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RICHARD HUNT SAT DOWN ON A WAYSIDE BENCH WITH HER]
THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN AFTER YEARS
BY MARGARET VANDERCOOK
Author of The Ranch Girls Series, etc.
PHILADELPHIA THE JOHN C. WINSTON CO. PUBLISHERS
Copyright, 1915, by THE JOHN C. WINSTON COMPANY
STORIES ABOUT CAMP FIRE GIRLS
THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AT SUNRISE HILL THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS AMID THE SNOWS THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN THE OUTSIDE WORLD THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS ACROSS THE SEA THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS' CAREERS THE CAMP FIRE GIRLS IN AFTER YEARS
CHAPTER PAGE I. THE INAUGURAL BALL 7 II. NEW NAMES FOR OLD ACQUAINTANCES 21 III. IDLE SUSPICION 32 IV. TIES FROM OTHER DAYS 44 V. SOMETHING UNEXPECTED 55 VI. THE FIRST DISILLUSION 66 VII. A NEW INTEREST 79 VIII. BOBBIN 91 IX. BACK IN NEW HAMPSHIRE 101 X. LONELINESS 110 XI. A MEETING AND AN EXPLANATION 120 XII. THE WAY HOME 132 XIII. A LITTLE RIFT WITHIN THE LUTE 140 XIV. SUSPICION 150 XV. WAITING TO FIND OUT 160 XVI. A TALK THAT WAS NOT AN EXPLANATION 172 XVII. CHRISTMAS 180 XVIII. THE STUPIDITY OF MEN 191 XIX. A CRY IN THE NIGHT 201 XX. THE DISCOVERY 212 XXI. ONCE MORE IN CONCORD 221 XXII. THINGS ARE CLEARED UP 230 XXIII. FINIS 244
RICHARD HUNT SAT DOWN ON A WAYSIDE BENCH WITH HER _Frontispiece_ PAGE HE GLANCED QUICKLY ABOUT HIM AND THEN DISAPPEARED 39 ANGEL HAD CAUGHT BETTINA'S ATTITUDE ALMOST EXACTLY 167 SHE SPRANG OUT OF BED HERSELF THE NEXT MOMENT 239
The Camp Fire Girls in After Years
THE INAUGURAL BALL
FACING the hills, the great house had a wonderful view of the curvingbanks of a river.
Half an hour before sunset a number of workmen hurried away across thegrounds, while a little later from behind the closed blinds glowedhundreds of softly shaded electric lights. The lawns were strung withrows and rows of small lamps suspended from one giant tree to the next,but waiting for actual darkness to descend before shedding forth theirillumination.
Evidently preparations had been made on a splendid scale, both insidethe house and out, for an entertainment of some kind. Yet curiouslythere seemed to be a strange hush over everything, a sense of anxietyand suspense pervading the very atmosphere. Then, in odd contrast to theother lights, the room on the third floor to the left was in almosttotal darkness save for a single tiny flame no larger than a nurse'scovered candle.
At about half-past six o'clock suddenly and with almost no noise thefront door of the house opened. The next moment a slight form appearedupon the flight of broad steps and gazed down the avenue. From behindher came the mingled fragrance of roses and violets, while before herarose the even more delicious tang of earth and grass and softlydrifting autumn leaves of the late October evening.
Nevertheless neither the beauty of the evening nor its perfumesattracted the girl's attention, for her expression remained grave andfrightened, and without appearing aware of it she sighed several times.
Small and dark, with an extraordinary quantity of almost blue-black hairand a thin white face dominated by a pair of unhappy dark eyes, thegirl's figure suggested a child, although she was plainly older. In herhand she carried a cane upon which she leaned slightly.
It does seem too hard for this trouble to have come at this particulartime, she murmured in unconscious earnestness. If only I could dosomething to help, yet there is absolutely nothing, of course, except towait. Still, I wish Faith would come home.
Then, after peering for another moment down the avenue of old elms andmaple trees, she turned and went back into the house, closing the doorbehind her and moving almost noiselessly.
For the present no one else was to be seen, at least in the front partof the big mansion, except the solitary figure of this young girl, wholooked somewhat incongruous and out of place in her handsomesurroundings. Notwithstanding, she seemed perfectly at home and wasplainly neither awed by nor unfamiliar with them. The hall was decoratedwith palms and evergreens and festoons of vines, and adorning the highwalls were portraits, most of them of men of stern countenance and of apast generation, while here and there stood a marble bust. But withoutregarding any of these things with special attention the girl walkedquickly past them and entered the drawing room on the right. Then atlast her face brightened.
Surely the room was beautiful enough to have attracted any one'sattention, although it was not exactly the kind of room one would see ina private house, for it happened to be in the Governor's mansion in thestate of New Hampshire.
In preparation for the evening's entertainment the furniture had beenmoved away except for a number of chairs and divans. The two tall marblemantels were banked with roses and violets and baskets of roses swungfrom the two crystal chandeliers.
With a murmured exclamation the girl dropped down on a low stool in thecorner where the evergreens almost entirely concealed her and where sheappeared more like an elf creature that had come into the house with thegreen things surrounding her than an everyday girl. For a quarter of anhour she must have remained there alone, when she was aroused from herreverie by some one's entrance. Then, although the girl did not move orspeak, her whole face changed and the sullen, unhappy look disappeared,while oddly her eyes filled with tears.
There could have been nothing fairer in the room than the woman who hadjust come quietly into it. She must have been about twenty-eight yearsold; her hair was a beautiful auburn, like sunshine on certain brown andred leaves in the woods in late October; her eyes were gray, and she wasof little more than medium height, with slender hips, but a full throatand chest. At the present moment she was wearing a house gown of lightblue cashmere, and although she looked as if life might always beforehave been kind to her, at present her face was pale and there were marksof sleeplessness about her eyes and mouth.
Apparently trying to summon an interest in her surroundings which shescarcely felt, she glanced about the room until her eyes rested on thesilent girl.
Why, Angel, what are you doing in here alone, child? How lovelyeverything looks, and yet I am afraid I cannot come down to receivepeople tonight. All afternoon I have been trying to make up my mind toattempt it and each moment it seems more impossible.
Then with a gesture indicating both fatigue and discouragement the womansat down, folding her hands in her lap.
But the baby isn't any worse, I heard only half an hour ago, theyounger girl interrupted quickly, and in answer to a shake of the headfrom her companion went on: You simply must be present tonight,Princess. This is the greatest night in your husband's career and youknow the Inaugural Ball would be an entire failure without you! Stayingup-stairs won't do little Tony any good. And think what it would mean tothe Governor to have to manage all alone! You know you promised Anthonybefore his election that you would attend to the social side of hisoffice for him, as he declared he didn't know enough to undertake it. Soyou can't desert him at the very beginning.
Swiftly Angelique Martins crossed the room and seated herself on the armof her friend's chair. I promise you on my honor that I shall sit justoutside little Tony's bedroom the entire evening and if he is even thetiniest bit worse I shall come down and tell you on the instant.
There was a moment of silence and then the newly elected Governor's wifereplied: I suppose you are right, Angel, and I must try to do what yousay, for nothing else is fair to Anthony. Yet I never dreamed of everhaving to choose between my love and duty to my baby and my husband! Butdear me, I am sure I have not the faintest idea how the Governor's Ladyshould behave at her first reception, even if I have to make my debut inthe character in the next few hours.
Then, in a lighter tone than she had yet used in their conversation,Betty Ashton, who was now Mrs. Governor Graham, smiled, placing her handfor a moment on that of her companion.
For the friendship between Betty Ashton and the little French girl whomshe had discovered at the hospital in Boston had never wavered evenafter the Betty of the Camp Fire days had become Mrs. Anthony Graham,wife of the youngest governor ever elected to the highest office in hisstate. Moreover, Betty and Anthony now had two children of their own,the little Tony, a baby of about two years old, who was now dangerouslyill on the top floor of the Governor's mansion, and Bettina, who wassix.
Angelique Martins was almost like an adoring younger sister. She wasapproaching twenty; yet on account of her lameness and shyness sheappeared much younger. But she was one of the odd girls who in some waysare like children and yet in others are older than people ever dream.After her mother's death, several years before, she had come to livewith Betty and Anthony and held a position as an assistant stenographerin the Governor's office. Ordinarily she was strangely silent andreserved, so that no one, not even her best friend, entirely understoodher.
But you must not miss the ball tonight, Angel, Betty now continuedmore cheerfully. You and Faith have been talking of it for weeks, andso I can't have you sacrifice yourself for me. Besides, one of thenurses can do what you offered and send me a message if I am needed.Don't you remember that your dress is even prettier than Faith's? I wasperfectly determined it should be. And Betty smiled, amused at herself.She was always a little jealous for her protege of Faith Barton. It wastrue that since their first meeting at Sunrise Cabin the two girls hadbecome close friends. But then Betty could seldom fail to see, just asshe had in the beginning, the painful contrast between them. Faith hadgrown into a beautiful girl and Dr. Barton and Rose were entirelydevoted to her; and she had also both charm and talent, although stillgiven to impossible dreams about people and things.
Angel now shook her head. You know you would feel safer with me tostand guard over Tony than if you had only one of the servants, sheargued a little resentfully. Then with her cheeks crimsoning: Besides,Princess, you know that I perfectly loathe having to meet strangers. Noone in the world except you could ever have induced me even to think ofit. I am ever so much happier alone with you and the children or peggingaway at my typewriter at the office. I believe people ought to remainwhere they belong in this world, and you can't possibly make me looklike Faith by dressing me up in pretty clothes. I should never conceiveof being her rival in anything.
There was a curious note in the lame girl's voice that passed unnoticed,for her companion suddenly inquired: By the way, dear, do you know whathas become of Faith? I passed her room and she was not there. I hope sheis not out alone. I know she has a fashion of loving to go about in thetwilight, dreaming her dreams and composing verse. Still, when she ishere visiting me I would much rather she did not.
But Faith isn't alone. She is with the Governor's secretary, KennethHelm, Angel answered. Mr. Helm came to the house with a message andFaith asked him to go out with her.
Betty smiled. Faith Barton scorned conventionalities and felt sure thatshe was above certain of them. Oh, I did not know Kenneth and Faith hadlearned to know each other so well in two weeks' time, she repliedcarelessly, her attention wandering to the little Tony up-stairs.However, Faith is all right if she is with Kenneth. I know Anthony hasthe greatest possible trust in him or he would never have selected himfor his secretary in such troublesome political times as these. I don'tbelieve you seem to like Kenneth as much as you once did. But you mustnot be prejudiced against so many people. He used to be very kind toyou.
Without waiting for Angel's reply Betty walked away. If she could haveseen her expression she might have been surprised or annoyed.
For sometimes Angel had wondered if it would be wise for her to take herfriend into her confidence. Surely she had reasons for not being so sureof the Governor's confidence in his secretary. But then what proof hadshe to offer against him? Besides, people often considered hersuspicious and unfriendly. Moreover, in this case the French girl didnot altogether trust herself. Was there not some personal reason in herdislike? It was entirely true that she had not felt like this in thebeginning of their acquaintance.
With a feeling of irritation against herself, Angel started to leave thedrawing room. This was plainly no time for worrying over the future; shemust go and have something to eat at once so as to be able to help watchthe baby. There was only one regret the girl felt at her own decision.She was sorry not to see Betty receiving her guests at the InauguralBall tonight. For her friend remained her ideal of what a great ladyshould be in the best sense. Moreover, there would be other old friendswhom she had once known at Sunrise Cabin. However, some of them wereguests at the mansion, so she could meet them later.
Out in the hall the little French girl now discovered Faith and KennethHelm returning from their walk. The Governor's private secretary musthave been about twenty-four or five years old. He was a Yale graduateand had light-brown hair and eyes of almost the same color. He had theshoulders of an athlete, a clear, bright complexion, and as Angelwatched them she could not deny that he had a particularly charmingsmile. However, he was assuredly not looking at her. It was absurd tocare, of course, yet nevertheless even the humblest person scarcelylikes being wilfully ignored. And Angel was sure that the young man hadseen her, even though he gave no appearance of having done so.
The next moment, after her companion's departure, Faith Barton turned toher friend. Faith's cheeks were delicately flushed from her walk in theautumn air and her pale gold hair was blowing about her face. Her blueeyes were wide open and clear and she looked curiously innocent of anywrong or misfortune in the world. Surely there were seldom two girlsoffering a more complete contrast than the two who now tiptoed softlydown the long hall together.
I am going to rest a little while, Faith said at parting. But do letus try to have a long, quiet talk tomorrow. I want to tell you a secretthat no one else in the world must know for the present.