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Title: The Camp Fire Girls' Careers
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Camp Fire Girls' Careers" ***

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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: “I Am Sorry,” Billy Replied]



Author of “The Ranch Girls Series,” etc.





Copyright, 1915, by

The John C. Winston Company

                     STORIES ABOUT CAMP FIRE GIRLS

                              Six Volumes

                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


           CHAPTER                                         PAGE
                I. Success or Failure?                        7
               II. “Belinda”                                 17
              III. Friends and Enemies                       33
               IV. Farewell!                                 43
                V. Other Girls                               55
               VI. The Fire-Maker’s Desire                   82
              VII. “The Flames in the Wind”                  74
             VIII. Afternoon Tea and a Mystery               83
               IX. Preparations                              94
                X. More Puzzles                             105
               XI. A Christmas Song and Recognition         119
              XII. After Her Fashion Polly Explains         133
             XIII. A Place of Memories                      149
              XIV. A Sudden Summons                         163
               XV. “Little Old New York”                    174
              XVI. “Moira”                                  185
             XVII. A Reunion                                195
            XVIII. Home Again                               209
              XIX. Illusions Swept Away                     218
               XX. Two Engagements                          233
              XXI. At the Turn of the Road                  243


    “I Am Sorry,” Billy Replied                         Frontispiece
    Polly Stopped Shaking to Glance at Her Companion              13
    She Came Out Carrying Red Roses, Holly and Cedar              63
    “Why Did You Think I Had Ever Heard of Your Friend?”         151

The Camp Fire Girls’ Careers

CHAPTER I—Success or Failure

The entire theater was in darkness but for a single light burning at one
corner of the bare stage, where stood a man and girl.

“Now once more, Miss Polly, please,” the man said encouragingly. “That
last try had a bit more life in it. Only do remember that you are
supposed to be amusing, and don’t wear such a tragic expression.”

Then a stiff figure, very young, very thin, and with a tense white face,
moved backward half a dozen steps, only to stumble awkwardly forward the
next instant with both hands pressed tight together.

“I can’t—I can’t find it,” she began uncertainly, “I have searched——”

Lifting her eyes at this moment to her companion’s, Polly O’Neill burst
into tears.

“I am a hopeless, abject failure, Mr. Hunt, and I shall never, never
learn to act in a thousand years. There is no use in your trying to
teach me, for if we remain at the theater for the rest of the day I
shall make exactly the same mistakes tonight. Oh, how can I possibly
play a funny character when my teeth are positively chattering with
fright even at a rehearsal? It is sheer madness, my daring to appear
with you and Margaret Adams before a first-night New York audience and
in a new play. Even if I have only a tiny part, I can manage to make
just as great a mess of it. Why, why did I ever dream I wished to have a
career, I wonder. I only want to go back home this minute to Woodford
and never stir a step away from that blessed village as long as I live.”

“Heigho, says Mistress Polly,” quoted her companion and then waited
without smiling while the girl dried her tears.

“But you felt very differently from this several years ago when you
acted with me in The Castle of Life,” he argued in a reassuring tone.
“Besides, you were then very young and had not had two years of dramatic
training. I was amazed at your self-confidence, and now I don’t
understand why you should feel so much more nervous.”

Polly squared her slender shoulders. “Yes you do, Mr. Hunt,” she
insisted, bluntly. “However, if you really don’t understand, I think I
can make you see in a moment. Four years ago when I behaved like a
naughty child and without letting my friends or family know acted the
part of the fairy of the woods in the Christmas pantomime, I had not the
faintest idea of what a serious thing I was attempting. I did not even
dream of how many mistakes I could make. Besides, that was only a
school-girl prank and I never thought that any one in the audience might
know me. But now, why at this moment I can hear dozens of people
whispering: ‘See that girl on the stage there taking the character of
the maid, Belinda; she is Polly O’Neill. You may remember that she is
one of the old Sunrise Hill Camp Fire girls and for years has been
worrying her family to let her become an actress. I don’t believe she
will ever make a success. Really, she is the worst stick I ever saw on
the stage!’”

And so real had her imaginary critic become that Polly shuddered and
then clasped her hands together in a tragic fashion.

“Then think of my poor mother and my sister, Mollie, and Betty Ashton
and a dozen or more of my old Camp Fire friends who have come to New
York to see me make my début tonight! Can’t you tell Miss Adams I am
ill; isn’t there some one who can take my place? I really am ill, you
know, Mr. Hunt,” Polly pleaded, the tears again starting to her eyes.

Since Polly’s return from the summer in Europe, two years of eager
ambition and hard work had been spent in a difficult training. As a
result she looked older and more fragile. This morning her face was
characteristically pale and the two bright patches of color usually
burning on her cheek bones had vanished. Her chin had become so pointed
that it seemed almost elfish, and her head appeared too small for its
heavy crown of jet-black hair. Indeed, at this time in her life, in the
opinion of strangers, only the blueness of her eyes with the Irish
shadows underneath saved the girl from positive plainness. To her
friends, of course, she was always just Polly and so beyond criticism.

Having finally through years of persuasion and Margaret Adams’ added
influence won her mother’s consent to follow the stage for her
profession, Polly had come to New York, where she devoted every possible
hour of the day and night to her work. There had been hundreds of
lessons in physical culture, in learning to walk properly and to sit
down. Still more important had been the struggle with the pronunciation
of even the simplest words, besides the hundred and one minor lessons of
which the outsider never dreams. Polly had continued patient,
hard-working and determined. No longer did she give performances of
Juliet, draped in a red tablecloth, before audiences of admiring girls.

Never for a moment since their first meeting at the Camp Fire play in
Sunrise Hill cabin had Margaret Adams ceased to show a deep interest in
the wayward, ambitious and often unreliable Polly. She it was who had
recommended the school in New York City and the master under whom Polly
was to make her stage preparations. And here at the first possible
moment Margaret Adams had offered her the chance for a début under the
most auspicious conditions.

The play was a clever farce called A Woman’s Wit, and especially written
for the celebrated actress, who was to be supported by Richard Hunt,
Polly’s former acquaintance, as leading man.

Of course the play had been in rehearsal for several weeks; but Polly
had been convinced that her own work had been growing poorer and poorer
as each day went by.

“Look here, Miss O’Neill,” a voice said harshly, and Polly stopped
shaking to glance at her companion in surprise. During the last few
months she and Richard Hunt had renewed their acquaintance and in every
possible way Mr. Hunt had been kind and helpful. Yet now his manner had
suddenly grown stern and forbidding.

[Illustration: Polly Stopped Shaking to Glance at Her Companion]

“You are talking wildly and absurdly and like a foolish child instead of
a woman,” he said coldly. “Surely you must know that you are having a
rare chance tonight because of Miss Adams’ friendship and you must not
disappoint her. If you fail to succeed, that will be unfortunate, but if
you run away—” Suddenly Richard Hunt laughed. What a ridiculous
suggestion! Of course Polly had only been talking in a silly school-girl
fashion without any idea of being taken seriously.

“Good-by, Miss Polly, and cheer up,” Richard Hunt finally said, holding
out his hand, his manner friendly once more; for after all she was only
a frightened child and he was at least ten years her senior. “Doubtless
you’ll put us all to shame tonight and Belinda will be the success of
the evening.” Then as he moved away toward the stage door he added, “It
was absurd of me to be so annoyed, but do you know, for a moment you
made me believe you really thought of running away. What about the Camp
Fire law of that famous club to which you once belonged? Did it not tell
you to be trustworthy and not to undertake an enterprise rashly, but,
having undertaken it, to complete it unflinchingly. Do go home now and
rest, child, things are sure to turn out splendidly.” And with a smile
of sympathy the man walked away.

So in another moment Polly was standing alone on an otherwise empty
stage, torn with indecision and dread. Was Mr. Hunt right in believing
that she had uttered only an idle threat in saying that she meant to run
away? Yet would it not be wiser to disappear than to make an utter
failure of her part tonight and be unable either to move or speak when
the eyes of the audience were fixed expectantly upon her?

Slowly the girl walked toward the door, her face scarlet one moment,
then like chalk the next. She could hear the scene-shifters moving about
and realized that she would soon be in their way. But what should she
do? Polly realized that if she went to her boarding place her mother and
Mollie would be there waiting for her and then there could be no
possible chance of escape.

Always Polly O’Neill had permitted herself to yield to sudden, nearly
uncontrollable impulses. Should she do so now? In the last few years she
believed she had acquired more self-control, better judgment. Yet in
this panic of fear they had vanished once more. Of course Miss Adams
would never forgive her, and no one would have any respect for her
again. All this the girl realized and yet at the moment nothing appeared
so dreadful as walking out on the stage and repeating the dozen or more
sentences required of her. Rather would she have faced the guillotine.

“‘Finvarra and their land of heart’s desire,’” Polly quoted softly and
scornfully to herself. Well, she had been hoping that she was to reach
the land of her heart’s desire tonight. Was this not to be the beginning
of the stage career for which she had worked and prayed and dreamed?

Out on the street Polly was now walking blindly ahead. She had at last
reached her decision, and yet how could she ever arrange to carry it

CHAPTER II—“Belinda”

It was twenty-five minutes past eight o’clock and at half-past eight the
curtain was to rise on the first performance of A Woman’s Wit, written
especially for Margaret Adams. And because of her popularity and that of
her leading man, the house had been sold out weeks in advance.

The action of the play was to take place in a small town in Colorado,
where a man and his wife were both endeavoring to be elected to the
office of Mayor. Polly was to play the part of a clever little
shop-girl, whom the heroine had brought into her home, supposedly as a
parlor maid. But in reality the girl was to do all that was in her power
to assist her mistress in gaining a victory over her husband. She was to
watch his movements and to suggest any schemes that she might devise for
their success.

In the act which Polly had recently been rehearsing she was engaged in
trying to discover a political speech written by the hero, so that the
wife might read it beforehand and so answer it in a convincing fashion
before the evening meeting of the Woman’s Club. The play was a witty
farce, and Belinda was supposedly one of the cleverest and most amusing
characters. Yet whether Polly could succeed in making her appear so was
still exceedingly doubtful.

With this idea in mind Richard Hunt left his dressing room, hoping to
see Polly for a few moments if possible before the play began. Perhaps
her fright had passed. For already the man and girl were sufficiently
intimate friends for him to understand how swiftly her moods changed.

Polly had apparently left her dressing room, since there was no answer
to repeated knockings. She could not have carried out her threat of the
morning? Of course such a supposition was an absurdity. And yet the
man’s frown relaxed and his smile was one of unconscious relief when a
tall, delicate figure in a blue dress came hurrying toward him along the
dimly-lighted passage-way. The girl did not seem aware of anything or
anybody, so great was her hurry and nervousness. However, this was not
unreasonable, for instead of having on her maid’s costume for the
performance, she was wearing an evening gown of shimmering silk and in
the coiled braids of her black hair a single pink rose.

“You are late, Miss Polly; may I find some one to help you dress?”

Instantly a pair of blue eyes were turned toward him in surprise and
reproach. They were probably not such intensely blue eyes as Polly
O’Neill’s and they had a far gentler expression, though they were of
exactly the same shape. And the girl’s hair was equally black, her
figure and carriage almost similar, except that she was less thin. But
instead of Polly’s accustomed pallor this girl’s cheeks were as
delicately flushed as the rose in her hair. “Could an evening costume so
metamorphose a human being?” Richard Hunt wondered in a vaguely puzzled,
uncertain fashion.

A small hand was thrust forward without the least sign of haste,
although it trembled a little from shyness.

“I’m not Polly, Mr. Hunt,” the girl said smiling. “I am Mollie, her twin
sister. But you must not mistake us, because even if we do look alike,
we are not in the least alike in other ways. For one thing, I wouldn’t
be in Polly O’Neill’s shoes tonight, not for this whole world with a
fence around it. How can she do such a horrible thing as to be an
actress? Polly considers that I haven’t a spark of ambition, but why on
earth should a sensible girl want a career?”

Suddenly Mollie blushed until her cheeks were pinker than before. “Oh, I
am so sorry! I forgot for the moment that you were an actor, Mr. Hunt.
Of course things are very different with you. A man must have a career!
But I ought to apologize for talking to you without our having met each
other. You see, Polly has spoken of you so many times, saying how kind
you had been in trying to help her, that I thought for the instant I
actually did know you. Forgive me, and now I must find Polly.”

Mollie was always shy, but realizing all at once how much she had
confided to a stranger, she felt overwhelmed with embarrassment. How the
other girls would laugh if they ever learned of what she had said. Yet
Mr. Hunt was not laughing at her, nor did he appear in the least
offended. Mollie was sure he must be as kind as Polly had declared him,
although he did look older than she had expected and must be quite
thirty, as his hair was beginning to turn gray at the temples and there
were heavy lines about the corners of his mouth. As Mollie now turned
the handle of her sister’s dressing-room door she was hoping that her
new acquaintance had not noticed how closely she had studied him.

However, she need not have worried, for her companion was only thinking
of how pretty she was and yet how oddly like her twin sister. For Mollie
seemed to possess the very graces that Polly lacked. Evidently she was
more amiable, better poised and more reliable, her figure was more
attractive, her color prettier and her manner gracious and appealing.

“I am afraid you won’t find your sister in there, Miss O’Neill. I have
knocked several times without an answer,” Richard Hunt finally

“Won’t find her?” Mollie repeated the words in consternation. “Then
where on earth is she? Miss Adams sent me to tell Polly that she wished
to speak to her for half a moment before the curtain went up. Besides,
Miss Ashton has already searched everywhere for her for quite ten
minutes and then came back to her seat in the theater, having had to
give up.”

Forcibly Mollie now turned the handle of the door and peered in. The
small room was unoccupied, as the other two members of the company who
shared it with Polly, having dressed some time before, had also

But Richard Hunt could wait no longer to assist in discovering the
wanderer. Five minutes had passed, so that his presence would soon be
required upon the stage. Surely if Polly had failed to appear at the
theater her sister would be aware of it. Yet there was still a chance
that she had sent a hurried message to the stage director so that her
character could be played by an understudy. Even Polly would scarcely
wreck the play by simply failing at the last moment.

He was vaguely uneasy. He had been interested in Polly, first because of
their chance acquaintance several years before when they both acted in
The Castle of Life, and also because of Miss Adams’ deep affection for
her protégé. The man had been unable to decide whether Polly had any
talent for the career which she professed to care for so greatly.

Now and then during the frequent rehearsals of their new play she had
done very well. But the very day after a clever performance she was more
than apt to give a poor one until the stage manager had almost
despaired. Nevertheless Richard Hunt acknowledged to himself that there
was something about the girl that made one unable to forget her. She was
so intense, loving and hating, laughing and crying with her whole soul.
Whatever her fate in after years, one could not believe that it would be
an entirely conventional one.

His cue had been called and Miss Adams was already on the stage. In a
quarter of an hour when Belinda was summoned by her mistress, he would
know whether or not Polly had feigned illness or whether she had kept
her threat and ignominiously run away.

The moment came. A door swung abruptly forward at the rear of the stage
and through it a girl entered swiftly. She was dressed in a
tight-fitting gray frock with black silk stockings and slippers. There
was a tiny white cap on her head and she wore a small fluted apron. She
looked very young, very clever and graceful. And it was Polly O’Neill,
and Polly at her best!

For the briefest instant Richard Hunt and Margaret Adams exchanged
glances. It was obvious that Margaret Adams had also been uneasy over
her favorite’s début. For her eyes brightened and she nodded
encouragingly as the little maid set down the tray she was carrying with
a bang and then turned saucily to speak to her master. A laugh from the
audience followed her first speech.

The Polly of the morning had completely vanished. This girl’s cheeks
were crimson, her eyes danced with excitement and vivacity. She was
fairly sparkling with Irish wit and grace and, best of all, she appeared
entirely unafraid.

It was not alone Polly O’Neill’s two comparatively new friends upon the
stage with her, who now felt relieved from anxiety by her clever
entrance. More than a dozen persons in the audience forming a large
theater party occupying the sixth and seventh rows in the orchestra
chairs, breathed inaudible sighs of relief.

There sat Betty Ashton and Dick and Esther, who had come down from
Boston to New York City for Polly’s début. Next Betty was a handsome,
grave young man, who had only a few days before been elected to the New
Hampshire Legislature by the residents of Woodford and the surrounding
country, Anthony Graham. On his other side eat his sister, Nan, a
dark-eyed, dark-haired girl with a quiet, refined manner. Near by and
staring straight ahead through a pair of large, gold-rimmed spectacles
was another girl with sandy hair, light blue eyes, a square jaw and a
determined, serious expression. Nothing did Sylvia Wharton take lightly,
and least of all the success or failure tonight of her adored
step-sister. For Sylvia’s ardent affection for Polly had never wavered
since the early Camp Fire days at Sunrise Hill. And while she often
disapproved of her and freely told her so, as she had then, still Polly
knew that Sylvia could always be counted on through good and ill.

So far as the younger girl’s own work was concerned there was little
doubt of her success. Each year she had been at the head of her class in
the training school for nurses and had since taken up the study of
medicine. For Sylvia had never cared for frivolities, for beaus or
dancing or ordinary good times. Polly often used to say that she would
like to shake her younger step-sister for her utter seriousness, yet
Sylvia rarely replied that she might have other and better reasons for
administering the same discipline to Polly.

Back of this party of six friends Mr. and Mrs. Wharton, Polly’s mother
and stepfather, her sister Mollie and Billy Webster were seated. Billy,
however, was no longer called by this youthful title except by his most
intimate friends. He had never since the day Polly had teased him
concerning it, asking him how it felt to be a shadowy imitation of a
great man, used the name of Daniel. He was known to the people in
Woodford and the neighborhood as William Webster, since Billy’s father
had died a year before and he now had the entire management of their
large and successful farm. Indeed, the young man was considered one of
the most expert of the new school of scientific farmers in his section
of the country. And although Billy undoubtedly looked like a country
fellow, there was no denying that he was exceedingly handsome. He was
six feet tall, with broad shoulders and an erect carriage; his skin was
tanned by the sun and wind, making his eyes appear more deeply blue and
his hair almost the color of copper. Now seated next to Mollie he was
endeavoring to make her less nervous, although any one could have seen
he was equally nervous himself.

Frank Wharton and Eleanor Meade, who were to be married in a few months,
were together, and next came yellow-haired Meg and her brother, John.
Then only a few places away Rose and Dr. Barton and Faith, the youngest
of the former group of Sunrise Hill Camp Fire girls, who had been
adopted by her former guardian and now was known by Dr. Barton’s name.
Faith was an unusual-looking girl, with the palest gold hair which she
wore tied back with a black velvet ribbon. She had a curious, far-away
expression in her great blue eyes and the simplicity of a little child.
For Faith had never ceased her odd fashion of living in dreams, so that
the real world was yet an unexplored country to her. Indeed, in her
quaint short-waisted white muslin frock, with a tiny fan and a bunch of
country flowers in her hand, she might have sat as one of the models for
Arthur Rackham’s spiritual, half-fairy children. Tonight she was even
more quiet than usual, since this was the first time she had ever been
inside a theater in her life. And had it not been for the reality of
Polly O’Neill’s presence, one of her very own group of Camp Fire girls,
she must have thought herself on a different planet.

Herr and Frau Krippen had not been able to leave Woodford for this great
occasion, since they boasted a very small and very new baby, with hair
as red as its father’s and as Esther’s. But otherwise it looked
singularly like the first of the Sunrise Hill Camp Fire guardians, the
Miss Martha, whom the girls had then believed fore-ordained to eternal

So on this eventful night in her career, Polly O’Neill’s old friends and
family were certainly well represented. Fortunately, however, she had so
far given no thought to their presence.

Now Belinda must rush frantically about on the stage, making a pretext
of dusting the while she is eagerly listening to the conversation taking
place between her master and mistress. Then in another moment they both
leave the stage and Polly at last has her real opportunity. For with
Margaret Adams present, naturally the chief attention of the audience
would be concentrated upon her with her talent, her magnetism and her
great reputation.

Yet as Miss Adams slipped away with a fleeting and encouraging lifting
of her eyebrows toward her little maid, suddenly Polly O’Neill felt that
the hour of her final reckoning had come. Curiously, until now she had
not been self-conscious nor frightened; not for an instant had she been
pursued by the terrors that had so harassed her all day that she had
made a dozen plans to escape. Yet with the attention of the large
audience suddenly riveted upon her alone, they were returning like a
thousand fiends.

Polly felt like an atom surrounded by infinite space, like a spot of
light in an eternity of darkness. Her voice had gone, her limbs were
stiff, yet automatically she continued her dusting for a moment longer,
hoping that a miracle might turn her into a human being again. Useless:
her voice would never return, her legs felt as if they belonged to a
figure in Mrs. Jarley’s waxworks.

One could not devote the entire evening polishing the stage furniture!
Already she could hear the agonized voice of the prompter whispering her
lines, which he naturally supposed her to have forgotten.

In some fashion Polly must have dragged herself to the spot on the stage
where she had been previously instructed to stand, and there somehow she
must have succeeded in repeating the few sentences required of her,
although she never knew how she did the one or the other; for soon the
other players made their proper entrances and the unhappy Belinda was
allowed to withdraw.

Yet although Polly could never clearly recall the events on the stage
during these few moments, of one thing she was absolutely conscious. By
some wretched accident she had glanced appealingly down, hoping to find
encouragement in the face of her mother, sister, or Betty Ashton.
Instead, however, she had caught the blue eyes of her old antagonist,
Billy Webster, fixed upon her with such an expression of consternation,
sympathy and amusement that she was never to forget the look for the
rest of her life.

In the final scene, the one so diligently rehearsed during the morning,
Belinda did not make such a complete failure. But, as she slipped away
to her dressing room at the close of the performance, Polly O’Neill
knew, before tongue or pen could set it down, the verdict that must
follow her long-desired stage début. Alas, that in this world there are
many of us unlike Cæsar: we come, we see, but we do not conquer!

CHAPTER III—Friends and Enemies

Standing outside in the dark passage for a moment, Polly hesitated with
her hand on the door-knob, having already opened the door a few inches.
From the inside she could plainly hear the voices of the two girls who
shared the dressing room with her. Neither one of them had an important
place in the cast. They merely came on in one of the scenes as members
of a group and without speaking. However, they were both clever,
ambitious girls whom Polly liked. Now her attention had been arrested by
hearing the sound of her own name.

“Polly O’Neill was a dreadful failure, wasn’t she?” one of them was
saying. “Well, I am not in the least surprised. Indeed, it was just what
I expected. Of course, she was only given the part of Belinda because of
favoritism. Miss Adams is such a great friend of hers!”

Then before Polly could make her presence known the second girl replied:

“So far as I can see, Polly O’Neill has never shown a particle of
ability at any of the rehearsals that would justify her being placed
over the rest of us. I am sure that either you or I would have done far
better. But never mind; perhaps some day we may be famous actresses and
she nothing at all, when there is no Miss Adams to help her along.”

But at this same instant Polly walked into the room.

“I am so sorry I overheard what you said, but it was entirely my fault,
not yours,” she began directly. “Only please don’t think I intended to
be eavesdropping. It was quite an accident my appearing just at the
wrong moment. Of course I am hurt by your thinking I acted Belinda so
poorly. Perhaps one of you would have been more successful. But do
please understand that I realize perfectly that I had the chance given
me because of Miss Adams’ friendship and not because of my own talents.”
Then, though Polly’s cheeks were flaming during her long speech and her
tones not always steady, she smiled at her companions in entire good

Immediately the older girl, walking across the floor, laid her hand on
Polly’s shoulder. “I am not going to take back all I said a while ago,
for I meant a part of it,” she declared half apologetically and half
with bravado. “Honestly, I don’t think you were very good as Belinda.
But I have seen you act rather well at rehearsals now and then. I think
you failed tonight because you suddenly grew so frightened. Don’t be
discouraged; goodness knows it has happened to many an actor before who
afterwards became famous,” she ended in an effort to be comforting.

“Yes, and it is all very well for us to talk here in our dressing rooms
about being more successful than you were,” the second girl added, “but
there is no way of our proving that we would not have had even worse
cases of stage fright.” She gave Polly’s hand a gentle squeeze. “Of
course, you must know we are both jealous of Miss Adams’ affection for
you or we would never have been such horrid cats.” The girl blushed. “Do
try and forget what we said, it was horrid not to have been kinder and
more sympathetic. You may have a chance to pay us back with interest
some day. Anyhow, you are a splendid sport not to be angry. I am sure it
is the people who take things as you have this who will win out in the

Then no one referred to the subject again. For it was plain that Polly
was exhausted and that her nerves had nearly reached the breaking point.
Instead, both girls now did their best to assist her in taking off the
costume of the ill-fated Belinda and in getting into an ordinary street
costume. For Polly was to meet her family and friends in a small
reception room adjoining Miss Adams’ dressing room, five minutes after
the close of the play. She would have preferred to have marched up to
the cannon’s mouth, and she was much too tired at present either for
congratulations or censure. She heard Mollie and Betty Ashton coming
toward the door to seek for her.

Of course they were both immediately enthusiastic over Polly’s début and
were sure that she had been a pronounced success. For in the minds of
her sister and friend, Polly was simply incapable of failure. And
perhaps they did succeed in making the rest of the evening easier for
her. But then all of her old Camp Fire and Woodford friends were as kind
as possible. To have one of their own girls acting on a real stage
seemed fame enough in itself.

But from two of her friends, from Sylvia Wharton and from Billy Webster,
Polly received the truth as they saw it. Sylvia’s came with spoken
words, and Billy’s by a more painful silence.

As Polly entered the room, Sylvia came forward, and kissed her solemnly.
The two girls had not seen each other for a number of weeks. Sylvia had
only arrived in New York a few hours before.

“You were dreadfully nervous, Polly, just as I thought you would be,”
Sylvia remarked quietly, holding her step-sister’s attention by the
intensity and concentration of her gaze behind the gold-rimmed
spectacles. “Now I am afraid you are fearfully tired and upset. I do
wish you would go home immediately and go to bed instead of talking to
all these people. But I suppose you have already decided because you did
not act as well as you expected this evening that you will never do any
better. Promise me to be reasonable this one time, Polly, and may I see
you alone and have a talk with you tomorrow?”

Then there was only time for the older girl to nod agreement and to
place her hot hand for an instant into Sylvia’s large, strong one, that
already had a kind of healing touch.

For Mrs. Wharton was now demanding her daughter’s attention, wishing to
introduce her to friends. Since she had finally made up her mind to
allow Polly to try her fate as an actress, Mrs. Wharton had no doubt of
her ultimate brilliant success.

Five minutes afterwards, quite by accident, Richard Hunt found himself
standing near enough to Polly to feel that he must also say something in
regard to her début.

“I am glad Belinda did not run away today, Miss Polly,” he whispered.
“Do you know I almost believed she intended to for a few moments this
morning?” And the man smiled at the absurdity of his idea.

Polly glanced quickly up toward her companion, a warm flush coloring her
tired face. “It might have been better for the play if I had, Mr. Hunt,
I’m a-thinking,” she answered with a mellow Irish intonation in the low
tones of her voice. “But you need not think I did not mean what I said.
Don’t tell on me, but I had a ticket bought and my bag packed and all my
plans made for running away and then at the last even I could not be
quite such a coward.” The girl’s expression changed. “Perhaps, after
all, I may yet be forced into using that ticket some day,” she added,
half laughing and half serious, as she turned to speak to some one else
who had joined them.

For another idle moment the man still thought of his recent companion.
How much or how little of her rash statements did the child mean? Yet he
might have spared himself the trouble of this reflection, for this
question about Polly was never to be satisfactorily answered.

Although by this time the greater number of persons in Margaret Adams’
reception room had spoken to Polly either to say kind things or the
reverse, there was, however, one individual who had devoted his best
efforts to avoiding her. Yet there had never been such an occasion
before tonight. For whether he chanced to be angry with her at the
moment or pleased, Billy Webster had always enjoyed the opportunity of
talking to Polly, since she always stirred his deepest emotions, no
matter what the emotions chanced to be. Tonight he had no desire to
repeat the fatal words, “I told you so.”

Of course he had always known that Polly O’Neill would never be a
successful actress; she was far too erratic, too emotional. If only she
had been sensible for once and listened to him that day in the woods
long ago! Suddenly Billy squared his broad shoulders and closed his firm
young lips. For, separating herself from every one else, Polly was
actually marching directly toward him, and she had ever an uncanny
fashion of guessing what was going on in other people’s heads.

Underneath his country tan Billy Webster blushed furiously and honestly.

“You think I was a rank failure, don’t you?” Polly demanded at once.

Still speechless, the young man nodded his head.

“You don’t believe I ever will do much better?” Again Billy nodded

“And that I had much better have stayed at home in Woodford and learned
to cook and sew and—and—well, some day try to be somebody’s wife?” the
girl ended a little breathlessly.

This time Billy Webster did not mince matters. “I most assuredly do,” he
answered with praiseworthy bluntness.

Now for the first time since her fiasco as Belinda, Polly’s eyes flashed
with something of their old fire. And there in the presence of the
company, though unheeded by them, she stamped her foot just as she
always had as a naughty child.

“I will succeed, Billy Webster, I will, I will! I don’t care how many
failures I may make in learning! And just because I want to be a good
actress is no reason why I can’t marry some day, if there is any man in
the world who could both love and understand me and who would not wish
to make me over according to his own particular pattern.” Then Polly
smiled. “Thank you a thousand times, though, Billy, for you are the
solitary person who has done me any good tonight. It is quite like old
times, isn’t it, for us to start quarreling as soon as we meet. But,
farewell, I must go home now and to bed.” Polly held out her hand. “You
are an obstinate soul, Billy, but I can’t help admiring you for the
steadfast way in which you disapprove of me.”

CHAPTER IV—Farewell!

Margaret Adams was in her private sitting room in her own home, an
old-fashioned red brick house near Washington Square. She had been
writing letters for more than an hour and had just seated herself in a
big chair and closed her eyes. She looked very young and tiny at this
instant to be such a great lady. Her silk morning dress was only a shade
lighter than the rose-colored chair.

Suddenly ten fingers were lightly laid over her eyes.

“Guess who I am or I shall never release you,” a rich, soft voice
demanded, and Margaret Adams drew the fingers down and kissed them.

“Silly Polly, as if it could be any one else? What ever made you come
out in this rain, child? You had a cold, anyway, and it is a perfectly
beastly day.”

Instead of replying, Polly sat down in front of a small, open fire,
putting her toes up on the fender.

“You are a hospitable lady,” she remarked finally, “but I am not wet
specially. I left my damp things down stairs so as not to bring them
into this pretty room. It always makes me think of the rose lining to a
cloud; one could never have the blues in here.”

The room was charming. The walls were delicately pink, almost flesh
color, with a deeper pink border above. A few original paintings were
hung in a low line—one of an orchard with apple trees in spring bloom.
The mantel was of white Italian marble with a bust of Dante’s Beatrice
upon it and this morning it also held a vase of roses. Over near the
window a desk of inlaid mahogany was littered with letters, papers,
writing materials and photographs. On a table opposite the newest
magazines and books were carefully arranged, together with a framed
photograph of Polly and Margaret Adams’ taken when they were in London
several years before. There was also a photograph of Richard Hunt and
several others of distinguished men and women who were devoted friends
of the famous actress.

A big, rose-colored divan was piled with a number of silk and velvet
cushions of pale green and rose. Then there were other odd chairs and
tables and shaded lamps and curtains of rose-colored damask hung over
white net. But the room was neither too beautiful nor fanciful to be
homelike and comfortable. Two or three ugly things Margaret Adams still
kept near her for old associations’ sake and these alone, Polly
insisted, made it possible for her to come into this room. For she, too,
was an ugly thing, allowed to stay there now and then because of past

Polly was not looking particularly well today. She had been acting for
ten days in A Woman’s Wit, though that would scarcely explain her heavy
eyelids, nor her colorless cheeks. Polly’s eyes were so big in her white
face and her hair so black that actually she looked more like an Irish
pixie than an ordinary every-day girl.

“You’ll stay to lunch with me, Polly, and I’ll send you home in my
motor,” Margaret Adams announced authoritatively. “I suppose your mother
and Mollie have gone back to Woodford? I know Betty has returned to
Boston, she came in to say good-by and to tell me that she is spending
the winter in Boston with her brother, Dr. Ashton, and his wife. Betty
is really prettier than ever, don’t you think so? I believe it was you,
Polly, who really saved Betty from marrying her German princeling, but
what will the child do now without you to look after her?”

Margaret Adams arose and walked across the room, presumably to ring for
her maid, but in reality to have a closer look at her visitor. For Polly
had not yet answered her idle questions; nor did she even show the
slightest interest in the mention of her beloved Betty’s name. Something
most unusual must be the matter with her.

“I should like to stay to lunch if no one else is coming,” Polly
returned a moment later. “I did not like to disturb you earlier. There
is something I want to tell you and so I might as well say it at once. I
am not going to try to act Belinda any longer. I am going away from New
York tomorrow. Yet you must not think I am ungrateful, even though I am
not going to tell you where I am going nor what I intend to do.” Polly
clasped her thin arms about her knees and began slowly rocking herself
back and forth with her eyes fastened on the fire, as though not daring
to glance toward her friend.

At first Margaret Adams made no reply. Then she answered coldly and a
little disdainfully: “So you are playing the coward, Polly! Instead of
trying each night to do better and better work you are running away. If
for an instant I had dreamed that you had so little courage, so little
backbone, I never should have encouraged you to enter one of the most
difficult professions in the whole world. Come, dear, you are tired and
perhaps ill. I ought not to scold you. But I want you to forget what you
have just said. Goodness knows, I have not forgotten the bitterly
discouraged days I used to have and do still have every now and then.
Only somehow I hoped a Camp Fire girl might be different, that her club
training might give her fortitude. Remember ‘Wohelo means work. We
glorify work because through work we are free. We work to win, to
conquer and be masters. We work for the joy of working and because we
are free.’ Long ago I thought you and I decided that the Camp Fire rules
would apply equally well to whatever career a girl undertook, no matter
what she might try to do or be.”

“Oh, I have not forgotten; I think of our old talks very often,” was
Polly’s unsatisfactory reply.

A little nearer the fire Margaret Adams now drew her own big chair. It
was October and the rain was a cold one, making the blaze comforting.
The whole atmosphere of the room was peculiarly intimate and cozy and
yet the girl did not appear any happier.

“I wonder if you would like to hear of my early trials, Polly?” Margaret
asked. “Not because they were different from other people’s, but perhaps
because they were so like. I believe I promised to tell you my history
once several years ago.”

The older woman did not glance toward her visitor, as she had no doubt
of her interest. Instead she merely curled herself up in her chair like
a girl eager to tell a most interesting story.

“You see, dear, I made my début not when I was twenty-one like you are,
but when I was exactly seven. Of course even now one does not like to
talk of it, but I never remember either my father or mother. They were
both actors and died when I was very young, leaving me without money and
to be brought up in any way fate chose. I don’t know just why I was not
sent at once to an orphan asylum, but for some reason or other a woman
took charge of me who used to do all kinds of odd work about the
theater, help mend clothes, assist with the dressing, scrub floors if
necessary. She was frightfully poor, so of course there is no blame to
be attached to her for making me try to earn my own bread as soon as
possible. And bread it was actually.” Margaret Adams laughed, yet not
with the least trace of bitterness. “A child was needed in a play, one
of the melodramas that used to be so popular when I was young, a little
half-starved waif. I dare say I had no trouble in looking the part. You
see I’m not very big now, Polly, so I must have been a ridiculously
thin, homely child, all big staring eyes and straight brownish hair. I
was engaged to stand outside a baker’s shop window gazing wistfully in
at a beautiful display of shiny currant buns until the heroine appeared.
Then, touched by my plight, she nobly presented me with a penny with
which I purchased a bun. Well, dear, that piece of bread was all the pay
I received for my night’s performance, and it was all the supper I had.
One night—funny how I can recall it all as if it were yesterday—coming
out of the shop I stumbled, dropped my bun and at the same instant saw
it rolling away from me down toward the blazing row of footlights. I had
not a thought then of where I was or of anything in all the world but
that I was a desperately hungry child, losing my supper. So with a
pitiful cry I jumped up and ran after my bread. When I picked it up I
think I hugged it close to me like a treasure and kissed it. Well, dear,
you can imagine that the very unconsciousness, the genuineness of the
little act won the audience. I know a good many people cried that night
and afterwards. The reason I still remember the little scene so
perfectly was because after that first time I had to do the same thing
over and over again as long as the play ran. It was my first ‘hit,’
Polly, though I never understood what it meant for years and years

“Poor baby,” Polly whispered softly, taking her friend’s hand and
touching it with her lips. “But I don’t care how or why the thing
happened I have always known that you must have been a genius from the
very first.”

“Genius?” The older woman smiled, shaking her head. “I don’t think so,
Polly; I may have had some talent, although it took me many years to
prove it. Mostly it has all been just hard work with me and beginning at
seven, you see I have had a good many years. Do you think I became
famous immediately after I captured the audience and the bun? My dear, I
don’t believe I have ever known another girl as impossible as I was as
an actress after I finally grew up. I did not continue acting. My foster
mother married and I was then sent to school for a number of years.
Finally, when I was sixteen, I came back to the stage, though I did not
have a speaking part till five years later. You see, I was not pretty,
and I never got very big in spite of the buns. It was not until I played
in The Little Curate years after that I made any kind of reputation.”

Margaret Adams leaned over and put both hands on Polly’s thin shoulders.

“Don’t you see, dear, how silly, how almost wicked you will be if you
run away from the opportunity I am able to give you. I never had any one
to help me. It was all nothing but hard, wearing work and few friends,
with almost no encouragement.”

“I see, Margaret,” Polly returned gravely. Then, getting up, she sat for
a few moments on the arm of her friend’s chair. “Yet I must give up the
chance you have given me just the same, dear, and I must go away from
New York tomorrow. I can’t tell you why I am going or where because I am
afraid you might dissuade me. Oh, I suppose it is foolish, even mad, of
me, but I would not be myself if I were reasonable, and I am doing what
seems wisest to me. I have written to mother and made her understand and
to Sylvia because she almost forced me into promising her that I would
keep her informed this winter where I was and what I was doing. I am not
confiding in any one else in the whole world. But if you think I am
ungrateful, Margaret, you think the very wrongest thing in the whole
world and I’ll prove it to you one day, no matter what it costs. The
most dreadful part is that I am not going to be able to see you for a
long time. That is the hardest thing. You will never know what you have
meant to me in these last few years when I have been away from home and
my old friends. But I believe you are lonely too, dear, now and then in
spite of your reputation and money and all the people who would like to
know you.” Polly got up now and began walking restlessly about the room,
not knowing how to say anything more without betraying her secret.

She glanced at the photograph of Richard Hunt.

“Are you and Mr. Hunt very special friends, Margaret?” Polly asked, an
idea having suddenly come into her mind. “I think he is half as nice as
you are and that is saying a great deal.”

For a perceptible moment Margaret Adams did not reply and then she
seemed to hesitate, perhaps thinking of something else. “Yes, we have
been friends for a number of years, sometimes intimate ones, sometimes
not,” she returned finally. “But I don’t want to talk about Mr. Hunt. I
still want to be told what mad thing Polly O’Neill is planning to do

“And if she can’t tell you?” Polly pleaded.

“Then I suppose I will have to forgive her, because friendship without
faith is of very little value.”

And at this instant Margaret Adams’ maid came in to announce luncheon.

CHAPTER V—Other Girls

“No, I am not in the least unhappy or discontented either, Esther; I
don’t know how you can say such a thing,” Betty Ashton answered
argumentatively. “You talk as though I did not like living here with you
and Dick. You know perfectly well I might have gone south with mother
for the winter if I had not a thousand times preferred staying with
you.” Yet as she finished her speech, quite unconsciously Betty sighed.

She and Esther were standing in a pretty living room that held a grand
piano, shelves of books, a desk and reading table; indeed, a room that
served all purposes except that of sleeping and dining. For Dick and
Esther had taken a small house on the outskirts of Boston and were
beginning their married life together as simply as possible, until Dr.
Ashton should make a name and fame for himself.

Esther was now dressed for going out in a dark brown suit and hat with
mink furs and a muff. Happiness and the fulfilling of her dreams had
given her a beauty and dignity which her girlhood had not held. She was
larger and had a soft, healthy color. With the becoming costumes which
Betty now helped her select her red hair had become a beauty rather than
a disfigurement and the content in her eyes gave them more color and
depth, while about her always beautiful mouth the lines were so cheerful
and serene that strangers often paused to look at her the second time
and then went their way with a new sense of encouragement.

Betty had no thought of going out, although it was a brilliant December
day. She had on a blue cashmere house dress and her hair was loosely
tucked up on her head in a confusion of half-tangled curls. She had
evidently been dusting, for she still held a dusting cloth in her hand.
Her manner was listless and uninterested, and she was pale and frowning
a little. Her gayety and vitality, temporarily at least, were playing

“Still I know perfectly well, Betty dear, that you came to be with Dick
and me this winter not only because you wanted to come, but because you
knew your board would help us along while Dick is getting his start. So
it is perfectly natural that you should be lonely and miss your old
friends in Woodford. Of course, Meg isn’t far away here at Radcliffe,
but she is so busy with Harvard students as well as getting her degree
that you don’t see much of each other. Suppose you come now and take a
walk with me, or else you ride with Dick and I’ll go on the street car.
I am only going to church for a rehearsal. You know I am to sing a solo
on Sunday,” Esther continued in a persuasive tone.

“Yes, and of course Dick would so much prefer taking his sister to ride
than taking his wife,” the other girl returned rather pettishly,
abstractedly rubbing the surface of the mahogany table which already
shone with much polishing.

Esther shook her head. “Well, even though you won’t confess it,
something is the matter with you, Betty. You have not been a bit like
yourself since you were in Woodford last fall. Something must have
happened there. I don’t wish your confidence unless you desire to give
it me. But even while we were in New York, you were cold and stiff and
unlike yourself, especially to Anthony Graham, and I thought you used to
be such good friends.”

There was no lack of color now in Betty Ashton’s face, although she
still kept her back turned to her older sister.

“We are not special friends any longer,” she returned coldly, “though I
have nothing in the world against Anthony. Of course, I consider that he
is rather spoiled by his political success, being elected to the
Legislature when he is so young, but then that is not my affair.” Betty
now turned her face toward her sister. “I suppose I need something to
do—that is really what is the matter with me, Esther dear. Lately I have
been thinking that I am the only one of the old Sunrise Hill Camp Fire
girls who amounts to nothing. And I wanted so much to be loyal to our
old ideals. There is Meg at college, Sylvia and Nan both studying
professions, Edith married and Eleanor about to be. You have Dick, your
music and your house, Mollie is relieving her mother of the
responsibility of their big establishment and even little Faith had a
poem published in a magazine last week. It is hard to be the only
failure. Then of course there is Polly!”

“Never a word from her in all this time?”

“Not a line since the note I received from her last October asking me
not to be angry if I did not hear from her in a long time. No one has
the faintest idea what has become of her—none of her friends, not even
Mollie knows. I suppose she is all right though, because her mother is
satisfied about her. Yet I can’t help wondering and feeling worried.
What on earth could have induced Polly O’Neill to give up her splendid
chance with Miss Adams, a chance she has been working and waiting for
these two years?” Betty shrugged her shoulders. “It is stupid of me to
be asking such questions. No one yet has ever found the answer to the
riddle of Polly O’Neill. Perhaps that is why she is so fascinating. I
always do and say exactly what people expect, so no wonder I am
uninteresting. But there, run along, Esther, I hear Dick whistling for
you. Don’t make him late. Perhaps I’ll get over having ‘the dumps’ while
you are away.”

Esther started toward the door. “If only I could think of something that
would interest or amuse you! I can’t get hold of Polly to cheer you up,
but I shall write Mrs. Wharton this very evening and ask her to let
Mollie come and spend Christmas with us. I believe Dick has already
asked Anthony Graham. You won’t mind, will you, Betty? We wanted to have
as many old friends as possible in our new house.”

Once again Betty flushed uncomfortably, although she answered carelessly
enough. “Certainly I don’t mind. Why should I? Now do run along. Perhaps
I’ll make you and Dick a cake while you are gone. An old maid needs to
have useful accomplishments.”

Esther laughed. “An old maid at twenty-one! Well, farewell, Spinster
Princess. I know you are a better cook and housekeeper than I am.” In
answer to her husband’s more impatient whistling Esther fled out of the
room, though still vaguely troubled. Betty was not in good spirits, yet
what could be the matter with her? Of course, she missed the stimulus of
Polly’s society; however, that in itself was not a sufficient
explanation. What could have happened between Betty and Anthony?
Actually, there had been a time when Dick had feared that they might
care seriously for each other. Thank goodness, that was a mistake!

Left alone Betty slowly drew out a letter from inside her blue gown. It
had previously been opened; but she read it for the second time. Then,
lighting a tall candle on the mantel, she placed the letter in the
flame, watching it burn until finally the charred scraps were thrown

Betty had evidently changed her mind in regard to her promise to her
sister. For instead of going into the kitchen a very little while later
she came downstairs dressed for the street. Opening the front door, she
went out into the winter sunshine and started walking as rapidly as
possible in the direction of one of the poorer quarters of the city.

CHAPTER VI—The Fire-Maker’s Desire

Outside the window of a small florist’s shop Betty paused for an
instant. Then she stepped in and a little later came out carrying half a
dozen red roses and a bunch of holly and fragrant cedar. Curiously
enough, her expression in this short time had changed. Perhaps the
flowers gave the added color to her face. She was repeating something
over to herself and half smiling; but, as there were no people on the
street except a few dirty children who were playing cheerfully in the
gutter, no one observed her eccentric behavior.

[Illustration: She Came Out Carrying Red Roses, Holly and Cedar]

  “As fuel is brought to the fire
  So I purpose to bring
  My strength,
  My ambition,
  My heart’s desire,
  My joy
  And my sorrow
  To the fire
  Of humankind.
  For I will tend,
  As my fathers have tended,
  And my father’s fathers,
  Since time began,
  The fire that is called
  The love of man for man,
  The love of man for God.”

Betty’s delicate, eyebrows were drawn so close together that they
appeared almost heart shaped. “I fear I have only been tending the love
of a girl for herself these past few months, so perhaps it is just as
well that I should try to reform,” she thought half whimsically and yet
with reproach. “Anyhow, I shall telephone Meg Everett this very
afternoon, though I am glad Esther does not know the reason Meg and I
have been seeing so little of each other lately, and that the fault is
mine, not hers.”

By this time the girl had arrived in front of a large, dull, brown-stone
building in the middle of a dingy street, with a subdued hush about it.
Above the broad entrance hung a sign, “Home For Crippled Children.” Here
for a moment Betty Ashton’s courage seemed to waver, for she paused
irresolutely, but a little later she entered the hall. A week before she
had promised an acquaintance at the church where Esther was singing to
come to the children’s hospital some day and amuse them by telling
stories. Since she had not thought seriously of her promise, although
intending to fulfill it when she had discovered stories worth the
telling. This morning while worrying over her own affair it had occurred
to her that the best thing she could do was to do something for some one
else. Hence the visit to the hospital.

Yet here at the moment of her arrival Betty had not the faintest idea of
what she could do or say to make herself acceptable as a visitor. She
had a peculiar antipathy to being regarded as a conventional
philanthropist, one of the individuals with the instinct to patronize
persons less fortunate.

Long ago when through her wealth and sympathy Betty had been able to do
helpful things for her acquaintances, always she had felt the same
shrinking sense of embarrassment, disliking to be thanked for
kindnesses. Yet actually in his last letter Anthony Graham had dared
remind her of their first meeting, an occasion she wished forgotten
between them both.

The matron of the children’s hospital had been sent for and a little
later she was conducting Betty down a broad, bare hall and then ushering
her into a big sunlit room, not half so cheerless as its visitor had

There were two large French windows on the southern side and a table
piled with books and magazines. Near one of these windows two girls were
seated in rolling chairs reading. They must have been about fourteen
years old and did not look particularly frail. Across from them were
four other girls, perhaps a year or so younger, engaged in a game of
parchesi. On the floor in the corner a pretty little girl was sewing on
her doll clothes and another was hopping merrily about on her crutches,
interfering with every one else. Only two of the cot beds in the room
were occupied, and to these Betty’s eyes turned instinctively. In one
she saw a happy little German maiden with yellow hair and pale pink
cheeks propped up on pillows, busily assorting half a dozen colors of
crochet cotton. In the other a figure was lying flat with the eyes
staring at the ceiling. And at the first glance there was merely an
effect of some one indescribably thin with a quantity of short, curly
dark hair spread out on the white pillow.

The matron introduced Betty, told her errand, and then went swiftly
away, leaving her to do the rest for herself, and the rest appeared
exceedingly difficult. The older girls who were reading closed their
books politely and bowed. Yet it was self-evident that they would have
preferred going on with their books to hearing anything their visitor
might have to tell. Among the parchesi players there was a hurried
consultation and then one of them looked up. “We will be through with
our game in a few moments,” she explained with a note of interrogation
in her voice.

“Oh, please don’t stop on my account,” the newcomer said hastily.

On the big table Betty put down her roses and evergreens, not liking to
present them with any formality under the circumstances. She could see
that the little girl who was sewing in the corner was smiling a welcome
to her and that the little German Mädchen in bed was pleased with her
winter bouquet. For she had whispered, “Schön, wunderschön,” and stopped
assorting her crochet work. Then the child on crutches came across the
floor, and picking up one of the roses placed it on the pillow by the
dark-eyed girl, who showed not the least sign of having noticed the

“She will look at it in a moment if she thinks we are not watching her,”
explained Betty’s one friendly confidant, motioning to a chair to
suggest that their visitor might sit down if she wished.

It was an extremely awkward situation. Betty sat down. She had come to
make a call at a place where her society was not desired and though they
were only children, and she a grown woman, still she had no right to
intrude upon their privacy. She found herself blushing furiously.
Besides, what story had she to tell that would be of sufficient interest
to hold their attention? Had she not thought of at least a dozen, only
to discard them all as unsuitable?

“I believe you were going to entertain us, I suppose with a fairy
story,” began one of the girls, still keeping her finger between the
covers of Little Women. It was hard luck to be torn away from that
delightful love scene between Laurie and Jo to hear some silly tale of
princes and princesses and probably a golden apple when one was fourteen
years old. However, this morning’s visitor was so pretty it was a
pleasure to look at her. Besides, she had on lovely clothes and was
dreadfully embarrassed. Moreover, she was sitting quite still and
helpless instead of poking about, asking tiresome questions as most
visitors did. One could not avoid feeling a little sorry for her instead
of having to receive her pity.

Both wheeled chairs were now rolled over alongside Betty and Little
Women was closed and laid on the table. The next instant the parchesi
game was finished and the four players glanced with greater interest at
their guest. The girl who had been dancing about on her crutches hopped
up on the table.

“I am ‘Cricket’ not on the hearth, but on the table at this moment,” she
confided gayly; “at least, that is what the girls here call me and it is
as good a name as any other. Now won’t you tell us your name?”

“Betty Ashton,” the visitor answered, still feeling ill at ease and
angry and disgusted with herself for not knowing how to make the best of
the situation. Yet she need no longer have worried. For there was some
silent, almost indescribable influence at work in the little company
until almost irresistibly most of its occupants felt themselves drawn
toward the newcomer. Of course, Polly O’Neill would have described this
influence as the Princess’ charm and that is as good an explanation as
any other. But I think it was Betty Ashton’s ability to put herself in
other people’s places, to think and feel and understand for them and
with them. Now she knew that these eight girls, poor and ill though they
might be, did not want either her pity or her patronage.

“Well, fire away with your tale, Miss Ashton,” suggested Cricket
somewhat impatiently, “and don’t make it too goody-goody if you can help
it. Most of us are anxious to hear.” Cricket had pretty gray eyes and a
great deal of fluffy brown hair, but otherwise the face was plain,
except for its clever, good-natured expression. She gave a sudden side
glance toward the figure on the bed only a dozen feet away and Betty’s
glance followed hers.

She saw that the red rose had been taken off the pillow and that the
eyes that had been staring at the ceiling were gazing toward her.
However, their look was anything but friendly.

For some foolish, unexplainable reason the girl made Betty think of
Polly. Yet this child’s eyes were black instead of blue, her hair short
and curly instead of long and dark. And though Polly had often been
impatient and dissatisfied, thank heaven she had never had that
expression of sullen anger and of something else that Betty could not
yet understand.

For Betty had of course to turn again toward her auditors and smile an
entirely friendly and charming smile.

“May I take off my hat first? It may help me to think,” she said. Then
when Cricket had helped her remove both her coat and hat she sat down
again and sighed.

“Do you know I have come here under absolutely false pretences? I
announced that I had a story to tell, but I simply can’t think of
anything that would entertain you in the least and I should so hate to
be a bore.”

Then in spite of her twenty-one years, Betty Ashton seemed as young as
any girl in the room. Moreover, she was exquisitely pretty. Her auburn
hair, now neatly coiled, shone gold from the light behind her. Her
cheeks were almost too flushed and every now and then her dark lashes
drooped, shading the frank friendliness of her gray eyes. She wore a
walking skirt, beautifully tailored, and a soft white silk blouse with a
knot of her same favorite blue velvet pinned at her throat with her
torch-bearer’s pin.

Agnes Edgerton, the former reader of Little Women, made no effort to
conceal her admiration. “Oh, don’t tell us a story,” she protested, “we
read such a lot of books. Tell us something about yourself. Real people
are so much more interesting.”

“But there isn’t anything very interesting about me, I am far too
ordinary a person,” Betty returned. Then she glanced almost desperately
about the big room. There was a mantel and a fireplace, but no fire, as
the room was warmed with steam radiators. However, on the mantel stood
three brass candlesticks holding three white candles and these may have
been the source of Betty’s inspiration.

Outside the smoky chimney tops of old Boston houses and factories reared
their heads against the winter sky, and yet Betty began her story
telling with the question: “I wonder if you would like me to tell you of
a summer twelve girls spent together at Sunrise Hill?” For in the glory
of the early morning, with the Camp Fire cabin at its base, Sunrise Hill
had suddenly flashed before her eyes like a welcome vision.

CHAPTER VII—“The Flames in the Wind”

When an hour later Betty Ashton finished her story of the first years of
the Camp Fire girls at Sunrise Hill on the table nearby three candles
were burning and about them was a circle of eager faces.

Moreover, from the cedar which Betty had bought as a part of her winter
bouquet a miniature tree had been built as the eternal Camp Fire emblem
and there also were the emblems of the wood gatherer, fire maker and
torch bearer constructed from odd sticks which Cricket had mysteriously
produced in the interval of the story telling.

“That is the most delightful experience that I ever heard of girls
having, a whole year out of doors with a chance to do nice things for
yourself, a fairy story that was really true,” Cricket sighed finally.
“Funny, but I never heard of a Camp Fire club and I have never been to
the country.”

“You have never been to the country?” Betty repeated her words slowly,
staring first at Cricket and then at the other girls. No one else seemed
surprised by the remark.

In answer the younger girl flushed. “I told you I had not,” she repeated
in a slightly sarcastic tone. “But please don’t look as if the world had
come to an end. Lots of poor people don’t do much traveling and we have
five children in the family besides me. Of course, I couldn’t go on
school picnics and Sunday-school excursions like the others.” Here an
annoyed, disappointed expression crept into Cricket’s eyes and she grew
less cheerful.

“Please don’t spoil our nice morning together, Miss Ashton, by beginning
to pity me. I hate people who are sorry for themselves. That is the
reason we girls have liked you so much, you have been so different from
the others.”

Quietly Betty began putting on her wraps. She had been watching
Cricket’s face all the time she had been talking of Sunrise Hill, of the
grove of pine trees and the lake. Yet if the thought had leapt into her
mind that she would like to show her new acquaintance something more
beautiful than the chimney tops of Boston, it was now plain that she
must wait until they were better friends.

“But you’ll come again soon and tell us more?” Cricket next asked,
picking up their visitor’s muff and pressing it close to her face with
something like a caress. Then more softly, “I did not mean to be rude.”

Betty nodded. “Of course I’ll come if you wish me. You see, I am a
stranger in Boston and lonely. But I’ll never have anything half so
interesting to tell you as the history of our club with such girls as
Polly O’Neill, Esther and Meg and the rest for heroines. Nothing in my
whole life has ever been such fun. Do you know I was wondering——”

Here a slight noise from the figure on the cot near them for an instant
distracted Betty’s attention. Yet glancing in that direction, there
seemed to have been no movement. Not for a single moment did she believe
the little girl had been listening to a word she was saying. For she had
never caught another glance straying in her direction.

“You were wondering what?” Agnes Edgerton demanded a little impatiently
and Betty thought she saw the same expression on all the faces about

“Wondering if you would like my sister, Esther, to come and sing our old
Camp Fire songs to you some day?” This time there was no mistaking it.
Her audience did look disappointed. “And wondering something else, only
perhaps I had best wait, you may not think it would be fun, or perhaps
it might be too much work—” Betty’s face was flushed, again she seemed
very little older than the other girls about her.

“Yes, we would,” Agnes Edgerton answered gravely, having by this time
quite forgotten the interruption of Little Women in her new interest. “I
know what you mean, because almost from the start I have been wondering
the same thing. Do you think we girls could start a Camp Fire club here
among ourselves, if you would show us how? Why, it would make everything
so much easier and happier. There are some of the Camp Fire things we
could not do, of course, but the greater part of them——”

Here, with a sudden exclamation of pleasure, Cricket bounced off her
perch on the table and began dancing about in a fashion which showed how
she had earned her name.

“Hurrah for the Shut-In Camp Fire Girls and the fairy princess who
brought us the idea!” she exclaimed. Then, surveying Betty more
critically, “You know you do look rather like a princess. Are you one in

Betty laughed. She had not felt so cheerful in months. For with Agnes
and Cricket on her side, the thought that had slowly been growing in her
mind would surely bear fruit. But how strangely her old title sounded!
How it did bring back the past Camp Fire days!

“No,” she returned, “I am not a princess or anything in the least like
one. But we can all have new names in our Camp Fire club if we like,
select any character or idea we choose and try to live up to it. Next
time I come I will try and explain things better and bring you our
manual. Now I really must hurry.”

Betty Ashton was moving quickly toward the door, accompanied by Cricket,
when a hand reached suddenly out from the side of a bed clutching at her

“I would rather have that Polly girl come the next time instead of you;
I am sure I should like her much better,” the voice said with a
decidedly foreign accent. Then Betty looked quickly into the pair of
black eyes that had been so relentlessly fixed upon the ceiling.

“I don’t wonder you would rather have the Polly girl instead of me,” she
returned smiling; “most people would, and perhaps you may see her some
day if I can find her. Only I don’t know where she is just at present.”

So this strange child had been listening to her story-telling after all.
Curious that her fancy had lighted upon Polly, but perhaps the name
carried its own magic.

Out in the hall Betty whispered to her companion:

“Tell me that little girl’s name, won’t you, Cricket? I didn’t dare ask
her. What a strange little thing she is, and yet she makes me think of
an old friend. Already I believe she has taken a dislike to me.”

The other girl shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t be flattered, she dislikes
everybody and won’t have anything to do with the rest of us if she can
help it. Yet her name is Angelique, that is all we know. ‘The Angel’ we
call her when we wish to make her particularly furious. She is French,
and we believe an orphan, because no one comes to see her, though she
has letters now and then, which she hides under her pillow,” Cricket
concluded almost spitefully, since curiosity was one of her leading

On her way back home, oddly enough, Betty found her attention divided
between two subjects. The first was natural enough; she was greatly
pleased with her morning’s experience. Perhaps, if she could interest
her new acquaintances in forming a Camp Fire, her winter need not be an
altogether unhappy and dissatisfied one.

There had been a definite reason for her leaving Woodford, which she
hoped was known to no one but herself. It had been making her very
unhappy, but now she intended rising above it if possible. Of course,
work in which she felt an interest was the best possible cure; there was
no use in preaching such a transparent philosophy as Esther had earlier
in the day. But she had no inclination toward pursuing a definite career
such as Sylvia, Nan and Polly had chosen. The money Judge Maynard had
left her relieved her from this necessity. But the name of Polly
immediately set her thinking along the second direction. What was it in
the unfortunate child at the hospital that had brought Polly so forcibly
before her mind? There was no definite resemblance between them, only a
line here and there in the face or a slight movement. Could Polly even
be conscious of the girl’s existence? For Betty felt that there were
many unexplainable forms of mental telegraphy by which one might
communicate a thought to a friend closely in sympathy with one’s own

But by this time, as she was within a few feet of Esther’s and Dick’s
home, Betty smiled to herself. She had merely become interested in this
particular child because she seemed more unfortunate and less content
than the others and she meant to do what she could to help her, no
matter what her personal attitude might be. As for Polly’s influence in
the matter, it of course amounted to nothing. Was she not always
wondering what had become of her best-loved friend and hoping she might
soon be taken into her confidence?

CHAPTER VIII—Afternoon Tea and a Mystery

Ten days later, returning from another of her now regular visits to the
hospital, Betty Ashton was surprised by hearing voices inside the living
room just as she was passing the closed door. Possibly Esther had
invited some of their new acquaintances in to tea and had forgotten to
mention it. Now she could hear her own name being called.

Her hair had been blown in every direction by the east wind and she had
been sitting on the floor at the hospital, building a camp fire in the
old chimney place, with the grate removed, according to the most
approved camping methods. Straightening her hat and rubbing her face for
an instant with her handkerchief, Betty made a casual entrance into the
room, trying to assume an agreeable society manner to make up for her
other deficiencies.

It was five o’clock and growing dark, although as yet the lights were
not on. Esther was sitting at a little round wicker table pouring tea
and Meg, who had evidently lately arrived, was standing near waiting to
receive her cup. But in the largest chair in the room with her back
turned to the opening door was a figure that made Betty’s heart behave
in the most extraordinary fashion. The hair was so black, the figure so
graceful that for the moment it seemed it could only be one
person—Polly! Betty’s welcome was no less spontaneous, however, when
Mollie O’Neill, jumping up, ran quickly toward her.

“No, I am not Polly, Betty dear! I only wish I were, for then we should
at least know what had become of her. But Esther has asked me to spend
Christmas with you and I hope you are half as glad to see me as I am to
be with you.”

Half an hour later, Esther having disappeared to see about dinner as Meg
was also to remain for the night, the three old friends dropped down on
sofa cushions before the fire, Camp Fire fashion, and with the tea pot
between them began talking all at the same time.

“Do, do tell me everything about Woodford,” Betty demanded. “I never
shall love any place half so well as my native town and I have not heard
a word except through letters, for ages.”

Ceasing her own questioning of Meg in regard to the pleasures of college
life, Mollie at once turned her serious blue eyes upon her other friend.
“Haven’t heard of Woodford, Betty!” she exclaimed, “what on earth do you
mean? Then what do you and Anthony Graham talk about when he comes to
Boston? I know he has been here twice lately, because he told me so
himself and said you were well.”

Suddenly in Esther’s pretty sitting room all conversation abruptly ended
and only the ticking of the clock could be heard. Fortunately the room
was still in shadow, for unexpectedly Meg’s cheeks had turned scarlet,
as she glanced toward the window with a perfectly unnecessary expression
of unconcern. But Betty did not change color nor did her gray eyes
falter for an instant from those of her friend. Yet before she received
her answer Mollie was conscious that she must in some fashion have said
the wrong thing.

Yet what could have been the fault with her question? It was a perfectly
natural one, as Betty and Anthony had always been extremely intimate in
the old days, ever since Anthony had lived for a year at Mrs. Ashton’s
house. Mollie appreciated the change in the atmosphere, the coldness and
restraint that had not been there before. Naturally she would have
preferred to change the subject before receiving a reply, but she had
not the quickness and adaptability of many girls, perhaps because she
was too simple and sincere herself.

“Anthony Graham does not come to see me—us, Mollie,” Betty corrected
herself, “when he makes his visits to Boston these days. You see he is
now Meg’s friend more than mine. But you must remember, Mollie dear,
that Meg has always had more admirers than the rest of us and now she is
a full-fledged college girl, of course she is irresistible.”

Betty Ashton spoke without the least suggestion of anger or envy and yet
Meg turned reproachfully toward her. Her usually gay and friendly
expression had certainly changed, she seemed embarrassed and annoyed.

“You know that isn’t true, Princess, and never has been,” Meg returned,
rumpling her pretty yellow hair as she always did in any kind of
perplexity or distress. “I never have even dreamed of being so charming
as you are. You know that John has always said——”

Alas, if only Polly O’Neill had been present Mollie might in some
fashion have been persuaded not to speak at this unlucky instant! But
Polly had always cruelly called her an “enfant terrible.” Now Mollie was
too puzzled to appreciate the situation and so determined to get at the
bottom of it.

“But does Anthony come to see you and not Betty?” Mollie demanded
inexorably of the embarrassed girl.

Meg nodded. “Yes, but it is only because Betty——”

“Please don’t try to offer any explanation, Meg, I would rather you
would not. It is most unnecessary,” Betty now interrupted gently, in a
tone that few persons in her life had ever opposed. Then, reaching over,
she began pouring out fresh cups of tea for her friends. “You need not
worry, Mollie, Anthony and I are perfectly good friends. We have not
quarreled, only he has not so much time these days now he is getting to
be such a distinguished person. But do tell me whether you have the
faintest idea of what Polly O’Neill is doing, or where she is, or a
single solitary thing about her?”

Always Mollie’s attention could be distracted by any mention of her
sister’s name and it may be that Betty was counting upon this. For Meg
had gotten up and strolled over toward the window, leaving the two other
girls comparatively alone.

Bluer and more serious than ever grew Mollie’s big, innocent eyes.

“Polly is well, or at least says she is. That much mother confides in
me,” Mollie replied soberly. “But where Polly is or what she is doing I
have no more idea than you have, not so much perhaps. You were always
better at understanding her than I have ever been. But then even Miss
Adams has never heard a line from Polly since she told her good-by in
New York several months ago. By the way, Betty, Miss Adams and Mr. Hunt
are going to be playing here in Boston during the holidays. Won’t you
and Esther ask them to your Christmas dinner party?”

Betty at this moment got up from the floor. “Yes, I have seen the
notices of their coming and I am glad. We can have an almost home
Christmas, can’t we?” Then she walked over toward the window where Meg
had continued standing, gazing with no special interest out into the
street. The high wind was still blowing and with it occasional flurries
of wet snow.

“Do let us draw down the blinds, Meg, it is getting late and is not very
cheerful outside.” With apparent unconsciousness Betty slipped an arm
about her friend’s waist and for another instant they both stared out
into the almost deserted street.

Across on the farther sidewalk some one was standing, as though waiting
for a companion. Meg had seen the person before but with no special
attention. She was too deeply engaged with her own thoughts. Betty was
differently influenced, for the figure had an oddly pathetic and lonely
attitude. She could not see the face and the moment she began closing
the living-room curtain the figure walked away.

Meg chose this same instant for giving her friend a sudden ardent
embrace and Betty’s attention would in any case have been distracted.

With the lights under the rose-colored shades now glowing, and Mollie
asking no more embarrassing questions, the atmosphere of the living room
soon grew cheerful again. For Mollie had a great deal of Woodford news
to tell. Eleanor Meade was getting a beautiful trousseau for her
marriage with Frank Wharton in the spring and she and Mollie had been
sewing together almost every day. Eleanor had given up her old ambition
to become a celebrated artist and was using her taste for color and
design in the preparation of her clothes. Frank was in business with his
father and would have a good deal of money, and although Eleanor’s
family was poor she did not intend to have less in her trousseau than
other girls. Her own skill and work should make up for it.

Billy Webster was succeeding better each month with the management of
his farm since his father’s death. Now and then Mollie went to call on
Mrs. Webster and not long ago she and Billy had walked out to Sunrise
cabin. The little house was in excellent condition, although no one had
lived in it for several years.

“It is wonderfully kind,” Mollie explained, “but Billy has his own men
look after our cabin and make any repairs that are necessary. He even
keeps the grass cut and the weeds cleared from about the place, so any
one of us could go out there to live with only a few hours preparation,”
she ended with her usual happy smile.

For Mollie O’Neill was not self-conscious and did not guess for a moment
that while she talked both Betty and Meg were engaged with the same
thought. Was there still nothing more between Mollie and Billy than
simple friendliness? Once they had believed that there might be
something, but now the time was passing and they were both free, Mollie
at home helping her mother with the house, Billy the head of his own
farm, and yet nothing had happened. Well, possibly nothing ever would
and they might always simply remain friends, until one or the other
married some one else.

Suddenly Mollie started and her color faded.

“I am awfully sorry, Betty, I know how silly and nervous you and Polly
used always to think me, but look, please!” She spoke under her breath
and pointed toward the closed blind.

There, sharply defined, was the shadow of a head apparently straining to
see inside the room. It had the effect of a gray silhouette.

The two other girls also changed color, for the effect was uncanny. Then
Betty laughed somewhat nervously.

“It must be Dick, of course, trying to frighten us, but how silly and
unlike him!” She then walked as quickly and quietly toward the window as
possible and without a sign or word of warning drew up the curtain. Some
one must have instantly jumped backward, for by the time Mollie and Meg
had also reached the window they could only catch the outline of a
disappearing figure. It was not possible in the darkness to decide
whether it was a girl or a young boy.

“Well, it wasn’t Dick anyhow,” said Betty finally; “probably some child.
However it might be just as well to go and tell Dick and Esther. They
would not enjoy a sneak thief carrying off their pretty wedding
presents. And besides it is time for us to get ready for dinner and I
haven’t yet had time to tell you about my new Camp Fire.”

CHAPTER IX—Preparations

A few mornings afterwards a letter was handed to Betty Ashton at the
breakfast table, bearing a type-written address. Carelessly opening it
under the impression that it must be a printed circular she found three
lines, also type-written, on a sheet of paper and with no signature. It

“Show whatever kindness is possible to the little French girl,
Angelique, at the hospital. Pardon her peculiarities and oblige a

Without a comment Betty immediately passed the letter to Mollie O’Neill,
who then gave it to Esther. Esther turned it over to Dr. Ashton, who
frowned and straightway ceased eating his breakfast.

“I don’t like anonymous letters, Betty, even if they seem to be
perfectly harmless and have the best intentions. Besides, who knows of
your going to the hospital except our few intimate friends? I wonder if
this queer child you have spoken of could be responsible for this letter
herself. One never knows!”

Rather irritably Betty shook her head. “What an absurd supposition,
Dick. In the first place the child dislikes me so that she will scarcely
speak to me while I am at the hospital. She seems to like Mollie a great
deal better. Moreover, she is the only one of the group of girls I made
friends with who still refuses to come into our Camp Fire. If she wished
my friendship she might at least begin by being civil.”

Always as in former days Esther was quick to interpose between any
chance of a heated argument between Dick and his sister. Understanding
this they both usually laughed at her efforts. For as long as they lived
Dick would scold Betty when he believed her in the wrong, while she
would protest and then follow his advice or discard it as seemed wisest.

“But, Betty dear, don’t you consider that there is a possibility that
this Angelique may have spoken to some relative or friend of your visits
to the hospital, who has written you this letter in consequence. You
see, they may think of you as very wealthy,” Esther now suggested.

But before Betty could reply, Mollie O’Neill, who during the moment’s
discussion had been thinking the question over quietly, turned her eyes
on her friend.

“Have you any idea who has written you, Betty?” she queried.

For no explainable reason Betty flushed. Then with entire honesty she
answered, “Of course not.” Surely the idea that had come into her mind
was too absurd to give serious consideration.

“By the way, I wonder what I could be expected to do for Angelique?”
Betty inquired the next instant, showing that her letter had not failed
to make an impression, no matter if it were anonymous. “She has the best
kind of care at the hospital; only she seems desperately unhappy over
something and won’t tell any one what it is. I know, of course, that she
is ill, but the matron tells me she is not suffering and the other girls
seem quite different. They are as brave and gay as if there were nothing
the matter. Cricket is the best sport I ever knew.”

Dr. Ashton got up from the table, leaning over to kiss Esther good-by.

“Well, don’t do anything rash, Lady Bountiful,” he protested to Betty.
“Who knows but you may decide to adopt the little French girl before the
day is over just because of a mysterious letter. I must confess I am
extremely glad Judge Maynard’s will only permits you to spend your
income or you would keep things lively for all of us. I’ve an idea that
it must have been Anthony Graham who put Judge Maynard up to making that
kind of will. He must have remembered how you insisted on thrusting your
money upon him at your first meeting and wished to save you from other

Dick was laughing and it was perfectly self-evident that he was only
saying what he had to tease his sister. For surely the Princess’
generosities had been a joke among her family and friends ever since she
was a little girl. And she was still in the habit of rescuing every
forlorn person she saw, often with somewhat disastrous results to

Betty jumped up quickly from her place at the table, her face suddenly
grown white and her lips trembling.

“I won’t have you say things like that to me, Dick,” she returned
angrily. “Anthony Graham had nothing in the world to do with the money
Judge Maynard gave me, he has told you a hundred times he had not. But
just the same I won’t have you call him an impostor. Just because you
don’t approve of me is no reason why you should——” But finding her voice
no longer steady Betty started hastily for the door, only to feel her
brother’s arms about her holding her so close she could not move while
he stared closely at her downcast face.

“What is the matter, Betty?” he asked quite seriously now. “It isn’t in
the least like you to get into a temper over nothing. You know perfectly
well that while all of us may reproach you for being so generous we
would not have you different for anything in the world. As for my
thinking Anthony Graham an impostor, the thing is too absurd for any
comment. You know he is my friend and one of the cleverest fellows in
New Hampshire. Some day he will be a Senator at Washington, but I don’t
think he’ll mind even then remembering who gave him his start. When he
comes here at Christmas I mean to ask him and to tell him you thought it
necessary to defend him against me.”

But by this time Betty had managed to pull herself away from Dick’s
clasp. “If you speak my name to him I shall never forgive you as long as
I live,” she announced and this time managed to escape from the room.

Utterly mystified Dick Ashton gazed at his wife.

“What on earth!” he began helplessly. And Esther nodded at Mollie.

“Won’t you find Betty?” she asked.

Mollie had already risen, but she did not go at once in search of her
friend, for although Mollie O’Neill may not have had as much imagination
as certain other girls she had a sympathy that perhaps served even

Out into the hall Esther followed her husband, and after helping him
into his overcoat she stood for an instant with her hand resting on his
shoulder. In spite of the change in her circumstances and in spite of
her own talent and Dick’s adoration there was never a day when Esther
was not in her heart of hearts both humble and deeply puzzled by her
husband’s ardent affection. Of course neither he nor Betty ever allowed
her to disparage herself these days, but that had not changed the
essential elements in Esther’s lovely nature.

“Dick, don’t try to understand,” she now said. “I don’t think we have
exactly the right. Anthony and Betty were friends once, you know, and
you were desperately afraid they might be something more. Well, I don’t
think there is anything between them any longer; whether they have
quarreled or not is exactly what I don’t know. Only if Betty should want
to do any special thing for this little French girl, please don’t oppose
her. It would be an interest for her and you know we don’t want her to
spend her money on us. She will, you know, if she has any idea that
there is anything either of us wish that we cannot afford to get.
Already she says that she is determined to be an old maid so that her
money can go to——”

Esther blushed but could not have finished her speech as her husband’s
kiss at this instant made it impossible.

Dick turned to go, but came back almost immediately.

“See here, Esther, I would not think of interfering with any sensible
thing the Princess may wish to do with her money. I only can’t let her
be reckless. But about Anthony Graham. If you think he has treated Betty
badly or hurt her feelings, or goodness knows what, well I won’t stand
it for a single little instant. He will have to hear what I think of

Positively Esther could feel herself turning pale with horror at her
husband’s remark, but fortunately she had the good sense to laugh.

“Richard Ashton,” she said, “I am not often firm with you, but if you
ever dare—Oh goodness, was there ever anything on earth quite so stupid
as a man can be! No matter what may or may not have happened between
Betty and Anthony there is nothing that you or I can do or say. You know
we interfered as hard as we possibly could with Betty’s German lover. We
must leave the poor child to manage some of her own affairs alone.
Anthony seems to be devoting himself to Meg these days. But he will be
in Boston at Christmas, so perhaps if it is only a quarrel that has come
between them they may make it up. But how do you suppose I am ever going
to be able to get through with all my Christmas church music and give a
dinner party with Miss Adams and Mr. Hunt present and perhaps have
Betty’s Camp Fire girls here for an afternoon? The child has some scheme
or other of taking them for a drive so that they may be able to see the
Christmas decorations and then bringing them home for a party.”

“If it is going to tire you, Esther, we will cut it all out,” was Dr.
Ashton’s final protest as he disappeared to begin his morning’s work.
Dick had been taken into partnership with an older physician and his
office was several blocks away.

At his departure Esther breathed a sigh of relief. At least by dwelling
on her own difficulties she had taken his mind away from Betty’s odd
mood. She did not understand her sister herself, but certainly she must
be left alone.

Late that afternoon when Betty and Mollie had been doing some Christmas
shopping in Boston and were sitting side by side on the car, Betty
whispered unexpectedly:

“See here, Mollie, do you think by any chance it is possible that Polly
O’Neill could have written me that letter about the little French girl?
Yes, I realize the question sounds as though I had lost my mind, as
Polly may be in South America for all I know. Besides, the child never
heard of Polly until I mentioned her in talking of our old club. But
somehow, for a reason I can’t even try to explain, I keep thinking of
Polly these days as if there was something she wanted me to do and yet
did not exactly know how to ask it of me. It used often to be like that,
you know, Mollie, when we were younger. Polly and I could guess what was
in the other’s mind. We often made a kind of game of it, just for fun.
Anyhow you will have to try and see what is making that poor child so
miserable, as she seems to like you better than she does me. Perhaps it
is because you are so like Polly.”

Quietly Mollie nodded. Of course Betty was absurd in her supposition;
yet, as always, she was perfectly willing to help in any practical way
that either her erratic sister or Betty suggested.

CHAPTER X—More Puzzles

On Christmas eve Mollie and Betty each received notes written and signed
by Polly herself, postmarked New York City, accompanying small gifts.
Neither letter made any direct reference to what Polly herself was doing
nor showed that she had any knowledge of what was interesting her sister
or friend. Her information in regard to Mollie’s presence in Boston, she
explained, had been received from her mother.

Well, of course, it was good news to hear that at least Polly was alive
and not altogether forgetful of her old affections, yet there was no
other satisfaction in the communications from her. Indeed the two
letters were much alike and on reading her own each girl felt much the
same emotion. They were loving enough and almost gay, yet the love did
not seem accompanied by any special faith to make it worth while, nor
did the gayety sound altogether sincere.

Betty’s merely said:

  “My Christmas thought is with you now and always, dear Princess.
  Trust me and love me if you can. You may not approve of what I am
  doing, but some day I shall try to explain it to you. I can’t ask
  you to write me unless you will send the letter to Mother and she
  will forward it. Do nothing rash, dear Princess, Betty, friend,
  while I am not near to look after you. Your always devoted Polly.”

With a little laugh that was not altogether a cheerful one, Betty also
turned this letter over to Mollie. The two girls were in Betty’s bedroom
with no one else present.

“Like Polly, wasn’t it, to tell me not to do anything rash when she was
not around to run things?” Betty said with a shrug of her shoulders and
a little arching of her delicate brows.

Mollie looked at her admiringly. Betty had not seemed altogether as she
used to be in the first few days after her arrival, but recently, with
the coming of the holidays and the arrival of their old friends, she
certainly was as pretty as ever. Now she had on an ancient blue silk
dressing gown which was an especial favorite and her red-brown hair was
loose over her shoulders. The two friends were resting after a strenuous
day. In a few hours Esther was to give her first real dinner party and
they had all been working together toward the great event.

“But why should Polly warn you against rashness under any
circumstances?” Mollie returned, after having glanced over the note.
“You are not given to doing foolish things as she is. I suppose because
Polly is so dreadfully rash herself she believes the same of other

There was no answer at first except that the Princess settled herself
more deeply in her big Morris chair. Mollie was lying on the bed near
by. Then she laughed again.

“Oh, you need not be so sure of my good sense, Mavourneen, as Polly used
to call you. I may not be rash in the same way that old Pollykins is,
perhaps because I have not the same courage, yet I may not be so far
away from it as you think. Only I wish Polly found my society as
necessary to her happiness as hers is to mine. I simply dread the
thought of a Christmas without her, and yet she is probably having a
perfectly blissful time somewhere with never a thought of us.”

Hearing a sudden knock at their door at this instant Mollie tumbled off
the bed to answer it. Yet not before she had time to reply, “I am not so
sure Polly is as happy as you think.” Then the little maid standing
outside in the hall thrust into her arms four boxes of flowers.

Nearly breathless with excitement Mollie immediately dropped them all
into her friend’s lap.

“See what a belle you are, Betty Ashton!” she exclaimed. “Here you are
almost a stranger in Boston and yet being showered with attentions.”

Gravely Betty read aloud the address on the first box.

“Miss Mollie O’Neill, care of Dr. Richard Ashton,” she announced,
extending the package to the other girl with a mock solemnity and then
laughing to see Mollie’s sudden blush and change of expression. A moment
later the second box, also inscribed with Mollie’s name, was presented
her. But the final two were addressed to Betty, so that the division was

It was Mollie, however, who first untied the silver cord that bound the
larger of her two boxes, and Betty was quite sure that the roses inside
were no pinker or prettier than her friend’s cheeks.

“They are from Billy,” Mollie said without any hesitation or pretense of
anything but pleasure. “He says that he has sent a great many so that I
may wear them tonight and tomorrow and then again tomorrow night to the
dance, as I care for pink roses more than any flower. It was good of Meg
to ask Billy to come over for her College holiday dance. I should have
been dreadfully embarrassed with one of Meg’s strange Harvard friends
for my escort. And Billy says he would have been abominably lonely in
Woodford with all of us away.”

Mollie’s second gift was a bunch of red and white carnations, bearing
Anthony Graham’s card. “How kind of Anthony to remember me,” she
protested, “when he was never a special friend of mine. But of course he
sent me the flowers because I happened to be yours and Esther’s guest
and he is coming here to dinner tonight with Meg. But do please be less
slow and let me see what you have received.”

For almost reluctantly Betty Ashton seemed to be opening her gifts.
Nevertheless she could not conceal a quick cry of admiration at what she
saw first. The box was an oblong purple one tied with gold ribbon. But
here at Christmastide, in the midst of Boston’s cold and dampness, lay a
single great bunch of purple violets and another of lilies of the
valley. Hurriedly Betty picked up the card that lay concealed beneath
them. Just as Mollie’s had, it bore Anthony Graham’s name, and formal
good wishes, but something else as well which to any one else would have
appeared an absurdity. For it was a not very skilful drawing of a small
ladder with a boy at the foot of it.

“Gracious, it must be true that John is making a fortune in his broker
shop in Wall Street, as Meg assures me!” Betty exclaimed gayly the next
moment, thrusting her smaller box of flowers away, to peep into the
largest of the four offerings. “I did not realize John had yet arrived
in Boston, Meg was not sure he would be able to be with her for the
holidays. It is kind of him, I am sure, to remember me, isn’t it Mollie?
And there is not much danger of my being unable to wear John’s flowers
with any frock I have, he has sent such a variety. I believe I’ll use
the mignonette tonight, it is so fragrant and unconventional.”

Betty spoke almost sentimentally and this state of mind was so unusual
to her that for a moment Mollie only stared in silence. However, as her
friend disappeared into the bathroom to begin her toilet for the evening
Mollie remarked placidly, “The violets would look ever so much prettier
with your blue dress.”

Esther’s round mahogany table seated exactly twelve guests. On her right
was Richard Hunt, the actor, with Anthony Graham on her left, next him
was Meg, then Billy Webster and Mollie O’Neill. To the right of Dr.
Ashton, Margaret Adams had the place of honor, then came a Harvard law
student who was a special admirer of Meg’s, then a new friend of
Esther’s and then John Everett and Betty Ashton. As the entire
arrangement of the company had been made through Betty’s suggestion,
doubtless she must have chosen the companions at dinner that she most
desired. Polly’s friend, Richard Hunt, sat on her other side with Meg
and Anthony nearly opposite.

There had been no lack of cordiality on Betty’s part toward any one of
their visitors. On Anthony’s arrival with Meg Everett she had thanked
him for his gift in her most charming manner, but had made no reference
to the card which he had enclosed nor to the fact that she preferred
wearing other flowers than his. Meg was looking unusually pretty tonight
and very frankly Betty told her so. Her soft blond hair was parted on
the side with a big loose coil at the back and a black velvet ribbon
encircled her head. Professor Everett was not wealthy and Meg’s college
education was costing him a good deal, therefore she had ordinarily only
a moderate sum of money for buying her clothes and no special talent for
making the best of them. However, this evening her dress had been a
Christmas gift from her brother John and, as it was of soft white silk
and lace, particularly becoming to Meg’s pretty blondness. Her blue eyes
were shining with a kind of veiled light and her color came and went
swiftly. She seemed just as ingenuous and impulsive as she had ever
been, until it was difficult to know what must be the truth about her.
Several times during the evening Esther told herself sternly that of
course Meg had a perfect right to accept Anthony Graham’s attentions if
she liked, for there had never been any definite understanding between
him and her sister, and indeed that she had disapproved of him in the
past. Yet now Anthony Graham, in spite of his origin, might have been
considered a good match for almost any girl. He was a distinguished
looking fellow, with his brilliant foreign coloring, his dark hair and
high forehead. Esther recalled having once felt keenly sorry for him
because the other girls and young men in their group of friends had not
considered him their social or intellectual equal. Now he was entirely
self-possessed and sure of himself. Yet he did seem almost too grave for
their happy Betty; possibly it was just as well he had transferred his
interest to Meg. No one could ever succeed in making Meg Everett serious
for any great length of time. She was still the same happy-go-lucky girl
of their old Camp Fire days whom “a higher education” was not altering
in the least. Yet the “higher education” may have given her subjects of
conversation worthy of discussing with Anthony, for certainly they spent
a great part of the time talking in low tones to each other.

Betty appeared in the gayest possible spirits and had never looked
prettier. Richard Hunt seemed delighted with her, and John Everett had
apparently returned to the state of admiration which he had always felt
when they had been boy and girl together in Woodford. Indeed Betty did
feel unusually animated and excited; she could hardly have known why
except that she had spent a rather dull winter and that she was
extremely excited at seeing her old friends again. And then she and Mr.
Hunt had so much to say to each other on a subject that never failed to
be interesting—Polly!

Neither he nor Miss Adams had the faintest idea of what had become of
that erratic young person, although Margaret Adams had also received a
Christmas letter from her. But where she was or what she was doing, no
one had the faintest idea. It was evident that Mr. Hunt highly
disapproved of Polly’s proceedings, and although until the instant
before Betty had felt exactly as he did, now she rallied at once to her
friend’s defense.

“Mr. Hunt, you must not think for an instant that Polly was ungrateful
either to Miss Adams or to you for your many kindnesses, only she had to
do things in her own Polly fashion, one that other people could not
exactly understand. But if one had ever been fond of Polly,” Betty
insisted, “you were apt to keep on caring for her for some reason or
other which you could not exactly explain. Not that Polly was as pretty
or perhaps as sweet as Mollie.”

Several times during the evening Betty had noticed that every now and
then her companion had glanced with interest toward Mollie O’Neill.
However, when he now agreed with her last statement; she was not sure
whether his agreement emphasized the fact of Mollie’s superior
prettiness, or that Polly was an unforgettable character.

Without a doubt Esther’s and Dick’s first formal dinner party was a
pronounced success. The food was excellent, the two maids, one of whom
was hired for the occasion, served without a flaw. There was only one
trifling occurrence that might have created a slight disturbance, and
this situation fortunately Betty Ashton saw in time to save.

She happened to be sitting at the side of the table that faced the
windows. Earlier in the evening one of these windows had been opened in
order to cool the room and the curtain left partly up. The wind was not
particularly high and no one seemed to be inconvenienced. But most
unexpectedly toward the close of the dinner a gale must have sprung up.
Because there was a sudden, sharp noise at the window and without
warning the blind rolled itself to the topmost ledge with startling
abruptness, as if some one had pulled sharply at the cord and then let

Then another noise immediately followed, not so startling but far more
puzzling. The first racket had caused every member of the little company
to start instinctively. Then at the same instant, before Richard Ashton,
who chanced to be pouring a glass of water for Margaret Adams, could get
up from his place, Betty turned to Richard Hunt. John Everett happened
to be talking to his other neighbor at the moment.

“Mr. Hunt,” Betty asked quickly, “won’t you please close that window for
us? It is too cold to have it open and besides one does not altogether
like the idea that outside persons might be able to look into the room.”

Perhaps Richard Hunt was just a moment longer at the window in the
performance of so simple a task than one might have expected, but no one
observed it.

As he took his place again and Betty thanked him she looked at him with
a slight frown.

“Did you see a ghost, Mr. Hunt?” she queried. “It is not a comfortable
night even for a ghost to be prowling about. It is too lonely an
occupation for Christmas eve.”

Richard Hunt smiled at his companion in return. “Oh, I am always seeing
ghosts, Miss Ashton,” he answered; “I suppose it is because I have an
actor’s vivid imagination.”

CHAPTER XI—A Christmas Song and Recognition

The entire number of guests who had been together at Esther’s and Dick
Ashton’s Christmas-eve dinner, agreed to be at church the following
morning in order to hear Esther sing.

In spite of the fact that Boston is one of the most musical of American
cities and Esther the most modest of persons, even in so short a time
her beautiful voice had given her an enviable reputation. The papers in
giving notice of the morning service had mentioned the fact that the
solo would be given by Mrs. Richard Ashton. But church music must have
been Esther’s real vocation, for no matter how large the congregation
nor how difficult her song she never felt any of her old nervousness and
embarrassment. For one thing she was partly hidden behind the choir
screen, so she need not fear that critical eyes were upon her; she could
be alone with her music and something that was stronger and higher than

On Christmas morning Betty entered their pew with her brother Dick,
Mollie O’Neill and Billy Webster. She was wearing a dark green
broadcloth with a small black velvet toque on her red-brown hair and a
new set of black fox furs that her brother and sister had given her that
morning for a Christmas present. She was pale and a little tired from
yesterday’s festivities, so that a single red rose which had come to her
from some unknown source that morning, was the only really bright color
about her except for the lights in her hair. Mollie was flushed and
smiling with the interest in the new place and people and the
companionship of tried friends.

Betty thought that Margaret Adams also seemed weary when she came in
with Mr. Hunt a few moments later. She was glad that the great lady
happened to be placed next her so that she might feel the thrill of her
nearness. For genius is thrilling, no matter how simple and
unpretentious the man or woman who possesses it. Margaret Adams wore a
wonderful long Russian sable coat and a small velvet hat and, just as
naturally as if she had been another girl, slipped her hand into Betty’s
and held it during the service.

So that in spite of her best efforts Betty could not keep her attention
from wandering now and then. She knew that Margaret Adams was almost
equally as devoted to Polly O’Neill as she herself and wondered what she
thought of their friend’s conduct. She wished that they might have the
opportunity to talk the matter over before Miss Adams finished her stay
in Boston. Then, though realizing her own bad manners, Betty could not
help being a little curious over the friendship between Miss Adams and
Mr. Hunt. They seemed to have known each other such a long, long time
and to have acted together so many times. Of course Margaret Adams was
several years older, but that scarcely mattered with so unusual a

Moreover, there were other influences at work to keep Betty Ashton’s
mind from being as firmly fixed upon the subject of the morning’s sermon
as it should have been. For was she not conscious of the presence of Meg
and John Everett and Anthony Graham in the pew just back of her? And
though it did seem vain and self-conscious of her, she had the sensation
that at least two pairs of eyes were frequently concentrated upon the
back of her head or upon her profile should she chance to turn her face
half way around.

When the offertory was finally announced and Esther began the first
lines of her solo, not only was her sister Betty’s attention caught and
held, but that of almost every other human being in the church. It was
not a beautiful Christmas day, outside there were scurrying gray clouds
and a kind of bleak coldness. But the church was warmly and beautifully
lighted, the altar white with lilies and crimson with roses, speaking of
passion and peace. And Esther’s voice had in it something of almost
celestial sweetness. She was no longer a girl but a woman, for Dick’s
love and a promise of a fulfilment equally beautiful had added to her
natural gift a deeper emotional power. And she sang one of the simplest
and at the same time one of the most beautiful of Christmas hymns.

Betty was perfectly willing to allow all the unhappiness and
disappointments of the past few months to relieve themselves in the
tears that came unchecked. Then she saw Margaret Adams bite her lips and
close her eyes as if she too were shutting out the world of ordinary
vision to live only in beautiful sound and a higher communion.

  “Hark! the herald angels sing
  Glory to the new-born King;
  Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
  God and sinners reconciled!
  Joyful, all ye nations, rise,
  Join the triumph of the skies;
  With the angelic host proclaim,
  Christ is born in Bethlehem.
      Hark! the herald angels sing
      Glory to the new-born King.

  “Christ, by highest heaven adored;
  Christ, the everlasting Lord;
  Late in time behold Him come,
  Offspring of a virgin’s womb.
  Veil’d in flesh the Godhead see,
  Hail, th’ Incarnate Deity!
  Pleased as man with man to dwell,
  Jesus, our Emmanuel!
      Hark! the herald angels sing
      Glory to the new-born King.

  “Hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!
  Hail, the Sun of righteousness!
  Light and life to all He brings,
  Risen with healing in His wings.
  Mild He lays His glory by,
  Born that man no more may die;
  Born to raise the sons of earth,
  Born to give them second birth.
      Hark! the herald angels sing
      Glory to the new-born King.”

At the close of the service, turning to leave the church, Betty Ashton
felt a hand laid on her arm, and glancing up in surprise found Anthony
Graham’s eyes gazing steadfastly into hers.

“We are friends, are we not, Betty? You would not let any
misunderstanding or any change in your life alter that?” he asked

For just an instant the girl hesitated, then answered simply and

“I don’t think any one could be unfaithful to an old friendship on
Christmas morning after hearing Esther sing. It was not in the least
necessary, Anthony, for you to ask me such a question. You know I shall
always wish you the best possible things.”

Then, without allowing the young man to reply or to accompany her down
the aisle, she hurried away to her other friends, and, slipping her arm
firmly inside Mollie O’Neill’s, she never let go her clasp until they
were safely out of church.

“It is no use, Meg, nothing matters,” Anthony Graham said a quarter of
an hour later, when he and Margaret Everett were on their way home
together, John having deserted them to join the other party. “The fact
is, Betty does not care in the least one way or the other what I say or

“Then I wish you would let me tell her the truth,” Meg urged. “You see,
Anthony, the Princess and I have always been such intimate friends and I
have always admired her more than any of the other girls. I don’t wish
her to misunderstand us. She may not be so brilliant as Polly, nor so
clever as Sylvia or your sister Nan, but somehow Betty is—well, I
suppose she is what a real Princess ought to be. That is what Polly
always declared. It is not just because she is pretty and generous, but
she is so high-minded. Nothing would make her even appear to take
advantage of a friend.” And Meg sighed, her usually happy face clouding.

In silence, then, the girl and young man walked on for a few moments
when Anthony replied: “You must do as you like, of course, Meg. I have
no right to ask you anything else. But this understanding between us
means everything in the world to me and it was your own offer in the

Meg nodded. “Yes, I know; but truly I don’t think as much of my idea as
I did at first. Still I am willing to keep quiet for a while longer if
you wish it.”

At this moment there was no further opportunity for intimate
conversation, for Meg’s Harvard friend, Ralph Brown, made his appearance
with a five-pound box of candy, elaborately tied with red ribbon, under
his arm, and an expression on his face that suggested politely but
firmly that Anthony Graham retire for the present, leaving the field to

Of their friends in Boston only Margaret Adams and Richard Hunt had been
invited by Esther and Dr. Ashton to have an informal Christmas dinner
with them. For the dinner party the evening before had been such a
domestic strain upon the little household that they wished to spend the
following day quietly. But it was impossible to think of Margaret Adams
dining alone in a great hotel, and she would certainly accept no
invitation from her wealthier and more fashionable acquaintances in
Boston. Moreover, Betty hoped that in the afternoon there might be a
chance to talk of Polly. At the beginning no one had dreamed of
including Richard Hunt in the invitation, as he was a comparative
stranger; but Dick, having taken a sudden fancy to him, had calmly
suggested his returning for Christmas day without due consultation with
his family.

Five minutes after starting for home with Dick and Esther, Mollie, Betty
and Miss Adams, Mr. Hunt, with a murmured excuse which no one
understood, asked to be excused from going further. He would join the
party later if possible, but should he chance to be delayed dinner must
on no account be kept waiting for him.

His conduct did seem rather extraordinary, and although Dick and Esther
betrayed no surprise, it was plain enough that Margaret Adams felt
annoyed. She had introduced Mr. Hunt to her friends and so naturally
felt responsible for his conduct.

Though the man was aware of his apparent eccentricity and though his
manners were usually nearly perfect, he now deliberately turned away
from the little company. And in spite of his half-hearted suggestion of
re-joining them he had little idea at present of when he would return.
Deliberately he retraced his steps to the church which he had quitted
only a few moments before.

Already the place was nearly deserted. On the sidewalk the clergyman was
saying farewell to a few final members of his congregation, while inside
the sexton was closing the doors of the two side aisles, although the
large door in the center still remained open. Hurriedly Mr. Hunt
entered. And there, just as he had hoped to find her, was the figure of
a girl sitting in a rather dejected attitude in one of the last pews.
She had on a dark dress and a heavy long coat and about her head a thick
veil was tied.

Before he could reach her she had risen and was starting away.

“Wait here for a moment, Miss O’Neill; we can find no other spot so
quiet in which to have a talk,” the man said sternly.

Then as Polly flashed an indignant glance at him, attempting to pass as
though she had neither seen nor recognized him, he added:

“I know I have no right to intrude upon you, but unless you are willing
to give me some explanation of why you are here and what you are doing,
I shall tell the friends who are nearer to you than I am of my having
seen you not only this morning, but last night as well.”

“Oh, please don’t!” Polly’s voice was trembling. “Really, truly, I am
not doing anything wrong in staying here in Boston and not letting
people hear. My mother knows where I am and what I am doing and of
course I am not alone. Yes, it was utterly silly and reckless of me to
have peeped in at Esther’s dining-room window last night, but I was so
dreadfully lonely and wanted to see everybody so much. How could I have
dreamed that that wretched curtain would go banging away up in the air
as it did? But anyhow, Mr. Hunt, I shall always be everlastingly
grateful to you for not telling on me last night. I did not suppose you
saw me and certainly never imagined you could have recognized me when I
crouched down in the shadow.”

Unexpectedly Polly O’Neill laughed. “What a perfect idiot I should have
looked if you had dragged me in before the dinner party like a spy or a
thief or a beggar! I can just imagine Esther’s and Mollie’s

“Yes, but all this is not quite to the point, Miss Polly,” Richard Hunt
continued, speaking however in a more friendly tone. “Am I to tell
Margaret Adams and Betty Ashton that I have discovered you, or will you
take me into your secret and let me decide what is best to be done

“But you have not the right to do either the one thing nor the other,”
the girl argued, lifting her veil for an instant in order to see if
there was any sign of relenting in the face of her older friend.

There was not the slightest. And Polly recognized that for once in her
life she was beaten.

“Don’t say anything today then, please,” she urged, looking into her
pocketbook and finding there a card with a name and address written upon
it. “But come to see me tomorrow if you like. And don’t think that I am
ungrateful or—or horrid,” she ended abruptly, rushing away so swiftly
that it would have been impossible for any one to have followed her
without creating attention.

Rather grimly Richard Hunt gazed at the card he held in his hand. It
bore a name that was not Polly O’Neill’s and the address of a quiet
street in Boston. What on the face of the earth could she be doing? It
was impossible to guess, and yet it was certainly nothing very unwise if
her mother knew and approved of it.

Whether or not he had the right to find out, Richard Hunt had positively
decided to take advantage of his recognition of Polly O’Neill and insist
upon her confidence. He could not have explained even to himself why he
was so determined on this course of action. However, it was true, as her
friend Betty Ashton had insisted the night before, whether or not you
happened to feel a liking for Polly, you were not apt to forget her.

In the past few months it was curious how often he had found himself
wondering what had become of the girl. He recalled her having run away
several years before to make her first stage appearance and then their
meeting in Margaret Adams’ drawing room in London later on. Well,
perhaps curiosity was not alone a feminine trait of character, for
Richard Hunt felt convinced he would be more at peace with himself and
the world when he had learned Polly’s story from her own lips.

CHAPTER XII—After Her Fashion Polly Explains

The next afternoon a dark-haired woman a little past thirty came into
the boarding house sitting room to see Richard Hunt before Polly made
her appearance.

“I am Mrs. Martins, Miss O’Neill’s chaperon,” she explained. “Or if I am
not exactly her chaperon at least we are together and I am trying to see
that no harm befalls her. No, she is not calling herself by her own
name, but she will prefer to give you her own reason for that. I have
met her mother several times, so that of course I understand the
situation.” Mrs. Martins was a woman of refinement and of some education
and her pronunciation of her own name showed her to be of French origin.

Already the situation was slightly less mystifying. Yet there was still
a great deal for Polly to make clear if she chose to do so. However, it
was curious that she was taking so long a time to join them.

Mrs. Martins continued to talk about nothing in particular, so it was
evident that she intended making no betrayals. Now and then she even
glanced toward the door in some embarrassment, as though puzzled and
annoyed by her companion’s delay. And while Richard Hunt was answering
her politely if vaguely, actually he was on the point of deciding that
Polly did not intend coming down stairs at all. Well perhaps it would
serve him right, for what authority did he have for forcing the girl’s
confession? And she was certainly quite capable of punishing him by
placing him in an absurd situation.

Nevertheless nothing was farther from Polly O’Neill’s intention at the
present moment. She was merely standing before her mirror in her tiny
upstairs bedroom trying to summon sufficient courage to meet her guest
and tell her story.

Once or twice she had started for the door only to return and stare at
herself with intense disapproval. She had rubbed her cheeks with a crash
towel until at least they were crimson enough, although the color was
not very satisfying, and she had arranged her hair three times, only to
decide at the last that she had best have left it alone at first.

Now she made a little grimace at her own image, smiling at almost the
same instant.

“My beloved Princess or Mollie, I do wish you could lend me your good
looks for the next half hour,” she murmured half aloud. “It is so much
easier to be eloquent and convincing in this world when one happens to
be pretty. But I, well certainly I would serve as a perfect illustration
of ‘a rag and a bone and a hank of hair’ at this moment if at no other.”

Polly glanced down at her costume with more satisfaction than she had
found in surveying her face. It was not in the least shabby, but a very
charming dress which her mother had sent as a part of her Christmas box.
The dress was of dark red crepe de Chine with a velvet girdle and collar
of the same shade. And although under ordinary circumstances it might
have been becoming, today Polly was not wrong in believing that she was
not looking even her poor best. She was tired and nervous. Of course it
did not matter so very much what Mr. Hunt might think of the story she
had to tell him, but later on there would be many other persons whom she
would have to persuade to accept her point of view. And somehow she felt
that if she failed to convince her first listener she must fail with the

Then unexpectedly, before hearing the sound of her approach, Richard
Hunt discovered a cold hand being extended to shake his, and in a voice
even more chilling Polly O’Neill was apologizing for having kept him
waiting. Yet on the way down the steps had she not positively made up
her mind to be so cordial and agreeable that her visitor should forget
her other deficiencies?

With a feeling of amazement mixed with despair Polly seated herself in
the darkest corner of a small sofa next Mrs. Martins, deciding that it
was quite useless, that she should attempt no explanation. Mr. Hunt and
her companion could talk together about the weather if they chose, for
she could not think of a single word to say. Afterwards her visitor
could go away and give any account of her he wished, although naturally
this might frustrate all her hopes and ambitions and make her dearest
friends angry with her for life. Yet if one were always to suffer from
stage fright at all the critical moments of one’s career what else could
be expected?

At this moment Mrs. Martins excused herself and left the room. Polly saw
her go with a characteristic shrug of her shoulders and an odd glance at
her visitor. The moment had come. Mr. Hunt would discover that she had
not even the grace to keep her promise, and heaven alone knew what he
would soon think of her.

Yet after saying good-by to her companion he continued talking in the
kindest possible fashion, telling her news of Esther and Dick Ashton,
saying how much he admired Betty and Mollie.

Indeed in less than five minutes Polly had actually managed to forget
the reason for her visitor’s call and was asking him questions about her
old friends, faster than they could be answered.

“Was their play, A Woman’s Wit, still as great a success as it had been
at the start? Was Margaret Adams well or had the winter’s work used her
up? Did Betty Ashton seem to have any special admirer in Boston?”

Actually in a brief quarter of an hour Polly’s eyes were shining and her
lips smiling. Curled up comfortably on her sofa she suddenly appreciated
that she was having the most agreeable time she had enjoyed in months.
Then again her expression changed and her brief radiance vanished. Yet
this time her companion understood.

“Miss Polly,” he said quickly, “please don’t feel that after what
happened yesterday I still mean to force you to make a confidant of me.
The truth is I did want very much to hear that all was well with you and
that you were not making any kind of mistake. I am not going to be a
coward, so I confess that I came here today expecting to force your
secret from you simply because I had an advantage over you. But, of
course, now that we have been talking together I can see that you are
all right, even if you do look rather tired and none too cheerful. So I
want to apologize and then I shall go away and not worry you again. Also
you may feel entirely assured that I shall not mention having seen you
to any one.”

The man had risen from his chair, but before he could move a step
forward, Polly had clasped her hands together and was gazing at him

“Oh, please, Mr. Hunt, don’t go,” she begged. “All of a sudden I have
begun to feel that if I don’t tell some one my secret and ask you to
approve of me or at least to try to forgive me for what I am doing I
shall perish.” Actually Polly would now have pushed her visitor back
into his chair if he had not sat down again so promptly as to make it

“You are sure you wish to confide in me, Miss Polly? Of course you
understand that I will tell no one. But if your mother knows and
approves of you, why surely no other person is necessary,” he argued.

In reply the girl laughed. “Mother is an angel and for that reason
perhaps she does not always approve or understand me exactly. In this
case she is just permitting me to have my own way because she promised
to let me try and do what I could to become a successful actress and she
never goes back on her word. Of course my method seems queer to her and
probably will to you. But after all it is the way I see things and one
can’t look out of any one’s eyes but one’s own. Surely you believe that,
Mr. Hunt?”

Of course any one who really understood Polly O’Neill, Betty Ashton for
instance, would have understood at once that she was now beginning to
explain her own wilfulness. Yet her question did sound convincing, for
assuredly one can have no other vision than one’s own.

Richard Hunt nodded sympathetically, although Polly was looking so
absurdly young and so desperately in earnest that he would have
preferred to smile.

She was leaning forward with her chin resting on her hand and gazing
intently at him. What she saw was a man who seemed almost middle-aged to
her. And yet to the girl he seemed almost ideally handsome. His features
were strong and well-cut, the nose aquiline, the mouth large and firm.
And he was wearing the kindest possible expression. For half an instant
Polly’s thoughts flew away from herself. Surely if any one in the world
could be worthy of Margaret Adams it was Richard Hunt. Then she settled
down to the telling of her own story.

“You know of course, Mr. Hunt, without my having to say anything more
about it, that ever since I was a little girl I have dreamed and hoped
and prayed of some day becoming a great actress. Mother says that there
was some one in my family once, one of my Irish aunts, I believe, who
ran away from home in order to go on the stage and was never recognized
again. I have thought sometimes that perhaps I inherited her ambition.
One never knows about things like that, life is so queer. Anyhow when a
dozen girls in Woodford formed a Camp Fire and we lived together in the
woods for over a year working and playing, mother and Betty and my
sister expected me to get over my foolish ideas and learn something
through our club that might make me adopt a more sensible career. I
don’t mean to be rude to you, Mr. Hunt,” Polly was profoundly serious,
there was now no hint of amusement in her dark blue eyes or in her
mobile face, “you understand I am only telling you what my family and
friends thought about people who were actors—not what I think. I don’t
see why acting isn’t just as great and useful as the other arts if one
is conscientious and has real talent. But the trouble with me has been
all along that I haven’t any real talent. I suppose if I had been a
genius from the first no one would have cared to oppose me. Well the
Camp Fire did not influence me against what I wanted to do; it only made
me feel more in earnest than I had ever been before. For we girls
learned such a lot about courage and perseverance and being happy even
if things were not going just the way one liked, that it has all been a
great help to me recently, more than at any time in my life.”

Richard Hunt nodded gravely. “I see,” he said quietly, although in point
of fact he did not yet understand in the least what Polly was trying to
explain, nor why she should review so much of her past life before
coming to her point. He was curiously interested, although ordinarily he
might have been bored by such a disjointed story.

Polly was too intense at the moment to have bored anyone. There she sat
in her red dress against the darker background of the sofa with her
figure almost in shadow and the light falling only upon her odd, eager

“I ran away from Miss Adams and from you, not because I was such a
coward that I meant to give up the thing I was trying for, but because I
knew that I must have a harder time if I was ever to amount to anything.
You see people were trying to make things so easy for me and in a way
they were making them more difficult. Margaret gave me that place in her
company when I did not deserve it; you tried to show me how to act when
I could not learn; my friends were complimenting me when all the time
they must have known I was a failure. I couldn’t bear it, Mr. Hunt;
really I could not. I am lots of horrid things, but I am not a fraud.
Then Margaret told me what a difficult time she had at the beginning of
her career and how no one had helped her. Of course she meant to make me
feel that I might be more successful because of my friends’ aid, but I
did not see things just that way. Oh, I do hope you had to work
dreadfully hard at the beginning of your profession and had lots of
failures,” Polly concluded so unexpectedly and so solemnly that this
time Richard Hunt could not refrain from laughing.

“Oh no, it wasn’t all plain sailing for me either, Miss Polly, and it
isn’t now for that matter, if it is of any help to you to know it,” he
added, realizing that his companion was absolutely unconscious of having
said anything amusing.

“Before I gave up trying to act Belinda I got a small position in a
cheap stock company.” Polly had at last reached the point of her story.
“The company has been traveling through New England all winter and is
still on the road. We only happened to be in Boston during the holidays.
I have been playing almost any kind of part, sometimes I am a maid,
sometimes a lady-in-waiting to the queen; once or twice, when the star
has been ill, I have had to take the character of the heroine. Of course
all this must sound very silly and commonplace to you, Mr. Hunt, but
honestly I am learning a few things: not to be so self-conscious for one
thing and to work very, very hard.”

“Too hard, Miss Polly, I am afraid,” Richard Hunt replied, looking
closely at his companion and feeling oddly moved by her confession.
Perhaps the girl’s effort would amount to nothing and perhaps she was
unwise in having made it, nevertheless one could not but feel sorry that
her friends had suspected her of ingratitude and lack of affection and
that she was engaged in some kind of foolish escapade. Richard Hunt felt
extremely guilty himself at the moment.

“Oh no, I am not working too hard or at least not too hard for my
health,” Polly argued. “You see both my mother and Sylvia are looking
after me. Sylvia made me promise her once, when I did not understand
what she meant, that I would let her know what I was doing all this
winter. So I have kept my promise and every once and a while good old
Sylvia travels to where I happen to be staying and looks me over and
gives me pills and things.” Polly smiled. “You don’t know who Sylvia is
and it is rather absurd of me to talk to you so intimately about my
family. Sylvia is my step-sister, but she used to be merely my friend
when we were girls. She is younger than I am but a thousand times
cleverer and is studying to be a physician. She has not much respect for
my judgment but she is rather fond of me.”

“And your chaperon?” Perhaps Mr. Hunt realized that he was asking a good
many questions when he and Polly O’Neill were still comparative
strangers; yet he was too much concerned for her welfare at present to

Polly did not seem to be either surprised or offended by his
questioning, but pleased to have some one in whom she might confide.

“Oh, just at first mother sent one of her old friends about everywhere
with me. But when she got tired we found this Mrs. Martins who was
having a hard time in New York and needed something to do. She is really
awfully nice and is teaching me French in our spare moments. She used to
be a dressmaker, I believe, but could not get enough work to do.”
Suddenly Polly straightened up and put out her hand this time in an
exceedingly friendly fashion.

“Goodness, Mr. Hunt, what a dreadfully long time I have been keeping you
here and how good you have been to listen to me so patiently!” she
exclaimed. “You will keep my secret for me, won’t you? This winter I
don’t want my friends to know what I am trying to do or to come to see
me act. I have not improved enough so far.”

Still holding Polly’s hand in a friendly clasp, her visitor rose.

“But you will let me come, won’t you?” he urged. “You see I am in your
secret now and so I am different from other people. Besides I am very
grateful to you for your faith in me and I don’t like to remember now
that I first tried bullying you into confiding in me.”

Polly’s answering sigh was one of relief. “I don’t seem to mind even
that, although I was angry and frightened at first,” she returned. “I
don’t usually enjoy doing what people make me do. But if you think you
really would like to come to see me play, perhaps I should be rather
glad. Only you must promise not to let me know when you are there, nor
what you think of my acting afterwards.”

CHAPTER XIII—A Place of Memories

“I wonder, Angel, if you had ever heard of my friend, Polly O’Neill,
before I mentioned her name to you?” Betty Ashton asked after a few
moments of silence between the two girls, when evidently Betty had been
puzzling over this same question.

Angel shook her head. “Never,” she returned quietly.

Five months had passed since their first meeting and now the scene about
them was a very different one from the four bare walls of a hospital,
and the little French girl was almost as completely changed.

It was early spring in the New Hampshire hills and the child and young
woman were seated outside a cabin of logs with their eyes resting
sometimes on a small lake before them, again on a dark group of pine
trees, but more often on a sun-tipped hill ahead where the meadows
seemed to lie down in green homage at her feet.

Everywhere there were signs of the earth’s eternal re-birth and
re-building. The grain showed only a tiny hint of its autumn harvest of
gold, but the grass, the flowers, the new leaves on the bushes and trees
were at their gayest and loveliest. Notwithstanding there was a breeze
cool enough to make warm clothes a necessity, and Betty wore a long dark
blue cloth cloak, while her companion, who was lying at full length in a
steamer chair, was covered with a heavy rug. Yet the girl’s delicate
white hands were busily engaged in weaving long strands of
bright-colored straws together.

“Why did you think I had ever heard of your friend, Princess?” she
queried after a short pause.

[Illustration: “Why Did You Think I Had Ever Heard of Your Friend?”]

Keeping her finger in a volume of Tennyson’s poems which she had been
supposed to be reading, the older girl gazed thoughtfully and yet almost
unseeingly into the dark eyes of her companion. “I don’t know exactly,”
she replied thoughtfully, “only for some strange reason since our
earliest acquaintance you have always made me think of Polly. You don’t
look like her, of course, though there is just a suggestion in your
expression now and then. Perhaps because you were so interested in her
when I began telling of our Sunrise Hill Camp Fire girls. I don’t
believe you would ever have been able to endure me you know, Angel dear,
if you had not liked hearing me talk of Polly; then think of what good
times we should both have missed!”

Across the little French girl’s face a warm flush spread.

“It is like you to say ‘we’ should have missed,” she replied softly.
“But I never hated you, you were always mistaken in believing that. From
the morning you first came to the hospital and ever afterwards I thought
you the prettiest person I had ever seen in my life and one of the
sweetest. It was only that in those early days I was too miserable to
speak to any one. Always I was afraid I should break down if I tried to
talk, so when the other girls attempted being nice to me I pretended I
was sullen and hateful when in reality I was a coward. It was just the
same when you started the ‘Shut-In Camp Fire’ among the girls. I would
not join, I would not take the slightest interest in the beginning for
much the same reason. But you were always so patient and agreeable to me
and so was Miss Mollie. Then there was always Cricket!” Smiling, she
paused for a moment listening.

Inside Sunrise cabin both girls could hear the noise of several persons
moving about as though deeply engaged in some important business.

“I suppose I ought to go in and help,” Betty remarked in a slightly
conscience-smitten tone, “but Mollie does so enjoy fussing about getting
things ready. And in spite of all my efforts and stern Camp Fire
training I shall never be so good a cook as she is. Besides, both Mollie
and Cricket informed me politely, after I finished cleaning our rooms
and had set the luncheon table, that I was somewhat in the way. I
suppose I had best go in, though. Is there anything I can do for you
first, Angel? Cricket is beating that cake batter so hard it sounds like
a drum.”

Betty had half risen from her chair when the expression in her
companion’s face made her sit down again. “What is it?” she asked.

For a moment the other girl’s fingers ceased their busy weaving. “You
have never asked me anything about myself, Princess, in spite of all the
wonderful things you have done for me,” she began. “I don’t want to bore
you, but I should like——”

With a low laugh Betty suddenly hunched her chair forward until it was
close up against the larger one.

“And I, I am perfectly dying to hear, you must know, you dear little
goose, to talk about boring me! Don’t you know I am one of the most
curious members of my curious sex? I have not asked you questions
because I did not feel I had the right unless you wished to tell. But
possibly I asked that question about Polly O’Neill just to give you a
chance. Really I don’t know.”

In spite of this small confession, not for worlds would Betty Ashton
have allowed the sensitive little French girl to have learned another
reason for her questioning. It was odd and certainly unreasonable, yet
in all her recent kindness and care of Angelique she had continued to
feel that in some mysterious fashion her friend, Polly O’Neill, was
encouraging and aiding her. There was some one at work, assuredly,
though she had no shadow of right in believing it to be Polly. For
though she had confided in no one, the first anonymous letter in regard
to the ill girl had not been the last one. In truth there must have been
half a dozen in all, postmarked at different places and all of them
unsigned and yet showing a remarkably intimate knowledge of the growing
friendship between the two girls.

The first step had been natural and simple enough. For with her usual
enthusiasm after her visit to the hospital Betty had immediately set
about forming a Camp Fire. She had sent for all the literature she could
find on the subject, the club manual and songs. Then she and Mollie,
during her visit, and sometimes Meg, had taught the new club members as
much as possible of what they had themselves learned during the old days
at Sunrise Hill.

For the first few meetings of the club in the great, sunny hospital room
there was one solitary girl who would not show the least interest in the
new and delightful proceedings. Indeed she kept on with her stupid
gazing up toward the ceiling as if she were both deaf and blind.

However, one day when she believed no one looking and while the other
girls were talking of their future aims and ambitions and of the ways in
which their new club might help them, unexpectedly Betty Ashton had
caught sight of Angelique, with her dark eyes fixed almost despairingly
upon her.

The other girls were all busy, some of them sewing on their new
ceremonial Camp Fire costumes of khaki, others making bead bands or
working at basket weaving. In the meanwhile they were talking of Camp
Fire honors to be won in the future and of the new names which they
might hope to attain.

Therefore, almost unnoticed by any one else, Betty was able to cross
over to the side of the French girl’s bed.

“I was wondering if I could not also do some of that pretty work with my
hands,” the girl began at once, speaking as composedly as if she had
been talking to Betty every day since their first meeting, although this
was only the second time that she had ever voluntarily addressed a word
to her.

Without commenting or appearing surprised, Betty brought over to her
bedside a quantity of bright straw and straightaway commenced showing
the girl the first principles of the art of basket-weaving which she had
learned in the Sunrise Camp Fire. Very little instruction was necessary;
for, before the first lesson was over, the pupil had learned almost as
much as her teacher. Indeed the French girl’s skill with her hands was
an amazement to everybody. With her third effort and without assistance,
Angel manufactured so charming a basket that Betty bore it home in
triumph to show to her brother and sister. Then quite by accident the
basket was left in Esther’s sitting room, where a visitor, seeing it and
hearing the story of its weaving, asked permission to purchase it.

After some discussion, and fearful of how the girl might receive the
offer, Betty finally summoned courage to tell Angelique. Thus
unexpectedly Betty came upon one of the secrets of her new friend’s
nature. Angel had an inordinate, a passionate desire for making money.
She was older than any one had imagined her, between fourteen and
fifteen. Now her hands were no longer clenched on her coverlid nor did
her eyes turn resolutely to gaze at nothingness. Propped up on her
pillows, her white fingers were ever busy at dozens of tasks. Betty had
found a place in Boston where her baskets were sold almost as fast as
she could make them. Then Angelique knew quite amazing things about
sewing, so that Esther sent her several tiny white frocks to be
delicately embroidered, and always the other girls at the hospital were
asking her aid and advice.

Quite astonishing the doctors considered the girl’s rapid improvement.
Perhaps no one had told them the secret, for she now had an interest in
life and a chance not to be always useless. Was it curious that she no
longer disliked Betty Ashton and that she soon became the leading spirit
in the new Camp Fire?

Afterwards the Wohelo candles were placed on a small table near Angel’s
bed while the girls formed their group about her.

Then one day in early April the Princess had whispered something in
Angel’s ear. It was only a hope or at best a plan, yet, after all, Betty
Ashton was a kind of fairy godmother to whom all impossible things were

For Sunrise cabin was undoubtedly open once again with four girls as its
occupants—Betty Ashton and Mollie O’Neill, Cricket and “The Angel.”

“I am afraid you won’t find my story as interesting as you would like it
to be,” Angel said after a moment. “And perhaps it may prejudice you
against me. I don’t believe Americans think of these things as French
people do. But my father was a ballet master and ever since I was the
tiniest little girl I had been taught to dance and dance, almost to do
nothing else. You see I was to be a première danseuse some day,” Angel
continued quite simply and calmly, scarcely noticing that Betty’s face
had paled through sympathy and that she was biting her lips and
resolutely turning away her eyes from the fragile figure stretched out
in the long steamer chair.

“I was born in Paris, but when I was only a few years old my father came
to New York and was one of the assistant ballet masters at your great
opera house. Ten years later, I think it must have been, I was trying a
very difficult dance and in some way I had a fall. I did not know it was
very bad, we paid no attention to it, then this came.” The little French
girl shrugged her shoulders. “My father died soon after and mother tried
taking care of us both. She did sewing at the theaters and anything else
she could. She wasn’t very successful. One day a chance came for me to
have special treatment in Boston. I was sent there and mother got some
other work to do. I have only seen her once in months and months. But
you can understand now why I am so anxious to make money. I was afraid
perhaps you would not. I don’t want to be a burden on mother always and
now I think perhaps I need not be.”

Angel spoke with entire cheerfulness and decision. It did not seem even
to have occurred to her that she had been telling her friend an
amazingly tragic little history. Nor did Betty Ashton wish her to
realize how deeply affected she was by it. So, jumping up with rather an
affectation of hurry and surprise, she kissed her companion lightly on
the cheek.

“Thank you a thousand times for confiding in me, dear, and please don’t
be hopeless about never getting well. See how much you have improved!
But there comes the first of our guests to lunch, a whole half hour too
soon. But as long as Billy Webster promised to bring us the mail from
Woodford I suppose I must forgive him. Anyhow I must try to keep him
from worrying Mollie. She would be dreadfully bored to have him see her
before she is dressed.” Betty walked away for a few steps and then came
back again.

“You will never understand perhaps, Angel, how much my learning to know
you this winter has done for me. I was dreadfully unhappy over something
myself, and perhaps I am still, but coming to visit you in Boston and
then our being together down here has cheered me immensely. I know you
are a great deal younger than I am, but if Polly O’Neill never writes me
again or wishes to have anything more to do with me, perhaps some day
you may be willing to be my very, very intimate friend. You see I have
not had even a single line from Polly in months and months and I can’t
even guess what on earth has become of her.”

CHAPTER XIV—A Sudden Summons

Though Billy Webster had brought with him from the village half a dozen
letters and as many papers, no one of the dwellers in Sunrise cabin was
able to read anything for three or four hours after his arrival.

For Betty and Mollie were having an informal luncheon. But indeed, ever
since taking up their abode at the cabin several weeks before, they had
never passed a single day without guests. For it was too much like old
times for their Woodford friends to find the door of the little house
once more hospitably open, with a log fire burning in the big fire place
in the living room and the movement and laughter of girls inside the old
cabin and out.

At present there were only the four of them living there together with
the Ashton’s old Irish cook, Ann, as their guardian, chaperon and first
aid in domestic difficulties. Later on, there would be other members of
the Sunrise Hill club, who were already looking forward to spending
their holidays at the cabin.

As a matter of course, Billy Webster was at present their most frequent
visitor, although his calls were ordinarily short. Almost every morning
he used to ride up to the cabin on horseback to see if things had gone
well with his friends during the night, or to ask if there were any
errands in the village which he could do or have done for them. For you
may remember that the land on which the cabin stood had been bought from
Billy’s father and was not far from their farm. Billy now seemed to be
the only one of their former boy friends who was able to come often to
the old cabin.

John Everett was at work in the broker’s office in New York City, Frank
Wharton had only just returned from his honeymoon journey with Eleanor
Meade, and Anthony Graham was attending a session of the New Hampshire
Legislature and probably spending his week ends in visits to Meg
Everett. There were other men friends, assuredly, who appeared at the
cabin now and then, but they had fewer associations with the past.

Betty was looking forward to John Everett’s coming a little later; but
she had begged him to wait until they were more comfortably settled and
the two younger girls had grown accustomed to their new surroundings.

Today Rose Barton and Faith had driven out to the cabin for luncheon and
Mrs. Crippen, Betty’s step-mother with the new small step-brother, who
was an adorable red-haired baby with the pinkest of cheeks and the
bluest eyes in the world. Then, soon after lunch, Mr. and Mrs. Frank
Wharton appeared in their up-to-date motor car, which had been Frank’s
wedding gift from his father.

So it was a simple enough matter to understand why neither Betty nor
Mollie had the opportunity even to glance inside the envelopes of their
letters, though Mollie recognized that she had received one from her
mother and Betty saw that Mrs. Wharton had also written to her. There
was nothing unusual in this, for Betty and Mrs. Wharton had always
remained intimate and devoted friends, just as they had been since Betty
was a tiny girl and Mrs. Wharton, as Mrs. O’Neill, lived across the
street from the big Ashton house.

Certainly for the time being the two hostesses had their attention fully
distracted by their social responsibilities. For Mollie had direct
charge of the luncheon party, while to Betty had fallen the duty of
seeing that their friends learned to understand one another and to have
a gay time.

It was a pleasure for her to observe what an interest Faith Barton had
immediately seemed to feel in her little French girl. For one could only
think of Angelique as a child, she was so tiny and fragile with all her
delicate body hidden from view save her quaint, vivid face and slender

Faith herself had been a curious child, and though now so nearly grown,
was not in the least like an every-day person. She was extremely pretty,
suggesting a fair young saint in an old Italian picture; and still she
loved dreams better than realities and books more than people.
Ordinarily she was very shy; yet here in Angelique, Faith believed that
she had probably found the friend of her heart. The French girl seemed
romance personified, and delicately and gently she set out to woo her.
But Angel was not easy to win, she was still cold and frightened with
all persons except her fairy princess. Nevertheless, Betty sincerely
hoped that the two girls might eventually learn to care truly for each

They were so different in appearance that it was an artistic pleasure to
see them together. Faith was so soft and fair; Angel so dark and with
such possibilities of restrained vivacity and passion. Then the older
girl knew so little of real life, while the younger one had already
touched its sorrows too deeply.

After all, it was really Faith’s sudden attachment that kept the guests
at the cabin longer than they had intended to remain.

At four o’clock, fearing the excitement too much for her protégé, Betty
had persuaded the girl to retire to bed. Faith had at once insisted on
having tea alone in the room with Angel so that they might have a chance
for a really intimate conversation. It was Faith, however, who did all
the talking, nor did she even have the satisfaction of knowing that her
new acquaintance had enjoyed her. Certainly the French girl was going to
be difficult; yet perhaps to a romantic nature mystery is the greatest

Actually it was almost six o’clock when the last visitor had finally
departed from Sunrise cabin and Mollie and Betty had a few quiet moments
together. It had been a beautiful day and now when the sun was sinking
behind the hill, spreading its radiance over the world, the two friends
stepped outside the cabin door for a short breathing spell.

Betty had completely forgotten her unopened letters; she was thinking of
something entirely different, and her gray eyes were not free from a
certain wistfulness as she looked around the familiar landscape. All day
long, although she had done her best at concealment, she had felt
vaguely restless and unhappy. There had been no definite reason, except,
perhaps, the pathetic story confided to her earlier in the day.

Suddenly Mollie O’Neill turned toward her friend, at the same instant
drawing two letters from her pocket.

“I declare, Betty dear, I have not had a single moment of leisure all
day, not even time to read mother’s letter. Have you? I do hope she had
nothing of special importance to say. I thought she might possibly come
and see us for a while this afternoon.”

Seeing Mollie open Mrs. Wharton’s note and beginning to read it, Betty
immediately followed her example. But the moment after both girls turned
their eyes from studying the sheets of paper before them to stare
curiously at each other.

“How very extraordinary and how very unlike mother!” exclaimed Mollie
O’Neill in a puzzled fashion.

“Surely she must know that it is quite out of the question for us to do
what she asks,” Betty went on, as if continuing her friend’s sentence.
“She understands that we have just come to the cabin and that we have
promised to take the best kind of care of Angel and Cricket with Dr.
Barton’s assistance. Of course, Mollie, you may have to do what your
mother says, but do please make her understand that it is impossible for
me. I wish she was not so insistent, though, it makes it dreadfully
difficult to refuse. Does your letter say that you must leave for New
York City as early as possible tomorrow and join your mother at the
Astor Hotel?”

Mollie nodded, still frowning. “If mother wished us to go to New York
with her on business, or pleasure, or for whatever reason, I cannot see
why she did not wait and let us all go together tomorrow. I simply can’t
see why she should rush off this morning as her letter says and leave us
to follow the next day. But I suppose if you can get some one to stay on
here at the cabin with you, dear, that I must do as mother asks. You
see, she writes that it is a matter of great importance that has called
her away and that she is relying on my being with her.”

Reading her own letter for the second time, Betty folded it thoughtfully
and replaced it inside the envelope. “Of course you must go, Mollie,
without a shadow of a doubt,” she answered positively. “Rose and Faith
will come out here and stay for a few days and Dr. Barton will be with
them at night. I shall be rather glad to have them know Angel better; it
might help her in a good many ways. The thing that troubles me is
whether I ought to go with you. You see your mother also writes that she
is relying on having me with her as well. Though she does not give me
her reason, still she is very positive. She says that my coming to New
York at the present time will mean a great deal to me personally, and
moreover she particularly desires me to be with you.” Betty slowly shook
her head. “I don’t see exactly how I can refuse; do you, Mollie? I don’t
believe your mother has ever been really angry with me in my life and I
should so hate her to be now. Besides I think it would be rather fun to
go, and of course Rose would look after things for a few days.”

“Then it is decided?” and Mollie breathed a sigh of mingled relief and
pleasure. “Well, I must go in at once and telephone Billy and ask him to
look up time-tables and things. Mother has sent me a check big enough to
pay our expenses if you do not happen to have the money at the cabin
with you.”

All the hours following that evening and in the early morning were too
busy with preparations and explanations to allow of much conjecture; yet
in the back of their minds both girls were trying to work out the same

What conceivable thing could have happened to make Mrs. Wharton summon
them to New York in this odd fashion? Could it have anything to do with
Polly? But if Polly had been taken suddenly ill, would Mrs. Wharton not
have given them some slight warning, some preparation for the shock that
might lie ahead of them? Yet it was idle to make vain guesses or to
worry without cause. In a short while Mrs. Wharton would, of course,
explain the whole situation.

As passengers on the earliest afternoon train that left Woodford for New
York City next day, Mollie and Betty had already forgotten their first
opposition to this journey to New York. All at once it appeared like a
very delightful and natural excursion. If Mrs. Wharton had occasion to
spend several days in New York what more agreeable than spending the
time with her? There would be the shops and theaters to visit and a
glimpse at the new spring fashions. Moreover, Betty did not altogether
object to the idea of possibly seeing John Everett. They were old
friends and his open admiration and attention meant a great deal to her.

CHAPTER XV—“Little Old New York”

Mrs. Wharton did not seem to consider that an explanation was imperative
immediately upon the arrival of the two girls in New York. At the
Forty-second street station she met them in a taxi, and certainly in
traveling to their hotel through the usual exciting crush of motors,
carriages and people there was no opportunity for serious questioning.

They were to go to a musical as soon as dinner was over and there was
just sufficient time to dress. So Betty went almost at once to her own
room adjoining Mrs. Wharton’s, while Mollie occupied the room with her

Once while Mrs. Wharton was adjusting the drapery on a new frock which
she had purchased for her daughter only that afternoon, Mollie turned
toward her mother with her blue eyes suddenly serious. Up to that
instant she had been too much absorbed in her frock to think of anything

“Why in the world, mother, did you send for us to join you in New York
so unexpectedly? If you were thinking of coming, why did you not motor
out and tell us? Or you might at least have telephoned,” she said.

Mrs. Wharton’s face was not visible, as she was engaged for the moment
in the study of the new gown. “I made up my mind quite hurriedly, dear.
There was nothing I could explain over the telephone. Besides, I have
heard you and Betty say a dozen times that nothing gave you as much
pleasure as a trip taken without any special discussion or preparation.
Don’t you think we will have a charming time, just the three of us,
dining at the different hotels, going to the theaters? I believe one
calls it ‘doing New York.’ But hurry, now, and finish fixing your hair.
I must go and see if I can be of any assistance to the Princess.” And
Mrs. Wharton hurried off without even attempting to answer her
daughter’s question.

Almost the same result followed a more deliberate attempt at
cross-examination which took place at breakfast the following morning.
This time both Mollie and Betty started forth as determined questioners.
Why had they been summoned so suddenly to New York? What was the very
important reason for their presence? It was all very charming, of
course, and frankly both girls were delighted with the opportunity that
had been given them. Still they both thought it only natural and fair
that they should be offered some solution to the puzzle of their
mysterious and hasty letters.

Mrs. Wharton only laughed and shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly,
in a manner always suggestive of Polly. She did not see why she had to
be taken to task so seriously because of an agreeable invitation. Had
she said that there was some urgent reason for her request? Well, was it
not sufficient that she wished the society of the two girls?

Then deliberately picking up the morning paper Mrs. Wharton refused to
listen to any further remarks addressed to her. A few moments
afterwards, observing that her companions had wandered from their
original topic and were criticizing the appearance of a young woman a
few tables away, a smile suddenly crumpled the corners of her mouth.

“Mollie, Betty, there are the most wonderful advertisements in the
papers this morning of amazing bargains. Mollie, you and I both need new
opera cloaks dreadfully and Mr. Wharton has said we might both have
them. Of course we will shop all morning, but what shall we do tonight?
Go to the theater, I suppose. When country people are in town an evening
not spent at the theater is almost a wasted one.”

Mollie laughed. “This from mother!” she exclaimed. “Think what you used
to tell poor Polly about the wickedness of things theatrical! But of
course I should rather go than do anything else.”

Mrs. Wharton glanced toward Betty, who appeared to be blushing slightly
without apparent cause.

“I am afraid I can’t go with you, if you don’t mind,” she explained.
“You see I promised John Everett that I would see him tonight. He wrote
asking me to give him my first evening, but I thought it better to make
it the second.”

“Well, bring John along with us, Betty dear,” Mrs. Wharton returned. “I
should like very much to have him and besides I don’t believe I should
like you to go out with him alone in New York or to see him here at the
hotel unless I am with you. People are more conventional here, dear,
than in a small place.”

Betty nodded. “Of course, we shall be delighted to be with you. What
play shall we see?”

Thoughtfully Mrs. Wharton picked up for the second time the temporarily
discarded paper and commenced studying the list of theatrical

“There is a little Irish play that has been running here in New York for
about a month that is a great success,” she said. “I think I should very
much like to see it if you girls don’t mind. It is called Moira. I hope
we shall be able to get good seats.”

The little party of three did not get back to the hotel until after tea
time that afternoon and were then compelled to lie down, as they were
completely worn out from shopping. But fatigue made no difference in the
interest of the toilets which the girls made for the evening. John
Everett had been invited to dinner as well, and most unexpectedly Mr.
Wharton had telegraphed that he was running down from Woodford for
twenty-four hours and was bringing Billy Webster along with him. They
would probably manage to arrive at about eight o’clock and would dress
as quickly as possible. Dinner was not to be delayed on their account.
They expected to dine on the train.

Of course Betty had promptly yielded to temptation and bought herself a
new evening frock before the shopping expedition had been under way two
hours. Mrs. Wharton had bought Mollie a charming one only the day before
and was now buying her an opera coat to make the toilet complete. It was
extravagant; Betty fully appreciated her own weakness. Was she not at
great expense keeping Sunrise cabin open and looking after her two new
friends? However, she had not been to New York for months and would
probably not be there again in a longer time and the frock was a rare
bargain and should not be overlooked. But every woman and girl
thoroughly understands the arguments that must be gone through
conscientiously before yielding to the sure temptation of clothes.

Assuredly Betty felt no pangs of conscience when she looked at herself
in the mirror a few moments before dinner time and just as she was about
to join her friends. The dress was simple and not expensive, white crepe
de Chine with a tunic of chiffon, adorned with a wide corn-colored
girdle and little chiffon roses of the same shade, bordering the neck
and elbow sleeves. Betty wore a bunch of violets at her waist. Mollie
was in pure white, which was particularly becoming to her because of her
dark hair and fair skin.

But although the two girls had never looked prettier and although Mrs.
Wharton was now past forty, a number of persons, seeing the little
party, might have thought her the best-looking of the three. For even in
her early girlhood, when she had been the recognized belle of Woodford,
never had she seemed more radiant, more full of vitality and happiness.
She wore a curious blue and silver silk dress with a diamond ornament in
her beautiful gray hair.

All during dinner both Mollie and Betty discovered themselves gazing at
Mrs. Wharton admiringly and with some wonder. For not only was she
looking handsomer than usual, but seemed to be in the gayest spirits.
Neither John Everett nor the girls had the opportunity for much
conversation, as Mrs. Wharton absorbed the greater part of it.

However, after Billy and Mr. Wharton had joined them, the four young
people drove together to the theater, Mr. and Mrs. Wharton following in
a second cab.

The theater party was by this time such a large one, that, although
there had been no mention made of it beforehand, no one was surprised at
being shown a box instead of orchestra seats. However, the fact that the
box was already occupied by two other figures was a tremendous surprise
to Mollie and Betty.

One of them was a tall young man with black hair, a singularly well-cut
though rather pale face, and handsome hazel eyes. The other was a girl,
rather under medium height, with light hair and a figure as expressive
of strength and quiet determination as her face.

“Why, Sylvia Wharton, what on earth has brought you to New York at such
a time?” Mollie O’Neill demanded, throwing her arm affectionately around
her step-sister’s waist and drawing her into the rear of the box. “I
didn’t think any power on earth could persuade you to leave those
dreadful studies of yours so near examination time!”

“Oh, I am one of mother’s surprises for you in New York!” Sylvia replied
as calmly as though she had always known the whole story of the two
girls’ unexpected journey. Calmness was ever a trait of Sylvia’s

Mollie was so excited by this unlooked-for meeting with her younger
sister that she would give no one else a chance to speak to her. The
girls and their two escorts had arrived before Mr. and Mrs. Wharton, and
it was therefore Mollie’s place to have welcomed their second guest or
at least to have spoken to him.

Under the circumstances Betty Ashton found herself compelled to offer
her hand to Anthony Graham before any one else seemed aware of his
presence. She was surprised to see him, she explained, yet very glad he
happened to be in town for the evening. Betty was polite, certainly;
still, no one could have exactly accused her of cordiality. Therefore
Anthony was not sorry that the arrival of his host and hostess at this
instant spared her from further effort.

The evening was apparently to continue one of surprises. For no sooner
had Mrs. Wharton’s party seated themselves in their box than Mollie
touched Betty and Sylvia lightly with her fan.

“See, dears,” she whispered, “look straight across the theater at the
box opposite us. There is Margaret Adams and that good-looking Mr. Hunt,
who used to be a friend of Polly’s.” Mollie turned to her mother. “Did
you know Miss Adams was in New York? I thought she and Mr. Hunt were
still acting.”

Mrs. Wharton shook her head. “No, dear, their tour ended a week or more
ago. Miss Adams is here in New York resting. She will not play again
until next fall, I believe. Yes, I have seen her once since I came to
town. But don’t talk, I wish to study my program.”

With this suggestion both Mollie and Betty glanced for an instant at the
list of characters in the center of their books of the play. Peggy Moore
was the star of the performance. She was a young actress who must have
earned her reputation quite recently, for no one had heard of her until
a short while before.

The bell rang for the raising of the curtain and at the same time
Margaret Adams blew a kiss to the girls from behind her fan.


The first scene of the play opened upon a handsome New York drawing
room, where preparations were evidently being made for a ball, for the
room was filled with flowers, and servants were seen walking in and out,
completing the final arrangements. Within a few moments two girls
wearing dainty tea gowns, stole quietly down the stairway and stood in
the center of the stage, discussing their approaching entertainment.
They were both pretty and fashionable young women, evidently about
eighteen and twenty-one. From their conversation it soon became evident
that they were of plain origin and making a desperate effort to secure a
place for themselves among the “smart set” in New York City. Moreover,
they were spending more money than they should in the effort. The father
had been an Irish politician, but, as he had died several years before,
no outsiders knew the extent of the family fortune. Upon the horizon
there was a friend upon whom much depended. He was evidently a member of
an old New York family and of far better social standing than the rest
of their acquaintances; moreover, he was wealthy, handsome and agreeable
and had paid the older of the two sisters, Kate, somewhat marked

When after a few moments’ delay the second scene was revealed the ball
had already begun. The stage setting was remarkably beautiful, the
costumes charming and the dialogue clever. Yet so far the play had no
poignant interest, so that now and then Betty found her attention

What could have made this little play such a pronounced success that the
dramatic critics had been almost universal in their praise of it? she
wondered. What special charm did it have which crowded the theater every
evening as it was crowded tonight? It was only a frivolous society drama
of a kind that must have been acted many times before.

Behind her lace handkerchief Betty gracefully concealed a yawn. Then she
glanced across the theater toward Margaret Adams’ box, hoping she might
catch another smile or nod from the great lady. But Miss Adams was
leaning forward with her figure tense with interest and her eyes
fastened in eager expectancy upon a door at the rear of the stage. Back
of her, and it seemed to Betty even at this distance, that his face
looked unusually white and strained, stood Richard Hunt. Assuredly he
seemed as intent upon the play as Miss Adams.

Betty stared at the stage again. A dance had just ended, the guests were
separating into groups and standing about talking. But a timid knock now
sounded on the door which apparently no one heard. A moment later this
door is slowly opened. There followed a murmur of excitement, a little
electric thrill passing through the audience so that unexpectedly Betty
found her own pulses tingling with interest and excitement. What a goose
she had been! Surely she had heard half a dozen times at least that the
success of this new play was entirely due to the charm and talent of the
young actress, Peggy Moore, who took the part of the heroine.

At the open door the newcomer was seen hesitating. No one noticed her,
then she walked timidly forward and stood alone in the center of the
stage, one of the most appealing, delicious and picturesque of figures
in the world of fiction or reality.

The girl was wearing an absurd costume, a bright red blouse, open at the
throat, a plaid skirt too short for the slender legs beneath it and a
big flapping straw hat decorated with a single rose. In one hand she
carried an old-fashioned carpet bag and in the other a tiny Maltese
kitten. The girl had two long braids of black hair that hung below her
waist, scarlet lips, a white imploring face and wistful, humorous,
tender blue eyes.

Betty was growing cold to the tips of her fingers, although her face
flushed until it felt almost painful. Then she overheard a queer,
half-restrained sound near her and the next instant Mrs. Wharton leaned
forward from her place and placed a hand on her arm and on Mollie’s.

“Yes, girls, it is Polly!” she whispered quietly, although with shining
eyes. “But please, please don’t stir or do anything in the world to
attract her attention. It was Polly’s own idea to surprise you like
this, and yet she is dreadfully afraid that the sight of you may make
her break down and forget her part. She is simply wonderful!”

Naturally this was a mother’s opinion; however, nothing that Mrs.
Wharton was saying was making the slightest impression, for neither
Mollie nor Betty had heard a word.

For Moira, the little Irish girl, had begun to speak and everybody on
the stage was looking toward her, smiling and shrugging their shoulders,
except the two daughters of the house and their fashionable mother.

Moira had asked for her aunt, Mrs. Mulholland. She was not an emigrant
maid-of-all-work, as the guests presumed her to be, but a niece of the
wealthy household. She had crossed the ocean alone and was expecting a
welcome from her relatives.

At this point in the drama the hero came forward to the little Irish
maid’s assistance. Then her aunt and cousins dared not display the anger
they felt for this undesired guest. Later it was explained that Moira
had been sent to New York by her old grandfather, who, fearing that he
was about to die, wished the girl looked after by her relatives. Moira’s
father had been the son that stayed behind in Ireland. He had been
desperately poor and the grandfather was supposed to be equally so.
Then, of course, followed the history of the child’s efforts to fit
herself into the insincere and unkind household.

Nothing remarkable in the story of the little play, surely, but
everything in the art with which Polly O’Neill acted it!

Tears and smiles, both in writing and acting: these are what the artist
desires as his true recognition. And Polly seldom spoke half a dozen
lines without receiving one or the other. Sometimes the smiles and tears
crowded so close together that the one had not sufficient time to thrust
the other away.

“I didn’t dream the child had it in her: it is genius!” Margaret Adams
whispered to her companion, when the curtain had finally fallen on the
second act and she had leaned back in her chair with a sigh of mingled
pleasure and relief.

“She had my promise to say nothing until tonight. Yes, I have been in
the secret since last winter.” Richard explained. “It was a blessed
accident Polly’s finding just this particular kind of play. She could
have played no other so well while still so young. You see, she was
acting in a cheap stock company when a manager happened quite by chance
to discover her. But she will want to tell you the story herself. I must
not anticipate.”

For a moment, instead of replying, Margaret Adams looked slightly
amazed. “I did not know that you and Polly were such great friends,
Richard, that she has preferred confiding in you to any one else,” she
said at length.

Richard Hunt had taken his seat and was now watching the unconcealed
triumph and delight among the group of Polly’s family and friends in the
box across the theater.

“I wasn’t chosen; I was an accident,” the man smiled. “Last winter in
Boston I met Polly—Miss O’Neill,” he corrected himself, “and she told me
what she was trying to do, fight things out for herself without advice
or assistance from any one of us. But, of course, after I was taken into
her secret she allowed me to keep in touch with her now and then. The
child was lonely and dreadfully afraid you and her other friends would
not understand or forgive what she had tried to do.”

“Polly is not exactly a child, Richard; she must be nearly twenty-two,”
Margaret Adams replied quietly.

In the final act the little Irish heroine had her hour of triumph. The
hero had fallen in love with her instead of with the fashionable cousin.
Yet Moira was not the pauper her relatives had believed her, for the old
grandfather had recently died and his solicitor appeared with his will.
The Irish township had purchased his acres of supposedly worthless land
and Moira was proclaimed an heiress.

At the end Polly was her gayest, most inimitable, laughing self. Half a
dozen times Betty, Mollie and Sylvia found themselves forgetting that
she was acting at all. How many times had they not known her just as
wilful and charming, their Polly of a hundred swift, succeeding moods.

Moira was not angry with any one in the world, certainly not with the
cousins who had been almost cruel to her. During her stay among them she
had learned of their need of money and was now quick to offer all that
she had. She was so generous, so happy, and with it all so petulant and
charming, that at last even the stern aunt and the envious cousins
succumbed to her.

Then the curtain descended on a very differently clad heroine, but one
who was essentially unchanged. Moira was dressed in a white satin made
in the latest and most exquisite fashion; and her black hair was
beautifully arranged on her small, graceful head. Only the people who
loved her could have dreamed that Polly O’Neill would ever look so
pretty. And in one hand the girl was holding a single red rose, though
under the other arm she was still clutching her beloved Maltese cat.

“Polly will not answer any curtain calls tonight,” Mrs. Wharton
whispered hurriedly when the last scene was over. “If the others will
excuse us she has asked that only Sylvia, Betty and Mollie come to her
room. Margaret Adams will be there, but no one else. She is very tired
at the close of her performances, but she is afraid you girls may not
forgive her long silence and her deception. Will you come this way with


Next morning at half past ten o’clock Polly O’Neill was sitting upright
in bed in the room at her hotel with Betty on one side, Mollie on the
other and Sylvia at the foot, gazing rather searchingly upon the object
of their present devotion.

Polly was wearing a pale pink dressing jacket trimmed with a great deal
of lace and evidently quite new. Indeed it had been purchased with the
idea of celebrating this great occasion. The girl’s cheeks were as
crimson as they had been on the stage the night before and her eyes were
as shining. She was talking with great rapidity and excitement.

“Yes, it is perfectly thrilling and delightful, Mollie Mavourneen, and I
never was so happy in my life, now that you know all about me and are
not really angry,” Polly exclaimed gayly. “But I can tell you it wasn’t
all honey and roses last winter, working all alone and being lonely and
homesick and miserable most of the time. No one praised me or sent me
flowers then,” and the girl looked with perfectly natural vanity and
satisfaction at the big box of roses that had just been opened and was
still lying on her lap. On her bureau there were vases of fresh flowers
and several other boxes on a nearby table.

“Well, it must be worth any amount of hard work and unhappiness to be so
popular and famous,” Mollie murmured, glancing with heartfelt admiration
and yet with a little wistfulness at her twin sister. “Just think, Polly
dear, we are exactly the same age and used to do almost the same things;
and now you are a celebrated actress and I’m just nobody at all. I am
sorry I used to be so opposed to your going on the stage. I think it
perfectly splendid now.”

With a laugh that had a slight quaver in it Polly threw an arm about her
sister and hugged her close. “You silly darling, how you have always
flattered me and how dearly I do love it!” she returned, looking with
equal admiration at the soft roundness of Mollie’s girlish figure and
the pretty dimples in her delicately pink cheeks. “I am not a celebrated
actress in the least, sister of mine, just because I have succeeded in
doing one little character part so that a few people, just a few people,
like it. I do wonder what Margaret Adams thought of me. She did not say
much last night. She is coming to see me presently, so I am desperately
nervous over what she will say. One swallow does not make a career any
more than it makes a summer. And as for daring to say you are nobody,
Mollie O’Neill, I never heard such arrant nonsense in my life. For you
know perfectly well that you are a thousand times prettier, more
charming and more popular than I am, and everybody knows it except you.
But, of course, you never have believed it in your life, you blessed
little goose!” and Polly pinched her sister’s soft arm appreciatively.
“I wish there was as much of me as there is of you for one thing, Mollie
darling, your figure is a perfect dream and I’m nothing in the world but
skin and bones,” Polly finished at last, drawing her dressing jacket
more closely about her with a barely concealed shiver.

From the foot of the bed Sylvia was eyeing her severely. “Yes, we had
already noticed that without your mentioning it, Polly,” she remarked

Her only answer was a careless shrugging of her thin shoulders, as Polly
turned this time toward Betty.

“What makes you so silent, Princess? You are not vexed with me and only
said you were not angry last night to spare my feelings?” Polly asked
more seriously than she had yet spoken. Even though Polly might believe
that she loved her sister better, yet she realized that they could never
so completely understand each other and never have perhaps quite the
same degree of spiritual intimacy as she had with her friend.

Betty took Polly’s outstretched hand and held it lightly.

“I was only thinking of something; I beg your pardon, dear,” Betty
replied quietly.

Polly frowned. “You are not to think of anything or anybody except me
today,” she demanded jealously. “You have had months and months to think
about other people. This is the best of what I have been working
for—just to have you girls with me like this, and have you praise me and
make love to me as Mollie did. Yes, I understand I am being desperately
vain and self-centered, Princess; so you may think it your duty to take
me to task for it. But it is only because I have always been such a
dreadful black sheep among all the other Camp Fire girls. Then I suppose
it is also because we have been separated so long. Pretty soon I’ll have
to go back to the work-a-day, critical old world where nobody really
cares a thing about me and where ‘my career,’ as Mollie calls it, has
scarcely begun. But please don’t make me do all the talking, Betty, it
is so unlike me and I can see that Sylvia thinks I am saying far too
much.” Here Polly’s apparently endless stream of conversation was
interrupted by a fit of coughing, which took all the color from her
cheeks, brought there by the morning’s excitement, and left her huddled
up among her pillows pale and breathless, with Sylvia’s light blue eyes
staring at her with a somewhat enigmatic expression.

Betty smiled, however, pulling at one of the long braids of black hair
with some severity. Last night it had seemed to her that Polly O’Neill
was quite the most wonderful person in the world and that she could
never feel exactly the same toward her, but must surely treat her with
entirely new reverence and respect. Yet here she was, just as absurd and
childish as ever and pleading for compliments as a child for sweets. No
one could treat Polly O’Neill with great respect, though love her one
must to the end of the chapter. She had a thousand faults, yet Betty
knew that vanity was not one of them. It was simply because of her
affection for her friends that she wished to find them pleased with her.
In her heart of hearts no one was humbler than Polly. Betty at least
understood that her ambition would never leave her satisfied with one

“But I was thinking of you, my ridiculous Polly!” Betty answered
finally. “I regret to state, however, that I was not for the moment
dwelling on your great and glorious career. Naturally no other Sunrise
Hill Camp Fire girl may ever hope to aspire so high. I was wondering
whether your mother allowed you to wander around by yourself last
winter, and, if she did, how you ever managed to take proper care of

“Dear me, hasn’t mother told you? Why of course I had a chaperon, child!
Mollie, please ring the bell for me. She is a dear and is dreadfully
anxious to meet all of you,” Polly explained. “But Sylvia took care of
me too—would you mind not staring at me quite so hard all the time,
Sylvia? I know I am better looking behind the footlights,” Polly now
urged almost plaintively, for her younger sister was making her
decidedly nervous by her continued scrutiny. “Betty, even you will
hardly place me at the head of the theatrical profession at present,”
she continued. “Though I am quite green with jealousy, I must tell you
that Sylvia Wharton has stood at the head of her class in medicine, male
and female, during this entire year and is confidently expected to come
out first in her final examinations. I am abominably afraid that Sylvia
may develop into a more distinguished Camp Fire girl in the end than I
ever shall.”

There was no further opportunity at present for further personal
discussion, for at this instant a tall, dark-haired woman with somewhat
timid manners entered the room, where she stood hesitating, glancing
from one girl’s face to the other.

“You know Sylvia, Mrs. Martins, so this is Mollie, whom you may
recognize as being a good-looking likeness of me,” Polly began. “Of
course this third person is necessarily Betty Ashton.”

From her place on the bed Sylvia had smiled her greeting, but Mollie and
Betty of course got up at once and walked forward to shake hands with
the newcomer.

Then unexpectedly and to Betty’s immense surprise, she found both of her
hands immediately clasped in an ardent embrace by the stranger, while
the woman gazed at her with her lips trembling and the tears streaming
unchecked down her face.

“How shall I ever thank you or make you understand?” she said
passionately. “All my life long I can never repay what you have done for
me, but at least I shall never forget it.”

Betty pressed the newcomer’s hand politely, turning from her to Polly,
hoping that she might in her friend’s expression find some clue to this
puzzling utterance. Polly appeared just as rapt and mysterious.

“You are awfully kind and I am most happy to meet you,” Betty felt
called on to reply, “but I am afraid you must have mistaken me for some
one else. It is I who owe gratitude to you for having taken such good
care of Polly.”

The Princess was gracious and sweet in her manner, but she could hardly
be expected not to have drawn back slightly from such an extraordinary
greeting from a stranger.

“Oh, my dear, I ought to have explained to you. You must forgive me, it
is because I feel so deeply and that the people of my race cannot always
control their emotions so readily,” the older woman protested. “It is my
little girl, for whom you have done such wonderful things. She has
written me that she is almost happy now that you have become her fairy
princess. And in truth you are quite lovely enough,” the stranger
continued, believing that at last she was making herself clear.

“I? Your little girl?” Betty repeated stupidly. “You don’t mean you are
Angelique’s mother? But of course you are. Now I can see that you look
like each other and your name is ‘Martins.’ It is curious, but I paid no
attention to your name at first and never associated you with my little
French girl.” Now it was Betty’s turn to find her voice shaking, partly
from pleasure and also from embarrassment. “It was a beautiful accident,
wasn’t it, for Angelique and I, and you and Polly to find each other?
But you have nothing to thank me for, Mrs. Martins. Angel has given me
more pleasure than I can ever give her. She has been so wonderful since
she found something in life to interest her. Won’t you come to the cabin
with me right away and see her? Mollie and Mrs. Wharton can surely look
after Polly for a few days; besides she never does what any one tells

Suddenly Betty let go her companion’s hand, swinging around toward the
elfish figure in the bed. For Polly did look elfish at this moment, with
her knees huddled up almost to her chin and her head resting on her
hand. Her eyes were almost all one could see of her face at present,
they looked so absurdly large and so darkly blue.

Betty seized the girl by both shoulders, giving her a tiny shake.

“Polly O’Neill, did you write me those anonymous letters about Angel
last winter? Oh, of course you did! But what a queer muddle it all is! I
don’t understand, for Angel told me that she had never heard of Polly
O’Neill in her entire life until I spoke of you.”

“And no more she has, Princess,” returned Polly smiling. “Everybody sit
down and be good, please, while I explain things as far as I understand
them. You see Mrs. Martins and I met each other at the theater one
evening where she had come to do some wonderful sewing for some one.
Well, of course my clothes were in rags, for with all our Camp Fire
training I never learned much about the gentle art of stitching. So Mrs.
Martins promised to do some work for me and by and by we got to knowing
each other pretty well. One day I found her crying, and then she told me
about her little girl. A friend had offered to send Angelique to this
hospital in Boston and Mrs. Martins felt she must let her go, as she
could not make enough money to keep them comfortable. Besides Angelique
needed special care and treatment. Of course she realized it was best
for her little girl, yet they were horribly grieved over being

“Just at this time, Miss Brown, whom mother had persuaded to travel with
me all winter, got terribly tired of her job. So I asked Mrs. Martins if
she cared to come with me. When she and mother learned to know and like
each other things were arranged.

“Afterwards the heavenly powers must have sent you to that hospital,
Betty dear, otherwise there is no accounting for it. Pretty soon after
your first visit Angel wrote her mother describing a lovely lady with
auburn hair, gray eyes and the most charming manner in the world, who
had been to the hospital to see them, but had only said a few words to
her. Yes, I know you think that is queer, Betty, but please remember
that though Angelique knew her mother was traveling with an eccentric
young female, she did not know my real name. I was Peggy Moore to her
always, just as I was to you until last night. Can’t you understand? Of
course I knew you were in Boston with Esther and Dick, and besides there
could be only one Betty Ashton in the world answering to your
description. Then, of course, Mrs. Martins and I both wanted to write
and explain things to you dreadfully, yet at the same time I did not
wish you to guess where I was or what I was doing. So I persuaded Mrs.
Martins to wait; at the same time I did write you these silly anonymous
letters, for I was so anxious for you to be particularly interested in
Angel. I might have known you would have been anyway, you dearest of
princesses and best,” whispered Polly so earnestly that Betty drew away
from her friend’s embrace, her cheeks scarlet.

“I am going to another room with Mrs. Martins to have a long talk,
Polly, while you rest,” Betty answered the next moment. “Mrs. Wharton
said that we were not to stay with you but an hour and a half and it has
been two already. You will want to be at your best when Margaret Adams
comes to see you this afternoon.”

“If you mean in the best of health, Betty,” Sylvia remarked at this
instant, as she got down somewhat awkwardly from her seat on the bed,
“then I might as well tell you that Polly O’Neill is far from being even
ordinarily well. She has not been well all winter; but now, with the
excitement and strain of her first success, she is utterly used up. All
I can say is that if she does not quit this acting business and go
somewhere and have a real rest, well, we shall all be sorry some day,”
and with this unexpected announcement Sylvia stalked calmly out of the
room, leaving three rather frightened women and one exceedingly angry
one behind her.


“But, my beloved mother, you really can’t expect such a sacrifice of me.
There isn’t anything else in the world you could ask that I would not
agree to, but even you must see that this is out of the question.”

It was several days later and Polly was in her small sitting room with
her mother and Sylvia.

“Besides it is absurd and wicked of Sylvia to have frightened you so and
I shan’t forgive her, even if she has been good as gold to me all her
life. How can I give up my part and go away from New York just when I am
beginning to be a tiny bit successful?” Then, overcome with sympathy for
herself, Polly cast herself down in a heap upon a small sofa and with
her face buried in the sofa cushions burst into tears.

Mrs. Wharton walked nervously up and down the room.

“I know it is dreadfully hard for you, dear, and I do realize how much I
am asking, even if you don’t think so, Polly,” she replied. “Besides you
must not be angry with Sylvia. Of course I have not taken the child’s
opinion alone, clever as she is. Two physicians have seen you in the
last few days, as you know, and they have both given me the same
opinion. You are on the verge of a nervous breakdown. If you will give
up now it may not be serious, but if you will insist upon going on with
your work no one will answer for the consequences. It is only a matter
of a few weeks, my dear. I have seen your manager and he is willing to
agree to your stopping as long as it is absolutely necessary. Perhaps
you may be well enough to start in again in the fall. Isn’t it wiser to
stop now for a short rest than to have to give up altogether later on?”
she urged consolingly.

As there was no answer from Polly, Mrs. Wharton’s own eyes also filled
with tears. At the same moment Sylvia came up to her step-mother and
patted her comfortingly on the shoulder. It was odd, but Sylvia rarely
expressed affection by kissing or the embraces common among most girls.
Yet in her somewhat shy caresses there was fully as deep feeling.

“Don’t worry, mother, things will turn out all right,” she now said
reassuringly. “Of course it is pretty hard on Polly. Even I appreciate
that. But it is silly of her to protest against the inevitable. She will
save herself a lot of strength if she only finds that out some day. But
I’ll leave you together, since my being here only makes her more
obstinate than ever.”

As Sylvia was crossing the floor a sofa cushion was thrown violently at
her from the apparently grief-stricken figure on the sofa. But while
Mrs. Wharton looked both grieved and shocked Sylvia only laughed. Was
there ever such another girl as her step-sister? Here she was at one
instant weeping bitterly at the wrecking of her career, as she thought,
and the next shying sofa cushions like a naughty child.

Once Sylvia was safely out of the way, Polly again sat upright on the
sofa, drawing her mother down beside her. It was just as well that
Sylvia had departed, for she was the one person in the world whom Polly
had never been able to influence, or turn from her own point of view, by
any amount of argument or persuasion. With her mother alone her task
would be easier. Nevertheless Mrs. Wharton appeared singularly
determined and Polly remembered that there had been occasions when her
mother’s decision must be obeyed.

However, she was no longer a child, and although it would make her
extremely miserable to appear both obstinate and unloving, it might in
this single instance be absolutely necessary. How much had she not
already endured to gain this slight footing in her profession? Now to
turn her back on it in the midst of her first success, because a few
persons had made up their minds that she was ill,—well, any sensible or
reasonable human being must understand that it was quite out of the

So the discussion continued between the woman and girl, the same
arguments being repeated over and over, the same pleading, and yet
without arriving at any sort of conclusion. There is no knowing how long
this might have kept up if there had not come a sudden knocking at the

Opening it the boy outside handed Mrs. Wharton a card.

“It is Mr. Hunt who has come to see you, Polly; shall I say you are not
well? Or what shall I say? Of course it is out of the question for you
to see any stranger, child. You have been crying until your face is
swollen and your hair is in dreadful confusion,” Mrs. Wharton protested

Polly unexpectedly scrambled to her feet. “Ask Mr. Hunt to wait a few
minutes, please, mother, and then we will telephone down and tell him to
come up. You see I had an engagement with him this afternoon and don’t
like to refuse to see him. For once it is a good thing I have no
pretensions to beauty like Betty and Mollie. Moreover, mother, I am
obliged to confess to you that Mr. Hunt has seen me before, not only
after I had been weeping, but while I was engaged in the act. You know
he was about the only friend I saw all last winter, when I was so blue
and discouraged with life. Besides, I am sure he will understand my
point of view in this dreadful discussion we have just been having and
will help me to convince you.”

Five minutes afterwards the celebrated Miss Polly O’Neill had restored
her hair and costume to some semblance of order, although her eyes were
still somewhat red and heavy, as well as her nose. Nevertheless she
greeted her visitor without particular embarrassment. Mrs. Wharton,
however, could not pull herself together so readily; so after a few
moments of conventional conversation she asked to be excused and went
away, leaving her daughter and guest alone.

Fifteen minutes passed, half an hour, finally an entire hour. All this
while Mrs. Wharton, remaining in her daughter’s bedroom which adjoined
the sitting room, could hear the sound of two voices.

Of course Polly did the greater share of the talking, but now and then
Richard Hunt would speak for several moments at a time and afterwards
there would be odd intervals of silence.

Mrs. Wharton could not hear what was being said, and she scarcely wished
to return to the sitting room. She was still far too worried and
nervous, although, having an engagement that must be kept, she wished to
say good-by to Polly before leaving the hotel.

Richard Hunt rose immediately upon Mrs. Wharton’s entrance.

“I am ever so sorry to have made such a long visit,” he apologized at
once, “and I hope I have not interfered with you. Only Miss O’Neill and
I have been having a pretty serious and important talk and I did not
realize how much time had passed.”

Polly’s eyes had been fastened upon something in the far distance. Now
she glanced toward her guest.

“Oh, you need not apologize to mother for the length of your stay. When
she hears what we have been discussing she will be more than grateful to
you,” Polly interrupted.

“You see, mother, Mr. Hunt does not agree with me, as I thought he
would. Who ever has agreed with me in this tiresome world? He also
thinks that I must stop acting at once and go away with you, if my
family and the doctors think it necessary. And he has frightened me
terribly with stories of people who have nervous breakdowns and never
recover. People who never remember the lines in their plays again or
what part they are expected to act. So I surrender, dear. I’ll go away
with you as soon as things can be arranged wherever you wish to take
me.” And Polly held up both her hands with an intended expression of
saintliness, which was not altogether successful.

“Bravo!” Richard Hunt exclaimed quietly.

Mrs. Wharton extended her hand.

“I am more grateful to you than I can express. You have saved us all
from a great deal of unhappiness and I believe you have saved Polly from
more than she understands,” she added.

The girl took her mother’s hand, touching it lightly with her lips.
“Please don’t tell Mr. Hunt what my family think of my obstinacy,” she
pleaded. “Because if you do, he will either have no respect for me or
else will have too much for himself because I gave in to him,” she said

Yet it was probably ten minutes after Mr. Hunt’s departure before it
occurred to Mrs. Wharton to be surprised over Polly’s unexpected
surrender to a comparative stranger, when she had refused to be
influenced by any member of her own family.

But now the question of chief importance was where should Polly go for
her much needed rest? It was her own decision finally that rather than
any other place in the world she preferred to return to Woodford to
spend the summer months in the old cabin near Sunrise Hill.

CHAPTER XIX—Illusions Swept Away

It was a golden July afternoon two months later when all nature was a
splendid riot of color and perfume. In a hammock under a group of pine
trees a girl lay half asleep. Now and then she would open her eyes to
glance at the lazy white clouds overhead. Then she would look with
perhaps closer attention at the figure of another girl who was seated a
few yards away.

If the girl in the hammock was dreaming, her companion fitted oddly into
her dream. She was dressed in a simple white muslin frock and her hair
had a band of soft blue ribbon tied about it. In her lap lay an open
book, but no page had been turned in the last fifteen minutes and indeed
she was quieter than her friend who was supposed to be asleep.

“Betty,” a voice called softly, “bring your chair nearer to me. I have
done my duty nobly for the past two hours and have not spoken a single,
solitary word. So even the sternest of doctors and nurses can’t say I am
unfaithful to my rest cure. Besides it is absurd, now when I am as well
as any one else. Yes, that is much better, Betty, and you are, please,
to gaze directly into my face while I am talking to you. I haven’t liked
your fashion lately of staring off into space, as you were doing just
recently and indeed on all occasions when you believe no one is paying
any special attention to you.”

With a low curtsey Betty did as she was commanded. She even knelt down
on the ground beside the hammock to look the more directly into the eyes
of her friend. But as she continued, unexpectedly a slow color crept
into her cheeks from her throat upwards until it had flushed her entire

“I declare, Polly,” she exclaimed jumping to her feet abruptly and
sitting down in her chair again, “you make me feel as though I had
committed some offence, though I do assure you I have been as good as
gold, so far as I know, for a long, long time.”

Polly was silent a moment. “You know perfectly well, Betty, that I don’t
think you have done anything wrong. You need not use that excuse to try
and deceive me, dear, because it does not make the slightest impression.
The truth is, Betty, that you have a secret that you are keeping from me
and from every one else so far as I know. Of course there isn’t any
reason why you should confide in me if you don’t wish. You may be
punishing me for my lack of confidence in you last winter.”

This last statement was possibly made with a double intention. Betty
responded to it instantly.

“Surely, Polly, you must know that would not make the slightest
difference,” she returned earnestly. And then the next instant, as if
fearing that she might have betrayed herself: “But what in the world
makes you think I am cherishing a secret, you absurd Polly? I suppose
you have had to have something to think about these past two months,
when you have spent so much time lying down. Well, when I see how you
have improved I am quite willing to have been your victim.”

With a quick motion the other girl now managed to sit upright, piling
her sofa cushions behind her. Her color was certainly sufficiently vivid
at this instant. But indeed she was so improved in every way that one
would hardly have known her for the Polly O’Neill of the past year’s
trials and successes. Her figure was almost rounded, her chin far less
pointed and all the lines of fatigue and nervous strain had vanished
from her face. But Polly’s temper had not so materially changed!

“It isn’t worth while to accuse me of having tried to spy into your
private affairs, Princess,” she replied haughtily. “But if you do feel
that I have, then I ask your pardon for now and all times. I shall never
be so offensive again.”

There followed a vast and complete human silence. Then Polly got up from
her resting place and went and put her arm quietly about her friend.

“Princess, I would rather that the stars should fall or the world come
to an end, than have you really angry with me,” she murmured. “But you
know I did not mean to offend you by asking you to confide in me, don’t
you? Anyway I promise never, never to ask you again. Here, let me have
the Woodford paper, please. I believe Billy brought us the afternoon
edition. I wonder if he and Mollie will be gone on their boating
expedition for long? They must have been around the lake half a dozen
times already.”

As though dismissing the subject of their past conversation entirely
from her mind, Polly, resuming her hammock, now buried herself in the
columns of the Woodford Gazette. Apparently she had not observed that no
reply had been made either to her accusation or apology. She could see
that Betty was not seriously angry, which was the main thing.

“Get out your embroidery, Princess, and let me read the news aloud to
you;” she demanded next. “I love to watch you sew. It is not because you
do it so particularly well, but because you always manage to look like a
picture in a book. Funny thing, dear, why you have such a different
appearance from the rest of us. Oh, I am not saying that probably other
girls are not as pretty as you are, Mollie and Meg for instance. But you
have a different look somehow. No wonder Angel thinks you are a fairy

But at this moment an unexpected choking sound, that seemed in some
fashion to have come forth from Betty, interrupted the flow of her
friend’s compliments.

“Please don’t, Polly,” she pleaded. “You know I love your Irish blarney
most of the time beyond anything in this world. But now I want to tell
you something. I have had a kind of a secret for over a year, but it is
past now and I’m dreadfully sorry if you believe you find a change in me
that you don’t like. I suppose sometimes I do feel rather blue simply
because I am of so little account in the world. Please don’t think I am
jealous, but you and Sylvia and Nan and Meg are all doing things and
Esther and Edith and Eleanor are married and Mollie helps her mother
with your big house. I believe Beatrice and Judith are both at college,
though we have been separated from them for such a long time. So you see
I am the only good-for-nothing in the old Sunrise Hill Camp Fire

“Yes, I see,” was the somewhat curt reply from behind the outspread

“Mrs. Martins told me yesterday that the surgeons Dr. Barton brought to
see Angelique think she may be able to walk in another year or so and I
believe Cricket is to give up her crutches altogether in a few months,”
Polly presently remarked.

In the sunshine Betty Ashton’s face shone with happiness. “Yes, isn’t it
wonderful?” she remarked innocently.

“Of course, doing beautiful things for other people isn’t being of the
slightest use in the world,” the other girl continued, as though talking
to herself. “Yet Mrs. Martins also said yesterday, that she and
Angelique believed they had strayed into Paradise they were so happy
here at the cabin with the prospect of Angel’s growing better ahead of
them. And I believe Cricket dances and sings with every step she takes

“But I?” interrupted Betty.

“No, of course you have had nothing in the world to do with it and I
never accused you for a single instant,” her friend argued, and then
Polly fell to reading the paper aloud.

“‘The friends of Doctor and Mrs. Richard Ashton, now of Boston,
Massachusetts, but formerly of Woodford, New Hampshire, will be
delighted to hear of the birth of their son, Richard Jr., on July the
fourteenth.’ How does it feel to be an aunt?” the reader demanded.

“Delicious,” Betty sighed, and then began dreaming of her new nephew,
wondering when she was to be allowed to see him, until Polly again
interfered with her train of thought.

“‘Mr. and Mrs. Frank Wharton entertained at dinner last night in their
new home in honor of Mr. Anthony Graham, our brilliant young congressman
who has returned to Woodford for a few days.’ Well, I like that!” Polly
protested. “Think of Frank and Eleanor daring to give a dinner party and
asking none of their other old friends or relatives. They must feel set
up at being married before the rest of us.”

For the first time Betty now actually took a few industrious stitches in
her embroidery. “Oh, they probably did not have but two or three guests.
You know how papers exaggerate things, Pollykins, I would not be so
easily offended with my relations,” she protested.

“No, but you used to be such an intimate friend of Anthony Graham’s. Do
you know I look upon him as one of your good works, Betty? I wonder if
he will condescend to come to the cabin to see us, now he is such a busy
and distinguished person. Is he as much a friend of yours now as he used
to be?”

Unexpectedly Betty’s thread broke, so that she was forced to make
another knot before replying.

“Friend of mine? No, yes; well, that is we are friendly, of course, only
Anthony has grown so fond of Meg Everett lately that he has not much
time for any one else. But please don’t speak of anything I ever did for
him, Polly. I beg it of you as a special favor. In the first place it
was so ridiculously little and in the second I think it pretty hard on
Anthony to have an unfortunate accident like that raked up against him
now that he has accomplished so much.”

“Oh, all right,” Polly returned, thoughtfully digging into the earth
with the toe of her pretty kid slipper.

“Good heavens, speaking of angels or the other thing!” she exclaimed, a
moment later, “I do declare if that does not look like Anthony Graham
coming directly toward us this instant. Do go and speak to him first,
dear, while I manage to scramble out of this hammock.”

Ten minutes later Anthony was occupying the chair lately vacated by
Betty, while Polly was once more in a reclining position. Knowing that
she was still regarded as a semi-invalid, Anthony had insisted that she
must not disturb herself on his account. He had explained that the
reason for his call was to find out how she was feeling. So, soon after
this statement, Betty had left the two of them together, giving as an
excuse the fact that as she had invited Anthony to stay with them to tea
she must go to the cabin to help get things ready.

After Betty’s disappearance Polly did not find her companion
particularly interesting. He scarcely said half a dozen words but sat
staring moodily up toward the dark branches of the enshadowing pine
trees. This at least afforded Polly a fine opportunity for studying the
young man’s face.

“You have improved a lot, Anthony,” she said finally. “Oh, I beg your
pardon, I am afraid I was thinking out loud.”

Her visitor smiled. “Well, so long as your thoughts are complimentary I
am sure I don’t mind,” he returned. “Keep it up, will you?”

The girl nodded. “There is nothing I should like better. You know it is
odd, but the Princess and I were talking about you just when you
appeared. I must say I am amazed at your prominence, Anthony. I never
dreamed you would ever amount to so much. It was funny, but Betty used
always to have faith in you. I often wondered why.”

This time her companion did not smile. “I wish to heaven then that she
had faith in me now, or if not faith at least a little of her old
liking,” he answered almost bitterly. “For the last year, for some
reason or other, Miss Betty has seemed to dislike me. She has avoided me
at every possible opportunity. And I have never been able to find out
whether I had offended her or if she had merely grown weary of my
friendship. I have been so troubled by it that I have made a confidant
of Miss Everett and asked her to help me if she could. I thought perhaps
if Betty—Miss Betty, I mean—could see that Meg Everett liked me and was
willing to be my intimate friend, that possibly she might forgive me in
time. But it has all been of no use, she has simply grown colder and
colder. And I fear I only weary Miss Everett in talking of Miss Betty so
much of the time. She recently told me that I did.”

Polly’s lips trembled and her shoulders shook. What a perfectly absurd
creature a male person was at all times and particularly when under the
influence of love!

The next moment the girl’s face had strangely sobered.

“You are not worthy to tie her shoe-string, you know, Anthony; but then
I never have seen any one whom I have thought worthy of her. Most
certainly neither Esther nor I approved of the nobility as represented
by young Count Von Reuter.”

Aloud Polly continued this interesting debate with herself, apparently
not concerned with whether or not her companion understood her.

“Certainly I am unworthy to tie any one’s shoe-string,” the young man
murmured finally, “but would you mind confiding in me just whose
shoe-string you mean?”

From under her dark lashes half resentfully and half sympathetically the
girl surveyed the speaker. “You have a sense of humor, Anthony, and that
is something to your credit,” she remarked judicially. “Well, much as I
really hate to say it, I might as well tell you that I don’t think the
Princess dislikes you intensely, provided you tell her just why you have
been so intimate with Meg for these past months. No, I have nothing more
to say. Only I am going down to the lake for half an hour to join Mollie
and Billy Webster and if you wait here you may have a chance of speaking
to Betty alone when she comes to invite us in to tea.”

Then quietly Polly O’Neill strolled away with every appearance of
calmness, although she was really feeling greatly perturbed and
distressed. Certainly something must have worked a reformation in her
character, for although she positively hated the idea of Betty Ashton’s
marrying, had she not just thrust her deliberately into the arms of her
fate. Yet, of course, her feeling was a purely selfish one, since she
had no real fault to find with Anthony. So if Betty loved him, he must
have his chance.

Then with a smile and a sigh Polly once more shrugged her shoulders,
which is the Irish method of acknowledging that fate is too strong for
the strongest of us. She reached the edge of the lake and madly signaled
to Mollie and Billy to allow her to enter their boat. They were at no
great distance off and yet were extremely slow in approaching the shore.
Evidently they seemed to feel no enthusiasm for the newcomer’s society
at the present moment.

“I thought you were asleep, Polly,” Mollie finally murmured in a
reproachful tone, while Billy Webster eyed his small canoe rather

“She won’t carry a very heavy load, Miss Polly,” he remarked, drawing
alongside. Polly calmly climbed into the skiff, taking her seat in the

“I can’t sleep all the time, sister of mine,” she protested, once she
was comfortably established, “much as I should like to accommodate my
family and friends by the relief from my society. And as for my being
too heavy for your canoe, Billy Webster, I don’t weigh nearly so much as
Mollie. So if you think both of us too heavy, she might as well get out
and give me a chance. You have been around this lake with her at least a
dozen times already this afternoon. Besides, I really have to be allowed
to remain somewhere.”

Plainly Mollie’s withdrawal from the scene had no place in Billy’s
calculations, for without further argument he moved out toward the
middle of the pond.

CHAPTER XX—Two Engagements

Ten minutes more must have passed before Betty decided to return to her
friends. Yet during her short walk to the pine grove she was still oddly
shy and nervous and in a mood wholly dissatisfied with herself. Why in
the world did she so often behave coldly to Anthony Graham and with such
an appearance of complete unfriendliness? There was nothing further from
her own desire, for certainly he had an entire right to have transferred
his affection to Meg! To show either anger or pique was small and

Never had there been definite understanding between Anthony and herself.
Indeed she had always refused even to listen to any serious expression
of his affection for her. Long ago there had been a single evening after
her return from Germany, when together they had watched the moon go down
behind Sunrise Hill, an evening which she had not been able to forget.
Yet she had only herself to blame for the weakness, since if Anthony had
forgotten, no girl should cherish such a memory alone.

Now here was an opportunity for proving both her courage and pride. With
the thought of her old title of Princess, Betty’s cheeks had flamed. How
very far she had always been from living up to its real meaning. Yet she
must hurry on and cease this absurd and selfish fashion of thinking of
herself. A cloud had come swiftly up out of the east and in a few
moments there would be a sudden July downpour. Often a brief storm of
wind and rain closed an unusually warm day in the New Hampshire hills.

Under no circumstances must Polly suffer. Only a week before had Mrs.
Wharton been persuaded to leave Polly in their charge when she and
Mollie had both promised to take every possible care of her.

Suddenly Betty began running so that she arrived quite breathless at her
destination. Her face was flushed, and from under the blue ribbon her
hair had escaped and was curling in red-brown tendrils over her white
forehead. Then at the entrance to the group of pines, before she has
even become aware of Polly’s disappearance, Anthony Graham had
unexpectedly caught hold of both her hands.

“Betty, you must listen to me,” he demanded. “No, I can’t let you go
until I have spoken, for if I do you will find some reason for escaping
me altogether as you have been doing these many months. You must know I
love you and that I have cared for no one else since the hour of our
first meeting. Always I have thought of you, always worked to be in some
small way worthy even of daring to say I love you. Yet something has
come between us during this past year and it is only fair that you
should tell me what it is. I do not expect you to love me, Betty, but
once you were my friend and I could at least tell you my hopes and
fears. Is it that you are engaged to some one else and take this way of
letting me know?”

Still Anthony kept close hold of the girl’s hands, and now after her
first effort she made no further attempt to draw herself away. His eyes
were fixed upon hers with an expression that there was no mistaking, yet
something in the firm and resolute lines about his mouth revealed the
will responsible for Anthony Graham’s success and power. Quietly he now
drew his companion closer beneath the shelter of the trees, for the
first drops of rain were beginning to fall.

“But I am still your friend, Anthony. You are mistaken in thinking that
anything has come between us. As for my being engaged to some one else
that is quite untrue. I only thought that you and Meg were so intimate
that you no longer needed me.” For the first time Betty’s voice

Anthony was saying in a tone she should never forget even among the
thousands of incidents in their crowded lives, “I shall always need and
want you, Betty, to the last instant of created time.” Then he brought
both her hands up to his lips and kissed them. “Meg was only enduring my
friendship so that I might have some one with whom I could talk about

Suddenly Anthony let go Betty’s hands and stepped back a few paces away
from her. His face had lost the radiant look of a brief moment before.

“Betty, a little while ago you told me that you were still my friend and
that no one had come between us, and it made me very happy. But I tell
you honestly that I do not think I can be happy with such an answer for
long. Two years ago, when you and I together watched the moon over
Sunrise Hill, I dared not then say more than I did, I had not enough to
offer you. But now things are different and it isn’t your friendship I
want! Ten thousand times, no! It is your love! Do you think, Betty, that
you can ever learn to love me?”

Now Betty’s face was white and her gray eyes were like deep wells of

“Learn to love you, Anthony? Why I am not a school girl any longer and I
learned that lesson years and years ago.”

When the storm finally broke and the thunder crashed between the heavy
deluges of rain neither Anthony nor Betty cared to make for the nearby
shelter of Sunrise cabin. Instead they stood close together laughing up
at the sky and at the lovely rain-swept world. Once Betty did remember
to inquire for the vanished Polly, but Anthony assured her that Polly
had joined Mollie and Billy half an hour before and that they would of
course take the best possible care of her.

Nevertheless at this instant Polly O’Neill was actually floundering
desperately about in the waters of Sunrise Lake while trying to make her
way to the side of their overturned skiff. Billy Webster, with his arm
about Mollie, was swimming with her safely toward shore.

“Don’t be frightened, it is all right, dear. I’ll look after Polly in a
moment,” he whispered encouragingly.

Returning a few moments later Billy discovered his other companion, a
very damp and discomfited mermaid, seated somewhat perilously upon the
bottom of their wrecked craft.

“I never knew such behavior in my life, Billy Webster,” she began
angrily, as soon as she was able to get her wet hair out of her mouth.
“The idea of your going all the way into shore with Mollie and leaving
me to drown. You might at least have seen that I got safe hold of your
old boat first.”

“Yes, I know; I am sorry,” Billy replied, resting one hand on the side
of his skiff and so bringing his head up out of the water in order to
speak more distinctly. “But you see, Polly, I knew you could swim and
Mollie is so easily frightened and it all came so suddenly, the boat’s
overturning with that heavy gust of wind. To tell you the truth, I
didn’t even remember you were aboard until Mollie began asking for you.
I wonder if you would mind helping me get this skiff right side up. It
would be easier for us to paddle in than for me to have to swim with

Gasping, Polly slid off her perch.

“After that extra avalanche of cold water nothing matters,” she remarked
icily. However, her companion did not even hear her.

Safe on land again, Polly waited under a tree while the young man pulled
his boat ashore. Her sister had gone ahead to send some one down with
blankets and umbrellas. In spite of the rain, damp clothes and the shock
of her recent experience, Polly O’Neill was not conscious of feeling
particularly cold.

“I hope you are not very uncomfortable, and that our accident won’t make
you ill again,” Billy Webster said a few moments later as he joined her.
“I suppose I do owe you a little more explanation for having ignored you
so completely. But you see, just about five minutes before you insisted
on getting into our boat Mollie had promised to be my wife. We did not
dare talk very much after you came on board, but you can understand that
I simply wasn’t able to think of any one else. You see I have loved
Mollie ever since that day when we were children and she bound up the
wound you had made in my head.”

Once more Polly gasped slightly, and of course she was beginning to feel
somewhat chilled.

Billy Webster looked at her severely. “Oh, of course I did think I was
in love with you, Polly, for a year or so, I remember. But that was
simply because I had not then learned to understand Mollie’s true
character. I used to believe it would be a fine thing to have a strong
influence over you and try to show you the way you should go.” Here
Billy laughed, and he was very handsome with his damp hair pushed back
over his bronzed face and his wet clothes showing the outline of his
splendid boyish figure, matured and strengthened by his outdoor life.

“But you see, Polly, I believe nobody is ever going to be able to
influence you to any great extent,” he continued teasingly, “and at any
rate you and I will never have half the chances to quarrel that we would
have had if we had ever learned to like each other. I forgive you
everything now for Mollie’s sake.”

For half a moment Polly hesitated, then, holding out her hand, her blue
eyes grew gay and tender.

“Thank you, Billy,” she said, “for Mollie’s sake. If you make her as
happy as I think you will, why, I’ll also forget and forgive you

Fortunately by the time Mrs. Martins and Ann had arrived with every
possible comfort for the invalid. And so Polly was borne to the cabin in
the midst of their anxious inquiries and put to bed, where neither her
sister nor Betty were allowed to see her during the evening.

If either of the girls suffered from the deprivation of her society
there was nothing that gave any indication of unhappiness in either of
the two faces.

CHAPTER XXI—At the Turn of the Road

                   “By day, upon my golden hill
                   Between the harbor and the sea,
                   I feel as if I well could fill
                   The world with golden melody.
                   There is no limit to my view,
                   No limit to my soft content,
                   Where sky and water’s fairy blue
                   Merge to the eye’s bewilderment.”

Polly read from the pages of a magazine, and then pausing for a moment
she again repeated the verse aloud, giving each line all the beauty and
significance of which it was capable.

She was walking alone along a path beyond the grove of pine trees one
Sunday morning about ten days later. She wore no hat and her dress was
of plain white muslin without even a ribbon belt for decoration. She had
a bunch of blue corn flowers, which she had lately gathered, pinned to
her waist and was looking particularly young and well.

Yet for the first time since her home coming Polly had recently been
feeling somewhat lonely and neglected. There was at present absolutely
no counting on Mollie for anything. Billy had always made demands upon
her time when they were simply friends, but since their engagement had
been announced there was never an entire afternoon or even morning when
Mollie was free. In answer to Polly’s protests that she was only to be
at home during the summer and so would like to see her only sister alone
now and then, Billy had explained that early August was the only month
in which he had any real leisure and that he and Mollie must therefore
make plans for their future at once. Moreover, as it was self-evident
that her sister preferred her fiancé’s society to her own, Polly had
been forced to let the matter drop.

Then a week before, Betty had gone to Boston to see Esther and her new
nephew, which was discouraging for her friend. For as Anthony had been
too busy to come to the cabin except in the evenings, Polly had the
Princess to herself during the day time.

She had promised Betty to stay on at the cabin until her return, as the
simple, outdoor life seemed to be doing her so much good; nevertheless,
Polly had determined to go into Woodford in the next few days and
persuade her mother to take her away unless things at the cabin became
more interesting. She was now rested and entirely well and more than
anxious to get back to her work again, since the friends on whom she had
depended were at present too absorbed to give her much of their time or

“Well, Margaret Adams always told me that ‘a career’ was a lonely kind
of life,” Polly thought to herself. “But oh, what wouldn’t I give if
Margaret should appear at this moment at the turn of that road. She must
have had my letter on Friday begging her to come and perhaps she had no
other engagement. It will be delightful, too, if she brings Mr. Hunt
along with her. I told her to ask him, as Billy can make him comfortable
at the farm. I should like him to see Sunrise cabin and the beautiful
country about here.”

Polly had finally come to the end of her lane and beyond could see the
road leading out from the village. She was a little weary, as she had
not walked any distance in several months until this morning. There was
a convenient seat under the shade of a great elm tree that commanded a
view of the country and she had her magazine with her and could hear the
noise of an approaching motor car or carriage, should Margaret have
decided to come.

Again Polly fell to memorizing the poem she had been trying to learn
during her stroll. It was good practice to get back into the habit of
training her memory, and the poem seemed oddly descriptive of her
present world.

  “Tonight, upon my somber gaze
  With gleam of silvered waters lit,
  I feel as if I well could praise
  The moon——”

Here Polly was interrupted by the sound of a voice saying:

“My dear Miss Polly, I never dreamed of finding you so well. Why, if you
only had the famous torn hat and rake you would pass for Maud Muller any

With a cry of welcome Polly jumped to her feet.

“Mr. Hunt, I am so glad to see you and so surprised!” she exclaimed.
“Please explain how you managed, when I have been watching for you and
Margaret all morning, to arrive without my knowing?”

“But we have not arrived, and I hope you won’t be too greatly
disappointed at my coming alone. You see it is like this. I happened to
be calling on Miss Adams when your note came and she told me that I had
been included in your invitation. Well, it was impossible for Miss Adams
to spend this week end with you as she was going off on a yachting party
with some of her rich admirers, so I decided to run down and see you
alone. It was not so remarkable my coming upon you unawares, since I
walked out from the village. Please do sit down again and tell me you
are glad to see me.”

Polly sat down as she was bid, and Richard Hunt, dropping on the ground
near her, took off his hat, leaning his head on his hand like a tired

“Come, hurry, you haven’t said you were glad yet, Miss Polly,” he

Polly’s eyes searched the dark ones turned half-teasingly and
half-admiringly toward her.

“Do you mean, Mr. Hunt, that you came all the way from New York to
Woodford just to see me?” she asked wonderingly. “And that you came
alone, without Margaret or any one else?”

Her companion laughed, pushing back the iron gray hair from his
forehead, for his long walk had been a warm one.

“I do assure you I haven’t a single acquaintance concealed anywhere
about me,” he declared. “But just the same I don’t see why you should
feel so surprised. Don’t you know that I would travel a good many miles
to spend an hour alone with you, instead of a long and blissful day. Of
course I am almost old enough to be your father——”

“You’re not,” Polly interrupted rather irritably. Yet in spite of her
protest she was feeling curiously shy and self-conscious and Polly was
unaccustomed to either of these two emotions. Then, just in order to
have something to do, she carelessly drew the bunch of corn flowers from
her belt and held them close against her hot cheeks.

“Mr. Hunt,” she began after a moment of awkward silence, “don’t think I
am rude, but please do not say things to me like—” the girl
hesitated—“like that last thing; I mean your being willing to travel
many miles to spend an hour alone with me. You have always been so kind
that I have thought of you as my real friend, but of course if you begin
to be insincere and flatter me as you would some one whom you did not
honestly like, I——”

Polly ceased talking at this instant because Richard Hunt had risen
quickly to his feet and put forth his hand to assist her.

“Let us go on to your cabin,” he replied gravely. “You are right. I
should not have said a thing like that to you. But you are wrong, Polly,
in believing I was insincere. You see, I grew to be pretty fond of you
last winter and very proud, seeing with what courage you fought your
battles alone.” Richard Hunt paused, walking on a few paces in silence.
“I shall not worry you with the affection of a man so much older than
you are,” he continued as though having at last made up his mind to say
all that was in his heart and be through. “Only at all times and under
all circumstances, no matter what happens, you are to remember, Polly,
that you are and always shall be first with me.”

“I—you,” the girl faltered. “Why I thought you cared for Margaret. I
never dreamed—” then somehow Polly, who had always so much to say, could
not even finish her sentence.

“No, of course you never did,” the man replied gravely. “Still, I want
you to know that Margaret and I have never thought of being anything but
the best of friends. Now let us talk of something else, only tell me
first that you are not angry and we will never speak of this again.”

“No, I am not displeased,” Polly faltered, looking and feeling absurdly
young and inadequate to the importance of the situation.

Then, walking on and keeping step with her companion, suddenly a new
world seemed to have spread itself before her eyes. Shyly she stole a
glance at her tall companion, and then laid her hand coaxingly on his
coat sleeve.

“Will you please stop a minute. I want to explain something to you,” she
asked. Polly’s expression was intensely serious; she had never been more
in earnest; all the color seemed to have gone from her face so as to
leave her eyes the more deeply blue.

“You see, Mr. Hunt, I never, never intend marrying any one. I mean to
devote all my life to my profession and I have never thought of anything
else since I was a little girl.”

Gravely Richard Hunt nodded. Not for an instant did his face betray any
doubt of Polly’s decision in regard to her future. Then Polly laughed
and her eyes changed from their former seriousness to a look of the
gayest and most charming camaraderie. “Still, Mr. Hunt, if you really
did mean what you said just now, why I don’t believe I shall mind if we
do speak of it some day again. Of course I am not in love with you,

Richard Hunt slipped the girl’s arm inside his. There was something in
his face that gave Polly a sense of strength and quiet such as she had
never felt in all her restless, ambitious girlhood.

“Yes, I understand,” he answered. “But look there, Polly, isn’t that
Sunrise Hill over there and your beloved little cabin in the distance?
And aren’t we glad to be alive in this wonderful world?”

The girl’s voice was like a song. “I never knew what it meant to be
really alive until this minute,” she whispered.

The sixth volume of the Camp Fire Girls Series will be known as “The
Camp Fire Girls in After Years.” In this story the girls will appear as
wives and mothers. Also it will reveal the fact that romance does not
end with marriage, and that in many cases a woman’s life story is only
beginning upon her wedding day. There will be new characters, a new plot
and new love interests as well, but in the main the theme will follow
the fortunes of the same group of girls who years ago formed a Camp Fire
club and lived, worked and loved under the shadow of Sunrise Hill.

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