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Title: The Camp Fire Girls Amid the Snows
Author: Vandercook, Margaret
Language: English
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THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AMID THE SNOWS

by

MARGARET VANDERCOOK

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

Illustrated



Philadelphia
The John C. Winston Co.
Publishers

Copyright, 1913, by
The John C. Winston Company



CONTENTS


  CHAPTER                                                       PAGE

      I. The Winter Manitou                                        7
     II. "Sunrise Cabin"                                          22
    III. "A Rose of the World"                                    38
     IV. "The Reason o' It"                                       50
      V. Mollie's Suggestion                                      61
     VI. A Black Sheep                                            69
    VII. Turning the Tables                                       81
   VIII. Possibilities                                            98
     IX. Christmas Eve at the Cabin                              110
      X. Esther's Old Home                                       123
     XI. Gifts                                                   129
    XII. The Camp Fire Play                                      137
   XIII. An Indian Love Song                                     149
    XIV. Mollie's Confidant                                      156
     XV. A Boomerang                                             168
    XVI. The Apology                                             183
   XVII. General News                                            190
  XVIII. Donna and Her Don                                       202
    XIX. Memories                                                212
     XX. The Explanation                                         223
    XXI. Misfortune                                              234
   XXII. Saying Farewell to the Cabin                            242
  XXIII. Future Plans                                            253



                             ILLUSTRATIONS


  "Ach Gnädiges Fräuleins, It Ist Not Possible"       _Frontispiece_
                                                                PAGE
  "Turn That Box Over to Me"                                      85
  The Song Had a Plaintive Cadence                               152
  "Do As I Tell You, Princess, Please"                           218



                   The Camp Fire Girls Amid the Snows



                               CHAPTER I
                           The Winter Manitou


The snow was falling in heavy slashing sheets, and a December snowstorm
in the New Hampshire hills means something more serious than a storm in
city streets or even an equal downfall upon more level meadows and
plains.

Yet on this winter afternoon, about an hour before twilight and along the
base of a hill where a rough road wandered between tall cedar and pine
trees and low bushes and shrubs, there sounded continually above the
snow's silencing two voices, sometimes laughing, occasionally singing a
brief line or so, but more often talking. Accompanying them always was a
steady jingling of bells.

"We simply can't get there to-night, Princess," one of the voices
protested, still with a questioning note as though hardly believing in
its own assertion.

"We simply can't do anything else, my child" the other answered
teasingly. "Have you ever thought how much harder it is to travel
backward in this world than forward, otherwise I suppose we should have
had eyes placed in the back of our heads and our feet would have turned
around the other way? Don't be frightened, there really isn't the least
danger."

Then there was a sudden swish of a whip cutting the cold air and with a
fresh tinkling of bells the shaggy pony plunged ahead. Five minutes
afterwards with an instinctive stiffening of his forelegs he started
sliding slowly down a steep embankment, where the road apparently ended,
dragging his load behind him and only stopping on finally reaching the
low ground and finding his sleigh had overturned.

For a while the unusual stillness was oppressive. But a little later
there followed a movement and then an unsteady voice calling, "Steady,
Fire Star," as a tall girl in a gray hood and coat covered all over with
snow came crawling forth from the uppermost side of the sleigh and
immediately began pulling at it with trembling hands.

"Princess, Princess, please speak or move! Oh, it is all my fault. I
should never have let you attempt it; I am the older and even----"

A little smothered sound and a slight disturbance under an immense fur
rug interrupted her: "I can't speak, Esther, until I get some of this
snow out of my mouth and I can't move until this grocery store is lifted
off me. I'm--I'm the under side of things; there are ten pounds of sugar
and a sack of flour and all the week's camping supplies between me and
the gay world." A break in the cheerful tones ended these words and there
was no further stirring, but Esther Clark failed to notice this, as she
first lifted the rug which had almost covered up Betty Ashton and then
helped her to sit upright, looking more of a Snow Princess than even the
weather justified. For all about her there were small mounds of sugar and
flour white as the snow itself and dissolving like dew. While Betty's
seal cap and coat were encrusted in ice and the snow hung from her brows
and lashes, indeed her face, usually so brilliantly colored, was now
almost as pale.

Esther was again tugging at the overturned sleigh trying to set it
upright, the pony waiting motionless except for turning his head as if
with the suggestion that matters be hurried along.

"I could manage a great deal better, Betty, if you would help me," Esther
protested a little indignantly. "I know the girls at Sunrise cabin are
getting dreadfully worried over our being so late in arriving at home."

Betty shivered. "I am getting a bit worried myself," she agreed, "and I
might as well confess to you, Esther, that I haven't the faintest idea
where we are, nor how far from the village or our camp. This snow has
completely mixed me up; and I haven't sprained my ankle, of course, or
broken it or done anything _quite_ so silly, but my foot does hurt most
awfully and I know I never can stand up on it again and--and--if I wasn't
a Camp Fire girl about to be made a Torch Bearer I'd like to weep and
weep until I melted away into a beautiful iceberg." And then in spite of
her brave fooling Betty did blink and choke, but only for an instant, for
the sight of her companion's face made her smile again.

"The runner of our sleigh has snapped in two," Esther next announced in
accents of despair after having partially dragged the sleigh upright,
although one runner still remained imbedded several inches deeper than
the other in the drift of snow which had caused their disaster.

Betty held up both hands. "I believe it never rains but it pours," she
said a little mockingly; "but what about the snow? I am sorry I was so
obstinate, dear. It is nice to be sorry when the deed is done, isn't it?
I suppose I should never have attempted driving back to Sunrise Hill on
such an evening, but then we did need our groceries so terribly in camp
and I was afraid nobody would bring them to-morrow. And, well, as I have
gotten you into this scrape I must get you out of it."

So by clinging with both hands to Esther, Betty Ashton, by sheer force of
will, did manage to rise on the one sound foot and then putting the
injured one on the ground she stood wavering for a second. "I'm thinking,
Esther, so please don't interrupt me for a moment," she gasped as soon as
she found breath. "I can't but feel that this is our first real emergency
since we started our camp fire in the woods this winter. If we only are
able to get out of it successfully, why--why, won't Polly be envious?"

Betty Ashton was so plainly talking at the present instant to gain time
that the older girl did not pay the slightest attention to her; instead,
she was thinking herself. Of course she or Betty could mount their pony
and ride off somewhere to look for help, but then Esther had no fancy for
being left alone in a snow-storm in a part of the country which she did
not know in its present aspect and certainly under the circumstances she
had no intention of leaving Betty to the same fate.

Imagination, however, was never one of Esther Clark's strong points,
although fortunately for them both now and in later years it was always a
gift of the other girl's.

"Better let me sit down again," Betty suggested, letting go of her clasp
on her friend; "and will you unhitch Fire Star and lead her here to me.
Somehow I think it best for us to manage to get back on the road and find
some sort of shelter up there under the trees until the worst of this
storm is past."

With Betty to think and Esther to accomplish, things usually moved
swiftly. So five minutes later, half leading and half being led by the
pony, Esther climbed the embankment on foot with Betty riding and
clinging with both arms about Fire Star's neck. Under a pine tree partly
protected from the wind and snow by scrub pines growing only a few feet
away, the girls found a temporary refuge. There they remained sheltered
by the fur rug which Esther brought back on her second trip. The pony
safely covered over with his own blanket stood hitched under another tree
a short distance away.

Nevertheless, half an hour of waiting found the two girls shivering
uncomfortably under their rug and losing courage with every passing
moment, for the storm had not abated in the least and Betty was really
suffering agonies with her foot, although she had removed her shoe,
bathed her ankle in snow and bound it up in her own and Esther's pocket
handkerchiefs.

"Esther," she said rather irritably, after a fresh paroxysm of pain had
left her almost exhausted, "don't you think that, as we have been Camp
Fire girls living in the woods for the past six months, even though
conditions do seem trying, we ought to _do_ something and not just sit
here in this limp fashion and be snowed under?"

Esther nodded, but made no sort of suggestion. She was so cold and
worried about Betty that she hadn't an idea in her mind save the haunting
fear that if they continued long in their present situation they might
actually be turned into icebergs.

However, Betty promptly gave her a pinch that was realistic enough to be
felt in spite of all her frozenness. "Wake up, Esther, dear, and if you
are really so cold, child, just warm yourself by your nose, it certainly
is red enough. Now as you girls have always said I dearly loved to boss,
please, won't you let me be general of this expedition and you do what I
say since I am too lame to help?"

Again Esther nodded. She generally had done whatever Betty Ashton had
asked of her since the day of her coming to the great Ashton homestead in
Woodford a little more than half a year before. But as Betty outlined her
plan Esther grew interested and in half a moment jumping up began
stamping her feet and swinging her arms to get the warmth and vigor back
into her body.

"Why, Betty Ashton, of course we can manage even to stay here in the
woods all night and not have such a horrid time! It won't be so
difficult, I'll have things fixed in the least little while."

A short time afterwards and Esther had brought up from their broken
sleigh a portion of the precious grocery supplies which she and Betty had
driven into Woodford early that afternoon to obtain--a can of coffee,
crackers, a side of bacon and, most welcome of all, a bundle of kindling
tied as neatly together as toothpicks. For several weeks of having to
gather wood out of doors, oftentimes in the snow and rain, and then
drying it under cover, had made an occasional supply of kindling from the
shops in town extremely grateful to the camp fire makers. Fortunately,
Betty had filled the last remaining space in their sleigh with kindling
wood before starting back to camp.

And in Esther's several absences she had been diligently preparing a
place for a fire, first by scooping away the snow with her hands and then
by scraping it with a three-pronged stick which she had found nearby.

However, a fire in the snow was not easy to start even by a Camp Fire
girl, so that fifteen minutes must have passed and an entire box of
matches been consumed before the paper collected from about their
packages had persuaded even the kindling to light. And then by infinite
patience and coaxing, wet pine twigs and cones were added to the fire
until finally the larger logs, discovered under the surrounding trees,
also blazed into heat and light.

And while Betty was cherishing the fire, Esther managed to make a partial
canopy over their heads with brushwood.

There are but few things in this world though that do not take a longer
time to accomplish than we at first expect and require a longer patience.
So that when the two girls had finally arranged their temporary winter
shelter, the twilight had come down and both of them were extremely
weary. Nevertheless, the most wonderful coffee was made with melted snow
in the tin can, bacon sliced and fried with the knife no Camp Fire girl
fails to carry and the crackers toasted into a smoky but delicious brown.
And then when supper was over Betty crept close to Esther under their rug
resting her head on her shoulder.

"No one knows where we are to-night, Esther, so no one will worry. The
girls will think we stayed in town on account of the storm and our
friends in the village that we are now safe back in Sunrise cabin. So do
let us make the best of things," she whispered. "To-night, at least, we
are real Camp Fire girls from necessity and not choice, and I believe I
can better understand why our ancestors once used to worship the fire as
the symbol of home. Then, too, I am glad we chose the pine trees for our
refuge. I wonder if you know this legend? When Mary was in flight to
Egypt to save our Lord from Herod, she stopped beneath a pine tree and
rested there safe from her enemies in a green chamber filled with its
balsamy fragrance, the tree proving its love for the Christ Child by
lowering its limbs when Herod's soldiers passed by. And then when the
Baby raised its hand to bless the tree, it so marked it that when the
pine cone is cut lengthwise it shows the form of a hand--the hand of
Christ."

With the telling of her story Betty's voice was sinking lower and lower,
and as her cheeks were now so flushed with her nearness to the fire and
with fever from the pain in her foot, Esther hoped she might soon fall
asleep. So she made no reply, but instead began singing the "Good-Night
Song" of the Camp Fire girls which has been set to the beautiful old
melody "Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes." And though she began very
softly, meaning her song to reach only Betty's ears, by and by forgetting
herself in the pleasure her music always brought her, she let her voice
increase in power, until the final notes could have been heard some
distance through the woods and even a little way up the hill which stood
like a solid white wall before them. The snow had stopped falling and the
wind had died down, but the coldness and the stillness were therefore the
more profound.

  "The sun is sinking in the west,
    The evening shadows fall;
  Across the silence of the lake
    We hear the loon's low call.
  So let us, too, the silence keep,
    And softly steal away,
  To rest and sleep until the morn
    Brings forth another day."

"Betty, Betty!" Instead of allowing her friend to sleep Esther began
shaking her nervously only a few moments after the closing of her song.

And Betty started suddenly, giving a little cry of pain and surprise, for
evidently she had been dreaming and found it hard to come back to so
strange a reality. Here she and Esther were alone in the winter woods not
many miles from shelter and yet unable to find it, while she had been
dreaming of herself as a poor half-frozen waif somewhere out in a city
street listening to strains of music, which were not of Esther's song but
of some instrument. The girl rubbed her eyes and laughed.

"Dear me, Esther, it's too cold to sleep, isn't it? Let us put some more
wood on our fire and stay awake and talk. I think the Winter Manitou,
Peboan, must have been visiting me with the wind playing the strings of
his harp, for I have just dreamed I was listening to music."

"You didn't dream it; I wasn't asleep and I heard it also. There,
listen!"

The two girls caught hold of one another's hands and silently they stared
ahead of them through the opening in their curious, Esquimaux-like tent.
Could anything be more improbable and yet without doubt the notes of a
violin could be heard approaching nearer and nearer.

Transfixed with surprise and pleasure Esther kept still but Betty, who in
spite of her whims was a really practical person, shook her head in a
somewhat annoyed fashion. "It is perfectly absurd you know, Esther, for
any human being to be strolling through the New Hampshire woods on a
winter's night playing the violin. We are not in Germany or the Alps or
in a story book. But if it really is a person and not the Spirit of
Winter, as I still believe, why he might as well help us out of our
difficulty. I don't feel so romantic as I did an hour or so ago."

At this instant a dim figure did appear around a turn in the road where
the girls had previously met disaster and putting her cold fingers to her
lips Betty cried "Halloo, Halloo," in as loud a voice as possible and at
the same time seizing one of their burning logs she waved it as a signal
of distress.



                               CHAPTER II
                            "Sunrise Cabin"


"Ach, gnädige Fräuleins, it ist not possible."

"No, I know it isn't," Betty returned with her most demure expression,
although there were little sparks of light at the back of her gray-blue
eyes. She rose stiffly from the ground with Esther's assistance and stood
leaning on her arm, while both girls without trying to hide their
astonishment surveyed a middle aged, shabbily dressed German with his
violin case under one arm and his violin under the other.

"I haf been visiting the Orphan Asylum in this neighborhood where I haf
friends," he explained. "I am in Woodford only a few days now and after
supper when the storm is over I start back to town. Then I thought I
heard some one singing, calling, perhaps it is you?" He looked only at
Betty, since in the semi-darkness with the fire as a background it was
difficult to distinguish but one object at a time and that only by
concentrated attention. But as she shook her head he turned toward
Esther.

"When I hear the singing I play my violin, thinking if some one was lost
in these hills I may find them."

But Esther was not thinking of her discoverer, only of what he had said.
"Do you mean we are really not far from the Country Orphan Asylum?" she
asked incredulously. "And actually I have gotten lost in a neighborhood
where I have spent most of my life! It is the snow that has made things
seem so strange and different!" Turning to Betty she forgot for a moment
the presence of the stranger. "I'll find my way to the asylum right off
and bring some one here to mend our sleigh and give poor little Fire Star
something to eat. I don't believe we are more than two miles from Sunrise
Camp."

However, Betty was by this time attempting to make their situation
clearer to the newcomer. She pointed toward their sleigh at the bottom of
the gully and their pony under the tree and told him of camp fires and
grocery supplies to be carried to Sunrise cabin, until out of the chaos
these facts at least became clear to his mind--the girls had lost their
way in the storm and because of Betty's injured ankle and the broken
vehicle, had been unable to make their way home.

At about the same hour of this same evening, two other young women were
walking slowly up and down in front of a log house in a clearing near the
base of a hill, with their arms intertwined about each other's shoulder.
Outside the closed front door of the house a lighted lantern swung. From
the inside other lights shone through the windows, while every now and
then a face appeared and a finger beckoned toward the sentinels outside.
Nevertheless, they continued their unbroken marching, only stopping now
and then to stare out across the snow-covered landscape.

"They simply have not tried to attempt it, Polly; it is foolish for you
to be so worried," one of the voices said.

But her companion, whose long black hair was hanging loose to her waist
and who wore a long red cape and a red woolen cap giving her a curiously
fantastic appearance, only shook her head decisively.

"You can't know the Princess as well as I do, Rose, or you would never
believe she would give up having her own way. She went into town when the
rest of us thought it unwise and she will come back, frozen, starved,
goodness only knows what, still come back she will. Poor Esther is but
wax in her hands. I wonder if anything happens to break the Princess'
will whatever will become of her?"

The other girl sighed and her friend gazed at her sympathetically but a
little curiously.

"Betty will bear disappointment just as the rest of the world does," she
answered, "filling her life with what she can have. But I do wish she and
Esther would come back to camp now, or at least send us some word. The
storm has been over for several hours and none of us will be able to
sleep to-night on account of the uncertainty."

With one of her characteristic movements Polly O'Neill now moved swiftly
away from the speaker. "I am going to ring our emergency bell if you are
willing, Rose," she announced. "Oh, I know we Camp Fire girls hate to
appeal to outsiders for aid, but it's got to be done for once, for I
simply can't stand this suspense about Betty and Esther any longer." Then
without waiting for an answer, she ran toward the back yard of the cabin
and an instant later the loud clanging of a bell startled the peace and
quiet of the country night, but only for a moment, because before the
second pull at the bell rope Polly felt her arm being held fast.

"Don't ring again, Polly, or at least not yet," her companion insisted,
"for I am almost sure I can see a dark object coming this way along our
road and there's a chance of its being Betty and Esther."

Ten minutes later the front door of the Sunrise cabin was suddenly burst
open and out into the snow piled half a dozen other girls in as many
varieties of heavy blanket wrappers. The music of Fire Star's sleigh
bells had reached their ears several moments before the arrival of the
wayfarers.

However, very soon afterwards, following a suggestion of Sylvia
Wharton's, Betty Ashton was borne into the cabin, four of the girls
carrying her on a light canvas cot. This they set down before their big
fire glowing in the center of the living room of the Sunrise
cabin--Sunrise cabin which had not existed even in the dreams of the
Sunrise Camp Fire girls until one afternoon in September not four months
ago. Esther, with Mollie O'Neill's arm about her, walked into the cabin
on foot, since she was only stiff with fatigue and cold. However, on
throwing herself back in a big arm chair and allowing her shoes to be
changed by Mollie for slippers, she seemed more affected, by their
adventure than Betty.

For Betty, in Princess fashion, with Polly, Sylvia and Nan, and the girl
whom Polly had called Rose, all kneeling devotedly at her feet, was
talking cheerfully.

"He was just the most impossible, ridiculous looking person you ever
could imagine, with red hair and glasses and dreadfully shabby clothes,
the kind of a man in a German band to whom you would throw pennies out
the window, but he declared that he had once lived here in Woodford for a
short time years ago and had come back on some business or other. Oh,
Esther, don't look at me so disapprovingly; I am saying nothing against
him really. I am sure it was I who invited him to come out to our cabin
and play for us girls. He looked so poor I thought I might be able to pay
him then and I couldn't quite offer him anything for helping Esther mend
the sleigh and then seeing us part of the way home. Home! Oh, isn't our
beloved Sunrise cabin the most delightful and original home a group of
Camp Fire girls ever possessed!"

And Betty's eyes clouded with tears, partly from pain and weariness but
more from joy at her return, as she looked from the faces gathered about
hers in the neighborhood of the great fireplace and then saw all their
glances follow hers with equal ardor throughout the length of their great
living room.

For if ever Betty Ashton had proved her right to her friend Polly's
definition of her as a "Fairy Princess," it was when through her desire
and largely through her money, Sunrise cabin rose on the very ground
covered by the white tents of the Sunrise Camp Fire girls only the summer
before.

The cabin was built of pine logs from the woods at the foot of Sunrise
Hill and the entire front of forty-five feet formed a single great room.
The end nearer the kitchen the girls used as their dining room, while the
rest of the room was music room, study, reception and every other kind of
a room. And, except for the piano which Betty had brought from her own
blue room at home and a few chairs, every other article of furniture and
almost every ornament had been made by the Sunrise Camp Fire girls
themselves.

On either side the high mantel there were low book shelves and a music
rack stood by the piano filled with the songs of the Camp Fire. Polly,
Nan and Sylvia had manufactured a dining room table which was considered
an extraordinary achievement although the design was really very simple.
Four wide pine boards about ten feet in length formed the top and the
legs were of heavy beams crossed under it at the center and at either
end. The furniture of the living room was stained a Flemish brown to
match the walls and floor done in the same color. On the floor were rag
rugs of almost oriental beauty made by the girls and dyed into seven
craft colors. On the walls hung pieces of homemade tapestry, leather
skins embossed with Camp Fire emblems, and flowers so pressed and mounted
as to give the effect of nature. Then on the mantelpiece were two
hammered brass candlesticks and a great brass bowl filled with holly and
cedar from the surrounding wood. On odd tables and shelves were Indian
baskets woven by the girls and used for every convenient purpose from
holding stockings waiting to be darned to treasuring the Sunrise Camp
Record Book which now had twenty-five written and illustrated pages
setting forth the history of Sunrise Camp since its infancy.

But Eleanor Meade had given the living room its really unique
distinction. Having once read a description of a famous Indian snow tepi,
she had painted on the ceiling toward the northern end of the room seven
stars which were to represent the north from whence the winter blizzards
blew and on the southern side a red disc for the sun. The artist had
pleaded long to be permitted to make the rest of the ceiling a bright
blue with outlines of rolling prairie on the walls beneath, but this was
greater realism in Indian ideals of art than the other girls were able to
endure.

Yet notwithstanding so much artistic decoration, Science also had her
place in the Sunrise cabin living room. For Sylvia Wharton had
established a cupboard in an inconspicuous corner where she kept a
collection of first aid supplies: gauze for bandaging, medicated cotton,
peroxide, lime water and sweet oil, arnica, and half a dozen or more
simple remedies useful in emergencies. True to her surprising
announcement at the close of their summer camp Sylvia, without wasting
time, and in her own quiet and apparently dull fashion, had already set
about preparing herself for her future work as a trained nurse by
persuading her father to let her have first aid lessons from a young
doctor in Woodford. So now it was stupid little Sylvia (although the Camp
Fire girls were no longer so convinced of her stupidity) who took real
charge of caring for Betty's foot, going back and forth to her cupboard
and doing whatever she thought necessary without asking or heeding any
one else's advice.

Nevertheless, her work must have been successful, because in less than an
hour after their return Betty, Esther and all the other girls were in
dreamland in the two bedrooms which, besides the kitchen, completed
Sunrise cabin. So soundly were they sleeping that it was only Polly
O'Neill who was suddenly aroused by an unexpected knocking at their front
door. It was nearly midnight and Polly shivered, not so much with fear as
with apprehension. What could have happened to bring a human being to
their cabin at such an hour? Instantly she thought of her mother still in
Ireland, of Mr. and Mrs. Ashton traveling in Europe for Mr. Ashton's
health. Slipping on her dressing gown Polly touched the figure in the bed
near hers.

"Rose," she whispered, so quietly as not to disturb any one else. "There
is some one knocking. I am going to the door, so be awake if anything
happens." Then without delaying she slipped into the next room.

Crossing the floor in her slippers Polly made no noise and picking up the
lantern which was always kept burning at night in the cabin, without any
warning of her approach she suddenly pulled open the door. The figure
waiting outside started.

"I--you," he began breathlessly and then stopped because Polly O'Neill's
cheeks had turned as crimson as her dressing gown and her Irish blue eyes
were sending forth electric sparks of anger.

"Billy Webster," she gasped, "I didn't dream that anything in the world
could have made you do so ungentlemanly a thing as to disturb us in this
fashion at such an hour of the night. Of course I have never liked you
very much or thought you had really good manners, but I didn't
believe----"

"Stop, will you, and let me explain," the young man returned, now fully
as angry as Polly and in a voice to justify her final accusation. Then he
turned courteously toward the young woman who had entered the room soon
after Polly. "I'm terribly sorry, Miss Dyer," he continued, "I must have
made some stupid mistake, but some little time ago I thought I heard the
sound of your alarm bell. It rang only once, so I waited for a little
while expecting to hear it again and then I was rather a long time in
getting to you through the woods on account of the heavy snow. It is
awfully rough on you to have been awakened at such an hour because of my
stupidity."

But Rose Dyer, who was a good deal older than Polly, put out both hands
and drew the young man, rather against his will, inside the living room.

"Please come in and get warm and dry, you know our Camp Fire is never
allowed to go out, and please do not apologize for your kindness in
coming to our aid." She lighted the candles, giving Polly a chance to
make her own confession. Though looking only a girl herself she was in
reality the new guardian of the Sunrise Camp Fire girls.

Polly, however, did not seem to be enthusiastic over her opportunity to
announce that she had been responsible for the alarm bell which had
brought their visitor forth on such an arduous tramp. Billy Webster was
of course their nearest neighbor, as his father owned most of the land in
their vicinity, still the farm house itself was a considerable distance
away. And to make matters worse the young man was too deeply offended by
Polly's reception of him to give even a glance in her direction.

Polly coughed several times and then opened her mouth to speak, but Billy
was staring into the fire poking at the logs with his wet boot. Rose had
disappeared toward the kitchen to get their visitor something to eat as a
small expression of their gratitude.

Unexpectedly the young man felt some one pulling at the back of his coat
and turning found himself again facing Polly, whose cheeks were quite as
red as they had been at the time of his arrival, but whose eyes were
shining until their color seemed to change as frequently as a wind swept
sky.

"Mr. William Daniel Webster," she began in a small crushed voice, "there
are certain persons in this world who seem preordained to put me always
in the wrong. You are one of them! I rang that bell because I thought my
beloved Betty and Esther were lost in the storm, but they weren't, and
then I forgot all about having rung it. So now I am overcome with
embarrassment and shame and regret and any other humiliating emotion you
would like to have me feel. But really, Billy," and here Polly extended
her thin hand, which always had a curious warmth and intensity in keeping
with her temperament, "can't you see how hard it is to like a person who
is always making one eat humble pie?"

Billy took the proffered hand and shook it with a forgiving strength that
made the girl wince though nothing in her manner betrayed it.

"Oh, cut that out, Miss Polly O'Neill," he commanded in the confused
manner that Polly's teasing usually induced in him. "It's a whole lot
rottener to be apologized to than it is to have to apologize, and it is
utterly unnecessary this evening because, though, of course, I didn't
know you had rung the alarm bell, I did know if there was trouble at
Sunrise cabin you were sure to be in it."

And, as Polly accepted this assertion with entire amiability, ten minutes
afterward she and their chaperon were both offering their visitor hot
chocolate and biscuits to fortify him for the journey home. In order to
make him feel entirely comfortable Polly also devoured an equal amount of
the refreshments, not because she was given to self-sacrifice but because
uneasiness about her friends had made her forget to eat her supper.



                              CHAPTER III
                         "A Rose of the World"


However much of a fairy Princess Betty Ashton's friends may have
considered her, Sunrise cabin had not arisen like "Aladdin's Wonderful
Palace" in a single night, although six months would seem a short enough
time in which to see one's dream come true. Particularly a dream which in
the beginning had appeared to have no chance of ever becoming a reality.

For in the first place "The Lady of the Hills," Miss McMurtry, on that
very afternoon when coming across the fields to the Camp Fire she had
there been told of the plan for keeping the Sunrise Camp Fire club
together for the winter, had not approved the idea. The country would
certainly be too cold and too lonely for the girls and the getting back
and forth from the cabin to school too difficult. Fathers and mothers
could never be persuaded to approve and, moreover, there would be no
guardian, since Miss McMurtry could not attend to her work at the High
School and also look after a permanent winter camp fire.

In a measure of course even the greatest enthusiasts for the new idea had
known that there might be just these same difficulties to be overcome.
Yet in conference they had decided to meet the obstacles one by one and
in turn by following the old axiom of not climbing fences before coming
to them. So as the money for building the cabin was a first necessity
Betty Ashton had written at once to her brother Dick. Sylvia Wharton had
seen her father, who had in September returned to Woodford, and Polly and
Mollie had sent off appealing letters to Ireland asking for their
mother's approval and whatever small sum of money they might be allowed
to contribute. Indeed each Sunrise Camp girl had met the demands of the
situation in the best way she knew how. But really, although help and
interest developed in various directions, once the business of building
the cabin had been fairly started, it was from Richard Ashton that the
first real aid and encouragement came. For Dick was a student in the
modern school of medical science which believes in fresh air, exercise
and congenial work as a cure for most ills instead of the old-time
methods of pills and poultices, and having seen the benefit of a summer
camp upon twelve girls he had faith enough for the winter experiment.
Besides this plan had appeared to him as a solution for certain personal
problems which had been worrying him for a number of weeks. His father
and mother were not returning to America this fall as they had expected,
since Mr. Ashton's health required a milder climate than New Hampshire.
It had seemed almost impossible for Dick to give up the graduating year
of his study of medicine in Dartmouth in order to come home to Woodford
to look after his sister and her friend, Esther Clark, who rather,
through force of circumstances, appeared now to be Betty's permanent
companion.

So an offering from Dick Ashton with Betty's fifty dollars, which had
been returned to her by Polly O'Neill, had actually laid the foundation
of Sunrise Cabin, although every single member of the club gave something
big or little so that the house might belong alike to them all. As Esther
and Nan Graham had no money of their own and Edith Norton very little and
no parents able to help, the three girls added their portions by doing
work for their friends in the village which they had learned in their
summer camp fire. At last they were able to stock the new kitchen with
almost a complete set of new kitchen utensils, the summer ones having
suffered from continuous outdoor use.

Of course all the summer club members could not share the winter
housekeeping scheme, but that did not affect their interest nor desire to
help. Meg and "Little Brother" to everybody's despair had to return home,
since with John leaving for college, that same fall, their professor
father could not live or keep house without them. But then they were to
be allowed to come out to the cabin each Friday for week ends, and Edith
Norton, whose work in the millinery store made living in town imperative,
was to take her Sunday rests in camp. Of the summer Sunrise Camp Fire
girls, only Juliet and Beatrice Field had really to say serious farewells
when returning to their school in Philadelphia, but they departed with at
least the consoling thought that they were to come back to the cabin for
their Christmas holidays. So that there remained only seven of the
original girls pledged to give this experiment of winter housekeeping as
a Camp Fire club a real test. And as they worked, pleaded and waited, one
by one each difficulty had been overcome until now there remained but
one--the necessity for finding a new guardian able to give all of her
time to living at Sunrise cabin and to working with the girls.

One evening toward the early part of November after the cabin had been
completed, Betty Ashton had called a meeting at her home for the final
discussion of this serious problem. As there were no outsiders present,
before mentioning the subject the girls had arranged themselves in their
accustomed Camp Fire attitudes, in a kind of semi-circle about the great
drawing room fire, in order to talk more freely. For the past week each
girl had been asked to search diligently for a suitable guardian. Yet
when Betty looked hopefully about at the faces of her friends without
speaking she sighed, shading her gray eyes with her hand. Only by an
effort of will could she keep her tears from falling--not a line of
success showed in a single countenance.

Mollie O'Neill, understanding equally well, made no such effort at
self-control. Placing her head on her sister's shoulder she frankly gave
way to tears, while Polly stared moodily into the fire with Sylvia
Wharton's square hand clutching hers despairingly. Esther and Eleanor
frowned. Nan Graham, who had more at stake than the other girls, not
trusting herself, jumped up and running across to a far corner of the big
room flung herself face downward on a sofa. So there was a most unusual
silence in the Sunrise Camp Fire circle and yet when a light knock
sounded on the door no one said "Come in." An instant later, however, the
knock was repeated, but this time, not waiting for an answer, the door
opened and a figure walked slowly toward the center of the floor. It was
a lovely figure, nevertheless, there was scarcely a person in Woodford
whom the girls at this moment desired less to see. Certainly there was no
one who had been more bitterly opposed to the whole Camp Fire idea and
particularly to Betty Ashton's having a part in it.

"I don't know whether you allow an outsider to come into one of your
meetings," the intruder began, dropping into a near-by chair.

From her place on the sofa Nan Graham lifted her head. She alone of the
little company did not know their visitor's name. She saw a young woman
of about twenty-six or seven with light golden brown hair and eyes with
the same yellow lights in them, dressed in a lovely crepe evening gown
with a bunch of roses at her belt and a scarf thrown over her shoulders.
Nan's eyes glowed with a momentary forgetfulness, having long cherished
just such an ideal and never before seen it realized.

But Betty only shook her head, answering with little enthusiasm:

"Oh, it doesn't matter this evening, Rose, you may stay if you like,
though we don't generally have strangers at our meetings." And then,
though she usually had good manners, Betty fell to studying the dancing
lights in the fire without making any further effort at conversation. She
had no desire to be rude, but it was trying to have Rose Dyer, her
mother's intimate friend, the one older girl, held up as a model for her
to follow, who had done her best to prejudice Mrs. Ashton against the
Camp Fire plan the summer before, come into their midst at an hour when
their very existence as a club seemed to be in peril.

For a few moments Miss Dyer waited without trying to speak again.
Although Polly and Esther were both endeavoring to make themselves
agreeable, the atmosphere of the drawing room continued distinctly
unfriendly.

"I--I am afraid I am in the way although you were kind enough not to say
so," Rose suggested, finding it difficult to explain what had inspired
her visit with so many faces turned away from hers. "I think I had best
go; I only came to ask you a great favor and now----" She was getting up
quietly, when Betty with a sudden realization of her duties as a hostess
made a little rush toward her and taking both the older girl's hands drew
her into the center of their circle.

"Please forgive our bad manners and do stay, Rose," she pleaded. "We
really have no business to attend to to-night and perhaps company may
cheer us up."

But although Rose, without the least regard for her lovely gown, had
immediately dropped down on the floor in regular Camp Fire fashion,
apparently she had not heard what Betty had suggested, for straightway
her expression became quite as serious as any one else's.

"You may not care for what I am going to say and you must promise to be
truthful if you don't," Rose began, as timidly as though she were not ten
years older than any other girl in the room, "but I have been hearing for
the past two months that you were looking for a Camp Fire guardian to
spend the winter with you and I have been wondering----" Here pulling the
flowers from her belt she let her gaze rest upon them. "I have been
wondering if you would care to have me?"

The silence was then more conspicuous than before and Rose flushed hotly.

"I am sure you are very kind," Polly began in a perfectly unfamiliar tone
of voice and manner since she too had known Rose all her life.

"We appreciate your kindness very much," Eleanor added, fearing that
Polly was about to break down.

But Betty Ashton dropped her chin into her hands in her familiar fashion
and stared directly at their visitor. "My dear Rose, whatever has
happened to you?" she demanded. "Why it's too absurd! You know you don't
care for anything but parties and dancing and having a good time. You
simply haven't any idea of what it means to be a Camp Fire guardian; why
it is difficult enough when you have only to preside at weekly Camp Fire
meetings and to watch over the girls in between, but when it comes to
living with us and teaching us as Miss McMurtry did last summer----"
Betty bit her lips. She did not wish to be discourteous and yet the
vision of the fashionably dressed girl before her fulfilling the
requirements of their life together in the woods was too much for her
sense of humor.

Then suddenly, to Betty's embarrassment and the surprise of everyone
else, Miss Dyer's eyes filled with tears.

"Please don't, Betty," she said a little huskily. "You know, dear, one
can get rather tired of hearing one's self described as an absolute
good-for-nothing. Oh, I know I was opposed to your Camp Fire club last
summer, but I have watched you more carefully than you dream and have
entirely changed my mind. I am not asking you to let me come into your
club to help you. I am afraid I am selfish, I can't explain it to you
now, but I want to help myself. Of course I am not wise enough to be your
guardian, but I have been talking to Miss McMurtry and she has promised
to help me and it is only because you don't seem able to find anyone else
that I dare offer myself."

At this moment Nan Graham, whom Rose had not seen before, tumbled
unexpectedly off her sofa. It was because of her eagerness to reach the
other girls. They, at a quick signal from one to the other, had arisen,
and now, forming a circle, danced slowly about their new guardian
chanting the sacred law of the Camp Fire.



                               CHAPTER IV
                           "The Reason o' It"


"Rose," Betty Ashton called at about ten o'clock the next morning. Betty
was sitting alone before the living room fire, the other girls having
gone into town to school several hours before. Books and papers and
writing materials were piled on a table before her and evidently she had
been working on some abstruse problem in mathematics, for several sheets
of legal cap paper were covered with figures.

"Rose," she called again, and so plaintively this second time that the
new guardian of the Sunrise Camp Fire girls hurried in from the kitchen.
A gingham apron covered her from head to foot, a large mixing spoon was
in one hand and a becoming splash of flour on one cheek.

"What is it, dear?" she inquired anxiously. "Does your foot hurt worse
than it did? I ought to have come in to you right away, but Mammy and I
have been making enough loaves of bread to feed a regiment and I have
been turning some odds and ends of the dough into Camp Fire emblems to
have for tea--rings and bracelets and crossed logs. I am afraid I am
still dreadfully frivolous!" And Rose flushed, for in spite of Betty's
own problem she was smiling at her. This the Rose who had come to her
first Camp Fire Council only a month before in a Paris frock, probably
never having cooked a meal for any one in her life!

However, Betty answered loyally. "You are quite wonderful, Rose, and only
the other day Donna said you were giving to our Camp Fire life what with
all her knowledge she had somehow failed to give it--the real intimate
family feeling. I suppose I oughtn't to have interrupted you. No, it
isn't my foot, it is only that I have gotten myself into a new difficulty
and I want to ask you what you think I had best do?"

And with a worried frown Betty again studied the closely written figures
which must have represented some still unsolved problem, for she
continued staring at them, turning the sheets over and over. Finally,
before speaking, she drew an open letter from her pocket, carefully
re-reading several lines.

"I suppose it isn't worth while my mentioning, Rose, that none of us do
anything at present but think, dream and plan for our Camp Fire Christmas
entertainment," she said with a half sigh and smile, "and you know
packages have been coming to me until the attic is most full of them. I
have just been charging things as I bought them and until to-day I
haven't paid much attention to what they cost. But yesterday I received
such a strange letter from mother. She writes that father is a little
better and I am not to worry and she hopes we may have a happy Christmas.
However, she can't send me any more money for the holidays beyond my
usual allowance. Father has had some business losses lately, and not
being able to look after things himself, they are not going quite right.
Isn't it odd, for you see I have already explained to her that we were
going to have unusually heavy expenses this Christmas and please to let
me have money instead of a present? Yet she says she can't send me
_anything_. Poor mother, she apologizes humbly instead of telling me that
I am an extravagant wretch, but just the same it is the first time in my
life I haven't had all the money I needed to spend at Christmas and now I
don't see how I am ever going to pay for all the things I have bought. I
don't think I have any right to be a Camp Fire girl if I am in debt, and
I am--miles!"

Instead of answering immediately Rose turned away her face to conceal a
look of concern at Betty's news which she did not wish the young girl to
see. Other persons in Woodford were beginning to speculate upon a
possible change in the Ashton fortune. Certain enterprises in which Mr.
Ashton had been concerned had been known to fail, but then no one
understood to what extent he had been interested.

"Can't you give up some of the things, dear," Rose suggested gently,
knowing that Betty had never been called upon to do any such thing before
in her life, but to her surprise she now saw that her companion's
expression had entirely changed.

"What a goose I am!" Betty laughed cheerfully. "Of course I can write to
old Dick for the money. I don't usually like to ask him, for he is such a
conscientious person, so unlike reckless me, and will probably scold, but
then he will give me the money just the same. I wonder if anything ever
happened to make Dick more serious than other young men? He isn't a bit
like Frank Wharton or other wealthy fellows who do nothing but spend
money and have a good time. He seems just devoted to studying medicine,
and sometimes he has said such strange things to mother as though there
might be some special reason why he wanted so much to help people." And
feeling that her own dilemma was now comfortably settled, Betty fell to
puzzling over the older problem which she had always kept more or less at
the back of her mind.

But, curiously enough, Rose Dyer shook her head discouragingly. "I
wouldn't try that method of getting the money, Betty, if I were you," she
replied thoughtfully. "I suppose it hasn't occurred to you that if your
mother and father are not able to give you extra money, and you know Dick
always makes them put you first, why he is probably not having any extra
money either. And since his whole heart is set on going to Germany next
year to continue his work why he is probably saving all that he can now
so as not to be an additional expense."

Rose was several years older than Dick, but they had known one another
ever since she came as a young girl to New Hampshire from her home in
Georgia, bringing her colored mammy with her. For Rose's parents had died
and she had lived with an old uncle until a few years before when he had
gone, leaving her his heiress. Now Rose's pretty home in Woodford was
closed for the winter and her chaperon living in Florida while she spent
her time trying to learn to be a worthy guardian for the Camp Fire girls.
Perhaps she really had heard more of Dick Ashton's early life than his
sister Betty and had a special reason for her interest in him, however
she said nothing of it.

"I wonder if I couldn't lend you the money. I am not rich as you are, but
perhaps I have----"

And here Betty shook her head decisively. "I couldn't borrow the money of
anybody, one way of owing it would be as bad as another. I simply have
got to find a way." She stopped suddenly because the sound of some one
driving up to the cabin surprised her, and then, to her greater surprise,
her guardian, after a hurried glance out of the window, dropped her
mixing-spoon with a clatter and positively ran out of the room.

Betty stared. She could only see rather a shabby, old-fashioned buggy
standing near the Totem pole in front of their cabin, and a young man
hitching his horse to it.

Almost forgetting her bandaged ankle, the girl hobbled over to the door,
but when she had opened it gave an involuntary cry of pain and the next
instant found herself being lifted and carried back to her chair.

"You must not try to walk until you are sure things are all right with
you," a strange voice said severely. Then, in answer to Betty's look of
amazement, he took off his hat and bowed gravely. She found herself
staring at a tall, slender man of about thirty, in carefully brushed
clothes, which nevertheless had an old-fashioned, country appearance, and
with a face at once so handsome and so stern that he looked as if he
might have stepped out of an old frame which had held the portrait of one
of the early Puritan fathers.

"I am the doctor Sylvia Wharton is studying with, Miss Ashton," he
explained. "You don't know me but I know very well who you are. I have
only been living in this part of the country for the past two years,
trying to build up a practice among the farming people, so that when
Sylvia stopped by and asked me to come and see you I telephoned at once
to your physician in town, but finding him out I thought it might be
best----"

The young man hesitated and flushed. He was morbidly sensitive and
conscientious, and knowing Mr. Ashton's prominence would not for the
world have made an effort to gain Betty as a patient. However, Betty was
by this time suffering so much that she gave a little cry of relief.

"Sylvia has much more sense than any of us," she returned gratefully. "I
assured everybody I wasn't suffering in the least this morning and
now--well, I suppose I shouldn't have walked over to the door."

The young doctor had knelt on the floor and was gently removing the
bandage from the swollen ankle. "Sylvia has done very well," he declared.
"The first aid idea is one of the best things I know about you Camp Fire
girls, and Sylvia is trying to make me a convert, but surely you are not
here alone. Miss Dyer is your chaperon or guardian, I am not entirely
sure what you call her."

"Why, yes, Rose is here. I can't understand why she does not come in,"
Betty returned, feeling rather aggrieved and surprised at Rose's neglect
of her. But at this instant, hearing the bedroom door open, both the girl
and the young man turned and Betty just managed to control a quick
exclamation.

For, to her amazement, for the first time since coming to the cabin, Rose
had discarded her Camp Fire costume and was again fashionably dressed in
a soft brown silk entirely inappropriate to her work and to the cabin.

If Betty had thought young Dr. Barton's face stern on first seeing him it
was as nothing to his expression now. He bowed formally, but as his
manner showed he had known Rose before, Betty closed her eyes. The pain
in her foot was increasing each instant now that Sylvia's dressing had
been removed. When she opened them again she found Rose kneeling on the
floor by Dr. Barton, entirely forgetful of her gown and listening quietly
to his curt orders. Then during the next fifteen minutes Rose Dyer had
her first experience as a trained nurse, wondering all the time she was
at work how she could possibly be so stupid and so awkward. For she
splashed hot water on her gown and hand, tripped over her long skirt, and
was so nervous when Betty showed any signs of pain that the tears blinded
her brown eyes and her hands trembled. She might have broken down except
that Dr. Barton so plainly expected her to do what she was told, and
because of a wrathful figure that stood immovable in the doorway. It was
"Mammy," dressed in a stiff purple calico gown with a white handkerchief
tied about her head. Mammy was past seventy and no longer able to do much
work, but she had never left her "little Rose" in the twenty-seven year
of her life and never would so long as she lived. Not able to help a
great deal, she was still able to give the Sunrise Camp Fire club a great
deal of advice, and then she was also a kind of additional guardian since
Rose could not have been left alone at the cabin all morning with the
girls in town at school.

"I ain't never had much use for Yankee gentlemen," she mumbled to
herself, plainly expecting the little audience to hear. "Whar I cum from
the gentlemen was always waitin' on the ladies, not askin' them to tote
and fetch, same as if they was poo' white trash."



                               CHAPTER V
                          Mollie's Suggestion


The trouble with Betty Ashton's foot was only a sprained ankle but it
kept her confined for several days and gave her plenty of time for
reflection. She must of course pay her debts, for she could not make up
her mind to send back the things she had ordered (self-denial and Betty
had very slight acquaintance with one another), and besides the
disappointment would not be hers alone but all of the Sunrise Camp Fire
girls.

For the truth is that Betty and Polly together had written a Camp Fire
play setting forth some of the ideals of their organization and they
wished to give the entertainment during Christmas week in the most
beautiful possible fashion. Of course in the beginning they had assured
Miss McMurtry, who was still a kind of advisory guardian, and Miss Dyer,
that everything would be very simple and inexpensive, but naturally their
ambitions grew with each passing day, and with scenery and costumes to be
bought, besides the gifts and decorations for the Camp Fire tree, Betty
found herself very much involved. As usual she was bearing the greater
share of the expenses and then, though no one outside the Camp Fire club
except Dick Ashton knew of it, Betty had been giving a part of her
allowance each week so that Esther Clark might have singing lessons with
the best possible teacher in Woodford. Not that the relation between
Betty and Esther had seriously changed. The older girl still felt toward
Betty the same adoring and self-sacrificing devotion, still considered
her the most beautiful and charming person in the world and that her
careless generosity lifted her above every one else, while, though to do
Betty Ashton credit, she was entirely unconscious of it, her attitude
toward Esther was just the least little bit condescending. Esther was so
plain and awkward and particularly she lacked the birth and breeding
Betty considered so essential, but then she was fond of her and did want
Esther to have her chance--this chance she felt must lie in the
cultivation of her beautiful voice.

So that when Betty, unable to make up her mind what had best be done,
determined to consult with the girls, it was to her old friends, Mollie
and Polly O'Neill, that she turned rather than to Esther. She had been
unusually quiet one evening, although insisting that her ankle was
entirely well. Suddenly, however, she plead fatigue and with a little
gesture, which both girls understood as a signal, asked that Mollie and
Polly come and help her get ready for bed.

When Betty was finally undressed, she sat bolt upright in her cot with
her cheeks flushed and her gray eyes shining. So unusually pretty did she
appear that Polly, who never ceased to admire her, even when she happened
to be angry, set a silver paper crown upon her head. The crown was a part
of their Christmas stage property and not intended for Betty, but now
Polly stood a few feet away and clasped her hands together from sheer
admiration, while Mollie, who was usually undemonstrative, leaned over
and kissed her friend's cheek before settling herself at the foot of the
bed.

"You certainly are lovely, Princess, and so is Mollie for that matter,"
Polly exclaimed, generously seating herself opposite her sister. Betty
happened to be wearing a heavy blue silk dressing jacket over her gown
and her auburn hair hung in two heavy braids, one over each shoulder. Her
forehead was low and she had delicate level brows. But just now Betty
flushed scarlet and frowned, for whatever her other faults she was not
vain.

"Please don't call me Princess, Polly, dear," she urged, taking off her
paper crown and surveying it rather ruefully, "because I am in truth only
a paper princess to-night. You have told me a hundred times, Polly,
child, that you thought I ought to know the sensation of being poor like
other people, that I needed it for my education. Well, I do at last, for
I have bought a lot of things for Christmas that I can't pay for, as
mother writes she can't let me have any extra money."

Betty's expression, however, was not half so serious as that of her two
friends as she made this confession. For the girls had also heard the
rumor which had troubled Rose Dyer in regard to Mr. Ashton's possible
change of fortune, and knew that Betty did not in the least understand
the gravity of her mother's refusal.

Polly positively shivered. Betty poor! It was impossible to imagine! Yet
what, after all, did the supposed loss of a few thousand dollars mean to
a man of Mr. Ashton's wealth.

Polly patted Betty's hand sympathetically. "Debt is the most horrible
thing in the world, isn't it? I haven't forgotten how I felt when I was
in your debt last summer, Betty, and took such a horrid way to get out of
it."

"Maybe you had better send back what you have bought," suggested the more
practical Mollie, making the same suggestion as their guardian.

But at this Betty and Polly glanced at one another despairingly. "Give up
making their Camp Fire play a success?" For this is what it would mean
should Betty have to send back her purchases!

"How much do you owe, dear?" Polly next inquired in a crushed voice.

And at this Betty drew the same sheets of complex figures out from under
her pillow. "It is a hundred and fifty dollars, I can't make it any
less," she confessed. "That sounds pretty dreadful doesn't it, when you
have not a single cent to pay with, though I never thought one hundred
and fifty dollars so very much before. Of course I could save something
out of my allowance every month, but not very much, and father would not
like me to ask people to wait."

"Can't you give up something besides the Christmas present from your
mother which you were _not_ going to have?" Mollie inquired so seriously
and with such a horrified expression over the amount of her friend's
indebtedness, and such an entire disregard for the Irishness of her
speech, that both the other girls laughed in spite of their worry.
Mollie's pretty face showed no answering smiles in return, nor did she
take the least interest in the reason for their laughter. For it was not
her way to be interrupted by their perfectly idle merriment.

"But haven't you, Betty?" she repeated.

And Betty leaned her chin on her hands. "I have my piano," she replied
slowly, "but I can't sell that because then Esther would have no chance
to practice, and we could never half enjoy our Camp Fire songs without."

Both the other girls shook their heads. Giving up the piano _was_ out of
the question.

For a moment longer there was silence and then Betty's cheeks flushed
again. "I have got some things I suppose I can part with, though I rather
hate to," she confessed. "I don't know whether mother and father would
like it, but then they would not like my being in debt. In a safety box
in the bank in town I have some jewelry I never wear because mother
thinks it too handsome for a girl of my age. Father and Dick have given
it to me at different times. I suppose somebody would tell me how to
dispose of at least a part of it."

And although both Polly and Mollie at first strenuously objected to
Betty's suggestion, it was finally decided that Betty and Polly should
drive into Woodford on the following Saturday morning without saying
anything to any one else and bring the safety box back with them. Then
they could talk the matter over and find out what Betty could dispose of
with the least regret. Her ankle was now well enough for her to make the
trip in their sleigh without difficulty.



                               CHAPTER VI
                             A Black Sheep


The one month in the winter camp had made more change in Nan Graham than
the entire preceding summer, and the influence exerted by Rose Dyer in so
short a time greater than all Miss McMurtry's conscientious efforts, so
does one character often affect another, so by a strange law of nature do
extremes meet. Unconsciously Nan had always cherished just such an ideal
as Rose represented. This uncouth young girl, untrained in even the
simple things of life, with her curious mixed parentage of an Italian
peasant mother and a ne'er-do-well father, who nevertheless was of good
old New England stock, wished to be like the lovely southern girl who had
nearly every grace and charm and had had every possible social advantage.
Yet in spite of the contrast Nan did wish to be like her and though even
to herself there seemed little chance of her succeeding, did try to mold
herself after Rose's pattern. The other girls quickly noted her attempts
to soften her coarse voice, to give up the use of the ugly expressions
that had so annoyed them and even to wear her clothes and to fix her
thick black hair in a soft coil at the back of her neck as their guardian
did. But fortunately they were kind enough not to laugh nor even to let
Nan know that they were watching her. The girl had a certain beauty of
her own with her dark coloring and sometimes sullen, sometimes eager,
face. Her figure, however, was short and square, indeed she showed no
trace of her New England blood and bore no resemblance to graceful Rose.

However, as the days went by Nan was growing to be more like the other
Camp Fire girls in her manner and behavior, and was probably learning
more than any one of them, since she had had fewer opportunities before.

Miss Dyer could hardly help suspecting Nan's devotion, for although she
was still faithful to Polly as her first friend in the club, always she
was at Rose's side ready to do anything she wished, and always accepting
her suggestions in the best spirit. It was therefore the new Camp Fire
guardian who was responsible for Nan's not separating herself from her
family as the young girl would like to have done during this time of her
effort at self-improvement. For Rose knew that the whole effort of the
Camp Fire organization was to make the girls more useful, to give better
and happier service to the people they loved. Therefore, because of
Rose's advice and after a long talk with her in which Nan explained the
conditions of her own home, it was decided that the young girl should
spend every Saturday with her mother helping her with the work of the
home and the care of the children, and trying to make practical the
lessons she was learning in the Camp Fire.

These days at home were not easy ones, and the girls were accustomed to
seeing Nan come back at night tired and cross or at least dispirited. Her
mother had no interest in her efforts. She was opposed to her oldest
daughter's living away from home if she were earning no money, and had no
desire to have her house disturbed by Nan's vigorous weekly efforts at
cleaning. Indeed, except for Nan's father, she would never have been
permitted to live at the cabin, where her share of the expenses were now
being paid by Rose Dyer. He, however, had a kind of sympathy with the
girl's efforts, and a slowly awakening sense that his daughter had the
right to wish to be a lady. Though he might not actually help her, at
least no one should stand in her way. So at his command Nan had been
allowed this winter with the girls at the cabin and was also to do what
she liked without interference when she returned home on Saturdays.
Personally he liked the smell of soap and water which her visits left
about his shack and greatly enjoyed the homemade bread and the weekly
pumpkin pie which was always cooked especially for him.

But Nan's most serious opposition came not from her idle but fairly
good-natured mother but from her older brother Antonio, or Anthony as he
preferred to be called. Having been given the Italian name he was less
Italian than any other member of the family. Indeed, he was a
good-looking American boy with hazel eyes and a fair skin and, except for
his curly dark hair and a certain unconscious grace, not different in
appearance from other American boys. Yet he shared the family weaknesses
and had refused to go to school for the past two years. Indeed, he would
not work at anything for a sufficiently long enough time to make it
count, so that probably because he was a boy, and a fairly capable one if
he had been more ambitious, his present reputation was now the worst in
the family. He appeared also to resent Nan's new friendships and new
efforts with the greatest possible bitterness.

On the Saturday morning when Polly and Betty started driving toward town
on their errand, about a quarter of a mile from the cabin they came
unexpectedly upon Nan. She was trudging steadfastly along with a bundle
of clothing which Rose had given her for the younger children under her
arm, looking resolute and yet none too cheerful.

Before catching up with her the two girls sighed and then smiled at one
another. They had wanted this drive together without any one else and had
waited until Saturday morning so that Betty's pony, Fire Star, would be
free for her use and they could have the small sleigh, which had been
well mended since the accident. Fire Star and a pony belonging to Sylvia
Wharton had made the trips back and forth to school each day and a return
journey was too much for them except for some special emergency. Both the
girls had particularly wanted to discuss certain features of their Camp
Fire play without interruption, but now the sight of Nan's faithful
figure awoke their sympathy.

"For goodness' sake, squeeze into the middle along with us, Nan," Betty
invited. "How selfish you must have thought Polly and me this morning
when we were planning right before you to drive into town and never said
a word about taking you as far as your home. The fact is we both had
something so important on our minds, or at least the thing seems
important to me, so that really we forgot about you."

The girls then said nothing of their errand while they were driving along
the road, where the snow was now beaten down into a hard, firm crust. But
when they had set Nan down in front of the ram-shackle hut at the edge of
the village which served as her home, Betty leaned out remarking
confidentially: "I am sorry we can't come back for you, Nan, but I am to
get my box of jewelry from the bank and take it to our cabin so that I
feel we ought to get back as soon as we can."

There was no point in Betty's making this confession at this special time
and Polly disapproved of it. They had taken no one into their confidence
except Mollie, and, of course, their guardian. However, since Nan had
been falsely suspected of stealing her money, Betty had never failed of
showing her faith in her.

And Nan understood this as she stood for several moments watching the
pony and sleigh out of sight and hearing. Polly was wearing a crimson
felt hat with a small black quill in it and a long red coat, and Betty, a
seal-skin cap with a knot of her favorite blue velvet on one side and a
fur coat. Nan could not help feeling the contrast between their lives and
hers as she stepped later into their crowded and untidy kitchen.
Nevertheless their friendship helped her to bear the fact that her
brother Anthony, whom she loved best in her family, would not even speak
to her. Indeed the thought of the Camp Fire club sustained her through
the long and specially trying day.

A slight flurry of snow fell during the morning, so that the four younger
children would not go out of doors but kept getting under Nan's feet
while she tried to clean. Her mother objected to each thing she did and
Anthony loafing in a corner smoking cigarettes tried his best to make her
lose her temper.

At lunch Mr. Graham, who usually came home then and made things easier
for Nan, did not return, so that by the time the dishes were washed the
girl had given up the attempt to do any further cleaning and turned to
her usual Saturday baking. This was usually more appreciated by her
family. Because of a possible failure if she were too much interrupted,
Mrs. Graham then removed the younger children to another room, leaving
Nan alone with her brother.

He did not torment her any further at first, but seeing that he was
unusually moody and out of sorts his sister turned to him.

"What is it, Tony?" she inquired good-naturedly, ignoring what had passed
between them.

The boy shrugged his shoulders. "Wasn't good enough to be elected a Boy
Scout," he sneered, "seems like the fellows around here said they didn't
like my record and wanted their camps kept up to the mark. Course I don't
care anything about joining but they might have given a fellow a chance.
Give a man a black name--I say, Nan," he broke off suddenly, "couldn't
you lend me some money, say five dollars or so?"

Nan stared at him in surprise. Anthony must know that she hadn't a cent
in the world to call her own and that she was having her expenses paid by
Miss Dyer at the cabin. Of course she meant some day to repay Rose, Betty
and Polly for all they had done for her but it might take a number of
years.

"Couldn't you borrow the money from some of your rich friends?" he
demanded, irritated and ashamed at his sister's silence. And then,
unexpectedly, seeming to feel a better impulse, he came closer to the
table where Nan was now mixing her pie crust and watched her quietly for
a few moments. In a measure he realized his own right to be a gentleman,
and resented the fact that they were everywhere looked down upon, and
that Nan's efforts to better herself had to be made outside her own
family.

"There ain't no use your trying to make something of yourself, Nan," he
said more kindly than he had spoken before during the day. "This Camp
Fire business don't mean anything _real_. These girls maybe are letting
you live with them and treating you fairly well but once you're grown up,
maybe they'll say 'Howdy do' to you on the street, but they won't ever
ask you into their houses or be your friends. I bet they didn't want you
driving into town and being seen on the street with them to-day. I was
watching and saw them set you down at your own door pretty prompt."

"It wasn't because they were ashamed of me," Nan defended promptly, and
yet although she knew that what she had said was true she could not help
feeling both sore and ashamed. For the other Camp Fire girls really had
the right to feel differently toward her when her own family would do
nothing to make themselves respected and when she found it so hard to
struggle with so much against her. For an instant Nan felt as if she
might have to give up. But only for an instant, for she raised her
flushed face and her brother saw the tears standing in her large dark
eyes.

"The girls would have been perfectly willing to take me into the
village," she explained more quietly, "only they knew I had to work at
home and they were going in on an important errand to get some money or
jewelry of Betty's from the bank before it closed. They wanted to get
back to the cabin before dark or else Betty said they would have stopped
by and taken me home with them."

The moment after these words passed Nan's lips she regretted them, not
because she believed any possible harm could come of them but because she
remembered that Betty and Polly had both told her no one else had been
told of their intention and she did not wish to be the one to betray
their confidence.

"Please don't tell anybody what I have just said?" she begged
beseechingly, but already her brother was lounging away as though he had
grown tired of the confinement of the kitchen and apparently had not even
heard her. But when Nan repeated her request he returned. "Oh, certainly
I won't tell, Nan. Who on earth would I mention such a silly thing to
anyway? It seems to me you Sunrise Camp Fire girls think every little
thing you do and say of importance to all the world."



                              CHAPTER VII
                           Turning the Tables


When Anthony Graham left his home and started walking slowly through the
woods he had absolutely no definite intention of any kind in his mind. He
was bored and a little ashamed of harassing his sister. For if Anthony
had confessed the truth to himself down in his heart he was really both
glad and proud of what Nan was trying to do and had felt secretly more
ashamed of himself since she began her efforts. For the boy had a better
mind than his sister and had more inheritances from his father's family.
His idleness and weakness came more from his unfortunate environment and
from the fact that nothing had as yet awakened any ambition or better
feeling in him. He had not told Nan what he wanted with the money asked
of her, but for the past ten days had been thinking that if only he could
get away somewhere out of Woodford, where no one knew anything of him or
his family, and have a fair start, why he too might amount to something
in the future so that Nan need not be shamed by him.

He walked for half a mile or so and then sitting down on a log began to
whittle. There wasn't any use trying to clear out without money to buy
food and he did not wish to remain anywhere in the immediate
neighborhood. It had occurred to Anthony in the past week that he might
work and earn sufficient money for his escape, but having applied at
three or four places and been refused, his old shiftlessness and lack of
will power laid fresh hold on him so that he gave up the effort. Now, as
he sat at his usual occupation of killing time, he tried to banish all
thought and all desire.

He intended waiting until it was time to walk back to the Sunrise cabin
with Nan and then go into the village and find his equally idle friends.

Suddenly Polly's laugh sounded and then Betty's, as though in response to
something her companion had said. The girls were driving along the road
toward home and a little farther on would come within a dozen yards of
the spot where Anthony was seated, concealed from view of the road by the
grouping of trees.

The boy started, at first with surprise. The winter woods had seemed so
quiet and so lonely, not even a teamster had passed in all the time of
his musing. And then a curiosity seized hold on him to see his sister's
much talked of friends without being seen by them. Of course he had
probably passed both Betty and Polly on the streets of Woodford a good
many times and that morning had caught a distant glimpse of them from the
window, but he did not know one girl from the other, and from his
sister's description he might now be able to tell. Betty was the
beautiful one, and Polly, well Nan no more than other people had ever
been able to decide whether Polly was beautiful or whether she was so
fascinating that you had to think so while she was talking to you. When
she was quiet her face was apt to be pale and a little too thin.

Anthony found a hiding place behind a tree bordering the road, until the
sound of the sleigh bells came nearer and nearer, and Fire Star made her
appearance. Then an impulse stronger and more dangerous than curiosity
swept over him. For the first time since leaving his sister in the
kitchen he remembered Nan's information. The two girls would be carrying
back to their cabin a box containing Betty's jewelry. How easy to
frighten them and make them surrender the box. Then he could get away
from this neighborhood he hated and have a chance at a new life. He would
do the girls no harm and only take enough money to cover his actual
needs. The rest Betty could have back again. Anthony did not believe that
either Betty or Polly knew him on sight. Nevertheless, though he had
little time for reflection, with a quick movement he pulled his ragged
cap down well over his forehead and eyes, turned up his coat collar and
stooping picked up from the ground a heavy stick which was almost a log
in size.

An instant later Fire Star's bridle was seized with an ugly jerk and the
pony brought to a standstill.

As Betty was driving, the tin box was being held in Polly's lap so that
the highwayman's first words were addressed to her.

"Turn over that box to me," he demanded, trying to make his voice sound
older and more threatening than usual.

However, both girls were so entirely overcome by amazement at the
unexpected appearance of a robber in their peaceful New Hampshire woods,
that for a moment they could only stare. The next instant Polly with a
quick flare of her Irish temper, leaned over and seizing hold of Betty's
almost toy whip, slashed it in the face of the intruder. "Get out of the
way," she cried angrily. "I am sure you can't know what you are doing."

But almost in the same instant the whip was torn out of her hand and
dropped on the ground. When Betty attempted to rush Fire Star forward the
pony's bridle was caught the second time.

"If you don't do what I say I'll break your pony's back with this stick,"
the boy muttered, and at this Betty winced, making no further effort to
drive on. Fire Star had been her pony since she was a small girl and the
stick the young fellow held was large enough to do her serious hurt, also
his manner was sufficiently ugly to indicate that he meant what he said.

Polly was by this time so angry that she could scarcely think, but,
fortunately, Betty, after the first moment of surprise and natural fear,
had held herself well in hand.

Now she looked so steadfastly at the figure at her pony's head that the
young man turned his face away.

"You are Nan Graham's brother," Betty remarked quietly, "and I hope poor
Nan may never hear what you are trying to do. You may not believe I have
ever seen you before, but I have. Then as we have told only Nan the
reason for our errand to town only she could have told you. I am quite
sure though that she did not mean to betray us."

Betty said this so loyally and in such an unafraid, yet accusing voice,
that Anthony Graham wished himself ten thousand miles from the place
where he stood and as many leagues from the deed he was doing. However,
since he had already disgraced both his sister and himself there was all
the more reason why he should go through with this cowardly business and
get himself away if he possibly could.

"No matter who I am, you will hand that box over just the same and be
quick about it," he commanded with another threatening wave of his stick.

"We will do no such thing but will have you arrested as a thief," Polly
announced defiantly, wishing with all her heart, in spite of her Camp
Fire training, that the despised Billy Webster might appear at this
moment driving one of his father's wagons either to or away from town. At
other times she might look down upon Billy for having only a farmer's
ideals, just now, however, the splendid strength that his outdoor life
must have given him would have been peculiarly desirable.

However, to Polly's surprise and chagrin, Betty, whom she had always
considered braver than herself, showed signs of weakening.

"I will give you the key to my box if you will let me have some papers
that are inside it which can be of no value to you."

Betty said this with a nervous laugh, her face suddenly turning pale when
it had formerly been flushed. Then she set her lips to keep them from
trembling. Without waiting for an answer she afterwards leaned forward
and began searching under the carriage rug on the bottom of her sleigh
for the purse bag in which Polly remembered the key to have been
concealed.

Anthony might at this instant have seized the tin box from Polly and been
off with it before Betty could have driven Fire Star on. But he was
willing enough to have the key to Betty's box and even to leave her
papers behind some tree if she so much desired them. He had never meant
to take all her foolish trinkets which were of no value to any one except
a girl. So for a brief moment Anthony did not look toward either Betty or
Polly but kept his eyes fastened on the pony's head. In that same moment,
hearing a sudden whirr through the air, before he was able to move the
boy found himself securely caught by a rope and his arms drawn tight to
his sides so that his stick dropped with a clatter on the frozen ground.
While Betty Ashton with another rapid movement wound the other end of her
rope about the cross bar of her sleigh catching it with a clove hitch and
then, with a little gasp of astonishment at her own prowess, dropped back
into her seat, only faintly hearing Polly's cry of delighted amazement.

Not for nothing had Betty Ashton been learning to acquire honors in camp
craft for the past six months, practicing different kinds of knot tying
with the other girls in friendly rivalry hour after hour. In the bottom
of her sleigh along with the purse bag which really did contain her key,
Betty had remembered that they had fifty feet of new clothes line being
taken back to the cabin. In the moment of fumbling under the rug she had
quickly tied the much practiced slip noose and then had thrown it with
better skill than she could ever repeat.

Polly gave a characteristic laugh to relieve the tension of the
situation. "We have caught the enemy and he is ours now, Betty, dear, but
whatever are we going to do with him?"

But Betty had gathered up her reins and was quietly urging Fire Star
ahead.

So there was nothing for their prisoner to do but to run along by the
side of the sleigh. By superior strength the young man could have jerked
away from Betty's and Polly's hold, but not from the sleigh itself. Now
the more he pulled on the clothes line the tighter it bound him. Besides
it was difficult to do even this when all his strength was required
keeping up with the pony's rapid gait.

"I have often wondered how it would feel to be a conqueror driving
through the streets of Rome with one's prisoners lashed to their chariot
wheels and this is deliciously like it," Polly sighed before her
companion had once spoken, enjoying with all her vivid imagination the
retribution that had overtaken the evildoer.

But Betty's expression was strangely grave and every now and then she
kept glancing aside at the figure running along beside them. For, except
for a first oath and a few violent threats, the young man seemed to own
himself beaten and had since said nothing. There was a horrible droop
instead to his head and shoulders, and indeed to his whole figure, and he
looked so ashamed that it made Betty sick to look at him, Polly did not
seem to have noticed but Betty felt that she had never seen just such an
expression before.

"Polly," she whispered softly, "do you think we ought to drive up to the
cabin taking this fellow with us like this? Of course we can turn around
and go back to town and even drive up to the jail with him but that is
just as bad. After all, he is poor little Nan's brother, and if we do the
child can never hold up her head again! I keep imagining how I should
feel if I were to be taken prisoner and carried before a lot of strange
boys to act as my judges." Then Betty shuddered as though her vision were
real, but Polly only laughed so scornfully that the boy, overhearing her,
cringed.

"It is an absurd supposition, Betty, and I can't well imagine your
putting yourself in this dreadful fellow's place. You can hardly expect
me to conceive of you, even in these advanced female days, suddenly
stopping a number of young men and demanding their pocketbooks."

Notwithstanding Betty appeared deaf to her beloved Polly's teasing, for
instead of answering she slowed her pony down.

"Don't you think we owe anything to Nan as a member of our Camp Fire
circle?" she asked. "It seems to me that allegiance is one of the first
things boys learn and it is because we girls don't feel it toward one
another that women have the harder time."

Instantly Polly sobered. "That is true, Princess," she agreed, "and I am
desperately sorry for Nan and would spare her if we could, but do you
think it right to let an intended thief go free? Besides, if we do cut
him loose how do we know he will not seize your box away from us?"

"Because I should drive up almost to the Webster farm, where we could be
heard if we called for help before letting him go. And anyhow even if we
don't let him go free I should like to talk to him."

Polly shook her head. "Don't try reformation at the eleventh hour, I
don't believe in it," she declared.

Notwithstanding this Betty drove on until within hailing distance of the
Webster farm house and then, without asking further advice from Polly,
calmly brought her pony to a standstill.

The young fellow made no effort to come nearer the sleigh or even to tear
himself away, but kept gazing in astonishment at Betty as she dismounted
and walked fearlessly up to him.

"What made you want to take my jewelry, Anthony?" she inquired. "I know
your name because I have heard Nan speak so often of you. I wonder if you
have ever tried to steal anything before?" She said this apparently to
herself since the boy did not seem inclined to answer. And then Betty
shook her lovely head softly. "I wonder what it feels like to want to
steal?" she questioned. "It must be some very dreadful reason that tempts
one. You see I have never been poor myself or known what it was to want
terribly anything I could not have." And then very swiftly and without
allowing time for Polly to stop her, Betty drew out her Camp Fire knife
and cut the rope that bound the young fellow's arms to his sides. "I
don't know whether it is right or wrong for me to do this," she
confessed, "but for Nan's sake I cannot bear to hold you a prisoner."

Then both to her surprise and Polly's, Anthony made no movement and at
the same instant the girls to their embarrassment saw that he was crying.
Not weeping like some girls to whom tears come easily, but shaken by dry
painful sobs, as though his shame and self-abasement were too great to be
borne.

"It was for Nan's sake that I wanted to get away," he confessed finally,
pulling himself together by a tremendous effort. "I thought maybe if I
could get a chance like she is having, somewhere away from here where no
one knew me, that I might be able to do something for myself. It was
nearly killing me thinking I had ruined everything for her."

"So you were intending to steal in order to begin leading a better life,"
Betty repeated thoughtfully, and the young man flashed an angry look at
her. But she was not trying to be sarcastic and the expression on her
face at that moment he never afterwards forgot.

"I should hate you to stop trying to make things right for yourself and
Nan because you began the wrong way," she continued after a little
thoughtful pause. Then with a blush and an humble look very
characteristic of Betty when wishing to be allowed to do another person a
favor, she picked up her purse bag from the bottom of the sleigh and
slipping her hand in it drew out a crumpled bill.

"Won't you let me lend you the money for your chance?" she asked, as
though speaking to a friend and utterly ignoring the ugly scene that had
just passed. "I haven't much money with me, so you must not mind. You can
pay it back to me when you get to the new place and have good luck."

And then, before the dazed boy had time to understand what she was trying
to do, Betty had thrust ten dollars into his partially clenched hand and
jumping back into her sleigh had driven rapidly away. Fire Star was
rather bored with so much unnecessary delay on his journey home and
wanted to get back to shelter.

A little later Billy Webster, who had been cutting down trees in a
portion of his father's woods, took off his fur cap to wave to the girls
just as Polly in her dramatic fashion dropped down on one knee in their
sleigh attempting to kiss Betty's hand.

"Betty dear, if ever I saw you do a Princess-like act in a Princess-like
fashion it was when you gave that abominable boy that money," she said
admiringly. "It is my opinion that either he is absolutely no good or
else he will reform from this moment and be your faithful knight to the
end of the chapter."

But Betty only smiled a little uncertainly. "Perhaps it wasn't honest of
me, Polly, to be giving away money when I owe so much to other people."
And then, touching the tin box in her friend's lap, she said half joking
and half serious, "but since I am having to give up my kingdom I am glad
to be able to help some one else to come into theirs."



                              CHAPTER VIII
                             Possibilities


"'Rose of the World,' my fate is to be decided on this coming Christmas
night." Polly O'Neill made this surprising statement on the same evening
following the adventure that had befallen her and Betty earlier in the
afternoon. The seven girls were sitting in a crescent upon sofa pillows
before their living-room fire with Rose on a low stool in the center.
Although it was now nearly bedtime no mention had been made of the cause
of the two girls' trip into town nor of their unusual experience. Nan had
come home uncommonly tired and silent, and ever since supper time had
been curled up on the floor using her pillow as a kind of bed and almost
half asleep.

But at Polly's extravagant words she sat up and looked at her curiously
and so did all the other girls except Betty, who only smiled
sympathetically, nodding her head reassuringly at Mollie, who seemed a
little puzzled and a little annoyed.

"I don't see why it is going to be your fate that is to be decided any
more than Betty's or any of the rest of us, Polly." Mollie answered
before their guardian could speak. "Just because you are going to have
the chief part in our play when the rest of us just have less important
parts."

But Polly, who was in one of her wildest moods to-night, flung her arms
unexpectedly about her sister, almost overturning her by her ardor.

"You don't know what you are talking about, Mollie Mavourneen, because
you haven't heard my news, since I only learned it to-day in town. It
can't affect Betty or you or any of the other girls as it does me,
because you haven't been yearning ever since you were born to go on the
stage as I have until the very thought of the footlights and the smell of
the theater makes me hungry and dizzy and frightened and so happy!"

"You haven't been in the theater a dozen times in your life, Polly
O'Neill," Mollie returned, looking even more serious than before
remembering her mother's opposition and her own to Polly's theatrical
ambition, "and you know nothing in the world about what the life means."

"Well, I will know pretty soon, Mollie. You see I am sixteen now, almost
seventeen. I will be through school in another year--and then--why if I
have any talent mother must be persuaded to let me study and see what I
can do. And thereby hangs my tale!"

Two vivid spots of color were burning on Polly's high cheek bones, her
eyes were shining as though she saw only the joys of the career she hoped
to choose for herself and none of its hardships, and she had to hold her
thin nervous hands tight together to try to control her excitement.

"Don't tell, please, Betty, I am waiting to get more breath," Polly
pleaded, and Betty nodded reassuringly. Not for worlds would she have
stolen this particular clap of thunder from her friend, and it was rather
a habit with Polly not to be able to breathe very deeply when she was
much agitated.

"When Betty and I drove into town this morning," she said in the next
instant, "you know we stopped by Miss Adams' to go over our Christmas
rehearsals with her." (Miss Adams was the teacher of elocution at the
Woodford High School and greatly interested in Polly.) "Well, when we had
finished and she had told Betty of half a dozen mistakes she was making
and me of something less than a hundred, she said slowly but with a kind
of peculiar expression all the time, 'Girls, I wonder if you will be
willing for me to bring a guest to your Christmas Camp Fire play?' Betty
answered, 'Yes' very politely, though you know we have asked more people
already than we will ever have room for, but as I was mumbling over some
lines of a speech I didn't say anything. Then Miss Adams looked straight
at me and said slowly just like this: 'I am very glad indeed, Polly, for
your sake, You remember that I have often spoken to you of a cousin of
mine (we were like sisters when we were little girls) who is now one of
the most famous, if not the very most famous, actress in this country. We
write each other constantly and several times I have spoken to her about
you. This very morning I had a letter from her saying she was tired and
as she was to have a week's holiday at Christmas might she come down and
spend it with me if I would promise not to let anybody know who she was
nor make her see any company.' My heart had been pounding just like
this," Polly continued, making an uneven, quick movement with her hand,
"but when Miss Adams ended in this cruel fashion it must have stopped,
because I remember I couldn't speak and felt myself turn pale. And then
my beloved Betty saved me! She answered in just a little bit frightened
voice. 'But you think, Miss Adams, that you may be able to persuade your
cousin to come to our play, if we don't talk about it or let other people
worry her, and then she can tell whether Polly has any real talent for
the stage or whether we think so just because she wishes us to.'"

At the end of this long speech Polly may have lost her breath. Anyhow,
she became frightened and stopped talking, staring instead into the open
fire.

"It will be a great trial for the rest of us to have the great Miss
Margaret Adams watching us act our poor little Camp Fire play," Betty
continued, "but I am sure we must all be glad to have her for Polly's
sake."

After this there was silence for a moment, so that the noise of the old
clock ticking above the mantel could be distinctly heard.

Then the new guardian shook her head. "I am sorry, Polly, but I am afraid
that having Miss Adams talk to you about your future, whether she
encourages you or not, will not be right without your mother's consent."
Rose knew Mrs. O'Neill very well and understood how she dreaded the life
of the stage for Polly's emotional and none too well-balanced
temperament. Polly's fashion of living on her nerves rather than on any
reserve of physical strength would be a serious drawback. For a moment
the older woman wished that she might be able to accede to this Christmas
experiment and that the great actress might be wise enough to recognize
Polly's unfitness for acting and persuade her to dismiss the entire idea
from her mind.

"Of course I will have to get mother's consent," Polly agreed more
quietly than any one had expected, "but I think when I write and tell her
exactly how I feel she will do as I ask."

It was now ten o'clock and Nan Graham rose first to make ready for bed.
She was followed by Eleanor and Sylvia, as it was already an hour past
their usual week-day bedtime, but Betty laid her hand quietly on Rose's
arm. "Please don't go to your room yet," she whispered, "I have something
I want to talk to you about. It won't matter if only Polly and Mollie
stay with us." She glanced expectantly at Esther, supposing of course
that she would retire with the other girls, but instead Esther was
sitting with her big, awkward hands clasped before her and such an
utterly miserable expression on her plain face that Betty forgot her own
problem and intended sacrifice.

"What on earth is the matter with you, Esther Clark?" she demanded a
little indignantly. "Half an hour ago you looked as you usually do, and I
am sure I have heard no one since say anything to hurt your feelings.
Why, please, should you now look as if you had lost your last friend on
earth?"

Esther laughed nervously. "Please don't be angry, Betty, or Miss Dyer, or
Polly, and don't think I mean to be hateful or unaccommodating, but
really I don't think I can sing on the evening of our Christmas
entertainment. I have been trying to make up my mind to tell you for days
and days, that I know I shall simply break down and disgrace us all."

"And since you heard that we were to have a famous woman as a member of
our audience you are more sure than ever that you won't be able to sing?"
Polly questioned. Esther nodded silently, while Polly's eyes gazed past
her as though they were trying to solve some puzzle.

"It is odd, isn't it," she continued, speaking to all or to none of the
little company. "Here I am with just a slight talent for acting, and
perhaps not even that, dreaming and longing to have this Miss Adams'
criticism, even though I may break down when the time comes, and here is
Esther with a really great gift liking to hide her light under a bushel.
Oh me, oh my, and it's a queer world, isn't it?"

"Yes, but Esther isn't going to hide her light this time, it's too silly
of her," Betty rejoined. "She has that perfectly wonderful song that Dick
got for her last summer and has been practicing it for months. Besides we
have asked our funny old German, who rescued us in the storm, to play
Esther's accompaniment on his violin. He has practiced with her in town
and is enraptured. Says Esther sings like a 'liebe angel.'"

Esther rose slowly to her feet. "Of course if you really wish me to,
Betty, with all you have done for me----"

But Betty gave her an affectionate push toward the bedroom door.

"Oh, go to bed, Esther, what I have done for you has nothing to do with
your singing and certainly gives me no right to try to run you. It is
only that I don't mean you to take a back seat all your life if I can
possibly shove you forward."

At any other time Esther might have felt wounded at Betty's so evidently
wishing to get rid of her and have her older friends stay behind (for
Esther had that rather trying sensitiveness that belongs to some shy
people and makes them difficult), but with Christmas near at hand secrets
were too much a part of Camp Fire life to be regarded seriously, so that
Esther straightway left the O'Neill girls, Betty and Rose, to themselves.

Then Betty went immediately over to a closet and brought out the locked
tin box. As she opened it she explained her plan to Rose, who said
nothing at first, merely leaning a little curiously over one of Betty's
shoulders watching her take out her pretty ornaments, while Mollie and
Polly stood guard on the other side.

Betty of course had the usual discarded childish trinkets--a string of
amber beads, pins and a small ring--but these she put hastily aside as of
no value, and then with a little sigh of admiration and regret drew forth
a really beautiful possession, a sapphire necklace with tiny diamonds set
between the blue stones, which Betty loved and had chosen for her special
jewel.

"I expect this is worth the amount of my debt," Betty suggested huskily.
Her father had given her the necklace the last summer they were in Europe
together.

But Rose Dyer shook her head decisively. "Not that, Betty; indeed I have
not yet made up my mind whether you ought to be allowed to part with any
of your jewelry, at least before you ask your brother Dick."

Next the girls considered Betty's blue enamel watch which her brother had
given her on her last birthday and a small diamond ring. She had just
about decided that she preferred to part with the ring when Polly
exclaimed thoughtlessly, "Are those the papers you were so unwilling to
give up this afternoon, Princess?"

At this Betty nodded, frowning slightly. They had decided not to make any
mention of the afternoon's experience in order that Nan should never hear
about it.

"There is some mystery or other about these papers," she explained,
picking up a large envelope with an official seal on the outside. "Father
asked me to take good care of this envelope all my life and never to open
it unless there was some very special cause. As he never told me what the
reason should be I suppose I will keep it sealed forever." Then Betty
with a little cry of delight dropped the envelope inside the box picking
up another paper instead, which had a gold seal and two strings of blue
ribbon pasted upon it.

"What a forgetful person I am!" she exclaimed in a relieved voice. "Why
here is a two hundred dollar bond which honestly belongs to me, since
once upon a time I actually saved the money for a whole year to buy it.
It will pay all I owe without any bother."

And Betty tucking her precious box under her arm, straightway the little
company made ready for bed.



                               CHAPTER IX
                       Christmas Eve at the Cabin


"I am so sorry, I never dreamed things would turn out like this," said
Sylvia Wharton awkwardly, trying to control a suggestion of tears. She
was standing in the center of the Sunrise cabin living room with one hand
clasping Rose Dyer's skirt and the other holding on to Polly. However, if
she had had half a dozen hands she would like to have grasped as many
girls, for her hour of reckoning had come. Instead, her eyes mutely
implored Mollie and Betty who happened to be hurrying by at the same
moment and had been arrested by the apologetic and frightened note so
unusual in Sylvia's voice. And this note had to be very much emphasized
at the present time to have any one pay the least attention to it, since
there were enough Christmas preparations now going on in the Camp Fire
living room to have sufficed a small village.

On a raised platform, which occupied about a third of their entire floor
space, Miss Martha McMurtry was rehearsing the two Field girls, Juliet
and Beatrice, who had only arrived the night before, in the parts they
were to play in the Christmas entertainment the following night. While
Meg, holding "Little Brother" tight by the belt, was trying to persuade
him to await more patiently his time for instruction. Toward the front of
this stage, John, Billy Webster and Dick Ashton were struggling to adjust
a curtain made of heavy khaki. It had a central design, the crossed logs
and a splendid aspiring fire, the well-known Camp Fire emblem, painted by
Eleanor Meade, who was at this moment making suggestions to the curtain
raisers from the top of a step-ladder. Nan Graham and Edith Norton ran
about the room meanwhile, carrying holly wreaths, bunches of mistletoe
and garlands of cedar, that several of their Boy Scout friends were
helping festoon along the walls. Indeed, every girl in the Sunrise Camp
Fire was represented except Esther. She had gone over to the old orphan
asylum where she had lived as a child, for a final rehearsal of her song
with the German Herr Professor, who was staying with the superintendent
of the asylum. For what reason he was there no one knew except that he
must have intended getting music pupils in the village later on.

However, in the midst of the prevailing noise the little group about
Sylvia had remained silent, for their guardian's face was flushing
strangely, her yellow-brown eyes darkening and for the first time since
she came into the Sunrise Club it was possible to see how Rose Dyer felt
when she was truly angry. Although her voice never lost its softness
there was a severity in it that the girls felt to be rather worse than
Miss McMurtry's in her moods of disapproval.

"Do you mean, Sylvia," Rose asked, "that you and Dr. Barton have arranged
to have a young girl whom none of us know brought to our cabin to be
taken care of all winter, without consulting me or even mentioning the
subject to a single one of the girls? And that this child, who has been
so ill she will require a great deal of care, is actually to arrive this
afternoon? It seems to me that not only have you broken every principle
of our Camp Fire life but you have been lacking in the very simplest
courtesy."

Never in her life would Sylvia Wharton be able to explain herself or her
motives properly in words. She was one of the often misunderstood people
to whom expression comes with difficulty. Now her plain face was nearly
purple with embarrassment. "I didn't mean to be rude; yes, I know it
looks horrid and impossible of me, but you see I meant to explain and to
ask permission, only I didn't dream that she would arrive for another
week, and I was just waiting until our festivities would be over and you
would be better able to be interested." She looked rather desperately at
Betty, Polly and Mollie before going on, but they appeared almost as
overwhelmed as their guardian.

"You see, Betty, it was something you said a while ago that made me think
of it first," she continued. "You said to Miss Dyer one evening that you
thought we Sunrise Camp Fire girls were getting rather selfish, that we
were not letting strangers into our club or doing anything for outside
people. So I thought as Christmas was coming I would like to help
somebody. Perhaps we all would! So when Dr. Barton told me about a poor
little girl (she is only thirteen, I think) who was ill, probably dying,
and if only she could have an outdoor life such as we girls are living
she might get well, why, I told him I thought we would like to have her
in our camp."

Sylvia stopped because her words had given out, but she could hardly have
chosen a wiser moment, for Mollie, whose gentleness and good judgment
everybody respected, was beginning to understand.

"I think Sylvia is trying to show the Christmas spirit of doing good to
the people who need it and letting us help," she whispered, coming closer
to their guardian and slipping an arm about her waist. "Perhaps our
Christmas preparations have been a little bit too much for ourselves. Of
course Sylvia ought to have asked permission, Rose, and of course the
little girl is not to stay if you don't want her, but she didn't expect
her for another week and--and please don't be angry on Christmas eve."

This was exactly what poor Sylvia would like to have said without knowing
how; however it did not matter who spoke, as Rose was plainly softening.

"But it is Dr. Barton's part I don't understand, Sylvia; he is older, a
great deal older, than you, he must have understood that you had not the
right to make such a proposition without consulting me or any one," Rose
declared thoughtfully.

"He did," Sylvia now answered more confidently, feeling the atmosphere a
bit more friendly. "He said at the beginning that the idea was quite
impossible, that Miss Dyer would never be willing to undertake a
responsibility of such a character, that he was surprised she had stayed
with our Camp Fire club so long. It was only when I promised to try and
save you all the trouble possible that he consented, Miss Dyer. You see
Abbie is the daughter of a landlady Dr. Barton once had when he was a
student in Boston, and so he is much interested in her, only he is too
poor to pay her board and hasn't anybody to look after her at his little
place; and you mustn't think it is just goodness on my part, wanting this
girl at our cabin. You see I do care about learning to look after sick
people more than anything else and I do want to know if our way of living
really helps."

"So Dr. Barton thought I would not wish to help in the care of a sick
child, that I was only playing at being a real Camp Fire guardian," Rose
Dyer repeated slowly and then, without adding another word, somehow she
seemed to drift away. However, there were a dozen voices calling for her
advice and aid at this same instant, which may have explained her failure
to let Sylvia and the other girls know her possible decision.

The three older friends exchanged looks and then Polly patted the
crestfallen Sylvia on the shoulder. "Never mind, dear, some of us possess
all the virtues except the trifling one of tact. If your little girl
comes we can't very well turn her out on Christmas eve, so you had better
say nothing more until Rose has thought things over and we have had a
meeting of our Council Fire."

Then the girls hurried off to what was about the busiest day in their
careers, with little further thought of Sylvia's protégé; Polly to a
quiet rehearsal with her elocution teacher of her part in the Christmas
play, Mollie and Betty to assist with the final details of certain
costumes, and Sylvia, who was never of a great deal of service in
frivolities, to apply her scientific interest toward helping with the
cooking.

However, by six o'clock all the Sunrise Camp Fire friends and assistants
had gone back to the village and by seven supper was over and cleared
away so that the girls might have a quiet evening and go early to bed in
order to be rested for the next day. Esther had only gotten home a few
minutes before tea time, but in the excitement no one had missed her, nor
did she seem much more tired than the rest of the girls from the strain
of her last rehearsal. Nevertheless, Miss McMurtry, who had always a
special affection for Esther, did see that she was even paler than usual
and persuaded her to sit close to her when the girls grouped themselves
about their great Christmas eve fire for an hour of Christmas story
telling before separating for the night.

And it was while their old guardian held everybody's attention that Rose
managed to slip quietly away. She was not a child, she was not even a
young girl any longer, and yet she went straight to the refuge of her
babyhood--to Mammy--who had a tiny room of her own just off the kitchen.
To-night there was a younger colored girl in the kitchen who had come out
from Woodford to help over Christmas day, but as Rose passed their pantry
she saw that Mammy had forgotten her seventy years and intended giving
the New England girls a taste of an old-fashioned Southern Christmas. For
along with the beautiful pies and doughnuts, which the Camp Fire girls
had made, there were great dishes of sugar-powdered crullers, a black
cake as big as a cart wheel and half a dozen deliciously fried chickens
to vie with the turkey which had not yet been cooked.

Down on a stool at the old colored woman's feet Rose let Mammy brush out
her yellow-brown hair as she had done ever since she could remember. She
was tired to-night; she had done more work in the past month than in all
the years of her life and she loved it and was very happy and was only
hoping to grow more capable and more worthy every day. Yet it was hard to
have a narrow-minded New England doctor who had been a friend of her
uncle's criticizing her to one of her own girls and failing to show faith
in her or her work. Just because he was a recluse and spent his time in
looking after the sick poor was no reason for being so severe and
puritanical in his judgments.

Rose was not listening to Mammy's low crooning else her ears would not
have been the first to catch the sound of a horse and buggy approaching
their cabin door. If the girls had forgotten the prospect of a newcomer
to their Camp Fire circle their guardian had not, so now, hastily tucking
up her hair without waiting for a wrap, Rose hurried out into the
darkness. It was a cold clear night with many stars, but it was hardly
necessary for her actually to behold the shabby buggy before recognizing
it.

However, the young doctor did not at first see her, for he stopped and
hitched his horse and then lifted out what appeared to be a soft bundle
of rugs. "Don't be frightened, dear," he whispered in a voice of unusual
gentleness. "She--they will be very kind to you, I am sure, even if they
can't keep you very long. I am sorry I didn't understand that things
weren't exactly settled and that we made such a mistake about the time,
but--why, Rose, Miss Dyer," he corrected himself hastily, "it is good of
you to come out to meet us, I am sorry to be putting this additional
burden upon you." And then his manner changed to a doctor's severity.
"Please go into the house at once, you haven't any wrap and on such a
cold night as this! Really I don't see how you are able to look after
girls when you don't look after yourself."

But Mammy appeared at this moment wrapping her charge in a long
rose-colored broadcloth cape, and Rose's manner was unexpectedly humble.
"I wouldn't have forgotten if it had been one of my girls," she
apologized, and then more coldly, "Won't you come into the house?"

She had so far caught but an indefinite glimpse of the young girl in Dr.
Barton's charge and was steeling her heart against her until she had had
time to think of whether it was best for the other Camp Fire girls to
bring this sick child into their midst. For she did look such a baby
standing there in the snow with an old-fashioned knitted blue woolen hood
on her head, such as little girls had not worn for almost twenty years.
And then, suddenly, the girl began to cry quite helplessly and pitifully,
so that Rose forgot every other consideration and put her arms about her
as you would comfort a baby, drawing her toward the cabin and into the
kitchen that she might be warmed and comforted by Mammy before being
presented to a dozen strange older girls all at once.

The young doctor did not follow them, indeed Rose had not invited him in
again. But a few moments later she must have remembered his existence,
for she came out for the second time into the cold.

Dr. Barton extended his hand, but apparently Rose did not see it, for she
kept her own arms by her sides, saying in somewhat the same manner she
had used earlier in the day to Sylvia: "I am sorry, Dr. Barton, you do
not think I can be interested in the care of a sick little girl, and that
you feel me unworthy to be a Camp Fire guardian. I know that I haven't
all the knowledge and character that is necessary, but I am learning,
and----"

Rose would not listen to the young man's explanation or apology, for with
a quick good-night she turned and left him endeavoring to say something
to her which evidently she did not care to hear.



                               CHAPTER X
                           Esther's Old Home


However, of all the Sunrise Camp Fire club it was Esther Clark who
actually had the strangest Christmas eve experience. Betty had rather
opposed her going over to the orphan asylum for a last rehearsal of her
song with Herr Crippen. It was not really necessary, for Esther knew her
song as well as she ever would be able to learn it and could only fail in
her singing of it on Christmas night should her audience happen to
frighten her voice away. Nevertheless, Esther had a kind of sentiment in
seeing her old friends at the asylum on Christmas eve, since this was the
first year that she could remember when her Christmas had not been spent
with them, and there would be no opportunity for visiting the next day.

For some reason or other, which Esther had never had satisfactorily
explained to her, she had been kept longer at the orphan asylum than any
of the other children. Indeed she was sixteen, almost seventeen, in the
spring before when Mrs. Ashton had persuaded the superintendent to let
her try the experiment of having Esther as her daughter Betty's
companion. Ordinarily the children were sent away to live and work in
other people's homes when they were thirteen or fourteen; many of them
were adopted by the farmers in the surrounding neighborhood when they
were almost babies, so that Esther naturally felt her obligation to be
the deeper. Notwithstanding she was not thinking a great deal about her
former lonely life at the asylum, nor even of the queer German
violinist's interest in her voice, as she drove Fire Star over the now
familiar road. Both her mind and heart were heavy with the news Dick
Ashton had been able to whisper to her in a few hurried moments when they
had been alone in the cabin that morning soon after Dick's arrival. Mr.
Ashton had lost not merely a small sum of money which might cause him
temporary inconvenience, as Betty imagined. He had had such serious
losses that Dick's mother had written begging him and Betty to cut down
their living expenses as closely as possible. And some one had to tell
Betty. Dick was not a coward; in making his confidence he simply wondered
if Esther would not be able to console his sister afterwards and to
explain conditions to her better than he could, because Betty never had
seemed able to understand any question of money matters however much she
seemed to try. The actual facts he himself would tell her as soon as the
holiday season had passed.

There was one way in which Betty could save money, Esther decided. She
should no longer pay for her singing lessons. Indeed she would ask the
German violinist that morning if there were not some way by which she
could help him, by playing his accompaniments, perhaps, if he succeeded
in getting up a violin class in Woodford. Anyhow she would earn the money
for her own lessons in some way, for, unselfish as Esther was, her music
lessons meant too much to her, were too important to her future, even to
think of giving them up altogether.

The professor was waiting for her in the big, bare, ugly parlor of the
asylum which, however, possessed the glory of a not utterly impossible
piano. Nevertheless, Esther only waved her hand to him as she passed the
door on the way to her older friends. She was thinking that he looked
older, poorer and homelier than ever with his red hair, his spectacled,
pale blue eyes and his worn clothes. He had a little sprig of holly in
his buttonhole, in a determined German effort to be a part of the
prevailing Christmas cheerfulness.

Then, half an hour later, Esther sang her song straight through without
hesitation or a single mistake to the elderly German's way of thinking.
For when she had finished he looked at her speechless for a moment, and
then taking off his spectacles wiped away a kind of mist from his
glasses. "Ach, my dear young Fräulein, you haf the great thing I hoped
for through all my youth and then gave up when the years found me--an
almost big violinist--das Talent! Was ist es in English, genius, nicht
wahr?" And then, with Esther blushing until the burning in her throat and
cheeks was almost painful, and twisting her big hands together in the
ungainly fashion Betty had almost broken her of, he went on, seemingly
unconscious of her presence. "I am that thing you call a failure, but I
used to dream I might haf a child who some day would go farther than I
was able and then when I had to gif up this also--Ach, Himmel!"

To Esther's great embarrassment Herr Crippen then began sobbing in a most
un-American fashion. "It was my own fault. I should never haf gone away,
I----"

But whatever else he may have poured forth in his present state of
emotion was heard only by the four walls of the room, for Esther, in
utter consternation, slipped out, hurrying toward the small study in the
rear of the house where she knew she would find her old friend, the
superintendent, at work. She told him rather shyly of her unceremonious
leave taking, asking him to make her apologies to Herr Crippen and to beg
him to come early to their Christmas entertainment the next night. Then,
when she had put out her hand for farewell, quite unexpectedly the
superintendent asked her to sit down again, saying that he would like to
tell her Herr Crippen's story and the reason he had come into their
neighborhood, since possibly she might be able to assist him.

Afterwards for more than an hour Esther listened to a most surprising
narrative and later on drove back to Sunrise cabin puzzled, thoughtful
and just the least shade frightened and unhappy. However, she made up her
mind not to let anything trouble her until after their wonderful
Christmas had passed.



                               CHAPTER XI
                                 Gifts


  "Oh come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant;
  Oh come ye, oh come ye to Bethlehem;
  Come and behold Him born the King of angels;
  Oh come, let us adore Him,
  Oh come, let us adore Him,
  Oh come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord."

Esther sang the first few lines of the beautiful Christmas hymn in a low
voice but with gathering strength until when she had reached the refrain
Sunrise cabin was filled with melody.

She had awakened before any one else on this Christmas morning and after
thinking over more quietly the events of yesterday, had slipped into her
clothes and then stolen into the living room hoping that her hymn might
be the first sound that her friends should hear.

It was a perfect winter day. From the window Esther could see the
snow-crowned peak of Sunrise Hill from which the dawn colors were now
slowly fading and beyond a long line of the crystal hills. Wherever the
Sunrise Camp Fire girls should go in after years, to whatever places
their destinies should call them, the scene surrounding their camp could
never be forgotten, nor could there be found many places in the world
more beautiful.

Of course Esther had until now seen nothing beyond the New Hampshire
hills and so this morning, with a little only half-defined fear tugging
at her heart, she gazed at the landscape until the eternal peace of the
mountains rested and soothed her. Then, turning away, she went first to
building up their great log fire until its flames roared up the chimney
and then to the singing of her song.

By and by, with a blue dressing gown wrapped about her, Betty came into
the room, and stood resting an elbow on the piano. Polly and Mollie
followed, and soon after Meg and Eleanor with Miss McMurtry between them,
until finally every member of the Sunrise club had gathered in the room,
including the little probation girl who entered last holding tight to
Rose's hand. She looked like a pale little Christmas angel with her big
blue eyes set in a colorless face and her soft rings of light yellow
hair, which had been cut close on account of recent fever, curling like a
fringe about her high forehead. When Esther came to the last verse of her
hymn, there were many other voices to join in with hers, and somehow all
their eyes turned instinctively toward the great pine tree which stood
undecorated upon the farthest corner of their stage with the great silver
star overhead.

  "Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning;
  Jesu, to Thee be glory given;
  Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing;
  Oh come, let us adore Him,
  Oh come, let us adore Him,
  Oh come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord."

There was an instant's hush after this and then a surprising amount of
noise. Surely Esther's idea had been a very lovely one, for there was
little Christmas peace and quiet at the cabin for the rest of the
wonderful and eventful day.

Some weeks before the girls had decided that there would be no present
giving among themselves except the merest trifles, since all their money
and energy must be spent in making a success of their Camp Fire play, but
this did not forbid the receiving of gifts from the outside. So before
breakfast was over offerings began to arrive, some of them for individual
girls but more for the camp. Mr. and Mrs. Webster sent from the farm a
great roasted goose stuffed with chestnuts, a baked ham and two immense
mince pies, while Billy Webster, who drove over to bring the gifts, shyly
tucked into Mollie's hands a bouquet of pink geraniums and lemon verbena
from his mother's little indoor garden. To Polly, with a perfectly
serious expression, he presented a bunch of thistles grown on the
mountains that fall and made very brilliant and effective by having their
centers dyed scarlet and being tied with a bright red ribbon. They were
beautiful enough to have been bestowed on any one and would be an
ornament for the cabin living room all winter, and yet Polly, though she
was far too clever to betray herself, could not but wonder if there were
not a double meaning attached to Billy's gift.

Dick Ashton gave no individual presents, not even one to Betty, but to
the club he gave a reading lamp so brilliant that half a dozen girls
might do their studying around it at night. If it were placed on the
piano Esther might be able to read her most intricate music without
difficulty.

Then there were other more valuable gifts, Mr. Wharton, Sylvia's father,
who had unexpectedly gone to Europe for a few weeks, left a check to
supply the winter's coal bill, while Mrs. O'Neill from over in Ireland
sent a set of kitchen aprons, which she had made during that winter, for
each member of the Sunrise club including Mammy.

There was a mysterious communication received by Betty Ashton, however,
of which she did not speak to any one, not even to Polly. She was not at
all sure from whom it came, but naturally there was but one person whom
she could suspect. The post-mark was a near-by town, and it was a common
looking gift--just a card with the picture of a ladder rising in the air,
apparently by its own volition, and very slowly ascending it the figure
of a young man. Yet the words written below were of far finer
significance than the picture and Betty really wondered how they had ever
made their appeal.

  "And men may rise on stepping-stones of their dead selves to higher
  things."

At four o'clock, when the girls were resting for an hour before getting
ready for the evening's entertainment, convinced that there was nothing
more to come for any one of them, there appeared at the cabin door
certainly the most unlooked-for gift.

Rose happened for the moment to be alone in the living room, having
firmly ordered the girls off to their bedrooms to lie down while she
attended to some final arrangements, such as finding space for a few more
chairs for their audience than had been sent out from town an hour
before.

So the sounds outside did not at first attract her attention, though they
were most unusual. But suddenly, when a large form apparently flung
itself against the door and there followed a low muffled cry, Rose,
without a thought of Christmas, ran hastily to the rescue. Fortunately
she was not nervous, else she might have been frightened when an
unexpected object leapt up to her shoulders and a warm wet tongue
caressed her cheek. Straightway her cry of surprise and admiration
brought half a dozen girls to her side, who had found sleep at so
critical a time quite out of the question. Imagine their surprise at
finding their new guardian being embraced by a cream and brown and gold
St. Bernard dog, already a tremendous fellow and yet still in his
puppyhood.

Polly, who was ever a lover of dogs, got down on her knees before him.

"Whose ever can he be and how has he found his way to our cabin?" she
cried, but before her question was ended Polly herself discovered a small
envelope attached to the dog's collar and tearing it off hastily
presented it to Rose with an eastern salaam, as she happened to be
already seated on the floor.

"From an unknown admirer, Rose? Isn't this like a story book?" Betty
commented with an unnecessary expression of demureness, for she had
noticed an evident though faint blush touching their guardian's cheeks.
But Rose answered with a dignity that somehow made Betty feel ashamed of
herself.

"No, Betty, the dog is for our club if you girls wish to keep him. Dr.
Barton writes that he feels we are too much alone in these woods in the
winter and that if we will forgive his solicitude he has sent us a third
Camp Fire guardian." And Rose slipped the stiff little note she had just
received inside her pocket, realizing that it was as near an apology as
the severe young doctor could bring himself to make.



                              CHAPTER XII
                           The Camp Fire Play


By eight o'clock on Christmas evening every seat in the Sunrise cabin
living room was filled except two, and toward these the eyes of every
girl hidden behind the khaki curtain turned questioningly for the last
fifteen minutes before their Camp Fire play was to commence. However
then, to Polly's despair, their last hope died away--the great lady and
the great actress in one--would not form a part of their Woodford
audience, even her own Miss Adams had likewise failed her.

Nevertheless their entertainment was to begin promptly (on this Miss
McMurtry and Miss Dyer had both insisted), since punctuality was so
seldom a feature of amateur plays they wished thus to show one of the
superior results of the Camp Fire training.

A Camp Fire Morality Play: These words were printed on the Christmas
programs and it was an old time morality play such as we have seen and
read in "Everyman" that Polly and Betty had attempted to write, assisted
of course by both their guardians and with suggestions from every girl in
the Sunrise club. Whether they were successful in keeping close to the
old model was not so much their ideal as the desire to show both by words
and tableaux the aims and the influence of the Camp Fire organization,
and what women have given to the world since the primitive time when
human life centered about the camp-fire.

At a quarter past eight the curtain arose slowly, showing the stage in
semi-darkness and representing a scene in a primeval forest. In the
corner is the bare pine tree, the ground is strewn with twigs, fir cones
and needles, and there within the instant the figure of a woman enters.
It is Polly! And because of her great disappointment there is a tragic
droop to her shoulders, a pathetic expression in her great wide-open
Irish blue eyes. She had hoped so much from Miss Adams' promise and
now--well, she must not forget her part, she must try to do her best for
her friends' sakes.

Polly is dressed in a short skirt with a fox's skin fastened from one
shoulder to her belt, there are sandals on her feet and her straight
black hair is hanging about her shoulders. Unhappy, she gropes her way
about the stage shivering and finding nothing to do, no place in which to
rest herself. It is December, the month of the long moon, and the night
promises to be bitterly cold. In another moment there is heard from the
outside the crying of a child and next "Little Brother," very proud of
his rabbit coat and cap, runs forward throwing his arms about the woman's
knees and evidently begging for warmth and shelter. Still in pantomime
the mother mournfully shakes her head, and with this Eleanor Meade
appears representing a primitive man and carrying a brace of freshly
killed game over her shoulder. This he presents to the child and the
woman, but both of them shake their heads and a moment later the man
drops despairingly down on the frozen ground burying his face in his
hands, the child hiding between his parents for warmth. However the woman
does not cover her face and by and by, picking up two dry twigs from the
ground, she begins in an idle fashion to rub them together. Suddenly
there is a tiny spark of light and then darkness.

It was a wise selection on the part of the Sunrise club girls to have
chosen Polly O'Neill to represent the mother of all the Camp Fire women,
for though she had when needful the Irish gift of expression, she had
also a face so vivid and so emotional that to Polly's own chagrin it was
seldom possible for her to hide from other people what was going on in
her mind. Now, however, this characteristic was of excellent service, for
there was not a member of her little audience who did not in this instant
guess the inspiration that had just been born in the woman.

In a seat toward the back of the living room, in as inconspicuous a spot
as possible, a fragile looking woman, an unknown member of the small
Woodford audience, turned suddenly to the companion beside her, nodding
her head quickly. She had a plain, yet remarkably youthful looking face
illumined by a pair of wonderful gray eyes with an indescribably wistful
and yet understanding expression. And from now on she watched the girl on
the stage more attentively.

Rising quietly, Polly seemed almost to be holding her breath. Then with
eager fingers she can be seen searching along the ground until by and by
she has gathered together a few twigs, and now kneeling before them
appears to be uttering a silent prayer. A moment later and she picks up
her former sticks, again repeating the rubbing of them together. For a
while Polly seemed to be unsuccessful in making them ignite, so that in
the background and well out of sight the other Camp Fire girls hold their
breath with a kind of sick horror, fearing that she is going to fail here
and so make a fiasco of the entire scene. But the little waiting has only
made the final result more dramatic. There is a tiny flare of light, and
then bending over her pile of twigs the woman lights the first Camp Fire.
She guards it with her hands until there is a crackle and many spurts of
yellow flame and the instant after is across the stage shaking the man by
the shoulder and drawing the child toward the blaze. Together then they
heap on more fuel until a really splendid fire is a-light. (And for fear
any one may think that this fire in the middle of the wooden platform
would probably have put an end to Sunrise cabin it must be explained that
a sheet of iron had been fastened on the floor that the fire might be
built with entire safety.)

Like a flame herself the woman then flies from one home duty to the
other, making a bed of pine branches for the child near the fire,
appearing to roast the game for her husband. Far better by her actions
than by any possible words Polly told her story, until the curtain at
last goes down on the beginning of the first home with the woman as its
genius and inspiration.

But before the curtain has finally descended, for a moment Polly's
attention, as though drawn by an invisible magnet, centered upon the face
of a stranger in the back of the living room beyond the more familiar
ranks of her friends; and with a quick intake of her breath and a feeling
of thankfulness that her first trial is over and that she is not obliged
to speak, the young girl recognizes the famous actress. She is glad then
that she had not known of her presence sooner and also that her first
appearance before her has been made in pantomime, for she guesses it to
be a surer test of dramatic ability than any recitation an untrained girl
might be able to repeat. If she had the necessary temperament somehow in
the scene just past it must have revealed itself.

But now an intermission of twenty minutes passes and the second act
represents a scene wholly different from the first, for now the stage is
intended to present as nearly as possible the picture of an ideal home.
It was difficult to portray, of course, but then the bigger things must
always be trusted to the imagination, for this home was not intended to
suggest merely a single home but a kind of universal and representative
one. There were beautiful pictures in it and soft rugs and many books and
windows everywhere, supposedly letting in all the possible sunlight,
while over in the corner the solitary pine tree still stood, but now
covered with many white candles, although none of them were yet a-light.

Then the door opens and the first spirit of the home enters. This is
Esther Clark wearing a kind of blue tunic with a silver band about her
unloosened red hair. With swift steps and busy fingers she moves about,
bringing a bunch of winter roses to a table, putting fresh logs on the
fire, drawing chairs nearer to the inspiring blaze, which is now no
longer a primitive camp fire but a great, hospitable open hearth.

Then Esther goes to the front of the stage and waits there for a moment
in silence before beginning her speech, and there are but few persons
watching her who have yet guessed what spirit she is illustrating.

Esther is awkward and not handsome; nevertheless, because she has a clear
and beautiful speaking as well as singing voice she had been chosen for
this particular part. Now she is plainly heard throughout the room.

  "I am Work, the great Mother Spirit of the earth.
  I have borne many children with a fairer fame,
  Service, who is my daughter with a gentler name."

And here Nan Graham in a yellow costume with her black hair flowing over
her shoulders and her dark eyes shining walks forward and takes her place
at one end of the stage just a little back of the speaker, followed by
Eleanor Meade in a white robe with a wreath of laurel on her head and a
scroll in her hand, who is seen by the audience as Esther continues:

  "Knowledge, who needs no word of mine to prove her worth,
  Beauty that shall not fade, surely it lives through me
  In music, books and art, a noble trinity."

Then Betty Ashton, whom there is no difficulty in recognizing as the
spirit of Beauty, approaches the front of the stage in a dress of some
soft silvery material with three stars in her hair and stands beside
Eleanor.

  "And Health and Happiness, would they deny their birth?
  Then let them seek it in some nobler form than mine,
  The quest is everlasting but the choice is thine."

Sylvia and Beatrice Field then advance together and take their places in
the center of the group, Sylvia as Health dressed in the green of the
open fields and Beatrice in deep rose color.

  "Trustworthiness and Sympathy dwell by my hearth
  With Purity; we are the graces of the home.
  And yet there is one other fairer still to come
  Whose handmaids are these spirits named above;
  To her alone I yield my gracious place,
  The inspiration of the home--the world--is Love!"

While Esther has been finishing her verse, Juliet Field has come forth to
portray the spirit of Trustworthiness in a dress of deep violet, carrying
a sheath of purple lilies. Meg, with her charming face so full of humor
and tenderness, is the embodiment of Sympathy, and Edith Norton as Purity
has her long fair hair falling almost down to her knees and wears a dress
of the palest green--like Undine when she first comes forth from the sea.

And now a crescent has slowly formed about the figure of Esther who is a
little in advance of the other girls, but now as she speaks the final
word--Love--she steps quietly backward and Mollie O'Neill as the spirit
of Love occupies the center of the stage. She has never looked half so
lovely in her life as she does to-night. Her gown is of pale pink, she
has a wreath of roses in her black hair, her usually too grave expression
is illumined by a smile born partly of fear and the rest of pride, which
has nothing to do with her own appearance, but is a kind of shadowy
pleasure in the beauty and the significance of the tableau surrounding
her.

From his place behind the curtain Billy Webster wonders how he was ever
able even at the beginning of their acquaintance to confuse the twin
sisters. Polly in all her existence has never looked so pretty as this
and probably never will, and then Billy comes to his senses in a hurry,
realizing that it is now his duty to assist in letting the curtain drop
on this second scene in the Camp Fire allegory.

In the last act the Christmas tree is all a-blaze with pure white candles
and silver tinsel and above it is suspended a great silver star, while
the girls in their many colored costumes are seen dancing before it. Then
at the close of the dance Polly again enters. She is to recite the
epilogue, to make plainer the ideals of the Camp Fire. But some change
has come over her since the first scene, her color is entirely gone, her
eyes are rimmed and, worst of all, she feels that a deadly weight is
settling on her chest and that her voice is nowhere to be found. She is
having an attack of stage fright, but Polly does not yet know it by that
name. The truth is that she has grown desperately tired, the strain and
excitement of waiting after the long day's pleasure with the very foolish
thought that her fate is probably to be decided by one person's judgment
of her abilities has proved too much for her. She tries pulling herself
together, she sees many eyes turned up toward her, with one face shining
a little farther off like a star. Polly opens her mouth to speak, but
there is a great darkness about her, the world is slowly slipping away.
She puts out both arms with a pathetic appeal for silence and patience
and then suddenly some one is holding her up and the other girls are
forming a rainbow circle about her so that she is safely hidden from
view.

For in a flash Betty Ashton has guessed at Polly's faintness, has
signaled her companions and then reached her first, so that the curtain
finally fell on perhaps the prettiest scene of all.



                              CHAPTER XIII
                          An Indian Love Song


Although Polly O'Neill could never afterwards be persuaded that her
failure had not marred the Camp Fire play, nevertheless there were many
members of the audience who never realized that anything had gone wrong,
so promptly had the other girls acted and so swiftly had the curtain been
rung down.

And then, within a remarkably short space of time, Esther had reappeared
to close the entertainment with her song. The stage had been left as it
was in the final act, the piano was already there, and almost immediately
the accompanist, Esther's music teacher in the village, seated herself
before it.

The only delay was of a few minutes, caused by the fact that Esther had
insisted on wearing her ordinary clothes. A week before, therefore, Betty
had had made for her a simple white dress and this Miss McMurtry very
quickly helped her into, braiding her red hair into a kind of crown about
her head. Her toilet was of course made in a great hurry, but then Esther
was so convinced of her own homeliness that she cared very little except
to look neatly and appropriately dressed.

Herr Crippen and Esther then walked out on the platform together, the man
leading the girl with one hand and carrying his violin with the other,
and it was curious the similarity in their coloring.

Very little of the Indian idea had the girls thus far brought into their
Christmas Camp Fire entertainment, but now Esther's song was to bring
with it this suggestion, although it had been chosen chiefly because of
its beauty and suitability to Esther's voice. It was, however, a
wonderful Indian love song, which Dick had found quite by accident the
summer before for his sister's friend.

Esther was also dreadfully nervous and frightened at the beginning of her
song, but fortunately for her she was thinking more of the music itself
than of the effect she was to produce. Nevertheless, it was with
sensations of disappointment that the friends, who cared most for her
singing, listened to the first verse of her song. Dick Ashton, who had
found himself a seat in the back of the room, when he was no longer
needed to assist with the management of the curtain, moved impatiently
several times, thinking that Betty had probably been making unnecessary
sacrifices to cultivate her friend's voice and that they had all probably
been mistaken in the degree of Esther's talent.

However, Dick changed his mind so soon that he never afterwards
remembered this first thought, but sat spellbound with delight, feeling
every nerve in his body thrill and quiver with the pathos and loveliness
of a voice that was so clear, so true and so sympathetic that not a
single member of Esther's audience failed to respond to its beauty. The
song had a kind of plaintive cadence and had been arranged either for a
tenor or soprano.

  "Fades the star of morning, west winds gently blow,
  Soft the pine trees murmur, soft the waters flow.
  Lift thine eyes, my maiden, to the hill-tops nigh,
  Night and gloom will vanish when the pale stars die.
  Lift thine eyes, my maiden, hear thy lover's cry.

  "From my tent I wander seeking only thee,
  As the day from darkness comes for stream and tree.
  Lift thine eyes, my maiden, to the hill-top nigh;
  Lo! the dawn is breaking, rosy beams the sky.
  Lift thine eyes, my maiden, hear thy lover's cry.

  "Lonely is our valley, though the month is May,
  Come and be my moonlight, I will be thy day.
  Lift thine eyes, my maiden, oh, behold me nigh;
  Now the sun is rising, now the shadows fly.
  Lift thine eyes, my maiden, hear thy lover's cry."

Hearing the applause which broke out like a storm at the close of
Esther's singing, Betty managed to get away from Polly and to find Esther
shivering in the kitchen which opened just off their stage and had been
used for the entrance way that evening. But no power or persuasion could
have induced Esther to go back upon the stage, not even when Herr Crippen
added his entreaties, nor when Dick slipped out into the cold and came
around through the back door to congratulate her. If Esther had pleased
Betty and Dick and Miss McMurtry, really she cared very little for any
one else's criticism.

Nevertheless, later that evening, when the company was enjoying a kind of
informal reception, she could not refuse to be introduced to the
celebrated Miss Margaret Adams, who sent one of the girls especially for
her. Esther was awkward and tongue-tied and nervous as usual when the
great lady congratulated her, very different from Polly, who when she had
recovered from her faintness had come immediately out into the living
room and gone straight up to Miss Adams and taken her hand.

"If I wasn't so used to failing at most of the important moments of my
life, I think I couldn't bear to live after to-night," she said with
characteristic Polly exaggeration. Then, with one of the sudden smiles
that so transformed her face and made her fascinating both to strangers
and friends she added: "But, after all, I have seen _you_ and I am
talking to you now, and as that is the most wonderful thing that has ever
happened to me, I am going to try and not care about anything else."

Then the older woman pressed Polly's hot hand in both of hers, looking
keenly into the girl's expressive face. Only she knew how much Polly did
care about her failure and also that her suffering had not yet fully
begun, because until the excitement of the evening was well over the girl
would not fully realize all that she at least believed this failure
meant.

"Come and see me for half an hour to-morrow, I can judge nothing by
to-night. And do please remember, child, that one person's judgment in
this world fortunately does not count for much at best. I want to have a
little talk with you just because my cousin, whom I love very dearly, has
told me so much about you."

"And because," Polly added with her lips trembling, "because you are
sorry for me. But I don't care so much why you want me, I only know I
want to come more than anything in the world."

Of course at the close of the Camp Fire play it was then impossible for
Miss Adams to escape recognition, so she was evidently tired on her way
back home from the cabin and therefore did little talking. However, after
the cousins had undressed for the night she called softly into the next
room:

"My dear Mary, I think your Polly is charming, but I am afraid your
little girl has the dream and the temperament and that the other plainer
girl has the talent. But, then, who can tell when they are both so
young?"



                              CHAPTER XIV
                           Mollie's Confidant


Of her visit to Miss Adams, Polly never afterwards spoke, except to Betty
and her sister Mollie, asking that they tell Rose Dyer that it was right
that she as their guardian should know and promising to write her mother;
however, several of the other Camp Fire girls believed that they saw a
slight change in Polly dating from her visit. Afterwards she never seemed
to give up, at least without some struggle, to her old, utterly
unreasonable changes of mood.

To Betty and Mollie, however, Polly confessed that, although Miss Adams
had been kind beyond her wildest dreams, she had not said that she had
seen any evidences of genius or even of marked ability in her interrupted
dramatic efforts; although she had suggested that only the most
remarkable people the world has ever known have betrayed exceptional
gifts at the age of sixteen, that most people only achieve success by
endless patience, faith and work and by what sometimes looks at first
like failure. She had then told Polly something of her own early
struggle, but this Polly of course did not reveal even to her sister and
dearest friend. However, to Mollie's relief, she did announce that she
meant to spend the next two years in doing everything she could for her
health by obeying every single Camp Fire rule, that she meant to learn
more self-control, to study harder and also to memorize all the plays and
poems that she possibly could. For at the close of her graduation at the
High School the wonderful Miss Adams had asked that Polly write her and
then if her mother was willing, if Polly was well and of the same desire,
she would see that she had an opportunity for the kind of study she would
then need should she adopt the stage for her profession. For the truth is
that though the great actress had not been particularly impressed by
Polly's acting she had discovered two things about her, one that she had
the expressive face with quick mobile features and the graceful carriage
more to be desired on the stage than either beauty or stateliness and,
moreover, like most other people, she had taken a decided fancy to the
girl herself.

For a few weeks following Polly's famous interview her sister Mollie
found herself and Polly farther apart in sympathy than they had ever been
before in their lives. Under nearly all other circumstances Mollie had
always allowed herself to be influenced by her twin sister's wishes;
Polly had always seemed to want things so much harder than other people
that she and her mother had usually been willing enough to give in, but
now on this question of Polly's going upon the stage after she had
finished her education Mollie made up her mind to stand firm in her
opposition at every possible opportunity, even if her mother should give
in to Polly's persuasion. It was utterly impossible for Mollie O'Neill to
understand her twin sister's restlessness and ambition. How could she
ever wish to leave her home and mother, to leave _her_, to follow after
such a will-o'-the-wisp?

It was in vain that Polly explained that it was no lack of affection on
her part, that she surely loved her own people as much as they could love
her, but that she felt she must see more of the world, live a wider life
than Woodford could give her. Mollie was always obdurate. There was only
one way by which Polly could silence her twin and that was to inquire if
Mollie meant always to stay at home, to remain an old maid? And when
Mollie most indignantly denied any such suggestion, Polly would then ask
how if she loved them could she make up her mind to go away from home on
account of a strange man, and if a career wasn't as good as a husband,
until Mollie became too indignant and unhappy for argument and usually by
making no further replies carried off the honors of war.

If only Mollie could have had another girl to unbosom herself to, but
there was no one; Polly had asked her not to discuss her affairs with any
one of the Camp Fire girls except Betty Ashton, and Betty openly
sympathized with Polly. Having no gifts herself she used to say that all
she could do would be to live in the successes of Polly and Esther;
although Polly used always to assure her in return that a Princess was
above the possession of small abilities like ordinary mortals, and Esther
that she never expected to have any success beyond learning to sing well
enough to make her own living and perhaps some day to have a position in
a Woodford church choir.

So Mollie for the month succeeding Christmas kept most of her worry to
herself, and to the entire Sunrise Camp Fire club's surprise and
consternation grew quite unlike her usually sweet-tempered, happy self.
Sometimes she used to insist upon taking the daily exercise prescribed by
the Camp Fire rules entirely alone, if she were allowed, in order that
she might think up some possible way of influencing Polly to give up her
wholly foolish ambition. Since Polly felt that she must do something
toward supporting her mother and herself, she should try to learn to be a
teacher like Miss McMurtry or Miss Mary Adams.

One Saturday afternoon, being particularly low in her mind because Rose
Dyer had thought Polly not very well and had suggested that she stay at
home and take her walk outside the cabin with the newest Camp Fire girl,
Mollie had deliberately stolen off while her friends were getting ready
for a hard tramp through the woods. She did not care at the time that
their guardian might object to her going off alone. She almost hoped that
something might happen to her to make Polly feel uneasy. Since Polly was
always making her perfectly miserable why she might as well experience
the sensation occasionally herself. So, knowing that the other girls were
to strike out through the pine woods, find the road and walk over toward
the asylum to escort Esther home (who was now having a weekly music
lesson with Herr Crippen), Mollie first walked back of the cabin and then
found the road through the Webster farm. She didn't walk very far
however. It was perfectly ridiculous of her of course to anticipate
trouble, and yet somehow she felt that she and Polly were never going to
be just the same that they had been in the past to one another, in some
way they would be separated. Suddenly Mollie felt a wave of homesickness,
of longing for her mother such as she had not felt since the first few
weeks after Mrs. O'Neill's sailing for Ireland the spring before. So
quite unmindful of consequences Mollie dropped down on the stump of a
tree, deliberately giving herself up to the enjoyment of tears. It was so
utterly impossible ever to cry at the cabin. Some one was always about
seeing you and besides all the other Camp Fire girls Mollie solemnly
believed to have outgrown the foolish weakness of crying, it was so
utterly in contradiction to all their training.

The tears, however, must have been extremely near the surface, since they
dried so instantly, and Mollie jumped to her feet indignantly when a hard
ball of snow went whizzing past her ear, almost striking her. A moment
later she heard footsteps coming up behind her.

"Hope you won't mind my appearing to pay off old scores in this way; I
really had no idea of hitting you, but I had to attract your attention in
some fashion, so you wouldn't run away from me," said a voice Mollie
immediately recognized and a moment later Billy Webster appeared by her
side. "Would any one in the world except Miss Polly O'Neill seat herself
calmly on a stump in the midst of the winter woods with nothing but snow
and ice all about her as if she were in the lap of spring?" he asked. And
then, when Mollie made no answer and catching just a side glance at her
downcast face, he puckered his lips as though intending to whistle, but
better manners prevailing said as sympathetically as he could: "Dear me,
Miss Polly, you look as though you were desperately unhappy over
something or other. What is it that is troubling you this time?"

Mollie was wearing a long brown coat exactly like Polly's red one and her
brown tam-o'-shanter she had pulled down as low as possible over her face
because of the cold January wind, but now she turned with some
indignation toward her companion. "I am not Polly," she announced with a
good deal of vexation (the twin sisters never liked being taken for one
another). "I am sorry, but I suppose Polly hasn't a monopoly of all the
trouble in this world. Or at least she very often passes it on to other
people."

Instantly Billy's fur cap was off, showing his heavy hair, which was
browner than during the months of exposure to the summer sun, but
although his face was also less tanned, his eyes were as blue and as full
of humor as ever.

"It is I who am sorry and glad too, Miss Mollie," he answered as
gallantly as possible. "It seems to be my fate everlastingly to put my
foot in it with both you and your sister. I could have sworn not long ago
that I would never again mistake you for one another and here I am at it
again. But you will forgive me this time. You see you don't look quite
like yourself to-day; you are so much paler and kind of uncertain
looking--and cross. But now I beg the other Miss O'Neill's pardon," and
Billy laughed, not so much as though he cared a great deal about having
made fun of Polly, but more in order to cheer up Mollie.

"Better not let Polly hear you say that," she returned, smiling a little.
"You know, like the tiger in 'Little Black Sambo,' she would have to eat
you up. But Polly is really a great deal better tempered than I am and
sweeter than anything nowadays; ask anybody in camp. It is I who am the
cross one. And it is all because I am so unhappy."

And then, to Mollie's own surprise and Billy's decided embarrassment, she
began crying a great deal harder than before.

There was nothing a fellow could do but just to stand there and watch her
for a moment and then Billy had a feeble inspiration. He tucked her arm
through his comfortingly. "Come, it is getting dark, these days are so
dreadfully short. Let me walk on back to the cabin with you."

And on the way Mollie discovered herself unexpectedly confiding
everything that troubled her about her sister to this comparatively
unknown boy friend. Although the Camp Fire girls had seen more of Billy
Webster than any one else because of their living so near his father's
farm. For the first few minutes Mollie felt she might regret her
outburst, but not for long, for to her satisfaction and indeed to her
very real consolation, Billy felt exactly as she did about Polly. It was
utterly absurd for Polly to talk about going away from Woodford even to
study for the stage; she was not strong enough; the life was a perfectly
abominable one for a lady, but for a delicate high-strung girl like Polly
O'Neill it was worse than absurd; it was wicked! Mollie should write for
her mother to come home to prevent Polly's getting the idea more firmly
fixed in her mind. Later on it might be more difficult to influence her.
Billy Webster fairly spluttered with indignation. His mother was a
perfect farmer's wife, devoted to her husband, to her son and a younger
daughter, and to the life and work of her farm and very naturally Billy's
mother was his ideal. He liked the two O'Neill girls very much, had known
of their struggle to get along and of their mother's efforts to give them
an education, and believed, like Mollie, that it was ungrateful of Polly
to wish to leave her home so soon as she was grown up. Besides he did not
like to see Mollie so worried! What a strangely difficult person Polly
was! There were times when he felt that he almost hated her and then
again she was rather fascinating.

"I have got about half as much influence with your sister as that totem
pole," he announced, when he had brought Mollie almost back to the
Sunrise cabin, "but if there is anything I can ever do to help you make
her change her mind, why count on me up to the limit. Don't you think the
best thing would be somehow to joke the whole idea out of her? She is
just the kind of a person to be more influenced by joking than any real
opposition."

Mollie bowed her head in entire agreement. "Yes, but what kind of a joke
could we ever think up that could have anything to do with Polly's
wishing to be an actress and meaning to study several years from now?"
she inquired doubtfully.

And to do Billy Webster credit he did look considerably confused.

"Well, I can't say right off," he confessed, laughing a little at
himself, "but if you and I think things over for a week or so, perhaps an
inspiration may come to one or the other of us. And in the meantime," he
added this rather hastily, "I wouldn't mention to your sister that you
have spoken of her plans to me. It is all right though, for I shall never
breathe what you have told me to any one."



                               CHAPTER XV
                              A Boomerang


Two weeks later Polly received a note at the cabin asking that she come
into Woodford on the following Friday afternoon for an interview with a
friend of Miss Margaret Adams, who happened by chance to be in Woodford
for a few days and wanted an opportunity for talking with her about her
future. For whatever resulted from this interview Polly had herself
chiefly to blame. She most certainly should never have replied to a note
signed by a name which was unfamiliar without consulting the guardian of
the Sunrise club. But Polly knew perfectly well that Rose would never
have permitted her to have any such conference. She knew also that their
guardian and her mother's friend was almost as much opposed as her sister
Mollie to her ambition and considered that she was behaving most unwisely
in letting her mind dwell on a possibility which in any case was very
indefinite and far away. Indeed, Rose had had a quiet talk with Polly
asking her not to discuss the subject of the stage with the other girls
and to try and give her own energy and attention solely to their Camp
Fire work. Polly had agreed and was apparently keeping her promise, since
she felt so assured that the Camp Fire ideals must help every woman in
whatever work she undertook later in life.

Nevertheless, when the first temptation came Polly fell. One night she
spent in indecision, wondering why Miss Margaret Adams had not written to
her about her friend or why Miss Adams, their elocution teacher, had said
nothing. These questions, however, Polly finally answered satisfactorily
to herself, since it is usually easy to find answers that accord with
one's own desires. By morning she had made up her mind that she would go
and see the stranger and have a talk with him, since no harm could come
of one small visit.

The appointment was to take place at the home of Meg, whose Professor
father was one of the most prominent men in the village and Polly was
told to bring a chaperon, so from the standpoint of propriety she was
committing no offence. She had not seen Meg for a week and so could ask
her no questions, and as Betty was the only person who could be relied
upon in the emergency, to Betty she confided the whole situation, not in
the least asking her advice, since this was not the way with Mistress
Polly, but begging Betty to be present with her during the call. If Betty
demurred at first, suggesting Miss Dyer, Miss McMurtry, Miss Mary Adams,
as more suitable chaperons, she did finally agree. So early on Friday
afternoon the two girls started into town in their best clothes, saying
that they were going in on an errand. Betty was driving Fire Star and
Polly carrying a volume of "Romeo and Juliet" and "Palgrave's Golden
Treasury." The note had suggested that since Miss Margaret Adams had had
no opportunity to hear Miss O'Neill recite, the writer would be
interested to know what she could do.

Polly was cold with nervous excitement all the way into town. She was not
in the least sure whether she did not dread the coming interview more
than anything that had ever happened to her in her life and she also had
very uncomfortable twinges of conscience, since this venture of hers had
no grown-up sanction. There had been no time as yet to write her mother
about it and she had not confided in Mollie, who once had known all her
secrets. Indeed, had she not even felt glad that Mollie had decided not
to return to the cabin after school that day but to remain in town with a
friend, so that no uncomfortable family questions could be raised.

By special request Betty was invited not to talk on the journey in, so
that Polly could have the opportunity for repeating to herself the poems
she had made up her mind to recite and go once more over Juliet's famous
lament.

The hall at the Professor's was unusually dark when Meg herself, to the
girls' delight, opened the front door. Polly was by this time in too
agitated a condition to stop for asking questions, but although Betty was
not, Meg did not seem willing to answer them. Instead she kept shaking
her head and pointing mysteriously toward their drawing room door. "The
stranger was already in there, yes, her father knew him, Polly must not
mind that the visitor had his wife with him, she was also an actress upon
whose judgment he placed the greatest reliance, but the girls were not to
do more than bow to her, as it bored her to meet people."

If the hall was dark the drawing room was even darker, but then before
joining the Camp Fire club Meg had been a proverbially poor housekeeper,
so she probably had neglected to open the drawing room shutters and, as
it was a dark February afternoon, the light that came through the slats
was not sufficient. Betty felt most distinctly that she was not going to
enjoy the approaching interview, that there was already something odd and
uncomfortable about it, but she had no opportunity for confiding her
views and Polly was not in a critical humor. As for the darkness Polly
was decidedly grateful for it. If she had to get up and recite before Meg
and Betty and the two strangers it would be far easier to be in the half
shadow than to have their critical glances full upon her. This drawing
room recitation before so small an audience did not appeal to Polly
anyhow, certainly it held none of the glamour of the stage, the music,
the footlights, the feeling that you were no longer your real self but a
performer in some other drama in some different world.

Betty sat down at once in a far corner, as she saw no notice was to be
taken of her, but Polly felt herself having her hand shaken coldly by a
tall, broad-shouldered, middle-aged man wearing glasses, with an iron
gray, pointed beard and iron gray hair pulled low down over his forehead.
He seemed, however, not to have the least desire for conversation, for
waving Polly toward the center of the room, he at once asked her to show
what she could do, without introducing his wife nor making the least
satisfactory explanation of his own presence in Woodford, his
acquaintance with Miss Margaret Adams, nor his right to have solicited
this meeting with Polly.

However, none of these points weighed upon the girl's mind at the time.
The man looked just as she expected an actor-manager might look, and as
for his wife, she could see nothing of her but a figure dressed in a long
traveling coat and wearing a hat and heavy veil, who had not even deigned
to glance in her direction.

"What--what shall I begin with?" Polly inquired anxiously. "Miss Adams,
our teacher of elocution at the High School, says that young girls should
try simple recitations, that it is absurd for us to attempt to reveal the
great emotions such as one finds in Shakespeare's plays, or Ibsen's or
Maeterlinck's, that we must wait until we know something more of life for
them. I did not feel sure what you would think about it, but I know some
English poems, very famous and very beautiful, perhaps you would like me
to begin with one of them?"

There was a slight hesitation in Polly's voice because personally she
found the simple poems much more difficult than the big ones and her
taste did not incline toward Whitcomb Riley, or Eugene Field, toward any
of the simple character work, which would have been the best possible
training for her at the present time.

But the critic fortunately agreeing with Polly's point of view shook his
head gravely over her suggestion of English verses.

"No," he said a little pompously, it must be confessed, "try the most
difficult thing you know and even if you do not make an entire success of
it I will be better able to judge what you can do." The man spoke in a
hoarse, strained voice which to Betty's ears sounded forced and peculiar.

"Would you--would you think it very foolish if I tried Juliet's speech
before she takes the poison?" Polly then asked timidly. "I know I can't
do it very well, it is one of the greatest speeches in the whole world of
acting, but perhaps for that very reason I like to attempt it."

Polly had thrown off her red coat and hat in the hall, but she was
wearing her best frock, a simple cashmere made in a single piece, with a
crushed velvet belt of a darker shade and a collar and cuffs of real
Irish lace which her mother had sent as a Christmas gift from Ireland.
Her hair was very dark and her coloring vivid, so perhaps she did not
look so utterly unlike the Italian Juliet, whom it is difficult for us to
believe was only fourteen at the time of her tragic love story.

"Farewell,--and God knows when we shall meet again," Polly began in a far
less melodramatic fashion than one might have expected; indeed, Betty
thought her voice exquisitely pathetic and appealing and even Meg, who
had not the slightest sympathy with Polly's dramatic aspirations, was
subtly impressed.

  "I have a faint cold fear thrills through my veins,
  That almost freezes up the heat of life.
  I'll call them back again to comfort me.--
  Nurse!--What should she do here?
  My dismal scene I needs must act alone.
  Come, phial.
  What if this mixture do not work at all,
  Shall I be married, then, to-morrow morning?
  No, no;--this shall forbid it:--lie thou there--"

And here Polly is being carried away by the thrill of her own
performance. Almost she believes she beholds a slight suggestion of
admiration in the blue eyes of the critic who most assuredly is watching
her efforts with a great deal of interest. Unhappily, however, in her
preparation for this great occasion, Polly has forgotten the necessary
stage equipment and now at this instant remembers that Juliet requires a
dagger to make this moment properly realistic. The girl is in a delicious
state of excitement. For the time being actually she is feeling herself
the terrified and yet superbly courageous Juliet, and there on the parlor
table, as though by direct inspiration, is reposing a steel paper cutter
of the Professor's.

With a quick movement of her hand Polly seizes the desired dagger, but
also she seizes something else along with it, for the table cover comes
off at the same instant, almost overwhelming Juliet in a rain of papers,
ornaments and books.

Polly feels as though she would faint with chagrin and mortification, so
suddenly and so uncomfortably is she brought back to the hard realities.
"I am so dreadfully sorry," she starts to say, but before she has
finished, her attention is arrested by the behavior of the mysterious
veiled lady.

She had given a hysterical giggle, first one, then another, as though she
were never going to be able to stop. Meg's face is also crimson with the
effort to control her laughter, although she is looking nervously, almost
imploringly, toward her strange visitor.

The solitary man in the room has simply turned his back upon the whole
situation and is gazing steadfastly at the closed windows.

Polly thinks perhaps she is losing her senses, for there had been
something familiar in that excited laughter which is now turning almost
into a sob, and yet of course the idea was ridiculous. Polly then turned
entreatingly toward Betty Ashton as her one sure rock of salvation in a
vanishing world, and Betty never forgot the expression in her friend's
eyes, the look of wounded dignity, of disappointed affection, of almost
resentful disbelief. For in Betty's returning glance she found a
confirmation of her worst fears.

The truth of the matter was that Betty had been suspicious of the little
group of spectators of her friend's recitation almost as soon as Polly
began her speech. She was not under the pressure of so much excitement
and had time and opportunity to look about and examine people and things
more closely.

The woman in the long cloak--evidently her clothes were of the ready-made
variety, for they certainly did not fit. Also she seemed very slender for
a full grown woman, and in spite of her intention to remain unobserved
was curiously nervous.

And the man? He was trying to keep his face in the shadow, but from
Betty's point of observation a ray of afternoon sunlight fell directly
across his face. The line where his beard began was extremely distinct
and his cheeks above it brown and boyish. Besides, though he did wear
glasses, his eyes showed fear, amusement and Polly was right in a way,
for they did show a certain amount of admiration, although they were
certainly never the eyes of a censorious dramatic critic. For several
moments Betty had been longing to interrupt Polly's speech-making but had
not known exactly how, and indeed had hardly dared. Perhaps if she could
get Polly away before she ever found things out it would be best. Polly's
temper was never very good, and this would hurt her in all the ways in
which she was most sensitive.

The girl's face was white as chalk as she now ceased gazing at Betty and
walked quietly across the room toward the supposedly strange woman who
had risen at her approach and was trembling violently.

"It is a joke, Polly, don't be angry; we thought if you could just see
how silly play acting seemed to other people you would give it up," the
voice shook a little.

For Polly was ominously pale and quiet as she gently untied the veil and
lifted off the stranger's hat.

"So you wanted to see how much of a fool you could make of me, didn't
you, Mollie? Well, you have succeeded splendidly, dear; I can't imagine
how you could have had any greater success!" And Polly shut her lips
tight together and clenched her hands. If only Betty and Meg and Mollie
knew how furiously, suffocatingly angry she was they would probably be
afraid to have anything to do with her.

But Meg was approaching her with her usually happy face somewhat clouded.
"I am afraid you must think pretty poorly of us all, Polly, really it
just looked funny to us at first, we only meant to tease you. But now,
while I am willing to confess, it does seem rather hateful of us and I
want to apologize to you for my part in this whole proceeding."

Still Polly made no answer, only when Mollie rather timidly put her arms
about her saying: "Please do, Polly dear, forgive us and don't take the
whole thing so seriously, you are fond enough of a joke yourself," she
quietly pushed Mollie aside and turned toward Betty.

"Please take me home then, Betty, for I am afraid I have furnished all
the amusement this afternoon that I feel equal to." But when Betty's arms
went about her, Polly trembled so violently that she had to hide her head
on her friend's shoulder and just for an instant a choked sob shook her.
Both girls, however, were moving toward the closed drawing room door, but
before they could leave the room a tall form barred their way.

"You can't go until I have spoken to you," Billy Webster said almost
rudely in his determination to be obeyed. He had taken off his beard, wig
and glasses and his face showed almost as white as Polly's.

But Polly looked directly at him with eyes that apparently did not see
him.

"I never wish to have to speak to you again so long as I live, Mr.
Webster," she said quietly, "And you can be quite happy, because whatever
old scores you may think you owe me, you have paid me back this afternoon
with interest."



                              CHAPTER XVI
                              The Apology


"But--but I didn't do it in that spirit in the least, Miss Polly," the
young man pleaded, still refusing to let the girls pass him unless they
actually forced their way. "It was all a joke, a horribly poor one, I
agree with Miss Meg. But it began by accident and then grew until none of
us realized how foolish and worse than that it was. Oh, if you only knew
what it is like to feel like a cad and to hate yourself through and
through and yet to know that whatever you do you can never change things!
We never dreamed you would take it all so seriously or be so completely
deceived. We thought you would see through us pretty soon and then scold
for a while and afterwards laugh along with the rest of us."

"But Polly's ambition is not a joke to her," Betty returned, seeing that
Polly either couldn't or wouldn't speak. "She takes it as seriously as
you can take the most serious ambition of your life. And to come here and
do her best in order that all of you might make fun of her, really it is
so cruel and in such bad taste I don't feel I can like any of you for a
long time, not even Meg and Mollie." Betty's gray eyes were so full of
high-bred reproach, her face betrayed such a spiritual distaste that, if
Billy Webster could have felt more humbled, which was quite impossible,
he would have at this moment.

"But I was not making fun, at least not after Miss Polly began her
recitation," he returned. "I thought it quite remarkable and I would have
given a very great deal if that accident had not happened so that I might
have heard her straight through. I confess I don't approve of well-bred
girls even thinking of going on the stage, and I do sincerely hope Miss
Polly will give up the idea before she is much older, but if it's a
question of talent, well, I don't think there can be much doubt of her
having talent enough."

Billy said this so earnestly and with such evident sincerity that at any
other time it might have slightly appeased Polly. Now, however, her
feelings were too badly wounded for any outside balm.

Mollie was crying, so that she could hardly do or say anything, but Meg
walked quietly up to Billy Webster, taking him by the sleeve. "Let the
girls go now, Billy, please. It is not the time to detain them. Perhaps
when Polly has thought things over a little she will realize we did not
intend to wound her so deeply and will remember that she has probably
made mistakes with people sometimes herself. I expect Mollie had better
stay all night with me so that she won't have to discuss this question
any more to-night."

And at this Polly and Betty both looking a little relieved retired into
the hall, where they found their coats and hats and put them on with
Meg's assistance, saying good-bye to her politely enough as they started
toward home.

It was not necessary, however, for Polly to have to ask Betty not to talk
to her on their way to the cabin, for Betty's gift of sympathy and
understanding was one of her surest charms. She even explained to Rose
and the other girls on their arrival that Polly had developed a headache
on the trip back from town and asked to be left alone for the rest of the
evening to sleep it off. However, when supper was over, by Polly's
request, she asked that Rose would give her a few quiet moments and in
those moments she made her friend's and her own confessions. Rose was not
quite so angry, or so wholly on Polly's side, as Betty believed she
should be. For in the first place Miss Dyer was vexed with the two girls
for not having told her of their intentions and suggested that their
interview having developed into a joke was perhaps the best way out of
it. It was rather an unkind joke, but then Polly took herself far too
seriously and in her heart of hearts Rose hoped the young lady might
learn a useful lesson through her uncomfortable experience.

And in a measure Rose's wish was gratified, for Polly did not soon
recover from her hurt and shame and did not refer again either to Miss
Adams or her own future ambition. Apparently, so far as any one knew, she
had given up all thought of it, for she settled down more seriously to
the work of the Camp Fire, gaining each month additional honors, and was
also working to acquire a prize at school. Of course she had to forgive
Mollie her part in her discomfiture; Mollie was so truly repentant once
she discovered how deep was her sister's hurt and Polly with all her
faults was not one to cherish anger. Then by and by she also made up with
Meg, though it was a good many years before she had exactly the same
intimate feeling with her as she had with the other Camp Fire girls. In
future years it was always Mollie and Meg who were particularly intimate.
But there was one person whom Polly could not bring herself to pardon.
For the rest of that winter she never again spoke to Billy Webster. He
and Mollie remained good friends and sometimes with another girl used to
take walks together, so that Polly saw him now and then at the cabin and
oftentimes when she was walking or driving through his father's woods.
However, though he never failed to raise his hat to her, she always
behaved as though he were made of thin air and so impossible for her to
behold.

However, Polly had not given up her ambition in spite of her altered
behavior. Nevertheless, the shock to her pride had, though she did not
herself realize it, been extremely good for her, making her realize how
silly her pretensions must seem to other people. And so through this, and
by watching Esther Clark go quietly ahead with her music, working
steadily without asking either for reward or admiration, she learned
several valuable lessons. Besides, Polly was so truly happy in the
thought that her beloved mother was to return home early in the spring.

Mrs. O'Neill had written her daughters that she was coming home in April
and that she had a wonderful secret to tell them which she hoped they
would rejoice in for her sake. She also said that an old Irish uncle had
died during her stay abroad and had left to Mollie and Polly a legacy of
two thousand dollars each, so that they need have no worry about their
education. If it were possible Mrs. O'Neill hoped to see Mrs. Ashton
before coming back to America, so that she could bring Betty and Dick a
better report of their father's exact condition than letters had yet been
able to give them.



                              CHAPTER XVII
                              General News


The final winter months passed peacefully and fairly uneventfully at the
Sunrise cabin, with the girls following a regular routine of school and
Camp Fire work and receiving new honors at each monthly meeting of their
Council Fire. So far Esther Clark, Mollie O'Neill and, strangely enough,
Nan Graham, had earned the greatest number of honor beads, for since
Nan's unpleasant day at home a new incentive seemed to have been added to
her first ambition to make herself an attractive and capable woman. What
this incentive was she confided only to her two most admired friends,
Rose Dyer and Polly, but by a Polly channel the news also reached Betty
Ashton's ears. Nan's former good-for-nothing brother, Anthony, had
disappeared, but had written his sister two letters declaring that he was
hard at work, keeping straight, and, though he did not wish anyone to
know where he was, some day when he could feel that Nan might be proud
instead of ashamed of him, meant to come home. In the meantime he urged
Nan to stick close to her Camp Fire friends and to work.

Therefore there was only one Wood Gatherer now within the Sunrise club
circle and this the small Abbie, whom Dr. Barton and Sylvia had
introduced with such an amazing lack of tact on Christmas eve. For
several weeks after her arrival the girls had simply permitted her to
live on at the cabin enjoying their outdoor life, their healthy diet and
watching the faint roses bloom in her cheeks but without the faintest
idea of ever asking her to become a member of the Sunrise club. In the
first place the child was too impossibly young, a bare thirteen, when
most of the other girls were now approaching seventeen and grown-up-ness,
and it was an unwritten Camp Fire law that the girls in a single group
should be as nearly as possible of the same age. If Abbie had only been
as old as her years, but she was not even that, and yet somehow this very
babyishness and oddity finally won her admittance to the magic circle
paradoxical as it may seem.

Perchance the club may have needed a baby now that "Little Brother" had
returned, to live in his own home, anyhow, Abbie, almost before any one
was aware of it, was occupying this position. Before her arrival Sylvia
Wharton had been the youngest member of the Sunrise club, but there had
never been anything particularly youthful or clinging about Sylvia;
indeed, she had been about the most independent and self-reliant of the
girls and therefore she found it very difficult to understand her own
special protégé.

Abbie's name wasn't Abbie at all, but Abigail Faith Abbott, and once the
romantic Polly made this discovery, Faith the little girl became to the
entire club. Faith had lived a curiously solitary life apart from all
other children. It was true her mother kept boarders in a downtown house
in old Boston that had once belonged to her great-grandfather, but Faith
had been kept away from them as much as possible and because of her ill
health had never been allowed to go to school. It was because of her many
illnesses that young Dr. Barton took an interest in the child. Her father
was dead and her mother too busy with many cares to see much of her, so
most of the young girl's life had been spent in a small room at the top
of an old house, which had an ever-closed window through which she could
look out upon miles of chimney tops with every now and then a more
aspiring steeple. So was it much of a wonder that the little lonely girl
lived with fancies instead of realities and that as a result of all these
things she now looked as though a harsh New Hampshire wind might easily
blow her away? The children Faith had played with had never been real
children at all, but two little spirit sisters whom she had imaged in her
own mind for so long now that she could not remember when first she had
thought of them. Nevertheless, it was with them that she constantly
played and, if left alone, occasionally she spoke to them aloud. Of
course Faith was old enough now to understand the absurdity of this and
had made up her mind never to betray herself at the cabin. Yet within a
short time after her arrival and because of her dreadful homesickness,
Miss Dyer made the discovery. Unfortunately Sylvia, who had taken the
little visitor's physical training sternly in hand, also found out the
fancy.

Faith did not go into town to school with the other girls, for by the
doctor's and Sylvia's advice she was to spend all her time outdoors on
the cabin front porch wrapped up in rugs. It was rather cold and dull
with only the Sunrise Hill before her, the now frozen lake, where the
girls skated in the late afternoons, and the long, dark avenue of pines.
However, in the beginning of her experience Faith confessed to herself
that she liked the loneliness far better than so many and such amazingly
enterprising girls. With an almost desperate shyness she clung to Rose
Dyer as the one grown-up person who faintly suggested her own mother and
to Sylvia's ministrations she yielded herself without protesting, but for
some weeks she never spoke one word to any of the older girls except in
answering a question addressed to her. Indeed, when evening came and the
others gathered about their log fire to talk, the little stranger used to
slip away to be cuddled like a baby in old Mammy's arms until Sylvia, who
wished her to retire an hour before any one else and have a special late
supper of milk and eggs, would come and bear her off to be put to bed.

One morning Rose had been feeling worried at having been compelled to
leave Faith so long outdoors alone without even going to the door to
speak to her. The guardian's hands had been unusually full that morning
with Mammy, who ordinarily helped a little with the work while the girls
were away, laid up with rheumatism. Also Rose knew that Max, the big St.
Bernard dog who had arrived almost at the same time with Faith, spent
most of his time with the little girl, and so she let the whole matter
slip her mind until it was time to carry out her midday lunch. Then she
smiled a little ruefully as she paused for a moment before opening the
front door, wondering if Dr. Barton could guess just how much this child
had added to her responsibilities and whether he would care seriously if
he did. With his own devotion to looking after the sick (really he seemed
totally indifferent to people who were well) doubtless he would take
everything as a matter of course. In his visits to the cabin since
Christmas certainly nothing more had been said on the subject. Rose
laughed and then sighed, pausing with the door to the porch half open and
listening. Faith was evidently not alone, for she could distinctly hear
her talking to some one although unable to catch any answers.

"I think perhaps I can keep on bearing it, Anastasia," Faith said in a
voice that was only fairly brave, "if only you will stay with me and not
let all those strange girls drive you and Gloria away. When they talk so
much it seems as though I can't remember you and it makes me want to go
_home_."

Her voice broke and Rose peering out was deeply mystified. The little
half-sick girl was plainly alone and plainly dreadfully homesick, but
with whom could she be talking?

"I don't mind the Rose one so much, Gloria," she continued, "but Dr. Ned
said she was as nice as my mother, even nicer I believe he thought her.
Yet he does not even look at her and hardly speaks to her when he comes
to visit me." And here Faith dropped her pale face into her small gloved
hands and began to cry just as Rose appeared with her lunch.

Nevertheless, by the exercise of as much tact and patience as Miss Dyer
had ever used in her society days to charm the coldest and most obdurate
of her critics, finally she managed to persuade Faith to explain to her
with whom she had been talking and just who were the mysterious persons
Gloria and Anastasia. Of course, with many blushes Faith made her
confession, understanding that she was now far too old for any such
fanciful nonsense. Yet she did tell Rose with a good deal of pleasure
toward the last that the two names represented two older sisters with
whom she had been pretending to play ever since she was a baby and who
were really dearer to her and more actual than real people. Naturally the
new Camp Fire guardian was puzzled over this wholly new problem, with a
so much younger girl, and after thinking it over for a long time made up
her mind to consult with Dr. Barton. For if ever the little girl were to
recover her normal health under their Camp Fire rules she must certainly
put away her morbid fancies. But the consultation gave the new guardian
no satisfaction, appearing to estrange her more than ever from the young
physician. For he and Rose disagreed about the method of Faith's cure
completely and it was ever the young man's obstinacy that Rose had found
it hardest to forgive. Actually Dr. Barton had the stupidity to lecture
Faith about her cherished secret and even to betray her to Sylvia, who
tried reasoning with her every night while putting her to bed.
Fortunately, however, Rose Dyer had not had a colored Mammy for nothing,
having grown up on splendid fairy and folk-lore stories, so that by
degrees she managed to interest little Faith in the things outside her
own mind, in real Camp Fire games and work, and finally in the girls
themselves, until, growing less afraid, Faith found Mollie, Polly and
Betty better substitutes than the sisters of her dreams. And by and by
through their guardian's advice the little girl was permitted to enter
the Sunrise club as a Wood Gatherer. There she grew to be more and more
faithful to its rules and ideals, until after a while her too vivid
imagination seemed to be fairly well under her control. If later in life,
however, her fancy was to lead her into strange experiences, soon no one
would have guessed it, for March found Faith stronger than ever before in
her life and utterly attached to Rose Dyer. Still looking like our little
golden haired Christmas angel, Polly once remarked, but like the angel
after she had eaten the Christmas dinner.

Nevertheless, though Sylvia fully understood that all Faith's devotion
was now bestowed on their Camp Fire guardian, now and then she used to
wonder why Faith did not show any liking for her. Certainly she had given
her the tenderest physical care, making her follow faithfully every Camp
Fire health rule, live outdoors, sleep and eat all she should.

It was also puzzling to Sylvia, just as it has often been to older
persons, why after a few weeks every girl in the Sunrise camp seemed to
feel a special affection for little Faith. She never appeared to do
anything to try to deserve it, except to be pretty and have curly light
hair, big gentle, blue eyes and a timid and appealing manner, while
Sylvia, who spent most of her time making herself as useful as possible
to her friends, was not particularly loved, not even by Polly. And for
Polly O'Neill, Sylvia Wharton's devotion has never for a single instant
wavered and never will, even when the future puts it to many difficult
tests. For faithfulness to an idea, a conviction or a person will ever be
Sylvia's predominant trait of character, and while it may not make her
appear on the surface as loving or lovable as some of her companions, it
would be well if she could now know that it will be to her the other
girls will always turn in after years when they stand in need of sensible
advice or even of real practical assistance. And this was to be
particularly true of Polly O'Neill in her not very peaceful life, so it
was unfortunate that poor Sylvia had now to fight down many pangs of
foolish jealousy through seeing that Polly as well as the other girls
made a special pet and plaything of the newest comer.

But if Faith had unconsciously made Sylvia suffer now and then, she also
accomplished another result. Just at first Betty Ashton had imagined that
there might be some unknown bond of interest between Rose Dyer and young
Dr. Barton, cemented before Rose's entrance into their club as guardian.
But now she gave up the impression, believing thoroughly that Rose found
the cold, puritanical young man actually distasteful in spite of his many
acts of kindness to the Sunrise Camp Fire girls.



                             CHAPTER XVIII
                           Donna and Her Don


However, if none of the Camp Fire girls thought of a possible romance
between their new guardian and the young physician, now established as
the regular visiting doctor at the Sunrise cabin, when the month of March
was passing and the New Hampshire snows beginning to show every now and
then a tendency toward melting, indicating the return of the ever
romantic spring, there was a good deal of carefully whispered discussion
about the chief Camp Fire guardian, Miss Martha McMurtry. Their guardian
of the preceding summer liked best that the girls should call her by her
Camp Fire title, "The Madonna of the Hill," shortened for use into the
Italian "Donna." In the first weeks at camp the summer before, Miss
McMurtry had seemed to some of the Camp Fire girls a sort of
heaven-appointed old maid, a regular born and bred one. As she had lived
and worked through the outdoor months with such a variety of girls,
gradually this old-maidish appearance had worn off, until now there were
actually self-evident reasons for believing that Donna had a real _bona
fide_ admirer in the person of the poor German gentleman who had rescued
Betty and Esther on that memorable December evening in the snow and,
through their acquaintance, had since come to know every member of the
club.

It is but natural to suppose that the first breath of this suggestion may
have been introduced by Esther Clark, since she had best opportunities
for making observations. Yet actually it was Betty Ashton who first
whispered it to Esther, next to Polly, and afterward it traveled very
naturally about the select Camp Fire circle.

Esther had been continuing her lessons with the German professor once
every week since before Christmas. Not that he was a singing master, but
he proved to be a thoroughly trained musician who understood the piano
almost as well as the violin, so that he was able to give Esther splendid
assistance with her piano training so necessary to the singing later on.

And this he insisted on doing without payment in spite of his poverty,
showing a very decided interest in Esther's possible future. In spite of
her own seriously reduced income, however, Betty had at first suggested
that she be allowed to contribute a small sum for the lessons, but Esther
had positively refused to accept anything more than her singing lessons
from her friend. She explained that Herr Crippen said she rendered him
sufficient aid in his other work to pay for what he was doing for her,
and closing with the more truthful statement that, for a reason which he
could not now set forth, he felt particularly hopeful for _das gnädige
Fräulein_.

And yet notwithstanding the fact that Betty was extremely grateful to him
for his kindness to Esther, from their first acquaintance she had never
been able to resist the inclination to make fun of the poor gentleman on
every possible occasion, in the face of Esther's open protests, that is,
when it could be done without hurting his feelings. Under most
circumstances Esther felt that Betty could do no wrong, but her jokes at
the Herr Professor's expense made Esther suffer a variety of emotions
which she could not exactly explain even to herself. The poor man was so
shabby and shy, such an apparent failure in life, without money,
position, friends or family, none of the things which Betty still
considered absolutely essential. Though she never thought she had
betrayed herself, in a way it is just possible that Herr Crippen was all
that winter guessing what was going on in regard to him in the back of
Betty Ashton's mind. He had a pleading, almost apologetic expression as
he gazed into her lovely face as though vaguely asking her not to be too
hard in her judgment and to be kind to him if she could.

Once or twice it is just possible that he asked Miss McMurtry questions
about her in his semi-weekly visits to the older Camp Fire guardian, but
of this Betty of course had no knowledge.

It was on one Saturday night, when Miss McMurtry happened to be staying
at the cabin to afford Rose Dyer a holiday in town, that Betty's
suspicions of a possible romance were first aroused. Promptly at eight
o'clock that evening the Herr Professor, dressed in his best clothes,
made his appearance at the front door, wearing a large clean collar
considerably frayed at the ends and a flowing black silk necktie.

By chance there happened to be but a few of the Sunrise girls at home
that evening, for Mollie O'Neill was staying all night with Meg, Eleanor
Meade was to remain over Sunday with her mother and Nan had gone home to
take her father to church the next day as he had solemnly promised to be
her companion. So as Edith had not come out for her regular week-end
visit there were only the five girls in camp. However, Sylvia was so
busily engaged in seeing Faith to bed that when the Professor arrived
there were only Betty, Polly and Esther about to be in the way. Yet half
an hour or so after his arrival and in the midst of quite an interesting
general conversation Herr Crippen, seeming to be overwhelmed with
emotion, suddenly asked Miss McMurtry to take a walk outside with him and
this when it was not even a particularly warm or agreeable late March
evening.

Betty was a little vexed, for they had just been talking of the old-time
history of Woodford, of the names of some of the old families in the town
and the immediate neighborhood. This was always a subject of keen
interest to Betty, as her own family, the Ashtons, had been among the
first settlers in the village and through each generation had furnished
some of its most distinguished men and women. Indeed, it was Betty's
grandfather who had built the orphan asylum where Esther had lived as a
child. Consequently, she felt an interest in it for her own as well as
Esther's sake when Herr Crippen asked Miss McMurtry if she had not once
taught some of the children at the asylum as a kind of practice work
before graduating at the Normal School. And directly after this question
when Miss McMurtry had quietly answered, "yes," she and her Professor had
disappeared out into the moonlight.

Then immediately after this, Esther had slipped over to the piano and
presently begun playing over a new Camp Fire song, which Frank Wharton
had just sent his sister from headquarters in New York, hearing that the
girls were particularly anxious for the latest Camp Fire music. Polly,
who had been rather annoyed at the interruption of a visitor, returned
once more to the reading of her book, so that it was left to Betty, who
was in an idle mood, to wander over casually to the window and there,
without the least intention of spying, behold what certainly looked like
a very interesting scene.

Instead of walking up and down outside as the Professor had suggested,
Herr Crippen's hands were clasped imploringly together and his face wore
a strangely beseeching expression. Indeed, if Betty had been near enough
she might have seen actual tears in his eyes as there had been on the
Christmas eve when he had his conversation with Esther. The very next
instant Betty had of course turned hurriedly away, feeling ashamed of
herself for having even innocently seen what was so plainly not intended
for her eyes. And yet at the same moment she could not restrain a giggle,
a giggle which grew later on into a confession of what she had witnessed.
Still as she explained it was merely a suspicion, nothing more, for Betty
had not seen how Donna had received the Professor's suit nor did she
really know what kind of a question he had asked.

However, when a few days later Miss McMurtry actually asked for a leave
of absence from school in order to have a quiet talk alone with Rose Dyer
at the cabin, what had been an idle suspicion now looked as though it
might be a reality.

Notwithstanding, the girls had to suffer for some time with ungratified
curiosity, since Rose made no mention even of having had an unexpected
visit from the older woman. Indeed, she tried to go about her regular
Camp Fire work from day to day as though nothing had happened, as though
there were nothing of special interest or importance on her mind, but
this she did not quite succeed in doing, at least not to the watchful
eyes of Betty, Esther and Polly, who were the most interested of the
girls. For Rose's face, when she supposed that no one was looking, wore
an expression of surprise, of uncertainty and even of worry and
uneasiness.

It was odd, Betty thought, why Rose should take Miss McMurtry's love
affair so seriously and what could there be in it to trouble over,
anyhow? Either Miss Martha did or did not care for the funny old German
who must have been fifteen years her senior, and who certainly was not a
desirable catch from a worldly point of view. It never occurred to Betty
that there could be any possibility of love not running smoothly with two
such elderly persons.

However, as Rose made no confidences, after a week had passed the whole
subject vanished into the background of everybody's minds and most of the
girls believed that the whole idea had been a mistaken one from the
beginning.

And then one afternoon in the early part of April, Rose called Betty
aside and asked her if on the following afternoon she and Esther could
meet Miss McMurtry, Herr Crippen and herself in the drawing room at the
Ashton house in Woodford. There was a question which had to be discussed
and it was not possible to have any privacy at the cabin. Miss Dyer's own
house was closed, but a caretaker had been left in charge of the Ashton
home, as it was too beautiful a place to remain for so many months
unguarded.



                              CHAPTER XIX
                                Memories


Betty arrived at her home before her visitors. Esther was engaged for
another half hour with a music lesson and besides Betty wished to see
that the house was in order for her visitors.

It was a curious sensation to come home alone and to wander from one end
of the big house to the other, hearing only the sound of her own
footsteps, for Mrs. Mitchell, the caretaker, was in the kitchen preparing
afternoon tea to be served the guests a little later, while her husband
was working in the yard. Betty had an uncomfortable feeling of
desolation, as though she were a kind of a ghost. First she went straight
to her mother's room, but there the pictures were covered with sheets,
the mattress rolled up, the curtains down, and the tables and mantel so
bare of ornament that Betty hurried away to her own blue sitting room
across the hall. Would her father and mother never be back? Surely they
would both be returning in the early summer when the weather would be
less severe upon her father's health and the great house would be
reopened as it had always been.

At the cabin with the other girls the time had not seemed so long to
Betty, nearly ten months now since their sailing, but here at home why it
seemed that years might have passed. A sudden fear clutched the girl's
heart--would things ever be quite the same again; did life ever repeat
itself in exactly the same old way? And yet Betty had no regrets, only
pleasure, that she had been the moving spirit in the first organization
of the Sunrise Camp Fire club. How much they had learned in their summer
and winter together! And though she might count herself as having learned
least of all, yet surely she would never be quite so spoiled and selfish
as on that May day when she had accidentally discovered Esther Clark
singing the Camp Fire hymn in their formerly deserted back room.

When her mother returned she would relieve her by taking the care of the
housekeeping upon her own shoulders and certainly she would be able to
cut down expenses. Now that her father's income was so reduced, this
would be a great assistance to him, as Mrs. Ashton had no idea of
possible household economies. Betty smiled, not in the least mournfully.
There was no thought of any real poverty to be grappled with in her mind.
She was only considering in what an unexpected fashion she was going to
be able to show to her mother and father the benefits of her Camp Fire
training, for which she had plead so earnestly not quite a year before.

The young girl was in her own room at the time of these reflections,
seated in her own blue rocking chair with her feet tucked up under her
and her chin resting in her hand, looking out her open window at the
desolate garden, for this April afternoon was just as cold and
uninspiring as that other May afternoon, and there was also no fire in
her grate, although downstairs a big blaze had been lighted for the
expected company.

That Betty had changed in the past year, her parents would be able to see
readily. Really she was prettier than ever; from her outdoor life the
color in her cheeks was deeper, her lips a more vivid scarlet and the
selfish, sometimes discontented lines about her mouth and forehead had
wholly disappeared. Now thinking of her parents return, of how she would
be able to prove her love for them by greater devotion to her father in
his ill-health; that perhaps he would even teach her something of his
business cares and responsibilities since Dick would be so long away
completing his medical studies, her expression was very thoughtful and
charming and her gray eyes unusually serious. Yet the next instant with a
gay laugh Betty jumped to her feet.

"My goodness, I must hurry downstairs and see how the drawing room
looks!" she exclaimed aloud. "I have been forgetting what an interesting
interview we are going to have this afternoon! Dear me, I wonder what the
trouble is and why Esther and I should be privileged to attend this
romantic meeting? Perhaps there is going to be some kind of marriage
contract, arranged in German fashion, and Esther, Rose and I are wanted
as witnesses. It matters not just so I am allowed in the secret." And
Betty started running down the hall.

However, before arriving at the front steps a moment's hesitation
overtook her and she paused. The next second she had gone to the end of
the passage and stood with her hand on the door-knob of the very room
where she had once surprised Esther. But to-day she could hear no sounds
of singing on the inside.

"I am going to peep into Esther's old room; I wonder if she will wish
this same one when she comes back to live with us again. Somehow it must
affect me like the locked chamber did Bluebeard's wife; there isn't the
least reason why I should be peering into this empty place to-day."

The door opened quickly and Betty gave a sudden scream of terror. The
room was not unoccupied, some one was kneeling over in a corner by a
closed window.

The figure rose slowly to its feet. "I am sorry, Betty, I didn't mean to
frighten you. Really, dear, I didn't dream of your coming in here."

It was Esther Clark. In the half light Betty was now able to distinguish
her perfectly. Esther's face was extremely white, there were tears in her
large pale blue eyes and her lids were red and swollen. Her big hands
worked nervously as they had on that former occasion when Betty had
thought her so plain and unattractive looking.

"Oh, it's you, Esther," Betty exclaimed in relieved tones. "Gracious, how
you startled me! But I thought you were taking your music lesson. What in
the world is troubling you, child, and how did you get into this house
and upstairs without my knowing?"

"I came in through the kitchen and crept upstairs as quietly as possible,
since I wanted to be alone here for a few minutes," Esther explained.
"Will you please leave me for a little while?"

"Most certainly not," returned Betty in her most autocratic tones. "If
you have anything on your mind that is worrying you, come on downstairs
and tell me what it is. You have a dreadful tiresome fashion, Esther, of
just hugging your grievances to yourself, when if you just told outright
what they were, there would probably be nothing for you to fret about."
Betty was annoyed and her tone was far more irritable than usual.
Nevertheless, Esther crossed the short space between them and taking
Betty's lovely face between her hands kissed her two or three times in
succession.

"Do as I tell you, Princess, please," she spoke in unusual tones of
authority. "I will join you downstairs in a very little while, but I must
get back my self-control first."

So there seemed to be nothing left for Betty but obedience, so plainly
did Esther appear to know what she wanted. Very slowly the younger girl
walked down to the drawing room. "Esther did find it difficult to confide
things to people, but usually she was willing to tell them to her," Betty
thought. "Well, perhaps her shyness and reticence came from having been
raised in an orphan asylum where no one was really deeply interested in
her or her personal affairs. Nothing very serious could have happened,
however, since Esther had left school only about an hour before."

In the drawing room everything was far more cheerful, the fire was
burning, the window blinds were drawn up, the grand piano was open and on
it rested a vase of white roses. It was perfectly impossible for Betty
Ashton to learn to be economical all at once, and with the thought of a
possible betrothal in the house that afternoon she had stopped at a
florist's and brought the flowers in with her. Now she could not help
feeling a little glow of pride over the beauty of their old drawing room,
especially noticeable after the simplicity of the living room at the
cabin.

Feeling rather nervous over the idea that Esther might probably be
continuing with her crying upstairs and so unable to take part in the
coming interview, Betty walked slowly around the great room studying the
portraits of her ancestors,--a favorite amusement with her so long as she
could remember. They were stern persons most of them. Betty did not
believe that she could ever have such strict views of the difference
between right and wrong, be so harsh in her judgments as they had been,
but then the world had moved on to a wider vision since those days. One
of her great, great uncles had assisted in the burning of witches. Betty
turned from this self-righteous looking portrait to the picture of the
aunt whom she had always believed herself to resemble, the young woman in
the white dress with the big picture hat, then the girl smiled at her own
vanity. How absurd to think that she could look like any one so lovely!
And yet here was the auburn hair, only a shade more golden than her own,
big eyes that were blue instead of gray and a kind of proud fashion of
tilting her chin. Very probably Betty had always held her own head in
this fashion because she had always so wished to be thought like this
special great aunt.

"Well, it was a good thing to feel a certain pride of ancestry," the
young girl thought, "in spite of all of Polly's teasing. Surely the
possession of a great name ought to keep one away from littleness or
meanness, make one strive to fill an honorable position in the world. If
she had not the ability to be a great woman certainly she intended to be
a good one. And then the recollection of Esther came to her again. Poor
Esther, who had not even a name of her own! For this very reason had she
not always been more ambitious for her friend than Esther had seemed for
herself? If she had no position, no money and no family, Esther did have
a real talent and must make a place for herself some day."

But there sounded the first ring at the door bell! Let one hope it was
not Herr Crippen arriving first, since, with Esther still upstairs, how
could she ever hope to keep him entertained until the arrival of the
others? But probably the elderly violinist had never seen anything quite
so handsome as their drawing room. Betty had the grace to laugh and then
blush over her own foolishness, snobbishness Polly might call it. What
did she know of Herr Crippen, his past, what he had seen, where he had
traveled in the forty-five years or more of his life?

With a smile of welcome and her hand extended Betty then moved forward
toward the door to receive her first guest.



                               CHAPTER XX
                            The Explanation


However, it only turned out to be Rose Dyer, looking unusually flushed
and excited, who kissed Betty rather tremulously and then sat down as
though she were out of breath. "I was afraid I would be late," was her
explanation.

An instant later there was another ring at the bell and on this second
occasion Miss McMurtry and Herr Crippen entered together.

Betty considered that Miss McMurtry looked a little bit agitated, but not
remarkably so, just enough if she were really about to announce her
engagement. But Herr Crippen, unhappy man, was this the way that love
affected the emotional German temperament? His face, which was ordinarily
pale enough, was to-day like chalk, his red hair was moist upon his high
forehead and his big hands cold as he shook hands with his hostess.

Then the little company arranged themselves in chairs before the glowing
fire and remained perfectly silent. Why on earth didn't some one speak?
It was her own home, and Betty felt that upon herself devolved the duties
of a hostess and yet so plainly in the present instance did it seem to be
her place to say nothing until her older guests offered some explanation
for their presence.

"Where is Esther?" Miss McMurtry finally asked, and feeling grateful at
having something to do which permitted even an instant's escape from the
frozen stillness of the room, Betty jumped up, announcing hurriedly:

"I will get her myself; Esther isn't feeling very well or she would have
been down before. She is upstairs in her own room."

Then before she could get away there was an unmistakable sound of some
one approaching and the next moment Esther Clark joined her friends.

She had washed her face and smoothed her hair, but there were still plain
traces of recent tears about her and yet no one of the company appeared
surprised.

When Betty had taken her place before the fire again Esther sat down on a
stool near her and, not seeming to care in the least about the near
presence of other people, took one of Betty's hands in hers as though she
were clinging to it for encouragement and support.

"Will you please tell the whole story as slowly and as clearly as you
can, Herr Crippen?" Esther then asked. "Miss McMurtry and Miss Dyer both
understand about it in a measure, but it will be an entire surprise to
Miss Ashton."

In utter amazement Betty, entirely forgetting her manners, now proceeded
to stare from one face to the other of her guests. Was this the way to
announce a betrothal, and besides what could Esther know of the relation
between her music teacher and their first Camp Fire guardian; had she not
been as much mystified as the rest of them?

Herr Crippen, clearing his throat, jumped up from his chair and began
striding rapidly up and down the length of the great room, talking so
rapidly and under the pressure of such great excitement that Betty had
almost to strain her ears to catch the real drift of what he was saying.

"I haf told you before, I haf lived one oder time in Woodford, fourteen,
fifteen year ago, but I haf not said for how long I am here nor why I
went away," he began hastily. "I haf a very beautiful wife, an American
woman. She was not well and we came here to your Crystal Hill country
with our babies that she might recover. But she recovered not; instead
she was ill so long a time until at last she was _todt_, dead," he
corrected himself, wiping the moisture from his brow with a big pocket
handkerchief. "Then I am poor, very poor; I haf spent so much time
nursing her and I haf two babies left who must be looked after. I try
then to get music pupils, but I haf not much heart, besides are not the
babies always there to be kept out of mischief, so where is the time I
can work? I must go away, there is noding else and how can I carry the
little ones, one under each arm? No, I must leave my children behind."

Esther's blue eyes were gazing steadfastly down at the oriental rug at
her feet, but Betty's cheeks were burning with interest and her gray eyes
followed the speaker as eagerly as her ears heard him.

"There is a great house here for little ones I am told, an orphans' home,
they call it. Are not my babies orphans, with no mother and a father that
has not even food to give them?"

In a flash Betty's arms were about Esther's neck and she was drawing her
toward her with an affectionate understanding she had rarely ever before
shown her.

"You need not explain any more, Herr Crippen, if the others already
know," Betty Ashton interrupted, "for I think I understand what you are
intending to tell me. You left your children at our Woodford orphan
asylum and Esther is your daughter, so after all these years have passed
you come back to find her. It is very, very strange, I can't quite
realize it all yet and here is Esther not looking in the least like a
German but inheriting your musical talent, although with her it has taken
the form of a wonderful voice." And Betty stopped talking at last to gaze
into the fire, too overcome with the surprising mysteries of life to say
anything more for the present.

An apparent relief showed itself in the faces of everybody present. Herr
Crippen sat down again and Esther left her place for a chair next his.

"Aren't we going to have some tea, Betty dear, now our surprise party is
over?" Rose Dyer inquired, so that Betty came back to herself with a
start and crossing the room rang the bell.

The next instant she paused in front of Esther and her father. It was odd
that no one had ever thought of it, but there was a kind of likeness
between the man and girl, the same red hair and paleness, the same
nervous manner, although Esther was far more attractive looking and had
learned a great deal more self-control. This afternoon there was an added
dignity about Esther, even a nobility, which showed itself in the quiet
poise of her head, in the firm lines about her always handsome mouth.

Looking at her friend, Betty Ashton's eyes filled suddenly with tears,
for in this moment she was feeling a deeper, a sincerer affection for her
than at any time since their acquaintance.

"But you won't be taking Esther away from me, Herr Crippen?" Betty
suddenly pleaded. "She has been a kind of foster sister to me for almost
a year and I should be so dreadfully lonely here in this big house
without her after the closing of our camp. She has already taught me such
a number of things, I don't suppose she can even dream how many! Can't
you just let her live on with me and come and see her whenever you like?"
Which question showed that Betty Ashton did not realize that
circumstances ever could seriously interfere with her dearest wishes.

But the German violinist, while he held his daughter's hand clasped tight
in his, slowly shook his head. "For a little while, yes," he agreed, "but
after that my Esther she must go away from Woodford. She hast _ein
grosser_ talent than you her friends who do not understand music can
know. She must study much, she must do all that I haf failed to do. I haf
a little money, it is enough for the start, after that----"

"But I shall not wish ever to leave Betty or you," Esther here
interrupted quietly. "I am not ambitious; I can learn all I shall need to
know to earn my living here in Woodford."

It was hardly the time for argument, as each member of the little company
realized, and fortunately at this moment the tea tray made its arrival so
that Betty and Esther were both busy in supplying the wants of their few
guests. However, when Betty had secured her own cup of tea she brought up
a tiny table and placed it between the German professor and herself.
There had not been much time for thought, but in a vague way Betty felt
that she wanted to make reparation both to her friend and Herr Crippen
for any foolish joking which she had done at the man's expense. Really he
was not so bad, now one realized how many misfortunes he had passed
through, although he could not have had much strength of character or he
would never have let anything persuade him to desert his children.

"You will go with Esther when she has to leave Woodford?" Betty inquired
softly, not wishing that any one else should overhear. "Of course when
the time comes it wouldn't be fair for me to stand in her way no matter
how much we care for one another, but Esther would be far too timid to go
alone."

Herr Crippen shook his head violently. "I cannot leaf this neighborhood,
nothing can make me until I haf accomplished all my purpose, no
objectings, no arguments." He spoke with such anger that Betty stared in
a complete state of mystification. Herr Crippen's voice was not lowered;
he gazed with apparent fierceness at Miss McMurtry, whom Betty had
supposed until very recently to be the object of his ardent affections.

"I tell you I leaf behind two childrens," he went on, "the one I haf
found, the other the superintendent at the asylum, my friends, no one
will tell me where mine oder child is. Adopted they tell me, taken away
from here, I haf no more a legal right, I should only make unhappiness
should I demand my little baby back again."

"You promised me you would not talk of this, father," Esther began in a
pleading tone, "you promised me that if I would forget all your past
neglect you would find your happiness in me."

But Betty had risen to her feet and stood frowning with unconscious
earnestness at the tall man.

"If your son has been adopted by people who love him and whom he loves
and thinks are his parents, then I don't think you have the least right
to interfere, Herr Crippen. You went away and left him when he was a
little baby to almost any kind of fate. Now you expect him to give up
everything and everybody and come back to you, a perfect stranger. I am
sure if I were in his place, I should love my adopted parents whom I had
always believed to be my own far better than I could ever care for you."

The big German dropped his head on his chest. Rose and Miss McMurtry got
up quickly,

"Come, girls, we must be getting back home to the cabin or the other
girls will believe we are lost. Run away, Betty, you and Esther, and get
your coats and hats."

But when the five people were leaving the big house together, Betty
waited behind for a moment. "I hope I didn't hurt your feelings about
your son, Herr Professor," she apologized. "I--I didn't intend to be
rude, and I should think just finding a wonderful daughter like Esther
might make one happy enough."

Herr Crippen opened his mouth intending to say something but evidently
changed his mind as to what it should be. "You are very good, little
lady, whom I haf heard your friends call Princess, and I haf no doubt
that what you before said to me is most true."



                              CHAPTER XXI
                               Misfortune


Several days later Dick Ashton, walking out to the Sunrise cabin from
Woodford, unexpectedly caught up with Esther making the same journey. He
came up to her side very quickly and with one look in his face the girl
gave a cry of dismay. Dick was always serious and yet in spite of his
seriousness there was no one with a keener appreciation of humorous
situations and people, but to-day his face was drawn and there was a set
look about his lips.

"I didn't mean to startle you, Esther," Dick said quietly, "but I am very
glad it is you I have met rather than any one of the other girls. I have
bad news for Betty."

Did Esther's face for a fleeting instant show surprise and almost alarm?

"It has nothing to do with me, has it?" she asked, but Dick, shaking his
head and hardly heeding her question, went on:

"I have just received news of my father's death and must break it to
Betty. It is going to be very hard; Betty has never known anything but
happiness and in spite of--in spite of everything, I believe my father
loved her almost better than either my mother or me."

After her first exclamation of sympathy Esther continued silent, feeling
it wiser to let Dick talk himself out to a sympathetic listener than to
pour forth her own regrets.

"It isn't only the loss of my father that Betty and mother will have to
endure," he continued, "but the entire loss of my father's fortune. The
trouble has been brewing for some time, but a few weeks ago the crash
came and it must have hastened the end."

"You don't mean to say they will have nothing?" Esther inquired in a
frightened voice. The thought of Betty, whom her friends had always
called "Princess" because of her careless generosity, her indifference,
her absolute ignorance of the whole money question, now to face poverty
without any training or preparation for it,--the thought fairly made
Esther gasp, and Dick who had some idea of what was passing in her mind
added:

"Yes, it is pretty rough to bring a girl up to live like a Princess and
then suddenly to leave her a pauper. I have always been afraid we have
not been quite fair with Betty, maybe it would have been easier for her
to have known the truth about things from the beginning. Still it can't
be helped now. But the worst of it is that I know nothing about business
either; I have never cared for anything but my profession and it takes a
long time for a man to be able to support even himself in medicine until
he has had several years of experience at least. I must give it up."

Dick's face went whiter than ever at this and Esther, who in spite of a
certain shyness and nervousness when she found herself the center of
observation, had a really good judgment and self-control, now replied
quietly: "I wouldn't think too much of this now, Mr. Ashton, things are
pretty sure to turn out a little better than you feel they can at present
and in any case I am sure something will be arranged so that you can go
on with your profession. It would be too great a pity, when you have
studied so long and are now so near your graduation, to have to give it
up."

Dick Ashton looked at Esther gratefully, thinking of how their positions
had been reversed in a little less than a year. Had he not, when first he
came upon the shy, homely girl among his sister's group of friends, done
his best to make her more comfortable, less of a stranger and an
outsider, and now he felt strangely strengthened and calmed by her
presence and advice. He too saw that there were times when Esther's
self-forgetfulness gave her a kind of beauty which was more important
than mere lines and color, since it was a beauty that would last far
longer.

So the young people walked on for a little time in silence, until Dick
Ashton colored and then hesitated.

"I hope you won't think me rude, Miss Esther, that in my own trouble I
have forgotten to congratulate you on having found your father. Betty has
written me all about it and I certainly hope it may add to your
happiness. I used to wonder even when I was a little boy if you felt very
lonely at the asylum without a--a single relative."

"You wondered about me; then you knew about _me_?" Esther asked quietly,
and turned, stopping short in the path to give Dick Ashton a long, quiet
look. Something passed between them without words, one of those subtle
and silent communications of thought for which there has been no
satisfactory explanation. Yet in the instant each one of them knew that
the other had guessed his and her secret, or if not quite guessing it, at
least had very reasonable foundations for their suspicion.

Dick's formerly pale face crimsoned and he looked down at the ground,
beginning to walk slowly on. "We--we thought it best this way, Miss
Esther, and still think so. It has been hard upon you perhaps, but isn't
it better that one person should suffer than that a number should be made
unhappy?" There was almost entreaty in Dick Ashton's voice and at the
same time he meant to make no betrayal if Esther did not know what he
supposed she might possibly have learned within the past few weeks.

Esther's reply left no room for doubt. "It is best this way now," she
answered slowly. "I can't say that I think it altogether fair or just at
the beginning. But so far as I am concerned, why you need never worry."

"I wish there were some way in which we could make it up to you, but we
have nothing now to be of any assistance to anybody. It is what my mother
meant in a measure when----"

Esther nodded. "I understand and there is no need of talking about
repaying me. Betty has already done more than that and there is nothing
in the world I would not do or give up for her sake. I care for her more
than she may ever know."

His companion's voice trembled so that Dick feared she might be losing
her self-control and knew that they had a hard enough task before them.

They were not very far from Sunrise cabin now and feared that at any
moment Betty Ashton might come out to meet them, since Dick had
telegraphed that he was coming to see her on important business in order
that she might be a little bit prepared for what was to follow.

"It is a pretty dark road for all of us just now, Miss Esther, but some
day perhaps without our having to make the decision things will right
themselves _somehow_," he returned kindly.

And at this instant the young man and girl discovered Betty flying along
the path in their direction. It was a fairly warm April afternoon and she
wore her blue cape, the cape which Esther remembered so well during the
spring of her own coming to the big Ashton house. She had on no hat and
her hair was tied back in a loose bunch of red-brown curls.

Evidently Betty had suspected no trouble from Dick's telegram (Betty and
trouble were so far apart these days), for she laughed and waved both
hands in joyous welcome at her brother's approach.

"Where did you two people find one another? I believe it was all arranged
beforehand and Dick Ashton's visits to our cabin are quite as much to see
Miss Esther Clark--Crippen I meant to say--as they are to see poor little
me." Betty had always enjoyed teasing Esther and now she expected this
silly remark of hers to make her friend blush and scold, but Esther
seemed not to have paid the least attention, not even to have heard her.
And in the same instant Betty guessed that something serious had
occurred.

Her expression changed instantly. Betty looked suddenly older and unlike
any one had ever seen her look before.

She took her brother's hand. "Never mind, Dick, I think I know already,"
she whispered, and unexpectedly it seemed to be Dick who was having to be
upheld and consoled.

Esther slipped silently away, leaving the brother and sister together in
their sorrow, and somehow in her loneliness she felt almost envious of
them in the closeness of their grief.



                              CHAPTER XXII
                      Saying Farewell to the Cabin


"For my part," announced Polly O'Neill, "I am not so heart-broken as I
expected at having to say farewell to Sunrise cabin. It is so different
for us all, with the Princess not here and having to think of her back
home in their big house with only her mother and one little maid of all
work. To think that I used to tell the Princess I thought she ought to be
poor a little while just to find out what it felt like! I could cry my
eyes out now when I realize that it has actually come true."

It was the May meeting of the Sunrise Council Fire and because it was to
be the last meeting for some time which might be held on their old
camping grounds, the girls and their guardian had decided that it should
take place outdoors and that at the close of their regular program there
should be, a general talk over the history of the past year.

Esther rose quietly at this speech of Polly's, partly because she seemed
to wish to find relief in action and then because the May night was cold,
and put several fresh pine logs on their already glowing fire.

"You must not think I am ungrateful, Rose dear," Polly continued. "This
winter has been to me the most wonderful one, sometimes I think the
turning point in my whole life, but if Betty is going to be trying to
take boarders in that big Ashton house to support herself and her mother
and let Dick finish his medical studies, why I think Mollie and mother
and I had better be back in our own tiny cottage to give her our valuable
advice."

"But Betty won't be keeping boarders herself, will she? I thought it was
Mrs. Ashton who was to look after things with Betty to help," Nan Graham
spoke in a kind of awed tone. "Still it wouldn't seem very nice of us to
keep on living here in our cabin, which Betty did a great deal more
toward building than the rest of us, if she were not here to share it."

Mollie shook her head decidedly, so that the feathers of her Indian
head-dress made fantastic small shadows on the ground. "I don't think
that would matter in the least and certainly not to Betty," she said in
her sensible, far-seeing fashion. "Betty would love to think of our being
here and she would come and visit us whenever it were possible, but
circumstances seem to have changed for all of us. Here is mother coming
home from Ireland and Polly and I will want to keep house for her and
look after things while she is at work just as we have always done, and
then Mrs. Meade says she isn't willing for Eleanor to be away from her
any longer, and Nan feels she ought to go home and help her mother with
the younger children, and Esther going away after a while to New York to
study. Dear me, what changes a few months can bring! I am glad they have
not brought such big ones to us, Polly."

Sylvia Wharton had been in the act of wrapping a white woolen shawl about
the small Faith, who was cuddled close to Rose Dyer, but now she stopped
and stared hard at Mollie and then at Polly with an apparently wooden
expression of face.

"What makes you feel things won't be different for you and that your
mother will go back to work?" she stammered, feeling their guardian give
a little warning tug at her dress but unable to change the form of her
question once it had taken a start in that way in her mind.

However, both the sisters only laughed, Polly exclaiming in an amused
tone: "Of course we don't know anything definitely, oh Sylvia, in this
world of surprises, but merely that present indications point the way
Mollie has just mentioned." Fortunately, Polly, who was usually quick as
a flash to follow up any suggestion, had her mind on other than her own
affairs to-night.

"Esther," she continued the next moment, "this is a kind of confessional
to-night, or at least it may be if we girls decide that we are willing to
confide in one another (autobiography is so much more interesting than
history anyhow), so I wonder if you would mind telling us why you changed
your mind so suddenly about going away from Woodford to study. At first
you said nothing in the world would persuade you to go and then all of a
sudden, after Betty's misfortune, when it looked as though you might be a
help to her, you determined to leave. Don't answer me if you don't like,
Esther, I know you have a perfectly good reason. Of course _I_ change my
mind without a reason, but you don't."

Esther now felt that the eyes of all the members of the Camp Fire circle
were fixed upon her and that many of them held the same question that
Polly had just so frankly asked.

For a moment she hesitated, looking a little appealingly at Miss McMurtry
and then at Rose Dyer. Rose nodded her head.

"I would tell just what I felt, Esther, as far as you can," Rose
recommended. "It is only fair to you that Betty's dearest friends should
understand your position, even though you would rather that Betty herself
should not know. I feel you can trust them to keep your secret."

Esther wound the seven strings of honor beads into a single chain before
she spoke. "It sounds rather absurd of me and pretentious I know," she
began slowly; "of course I have a great many reasons in my mind why I
feel it best for me to go away from Woodford right now and the most
important one I cannot tell, but there is another which perhaps I have
the right to let you try to understand. I am not deserting Betty just
when she seems to need me most; it is because Betty now is poor and some
day I may be able to help her if I do go away and succeed with my music
that I am willing to go. You see Betty has done such a lot for me and has
wanted to do so much more and--and--" Esther could not continue with her
confession, but it was hardly necessary, for rising from her place Polly
marched solemnly around their circle and sitting down by Esther put her
arm about her neck.

"I understand you perfectly now, Esther, though I want you to believe
that no one of us has ever doubted you. You are too unselfish and too
unworldly to care to make a big success in the world with your talent if
it is only for yourself, but the thought that maybe you can some day
bring back wealth and happiness again to the Princess makes most any
effort worth while?"

Esther bowed her head, too full of emotion to answer Polly's question in
words.

"I supposed I cared for Betty a lot, I have known her so much longer than
you have," Polly went on thoughtfully, "but I don't half love her as you
do, Esther, even in this little while. I suppose it is because you
haven't any relatives of your own and your father is still so new to you.
But didn't you have a baby brother or some one long years ago----?"

Polly's remark was never finished because Miss Dyer now got up quickly.
Because the evenings were so cool the May Council Fire had started early
and though it was well nigh over, there was still a faint reflection of
daylight.

"I thought I heard the wheels of a wagon several moments ago," she
explained, "and now I think I can see Dr. Barton's buggy being driven
this way. I wonder what in the world he can want with us at this time of
the evening? Polly, will you come back to the cabin with me to see."

The Council Fire was being held at no great distance from the Sunrise
cabin, but perhaps it was Rose Dyer's purpose at this moment to separate
Polly and Esther.

Of course Polly followed with entire willingness, but a few feet from
their door, seeing Dr. Barton's buggy draw nearer and that it held two
occupants instead of one, her face crimsoned and she bit her lips to
control her vexation. She was returning to join the girls when Dr.
Barton's voice called after her: "Don't go away, Miss O'Neill, please,
our call is upon your sister and you. I was driving through the woods and
found Mr. Webster with a telegram which had been telephoned to the farm
and which he was bringing out to you and I offered to give him a lift."

Although neither of the two young men had received any invitation to
alight, they both got out of the buggy and both wearing somewhat
crestfallen expressions, stood gazing at the two young women.

"I will call Mollie," Polly declared stiffly, drawing back from Billy's
hand which held a square of paper in it.

"You need not speak to me, Miss O'Neill, simply because I happen to be
your messenger boy," the young man said as haughtily as Polly could have
spoken. "And you need not feel any contamination at accepting this
message from me. The telegram was telephoned out to our farm and my
mother wrote it down, so I haven't the faintest idea what the paper
contains."

Without showing any further signs of recognizing the speaker, Polly
reached for the paper, but the next instant her frightened cry for Mollie
brought her sister, Sylvia Wharton, and half a dozen other persons to her
side. "I must have read it wrong, it is so dark, or your mother must have
made some mistake!" Polly cried, forgetting her policy of silence in her
agitation. And then standing with a white face and clenched teeth she
watched Mollie read the message.

Mollie did not betray any great grief or anger, only a considerable
amount of surprise, so that Polly for an instant believed her own eyes
must have deceived her.

"Why, I can't quite understand it," Mollie said aloud, seeing the puzzled
group of faces around her. "Mother telegraphs that she and Mr. Wharton,
Sylvia's father, have been engaged to be married for the past few months
and that she was coming home to tell us about it and to ask us if we were
willing, but something has happened or else Mr. Wharton has just
persuaded her, for they are married already and are sailing for home
to-morrow. Mother says she is very happy and hopes we will forgive her
and be almost as overjoyed as she is in coming home to us. At least that
is what I think the cablegram means. Billy was mistaken in thinking it a
telegram. How do you feel, Polly dear? I am too dazed to take it all in."

"I feel," said Polly, with a return to her old passionate, uncontrolled
manner, "that I shall never be happy again as long as I live." And then
observing a slow, hurt look in Sylvia Wharton's usually unmoved face, she
turned for an instant toward her. "I don't mean to hurt your feelings,
Sylvia, or to say anything against your father, but it just isn't
possible for you to understand what this means to me." And with this
thoroughly Polly-like point of view she ran away and hid herself inside
the cabin.

Billy Webster walked off with Mollie and the other Camp Fire girls to
talk things over, giving Dr. Barton a chance to linger for a few moments
with Rose Dyer.

"I don't know why you seem so offended with me these days, Miss Rose,"
that young man was soon saying in rather an humble voice for so stern and
upright a judge of other people's duties, "but may I say that I think
your work among the Camp Fire girls this winter has been quite wonderful
and that I never dreamed you could or would be interested in anything
outside of society? Oh, Rose----"

"Rose of the World," Rose Dyer finished in a slightly mocking tone, which
did not show whether or not she had forgiven the young man's former
opinion of her.

However, he _was_ obstinate and so would not be interrupted. "Oh, Rose of
a Thousand Leaves," he ended for himself.



                             CHAPTER XXIII
                              Future Plans


"It was Sylvia who really arranged things for me," Polly explained
confidentially.

The girls were in Betty Ashton's own blue room, having said good-bye to
Sunrise cabin and turned their backs upon it for a time at least. But the
cabin had been left ready to receive its owners at any time when they
might be able to come back to it and week-end parties and Council Fire
meetings were often to take place there, besides more important events
which the girls could not well anticipate now.

But to-day was Betty Ashton's birthday and although she was in too deep
mourning for any kind of gayety, her Camp Fire friends had planned to
stop by her house during the afternoon to leave little gifts for her,
along with their best wishes. And Mollie and Polly O'Neill had arrived
first.

"I shall miss you terribly, Polly," Betty returned wistfully; her bright
color had gone in the last few weeks and there were slight shadows under
her gray eyes. "Still I feel sure that under the circumstances it is best
for you to go. You are too restless anyhow to have wanted to stay in
Woodford and the new life with the new people and sights will make you
much happier. You will probably have a good deal of liberty at a New York
boarding school and you'll be able to go to the theater now and then and
do many of the things you will like. But Mollie and I hope you will come
back for Christmas and will write us pretty often."

Polly looked thoughtfully from her friend to her sister. "I know I am an
absolutely selfish person and I would rather neither one of you would
even attempt to deny it. I am not leaving my home though simply because I
am restless. The truth is I simply can't get used to mother's being
married to Mr. Wharton and to living in their great ugly house instead of
our own beloved cottage. I don't like Frank Wharton and though Mr.
Wharton is very kind and wants to do everything for Mollie and me, he is
one of those dreadfully literal persons, so I am afraid we never will
understand one another."

"But you used to say, Polly, that you were tired of our small house and
that you wanted to live in a big one with lots of money and servants. And
now you have it you are dying to get away." And Mollie sighed, for the
thought of being parted from her sister even as far away as the next
fall, was very hard to bear, and yet she would not leave her mother,
since for both of her daughters to go away would look like a reflection
upon her marriage.

"Heigh, ho!" laughed Polly. "Perhaps I have made some such statement in
the past but I suppose I wanted to get rich in my own little way, like I
wish to do everything else. And _in_consistency, which is not a jewel, is
certainly Polly O'Neill. But don't let's talk about me any more, it's
Betty's birthday. However, I would like to register this statement--
Sylvia Wharton is the most extraordinary person I ever met. And what
Sylvia starts out to do in this world she'll do. It was Sylvia who saw I
wasn't happy in her home, Sylvia who talked things over first to me, and
then suggested my departure to mother and her father. And though our
parents were both horribly opposed to the idea at first, Sylvia brought
them around without any arguments or excitement simply by continuing to
make plain statements of the facts."

"Well, the wheel of fortune we hear so much about has truly turned, dear,
and you're rich and I'm poor and now we must wait to see what will happen
next," Betty remarked, hearing a faint knock at her bedroom door and
moving forward to open it, but in passing she stopped and kissed Polly
lightly on the forehead. "Don't look as though you were the wheel, Polly
child, and had made the changes. I am not going to be half so miserable
being poor as you girls think I will. Just think of how much more
self-respecting I am going to feel if, when I go to bed some night, I can
say to myself: 'Betty Ashton has earned her salt to-day.'"

Betty now opened her door and there on the threshold stood Rose Dyer with
a bunch of pink roses and Faith with a pot of lemon verbena in her hand.
Faith was not yet well enough to go home to the boarding house in Boston,
so Miss Dyer had brought her to her own home in Woodford, where she and
Mammy were still to look after the odd child.

On the arrival of Polly and Mollie a few moments before, Betty had not
been in the least surprised. The two girls usually ran in to see her
every afternoon now and had been giving her birthday presents for nearly
as many years as she could remember, but when Rose and Faith also
appeared she realized that the members of the Sunrise club might all be
coming in to see her during the afternoon in just this same quiet
fashion. And the next instant she was convinced when Sylvia solemnly
appeared with a box of candy, which she thrust awkwardly at her.

"It's against our Camp Fire rules to eat candy, Betty, and I don't
approve of it or like it very much myself, but I couldn't think of
anything else to bring when Polly and Mollie went off without me; and
there won't be enough to make so many people sick."

During the laughter over Sylvia's remark, Nan Graham walked shyly in
through the now open door, bearing a loaf of cake.

"I couldn't bring a real present, Betty," she explained with far more
grace and sweetness than one could have dreamed possible of so rough and
untrained a girl the year before, "but this is the kind of cake you used
to like when I made it at the cabin and I thought you wouldn't mind
eating a piece on your birthday for old times' sake."

Feeling a sudden rush of emotion, Betty gave Nan a swift embrace and then
excusing herself from her friends for a moment slipped out of the room
for two purposes: she wanted to find her mother and make her join her
friends and she wanted to prepare a great pitcher of lemonade for her
guests, for Betty was neither foolish nor selfish in her sorrow, and if
her friends had come to her to bring their good wishes, she desired that
the afternoon might pass as pleasantly as possible.

Things had not gone quite so badly with the Ashton fortune as Dick Ashton
had originally feared, although conditions were surely bad enough. For
Mrs. Ashton still had the house and Betty a small income settled on her
by Mr. Ashton years before as a dress allowance, which now had to cover
many other needs. For the completion of Dick's medical course there were
several thousand dollars that an aunt had left him as a legacy when he
was only a small boy and to use the capital in this way now seemed the
wisest investment he could make. To keep the big Ashton house and try and
make it yield an income was perhaps not quite so wise, but this had been
Betty's dearest desire, and her mother and brother had agreed to it for
her sake. To give up the home of her ancestors, to see the beloved old
portraits stored away in some one's attic or stuck up in a small room
where they would seem absurdly out of place, Betty felt that she could
bear everything, do anything if only their old home remained! And so she
was allowed at least to try the experiment of renting rooms or taking
boarders, whichever might turn out the simpler plan.

But when Mrs. Ashton was finally persuaded to join Betty's friends, it
was fairly plain that the greater part of the planning and work for the
future must fall upon Betty and not her mother, for Mrs. Ashton looked
dazed by misfortune and was already a semi-invalid, querulous and
rebellious against more evil fortune than she had character or health to
withstand. It was no wonder therefore, that even Betty's best friends
doubted whether she would be able to meet the responsibilities that had
so unexpectedly come upon her, although rejoicing that a year of Camp
Fire training found her far better prepared than most girls of her age
and position.

Esther had been sitting in the room with Mrs. Ashton when Betty found
them, as the older woman seemed to enjoy the society of her daughter's
companion more than any one's else these days, so the two girls soon
brought the lemonade back to Betty's room. In her absence Betty found
that her writing table had been cleared and was now decorated with Rose's
flowers, Nan's cake and Sylvia's candy, with sandwiches which Meg had
just brought in and which "Little Brother" was rapidly devouring, and
with a little pile of gifts at the head. Betty's eyes filled with tears,
but instinctively her hands flew toward a small square of canvas that
stood facing her leaning against one of her candlesticks. It was a
painting of the Sunrise cabin which Eleanor had made after Betty had
returned home and quite the best piece of work she had ever done. The
painting had been made in the dawn and the colors of the sunrise flooded
the log cabin, touching the tops of the tall pines standing a little in
the foreground and making a crown of light for the high peak of the
Sunrise Hill.

"It is too lovely; I ought not to have it," Betty exclaimed, extending
her picture toward Miss McMurtry, for she and Edith Norton had at this
moment joined the party; but seeing that their first Camp Fire guardian
shook her head, Betty then turned to Rose Dyer. "Oughtn't you to have it
then, Rose, and let the Sunrise Camp Fire girls just come in and look at
it now and then?"

But at this Eleanor Meade laughed. "Look here, Princess, we all know your
passion for giving away your possessions, but do you think you ought to
thrust my gift upon some one else while I am standing here watching you?
I would like humbly to mention that I painted that picture of the Sunrise
cabin for your particular birthday gift and that I would prefer to have
you keep it."

"And I would like to add," said Miss McMurtry, with an affectionate, even
an admiring glance toward the Betty for whom she had once felt so keen a
disapproval, "that among us there is no one with quite the same claim
upon whatever has to do with our Sunrise club as Betty Ashton. For though
she may have forgotten, we have not, that it was to Betty's enthusiasm
and a great deal to her efforts that we owe the organization of our
club." The chief guardian now leaned over, lighting three candles on
Betty's tea table--"Work, Health, Love."

"We wish you all the good things that following the law of the Camp Fire
may bring you, Betty dear," she whispered.

  "Seek beauty
  Give service
  Pursue knowledge
  Be trustworthy
  Hold on to health
  Glorify work
  Be happy."

While the older woman was speaking, Esther had slipped quietly over to
Betty's own piano, which had been brought home from the cabin to her
room, and now in order to relieve the atmosphere of emotion which was
making ordinary conversation impossible at this moment, she commenced
singing her own and Betty's favorite Camp Fire song, the other girls
joining in an instant later.

  "Lay me to sleep in sheltering flame,
    O Master of the Hidden Fire,
  Wash pure my heart and cleanse for me
    My soul's desire.
  In flame of sunrise bathe my mind,
    O Master of the Hidden Fire,
  That when I wake, clear-eyed may be
    My soul's desire."

And before the song had ended, half a dozen of the girls in the room at
least were wondering whether they were any nearer to the all-important
knowledge of what their soul's desire might be.

                            * * * * * * * *

A year the Sunrise Camp Fire girls have tried living and working
together, following to the best of their different abilities the Camp
Fire law, but while the third volume in this series will show them still
under its influence, they will be pursuing their own careers under
utterly different circumstances in a story to be called: "The Camp Fire
Girls in the Outside World."



                      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
            List of Titles in the Order of their Publication

  The Camp Fire Girls at Sunrise Hill
  The Camp Fire Girls Amid the Snows
  The Camp Fire Girls in the Outside World
  The Camp Fire Girls Across the Sea
  The Camp Fire Girls' Careers
  The Camp Fire Girls in After Years
  The Camp Fire Girls at the Edge of the Desert
  The Camp Fire Girls at the End of the Trail
  The Camp Fire Girls Behind the Lines
  The Camp Fire Girls on the Field of Honor



      *      *      *      *      *      *



Transcriber's note:

Obvious typographical errors were corrected without note.

Promotional material was moved to the end of the text.

Inconsistently-cited book titles were changed to match the actual
book.





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