion had been not only unnecessary,
they had been absurd. If only she could have enjoyed the inward
satisfaction of considering herself a heroine or a martyr! But she had
risked her own reputation and the young French officer's life to what
end?

As the two girls entered Miss Patricia's room, Sally, accompanied by her
sister, whose existence on earth she refused to recognize, considered
that Miss Patricia appeared as implacable as a stone image. Yet one
could scarcely compare her to the Sphinx. That ancient stone figure with
the head of a woman and the body of a lioness looks as if she had
devoted the many centuries since her creation to solving the riddles of
human life.

Miss Patricia would consider anything but plain speaking a sheer waste
of energy and truth. There were no riddles in Miss Patricia's mental
category.

Nevertheless, Miss Patricia's voice did not sound unkind when she
suggested that Sally occupy the solitary chair in her bedroom, although
undoubtedly this would leave the elderly woman standing as well as
Alice. But then Sally did not realize how appealing her appearance was
at this moment even to so harsh a critic of human nature.

Sally indolent, Sally dreaming her own small and rather selfish dreams,
or a Sally self-assured and self-content were not unfamiliar figures to
her world. But Sally confused and tired, hurt and bewildered, not by her
own actions or any one's else, but by a web of circumstance, was a new
study.

"No, I would prefer not to sit down, Miss Patricia, and in any case I
would not have you stand," Sally answered, still with an innate sense of
her own dignity and value which at no time in her life was she ever
wholly to lose. "Alice seems to have told you some disagreeable story
about me. So I think it just as well for me to tell you the exact truth.
I hope I can make you understand. I suppose I should have confided in
some one before, but until a few hours ago I did not feel that I had the
privilege."

Sally's golden brown eyes with the heavy upcurling lashes, which gave to
her face the expression of unusual softness, were now gazing upward into
Miss Patricia's. The latter's eyes were gallant also and steadfast, nor
did Sally find them so distrustful as she had anticipated.

"Very well, my dear, go on with your story. I thought Alice was too much
excited," Miss Patricia returned, seating herself in her upright chair,
as Sally seemed to prefer her to be seated.

Then with her little dressing gown wrapped about her as if it had been a
Roman toga, Sally told the history of the past weeks, her unexpected
discovery of the wounded soldier amid the ruins of the old French
château, her belief that he was a runaway prisoner and notwithstanding
this, her effort, with Jean's assistance, to restore him to health.

Sally's explanation was less confused than her conversation with the
French soldier a short time before. However, since that hour many things
had become clearer in her own mind. She did not break down until her
story was completed and only then when she turned toward her sister.

"I don't know, Alice, what you and the other Camp Fire girls have been
thinking of me, and I don't believe I care to guess. I know you have not
been generous. But since I don't wish to discuss the subject with any
one save Aunt Patricia, and with Tante of course when she returns, I
wish you would offer the other girls any interpretation of my behavior
you care to give."

At this Sally's voice broke in spite of her efforts at self-control.
When Alice made a step toward her with her arms outstretched to ask
forgiveness, Sally stepped back only to find herself enfolded by Miss
Patricia and to hear Miss Patricia declare:

"I think it would be wiser, Alice, for you to leave Sally and me alone
for a little time; she is tired and unstrung. If you and the other girls
have been unfair, you will have an opportunity to apologize later. Then
Sally herself will feel more inclined to be reasonable."

Afterwards, when Alice had reluctantly disappeared, unexpectedly Sally
found herself seated as if she were a child in Aunt Patricia's lap and
listening to a very wise and tender conversation, one she was never to
forget, from a woman of deep and broad experience.

When she grew less disturbed Aunt Patricia made no effort not to scold
Sally for her unwisdom and her lack of reliance upon older judgment than
her own. But the great fact was that Aunt Patricia was never unfair,
that she had no sentimental suspicions and made no accusations with
which Sally could not fairly agree.

In their half hour together Sally Ashton learned to appreciate for the
rest of her life Aunt Patricia's value, learned to understand why Mrs.
Burton cared for her so devotedly and considered her a tower of strength
in adversity. In this uncertain world in which we live there are fair
weather and foul weather friends. Miss Patricia belonged to the number
who not only fail to strike other people when they are down, but who
spend all their energy and strength in the effort to lift them up again.

Later on the other Camp Fire girls were also to form a new estimate of
Miss Patricia's character, but simply by force of circumstance Sally was
the first one of them to be admitted inside the stern citadel with which
the elderly spinster surrounded her great heart.

"In the morning, Sally, when you have rested, and if I were you, child,
I would spend this afternoon in bed, why I intend to walk over with you
to your château and make the acquaintance of your soldier. If he is a
gentleman my dear, or even if he is a real man, I mean to bring him here
to the farm house to remain as our guest until he has completely
recovered. Now, don't argue with me, Sally. Mrs. Burton will tell you
that I am a hopeless old woman with whom to have an argument. I simply
never do any one's way except my own. I do not wish to discuss this side
of the situation with you to any extent, but don't you see, my dear,
that it is better for you that we have your soldier here? No one shall
think your friends have not understood and approved of your care of this
young Frenchman."

Sally murmured her acquiescence and her gratitude. Yet suddenly she felt
that she wished never again to see the young officer who for the past
few weeks had been her constant thought and care.

He had recovered sufficiently no longer to need her services and
although he was not wilfully responsible, nevertheless he had given her
a great deal of care and trouble.

"Of course you must do what you think best, Aunt Patricia," Sally added
a moment later, as she was preparing to start to her own room. "But
don't you think we had best wait until Tante's return?"

Aunt Patricia shook her head.

"What Polly Burton may think or desire in the matter will not have the
slightest influence with me. She cheerfully surrendered you girls into
my charge in order to make this trip, of which she knew I thoroughly
disapproved. However, in spite of the fact that I am very angry with
her, I do not wish any one else to feel uneasy, although I shall not
have a happy moment until she returns."



CHAPTER XVII

TWO OFFICERS


A week later two young officers were guests at the farm house on the
Aisne, one of them an American aerial lieutenant, the other a lieutenant
in the French cavalry.

Following his telegram within a few days, Lieutenant Ralph Marshall had
arrived to spend a short furlough, ostensibly with the entire group of
American Camp Fire girls, although in reality his visit was to Peggy
Webster. Notwithstanding the fact that he and Peggy were not supposed to
be engaged, chiefly because of Peggy's youth, they shared a different
conviction from their families.

The other young officer was none other than "Sally's soldier." Absurd as
the title appeared, particularly to Sally herself, nevertheless under
this name he was discussed secretly and at length in the Camp Fire
household.

Toward late afternoon on the day after Sally's enforced confession,
accompanied only by Old Jean, Miss Patricia Lord had tramped across the
fields to the French château and had there interviewed its inmate with a
directness and a searchlight quality worthy of a public prosecutor.

As a result she had received more valuable information than Sally Ashton
had acquired in the hour of their mutual and confused avowal. Among
other things Miss Patricia had learned that the wounded officer's
extraordinary outfit was due to the fact that he believed it would make
his escape more feasible.

But whatever the details of his story, he was able to inspire Miss
Patricia with sufficient interest and faith to admit him as a temporary
guest at the farm house in spite of the absence of Mrs. Burton.

However, although undoubtedly a guest, he was a guest according to rules
and restrictions laid down and adhered to by Miss Patricia and her
household.

In the first place, until he had completely recovered he was to remain
in his room at the farm house, cared for only by old Jean with
occasional visits from Miss Patricia. Under no circumstances was he to
see or meet for the present a single one of the Camp Fire girls. This
rule was particularly to be observed with regard to Sally Ashton.

Miss Patricia made no effort to conceal her intention of making a
thorough investigation of the account of his life the French officer had
imparted to her. She knew it would not be so difficult to verify his
statements. It was possible to communicate with the commander of his
regiment and also his friends, as he claimed to have lived in the French
country not many miles away from their neighborhood in the valley of the
Aisne. After his recovery doubtless he would be able to find a number of
his former acquaintances by returning to his old home.

It was in his favor that the French officer entirely agreed with Miss
Patricia's attitude in every particular save one. But he was wise enough
not to argue with her concerning this. In truth, thirty-six hours after
his installation at the farm house, the young Frenchman and Miss
Patricia had become surprisingly intimate friends. One could explain
this by stating that the officer had a delightful sense of humor and a
valuable appreciation of character. Miss Patricia announced that no
friendship could have been possible between them if Lieutenant Fleury's
mother had not had the good sense to have him taught English by an
English governess when he was a small boy. His accent Miss Patricia
considered as peculiar as her own French one, nevertheless they were
able to understand each other amazingly well.

One brilliant morning Miss Patricia entered the French officer's room
bearing a cup of bouillon to find him staring out a window which he had
just opened in order to let in the air and for another purpose which
Miss Patricia instantly suspected.

"Breaking parole," she commented tersely.

The young officer had not heard her entrance. In return he swung round
and laughed.

"Is that fair, Miss Lord? A cat may look at a king, _comme cá_ why
not at a number of queens? Besides, don't you realize it is a miracle
for a French soldier to be able to dream that these devastated fields of
France are soon to become green and fruitful again? Having lost
everything in the early days of the German invasion, my family, home, my
small fortune, nevertheless I rejoice that for other French soldiers
there may be a happier future when they return to their former homes,
thanks to the great hearts of the American people!"

The young officer's deep feeling and his quiet self-contained manner
caused a lump to rise in Miss Patricia's throat and a mist before her
eyes. Therefore her manner became more belligerent than ever.

"Here, sit down and drink this," she commanded. "I suppose you consider
that you have entirely recovered your strength and that I am the veriest
old termagant not to permit you to enjoy your convalescence with a group
of more or less charming American girls. But as a matter of fact I am
really protecting you as well as the girls. We have lived without
masculine society, unless you wish to count old Jean, ever since our
arrival at the farm house. So whatever your impression, I am afraid you
would soon be overpowered with attention once I allowed you to leave
this room."

Lieutenant Fleury finished his bouillon with a proper degree of
gratitude and enthusiasm before replying.

Afterwards he gazed at Miss Patricia for several moments in silence as
if carefully considering a number of important matters.

The young French officer was of more than medium height, had dark eyes
and hair, and except when he was talking, his expression was grave and
sad. His arm remained bandaged.

"Miss Patricia, I do not wish to meet _all_ your Camp Fire girls. I
agree with you I am not strong enough to make myself agreeable to them.
But I do wish to see _one_ of them again. You are aware that I mean
Miss Ashton. If ever a man had cause to be grateful to a girl-----"

"Nonsense!" Miss Patricia interrupted, picking up the empty cup as if
she were intending to leave the room immediately. "Sally was a goose and
ran the risk of being the death of you instead of saving your life as
you like to think. Besides, she has not the slightest desire to see you;
she told me this herself. She feels now that she was ridiculous. She
should never have paid any attention to the disjointed tale of an ill
man, or to the promise which you seem to have exacted of the poor child
in your original interview. As for being grateful to Sally, that is also
a waste of energy when you have none too much to spare. The one dream of
every girl in the world these days is to be allowed the privilege of
caring for a good-looking soldier. Sally had her opportunity under
particularly romantic and nonsensical circumstances. Besides, men will
always be grateful to Sally Ashton for something or other as long as she
lives, grateful because she is pretty and soft and selfish and, dear me,
I suppose she is what one calls essentially feminine! I confess I have
rather a tender feeling toward the child myself."

And without further answer to his request Miss Patricia hurriedly
departed.

Outdoors at the same time Sally was occupied in the garden digging in a
desultory fashion. As soon as there was no further danger of the ground
freezing the Camp Fire girls were planning to plant a garden.

Sally was alone at her task and alone because she preferred solitude.

After her fantastic escapade had been disclosed to the other Camp Fire
girls, those of them who had been particularly annoyed by her mysterious
behavior were frankly regretful of their condemnation. They did not
whole-heartedly approve of what she had done, but no one doubted Sally's
good intention or the unselfishness of her motive. Aside from Yvonne,
whose attitude continued puzzled and distrustful, each girl individually
had approached Sally with a carefully veiled apology. However, Sally,
who was not in a friendly state of mind toward the world at present,
received their advances coldly.

The only two persons whose opinion she really valued were Aunt
Patricia's and Mrs. Burton's. Aunt Patricia had been kinder and more
understanding than any human being could have dreamed possible. Mrs.
Burton had not yet returned from her journey into southern France.
Indeed, no word had been heard from her in a number of days, so that not
alone did Aunt Patricia suffer from uneasiness. The great German drive
so long expected was fanning the long line of the French battlefront
into fiercer and more terrorizing flames. At any hour the greatest
struggle in human history would once more burst upon the world.

An hour later Sally Ashton knocked shyly upon Lieutenant Fleury's closed
door. She did not do this in accordance with her own wishes, but because
of an urgent appeal made by Miss Patricia.

As a matter of fact, for some days Miss Patricia had been haunted by the
story of his life, since the outbreak of the war, which the young French
officer had recounted to her. He was not conscious of asking for
sympathy, nor did he consider his story unusual. Nevertheless it
occurred to Miss Patricia this morning that she was unwilling to add
loneliness to the difficulties which he must face during the hours of
his return to health. Up to the present time he had been too engaged
with his soldiering to allow much opportunity for reflection.

Miss Patricia was also convinced of the truth of what Lieutenant Fleury
had told her of himself, although she had no thought of not adding the
necessary proof to her instinctive conviction. But in the meantime if he
really earnestly desired to see and talk to Sally Ashton and to express
his gratitude, what possible harm could come of allowing them an
interview? Their acquaintance had been achieved under such remarkable
circumstances, to meet in a more ordinary and formal fashion would
doubtless be best for them both. Afterwards they would not develop
fantastic and untruthful ideas concerning each other.

At the moment of Sally's arrival Lieutenant Fleury was despondent. It
was true he had managed to escape from the Germans and could
congratulate himself that he was not a prisoner and might hope within a
reasonable length of time to return to his own regiment. Nevertheless
what an extraordinarily stupid adventure he had stumbled into in his
sub-conscious effort to seek the neighborhood of his former home!

He had come out of the experience a thousand times better than he had
any right to hope, yet had he not involved an American girl in what must
have been an extremely disagreeable and ungrateful task?

At this moment of her entrance into the invalid's room Sally Ashton did
not appear to have been seriously affected by her experience.

Her hour of working in the garden in the warm late winter sun had given
her cheeks the color they frequently lacked, or else it was her
embarrassment at meeting the young officer. Sally's hair was also
curling in the delicious and irresponsible fashion it often assumed,
breaking into small rings on her forehead and at the back of her neck in
the fashion of which she at least pretended to disapprove.

"Miss Patricia said you wished to speak to me. I am glad you are so much
better," she began in a reserved and ceremonious fashion as if she and
the lieutenant had met on but one previous occasion before today.

In truth it seemed impossible to Sally that the French officer whom she
was facing at present had been the ill and disheveled boy she had found
in hiding at the château and nursed back to comparative health.

In announcing that Sally did not desire to see the young French officer
again, Miss Patricia had been correct. Sally considered that she had
made a grave and foolish mistake and preferred, as most of us do, that
her mistake be ignored and forgotten.

Yet Lieutenant Fleury had no idea either of ignoring or forgetting
Sally's effort in his behalf.

Immediately in reply to her knock he had risen. His serious expression
had now changed to one of boyish gratitude and good humor.

"Yes, I did wish to speak to you; you are kind to have come," he
returned, although in reality surprised by Sally's extremely youthful
appearance. He had only a confused memory of her face bending above him
during his delirium. They had enjoyed but one conversation when he was
entirely himself. On that occasion he had supposed his rescuer a young
woman of some years and dignity, and Sally at present looked like a
school girl. Indeed, she was a school girl when at home in her own part
of the world if one can count college and school as one and the same
thing.

After coming in from the garden this morning she had hastily changed her
everyday Camp Fire dress for a white flannel of which she was especially
fond, and without observing that the skirt had shrunk until it was
extremely short.

"I wished to tell you once again how more than grateful I am to you for
your great kindness," the officer continued, smiling in spite of his
serious state of mind at the unexpectedness of Sally's appearance.
Looking at her now, it was hard to believe that she had ever assumed the
arduous burden of nursing a wounded soldier under more than trying
conditions. Yet if Sally had not been immature, she would have never
have shouldered such a responsibility!

She was smiling now and dimpling in an irresistible fashion.

"Will you make me a promise?" she demanded. "It is the one thing I ask
of you. If you are really under the impression that I was good to you
when I was merely risking your life, then promise never to refer to what
I did for you as long as you live and never mention the story to anybody
who could have the faintest chance of knowing me. You see," Sally
continued, her manner becoming more confidential, "I realize now that
from every point of view I was foolish. It is kind of you to have turned
out to be some one whom Miss Patricia and all of us are able to know,
for you might have been a most impossible person."

The young French officer laughed. As he recalled their last meeting and
this one his benefactress struck him as a person who had the gift of
provoking laughter.

"I think this a good deal to require of me," he returned. "I will do
what you ask only on condition that you-----"

"That I promise to allow you to do a favor for me some day?" Sally
completed the unfinished sentence. "I suppose that is what you were
about to say, wasn't it? Of course you can do whatever kindness you like
if you have the chance. But it does not seem probable. After you go away
from the farm I can't imagine any reason why we should ever see each
other again. Besides, you would do whatever you could for me whether I
gave you permission or not." Here Sally smiled a second time.

For an instant the French officer stared, nonplussed.

But he was not the first person whom Sally had puzzled. She was so
matter of fact and so sure of herself one could not tell whether she was
extremely simple or correspondingly subtle.

Since her companion regarded her as a child, he could have but one
impression.

When finally he held out his hand, Sally hesitated an instant before
placing her own inside his. His exhibition of French courtesy and
gratitude at their last meeting had been slightly embarrassing. But this
time the lieutenant only held her hand gravely.

"You are right, Miss Ashton, whatever was possible to show my gratitude
to you I should do, with or without your permission. If I am spared when
the war is over I may even create the opportunity which you seem to
doubt my ever having. When the war began I had a sister who was, I think
perhaps only a few years older than you. If you can ever make up your
mind to regard me as she would have done, it would mean a great real to
me."

Sally was beginning to feel bored. She thought her companion was very
conventional and a little stupid.

She had not the faintest desire to adopt an unknown young man as a
brother. Sally knew herself sufficiently well to realize that the
sisterly attitude would make but little appeal to her as long as she
lived. And she hoped that her interview with the rescued officer might
be entertaining. Life was dull now at the farm with Mrs. Burton away and
her own occupation, which had been exciting even if fatiguing,
withdrawn.

"What happened to your sister?" Sally inquired politely, although
intending to make her escape as soon as possible should their
conversation continue on such sentimental lines.

"She was killed in the retreat when the Germans conquered this part of
France at the outbreak of the war. I had gone to the front to join my
regiment, so Yvonne and my mother were alone except for my little
brother and a few women servants. Our château was destroyed."

The French officer paused because Sally was looking at him with a
curious expression as if an idea which she may have had in her mind for
some time was now slowly crystalizing into a fact.

"Your sister's name was Yvonne Fleury and your château was not far from
here, was it not?" Sally demanded.

The young officer nodded. He did not care to discuss his past history
with Sally or with any one else in the world. There was nothing to be
gained by recalling the inevitable tragedies of the war.

Sally did not appear seriously distressed. Unless she happened to be an
actual witness to suffering it did not touch her deeply. Besides, at the
present time she was smiling oddly, as if she were pleased and
displeased at the same time.

"I don't think that you need adopt me as your sister," she remarked.

Until this moment they had both continued standing.

Now Sally made a little motion toward the invalid's chair which Miss
Patricia had removed from their sitting-room to bestow upon her patient.

"Suppose we both sit down," she suggested, taking the only other chair
at the same instant.

"There is something else I wish to talk to you about if you feel you are
strong enough to hear. It may prove to be good news. I suppose it seems
a strange coincidence, although some people would call it an act of
Providence, but I am sure I don't understand such things. It is just
barely possible your sister Yvonne Fleury was not killed. When we were
crossing to France from the United States we met a girl on shipboard
named Yvonne Fleury, whose home, the Château Yvonne, had been destroyed
in the early part of the war. As she believed her brother had been
killed at the front, she had gone to New York City, where she had been
living with some friends for several years. She told the entire family
tragedy to our chaperon, Mrs. Burton, who afterwards told the story to
us, hoping we might be especially kind to Yvonne because of her
unhappiness. The other girls have been, but Yvonne and I do not like
each other and she has been very disagreeable to me. Still, if she turns
out to be your sister, it does not matter. Under the circumstances I
suppose I ought to say nothing against her.

"I have been thinking of this for some time, ever since you told me your
name, but of course there may be nothing in it. I only thought if you
might like to meet this Yvonne Fleury--you see she came here to the farm
and is living with us--I will speak first to Aunt Patricia and together
you can decide."

In reality Sally was not so unsympathetic or so childish as at present
her words and manner suggested. During her long speech she had been
watching the young officer narrowly. She had arrived at her present
conclusion by putting certain facts together in a practical and
commonsense fashion. There was more than a possibility that she might be
wrong, so there was no reason for working oneself up into a state of
hysteria or of heroics. Moreover, Sally had been entirely frank. She
understood that the French officer would be overjoyed if Yvonne should
prove to be his sister, but Sally herself would have felt no enthusiasm
over the same discovery. As a matter of fact, she had no particular
interest in Yvonne's opportunity for happiness through her aid.

She was worried, however, because her former patient suddenly appeared
so white and shaken by her words, when only a few moments before he had
looked so remarkably well.

Sally moved slowly backwards toward the door.

"I'll go and find Aunt Patricia; perhaps I should have spoken to her
first of my idea. Then after you have talked with her if you would like
me to find Yvonne and ask her to come to you----"

With these words, having managed to reach the half closed door, Sally
disappeared.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE EXPECTED HAPPENS


Miss Patricia Lord was on her way to the French village only a few miles
from their farm house. Unless the call were urgent, rarely did Miss
Patricia bestow her activities outside the environments of the farm,
which of course included the house, garden, barns, fields, really a
sufficient large sphere of activity even for her.

It is true she had been an extremely practical benefactress to the
entire neighborhood, yet her gifts had been made largely through other
persons; Mrs. Burton or one of the Camp Fire girls reporting a special
need among their neighbors, as promptly as possible Miss Patricia had
seen that need supplied.

So, as she took her walk on this summer afternoon, had she liked she
might have given a good deal of credit to herself for the change in the
appearance of the countryside which the past two months had wrought.

A number of the peasants' huts near the road had been either entirely or
partly rebuilt. But more important than the actual physical shelter,
Miss Patricia's tractor had plowed its way over many acres which
otherwise must have remained unproductive until, as far as the eye could
see, the fields were now being made ready for planting. Even if German
guns were thundering along the battle line, nevertheless behind that
line the French peasants toiled on with their patience and their eternal
industry.

Today Miss Patricia was thinking of life's contrasts, of the peaceful
scenes through which she was passing which only a few years before had
been an altar of the world's carnage and which might soon be so
sacrificed again.

For it would seem as if the last gigantic struggle of the present war
were now about to take place. Surely humanity would never pass through
this universal Calvary again!

Not yet had Mrs. Burton returned from her journey into southern France!

A few days before, a letter stating that, having accomplished a portion
of their mission, she, Mrs. Bishop and Monsieur Duval were preparing to
start on their homeward way, had arrived for Miss Patricia, although the
letter had been delayed for a week.

A more important witness of their mission had been the actual return to
the French village of a number of the refugees in whose welfare Mrs.
Burton had been especially interested. Among them was the French girl,
Elise.

At this moment Miss Patricia was intending to pay a call to offer her
congratulations to Elise and her grandmother and also to learn if Elise
had seen Mrs. Burton or heard any definite information concerning her.
The visit was not one to which she looked forward with pleasure, but was
due to the fact that Mrs. Burton had asked it of her as a favor. Miss
Patricia's use of the French tongue was so impossible that all
conversation between her and her French neighbors was an agony.
Moreover, her unconsciously fierce manner seemed always to disconcert
the courteous peasants.

Nevertheless, the old men and women and children whom she met on the
road into the village and later upon the village streets bowed to her
with more than ordinary friendliness. If they could not comprehend her
words or her manner, the value of her kindness they could understand.

A child ran out of one of the houses and unexpectedly presented Miss
Patricia with a little battered image of St. Joseph, and although St.
Joseph is one of the patron saints of marriage, Miss Patricia accepted
her gift with warm appreciation.

An hour later, when she received the first intimation of what had
occurred, Miss Patricia was standing in the little yard in front of
their hut with Grand'mère and Elise.

There was no restraint about Grand'mère's conversation now that her
granddaughter was restored to her; indeed, she was pouring forth such a
flood of rapid speech that Miss Patricia had the sensation of drowning
in a sea of words of which she could understand about one in fifty.

Nevertheless, it was pleasant to glance now and then toward Elise, who
was as charmingly pretty as her neighbors and friends had described her.
From her weeks of enforced imprisonment and something nearly approaching
starvation, the young French girl was thin and haggard. Yet as nothing
more terrible had happened, she was too rejoiced over her return not to
show delight and gratitude in every expression of her vivid face.
Moreover, after being allowed to cross the borderland from Germany into
France, she really had a meeting of a few moments with Mrs. Burton, who
had given her the money and the information necessary for her
homecoming.

At the moment when one of Elise's friends ran into the yard from an
unexpected direction, Miss Patricia's first sensation was that of
relief. At least she could enjoy a short respite from her position of
exclusive audience to Grand'mère. The woman appeared so excited and so
full of some story she undoubtedly had come to tell, that immediately
she became the center of attention. Moreover, a dozen other persons soon
followed her until in a few seconds the little yard was crowded with
gesticulating figures.

Miss Patricia was about to withdraw when a single word arrested her
attention. The word was of course pronounced in French fashion, yet in
the past few weeks Aunt Patricia had learned to recognize its peculiar
French intonation. The word was Mrs. Burton's name.

Through guessing, through intuition and also through the united efforts
of her new friends, soon after Miss Patricia learned as much of the
woman's tale as it was desirable for her to hear at the present time.

This story had spread through the village. A French ambulance bearing
the sign of the _croix de rouge_ had just driven through the town
en route to the farm house on the Aisne, the present home of the Camp
Fire girls. Returning from her work in southern France, Mrs. Burton had
been injured and rather than be cared for in a hospital had begged to be
brought directly to the farm.

As a matter of fact, Miss Patricia arrived at the farm house exactly two
minutes before the Red Cross ambulance drew up before the front door.
How she managed this one could only discover from Miss Patricia. The
village owned a single motor car used in transporting supplies and Miss
Patricia saw that it traveled faster on this occasion than ever before
in its history.

Besides, Mrs. Burton, who was so swathed in bandages one could scarcely
recognize her, the ambulance contained Monsieur Duval, the French
senator, Mrs. Bishop and a Red Cross nurse.

Ignoring them all, Aunt Patricia lifted Mrs. Burton in her arms and
carried her upstairs to her room, placing her upon the bed.

An hour later, when the farm house had grown strangely quiet and
everybody had been sent outdoors except the nurse and a doctor who had
been hastily summoned, Aunt Patricia stalked down the steps into the
drawing-room. Here she found Monsieur Duval and Mrs. Bishop waiting to
explain the situation to her.

They had been motoring toward home and several miles back of the French
line, when without any reason for such a catastrophe, a shell had
dropped from a German aeroplane and exploded near their car.

Aside from Mrs. Burton, no member of the party had been hurt, but a
piece of the shell had imbedded itself inside her chest and was supposed
to be too near her lungs for an operation.

"Do you mean that Polly Burton has a chance to live without an
operation?" Miss Patricia demanded in grim tones when her two companions
had finished their unsatisfying explanation of what had taken place.

Mrs. Bishop shook her head.

"I am afraid not; that is why we took the risk of bringing her home to
you when she wished so much to come."

"Is there a chance for her to recover through an operation?" Miss
Patricia next asked without a perceptible change either in her
expression or manner.

This time, as Mrs. Bishop appeared unable to speak, Monsieur Duval
answered instead.

"There is one in a hundred, but we dared not accept the responsibility
without first coming to you."

"Then telegraph at once for the best surgeon in Paris who can be spared
and also for Captain Richard Burton. I will give you his address. In the
meantime, if you can find hospitality elsewhere than at our farm I shall
be grateful. We shall have but little opportunity to make visitors
comfortable for the next few days."

With this Miss Patricia withdrew.



CHAPTER XIX

THE FIELD OF HONOR


Some little time afterwards, late on a March afternoon, the yard in
front of the farm house on the Aisne, chosen by the Camp Fire girls for
their temporary home in France, was occupied by a number of persons.
They had separated into groups and were either walking about the place
or else were seated in informal attitudes.

On the wooden steps leading directly down from the house two girls moved
aside to allow a woman and a man to pass them.

The woman was Miss Patricia, who appeared taller and more painfully
gaunt than ever, and moreover, was laying down the law upon some subject
in her usual didatic fashion. Yet the man whose arm was slipped through
hers was regarding her with devoted and amused affection. According to
Captain Richard Burton and in the opinion of a number of other persons,
Miss Patricia's good sense and devotion in the past few weeks had saved
his wife's life.

Miss Patricia was discussing with him the question of increasing the
number of cows upon the farm until a dairy could be run upon really
scientific principles. She desired a dairy sufficiently large to supply
milk to the nearby hospitals as well as to the babies in the villages.
Up to the present time she had been largely interested in preserving the
health of the young children who came within her sphere of effort. But
realizing that milk at present was one of the greatest needs in France
for the proper feeding of the wounded soldiers and of the convalescents,
Miss Patricia was arranging for the shipment of a herd of a hundred cows
from the United States. As a matter of fact, she was supposed to be
asking Captain Burton's advice upon the subject, though Miss Patricia's
method of asking advice was merely to announce what she intended doing.

After watching the two older persons disappear toward the barn, which
had been restored until it presented a very comfortable aspect, Peggy
Webster glanced up from her knitting to look earnestly at her companion.

"How long do you intend remaining in France to continue with the
reconstruction work, Vera?" she inquired.

Vera Lagerloff was sewing upon a dress for one of the children in the
neighborhood, since few of them had clothing enough to keep them warm
and comfortable in spite of all that was being done for them in the
reclamation districts by an increasing force of American women and
girls.

Vera's eyes followed the direction Miss Patricia's tall figure had just
taken.

"I intend to stay on indefinitely until the war is over and afterwards
if I feel I can be of more use here than anywhere else. A few days ago
Miss Patricia told me that she would be very glad to pay my expenses, as
she believed I was 'a laborer worthy of my hire.' What an extraordinary
woman she is and how much she seems to get out of life, if not for
herself, then certainly for other people! I shall never forget our first
meeting and the way in which she then took hold of the situation. I
think none of us will forget her recent devotion to Mrs. Burton. Any one
of us would have been willing to do what she did, only no one would have
had the courage or the intelligence."

Peggy nodded. "I have written mother pretty much the same thing you have
just said. Certainly no one of our family can ever pay our debt to Aunt
Patricia. Not that I should dare make the attempt!" Peggy added, smiling
and looking a little anxiously at the sock she was about to finish. "But
I wonder if I am envious of you, Vera, I mean of your planning to remain
over here so long? Mother and father have written they would like me to
come home as soon as I feel I am not especially needed and Tante has
entirely recovered. They wish her to return as well, but I am by no
means sure she will. There are moments of course when I am homesick and
feel it my duty to be with my own people, now that Billy is gone and Dan
has at last been permitted to volunteer. Then on the other hand, I
naturally want to be in France while Ralph is here fighting. Have I told
you that after Ralph's visit to us at the farm my family has consented
to our engagement. We have promised not to consider marrying until the
war is over. I am not speaking of this to any of the other Camp Fire
girls, Vera, only to you and Bettina. But I shall always think of you,
even if the future should separate us for a long time, as if you were
almost my sister. I suppose if Billy had lived you would have been my
sister."

In response Vera shook her head with its heavy mass of dark hair.

"I don't know, Peggy. I am not at all sure. I don't believe Billy's
friendship and mine were like that. Perhaps when he grew older he would
have wished to marry a prettier and more romantic girl, but always he
would have come back to me for criticism and praise. Yet I should never
have wished to marry any one else and now I shall never marry any one."

As there is no real answer to a speech of this character, Peggy Webster
made no reply. What Vera's future held in store for her was, according
to an ancient pagan expression, "in the lap of the gods."

But Peggy wrinkled her brows at this moment, making a little motion with
her hand to attract Vera's attention to the figure of a girl who was
standing alone about a dozen yards beyond them.

"Sally looks pretty, does she not, with her dark hair and white dress?
But of course nothing would induce her to confess that there is any
especial reason why she wishes to look particularly attractive this
afternoon. She is a funny child," Peggy concluded with the superior
manner of an engaged person.

This afternoon the Camp Fire girls were enjoying a half holiday and the
unusual celebration of afternoon tea in honor of Mrs. Burton's recovery
and also the arrival of the two guests whom they were now waiting out of
doors to greet.

Almost immediately after the reunion of Yvonne Fleury and her brother
they left the farm together, returning to the neighborhood of their own
château. Mrs. Burton's dangerous condition had made them feel it wiser
to add no more responsibility to the household. They also desired to
look up the old friends whom they might be able to find still living
near their former home.

Until this afternoon neither one of them had returned to the farm house
even for a brief visit, although of course many letters had been
exchanged between Yvonne and the other girls. Now Mary Gilchrist had
motored over to the nearest railroad station to meet them and Yvonne and
her brother, Lieutenant Fleury, were expected at any moment.

Ten minutes later, when the motor containing the two guests finally
arrived, Sally Ashton was the only one of the group of friends who did
not go forward to welcome the newcomers.

She did not believe that she particularly liked either of them and there
would be time enough to do her duty later.

As a matter of fact, Sally was about to slip around the side of the
house toward the kitchen to assist in the preparation of their simple
tea when Lieutenant Fleury followed her and as he called her by name she
felt obliged to stop and speak to him.

He looked extremely well as if he had entirely recovered from his
illness and was better looking than Sally would have dreamed possible.

"You do not seem enthusiastic about seeing me again?" Lieutenant Fleury
began, smiling at Sally.

"I am very glad to find you so well," Sally announced as she shook
hands. It was difficult to confuse Sally. She had a great deal of poise
of her own kind and a little superior air of detachment which was oddly
amusing.

"Yes, I am very well, thanks to you. Still I insist upon knowing why you
are not pleased to see me? I remember you snubbed me for suggesting that
we might develop a sisterly and brotherly affection for each other, but
now I have discovered Yvonne, won't you be friends? It is hard upon me
if you refuse to consent because my burden of gratitude to you must then
be all the heavier. I am going back to join my regiment in a few days.
Today I also came to warn Miss Lord and Captain Burton that there will
be danger later this spring if you insist upon remaining here at your
farm house. I cannot speak plainly, but I have reason to believe the
German drive will not be long delayed. The Allied line will hold; they
shall never break through, yet it might be wiser if you were out of the
range of any possible danger."

Without discussion of the question and disregarding the delightful
possibility of tea, Sally and Lieutenant Fleury were walking side by
side away from the farm house yard and toward the old château.

"You are very kind, Lieutenant Fleury," Sally answered, speaking more
gravely and with less childishness than one might have imagined, "but I
do not believe we will consent to leave our farm house and to give up
our work unless the war comes almost to our very door. Even then you
know food might be useful to the soldiers and I am an extremely good
cook."

Sally's seriousness had disappeared and she was more her accustomed
self.

"Yet you have not answered my question or promised to be my friend,"
Lieutenant Fleury argued, looking at his companion with an amused frown.
Undoubtedly it was difficult to understand any human being who could be
such a complete child at one moment and so wise the next; but perhaps
Sally embodied the Biblical idea that true wisdom is only found among
childish spirits.

As a matter of fact, Sally answered simply, "Why, of course I am your
friend, Lieutenant Fleury. Now when I am beginning to understand more of
what soldiers must endure, I feel as if I were a friend to every man in
our allied armies, although they probably are not aware of the honor,"
and again Sally dimpled in irresistible fashion.

Moreover, with this general acceptance of his friendship, Lieutenant
Fleury was obliged to appear content, since Sally would give him no more
satisfactory reply.

A few weeks later the long-heralded German drive burst with renewed fury
along a long line in France. How the group of American Camp Fire girls
met the unexpected dangers and demands upon their courage and resources
will be the subject of the next Camp Fire book.





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